Expensive Lessons

Working with drug addicts and the like, you get a real picture of what selfishness really looks like. Unfortunately, the damage and the regret that most leave behind could be compared to a train wreck; long after the engine has stopped the cars of the train keep coming from the inertia. I have experienced the reaping and the sowing effect myself from poor choices and missed opportunities because of my self-will running riot. In addition, the pain I felt myself became more important than the pain I caused others, a cycle of misery and regret. Making amends for those I hurt and caused pain, became a full time job, however it really helped me see just how selfish and self centered I really was.

I really like to keep things simple, not because I don’t like a challenge mind you, however when you have convoluted the truth it makes walking in integrity difficult and fluid-NOT GOOD! I had an encounter the other day with a a brother who relapsed and I was completely caught of guard at the hardness of heart and the bitterness. The excuses were endless and the justifications for his choices were plentiful. He could not get honest because of the fear of this and the fear of that. If the atmosphere was better, or the people nicer and more friendly. It was always someone else’s fault and if they would have “helped him better” things would have been different.

Having played those “records and tapes” myself in the past, I could almost lip sync what he was going to say next! I don’t want to seem sharp, but repentance was not even on the radar screen. The most beneficial theme for anyone in recovery is honesty at all times, with yourself and with your accountability group. Keeping things “under cover” is a ticking time bomb with no timer, it explodes when you least expect it and it devastates those you are in relationship with. We had a string of several different people in leadership have major failures in their life and it can be traced back to “under cover” junk and FEAR. The old saying, “you are only sick as your secrets” has merit in any persons life but it seems especially true in a Christian’s life.

“But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin.” 1 John 1:7 NIV

The light always depicts being visible. Darkness always depicts the what cannot be seen. “Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that his deeds will be exposed.” John 3:20

I have learned some powerful truths at a tremendous high price. Sin is simple; IT STEALS and KILLS and DESTROYS YOU! Being free from destructive addictions is not complicated as well. 1 Peter 2:24 says, “and He Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross, so that we might die to sin and live to righteousness; for by His wounds you were healed. IT IS A DONE DEAL!

A Call to DIE…Suicide and Forgiveness Part 3

“Do not judge, and you will not be judged; and do not condemn, and you will not be condemned; pardon, and you will be pardoned.”~ Luke 6:37

“because judgment without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful. Mercy triumphs over judgment!” James 2:13

“Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.”~ Gal 6:2

I have been thinking a lot on forgiveness and the cost of discipleship that often is not counted in our culture.  Our western culture says, “you can be forgiven if you have been properly punished.” Much of what we seek is justice or judgement instead of mercy and grace. I believe the call of God is to be transformed into the image of His Son. The Son gave us mercy and grace on the cross, yet while we were sinners Christ died for us… Before you and I ever asked for His forgiveness- He died for us.  In other words, he gave us forgiveness before we ever asked for it… Pause and wait for it… We love mercy and grace for ourselves but can be pretty stingy with giving it to someone who does not deserve it… But, did we ever deserve it? NO, I think not.   It was my sin that put Jesus on the cross, right?

1995 was a pretty hard year for me- addicted to crystal meth, and every other foul thing that comes with that territory. I was lost. In the midst of my destruction, tragedy was never far from me. My marriage was a failed mess, in fact she joined the army to get away from me. My family was pretty much done with me and Dad was losing a battle that I understood all to well. Having no hope is certain death.  It was on September 14th (my mom’s birthday) that my Dad thought he would be doing everyone a favor by killing himself.

Dad went into the bedroom, took a revolver and a pillow and did the deed. My little 12 year old brother, my 3 1/2 year old daughter and My Mom heard the muffled noise and had to break into the bedroom to find my Dad.  Paramedics were called, I was called and the whirlwind began. I find it hard to describe the emotions I felt because I was so disconnected, numb and dead inside. Dead is what I really was in those days. The following day held false hopes, disillusionment, guilt, denial, disbelief and dispair.  Quite the demonic symphony.

