“O Lord my God, I cried out to you and you healed me” – Psalms 30:2
Recently the pastor at my church presented a series of sermons based on his and the staff members’ favorite scriptures. Everybody in the congregation was encouraged to contribute theirs so they could be projected onto the video screens before and after the services. While there are many verses I find inspiring, one in particular will forever stand out because I’m convinced the Holy Spirit orchestrated my being exposed to it years ago. At the time I was still very skeptical about the Bible, who Jesus was and what God was like, etc. and, while visiting my sister in Alabama, I opened God’s Word at random to see what would happen. I dared God to blow my mind. (I mentioned this incident in an earlier chapter but it bears repeating.) I turned to 1 Corinthians 1:18 and read, “For the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” Now, I’d love to report that I had a knee-buckling, struck-down-on-the-road-to-Damascus epiphany but that would be a lie. There was no blinding light shining down from heaven or anything out of the ordinary. I recall smirking. The “Good Book” was admitting that this whole salvation-through-Jesus’-atonement thing could be deemed as pure nonsense! I closed it and went on my merry way. But God knew what He was doing. He’d planted a seed that morning that sprouted the night I hit rock bottom due to my porn obsession. That verse not only made me realize I was perishing in the swamp of my sin but that I needed divine help to escape from it. It was time for me to stop playing God and trust that He knows a whole lot more about everything than I do. I quit fighting Him off and went to His house. Nowadays I openly testify that Christ, through His Celebrate Recovery ministry, saved my soul.
However, my experience makes me highly sympathetic to those who have reservations about having faith in an invisible God who can perform a miracle in their life. At the same time it’s incredibly frustrating to know that the cure for their hurts, hang-ups and habits is not only readily available but it’s free for the taking! Add to it the fact that recovery ain’t advanced calculus. We step out of denial, we put our trust in the Heavenly Father, we surrender our selfish will, we confess our sins, we forgive and make our amends and then totally commit to being an eager servant of Christ. That’s how it’s done. It’s not a matter of God considering whether or not He’ll give us a new life and a clean slate but a surety based on the fact that He has promised to do so! Psalms 107:19-21 says, “They cried out to the Lord in their distress; he delivered them from their troubles. He sent them an assuring word and healed them; he rescued them from the pits where they were trapped.” God won’t leave us stranded on life’s crooked highway without a GPS, either. He tells us how to receive His healing in James 5:16; “So confess your sins to one another and pray for one another so that you may be healed.” The entire Celebrate Recovery program is set up and designed to assist all who’re tired of trying to fix themselves and are now ready to give God and His only begotten Son a shot. Adrian Rogers wrote, “The same Jesus who turned water into wine can transform your home, your life, your family and your future. He is still in the miracle-working business, and His business is the business of transformation.”
It’s important to note that CR is more than a spiritual emergency room at God’s hospital. I went there seeking a modicum of relief from my gigantic lack of sexual integrity, maybe a modest measure of restoration and perhaps some answers as to why and how I turned myself into such a creep. I got much more than that, though. First of all, I found sanctuary. What I mean by sanctuary is a place where I felt like I was welcome. Where I felt I belonged. Where I didn’t have to pretend that I was some kind of seasoned know-it-all or that I was anything other than a dirty sinner in desperate need of mercy, cleansing and redemption. Where there was no condemnation or judgment for where I’d been, what I’d done or how I’d acted in the past. A place of hope. A safe refuge where I could take comfort in what Hannah, Samuel’s mother, expressed in her prayer to the Lord: “He lifts the weak from the dust; he raises the poor from the ash heap to seat them with princes and to bestow on them an honored position.” (1 Samuel 2:8) I needed someone to tell me that God hadn’t given up on me. Everything about Celebrate Recovery assured me that He hadn’t. The people there knew firsthand the glorious power of Jesus’ innocent blood that flowed out of Him on Calvary and pointed me to it. As Eli Cass correctly said, “The cross is the invincible sanctuary of the humble.” My seemingly unlimited capacity for sin had humbled me and everybody else in the meeting room so I felt right at home in their company. You will, too.
