Archives For Addiction

God, give us grace to accept with serenity

the things that cannot be changed,

Courage to change the things

which should be changed,

and the Wisdom to distinguish

the one from the other.


Living one day at a time,

Enjoying one moment at a time,

Accepting hardship as a pathway to peace,

Taking, as Jesus did,

This sinful world as it is,

Not as I would have it,

Trusting that You will make all things right,

If I surrender to Your will,

So that I may be reasonably happy in this life,

And supremely happy with You forever in the next.





I forget where I heard Shane Claiborne say this but he made a statement that has stuck with me for a long time:

We need more Christian bartenders…

The context for his statement was that too often Christians remove themselves from unChristian contexts like bars, dance clubs or even places where the homeless and others hang out.  He alluded to Matthew 9:9-17 where Jesus ate with tax-collectors and sinners and stated that we need to meet Christians on their own terms.  I like what he had to say but the full-time minister in me sees some potential issues:

  1. Are we contributing to someone’s alcoholism by giving them a drink?
  2. Do we simply not speak out of the dangers of alcoholism and just talk with people hoping to be a good influence on them?
  3. What part does image play in this?  What if a teenager in my youth group saw me at a bar with someone?  Does this create a stumbling block?
  4. Do we have to go to bars or could we just leave material for them to look at while they are at the bar?
  5. 1 Corinthians 15:33 states, “Bad company corrupts good morals.”  Does that factor in to this equation?
There is a lot to unpack here that seems to be very ethical in nature.  Like what if one of your recent converts in your church is a Budweiser Truck Driver and their family depends on his income?  What is he to do?  Does he quit and drive for someone else?   What about his influence to his co-workers?  If he leaves will their ever be a positive influence?
I went to an AA meeting as required by a graduate class of mine and in that meeting a guy told me that he would never go to a church because churches don’t care about alcoholics.  They all were spiritual, offering to pray and read Scripture but when it came to being plugged-in to a local church all of them rejected.  “They don’t even know how to handle me at church!”  My heart broke.
So what do you think?  Is this a black and white issue or was Claiborne onto something?  Feel free to post anonymously but I would love to interact with you about this.

Teenagers passing drugsI was sitting in the living room watching TV on a break from college when I received a phone call from an old friend in Marietta, Georgia.  I welcomed the call because it had been ages since I last heard his voice.  I expected a long conversation about how things were going and talks about college and all the fun we both were experiencing.  The conversation went something like this:

Me:  Ryan, what’s up man?  Been a long time, huh?

Ryan:  (quietly and somewhat hesitant) Hey Robbie.  I don’t know if you heard yet but Johnny has died of an overdose.

Me:  (sitting down…mouth open) What?

Johnny and I were best friends until I moved from Marietta, Georgia to Chattanooga, Tennessee and we grew apart after that.  We went in different directions knowing that the path he was taking lead him to some pretty dark places in this world.  Johnny was in to the drug scene and eventually died because of it.

We all have our “Johnny’s” we can share as the rate of alcohol and drug use among teenagers is consistently (and unacceptably) too high.  A Tennessee  High School Youth Risk Behavior Survey (please click here for scary statistics) conducted in 2009 indicated that close to 70% of teens grades 9-12 have at least tried alcohol once.  There’s more…

  • 20% drank alcohol before the age of 13
  • 19% Had five or more drinks of alcohol in a row within a couple of hours on at least 1 day.  (during the 30 days before the survey)
  • 37% had used marijuana at least once in their lifetime.
  • 12% said they had sniffed glue, breathed the contents of aerosol spray cans, or inhaled any paints or sprays to get high one or more times
    (during their life).

