“Therefore, cleanse your heart and stop being so stubborn!” – Deuteronomy 10:16
One of the many things I love about the Bible is how direct and plainspoken it can be. In this scripture Moses is addressing Israel at the end of forty years of wandering around in the wilderness, telling them in no uncertain terms that they need to change their rebellious ways and get on board with God’s plan. His words are relevant to Celebrate Recovery because that’s what people in the fourth step have to do in order to be healed. The “searching and fearless” moral inventory we’re asked to undergo is a vital part of the purification process, necessary in order to scrub sinful urges from the walls of our hearts. Jesus wasn’t talking in riddles when he said, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.” He was teaching the absolute truth. I think by now anyone who’s come with me this far understands the basic idea of what an inventory is so I won’t belabor it. However, what we do with our finished inventory going forward is critical to our long-term recovery. It’s now time to pose difficult questions concerning what we discovered about ourselves. What I found when I got all my subconscious clutter out in the open was a thirst and hunger for something that this world won’t, can’t and never will satisfy. I also realized that my inner pain and disappointment was not the real problem. My determination to relieve my pain and disappointment in any way I could was. For decades I self-medicated with alcohol and pot but as I got older they got to be a drag and fortunately I was able to stop using them on my own volition. What I didn’t and couldn’t give up was my secret world of porn addiction and it almost cost me my marriage. By taking a serious, unflinching look at what my inventory unveiled I was able to confront the issues that led me to mollify my insatiable spiritual hunger and thirst by ogling lusty images. Whatever your particular hurts, hang-ups and habits are you won’t uncover their impetus until you decipher what your inventory unearthed.
I think many of us have entertained the thought at one time or another that we could get along with everybody just fine if people weren’t involved. But life doesn’t work that way. We all have a mortal mother and father whether they were active in our upbringing or not. The vast majority of us have family members we interact with and most of us have friends as well as peer groups of various sizes and distinctions. In other words, unless you live in a cave, you mingle with humans and every one of them has the potential to let you down. When you did your inventory several key individuals made an appearance. The past has passed and they did what they did but now you must determine if you’re still hanging on to it. Grudges are nasty things to hold. Sherrilyn Kenyon wrote, “Grudges seldom hurt anyone except the one bearing them,” and Steve Maraboli said, “When you hold a grudge you want someone else’s sorrow to reflect your level of hurt but the two rarely meet.” An old adage declares it’s like swallowing poison and expecting the other person to die. Common sense tells us that harboring a grudge is an exercise in futility and only condemns us to reliving the hurt over and over but we do it anyway because we want revenge. Romans 12:19 states, “Do not avenge yourselves, dear friends, but give place to God’s wrath, for it is written, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay,’ says the Lord.” But often we stupidly pay that scripture no heed. We want them to suffer like we did. Confucius wisely quipped, “Before you embark on a journey of revenge, dig two graves.” As desperately as you may desire payback all you’ll end up with is bitterness in your heart that’ll manifest itself in a million unintended ways. Zora Hurston wrote, “Bitterness is the coward’s revenge on the world for having been hurt.” Christians should be above possessing such base emotions. The righteous thing to do is to turn negatives into positives. No matter what a human being did to you the best revenge is to prove they couldn’t keep you down. I don’t mean we’re to endorse tolerance of brutal behavior or cruelty. Not at all. I stumbled across a quote from an 11th century Greek archbishop named Theophylact I found helpful: “The meek are not those who are never at all angry, for such are insensible; but those who are feeling anger control it and are angry only when they ought to be. Meekness excludes revenge, irritability and morbid sensitiveness, but not self-defense, or a quiet and steady maintenance of right.” When in doubt pray as our Lord suggested, “Forgive us our debts, as we ourselves have forgiven our debtors.”