I found support and encouragement. The leaders I encountered at CR were sincere followers of our Savior who were doing to the best of their ability what the Holy Spirit had instructed them to do. On my second visit I was invited to be part of an open share small group. Each man in the room got an opportunity to talk frankly without interruption about how his recovery was progressing and the issues he was currently dealing with. While some newcomers pass on speaking up until they feel more comfortable that wasn’t the case with me. I couldn’t wait to spill my guts. I had to get my secret addiction out into the light as soon as possible because I was sick to death of hiding it. Anything, even the risk of being viewed as a shameful pervert, was better than holding it all in a second longer. Afterwards a leader came up to me, thanked me for my honesty and handed me a piece of paper with his name and number on it. He said if I needed to talk he’d be glad to listen. That meant the world to me. Galatians 6:2 teaches us, “Carry one another’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ” and that brother was faithfully obeying God’s Word. In time I found out that there were many others there, both men and women, who were just like him. They were obeying what 1 Thessalonians 5:14 had instructed: “And we urge you, brothers and sisters, admonish the undisciplined, comfort the discouraged, help the weak, be patient toward all.” They were doing as 1 Peter 4:8-10 had taught: “Above all keep your love for one another fervent, because love covers a multitude of sins. Show hospitality to one another without complaining. Just as each one has received a gift, use it to serve one another as good stewards of the varied grace of God.” For the first time in my life I was accepted by not just a single individual, but by a united group of grateful believers who wanted only to share what they themselves had received. I felt loved. You will, too.
When my wife discovered my addiction it placed our marriage in jeopardy. She and my conscience told me I needed to get my rear end into a church pew ASAP or else. I was in such a state of panic that I don’t recall too many details about the Sunday morning service I attended but I do recall that Pastor Lemons’ message was from the book of Ecclesiastes, specifically about how vital it was for us to have friends. It made me contemplate the fact that I’d become so withdrawn and self-absorbed that I could count the number of folks I considered to be loyal friends on one hand. Other than my wife I had no one I could call a close confidant at all. At Celebrate Recovery I discovered I had friends I hadn’t even been introduced to yet! They knew the value of having Christian friends they could rely on to help them with their struggles. C.S. Lewis wrote, “Friendship is born at the moment when one man says to another: ‘What! You too? I thought that no one but myself…’” And Shannon Alder said, “A best friend is the one that walks into your life when the world has walked out.” At CR there was a roomful of best friends just waiting for me to show up. In the Bible God emphasizes that we need each other in order to grow stronger. Proverbs 17:17 states, “As iron sharpens iron, so a person sharpens his friend.” Another great author, the late Henri Nouwen, had this to say about friendship: “When we honestly ask ourselves which person in our lives mean the most to us, we often find that it is those who, instead of giving advice, solutions, or cures, have chosen rather to share our pain and touch our wounds with a warm and tender hand. The friend who can be silent with us in a moment of despair or confusion, who can stay with us in an hour of grief and bereavement, who can tolerate not knowing, not curing, not healing and face with us the reality of our powerlessness, that is a friend who cares.” Knowing there were a host of men and women who sincerely cared about me and understood what I was going through was priceless. They collectively removed my feelings of loneliness. As Kurt Vonnegut quipped, “What should people do with their lives today? Many things, obviously. But the most daring thing is to create stable communities in which the terrible disease of loneliness can be cured.”