That’s only in Tennessee but you can check any state using this website (  The sad part is that there is drug and alcohol use in the church.  Some parents struggle with it…some students struggle with it and all they hear from the church is “don’t do it.”  But they do!  Why?  Rich Van Pelt and Jim Hancock in their book Helping Teenagers in Crisis give eight reasons (pp. 200-03):

  1. Curiosity
  2. Peer Pressure
  3. Fun
  4. Mimicking
  5. Declaration of Independence
  6. Disinhibition – “I drink because it helps me be myself.”
  7. Escape
  8. Addiction

Youth ministers, parents and students we fight an upward battle where many people are against us.  Teenagers just do not get the ramifications of alcohol and drugs.  For example, did you know that there is a direct correlation between drug and alcohol use and sexual activity?  If you find someone who is struggling with drugs and alcohol I can almost guarantee that on some level they are struggling sexually.  They may not be having sexual relations but odds are they are looking at pornography or sexually pleasing themselves.   There is also conflicting narratives teens hear from adults or college students.  It is true that the bible does not condemn having a glass of wine here and there but my question is, “Why bother?”  It’s expensive…in order to know your limit you have to push your limit which is a selfish motive in the first place.

So how do we help?

ENGAGE (Van Pelt and Hancock, 204-07)!

  • Look for the signs of drug and alcohol abuse (withdrawal, mood swings, resistance to authority, behavior problems like stealing or vandalism, changes in eating habits, unexpected health issues).    The signs are, “inexplicable, unprecedented and persistent.”
  • As youth ministers we need to encourage parents to face reality.  They may be in denial but we need to gently push them to face the facts.
  • Affirm the parents desire to help their children work through this.
  • Encourage professional help where needed.

Youth ministers we need to conitinually teach about drugs and alcohol and the dangers in them but we also need to help bear the burdens of those who are addicted.  If you have a teen or a parent who is addicted DO NOT GIVE UP ON THEM!!!  They will relapse, frustrate you and then come back again only to relapse again.  Rome was not built in a day and addictions built over a period of time do not go away without time.  It takes a while and it takes a village and it takes a God!!!  Which leads me to the conclusion…if healing is going to happen it must be in the redemptive arms of God.  I want to close in an odd way…will you pray for those who are struggling with alcohol and drugs?  Will you mention them by name?  Will you read Psalm 103 below and pray?  Will you then contact a person who is struggling either by a letter, phone call or text telling them you are there to help?

1 Praise the LORD, my soul;
all my inmost being, praise his holy name.
2 Praise the LORD, my soul,
and forget not all his benefits—
3 who forgives all your sins
and heals all your diseases,
4 who redeems your life from the pit
and crowns you with love and compassion,
5 who satisfies your desires with good things
so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.

6 The LORD works righteousness
and justice for all the oppressed.

7 He made known his ways to Moses,
his deeds to the people of Israel:
8 The LORD is compassionate and gracious,
slow to anger, abounding in love.
9 He will not always accuse,
nor will he harbor his anger forever;
10 he does not treat us as our sins deserve
or repay us according to our iniquities.
11 For as high as the heavens are above the earth,
so great is his love for those who fear him;
12 as far as the east is from the west,
so far has he removed our transgressions from us.

13 As a father has compassion on his children,
so the LORD has compassion on those who fear him;
14 for he knows how we are formed,
he remembers that we are dust.
15 The life of mortals is like grass,
they flourish like a flower of the field;
16 the wind blows over it and it is gone,
and its place remembers it no more.
17 But from everlasting to everlasting
the LORD’s love is with those who fear him,
and his righteousness with their children’s children—
18 with those who keep his covenant
and remember to obey his precepts.

19 The LORD has established his throne in heaven,
and his kingdom rules over all.

20 Praise the LORD, you his angels,
you mighty ones who do his bidding,
who obey his word.
21 Praise the LORD, all his heavenly hosts,
you his servants who do his will.
22 Praise the LORD, all his works
everywhere in his dominion.

Praise the LORD, my soul.