The week prior to this mess, my Dad told me he was about ready to kill himself. I told him that could not be the answer to the problem. I told no one else of the conversation believing that Dad was just spouting off- yet in my gut I knew something was wrong. Hence my overwhelming feeling of guilt. My addiction was a full time job in those days, and had little time for anything else between work and pretending to be a father to my daughter while simultaneously destroying the things I said I loved.

Dad’s suicide slowed things down for me a little. The following day, my Mom’s pastor was at the hospital waiting with us as we stood by Dad’s bedside. They gave us the news that Dad was not going to make it, too much brain damage… We stood by Dad as they unplugged the machines and we watched his heart beat slowly stop… Even now- after all this time, I get a lump in my throat and tears in my eyes. I still miss him and love him.

I was shattered… I informed everyone quietly that I was going to the house to clean up the mess left from Dad’s shooting. The Pastor would not let me go alone; irritated- I relented. It was in this moment that God began working on me.  As I cleaned up the blood and bed sheets, I saw my dad’s wallet and the addict inside me lept for it. As I went through his wallet I found a one dollar bill and it struck me so hard I crumpled almost to me knees and began to sob.  Pastor Paul caught me in a hug and said in a voice of weeping and tenderness that I had not experienced before, “oh Rick, I love you…” I was ruined from that moment on. Jehova Sneaky was doing His work…

Forgiveness was what I needed, the love of God through Paul met me and the process began. I had a very hard time forgiving my Dad, and forgiving my wife for leaving me for the Army. Eventually, I lost it all even my relationship with my daughter, (we were separated for almost 13 years before I would see her again at age 16.) Forgiveness was not easy for me at all!

Paul was my hero that day in every way.  He knew I was a drug addict of the worst kind, a liar, a thief, a drug dealer- it was no secret. Paul insisted on spending time with me that day when even my family wanted to run away. I was not judged or condemned. I was shown mercy that day and it triumphed over judgement. Finally, Paul carried my burden that day and because of his love in action I became a born again Christian. Paul introduced me to a real Savior.

I was reading my bible and read the words that Jesus said hanging on the cross, “My God, My God why have you forsaken me?” It was a moment I will never forget.  For some reason it read to me, “my dad, my dad, why have you left me?” I was ruined again… I knew that Jesus had felt everything I have ever felt and I was not alone and would never be alone ever again. I was transformed by the truth of the Word. It was no longer just academic it was alive to me.

Forgiveness was a call to die to my selfish nature- holding my Dad accountable for my pain was futile. In trying to protect myself, I created this “bubble” that kept all the pain out, or potential pain makers out. The problem with the “bubble” is that it kept out the love and the potential love makers I needed and wanted as well. When I made the choice to forgive my Dad the “bubble” began to fade, along with all the pain of rejection and betrayal.  It was a process for me not an event- but it all started with the choice I made to forgive.

Let me encourage you today with the reality of Jesus and His love for you. He is very near!  “The LORD is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.”~ Psalm 34:18  Sometimes, it was all I could say in those days… Jesus help me… Jesus save me from myself… Jesus change my heart…  I can say with confidence that Jesus has helped me, is changing me and is saving me from myself!

Blessings!

A Call to DIE- part 2

“I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”~Philippians 1:21

“An actor struggles to die onstage, but a puppet has to struggle to live. And in a way that’s a metaphor for life.” — Handspring Puppet Company

When we “act” or play the part that people are needing from us so we can be accepted, is like “struggling to die while pretending to live.” I can totally relate with “struggling to die while pretending to live…”  This paradoxical juxtaposition takes a lot of energy to perform and is impossible to complete. This act of placing two or more seemingly contradictory things side by side is completely insane!  Yet, this happens quite often in the Christian life. The dichotomy of the Spirit and the flesh is raging away everyday for this preacher.

In addition, our being crucified with Christ and living by faith at the same time is absolutely impossible in our own strength. Dying to our “self life” is impossible without the power and revelation of the Holy Spirit as guide, comforter and teacher. However, faith is the key to opening the door to the  “Call to DIE.”  I believe the Lord is leading me into a season of death to self. As I typed the last sentence out, I shuttered knowing that it is a true statement inside my spirit.

