(Psalm 32:5) – “I acknowledged my sin to You, and my iniquity I have not hidden. I said, ‘I will confess my transgressions to the Lord,’ and You forgave the iniquity of my sin.”

“Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.” (Alcoholics Anonymous Step 5)

Accepting that we are forever flawed beings and doing wrong is an innate part of our structure, the above passages turn us outside of ourselves. By this point in our recovery we accept our powerlessness and know that God has all power and will deliver us from our dependencies. After taking a fearless and thorough inventory of ourselves we have identified character defects that are simply part of our fabric. Its now time to take these shortcomings to God. I believe my earnest effort to hold these flaws up to God needs to be preceded by our internal and contemplative admission to ourselves that this is a serious and concerning picture of our dark nature. We must fully understand and accept who we are and then we are ready to take our list to God asking at this point for his forgiveness but also knowing that we are approaching the point when we ask God to relieve these shortcomings.

The scriptural quote doesn’t say anything about addressing our character defects with another person and yet that is certainly stated in the second quote (AA Step 5). Keeping secrets and living a dual life is descriptive of my life prior to recovery and I’m certainly not alone with that. I just didn’t want anybody knowing what was really going on. Taking our personal inventory to another trusted human being does two things. First, it releases these dark secrets. I hear frequently, “We are no better than our secrets.” Accountability is the second reason for speaking with someone. Someone else now knows exactly what we are trying to leave behind.

The result, freedom … or at least partial freedom. There’s still more work to be done in this personal “housecleaning” effort but at this point we have an accurate vision of ourselves and have taken those SPECIFIC characteristics to God and another human being. We are on our way to living beyond our past in a new and reborn way.

Pulled From the Fire

For my entire first month in recovery I lived in dread of an unknown future that I no longer could control. I did not know how this latest problem was going to end and some of the possibilities were terrifying. Every waking minute I was consumed with incomprehensible demoralization and outright fear. Sleep was rare and riddled with nightmares and soaking the bed with sweat.

Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.

I was baptized at the First Southern Baptist Church in Phoenix, AZ when I was in middle school. Mom had taken me to Sunday School from as far back as I can remember. About the time I started high school, however, the church moved from downtown Phoenix to West Phoenix and we moved to East Phoenix. Between my adolescence and the distance, we quit going to church and my spiritual growth stopped. Little did I know, the mustard seeds had been planted. Now, 40 years later, my life depended upon growing the seeds that laid dormant within me. I was Christian by belief and faith but never by practice and I most certainly had never even thought of relying on God to return me to sanity and, after that, taking over my life.

As is custom in the AA world, I “chaired” my 30 day meeting when I would receive my coin (a token of sobriety). As always, I brought the omnipresent dread into room with me although I had found some relief during these meetings over the course of the past month. This day, however, shortly before 7:00 when I was to start the meeting, the dread tangibly disappeared. It was simply lifted off me. Gone! I froze with some fear that I was having a stroke or something had just broken within me. I searched for the dread but it was not to be found. I thought about my future and confirmed it was just as unknown as it had been for the previous 30 days. Still, it was gone. I started the meeting and quickly got it opened up for general sharing so the attention was no longer on me. At meeting’s end we circled up for the Lord’s Prayer and as I looked at the giant circle it appeared that a light surrounded and connected each person in the room. The dread was still nowhere to be found and it didn’t significantly return … ever.

It was at this moment that my faith in God’s power was transformed into knowledge. This was the first of a few such occurrences that have molded the last 8 years and 5 months of my life.

Help Others and Judge Not

(Philippians 1:23-25) I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far; but it is more necessary for you that I remain in the body. Convinced of this, I know that I will remain, and I will continue with all of you for your progress and joy in the faith, …

As Paul writes these words to the church in Philippi, he is in prison. Literally in chains. Despite this, he knows his mission is to continue serving others as he says, “… that I remain in the body.”

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.” (Alcoholic Anonymous, pg. 60)

The similarities between these two quotes are remarkable. Paul’s chains were undeniably real but those held in the bondage of alcoholism and addiction know what a merciless captor is all about. It is no coincidence that both direct us to work with others. Christ’s gifts of pure grace must pass through us and be passed on to others. Paul directly says this is what he is doing while “in the body.” Similarly, once an alcoholic or addict has been metaphorically raised from a living death, it is now their turn to carry the word by taking this hope to another afflicted with our disease. We may be powerless over alcohol/drugs but God is not. God has all power and will deliver us from our demons if we turn to Him. We are His messengers and Paul, for one, tells us so in this scripture. There are many others and we will explore some of them at a later date. For now, we surrender to God’s will and look for “the new guy” that might find the Lord our God through our testimony. Our experience, strength, and hope is what earns immediate credibility and respect.

Still, I have heard some in recovery say they do not want to work with others at least in terms of classical “sponsorship.” They say that most don’t make it and their failure is personally hurtful. Well … sure, its painful seeing anyone turn away from salvation. Jesus himself addressed this when he said, “Do not give dogs what is sacred; do not throw your pearls to pigs. If you do, they may trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you to pieces.” (Matthew 7:6) OUCH! That’s pretty harsh but all combined we are directed to help others and move on when rejected.

Another of our axioms is a good way to finish, “Attraction rather than promotion.” We don’t talk people into recovery. We show them our path and they have to open the door of their life to God’s will and THEN they will experience the miracle.

Spiritual Growth

Over my years in recovery I have become aware of several different pathways to sobriety. I have direct personal contact with two of these and am pretty familiar with a third. All three of these share one thing in common, spiritual strength. I started in the AA program which, in turn, led me back to my church. Some AA axioms are a good place to start.

