FamilyLife Today® Podcast

Karl Clauson: Who is in Control?

with Karl Clauson | September 14, 2022
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Author Karl Clauson knows addiction and life-wreckage. He also understands how to get to the flip side and decide Who is in control? for the better.


  • Show Notes

  • About the Host

  • About the Guest


  • Dave and Ann Wilson

    Dave and Ann Wilson are hosts of FamilyLife Today®, FamilyLife’s nationally-syndicated radio program. Dave and Ann have been married for more than 38 years and have spent the last 33 teaching and mentoring couples and parents across the country. They have been featured speakers at FamilyLife’s Weekend to Remember® marriage getaway since 1993 and have also hosted their own marriage conferences across the country. Cofounders of Kensington Church—a national, multicampus church that hosts more than 14,000 visitors every weekend—the Wilsons are the creative force behind DVD teaching series Rock Your Marriage and The Survival Guide To Parenting, as well as authors of the recently released book Vertical Marriage (Zondervan, 2019). Dave is a graduate of the International School of Theology, where he received a Master of Divinity degree. A Ball State University Hall of Fame quarterback, Dave served the Detroit Lions as chaplain for 33 years. Ann attended the University of Kentucky. She has been active alongside Dave in ministry as a speaker, writer, small-group leader, and mentor to countless wives of professional athletes. The Wilsons live in the Detroit area. They have three grown sons, CJ, Austin, and Cody, three daughters-in-law, and a growing number of grandchildren.

Author Karl Clauson knows addiction and life-wreckage. He also understands how to get to the flip side and decide Who is in control? for the better.

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Karl Clauson: Who is in Control?

With Karl Clauson
September 14, 2022
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Karl: Grace is God’s power to do in us what we can’t do in ourselves. So what do we have here?—do we have a middle zone, where it can be somewhat kind of self-led?—no, no, no, no; I'm convinced of this: self-help, self-led, self-will is actually stiff armed by God; He loves us that much.



Ann: Welcome to FamilyLife Today, where we want to help you pursue the relationships that matter most. I’m Ann Wilson.

Dave: And I’m Dave Wilson, and you can find us at or on our FamilyLife® app.

Ann: This is FamilyLife—


Dave: —Today.


Okay, how many years have we been speaking at the FamilyLife Weekend to Remember® getaway?

Ann: I think 33.

Dave: Thirty-three years.

Ann: I think so.

Dave: In 33-plus years of speaking at the FamilyLife Weekend to Remember, I've never had—this only happened one time—a conferee actually got my home phone number.

Ann: —which would be hard, back in the day, especially.

Dave: Yes, this was before cell phones.

Ann: —or social media.

Dave: This was before you could direct message anybody. You only could contact somebody through a call to their home. My home phone rings in my kitchen. Remember, we had that long cord?

Ann: Yes.

Dave: It was about 48 feet long because we could wrap it around the whole family room. I pick it up; and this guy that went to the FamilyLife Weekend to Remember in Little Rock, Arkansas, got my number!

Ann: I remember asking you, “Who was that?” He [Dave] goes, “It was this guy at a conference/at the conference that I met.”

Dave: I’m like, “I don't even know how somebody could get my home number”; but this dude got it, and he's sitting in the studio today.

Ann: That’s right; he is.

Karl: Isn’t that cool?

Dave: Do you remember that, Karl? Karl Clauson is in the studio.

Karl: I’ve got to tell you—at first, I'm like, “Who is this?”—and then I'm, “That's me. [Laughter] That's me.”

Dave: Do you remember it?

Karl: I do; that conference in Little Rock rocked my bride and I in a big way.

Ann: Were you a youth pastor?

Karl: No; I was with Robert Lewis in Little Rock, Arkansas. I was pastoring a group of single adults, and it was/there was a revival breaking out.

But all the while, my bride and I had a glorified roommate situation going on. And you know what? Sometimes, you don't know it until you know it. Coming to the Weekend that weekend, you guys were used so powerfully of God to help reorient our life back to something sweet. Isn’t that cool?

Ann: That's really cool.

Dave: Yes; and here you are, decades later. We're going to talk about your book, The 7 Resolutions: Where Self-Help Ends and God's Power Begins.

You’re a pastor of a church in Chicago—180 Chicago—is that what it’s called?

