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“Road to Recovery #1: First Steps to Freedom”

(adapted from Rick Warren, Celebrate Recovery)
Feb.24/13   Ps.32:1-5; Rom.7:14-25


We’re beginning a new series today called the Road to Recovery, adapting material developed by Rick Warren for the program Celebrate Recovery. This series aims to help free you up from sinful patterns that trap us. We’re going to talk about how to handle and overcome the hurts in your life, the habits that are messing up your life, and the hang-ups that have caused pain in your life. Hurts, habits, and hang-ups.
    The theme verse in our“Road to Recovery” series is Isaiah 57:18-19, God speaking: “I have seen how they acted but I will heal them, I will lead them and help them and I will comfort those who mourn. I offer peace to all near and far.” This is a great promise of God. Notice there are five parts to recovery that God wants to do in your life.
    First, if you’ve been hurt, God says: “I want to heal you.” If you’re confused, “I want to lead you.” If you’ve ever felt you were helpless to change anything, “I want to help you change that.” If you’ve ever felt no one understands your problem, “I want to comfort you.” If you feel anxious and worried and afraid, “I want to offer peace to you.”
    The fact is – life is tough. We live in a imperfect world. We’re hurt by other people and we hurt ourselves and we in turn hurt other people. The Bible says, “All have sinned.” (Rom 3:23) That means none of us are perfect, we’ve all blown it, we’ve all made mistakes. We hurt and we hurt others.
    This series is for everybody – not just those dealing specifically with drug or alcohol problems. Everyone in this room needs recovery, unless you’ve lived a perfect life! But if you haven’t lived a perfect life – if you’ve ever been hurt, if you’ve ever had a hang-up or a habit that you’d like to get rid of – you need recovery.


The good news is this: regardless of the problem you need recovery from – whether it’s emotional, financial, relational, spiritual, sexual, or whatever – regardless of what you need recovery from, the steps to recovery are always the same. The principles for recovery are found in the Bible. It’s the original recovery manual! In 1935 a couple of guys formulated, based on Scripture, what are now known as the classic 12 steps of Alcoholics Anonymous and used by hundreds of other recovery groups. In the United States alone, 20 million people are in a recovery group every week and there are 500,000 different recovery groups. The basis is God’s Word!
    Rick Warren has summarized these principles of recovery around the word “Recovery.” We’ll take a letter each week and look at eight summarized steps on the road to recovery.


The “R” in RECOVERY stands for realize: realize I’m not God; I admit I am powerless to control my tendency to do wrong things and my life is unmanageable.
    What, you don’t think this applies to you? Remember we were just talking about how none of us is perfect? For example –   Do you ever stay up late when you know you need sleep? Do you ever eat or drink more calories than your body needs? Or perhaps have a compulsion the other way, a drive to be ever-thinner? Do you ever feel you ought to exercise but you don’t? Do you ever know the right thing to do, but you don’t do it? Do you ever know something is wrong, but you do it anyway? Have you ever known you should be unselfish, but you’re selfish instead? Have you ever tried to control somebody or something and found it was uncontrollable?
    If your answer is “yes” to any of those questions, welcome to the human race! We’re all in need of recovery.
    The Bible has a word for this. The Bible calls the tendency to err in these ways our “sin nature”. Our sin nature gets us in all kinds of problems. I do things that aren’t good for me. I do them even when they are self-destructive –  and I don’t do things that are good for me. I respond the wrong way when I’m hurt and it just increases the hurt, rather than lessening it. I react the wrong way to people. I treat them in wrong ways and then it backfires, even when I know it’s not going to work. I try to fix problems and often when I fix them they are worse than when I started. Proverbs 14(12) says, “There is a way that seems right to a man, but in the end it leads todeath.”
    You will always have this sin nature with you, this desire to do the wrong thing. You’re going to always have it with you till you get to heaven. Thank Adam and Eve, our original forebears – it’s just part of our “carnality”. Even after you become a Christian, you still have desires that pull you the wrong way. Paul understood this. In Romans 7:15 he said, “I don’t understand myself at all.For I really want to do what’s right, but I can’t.I do what I don’t want to do but what I hate. I know perfectly well that what I’m doing is wrong, but I can’t help myself.It’s sin inside me that’s stronger than I am, that makes me do those evil things.” Does this sound vaguely familiar to any of you? I end up doing what I don’t want to do, and other times, not doing what I want to do.
    The first step to recovery is understanding the cause of this problem. Why does this happen in my life? You need to understand the (1) cause of it, then the (2) consequences of the problem, then the (3) cure.


