Category Archives: 12 Steps

The Five Spiritual Principles in Recovery

The Five Spiritual Principles in Recovery
by Rev. Chris Rice

Dear Friends,

Galatians 6:2 tells us to “carry each other’s burdens and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.” Many times those burdens are addictions. US News and World Report estimated in 2015 that “40 million Americans 12 and over are addicted to nicotine, alcohol, or other drugs. Another 80 million are “risky substance users” meaning they “use tobacco, alcohol, and other drugs in ways that threaten public health and safety. Only 1 in 10 people with addictions to alcohol/drugs report receiving any treatment at all.” (Lloyd Sederer, “A Blind Eye to Addiction”, US News and World Report, 6/1/15)
We have to face the fact that addiction touches us all. 11% of Americans are addicted to alcohol or drugs. There are many other life altering addictions such as food, sex, codependence, workaholism, and TV and internet use. Chances are you yourself, someone you know or the person sitting next to you currently has or has had one of these. What we find in God’s Word is that loving God means loving addicts just as He does. We cannot love this way on our own. Let’s go to the Lord in prayer.

Dear Heavenly Father, grant us ears to hear and a heart to receive what you would say to us by your Spirit. In this life we know first hand the pan brought on by addictions. We find in your Word that as sick as we are, you are for us, you love us. Help us O Lord to experience a spiritual renewal and to become willing to bring your message and your provision to all in need. In Jesus’ Name we pray, Amen.

I want to share a short study with you of the five principles embodied in the 12 steps of AA. They can be found in a book titled “Twenty Four Hours A Day” by Hazelden. The steps are adapted and used in all the other 12 step fellowships. And all the way through this study I want to look at how the Scriptures speak to us the truths found in the steps.
To start off the five principles we’ll look at include: Membership, Spirituality, Personal Inventory, Restitution, and Helping Others.
Proverbs says, “As a dog returns to its vomit, so a fool repeats his folly. Do you see a man wise in his own eyes? There is more hope for a fool than for him. (26:11-12, NIV) The first step is “we admitted that we were powerless over alcohol (drugs, sex, binge eating, rage)—that our lives had become unmanageable.” It’s not always easy to say when or how it happened, but for the addict something changed in that drink. It was no longer just a source of pleasure, it became the reason to live. Slowly but surely everything else lost focus and alcohol alone remained. He couldn’t drink like other friends ever again. Slowly but surely he realized he could never drink the same way again. He was licked. On the plus side, he realizes that in his powerlessness and unmanageability he belongs with other who have the same problem. It doesn’t seem like this principle could offer hope. So many people stumble over this principle and never return to meetings. But the second principle brings us from devastation to gratitude.

The second step says, “Came to believe that a power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.” Jesus said, “Come to me all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light. (Matthew 11:28-30, NIV) Steps two three and eleven involve the venture of belief, of surrender, and prayer. We come together burdened by our shared problems. And eventually we come to believe in a higher power who places us in a right mind. The third step says, “Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.” Alone each of us knew the addictions to be a cruel task master, a god that kept us isolated and bound in sin. In making a decision that God cared and would receive our will and lives and do better with them than we ever could, we understood that this higher power was the center of the universe instead of us. Step eleven says, “Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understood Him, praying only for knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry that out.” Each day we learn to ask for His will to be done, not our own. We also understand humility for the first time. God is in control, he knows, and we ask for his will instead of our own. This release of control is the basis of our spirituality.
The third principle, personal inventory, is found in steps four, five, six, seven and ten. Step four says, “Made a searching fearless moral inventory of ourselves.” The Bible says, “Above all else, guard your heart for it is the wellspring of life. Put away perversity from your mouth. Let your eyes look straight ahead, fix your gaze directly before you. Make level paths for your feet and take only ways that are firm. Do not swerve to the right or the left; keep your foot from evil. (Proverbs 4:33-37, NIV) In taking a self inventory we are willing to face the facts as they really are. We face reality instead of running away. We admit our faults openly and become willing to correct them. Where have we been dishonest, impure, unloving and selfish? This is not a one time thing but we learn to do it everyday of our lives for as long as we live. Many people find this to be the hardest of the steps and so they stay on step four for years. The purpose of a sponsor is to help us get to the point and look without looking away. It is doable and must be done with resolve. To stand still is to risk losing sobriety.
Step five is “admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs. The apostle James wrote, “Therefore confess your sins to one another and pray for each other so that you may be healed.” This reflects this principle beautifully. We cannot bear our wrongs only to ourselves. Why? Because we are not the center of the universe. We learn the truth fully when we reach out and admit it to someone else who can bear it with us. Of course we have to be careful about who that person is. It’s best to have a sponsor or spiritual adviser to help us. Step six, “were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character” and step seven is “humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings.” Finally, step ten is “continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it.”