I went into my room last night and saw a small cassette tape on the table.  We are long past the age of cassette tapes so I was curious about this and I picked up and noticed that it was a sermon I preached while I was an intern at Washington Avenue church of Christ in the summer of 2002.  I came to the church building this morning and searched for a cassette player and as I am typing this I am listening to my sermon entitled, “The Christian Soldier.”  It is a humbling task listening to the way I preached years ago because I thought I was a good preacher back then.  Some of the phrases I used and the theology I purported I think to myself, “How could I have been that naive?”  I even preached from the King James Version of Scripture!!!  I write this to you because it is not a bad thing to look at the skeletons in our closet. 

  • Looking at our past helps to shape us.
  • Looking at our past helps to comfort us and how far we have grown.
  • Looking at our past helps to center us if we have fallen. 

So what skeletons do you need to look at and get rid of in your closet?  What are those pet sins you have that keep you from a relationship with God?  So often we do not look at what’s deep in our hearts because we are scared at what we might find.  If we are scared to look at what’s inside then that should be a pause for concern.  A problem neglected is a spiritual life infected.  Think about that…I just made it up :).  A problem neglected is a spiritual life infected.  If I have a mold problem in my foundation neglecting it does not change it but actually the problem gets worse. 

So open your closet door, and get the skeletons out.  In honor of the KJV and my sermon…

“Do not ye yet understand, that whatsoever entereth in at the mouth goeth into the belly, and is cast out into the draught?  But those things which proceed out of the mouth come forth from the heart; and they defile the man.  For out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies:  These are the things which defile a man: but to eat with unwashen hands defileth not a man” (Matt. 15:17-20). 

This is the post I did not want to write.  This is the post that will probably make you upset and want to click the little “X” icon at the top of your browser to close the blog and never return.  I don’t want you to do that but I understand why you would do that.  When an addict is confronted about their addiction their first response is anger and denial.  “I have everything under control” or, “I can quit any time I want to” are typical assertions by those who are, ironically, not in control and not able to quit.  So when you get mad at me I understand and your reaction is typical so I will not take offense to it.  I estimate that 50% of Main Street (congregation where I minister) uses Facebook (most of them are 25 and under) and roughly 25% of those are addicted to it.  There is no hard data that I make my observations from other than noticing the time spent on Facebook and the amount of activity based on their profile.  Before we begin with identifying if you are addicted and offering some help I want to first define what an addiction is:

An addiction is “the state of being enslaved to a habit or practice or to something that is psychologically or physically habit-forming, as narcotics, to such an extent that its cessation causes severe trauma” (Source).

Please pay attention to the definition itself…key words are “enslaved, habit, practice, cessation and trauma.”  Let me define it in a way that a teenager would understand it: “anything that you can’t stop thinking about doing.  If you were to stop doing this activity then you would have severe withdrawals.”  There is no hard-fast way to prove that you are addicted (click here and click here for two articles about “signs that you are addicted”).  Below are some things that I want you to consider and then I will offer some suggestions for help.

  1. How much time are you on Facebook per week?  (click on survey below to see results)  No compare that with how much time you spend reading Scripture, praying, serving the community and worshiping.  Remember Jesus’ admonition in Matthew 6:24 where he stated that no man (and woman) can serve two masters?  That applies to anything and everything that evacuates your time and energy to the neglect and dismay of God Almighty!
  2. When you are on Facebook what are you doing?  I know people who spend 4-5 hours a week on Facebook but they are writing messages of encouragement and checking on people who have fallen away.  I would say that those 4-5 hours are spent wisely.  Most of us who spend 6+ hours on Facebook are doing one of the following: Facebook stalking, checking pictures, chating, checking updates, responding to comments or looking for friends.  Is that the best way to spend your time?
  3. How often do you check Facebook?  You can set your mobile device to receive updates from comments, statuses and messages.  Many of you have mobile Facebook where you can check from your cell phone.  How often do you do that?  When you wake up in the morning?  Right as you get out of school? During a down period at work?  Right before you go to bed?  Maybe you wake up at night and  can’t sleep so you check Facebook?
  4. If you were told not to check Facebook would that bother you?  Pay attention to how you answer the question because it is crucial to understanding if you are addicted.  You might say “Of course not,” then go without a day or so but in the back of your mind if you are wondering what is happening at Facebook then you are addicted.