Jealousy is another clandestine trait that might’ve bobbed to the surface during your excavation. Havelock Ellis called it “that dragon which slays love under the pretense of keeping it alive.” 18th century English writer Hannah More wrote, “O, Jealousy, thou ugliest fiend of hell! Thy deadly venom preys on my vitals, turns the healthful hue of my fresh cheek to haggard sallowness, and drinks my spirit up.” (I challenge you to top that pithy description!) Associated with unbridled jealousy, the carrying of grudges and seeking revenge is our insistence on justifying our self-centered acts. This is an awful habit that must be stopped if we’re to follow in the footsteps of our Lord. Rudyard Kipling once wrote with sarcasm, “I never made a mistake in my life; at least, never one that I couldn’t explain away afterwards.” Too many of us are guilty of replanting blame in someone else’s yard. Ayn Rand quipped, “There can be no justification for choosing any part of that which one knows to be evil.” Unfortunately this trait seems to be a component of our collective DNA. Daniel Gilbert said, “Research suggests that people are typically unaware of the reasons why they’re doing what they’re doing, but when asked for a reason, they readily supply one.” We are, indeed, resourceful creatures that, without God living in us and lighting our path, are liable to go to ridiculous extremes in rationalizing our actions. Ludwig Wittgenstein said, “If I have exhausted justifications, I have reached the bedrock and my spade is turned. Then I am inclined to say: ‘This is simply what I do.’” But Christians have no acceptable excuse for willfully sinning and the worn out line of “that’s just the way I am” doesn’t apply once we’ve been saved. As the Apostle Paul said in 2 Corinthians 5:17; “When someone becomes a Christian he becomes a brand new person inside. He is not the same any more. A new life has begun!” And that new life is one wherein we take full responsibility for what we do, think and say.
This brings us to the sticky subject of inborn temperament. Fact is, some of us (me included) are not naturally upbeat, outgoing friendly characters and we have to work hard to overcome our less-than-attractive demeanor. This is not to say there’s something inherently sinful about being bashful or even prone to entertaining the blues on occasion. The Bible and church history are filled with those types from Jeremiah to Paul to Martin Luther. Yet danger lurks when we take refuge in our introverted mien and thereby fail to convey to non-believers the joy of being a child of the living God. We must keep in mind what Psalm 118:24 says; “This is the day the Lord has made. We will rejoice and be glad in it.” Always being a grumpy sourpuss won’t cut it and if it takes recommitting daily to the task of beating that part of our personality into a pulp then so be it. One translation of Ephesians 4:31 reads “Get rid of all bitterness, passion, and anger. No more shouting or insults. No more hateful feelings of any sort.” Chuck Swindoll said, “The remarkable thing is, we have a choice every day regarding the attitude we’ll embrace for that day.” Remember, you’re a new creature in Christ and no longer bound by the surly outlook that enslaved you. So act accordingly! If you don’t the ultimate shame that awaits you is getting labeled a hypocrite and there’s few things more damaging to the cause of Christianity. Jesus attacked that character defect head on in Luke 6:41 when he asked his followers, “Why do you see the speck in your brother’s eye, but fail to see the beam of wood in your own?” We’re all dreadfully prone to being judgmental. Theodor Adorno wrote, “The splinter in your eye is the best magnifying glass available.” As disciples of our Savior we have a duty to walk the walk and not just talk the talk. Becoming two-faced is a trap easily fallen into. Jonathan Edwards preached that “Godliness is more easily feigned in words than in actions” and John Calvin didn’t pull his punches when he said “Hypocrisy can plunge the mind of man into a dark abyss where he believes his own self-flattery instead of God’s verdict.” Remind yourself constantly that, while unbelievers may ridicule Christians as fools, they never take their eyes off of us.
If it seems I’m accentuating the negative side of having taken a moral inventory I can only report that there’s nothing pretty about viewing our sinful nature. When Paul confessed in Romans 7:18; “I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out” he certainly wasn’t assuaging his ego. We’re all sinners. Yet what we try to demonstrate at Celebrate Recovery is that there is an effective way to improve, to be a better representative of our Lord and to become more Christ-like one day at a time. It starts with getting one’s priorities straight: God first, everything else secondary. As Moses told the multitude in Deuteronomy 6:5; “You must love the Lord your God with your whole mind, your whole being, and all your strength.” Notice he emphasized the prominent role our minds are to play in loving the Heavenly Father. If we truly respect and adore the great I AM who created us then our focus should be on obeying His laws and not our animal instincts. D.L. Moody wrote, “Obedience means marching right on whether we feel like it or not. Many times we go against our feelings. Faith is one thing, feeling is another.” By reading the Bible every day we’re able to trust that the indwelling Holy Spirit will steer us in the right direction. Paul taught in Romans 12:2; “Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is – his good, pleasing and perfect will.” Our Lord doesn’t intend for us to play guessing games when it comes to knowing what He wants us to do. Only by obediently staying “in the Word” can our minds grow in awareness of His glorious and rewarding plan for our life. It’s too bad that the word “obedience” has gotten a bad rap in modern culture for, as Dietrich Bonhoeffer said, “One act of obedience is better than one hundred sermons.” Obeying our Father in heaven should be considered a privilege, not a chore. Richard Foster wrote, “Joy, not grit, is the hallmark of holy obedience. We need to be lighthearted in what we do to avoid taking ourselves too seriously. It is a cheerful revolt against self and pride.”