The fourth principle is restitution. Steps eight and nine are “made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all” and “made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.” This can be a very difficult proposition, but it is necessary to finally be done with our pride. We have lived too long with self-will run riot and taking responsibility for our wrongs in order to then right what we’ve wronged will make all the difference. These steps have to be practiced with care and with a sponsor’s help. They are not made quickly or early on in our recovery. And of course if there’s a chance we can further harm the individuals involved than we do not try to contact them. There are other ways to make restitution and a sponsor can be creative with ideas. Proverbs 14:9 says, “Fools mock at making amends for sin, but goodwill is found among the upright.” (NIV)
The final principle is helping others. It is the principle that includes all of the steps for it says, “Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to alcoholics, and to practice these principles in all our affairs.” It’s not a one time thing, but a lifestyle. Galatians 6:1-2 says, “If someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore him gently. But watch yourself, or you also may be tempted. Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.(NIV)” When someone is completely overtaken by an addiction they feel as though there is no possible way they could be of use to someone else. There is nothing left for them to give because they’ve been robbed by the addiction. They’ve lost the trust of family and friends, and they feel as though they have no self-worth left. By working the steps and coming to a spiritual renewal there is a realization that a better way of life is actually possible, that what God did for them he can do for others.
All of this takes time. Let me speak now to some who think they may be addicts but don’t know where to begin. Maybe a long time ago you went to a few meetings where you heard sloppy drunk-a-logs. You didn’t find what you were looking for so you gave up. But you still know you’re an addict and while you might stop using for a little while the alcohol or drugs or something else catches up with you eventually. I want to encourage you to keep coming back to a meeting.
God has a future for you. He cares about you and wants you set free. More than that you have something to give! The apostle Paul wrote, “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst. But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his unlimited patience as an example for those who would believe on him and receive eternal life. (1 Timothy 1:15-16, NIV)” The spirit of the steps are honesty, unselfishness, purity, and love. God is our source for all of these things.
So long as we keep our minds centered on ourselves, whether it be our failures or those things we expect to accomplish, eventually failed expectations will leave us defeated. But when we come to God in surrender and seek out His will, “Not my will but yours be done”, we find that all along God had everything we need.

Yours in Christ,

Rev. Chris Rice

Sources
Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.
“Twenty Four Hours A Day: A Meditation Book and Journal for Daily Reflection”, beginning on September 16, Hazelden.
“The Twelve Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous”
http://www.12step.org/references/bible/step-12-scriptures
Scriptures related to each of the steps:
Step 1: Psalm 38:3-14; Prov. 26:11-12; Mk. 5:2-15; Rm. 7:18-23
Step 2: Psalm 18:2-6; Mat. 11:28-30; Mat. 12: 18-21; Heb. 2:14-18
Step 3: Psalm 3:1-6; Ps. 142:1-7; Mat. 4:18-23; Mat. 6:24-34; Lk. 9:59-62; Jn. 1:12-13
Step 4: Prov. 4:23-27; Lam. 3:39-45; Mat. 5:4;Lk. 12:1-7; 2 Cor. 10:12-13; Gal. 6:3-8; Rev. 2:4-5
Step 5: Psalm 32:3-7; Prov. 28:13; Mat. 3:5-6; Acts 19:18-20; James 5:16; 1 Jn. 1:9
Step 6: Mat. 3:1-3; Rom. 6:8-14; Gal. 5:1; Eph. 4:17-24; Col. 3:5-13
Step 7: Mat. 18:4; Lk. 18:9-14; 1 Pet. 5:6-10; 1 Jn. 5:14-15;
Step 8: Lev. 6:1-7; 2 Sam. 12:1-14; Prov. 16:6-7; Ezek. 33:14-16; Lk. 19:8-10; Rom. 12:18
Step 9: Prov. 14:9; Mat. 5:9, 23-24, 25-26; Acts 9:10-31; 20:18-21, 26-27, 33-35
Step 10: Rom. 12:2-3; Phil. 2:12-13; 2 Jn. 1:8;
Step 11: Mat. 4:1-11; Jn. 15:4-11; Phil. 4:5-9; 1 Pet. 4:1-8
Step 12: Mat. 3:1-3; Gal. 6:1-2; 1 Tim. 1:12-16; James 5:19-20

