“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to them.” – Matthew 5:10
The nine points Jesus made in the opening of His Sermon on the Mount are models of contradicting concepts intended to create a distinct dividing line in society between those who think they’ve got it all figured out and those who know they don’t. Each statement is a perfect oxymoron. What I’m saying is that if you were a member of the Jewish “in crowd” of that day you’d likely have thought, “I’m not poor in spirit or in mourning or meek or hungry for righteousness and I sure wouldn’t feel blessed if I was!” After hearing just that much of the Lord’s teaching you would’ve tuned him right out and dismissed him as a nut. Jesus knew that would happen. Therefore the rest of the Beatitudes were meant to encourage and enlighten those who could identify with what He was telling them. He urged them to be merciful, to purify their hearts and to make peace. He then added the stern disclaimer that informed his audience of the hardships that awaited His followers. He told them that folks would insult them, make fun of them, spread ugly rumors about them and possibly do much worse things. If you’re of a mind to start a new religious movement this is not how you want to go about doing it. You’d have better luck announcing that simply by saddling up with your posse your acolytes’ income would double, their kids would obey their every command, their spouse would adore everything about them and they’d be in a position to acquire every material thing they ever desired. Unfortunately, that’s what too many modern day preachers have turned the gospel message into because they’ve found it easier to attract gnats with honey than with vinegar. Yet even the briefest glance at the opening statements of Christ’s public ministry makes it clear that becoming a disciple of His will be no tiptoe through the tulips. Jesus promises hardships, ostracism and harsh persecution. He then adds that, when all is said and done, it’ll be worth it.
That’s why the eighth principle of Celebrate Recovery requires serious forethought and uncompromising commitment: “Yield myself to God to be used to bring this Good News to others, both by my example and by my words.” This chapter’s featured scripture guarantees that after going “all in” Christians must prepare to meet with discrimination, ridicule and sometimes oppression for their faith in the Heavenly Father and His only begotten Son. Those of us who enjoy the blessings of living in a part of the world where individual freedom is championed don’t have to face torture or imprisonment for our beliefs. Thank God. However, we will know subtle but nonetheless painful and disappointing rejection from close friends, associates and family members who’ll no doubt resent the new person our Savior is transforming us into. Many won’t appreciate in the least our wanting to share with them the far-reaching implications of Jesus’ incarnation as a human being, the soul-saving message He brought to us and His atoning sacrifice that eradicates our mountain of sins and clothes us in His holiness. Some will castigate you over your audacious claim to know the real truth. Some will label you a closed-minded religious bigot. Some will accuse you of letting yourself be brainwashed into becoming one of “those people.” Some will be so perturbed they’ll disown you, shut you out of their life and despise you for your allegiance to Christ. In His earth-shaking sermon Jesus warned that if we choose to surrender our wills to God persecution inevitably will come with the territory and there’s no way around it. And, if you happen to be involved in a Bible-based ministry like Celebrate Recovery, you’ll get it with both barrels. Your pals who liked the fun-lovin’, if-it-feels-good-do-it, gossip-mongering rascal they relied on to be consistently entertaining will become disgusted with your Christian outlook and attitude and some won’t hesitate to voice their disdain. If you’ve come this far in working the steps and principles I dare say you’ve already encountered that response on occasion. But take heart for Jesus said in Matthew 5:12, “Rejoice and be glad because your reward is great in heaven, for they persecuted the prophets before you in the same way.” David Platt wrote, “Radical obedience to Christ is not easy. It’s not comfort, not health, not wealth, and not prosperity in this world. Radical obedience to Christ risks losing all these things. But in the end, such risk finds its reward in Christ. And He is more than enough for us.”