  • No human power could relieve our alcoholism.
  • We came to believe that God will restore us to sanity.
  • We claim spiritual progress not spiritual perfection.
  • The point is to grow along spiritual lines.

God’s grace is our greatest gift. No matter how low we have gone, all we need is the slightest bit of willingness and openness to allow God to enter our life. Like a small spark can start a fire, God will work within any open heart. Once our transformation begins it progresses for the rest of life hence our axiom, “We claim spiritual progress not spiritual perfection.”

This brings me back to my church. Eight years ago I found Harvest ending a three month “church search.” That first Sunday, Pastor Brian’s message spoke so directly to my growing AA program, I was simply amazed. I wondered if he had experience or knowledge of the program. As time passed and he and I became friends, I learned that pure Christ driven theology is exactly what AA’s founding father’s based the program. It didn’t take long for me to understand that my AA program and my church were not separate things. They were two parts of the same thing and God unites it all.

Starting this week and running to Easter, Pastor Brian provided “The Spiritual Growth Challenge,” five days of study and prayer specifically designed to improve our direct connection to God. Again, compare this church challenge to the AA axioms I listed above. For me, AA and Harvest Community Church are two equal halves of my recovery.


We are easily distracted creatures. Some people can focus better than most but even at our very best, our attention is easily drawn away. Compared to the rest of the animal kingdom I would say we are pretty average in this regard. For my dogs, squirrels on the fence take priority over food. This being the case, our recovery is under constant attack as people, places, and things bombard our senses with temptations that could lure us away from God’s will and our path of sobriety.

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.”

As I believe I mentioned in my last post, opening ourselves to God’s will is proper use of our self will. Tapping into His power is the only way we can overcome distraction … at least some. We are still flesh and the flesh yearns attention. Yet another condition of powerlessness and its closely related to substance abuse. This is why we must seek a close connection to God. Fortunately, this is exactly what He wants for us, too, so all we have to do is be open and He will come in and provide what we need. I’m not saying “what we want,” mind you. He provides what we NEED, and that’s enough. Clearly, a big part of this need is to keep us focused on His will for us in our daily lives. Still, we must constantly work to maintain and improve our conscious contact with God. Taking moments through the day to simply stop and listen. Clear the mind of clutter and allow God to enter. Once present with Him, have a conversation. Let Him know your concerns and ask for His vision and the power to carry it out.

These actions will defeat distraction. These actions will draw us closer to God and will build personal serenity and security in a world that is often far from either.

Today Not Tomorrow

(Matthew 6: 34) “Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.
I worked hard today trying to stay focused on the challenges immediately in front of me.  New roof for the house, readying classes for the upcoming term, elderly dogs, and an elderly mother filled my to do list.  Simple daily life.  Still, my mind wants to project this or that scenario out into the future and most of those storylines are troublesome.  I knew the above passage very well but, I’m embarrassed to admit, I didn’t recall it coming from Christ’s own lips.  Wow!  Living “One Day At a Time” just can’t be any more clear than Jesus’ summation.  As I mentioned in my last posting, I need to focus on what God sends down my path. My job is to use the gifts he has given me and to stay open to his will and guidance.  My human nature still struggles with that simplicity.  I look ahead and try to spot the traps and brambles sometimes making them up in my own head.
Faith in God’s wisdom and guidance is all that we need.  Before this scripture, Jesus explains that we should not worry about most of our needs.  God will provide.  Since I began this chapter of my life I have example after example of exactly that but still I struggle to surrender my life and will over to God’s care.  It takes very intentional living.  Bill Wilson wrote, and I paraphrase, working to turn our lives over to the care of God is proper use of the will.  This is a one day at a time effort achieved moment by moment.  Christ himself has assured us, “Each day has enough trouble of its own.”  He was right here amoung us and that sentence certainly shows his understanding of the human condition.  He gets us!

Manage or Join

This week in my regular Tuesday night meeting the topic was Step 1, “We admitted we were powerless over alcohol – that our lives had become unmanageable.”  My first thought is always that life was never truly manageable by me or anyone else.  The step says this in the past tense.  Thinking more deeply, however, I now understand that the remainder of the steps is where life gets tamed but most certainly not by any human power.  No, this is God’s domain.  Only through complete surrender to God’s will for us with an openess to his guidance and direction will we ever experience any degree of tranquility when navigating the storms of life.  Previously, I would try to manage, manipulate, direct, shape … you get the idea … almost every situation.  The common results were frustration, anger, or annoyance at the very least.  Its funny how everybody didn’t just fall in line with my every whim.  Now, eight and a half years later, I have experienced God’s leadership through life’s challenges.  Remaining surrendered is the true challenge.  Human nature tends to take full advantage of the freedom God has given us all making it extremely difficult to keep from trying to take control ourselves
About halfway through the hour a catch phrase came to mind.  “Don’t manage life.  Be a part of it.”  I describe my experience of finding and following God’s will pretty simply.  I try to do my best with whatever comes down life’s path.  I always want to do “the next right thing.”  I believe God has given me adequate insight and gifts so as long as I am actively seeking his will I believe my actions will be the best possible.  Trust me, this doesn’t work out absent flaw or error but what I’ve found is a remarkable relief from the negative emotions that used to fuel my drinking.  “God grants me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change.”

Finding My Faith

Being raised as a Southern Baptist I can honestly say that I learned about faith way back then which turned out to be the seeds that would sprout decades later.  January of 2009 I embarked on a “Church Search” that took me across this city.  After two and a half months I decided to try the closest church to my house … Harvest.  My search was over and I knew it immediately.  I thanked Pastor Brian at the end of service and thanked God for giving me a church home.  This church is different and WE are the church.

A lot has happened since that day … but that will be saved for later posts. 😮

– John