    (1) What’s the cause of my problem? The cause of all your problems is this: I want to be God. Wouldn’t you like to decide what’s right and what’s wrong? We say, “I don’t want anybody telling me what’s right and what’s wrong, I want to decide what’s right and what’s wrong.I want to call my own shots, I want to make my own rules.I want to put myself at the centre of the universe.I want to be my own boss, live my own way; ‘if it feels good, do it.’ I don’t want anybody telling me what to do with my life.” That’s called playing God. What it says is, “I want to control.” Hankering for control is often a symptom of a major pride problem. Also, the more insecure you are, the more you’re driven to control. The less secure you are, the more you want to control yourself, control other people, control your environment. You are driven to do this. We call that trying to “play God”.
    This is man’s oldest problem. Even Adam and Eve had it. God put them in Paradise and they tried to control Paradise – rejected God’s guidance in favour of “doing their own thing”. God said, “You can do anything you want to in this entire Paradise except one thing: Don’t eat from this certain tree.” What did they do? They made a beeline for that tree....the only thing in Paradise God said was off limits! Satan said, “Eat this fruit and be gods.” That’s been the problem from the very start. I want to be God. I want to call the shots. I want to run my own life.
    We want to be in control. How do we play God? By denying our humanity and by trying to control everything for selfish reasons. I want to be at the centre of my universe. Control is the real issue. I want to be in control and we try to control ourselves, other people, everything around us.
    How do we play God? 1) We try to control our image. You want to control what other people think of you. You don’t want other people to really know what you’re like. We play games, we wear masks, we pretend, we fake it, we want people to see certain sides of us and we hide other parts, and we deny our weaknesses and we deny our feelings, saying things like - “I’m not angry, I’m not upset, I’m not worried, I’m not afraid.” We don’t want people to see the real us. There’s a book titled, Why am I afraid to tell you who I am? The answer is: If I tell you who I really am and you don’t like it, tough for me ‘cause I’m all I’ve got! So we try to hide and we try to control our image.
    2) We try to control other people. Parents try to control kids; kids try to control parents. Wives try to control husbands; and husbands, wives. People try to control other people. There’s politics in your group at work, or even volunteer committees in the community. Countries try to control other countries. We use a lot of tools to manipulate each other. We use guilt to control, we use fear, we use praise, some of you use the silent treatment to control, or maybe you’re expert at flipping into anger or rage to boss others about. We try to control people.
    3) We try to control problems, our problems. We’re good at this. I’m especially good at this: I’ve gotta be self-sufficient; far be it from me to ever admit I can’t handle it myself! Ernest the Almighty! We use phrases like: “I can handle it, it’s not really a problem.” That’s somebody trying to play God. “I can handle it, I’m O.K.Really, I’m fine.” We control our problems: I don’t need any help and I certainly don’t need counseling. We try to control our problems: “I can quit that habit any time,” “I’ll work it out on my own.” But - the more you try to fix your problem yourself, the worse the problem gets!
    4. We try to control our pain. Have you ever thought how much time you spend running from pain? Trying to avoid it, deny it, escape it, reduce it, postpone it. Our culture worships comfort. People try to postpone pain many different ways: by eating or not eating; by getting drunk or smoking or taking drugs or by getting in and out of relationships. A person may tell themself, “This next relationship is what I really need to feel whole and significant.” And you get in the relationship - “Oh, this just isn’t what I’m looking for” - and you get out…It’s in and out of one relationship after another. Or you develop some kind of compulsive habit to try to control your pain. Or you become abusive and you get angry with other people or critical and judgmental to hide your pain. Or you get depressed. There are many, many ways we try to control our pain.
    Pain comes when we realize in our quiet and most honest of moments that we’re not God and we can’t control everything, and that’s scary.
    That’s the first step to recovery. You’re not going to get well on your own, face it! Don’t deny it.