Karl: 180 Chicago, yes.

Dave: And we've been on your radio show—Moody radio in Chicago—Karl and Crew. It's the best.

Ann: It's amazing.

Dave: You’re the best radio host in the world, besides my wife. [Laughter] But you're the best in the world. Yes, I mean, seriously, we love coming on your show.

Karl: It’s a joy to have you on; it really is. We're all about authenticity—it's used a lot now—but we want to be authentic, and we want to give hope; so we bust open the Word. We’re really doing a different kind of a show; and that is, we help people take their next step with Jesus. We really want to help people grow.

Dave: That's what/sort of what your book is about.

Karl: Yes; it's about growing, but it's in a very unconventional way. Let me just jump in. [Laughter] American Christianity has an Achilles heel; and that is, I really believe we understand God's grace for salvation; and then we try to bootstrap sanctification, which is a big old word for growing up in Jesus.

We find ourselves sitting here, and God’s promises are over there—my goal with this book is to close that gap—so the promises of God: like bearing much fruit, and overcoming the stuff in the world, and winning battles that you thought were unwinnable—seeing those things getting beat by the power of God.

Ann: So Karl, when you say we bootstrap it, what do you mean by that?

Karl: Self-help is everywhere, I think almost like the American dream. I love the American dream—come on; it's got so much good to it—but the problem is it doesn't jive with biblical Christianity. It doesn't totally dovetail.

Biblical Christianity is born out of humility, and it's grown out of humility. The American dream is all about: “Suck it up, buttercup; here we go.” Biblical Christianity is all about hanging in that point of need—“As you received Christ, so walk in Him,”—Paul said to the Colossians. And that's what we've done—we've received Christ because we were broken and at the end of our self—I don't think you're fit for the kingdom of God until you are.

And then, we find ourselves getting up, living by “shoulds” and “ought to’s.” Even if we say, “Oh, I don't live by that,” I believe the dominant kind of vibe in American Christianity is: “Boy, you better get ‘er done”; and that is antithetical to the gospel.

Dave: Let's talk about brokenness. You walked through that.

Ann: Well, let me say too, as Karl walked in, Junanne—you guys have been married how long?

Karl: Thirty-four years.

Ann: —with two kids.

Karl: Yes.

Ann: I watch you and Junanne, and you guys are fiery for Jesus,—

Karl: Yes, we are.

Ann:still, like you're passionate. When anyone is around the two of you, you can tell: “They've been with Jesus.” I asked you, “Why is that?”; and you said—

Karl: “We got saved twice, both my wife and I.” Now, some are listening going, “Oh, boy.

Dave: I was just going to say, “That's bad theology.”

Karl: “We got a heretic on the horn here.”

Now, salvation/my soul was saved in 1984. I was raised in church—even an officer in my youth group; helped charter a plane to go listen to Josh McDowell in Seattle; that's how old I am—he was preaching, but nothing was really connecting. I had this illusion of transformation, growing up in the church. I thought I knew Jesus, but I didn't.

Then I go out and I do that thing called the Iditarod when I was 18 years old: 1100-mile dogsled race across Alaska.

Dave: Just a little thing you just throw out there.

Karl: Yes, I trained—

Ann: He’s just like, “I did the Iditarod.” 

Dave: “I did the little Iditarod thing.”

Karl: —I trained for two years for that thing. It took 21 days, 8 hours, 12 minutes and

32 seconds; but—

Dave: Whoa, whoa, wait; 21 days?

Karl: Yes, 21 days.

Dave: —behind a dogsled/on a dogsled?

Karl: Yes, behind a dogsled from Anchorage, Alaska, to Nome, Alaska. And it's brutal; I mean, I got into tough situations. I mean, really brutal; in fact, I did a foxhole prayer, out there on the Iditarod; I said, “God, if You get me out of this one, I'll come back to church. I promise You.”

But that/part of my story is that my first salvation—God saved me from an illusion of transformation—I was a Matthew 7 kid: I was on the path to saying, “Lord, Lord.” I knew the songs; I had been baptized; but really, I found out later, I just got wet; because I wasn't born again. I had all the lingo down, but I didn't have the power of God.