However, there is also great joy in my heart because I  know that it is the leading of the Holy Spirit- and with His leading to “DIE” comes a season of bearing fruit or fruitfulness after the soil of my heart has been prepared to receive the seed. I do not think this is a formula or check list, but learning to be lead by the Spirit of God. How do you “DIE to self….?” Follow the leading and initial promptings of the Holy Spirit.

God lead Abraham to the place of sacrifice or death of his son then replaced the death of Isaac with the promise of God to multiply Abraham’s seed through the sacrifice God had provided. I believe Abraham was finally dead to making things work his way and had entrusted himself to God to fulfill the promise.

I believe that God’s provision in Jesus was enough- Jesus+Nothing else. The sacrifice that was provided has enabled us to move past our nature to sin into a place of promise and provision. Because it is God’s nature to cause us to “overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us.”~Romans 8:37

A Call to DIE

“I tell you the truth, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds.” John 12:24

Hello Internet-

I am reading a new book that is quite good and challenging as well.  I love new perspectives as I re-examine my life and heart. Motives surely dictate some of our tastes and preferences however, I find that motives are the driving force behind my choices in life. Jesus plus nothing equals everything is quite a good read and highly recommend it to anyone! I am seeking a deeper understanding of why some painful things happen to us in life and the purpose of those difficulties as well. I came upon this statement and it totally just blew me away-

“…because Jesus was strong for me, I was free to be weak; because Jesus was extraordinary, I was free to be ordinary; because Jesus succeeded for me, I was free to fail…”~Tullian Tchividjian

Some would argue that it sounds too complacent, not agressive enough, too passive to be of worth. It sounds like trusting God to do what He said he would do for me and you could be too easy?!  The more I read, the more I am compelled that it is truly on point with the heart of God. The question I have is this, “did God call me to a life of striving against my sinful nature?” It seems so far away from John 10:10- “I have come that you may have life and life more abundantly.”

Abundant life- fruitfulness, peace etc.  Am I truly experiencing abundant life right now? And if I am not- why? Hmmm, I think I place some of my creature comforts above sacrificing it all. I think a call to DIE is un-inviting and sounds terribly painful. Yet, for us to be fruitful we must DIE… DIE to all of the idols in our life- things that take over our heart, time and passions. A call to DIE… Here is the ironic part- we can not DIE without help. Without the power to DIE to these things we are just faking it, acting and conforming to please people, maybe to gain acceptance in our world of pain… A call to DIE sounds very unpleasant… Surrendering my life to the King of Kings to do with it as He wills… A call to DIE it is…

The Holy Spirit will lead you to a place of DEATH so HE can resurrect you into the real you! I am on the altar Lord- kill the idolatry inside of my heart Jesus!

I am a recovering KNOW IT ALL….

The Teen Challenge Southwest and Northwest Regional conference was a blessing this year, and I found some fodder for the preaching ministry this week as well. I am always challenged and intrigued by the view point and wisdom of those who have have forged new Teen Challenge centers, ministry works and the like- all from a “word from God” and the many trials and tests that they have passed and failed. I was recently reminded why it so important to make time to spend listening to the voice of God and be still and know that HE is God.  There were many leaders present at said conference and some are well known and very Godly and humble to say the least- the anointing was very present in their life. Awesome- is the word that kept coming to my mind. I was feeling quite small and insignificant in scheme of things, funny how making comparisons will leave you feeling the exact opposite of what the word declares, nevertheless, there you have it. I was gathering “all the things I know” and presenting them in a package that I felt would make me feel a little more important and not so, well, inexperienced.  SHEESH…HELP ME JESUS!!!  In retrospect, as I look back on the gathering- I learned some things that I feel are valuable and worth noting.