Four problems happen when we try to play God:
    1) Fear. When I try to control everything I get afraid. Adam said, “I was afraid because I was naked, and so I hid.” (Gen 3:10) We are afraid somebody’s going to find out who we really are, that we’re fakes, we’re phony, we really don’t have it all together, we’re not perfect. They’ll see that flawed side of us we’d rather keep hidden. So I don’t want to let anyone get real close to me because they’ll find out I’m scared inside. So we fake it and pretend and fill our lives with fear, afraid that somebody’s going to reject us, not love us, or not like us because they don’t really know what I’m like. They only like an image of me, the face I want to present to those around. If they really knew what I was like, they wouldn’t like me. So we’re filled with fear when we try to play God.
    2) Frustration. It’s frustrating trying to be the general manager of the universe, because somehow, we’re just not equipped for that! Our imperfect nature is always ready to present a subsequent issue. We overcome one compulsion and another one pops up. We solve one problem and another one comes up. We resolve one relational conflict and another pops up. People! Really!!! It’s so frustrating because you can’t resolve all your issues at the same time. Yet you walk around pretending you’re God: “I’m powerful, I can handle it.” Yet our failures result in frustration.
    Paul realized this. “It seems to be a fact of life that when I want to do what is right I inevitably do what is wrong. Something else is deep within me. That war with my mind that wins the fight and makes me a slave to the sin.” (~Rom 7:21ff) David understood it: “My dishonesty made me miserable and filled my days with frustration.” (Ps 32:3)
    If you’re frustrated, it’s a symptom of a deeper problem that you haven’t dealt with: the root issue – You’re not God. You’re trying to control everything and it doesn’t work.
    3) Fatigue. It’s tiring playing God. Trying to control everything, pretending you’ve got it all together – denial takes a lot of energy. In Psalm 32(4f) David said: “My strength evaporated like water on a sunny day until I finally admitted all my sins to you and stopped trying to hide them.” Most people try to hide their pain and run from the pain by keeping busy because we think, “I don’t like the way I feel when I slow down.I don’t like the sounds that go through my mind when I lay my head back on the pillow, and I don’t like those feelings and those sounds so I’ll just keep busy.” You run from pain by constantly being on the go, work yourself to death at work. Or you get in some hobby or some sport and it becomes a compulsion and you’re on the golf course all the time, or turning on the tube or the computer to zone out, or hitting the mall – you just have to be somewhere all the time. Or you can get involved in religious activities: church activity can hide your pain. You’re hoping you’ll be so tired that when you lay your head down on the pillow, you’ll be so fatigued that you’ll go to sleep and won’t have to hear your pain.
    If you’re in a constant state of fatigue, always worn out, ask yourself, “What pain am I running from? What problem do I not want to face up to that motivates and drives me to work and work or go and go so that I’m in this constant state of fatigue?”
    4) Failure. When you try to play God, that’s one job description you’re guaranteed to fail at! Proverbs 28:13 (GNB), “You’ll never succeed in life if you try to hide your sins.Confess them.Give them up.Then God will show mercy to you.” You need to be honest and open about your weaknesses, your faults and failures.
    In this church we want to be a safe place where people be open and real and feel safe to talk about real problems, real hurts, real hang-ups, real habits, and not be blown away by judgment, but sense that we are a family of fellow strugglers. There’s not a person in this room that has it all together. We’re all weak in different areas and we need each other. In fact we need each other because we become mirrors to reveal each other’s hurts and help each other. We all have blind spots. Many times others see things I don’t see and vice versa. Some churches emphasize this to the point of offering a program called Celebrate Recovery which helps people deal with all different kinds of issues and problems and hurts, who are all working these steps together.
    How do you react to this whole emphasis on recovery? Some people resist the idea they might benefit from some type of 12-step program. Two ways not to react:
    1) “My problem’s not that bad.” That’s called denial. How bad does it have to get before you admit that you need some help? How bad does that hurt, that relationship, that pain, that problem, that memory have to get before you admit that you need help? Unfortunately it’s human nature that we seldom change until our pain becomes greater than the fear of change. We don’t change when we see the light; we only change when we feel the heat and the marriage starts falling apart or the kids start going off the wrong way or you get that phone call in the middle of the night. Save yourself some pain –  start early on your recovery! One man put it this way: he admitted, “It happened to me when the acid of my pain finally ate through the wall of my denial.” God whispers to us in our pleasures, but He shouts to us in our pain. Pain is God’s megaphone. Let it motivate you to get help, to face the issue that you’ve been ignoring ten, twenty, maybe thirty years. How’s your pain level? It’s a warning light to you. Listen to it.
    2) Another reaction is – “That’s fine, but I can solve my problems; this series on recovery is for somebody else.” That’s called denial too. Unless you’ve had a perfect life, there are some things you need to deal with. You try to convince yourself, “I can handle my problem, I can take care of it.” The fact is if you could handle it, you would have, but you can’t, so you won’t. If you could have handled that problem, it wouldn’t be a problem, you wouldn’t still have it today. This denial is as old as Adam and Eve. They had a problem. They ran and hid behind the bush. God had made them and God knew everything everywhere, yet they think they can hide from God! That’s how silly it is. Sometimes when people are asked, “Have you told God about your hurt? your habit? your hang-up?” they respond, “Oh, no, I wouldn’t want Him to know about it.”
    The Psalmist found that until he said, “I will confess my transgressions to the Lord” - as long as he kept trying to cover up his iniquity - his bones wasted away, he found God’s hand was “heavy upon” him (Ps 32:4f). You can’t get fixed till you ‘fess up and face your faults and admit it: “I’m powerless.”