By now you know if you struggle or not but I want to offer some advice…

  1. Write down how much time you use on Facebook.  Write down when, where and how you check Facebook.  This is crucial because it will show you how much time you spend so you can jump to…
  2. Admit that you have a problem.  Facebook is not wrong but when it takes away from family, homework, spiritual formation and work then it becomes an issue.
  3. Give yourself a set time to look at Facebook and be realistic.  “I will spend 8-10pm on Facebook” is a bit ridiculous.  Start by saying I will only spend 30 minutes from 4:00-4:30pm looking at Facebook and that is only to encourage people.  Gossip is easy on Facebook so try to avoid it.
  4. When you have withdrawal symptoms meditate on a favorite verse.  I recommend Proverbs 3:5-6.  When you think about Facebook just divert your thoughts to “trust in the Lord with all of your heart…”
  5. If you are really bold deactivate your Facebook account.  This will let you keep all of your data where as deleting your account will permanently destroy all of your pictures and what not.
  6. Block Facebook on your computer.  Of course you can unblock it but blocking it will let you know how serious you are.
  7. If you MUST use Facebook remember to use it in a way that gives God the glory.

I know this was a long post but I wanted to be honest with a problem I see among many teens, young adults and even older adults.  Tomorrow we delve into using Facebook appropriately by not being that guy or that girl.  Take the survey below.

Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, MAKING THE BEST USE OF THE TIME, (why Paul?) because the days are evil.  (Eph. 5:15-16).

Facebook 101 (Part 1)

October 11, 2010 — 3 Comments

Whether you are a parent, minister or just a user no doubt you have encountered the multi-billion dollar industry known as Facebook. advocates that there are over 500 million users who spend an average of 700 billion minutes per month on Facebook.  People meet other people on Facebook, companies network other companies on Facebook, and then there is the personal one-on-one message, chatting, and wall-posting that occurs on individual accounts.  There are groups, advocacies, likes, dislikes, pictures, videos, campaigns, ads and everything you could possibly imagine at your computer or in the palm of your hands with your cell phone.  Facebook has taken over the jargon of our day with unique phrases like: “messaging,” “facebook stalking,” “poke” , “wall” and a host of others.  Parents must be at a loss as their teenagers (and sometimes themselves) spend hours a day on Facebook not knowing what little Johnny our little Susie is posting on their profile.  I am doing a series of posts on Facebook for parents and ministers to help develop a health approach to Facebook and discuss some positives and negatives about this network but also help parents be able to monitor what their children are doing on the internet.

First things first though and that is this: if your child is going to use Facebook you must have their username and password.  It is as simple as that.  They may respond with the following:

  • You are invading my privacy!
  • It is none of your business!
  • You are a creeper!
  • How can I do anything in life if you do not trust me?

This may seem like a harsh thing to do but keep in mind that they are posting things for public viewing.  you are not invading their privacy if everything they do is public knowledge anyways.  You are not reading their diary because that would be something that is secret and not public knowledge but this is something different.  Another thing to keep in mind is that if they are so defensive at your request then they are defensive for a reason…they may be hiding something.  Food for thought.  Trust is not the issue here as it’s not that you do not trust your child but you do not trust the people that are out there.  So here is my plan for the next few posts:

  • Part 2 – The Nuts and Bolts of Facebook 1
  • Part 3 – The Nuts and Bolts of Facebook 2
  • Part 4 – Privacy Settings
  • Part 5 – Using Facebook for Good
  • Part 6 – Getting help for Addiction…Seriously
  • Part 7 – Facebook Etiquette – How to not be that guy or girl

For now…enjoy this song  that will make you smile!