1. Make time to do things right; some things you can not do over. One of the presenters who was well known and famous to us Teen Challenge folks was not well prepared and it showed. Confusing dialogue and broad topics added to the fray as I tried to find the path he was presenting. I really wanted to get something out of this workshop!  I realized that relying on your status or position and experience will not make up for a sloppy presentation- We generally have our first impression to folks around us as a “living epistle,” let’s be legible. Be excellent in all you do, and in all you do, do it for HIM.  I did get something out of it- see next point!

2. Become a “learner” instead of a “knower.” The “knower” assimilates knowledge to be secure in his circle, to have  all the answers and be “the man,” so to speak. The “knower” is insecure and his power  and security rests in the “knowing of facts,” the pursuit of knowledge is not about being a help it is about being the one who “knows it all,” It is about control or the lack of it, the “knower” can not be influenced or taught.  A learner is willing to be influenced and taught- he is a sponge in absorbing truth and applying truth to become more like Christ, not to be “one up” in the conversation. Humility is the key word in a learners disposition, he has ceased from striving and has learned to wait, and process the truth and then apply it to his life FIRST.  THE KNOWER IS PROUD the LEARNER IS HUMBLE. The learner is in process and the knower presents himself as if he has almost arrived.

3. Run to the Source of life not from it.  The conference had something special just for me- it was like God set the table so I could eat real food and real drink and be satisfied. I am always hesitant to share my weaknesses publicly because the “religious and pious” can be quite the “knowers” when I share my heart. After all, having the right answer is more important that sharing ones burdens, or esteeming another higher than one’s self- sarcasm intended. I digress, I have recently been challenged with a set of new fatherly duties alien to the “knower” it is called LISTENING! Not for information mind you, to be regurgitated later for some self serving rhetoric, But soul listening- or maybe soul hearing. My oldest daughter has been struggling with an injury to her knee, and she has been asking hard questions that I do not have the answer for. “Dad, why has God not healed me yet?”  “I am so angry at God right now dad….” Wow….. My daughter tends to push me away when she struggles with her faith and trials. It hurts my heart to see her struggle. My tendency is to “solve her problems” in the bigger scheme of things this is an EPIC FAILURE on my part….. You guessed it, I am a recovering “knower” and I instantly wanted to spout off all I knew in the scriptures of faith and standing and believing and that doubt is from the devil and so on I spoke with some peers of mine from ministry and humbled myself to ask their opinion and counsel and they said “just affirm her and listen to her.” WHAT? REALLY?  IT SOUNDED TOO SIMPLE.  So I risked “not knowing the answer,” to apply this new wisdom and it was just what my daughter needed, she needed my heart, not my head!  My daughter needed me-her father- to listen and affirm her ability to hear from God; and to stand firm, and not to find fault in her moment of weakness. Then God spoke to my heart later and said that I do the same thing when I am struggling- I push Him away as I try to solve the problem with my FAITH, and knowledge of the WORD and that I traded “knowing the answer” from “Knowing Him!”  KNOWING THE ANSWER IS NOT THE SAME AS KNOWING HIM! Intimacy with Jesus is more important than having all the answers to life’s problems. AT SOME POINT IN MY JOURNEY I TRADED BEING THE ONE WHO KNOWS THE ANSWERS FOR KNOWING THE ONE WHO HAS THE ANSWERS. SO, I AM TRADING UP OR TRADING BACK- REPENTING IS WHAT I AM DOING!

Achan and Ishmael

Ok, so I am on this “why you should never do that again,” and the other revelation statement, “Oh, that’s why you should do this….”  If you have ever stuck your hand into a hot oven and have been burned, you quickly learn to be careful around hot objects! There are certain laws in our world that are absolutes; for example, the law of thermodynamics that many of us have experienced first hand. If you have ever skinned your knee or caught a flying object you know that what goes up must come down at some point, do to the law of gravity. We really only like absolutes when they work to our advantage!  Just as there are physical absolutes I believe there are spiritual absolutes as well. Two characters stick out to me from the bible that illustrate this point. Achan and Ishmael really have nothing in common other than they both have illustrate principles that can be applied to present times. Achan had taken some of the “accursed things” from an enemy in Joshua 7. However, God had forewarned Joshua, “And you, by all means abstain from the accursed things, lest you become accursed when you take the accursed things, and make the camp of Israel a curse, and trouble it. But all the silver and gold, and vessels of bronze and iron, are consecrated to the LORD; they shall come into the treasury of the LORD” (Jer. 6:18-19).  Unfortunately, Achan lusted after the accursed things and hid them in his tent.  The narrative goes on to say that Joshua sent about 300 people to conquer the very small people of Ai.