We’ve seen the cause, and the consequence, of refusing to admit we’re not God; what’s the cure?
    The first step on the road to recovery is to admit my powerlessness. The Bible says that in admitting my weakness, I find strength. This is not a popular idea in self-sufficient North American culture which croons: “Pull yourself up by your own bootstraps; don’t depend on anybody else; do the Lone Ranger thing.” But this is the essential first step to getting your act together. Admit you’re powerless to do it on your own! You need other people and you need God.
    Admitting I’m not God means I recognize three important facts of life. Maturity comes when you recognize these three basic truths: (1) I admit that I am powerless to change my past.It hurt, I still remember it, but all the resentment in the world isn’t going to change it.I’m powerless to change my past. (2) I admit that I am powerless to control other people.I try, I like to manipulate them, I use all kinds of little gimmicks, but it doesn’t work.I am responsible for my actions, not theirs.I can’t control other people. And, (3) I admit that I am powerless to cope with my harmful habits, behaviors, actions. Good intentions are not enough. How many times have you tried and failed? Will power is not enough. You need something more than will power. You need a source of power beyond yourself. You need God, because He made you to need Him.
    James 4:6: “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” Grace is the power to change – grace that flows from the cross of Christ, the only absolutely perfect person who ever lived, and gave His life for you! Grace is the power God gives me to make the changes in my life that I want to make, that I know I need to make, and that He wants me to make - grace is the power to change. And for you to recover from hurts, hang-ups, and hassles in your life, you need God’s grace. How do you get it? Only one way: as James observes, God gives it to the humble.
    Let me ask you: What needs changing in your life? What hurt or hang-up or habit have you been trying to ignore? For many of you this step will be the hardest step. It’s good that it’s number one, because when you get over this, over the hump, you are freed just to admit it: “I have a problem, I have a need, I have a hurt.” That opens the door for God to work. Yes, it’s hard for many of us to admit that because it’s humbling. To say that is to confess, “I’m not God and I don’t have it all together as much as I’d like everybody to think that I do. I really don’t have it all together.” Now here’s a fact to ponder – if you tell that to somebody, they’re not going to be surprised, because they know it, God knows it, you know it, you just need to admit it. It means being honest and facing a problem that you’ve wanted to ignore for a long time. Join me as we walk together these eight weeks in this Road to Freedom, Road to Recovery. Let’s pray.