So after the Iditarod, I had a horrible, horrible experience within two hours after that race was done. I was crushed because I thought, “Oh, no. I spent two years of my life [training].” I didn't even have anyone to process this with. All I thought is: “Alright; I busted my tail for two years, training for this thing;”—saved every penny: working at a lumberyard, driving a forklift, busted my keister—"and now, this is it?”

And guys, it almost brings me to tears right now because, as a young man at 18, I walked down Front Street [in] Nome. I wasn't even old enough to go into a bar; you had to be 19. I walked down Front Street all alone. I heard the Spirit of God calling me—Satan was screaming at me, too—and I didn't lend an ear to God. So I went out on a three-year quest, really, looking to get the void filled/that God-shaped void. You'll do almost anything to fill that up. I mean, it went from a pretty-good-living 18-year-old kid to cocaine user.

God was extending mercy to me. Isn't it amazing, when you're running from God, He's still chasing you and extending mercy?

Dave: He's not chasing you to punish you; He's chasing you to embrace you.

Karl: Oh, He’s chasing me to embrace me, man. Yes, God doesn’t have out a whip—He's got open arms—you kidding me?

I just exhausted all possibilities, man—had a pretty serious cocaine and Crown Royal® addiction. They seemed to counteract one another. On February 11 of 1984, I was driving down a road in Anchorage, Alaska. God said to me, “Are you done yet?” I just broke into a bundle of tears; and I said, “I'm so done.” Jesus saved my soul.

It was amazing—the deliverance was overnight for me; it isn't for some of my friends—I work with guys, all the time, who are allowing the Lord to take control of different areas of their life; but for me, those things God delivered me from. That was my first salvation.

My second, third—and who knows how many thousands of times God’s saved me—He saved me from self-help. I thought, for many years, I needed to do this thing in my strength. That takes us full circle to the FamilyLife conference in Little Rock, where you guys were speaking; and you guys gave a vision. God allowed you to give a vision of what a dynamic marriage could be! I realized, “Man, I don't have the power to do this.”

In fact, I got it in my face in a brutal way; it was just a couple of months before we came to that conference. Now, get this: I am leading a ministry that went from 12 singles to 500, who were on fire. We had a mutual friend, Greg Dempster, was leading worship for us. I was teaching on Thursday nights. God was using that, so we're watching God do something amazing.

I'm walking through my house one day. I’m minding my own business, just tooling through the home—just got some honey-do list done—I think it was a Saturday morning. My wife’s sitting on the bed, and I'm heading for our restroom. She reaches out; grabs my left wrist—I'll never forget it—reaches out; grabs my left wrist. I looked down, and her chin’s quivering.

I'm like, “Babe, what's up?!”—I thought someone died. She goes “Bub, we’ve got a problem.” I said “What, babe? What's going on?” She said, “I don't love you anymore, and it scares me half to death.”

Shelby: Wow; that's heavy. We'll hear more from Karl Clauson, coming up on FamilyLife Today, in just a minute.

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Alright; now, back to Dave and Ann with Karl Clauson and what happened after his wife told him she didn't love him anymore.

Ann: How long had you been married?

Karl: Seven years. Now, you need to know Mr. Iditarod man: built homes with my dad, man; worked 300 miles north of the Arctic Circle; commercial fished for eight seasons; spent two years of my life, at that point, on the ocean, commercial fishing. It's a man's world; it's a—“Fix it; get it done,”—you know—“Let's make it happen.”

Dave: You should have been in that commercial, man.

Karl: Oh, yes; yes, yes.

Ann: —The Most Interesting Man in the World [ad campaign].

Dave: You sound like that guy; you did it all.

Karl: Yes, did it all; but you know what's crazy? I had no answers for my bride. I remember the hopeless feeling of: “I got nothing”; and I said nothing to her. I walked around the corner, walked into the bathroom, looked in the mirror. There was that battle again; and the battle was Satan telling me, “Come on, Junanne's got all of this.”

And by the way, she would have owned all of her stuff in a heartbeat. And the Lord whispered to me, “Look at Me, young man.” And on that day, I broke. I was saved from trying to be a man of God in my marriage, in my strength, and God began to—what goes on to this day—He saved me from Karl, trying to be the man; and He showed me what Holy Spirit power looks like.