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On being a lifelong volunteer

It was on a very average evening worship service at the end of the year last year that I must have realized for the first time that all these people I knew so well were doing what we do best, just being together in the adoration of Christ. We were back at the Source together. I had been there with them for well over a decade at countless such services. We were a family and in the end it wasn’t about all the work we’d done that looked good under letterhead for potential donors. It was about adoring Christ together in small and big ways, in ways that can’t be quantified but only lived. And as I think of these hundreds of faces I call my family in Christ I realize we have something that the miles that will distance us in coming days can’t take away. We have a Lord who loves us. Our adoration for Christ extends beyond the time and space we share or don’t share. He is working in us all his perfect Will which we know in part.

I was an election judge here in the city of Chicago during the last election. During one of our long moments without any activity one of my fellow judges, an attractive young black woman who I’d call full of inspiration and charisma asked the other four of us an excellent question. “If money was no object what would you be doing with your life?” She began with herself. She said that her hearts desire was to give children the opportunity to see beyond their current situations and achieve their fullest potential. She was given that opportunity in life and she wanted to pass that on.

The next woman (who later traveled with me that night to the receiving station to return the unused ballots, election results, and so on) said that she would love to teach children with special needs full time. She was working two jobs just to make ends meet. She had to rise extra early every day and drive her daughter out to the suburbs for work and then pick her back up in the evening and bring her home. As I got to know this woman better I realized anew that the bigger dreams in life aren’t just for wealthy people. Regardless of one’s situation you can give of yourself.

I intentionally saved my turn to share for the last. I was so inspired by what I was hearing from others that I really didn’t want to stop the spirit in the room. I explained that for me (and this was true for my fellow judge Chris Ramsey who had just shared previous) money really wasn’t an object. I found life a great blessing where I’ve lived. Chris and I weren’t rich of course, but we were living full time at this Christian community called Jesus People USA here in Uptown. The other judges asked us to explain a little more about what this was like. Chris worked at Cornerstone Community Outreach, which has many homeless shelters and outreach services. I worked for Lakefront Supply, a roofing business that used all it’s net income (after expenses) to support JPUSA. I also mentioned that I had grown up in a small Christian community in St. Louis before moving with my wife to Chicago in 1996. For us our dreams involved simply living for Jesus faithfully, trusting Him to meet our needs and reaching out to others, believing Jesus had enough for them too.

I think everyone wants to know that they have a purpose in life. They realize that on some level life has meaning to just about the extent that they have known love and can love in return. This does not come without a struggle however. As people, we’re a mixture of motives and agendas, many of which we only come to see in time. We want to be loved completely, but are only able to open up parts of ourselves. We strive for complete fulfillment, but always feel like something is missing. Here in America many people give their time as volunteers as part of that search for significance.

We volunteer our time without payment for a lot of different reasons: to promote a greater good, to improve human quality of life, or maybe to improve skills, meet other people, look for employment contacts, or just to have fun.

As I mentioned, I’ve had the privilege of belonging to two churches that have used outside volunteers in their activities for close to forty years. These volunteers have provided a wide range of services, from preparing and serving meals to providing medical attention and counseling. Both of these churches also use communal living and intensive discipleship training as a way of allowing volunteers to commit themselves for longer terms.

