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Change is traumatic, chaotic. It fed my addict. Its something prior to recovery that I depended on. A function of my self reliance and self-will. I needed change. I used it as a crutch to defer judgment, to hide lies, betrayals, my own sins.
Then you must throw this man out and hand him over to Satan so that his sinful nature will be destroyed and he himself will be saved on the day the Lord returns. 1 Corinthians 5:5
What do we do when our brothers in Christ continue in rebellion?
How many people do you know in recovery? Now, how many people do you know who have been in your recovery meetings and have dropped out…or you don’t know what happened to them…or they just quit working through the steps?
Unfortunately, for every person who sits next to me in a circle I can think of many faces when I look at the empty chair in the middle. As a new sponsor, I thought I could will my sponsees through the steps. If they would just learn from my mistakes, stay diligent, repent, turn toward sobriety and restoration…they could avoid inflicting additional pain on their families and themselves.
Its easy for me to remember the second part of my journey through recovery, when I finally got serious about recovery. That is the part I want to impart on the people I meet in these meetings, that I spend time with on phone calls or sit next to in rooms. Stop now, go to meetings, get a sponsor, work the steps, stay in accountability, check in with others. Most importantly, stop acting out. Do whatever it takes to stop.
Then I remember the first part of my journey. Attending meetings, lying to the facilitator that I didn’t belong here, that I had only had one affair, I didn’t struggle with pornography, I wasn’t like everyone in this meeting. Lying to my wife, my counselor, my kids. Lying to my accountability guys. Lying to myself. Lying to God.
So what do you do when you have someone like I was in your life? What do you do when that guy you are talking to, investing time in, supporting, encouraging…what do you do when they tell you one thing and do another? What do you do when they lie to you over and over? When they don’t follow through? When they don’t commit to meetings, check ins, accountability, truthfulness.
This past week, my pastor preached a message from 1 Corinthians 5. Paul wrote both 1 and 2nd Corinthians as letters to the church at Corinth. The church he planted and watered. The two letters are a treasure trove of Christ like living, instruction from Christ through Paul. Chapter 5 is important to me. It speaks to my top character defect: pride. Like the Corinthians, I knew best. Only, Paul wasn’t about to let that go.
It seems the church had allowed sexual immorality to exist in its midst in the form of one of its members. He was a Christ follower who refused to repent and turn from his sin. He was living in a sexual relationship with his stepmother. The church didn’t discipline him or challenge him. They celebrated themselves and how “tolerant” and loving they were by accepting his behavior. When I heard this from my pastor, I had one immediate thought…insanity. How could someone do something so stupid and insane as a Christian and as a church? Oh, and then I remembered my own life. Oops.
I am a Christ follower. I have been since the age of 9. My insanity reached astounding depths. My own behavior caused me to jeopardize my marriage, my relationship with my kids and my extended family, and to lose my job and much of our savings. After admitting to an affair, I sought to keep my marriage together after my wife allowed me to come home. Except…I wasn’t done in my insanity yet. I decided to only confess a little, hide everything else, and lie. Then hang on for dear life that I wouldn’t be found out and that I could fix it on my own. That should work. It didn’t. Surprise surprise!
Paul called out the sin of the individual and of the church at Corinth. He demanded that he be turned over to Satan so that his sinful nature might be destroyed. Not him…his sinful nature. Paul was talking about a Christian. Someone who had accepted Christ, who was saved by grace through faith. And who was still living in lies and sin. Someone like me. Paul’s instruction wasn’t done. He continued with the best part. Turn him over to Satan so his sin might be destroyed and he will be saved.
What do we do when someone we know and care about is in rebellion from Christ? Is deep in their own sin and can’t see the way out? Who knows Christ but can’t let go of their addiction? We follow Paul’s guidance…we turn them over to their own sin. In our circles, we say they haven’t hit their rock bottom yet. We have to leave them to it. And yet be there when they are able to reach out.
Our pastor closed his message with a series of quotes. He has a friend who is writing a book and reached out to people in his circles with the following question: “I stopped running from God when…” Here are some of the answers he got:
- I lost my job.
- My wife filed for divorce.
- I almost ran over someone.
- My kids no longer spoke to me.
- I couldn’t remember what I did the night before.
- I hit rock bottom.
The ultimate goal for lives after running from God is simple. Restoration. Recovery has meant a path to restoration for me. Restoration with God, my wife, my kids, my friends, my church. That is exactly what God intends. After our rebellion, after repentance…comes restoration.
My life was unmanageable. Out of control. If you are reading this, you know what I am talking about. Either you are experiencing this now or you have experienced it in the past. That powerlessness you feel from not being able to change. The overwhelming sense of dread that occurs when you want to be different, but you just don’t know how or can’t put together more than a few days or weeks or even months of change.