However, the small folks of Ai routed the Israelites and killed 36 men, this was so devastating that the bible says that people of God heart’s melted like wax. This hidden sin of Achan lifted the hand of God from the people of Israel, and 36 men died from one man’s sin. This is an unsettling story for anyone who hides their sin. While I understand that we live under the covenant of grace and we can never fulfill God’s law in the flesh, the way sin affects a believer has not changed.  Grace without truth (correction in this case) is not grace at all. Achan illustrates the principle of  leaders with hidden sin in their life bringing destruction to ones they claim to love. OUCH! This brings us to Ishamel; the child NOT promised by God. Ishamel did not commit any sin, but was the by product of a leader trying to bring God’s promise to pass through human reasoning.  Abraham and Sarah deviated from what God had spoken to them because they could not understand how God was going to bring this child of promise to fruition. So the heartache begins when Abraham has sexual relations with Hagar, consequently Sarah’s jealousy is aroused and she begins to treat Hagar badly and drives her away. The rest is history, the greatest enemy Israel has ever know is born. The principle illustrated here is that works in the flesh will bring you the greatest disappointment that you can ever imagine, anything not born of God’s promise will be your enemy in the end. Now, I am always talking about sexual sin these days and what devastation it brings not only to the offender but it utterly ruins a great multitude around the offender as well.

So, pornography and the hidden sin of Achan could be compared, with deadly results to your ministry, marriage or future marriage, your children and your grandchildren could go on to feel the effects of that hidden sin. Similarly, trying to bring a promise to pass through your own understanding and devices can end in giving birth to a lifelong problem instead of being blessed by the promise of God. Fortunately for us, God has always made a way of escape for us! 1 John 1:7 puts it simply and succinctly!

But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all[a] sin

8If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. 9If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.

My Testimony

Testimony of Rev. Rick Casto

Former Drug Addict ~ Now Director of Teen Challenge

I was raised in a violent home.  Physical fighting with emotional and verbal abuse was a normal part of every day. I started looking for peace and approval outside my family but looked in all the wrong places.  I wanted to be liked and I wanted to be cool.  The kids I felt comfortable with, where I fit in, was with those smoking pot and drinking beer. Following their path led me into a life filled with more physical and emotional abuse than I ever dreamed possible.  By the time I was 17 I had become a full-blown cocaine addict with all its robotic actions and destructive consequences.

I worshiped the needle.  But it too abused me.  I was infected with hepatitis and became very sick.  This didn’t stop my journey into drug use.  Some friends introduced me to crystal-meth and my life spiraled straight down into the pit of hell before I knew what was happening. The darkness of meth addiction is unbelievable; it steals your mind, it cripples your emotions, and it controls your will. Lying, stealing, committing every kind of crime is just the beginning of a life under the dictatorship of Meth.

Getting arrested and going to jail became routine for me.  My family was devastated by my actions.  I knew I was making wrong decisions but I just could not quit. In the middle of all that madness my father committed suicide. My 3½ year-old daughter Ashley found him.  It is very hard to describe the anger, the hurt and the despair that churned inside my gut. I felt like it was my fault that my dad had taken his life.  Shortly after that my wife divorced me and I was no longer a part of my daughter’s life.

I didn’t think life could get any worse.  I didn’t think life would ever get any better.  I walked into the tomb of addiction not really expecting to ever be free from the chains that bound me. I knew deep inside my heart that I too was committing suicide while everyone that loved me watched. The guilt and the shame of what I had become were unbearable.