If you were to stand in the main lobbies of these two church organizations as I have done over the years at different times, and just observe the people coming and going, talking and interacting, you might be perplexed. They represent all ages and races, all kinds of personalities, and backgrounds. Some are tall and some short. Some have walkers and move slow and some are young and scamper quickly, always in a hurry. Some sit and look bored and some are moving too fast trying to do too much at the same time. Both of these churches use their facilities for multiple purposes.

At New Life Evangelistic Center in downtown St. Louis the lobby will be used to give away food, and then it will be swept and mopped and chairs will be set up and the lobby will have women and maybe children who will go through intake and then be taken to rooms on the third floor where they can sit and talk or watch TV or read until bedtime. Then, shortly thereafter the lobby will be full of single men. They may listen to a short sermon, or some music, they may watch TV and talk, and then they too will go up to the fifth floor to sleep. On a different day the lobby will be full of fourteen to sixteen year old white kids from a church in the suburbs. They are there to volunteer for the day and hear about what NLEC is doing.

Later that same day a young man will be sitting in the lobby waiting to see Rev. Ray because he knows he needs a place to get sober from alcohol. He walks with a limp and he needs a cane to get around. His face is red and weathered from the sun. You may see him practice a golf swing with his cane and then laugh and talk to someone you can’t see.

In Uptown Chicago, walking distance from Lake Michigan, you can sit on a bench in the lobby of Jesus People USA and witness people going and coming for various reasons. It’s obvious there is a renovation going on. The carpet has seen a lot of use. There’s a large stain just in front of the door. A large crucified Christ hangs over you, painted on old US Mail bags. This image is left over from an in-house festival the church put on over Passion week in the spring. Three young women are huddled around the front desk chatting and others walk up with questions and short little interruptions. The top three floors of this building provide housing for seniors and people with disabilities. The management of this small business is provided by members of the church. They cook, clean, do laundry, case management, and even church service on Sunday. But it’s very apparent that the seniors are at home in this multi-use facility and take advantage of the whole life of the community.

The second through seventh floors of JPUSA have living spaces for families and singles. Each floor has a kitchen for individual use. Community happens floor by floor, room by room, person to person. People join and stay for varying lengths of time. The number ranges from 450-500 people. There’s a central laundry room in the basement. So much is going on at a given period of time that individuals work to keep track of one another, with their immediate families being their primary connection.

Both of these churches began the same year, 1972, during the Jesus People Movement. Being born in 1974 and growing up at New Life Evangelistic Center, I took a keen interest in the vibrant life and constant activity I witnessed on a daily basis. The community shared a common purse and at the time members took a vow of poverty, raising support through our ministry in churches and various mailings. I felt connected to a large family of believers who were willing to sacrifice whatever was needed to do the will of God. Growing up, I bore witness from afar the work that JPUSA was doing in Chicago. The two communities swapped publications, NLEC sending The Zoa Free paper up to Chicago and JPUSA sending Cornerstone Magazines down to St. Louis. Some members knew of the other’s work and on a few occasions managed to visit.

I visited JPUSA for the first time at age 16. My mom dropped me off for the weekend while she visited family in the suburbs. In 1991 JPUSA was still moving into the hotel it has now fully renovated. I documented my first visit on video and I still have it to this day. I took the wild excitement I witnessed that weekend home with me. I mopped floors at the homeless shelter. I worshiped with them on Sunday morning. And I hung out in the rooms where people enjoyed the New Year together. Best of all was the story telling in the dining room. Here were people who could laugh at themselves and use memories of even difficult moments (like accidently stealing a car or doing a job very wrong) to laugh and enjoy each other’s company.

I came home that weekend with a new energy and a new excitement for ministry at NLEC. Five years later I was at a very different place in my life. I had married and we’d just learned my wife was pregnant. We needed support and accountability, and so my wife Martha and I moved from where we were serving at NLEC in Missouri up to Chicago. Fourteen years later, Martha and I have three children and we are answering a call from God to move back to NLEC in St. Louis. The community there is providing a house where we can live and is ordaining me as one of its pastors.