For me, I couldn’t stop lying, hiding my behavior, seeking out other relationships outside my marriage. The shame and self-hatred from knowing who I was and what I was doing was suffocating. I felt cornered. And I was. My own carelessness and inability to manage led to my wife discovering part of my behavior. I ended up disclosing the rest. And then recovery began.
To say I survived the first few months is downplaying the actual struggle. I survived on a day to day basis. I would most days reach the end of the day, thankful that it was over. I couldn’t handle it. I had all the components of recovery: a counselor, meetings, a sponsor, check ins with other guys, accountability partners. I followed the rules and called other guys daily. I muscled through and stayed “sober.” I was hanging on by my fingernails. Nights in the guest bedroom for those first few months were soul killing. I hated where I was, who I was, and how I was.
Working the steps began my journey to understand how, like life before recovery, I couldn’t manage life in recovery on my own. Detailing my own powerlessness and the unmanageability of my life in Step One gave me the specifics of what life would be if I chose to continue living how I did before. The slow long gradual fade of my behavior, destruction of my marriage, and distancing of my children were all reminders of the fallout from a life of selfishness and addiction. Sharing my secrets and shame with my wife and the men of my recovery groups ripped the top off a container of darkness and hiding, forcing light into areas that were so damaging.
Even after exposing these secrets, my life was still unmanageable. I survived each day, struggling to just stay sane and balanced, losing my job in the process. My turning point came in Steps Two and Three. I first recognized that only God could restore me to sanity. Recovery, the Steps, my groups, my wife, my accountability partners…they couldn’t do that. I couldn’t do that. I couldn’t will that. Only God could.
Step Three required me to decide…would I turn my life and will over to God or not? For all of my life the answer was not. My journey to this point in life gave me the overwhelming preponderance of evidence that my own manageability of my life wouldn’t work. Only destruction would follow. So I chose to give God control.
I wish I could say that everything changed in that moment. It didn’t. I kept working through the Steps. Kept going to meetings, kept meeting with my accountability partners, kept going to counseling, kept checking in with guys…and started developing a relationship with God. I started each day by submitting control to Him, knowing that me being in control of my day wasn’t sustainable.
Each day isn’t smooth sailing. It isn’t perfect. It isn’t my design. Its His design. He leads me where He wants me, refining and teaching me to continue along this journey of sanctification. Because that what life is as a Christ Follower, continually submitting control to Him in order to refine me to be more like Him. My life was and IS unmanageable on my own. Each day is only manageable through submitting to Christ.
God’s Word was a mystery to me. Oh, I knew it. Or could quote some of it. I knew a lot of the stories. Understand it? Really get something from it? No. Hear God while reading the Bible? Nope, not ever. I am thankful to a good friend for his mentorship in the below method and others in studying God’s Word at the direction of the Holy Spirit. Key point…at the direction of the Holy Spirit. Trust me on this. Below are the steps I follow. Take what you like and leave the rest.
Get a journal. Use it everyday just for your Bible reading. Trust me on this. If you like things like documenting, journaling, trending then you will want a journal just for this. Journaling is a great practice for actually remembering things, well it is for me. I am getting old so journaling is a must. I also find it really neat to revisit my past, see where God has brought me from. When you do this, it reminds you of how good God is. Really good. I can’t see it in the middle but revisiting is eye opening.
Read His Word. Everyday. Yeah, I know, right? Actually spend time in His word. Not hours. I spend about 15 minutes a day. You have 15 minutes you can spare by turning off your phone. Trust me, you can find the time. I used to think I had to be a Biblical scholar or more of a scholar than I currently am to read the Bible and understand it. Actually, not so much. I use blueletterbible.org. It’s an amazing website. Then I do the following:
- Decide what book I will read
- Read a passage a day (maybe 5 – 10 verses)
- Identify the verse or verses that resonate with me
- Write them down in my journal
- Use the concordance in blueletterbible.org to further understand those verses
- Write down what I hear from the Holy Spirit
See this is the part where God speaks. His Holy Spirit will reveal truths to you when you read His word. Don’t get frustrated to start. It’s up to HIM to reveal His truth to you. Be faithful and He will do so. So you don’t forget them, WRITE THEM DOWN.
Pray. Yeah, pray. After I read His Word and discover what He has for me, I pray. I pray the same way every time. I follow ACTS (Acknowledge, Confess, Thank, Supplicate). I first acknowledge and praise my God and Savior for who He is. Then I confess my unconfessed sin in as much detail as I possibly can. Then I thank Him for what He has done for me in my life. Finally, supplication. I bring my requests to Him. I ask Him to validate the truths I read in His word. I pray specifically.
Reading His Word daily was really intimidating to me until I started using this method. Figure out what works for you and spend time in His Word daily. Don’t miss out on what the Holy Spirit has for you!