The scriptures don’t beat around the bush when it comes to spelling out what’s entailed in becoming a born again, redeemed child of God Almighty. A homicide is involved. It means choking your sinful-natured “self” to death. (By self I don’t mean your individual personality. The Creator didn’t make a mistake when He gave you a uniqueness that isn’t duplicated in the far-flung universe. That was His intention.) While the extermination the Bible speaks of is, indeed, figurative, it’s no less real in the spiritual realm. It’s so serious that one must be aware of what being a Christian brings about and what it will cost them before they make the big leap. Jesus addressed the issue head on in Luke 14:26-30; “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother, and wife and children, and brothers and sisters, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not carry his own cross and follow me cannot be my disciple. For which of you, wanting to build a tower, doesn’t sit down first and compute the cost to see if he has enough money to complete it? Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish the tower, all who see it will begin to make fun of him.” Those who may be put off by the Lord’s use of the term “hate” would do well to understand that in the Hebrew vernacular of that day extreme exaggeration was often employed to drive home a particular point. Christ meant that in comparison to our love for God a true believer’s attitude toward everyone else in their lives might be viewed as contempt by outsiders. Relatively speaking, we must accept that killing off the selfish person in us who was a hopeless slave to sin is mandatory. Larry Crabb explained thusly: “The lethal blow is dealt not to our humanity, but to its corruption. Because our soul is so thoroughly stained with self-reliance, the death of pride feels like the death of our self. The process seems confusing only because it cuts across all our ideas about how to live.” I must add that I, like the majority in recovery, was more than happy to see the “old boy” in me meet his demise. Adios, sucker!
Death is not a popular subject so we avoid it, especially in reference to ourselves. A.W. Tozer intuitively wrote, “Among the plastic saints of our times, Jesus has to do all the dying, and all we want to hear is another sermon about His dying.” Yet die we must in order to rise above. As Paul stated in Galatians 5:24-25; “Now those who belong to Christ have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also behave in accordance with the spirit.” If we long to pattern our lives after Jesus then we must honor on a daily basis what He did for us. 1 Peter 2:24 reads: “He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we may cease from sinning and live for righteousness.” Christ experienced not only a horrible, agonizing physical death but an excruciating period of total separation from His beloved Father in heaven so we won’t have to know what that’s like. In Celebrate Recovery it’s not so much our getting back to spiritual health as it is a matter of miraculously recuperating from a terminal illness. T. Austin-Sparks wrote, “We have not to die; we are dead. What we have to do is to accept our death. In Baptism we simply step in there and say, ‘That position which God has settled with reference to me is the one which I now accept, and I testify here in this way that I have accepted God’s position for me, namely, that in the Cross I have been brought to an end.” Colossians 3:3-7 pronounces, “…For you have died and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ (who is your life) appears, then you too will be revealed in glory with him. So put to death whatever in your nature belongs to the earth: sexual immorality, impurity, shameful passion, evil desire, and greed which is idolatry. Because of these things the wrath of God is coming on the sons of disobedience. You also lived your lives in this way at one time, when you used to live among them.” I can relate to the inspirational Brandon Heath song, “I’m Not Who I Was” because I rejoice in the new me and am glad to comply with Romans 6:13; “…Present yourselves to God as those who are alive from the dead and your members to God as instruments to be used for righteousness.” I don’t know about you, but I want to be manipulated by my Lord in any way He sees fit. Does it take trust to do that? You bet. That’s why they call it blind faith. C.S. Lewis said, “The terrible thing, the almost impossible thing, is to hand over your whole self – all your wishes and precautions – to Christ.”
But to complete the recovery journey you started out on months or even years ago you must do as Principle 8 urges and wholeheartedly “yield yourself to God.” Otherwise you’ll be like the fruitless fig tree that Jesus encountered and caused to wither away. If you don’t allow the Holy Spirit to guide and correct your thinking you’re doomed to relapse. As Paul said clearly, without Christ we can do nothing. Therefore we must strive to imitate to the best of our ability our perfect role model, Jesus of Nazareth. 1 John 2:28-29 teaches, “And now, little children, remain in him, so that when he appears we may have confidence and not shrink away from him in shame when he comes back. If you know that he is righteous, you also know that everyone who practices righteousness has been fathered by him.” A few verses later (3:2-3) the author expounds further: “Dear friends, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet been revealed. We know that whenever it is revealed we will be like him, because we will see him just as he is. And everyone who has this hope focused on him purifies himself, just as Jesus is pure.” It stands to reason that if following our Savior was an intolerable burden, word would get out and He’d have few takers. But that’s not the case. Jesus said in Matthew 11:29-30; “Take my yoke on you and learn from me, because I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy to bear, and my load is not hard to carry.” I found encouragement in this passage by Dallas Willard: “We can become like Christ by following the overall style of life He chose for Himself. If we have faith in Christ, we must believe He knew how to live. What activities did Jesus practice? Such things as fasting, solitude, watching, praying, intense study and meditation upon God’s Word and God’s ways. Some of these will certainly be even more necessary to us than they were to Him, because of our greater need. The secret of the easy yoke, then, is to live and prepare ourselves for life as He did, so that we can be the kind of people who behave ‘on the spot’ like Christ.”