As a lifelong Christian volunteer I’ve learned a few things about giving and receiving in the art form that is Doing Mercy. I observe that jobs come and go, but the actions of love, when done for Jesus, remain. Living out of a calling to ministry, which involves giving from a replenished source, is the only way I can stay sane, sober, and involved. I’ve seen volunteers come and go. I’ve made many wonderful friends over the years. But the most enduring relationships, that I know will remain even as I move locations, are those with friends who identify with Jesus rather than the job.

What’s the difference? I know from experience that when I take on a task, I put my whole self into it. And that’s biblical right; being fully committed? Well, I’ve learned that I can easily put the task before my people, before my family, before coworkers, and yes, before God himself. When in the end I want to see that project finished more than I want to eat, more than I want to hold my kids, and quite frankly more than I want to pray, the job has become an extension of my ego rather than a service to God. The kicker is that the kind of tasks I’m talking about are the ones I’m most passionate about. Where I feel like my gifts can really shine. Where people can really know what I’m about. Something I can really take pride in.

This is where volunteering gets difficult. How much time can a person put into a task before they want it for themselves alone? How many hours of labor will finally make me want to take over and leave you out? This is the conundrum that I believe points back to the question: “Why am I doing this?” and really “Who am I doing this for?” There is nothing so unsatisfactory in the end as a task done “for Jesus” that is actually in reality for me. Far fewer people want to clean toilets for Jesus than write books. Far fewer people want to mop floors and change diapers for Jesus than host seminars and share the great wisdom Jesus taught them personally.

So what I’ve learned in community the hard way is that in order for voluntary action to be truly meaningful, I have to identify myself with Christ rather than the particular task. How do I do this? In an attitude of surrender. When I wake in the mornings I have to clear my head of all the ambition, the hope, the fear, the half-awake frenzy for whatever and just lay it down. It was on a very average evening worship service at the end of the year last year that I must have realized for the first time that all these people I knew so well were doing what we do best, just being together in the adoration of Christ. We were back at the Source together. I had been there with them for well over a decade at countless such services. We were a family and in the end it wasn’t about all the work we’d done that looked good under letterhead for potential donors. It was about adoring Christ together in small and big ways, in ways that can’t be quantified but only lived. And as I think of these hundreds of faces I call my family in Christ I realize we have something that the miles that will distance us in coming days can take away. We have a Lord who loves us. Our adoration for Christ extends beyond the time and space we share or don’t share. He is working in us all his perfect Will which we know in part.

Now I’d like to come back to the original question my election judge friend asked, “If money was no object what would you be doing with your life?” Her question points back to the fact that for most of us money is the object impeding what we really want to do with our lives. And I would add, not just the money itself but what it represents to the people who care about us, like our families. She couldn’t just empty her bank account and spend the money doing what she most wanted to just because it was her hearts desire. What would her family think? And the other woman I mentioned had so many legitimate bills and needs in her life, she couldn’t get the job she really wanted because it didn’t pay what she needed. And this is the reality that most people of good will face.

In the case of the two churches I’ve been with, the founders really didn’t have much to lose. My parents married and went into ministry around the same time without much thought as to how they’d get money to live and do ministry. They only knew that they had to have faith that God would provide. At JPUSA the founders were literally surviving by faith in those early days. They prayed every day and God provided food and money seemingly out of nowhere. It appears fool-hardy by today’s economic measurements, as it was then. The principle regarding voluntary service and money was simply that the worker is worthy of his hire (Luke 10:7), freely you receive freely give (Matt. 10:8). Be faithful with what God provides and God will provide again (Matt. 25:23). Now this kind of hand to mouth existence doesn’t leave much laid up for the future. It leaves the onus back on God to somehow provide. And you know what? I consider myself a living testament to the fact that somehow God always has.

In this way, life becomes an adventure of faith. The ordinary gets transformed right where the need is. As long as the eyes of faith see that ordinary sack of potatoes as God’s provision, God keeps providing. It’s only where the work becomes drudgery, the mouths become the same warm bodies in line, the feet the same dirty shoes to be mopped after, that our vision is lost and we fear how on earth we’ll make it to tomorrow.