And so when I say I've been saved twice—it's really not true—I actually wrote that in the book: “I've been saved twice,” but that's not accurate. Sometimes, I get saved four or five times in one conversation. I might get saved here, talking with you guys—because if we live in the Spirit—it's almost like we live up here, a couple of notches, just aware of the Spirit of God speaking in and through us; right? But it's easy to duck back down into Karl mode.

I think most people have that common experience—we just don't realize it—then: “Wow, we need to live with the juice of Jesus constantly flowing through us.” So here I am today, all these years later. Yes, I'm more fired up about Jesus than I ever have been in my life. Really, it gets stronger, and sweeter, and more convicting. And there's more pain, because God will allow you to go through it to grow you; but it's all beautiful, man.

Ann: You're so right, Karl. He gives us, I would say, these defining moments—

Karl: Oh, yes.

Ann: —where, as you said, we see ourselves. We see that we're broken; we're needy. I've tried to do it on my own, all the time; but it's that surrender, like, “Lord, what am I doing?”—like: “It's You; it's You. I can only do it with You and Your Spirit in me,”—not just gutting it out, which I can easily/I think we can all do that.

Karl: Yes.

Dave: Do you think we surrender—fall down in humility—without a brokenness/without a moment? I mean, you talked about that moment, when your wife said, “I've/I have nothing.” I know, in the last couple years, you've gone through hard times as well—

Karl: Yes.

Ann: —health things.

Dave: —you know, medically—health stuff.

I don't know if we get there without some moment, where we just/we come to the end of ourselves.

Karl: You know, that's a great question, Dave. I think there needs to be these hallmark moments of/almost these banner moments of brokenness. By God's grace, He will allow us to use those as a stones of memorial so that we can remember again.

I had a breaking in my life about 14 years ago that—woo; it was tough, man—I got betrayed, and it was brutal. But God has used that in a sweet way, because I go back to it time and again. That's a remembrance thing that God reminds me of my need for Him; but on plenty of occasions, He'll break me anew. [Laughter]

Ann: I’m just thinking of the listener, who's going through something really hard right now: you know, like just broken; I mean: “This is your opportunity; that God's like, ‘Just come to Me, all you who are weary,’—can you say, ‘all you who are broken’?—"and I will be enough.”

Karl: Ann, I’ve got to tell you: you are right on, sister. I tell people that come up to me, after a church service when I preached a message, or maybe I'm talking to them on radio. Sometimes, I'll go and pick up a line and talk to them direct if someone’s really hurting. I'll tell them this: “In your deepest brokenness, you are never, ever more positioned for God to do something great than now. So what you see, as devastating, God sees as a golden opportunity.”

Dave: And I would guess there's a guy listening right now, whose wife has said to him what Junanne said to you—

Karl: —“I don't love you.”

Dave: —and what Ann said to me. What would you say to that guy? What's he do? How does he respond?

Karl: “Humble yourself under God's mighty hand, and He will lift you up.” I am a big believer that humility is the posture of power. I mean this from the bottom of my heart. Andrew Murray said it; he said, “Humility is the one virtue that gives birth to every other virtue,”—and he's right! He's right!—humility is such a hot commodity, in God's eyes, that “He resists the proud and gives grace to the humble [James 4:6].” And sometimes, we go to God: “Grant grace to the humble.” Grace is God’s power to do in us what we can't do in our self.

So what do we have here?—do we have a middle zone, where it can be somewhat kind of self-led?—no, no, no, no. I'm convinced of this—self-help, self-led, self-will is actually stiff armed by God—He loves us that much.

Ann: Karl, what would you say to the wife, who's Junanne?—or me?—you know, back in that day, where we have nothing; and she's thinking, “Yes, if only my husband would humble himself.” [Laughter] What would you say to that wife?

Karl: First off, speak truth. I'd say, “Give them a shot at the full deal.”

Ann: And I would say, because I'm a good truth speaker, [Laughter] I would say—

Dave: I concur; I’ve heard it.

Ann: I would say: “Do it in love; speak the truth in love,” “Calm down; pray before you say it.” Because Dave didn't hear me, because I was so loud all the time. When I said it in love—even Junanne/she said, “I don’t love you anymore,”—she was honest and open.

Karl: —and she was crying; she was crying.

Ann: Exactly.