Recovery is a process not a one-time moment.  I had minor surgery on Wednesday and it was an experience to say the least.  I was not in much pain the day of the surgery but Thursday was a day of pain and today I am still pretty sore even though I am at the office.  Anytime you invade the body with a knife or some other instrument it causes pain in the body.  Some pain is needed in order to promote the health of a person so pain becomes the stepping stone to wellness.  But recovery is not easy and has its ups and downs.  The doctor gave me pain killers to help with my pain but that is simply a drug that diverts the pain that is actually still occurring in my body.  I just don’t feel it.  How often we try to alleviate our pain with a “quick fix” or a “pain-killer” in our spiritual lives without really addressing what’s wrong.  Jesus had a gift for addressing the real issues of the disciples, Pharisees and scribes.  To change their ways it was going to be a painful process but the Pharisees sim[ply wanted to bandage their pride and do what they have always done. 

We as a church need to be patient with people who are recovering from spiritual illnesses, depression or those who are newborn babes in Christ.  We must be willing to admit that the recovery process for a person takes time especially when they have changed their lives in a moment.  The best part of my recovery process was having my family around to help me.  If a person has to recover alone it takes the very life out of him.  To know that my people were praying for me, thinking about me and asking about me was flattering and somewhat therapeutic.  I had a few of my youth actually text me to see how I was doing.  Shouldn’t we do this for visitors, new Christians and those who have fallen away?  Recovery takes time and we never get to the point where we are 100% healthy!  Never!  By the grace of God we are sustained in this world.  Remember that. 

Another lesson I got from my surgery is the importance of rest.  God knew what he was doing when he established principles like the Sabbath, the year of Jubilee and various festivals and feasts.  We all need rest and we can’t always go at it 100 mph (even though some of us try).  These two days I took off was huge and helped me tremendously.  To all of you who helped, prayed, and called about me: “I love you!” 

Recovery…it is a process.  It takes time!

Businessman Pouring Coffee into MouthThis week was the first week of my year-long journey to live without some things.  This week (as you can tell from the picture) I chose to start off slowly and live without caffeine.  Like most people, I live off of caffeine and it’s present everywhere I go.  In the morning when I go to the office the first thing I do is grab a few cups of coffee while I am studying.  Then if I go out to eat I usually will drink some diet coke with my meal and when I eat dinner at home I have sweet tea or something with caffeine.  This week was hard but not as bad as I thought.  I had a headache for two days straight but I was able to overcome that.  The biggest challenge for me was to retrain my thoughts into thinking about what I wanted to drink instead of grabbing a can of coke and downing it by second nature.  My body went through some physiological changes during the week: my heartburn went down; I was able to sleep better at night; I wasn’t as jittery during the day; I could focus more on my studies; waking up (paradoxically) was actually easier after the first couple of days; my teeth got a little whiter. 

Amazing.  Below are a few lessons I learned this week as I lived without caffeine…

  1. If change is going to occur you must be intentional about it.  We all like to talk a big game and say that we want to do things different and we are going to do it.  Many of us have been in church meetings where we had these great ideas and then a few months later we were left asking ourselves, “Well what ever happened to that idea?”  I had to be very specific in my lifestyle to make a difference in something I saw as worthwhile. 
  2. You never know how much you are dependent on something until you live without it.  Physiologically, my body was sending me signals that said it needed caffeine.  In a small infinitesimal way I experienced what many experience who smoke, drink or use drugs and then go through the process of quitting. 
  3. Change Hurts.  This whole process hurt for the first two days.  I did not like it and I was miserable.  The headache was so throbbing I could hardly function.   But… 
  4. Change Heals. That same process of hurting helped me to heal.  My body is probably better off (being diagnosed with ADHD) without caffeine.  I feel so much better without.  Will I never take a drink again?  Doubtful.  But this may be a permanent change.  Which leads me to….
  5. Be Perceptive of What God is Doing.  In my office I have 6 priorities that I hang all over the office.  Priority #6 is to “treat my body in a way that will allow me to be in God’s service for the maximum amount of time.”  2010 might be a wake up call and perhaps God is telling me that I am way too dependent on things I don’t need to be. 