That year I was again arrested for possession of a dangerous drug.  This time no one would bail me out. I sat in jail alone.  No longer able to get high or drunk my body cleared itself of the drugs and alcohol and their numbing effects.  Sober, I looked at my bail sheet and it read “transient” that is when I began to cry out for God’s help.

Even though I was released from jail and placed on probation I could not stop using meth.   I wanted to stay clean, to straighten out my life; but, I just could not quit.

I violated my terms of probation and was headed back to jail when the mercy of God met me.  Not wanting to go to jail, I asked my probation officer if I could go to Teen Challenge instead.   February 19th 1999, I entered Teen Challenge in Phoenix.  Anger still smoldered within me.  In fact, it took time to understand that really I was hurt more than I was angry.  While doing my required devotions one morning I was “arrested” by the words of Jesus as he hung on the cross, “My God my God why have you forsaken me?”  To me those words cried out, “my father my father why have you forsaken me?”  It was a galvanizing moment and one of the first times God spoke to me.  God began to heal the scars and peel away the protective shell I had put on during the years of abuse from my father. I finally understood all that Jesus had suffered for my sake.  He had suffered it all–even feeling rejected by his father. Teen Challenge was God’s hand healing me from years of destruction both from my family and to myself.

Soon after that, during one of the Wednesday night chapel services, God removed the desire of addiction from my heart.  He replaced it with a stronger desire–to go into ministry.  I couldn’t believe how much my life had changed in just a few short months.  From years of no purpose and no hope I faced a new life full of purpose, full of God’s loving guidance.  This path I was eager to travel.

As I approached my graduation from the Teen Challenge program, I was asked by the Director of the Christian Life Ranch to do an internship.  Becoming a part of Teen Challenge as a staff member was harder than going through the program as a student! The Lord began to mature me and grow me through the leadership at Teen Challenge.  In 2003, I received the privilege to attend Western Bible College while I continued working for Teen Challenge.  I just could not believe how good my life had become. I thought it couldn’t get any better…until I met Marie.  Marie was working for an evangelist setting up crusades and mission trips, working out of the church I attended in Scottsdale.  I asked Marie to marry me on Valentines Day 2004.

Today, I am the Center Director at the Christian Life Ranch–the very center where God had spoken to me and changed my life forever.  Marie and I minister together to the men going through the recovery program and to the staff and their families.

2007 was a year of even more miracles and restoration.  I had been separated from my daughter Ashley and had not seen or spoken to her since 1995.  Every lead I had, every search I made had come up blank.  On February 12th 2007, which happens to be Ashley’s birthday, the Lord spoke to my heart.  He gave me the verse Isaiah 42:9, “He would make all things new.”   We had just found out that Marie was pregnant and I thought God was confirming what was already taking place.   He was; but not the way I thought.  My daughter Ashley contacted me!  She wanted to get to know her father!  And, she knew Jesus Christ as her own personal Saviour.  In fact, Ashley goes on her first missions’ trip with her youth group this summer!  Since that phone call, she has visited Marie and I and we are building a strong relationship.  Truly, God is making all things new!  To God be the glory great things HE has done!  I didn’t believe it possible; but, since choosing God’s path, my life has only gotten better and better.

As the Director of the Christian Life Ranch I receive the additional blessing of overseeing addicts and men with other life-controlling problems become new creations in Christ and begin their own paths filled with hope and promise.  It gives me an extreme feeling of fulfillment   God has placed a passion in me to preach and teach His Word.  Looking back on my former life, this is amazing.  Watching new testimonies being formed by the hand of God is truly awesome.

God is no respecter of persons, what He has done for me He will do for anyone who will put their trust in Jesus.  Over the years my testimony has changed because the Lord continues to change me.  He continues to use me, to do miracles for and through me, and to bless me.  I am following God’s path and my life is an ongoing testimony that God is able and does do exceedingly abundantly above all that I (my family or anyone else) could think or ask according to the power that works inside of me.   To God be all the praise and Glory.  Amen!