Karl: My bride didn't beat me up; she told me, “Look, this scares me.” And her chin’s quivering, guys!

Ann: That's speaking the truth in love.

Karl: It is, and it was beautiful. So yes, you speak the truth; but you don't try to waylay the guy; let God do that.

But the key, then, is to be a true biblical partner: go to your knees. I've seen God heal so much: I've seen him heal cancer in our home; I've seen him heal a marriage; I've seen him heal children. God’s a healer, and I think we underestimate the power of God to intervene. We need to pray like the old saints did, man: just get back on our knees.

Dave: I mean, is that resolution number one?—“Join God”; is that what you're talking about?

Karl: Yes; “Joining God” is all about getting in position for God's power.

I love to use this story—for me, it captures it—I hope it makes sense to you. I learned how to water ski in Alaska, right when the ice came off of a lake at a Bible camp. I saw these guys out there, skiing. The camp had just gotten this new boat—it was a Ski Nautique, man—it's like a nice ski boat. I'm like, “Wow; look at these guys.”

I was young, but I thought, “I'm going to give it a go.” I got out there: got my vest on, plopped down two skis, water start. I put the rope between the skis—and they pulled it taut—they had given me some basic instruction. They said, “When you're ready, yell ‘Hit it.’” I'm like, “Alright, hit it!” Here goes the Ski Nautique, man, pulling me up out of the water—and arms extended, I'm coming up out—and I mean, I'm almost on top of the water.

And then, I broke Water Skiing 101—I broke it: the big rule—I grab that handle, and I thought, “This boat needs my help.” [Laughter] I pulled on that handle; I pulled it right up to my chest, and I went head over heels. Guys, I got a nasal flush like you can't believe. I thought I had three lake trout go through each nostril; [Laughter] I mean, it was a flush.

I'm bobbing there in the water. Now, I'm exhausted; because if you've water skied, you know how exhausting it is when you're trying to get drug up out of the water, and you don't make it. I'm lying there, panting for air. The guy comes around on the boat—had a few friends there—and they're just heckling me.

But thankfully, there's a guy, who was actually somewhat Godward. He looks down at me, and he says, “Hey, you almost had it. Don't try to do what the boat alone can do. [Laughter] Don’t try to help it.” Well, that's a metaphor for our relationship with God. Do we do nothing?—no. Listen, I was up on that lake, and I was skiing; and soon I was slalom skiing.

A lot of people look at this—and they go—they look at that metaphor and they miss something; they go, “Oh, yes; I just got to hang onto God.” Now, there's training/there's training involved, and there's effort. Dallas Willard said, “Grace is not opposed to effort; it’s opposed to earning,”—that's the difference. God's power is not something we earn—it's something we tap into—that's the game-changer!

I keep coming back to this—but Americanized Christianity—and I'm not just trying to hit America; I love America—you kidding me? But I think—apart from our brothers and sisters in the underground church in Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, China—they have a built-in dependence on God: persecution. But we, having this great experiment here, need to remember that we're not naturally defaulting back to—on our knees—but that's where the power is. So hanging onto God, remembering this: “We don't have anything to prove, nothing to gain, nothing to win/nothing to lose in Christ; but we somehow think we've got something to prove.”

So yes, the key to joining God is: “Fall on your face.” Humility is one of the most beautiful things. I've been talking with my adult son, here recently, about this; and I said, “You know, humility is the ability to be self-aware when you walk into a room. You know: ‘I'm in Christ; I don't have anything to prove here.’” This is awesome; and I tell my son, “Kaben, you can live up here, man. You can live at a different place, because you've been graced by God to live there. So the words you say, the way you posture yourself, the stories you tell—you don't need to validate yourself—you just go live your life, man; and watch God lead you. That’s a powerful place to be.”

Shelby: You've been listening to Dave and Ann Wilson with Karl Clauson on FamilyLife Today. His book is called The 7 Resolutions: Where Self-Help Ends and God’s Power Begins. You can get a copy at or by calling 800-358-6329; that's 1-800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word, “TODAY.”

Tomorrow, Dave and Ann will be joined, again, by Karl Clauson to talk about God's mercy through hard times and the benefits of taking risks.

On behalf of Dave and Ann Wilson, I’m Shelby Abbott. We will see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.

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