Once the healing of my heart and mind had begun, Christ, through His Celebrate Recovery ministry, gave me something I’d been yearning to have for decades; a purpose. And that’s to glorify my Father in heaven. It’d been right in front of me since I was a kid; I’d just refused to see it. CR provided me with a direction to go in, not another mask to wear. Criss Jami wrote, “Find a purpose to serve, not a lifestyle to live.” A big part of my serving the Lord involves telling others that Jesus has conquered sin and death forevermore and that, as confusing as this fallen world may seem at times, God has a plan that’s unfolding perfectly and on schedule day by day. Habakkuk 2:3 reads, “For the message is a witness to what is decreed; it gives reliable testimony about how matters will turn out. Even if the message is not fulfilled right away, wait patiently; for it will certainly come to pass – it will not arrive late.” Before my conversion my self-centered purpose was to constantly seek gratification, fulfillment and satisfaction. But all three were fickle and fleeting. What I’ve come to realize is that with Christ abiding in me my purpose has little to do with me. My overriding purpose is to love, to assist, to encourage and to reach out to others in Christ’s name. Thomas Monson preached, “When faith replaces doubt, when selfless service eliminates selfish striving, the power of God brings to pass His purposes.” I can relate to what R.J. Anderson said: “I realized that even though I was a tiny speck in an infinite cosmos, a blip on the timeline of eternity, I was not without purpose.” When we surrender our lives to the great I AM He supplies us with all the purpose we’ll ever need. Thomas Merton wrote, “If you want to identify me, ask me not where I live, or what I like to eat, or how I comb my hair, but ask me what I am living for, in detail, ask me what I think is keeping me from living fully for the thing I want to live for.” What we should all want to live for is our Heavenly Father’s approval. Nothing else comes close. As Francis Chan said, “God’s definition of what matters is pretty straightforward. He measures our lives by how we love.”
I don’t know where I’d be today if it weren’t for Celebrate Recovery. Most likely nowhere. When I got up and went in search of a church that Sunday so many years ago, looking for a way out of the mess I’d made of my marriage (and all my relationships in general), I’d never even heard of CR. Yet I have no doubt that God answered my desperate prayer for help by steering me to the particular church parking lot I pulled into because He had believers standing by inside who would take me in without hesitation and show me a way to be good again. Not only did I find grace and healing I found sanctuary, support, fellowship and purpose. Most importantly of all, I found that, through Bible study and heartfelt prayer, I could enjoy a closer relationship with my Creator who loves me more than I can possibly fathom. Since then I’ve gotten to know my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ who didn’t simply cover up all my sins, He erased them from existence! Yet none of this would’ve transpired had I not been open to letting God lead me to CR. I might’ve become a member of another Christian congregation in town, cleaned up my act enough to possibly salvage my horribly damaged marriage in the short run and convince myself that I had my problem beaten. But I know all too well that at some point I would’ve relapsed because I would’ve had no sponsor or fellow overcomers to hold me accountable. Without the guidance of the 8 Principles and 12 Steps to keep me on course I would’ve succumbed to my sinful nature. Without the tight friendships I developed through the step study course I completed I would’ve never been able to resist the temptation to go back to viewing pornography and that would’ve utterly destroyed my wife’s fragile trust. And without her I’d be a leaky shrimp boat without a paddle. Therefore I thank Jesus every day for Celebrate Recovery. You will, too.
God used 1 Corinthians 1:18 to drop a seed of truth into the soil of my subconscious. It took years, but it flowered at just the right moment and provided a beacon of light when things in my life were at their darkest. My deepest hope and desire is that my Heavenly Father will now use me and my experiences to sow a seed or two in the hearts of people who have found themselves overwhelmed by their own sinful nature that threatens to destroy them and everything they care about. My message isn’t convoluted but it’s urgent: God has provided you with a way out of your predicament. No matter what hurt or abuse you’ve suffered, whether physical, emotional or sexual, comfort can be had. No matter if your hang-up is depression, co-dependency, greed, materialism or hate-filled resentment, help is available. No matter if your habit is prescription drugs, alcohol, marijuana, meth or pornography there are people who know what you’re up against and will walk alongside you on your journey to wellness. Afterwards will you be sin-free for the rest of your life here on planet Earth? Not a chance. I have to battle my lust every day. I’m no longer a slave to my addiction but it’s never so far away that I can’t hear its incessant call to return. But I’m strong enough to resist its lure because I don’t have to wage that war alone. I have a posse of friends who happen to be my trusted CR accountability partners who have my back and, most importantly, I have the King of Kings, Jesus Christ, who gives me all the powerful ammunition I need. And someday I’ll stroll through the Pearly Gates and my ugly obsession, along with all the trouble it caused, will be ancient history. I’ll be free of every sinful tendency forevermore. If you’ve discovered a sin in your life that, despite your best efforts to overcome it, keeps you from having a more intimate, trusting relationship with your loving Father in heaven I recommend you give your local Celebrate Recovery ministry a try. I’m living proof that it can change a life. It’ll change yours, too.