I have learned that recovering alcoholics and addicts make some of the most faithful and spiritual people you’ll ever meet, simply because they found they had nothing else to lose and everything to gain from a loving God. In the book Twelve Steps & Twelve Traditions and in discussing the Twelfth Step which involves this spiritual awakening and carrying the message, they zero in on the fear of financial insecurity I believe is common to most wage earners in our debt absorbed society. They noted that they’d been spendthrifts when it came to pleasing themselves and impressing others. They’d acted like the money had no end, but then acted miserly between sprees, unknowingly saving up for the next binge. Money was about pleasure and self-importance. As the addiction progressed it became the means for the next drink and “the temporary comfort of oblivion”.

Upon getting sober and working in recovery they found that when a job was only a way of getting money and having independence, they were the victims of unreasonable fear! But they became free when they saw it as an opportunity for service. “In time we could lose the fear regardless of our material prospects. We would cheerfully provide humble labor without worrying about tomorrow.” They learned that their spiritual condition mattered more than their material condition. Money finally became the servant and not the master. It became a means of exchanging love and service.

“When, with God’s help, we calmly accepted our lot, then we found we could live at peace with ourselves and show others who still suffered the same fears that they could get over them, too. We found that freedom from fear was more important than freedom from want.” (Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions, Gift Edition, 1980, pgs. 120-122)

How can we move from money being the object that keeps us from doing what we want with our lives? Well, I think faith and trust has everything to do with it. Over the years I’ve witnessed a number of people come up to my dad and ask for prayer in the following way: “Please pray for me. I know God wants me to _______, but I just can’t do it right now because I’ve got so much going on.” He would pray for them, but I know that they just still went away miserable because it was the money thing, you know? What is the one thing Jesus said made it hard to enter the Kingdom of Heaven? Riches. (Matt. 19:23-24) I can’t help believing that it is that fear of financial insecurity, that way of seeing money as the big impassable wall, that keeps Americans from really giving their all to God.

It seems so unfair doesn’t it? Money symbolizes our voluntary activities. We can say we believe any number of things, but how we eat, what we wear, what our house looks like, what our children expect, all of these relate to the way we spend our money. For some people it is obvious that the money has them. The debt has them. And it’s obvious that unless something drastic changes they know how they’ll spend the rest of their days here on earth and where they’ll be buried and how they’ll be remembered. It’s all quite predictable. But for others, it’s clear that the money doesn’t have them. They’re a more rare breed. They get tempted like everyone else, and they’ll have junk they don’t need, but when it comes down to it they’re able to give spontaneously. They’re able to share their lives with people they wouldn’t otherwise meet in moneyed circles. They use money to serve and it’s because they believe in a power greater than money.

Living in these two church communities has not been easy. I’m a pretty strong willed guy to be around and I’ve suffered all the necessary blows to my ego that come accordingly. But in looking back over my life not too long ago, I know I had a lot to lose every time I stubbornly refused to open myself up to others. Yes, in church it’s very easy to lose focus, to lose the eyes of faith and open up to resentment. My right actions have not always been for the right reasons. But as Johnny Cash sang, “I’m living the right life now.” And I’ve got so much to be grateful for. That life is apparently for many other people I’m grateful to know; and it’s there for you too if you don’t already know it.

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A Recovery Post on Fear and the Truth

It’s been a while since I shared something Recovery related, but I want to share some notes I made for myself some years ago. It’s a little exercise wherein I relate a common fear and then the truth I find in working the twelve steps and spending daily time in meditation and prayer, learning essentially what God has to say in that moment.

The Fear in the Silence:

That I Don’t Measure up.

The Truth learned in Solitude:

I am a man who loves God and wants to know, love, and serve Him better. I want to glorify God in all my thoughts, words, and deeds. As a man who belongs to Jesus I measure up! After doing all I can I leave the rest in God’s hands.

The Fear in the Silence:

That something is left undone.