Another area where we can accent the positive is our health. We are fully responsible for maintaining the upkeep on this conglomerate of flesh and blood that our soul resides in so if we’ve mistreated it in the past by abusing alcohol, drugs, food, etc. or by being too lazy to exercise properly it’s time to do something about it. 1 Corinthians 6:19-20 is clear: “Do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and you are not your own? For you were bought at a price. Therefore glorify God with your body.” Sometimes the most effective testimony you can present to another person is to display diligence in honoring and taking care of the temple where the Spirit of Christ dwells. Frederick Buechner said, “Pay mind to your own life, your own health and wholeness. A bleeding heart is of no help to anyone if it bleeds to death.” Also true is that you are what you think so it’s important to exert control over wayward impulses. Jesus said in Matthew 15:11; “What defiles a person is not what goes into the mouth; it is what comes out of the mouth that defiles a person.” Vance Havner astutely said, “The temple of truth has never suffered so much from woodpeckers on the outside as from termites within.” Along with our health we must pay attention to the members of our families, the loved ones who bore the biggest brunt of the pain resulting from our destructive hurts, hang-ups and habits. It’s going to take time to restore their trust but it can be done with God’s help. I quote Moody again: “A man ought to live so that everybody knows he is a Christian… And most of all, his family ought to know.” Inform them that the change they’re seeing is not a product of you simply trying to be a nicer guy but that the Son of God has redeemed you as His own and you’re no longer who you used to be. Let them know you now hold yourself to the highest of standards. It’s time to become the godly role model that Jesus is and wants you to be. Joshua 24:15 states, “If you have no desire to worship the Lord, choose today whom you will worship… But I and my family will worship the Lord!” Paul Tripp wrote, “In the family, life is brought not only to our doorstep but into our kitchens, bedrooms and dens. In the family, life is happening all around us and it begs to be questioned, evaluated, interpreted and discussed. There is no more consistent, pregnant, dynamic forum for instruction about life than the family, because that is exactly what God designed the family to be, a learning community.”
Speaking of worshipping the Lord, a crucial yet often-overlooked aspect of recovery and discipleship is church. In order to receive all the wonderful blessings of healing our Lord has to offer, participation in His church is mandatory. “Been there, done that” doesn’t fly. If you’ve had frustrating experiences in the past trying to become an active cog in a congregation of believers then perhaps you just haven’t found the right bunch yet. You can’t give up. Wayne Mack wrote, “Church membership is not an incidental or optional matter for the Christian. Rather it’s an essential and important aspect of the Christian life. According to scripture, being a part of a local church brings with it tremendous privileges and serious responsibilities that can be fulfilled in no other way.” When I reached my low point some years ago a voice inside scolded me for neglecting the church far too long. In my late teens I’d decided that all churches were full of bigoted hypocrites and I held that opinion for most of my life because it was a convenient excuse to sleep late on Sunday mornings. But when I had nowhere else to go for help I crawled to the one in town where I’d voted once. During the service the affable music minister, Donny Parrish, held his arms out wide and boldly announced, “In this church we take anybody!” That’s precisely what I needed to hear because I’d dragged a lot of smelly baggage in there with me. Those folks didn’t care who I was, where I’d been or what I’d been doing. They were just glad I’d showed up. They also had a CR ministry ready to welcome me. If that’s not the warm, loving reception you receive as a visitor then keep looking. Jesus has a church in mind for you. As Hebrews 10:24-25 says, “…Let us take thought of how to spur one another on to love and good works, not abandoning our church meetings, as some people do, but encouraging each other…” Bottom line is this; a church family is indispensable to your recovery.