So how do we become more like our Master? By adopting the mindset of an uncomplaining, gracious servant. One of the most astounding characteristics of the great I AM is that He became willing to humble himself before the lowly life forms He created. In Matthew 20:26-28 Jesus proclaimed to the apostles, “…Whoever wants to be great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first among you must be your slave – just as the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” For a lot of us that’s a jagged pill to ingest. Our petulant pride still yearns for us to be considered “special.” Richard Foster said, “In some ways we would prefer to hear Jesus’s call to deny father and mother, houses and land for the sake of the gospel than His word to wash feet. Radical self-denial gives the feel of adventure. If we forsake all, we even have the chance at glorious martyrdom. But in service we must experience the many little deaths of going beyond ourselves. Service banishes us to the mundane, the ordinary, the trivial.” In our zeal for Christ we aspire to change the world but God’s plan for us is usually far less ambitious. 1 Peter 2:15-17 states, “For God wants you to silence the ignorance of foolish people by doing good. Live as free people, not using your freedom as a pretext for evil, but as God’s slaves. Honor all people, love the family of believers, fear God, honor the king.” Learn from Mother Teresa who said, “I belong to Jesus. He must have the right to use me without consulting me.”
One way to make yourself available to God is through volunteerism. Make up your mind that you’ll spend the rest of your days on earth helping others to find the merciful Heavenly Father. The alternative is disastrous. Horace Mann wrote, “Doing nothing for others is the undoing of ourselves.” You don’t have to search far for a place to plug into, either. The Celebrate Recovery ministry will never exhaust its need for leaders. No one is more qualified to extend a helping hand than those who’ve been helped in their recovery by another overcomer. Albert Schweitzer wrote, “Wherever you turn, you can find someone who needs you. Even if it is a little thing, do something for which there is no pay but the privilege of doing it. Remember, you don’t live in a world all your own.” You might be the sole lifeline that God tosses out to rescue one of his drowning children. It may not be a glamorous job He’s assigned to you because that person may fight you tooth and nail, staunchly refusing to reach out and take hold of God’s saving grace. Lee Strobel preached, “I’ve seen far too many Christians who are more than willing to travel halfway around the world to volunteer for a week in an orphanage, but who cannot bring themselves to take the personal risk of sharing Jesus with the coworker who sits day after day in the cubicle next to them.” Step out with courage and invite somebody to a CR meeting. As Kirk Shelton wisely quipped, “Everyone needs Celebrate Recovery.” The worst that can happen is they’ll turn down your offer. The upside is they may respond with, “Why not?” and join you. At that point you’ve done what God asked you to do. He’ll take it from there and opt to remove the scales from their eyes or not. Only He knows if they’re ready to comprehend the gravity of the gift of salvation and act upon it.
If you would’ve told me I’d become a leader in a Christian ministry before the night I crawled into Celebrate Recovery I would’ve laughed out loud. Yet today I’m the training leader for our local chapter, every week I lead an open share group for men who struggle with sexual integrity issues and I help to conduct various phases of the large group meeting. Sometimes I even present one of the 25 lessons in front of a room full of people, something I didn’t think I had the guts to do. At CR you’ll not only find healing for your hurts, hang-ups and habits but mind-blowing opportunities to get personally involved with something bigger than yourself, something that has eternal implications. I can testify that while my life is no bed of roses, it’s a thousand times better than it ever was before because I’ve not only let Jesus Christ into it, I let Him rule it.