The Truth learned in Solitude:

Only what’s done for God will last. It’s not about my effort. After doing all I can I leave the rest in God’s hands.

The Fear in the silence:

That my best is not enough.

The Truth learned in Solitude:

My best for Jesus is always enough.

The fear in the silence:

That what I do is not valuable.

The Truth learned in Solitude:

How can I think that what I offer is not valuable when Jesus loves me and looks on me with compassion and mercy?

The Fear in the silence:

That other’s reactions (namely being ignored, criticized, belittled, misunderstood, maligned, attacked) are true and reflect God’s feelings for me.

The Truth learned in Solitude:

I witness God’s love for me in the patience and reassurance I witness in other program members. I don’t have to be understood, liked, patted on the back, praised or honored in order to believe God loves me and is caring for me. I would want to protect and defend anyone being attacked or maligned by a judgmental person. When the voices in my head are lying to me about myself, I can see Jesus coming to my defense. Thank you Jesus for loving me.

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Does Jesus love people we can’t?

Does Jesus love people we can’t have near us? Like sex offenders for instance? Pastor Dick Witherow and his church made up of homeless sex offenders is profiled by NPR here. The book the article mentions, “The Modern Day Leper” looks quite good.

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Christian self-help programs

I was recently asked to peruse a new book that contains a Christian reworking of the twelve steps of AA. It is written at a very popular level and promises to be the next big seller. I am in a recovery program and my friend asked if I’d like to review the book and whether I could recommend it to others. I spent some time perusing it, but some things about it brought back some of my painful attempts at self-help outside of recovery. After giving it a good try I respectfully declined and returned the book.

There seems to be a lot of confusion these days about the difference between the 12 steps and 12 traditions of AA and those recovery groups based on AA’s path, and the many self-help books and programs that are just spin-offs. There is a big difference. Let me share a little of my own experience.

I tried to fix myself using a lot of books. I can remember as a teenager finding a twelve step Bible and even trying to do the fourth step (the “searching and fearless moral inventory”) at that time on my own. I thought that steps one, two, and three were obvious. I had a problem. I believed in Jesus Christ. I believed he could fix it. What’s next? (Wasn’t that easy?) Well, it didn’t work, for the simple reason that I was alone.

Twelve step recovery is hard work. It does not involve only stopping those destructive habits that we did not like. We had stopped hundreds of times. We couldn’t stay stopped. Recovery is a new spiritual way of life that involves a new connection to God through the group–those people who identify on the basis of their addiction.

Working the steps means working with a sponsor and taking in as many meetings as possible. This is very different than a self-help program. This kind of radical commitment, turning our will and lives over to the care of God—through the group—involves an ego deflation not in keeping with the idea of self-help.

I will not go so far as to say that self-help will not work for people. God can use anything. But as an addict I will say it is dangerous ground to tempt myself with the thought of an “easier softer way.” Self-help did not, and will not work for me.

More than this I suspect that there are many other Christians out there like me, who want to believe they are not really addicts but are just in need of some self-improvement. Well, to these I say, try a real recovery meeting if you’re not sure. Go to listen to the readings and the stories. A seed will be planted there and God will show you if you’re truly an addict. You won’t be able to act out again with the new realizations taking effect.

Addiction is not the same thing as saying “I have a problem,” or even, “I’m a sinner.” The first members of AA had a saying, “Find God or die!” Read some of the stories in the back of the AA Big Book. They are not pleasant, but they’ll give you a picture of real addiction. For instance, a man drinks until his doctor says “another drink will kill you.” He continues to drink until he is bleeding rectally. That is a picture of addiction.

If the book I was given was any indication of what’s happening in churches, if self-help groups are the future for Evangelical churches, I would hope that discerning pastors would educate themselves on the difference between real addiction and the self-help approach.

Sam Shoemaker addressed the twentieth anniversary convention of A.A. in St. Louis, Missouri in 1935 with a speech titled “What the Church has to learn from Alcoholics Anonymous.” Sam was one of the original spiritual visionaries for what became AA. By going back and reading the original source material, we can dispel the confusion between self-help and recovery, and really engage the Church in the work of Recovery.

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