Those are the five quick lessons.  I hope you gained some insight into this.  Stay tuned next week as I live without something else because it just might surprise you…

Greed – A Confession

January 5, 2010 — 2 Comments

Man with Stack of DonutsI am writing this as a semi-confession.  I want to admit that I am a greedy person.  I know that as a minister of the gospel (at-least a paid one) I am held to a higher standard than most people and that it is important that I set the bar higher than most people.  So that is exactly what I am doing.  I want to start 2010 off admitting what most ministers are afraid to do.  I am greedy. 

Of course, we are all greedy to a certain extent aren’t we?  I estimate that deep down in your heart as you are reading this there is probably a list somewhere that you have of things you either want and don’t have or have and don’t want.  Admit it!  I have been looking at some statistics and noticed that “according to UNICEF, 25,000 children die each day due to poverty.  And they ‘die quietly in some of the poorest villages on earth, far removed from the scrutiny and the conscience of the world. Being meek and weak in life makes these dying multitudes even more invisible in death'” (Source).  Yet, I am going to go home today to a house that has central heating and air and I am going to watch TV on a 37-inch flat screen and then maybe play on my Playstation 3 later at night when the kids go to bed.  To top that off there is something inside of me that wants a bigger house with more bedrooms and bathrooms. 

I think this is a good time to confess what is painfully obvious to God yet purposefully opaque to me: I am greedy.  Perhaps 2010 will be known for a lot of things.  One person will lose 40 lbs and another will run in a marathon.  A lot of people will quit smoking and some people will reunite with loved ones.  One person may vow to go home early to be with his kids and another will stop spending so much time traveling so that she can be with her husband more.  not for me.  2010 will be the year I consciously confess my greed and take the necessary steps to subdue, subvert and destroy it!  Like any commitment this takes time and is not done overnight.  But it will be done. 

A word from God:

25 “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? 26 Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? 27And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? 28And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, 29yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. 30But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? 31Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. 33But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. 34 “Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble. (Matt. 6:25-34). 

So may you seek God as well and may you admit the idolatry of greed and realize God has given you, me and us everything we need.

“In a recent study conducted among evangelical college students, one in every three said he or she spends one to two hours a day on Facebook; 12 percent report using it two to four hours each day and 2.8 percent report usage at four to seven hours a day.  That’s in addition to other forms of social media and electronic usage such as video games, blogs, e-mail and Internet browsing” (Natalie Ferjulian and Maggie Roth, “Addicted to Facebook?” Youth Worker Journal, January/February 2010, p. 30). 

That statistic shouldn’t surprise you.  Matter of fact, most of you look at that and probably think to yourself, “Yeah, whatever.”  The problem is that most of us are addicted to the networking interface known as Facebook and we do not even realize it.  We think addictions means those things like alcohol, drugs, cigarettes or even pornography.  But Facebook?  No, that is just another place to spend our time.  Let’s look at the a definition for “addiction”:

Compulsive physiological and psychological need for a habit-forming substance: a drug used in the treatment of heroin addiction.  The condition of being habitually or compulsively occupied with or involved in something.

We can have addictions to anything and Facebook is another example of an addiction.  But, like any other addiction, it has its negative effects: “…the amount of time students devote to electronic activities can significantly impact their (students) academic performance, personal relationships, self-esteem and emotional well-being” (ibid., 30).  Sometimes it is a positive impact but often this impact is negative.  What can we do?  As parents, we can have intentional times for our children to be away from all things technological.  As youth workers we can have programs set up that address  the addictions of our teenagers to Facebook.  As people who are addicted we can confess this idol to our God and to those around us and be intentional about avoiding this addiction.