Today at Gateway Church in Austin, we conitinued a new series designed to go beyond just a new year’s resolution. This is an opportunity to get past what has kept you from becoming the person you were created to be.
Kenny Green spoke at the McNeil Campus. Here are some of the ideas he shared:
“So it’s the summer of 2004 and there I sat in a room full of guys awaiting the beginning of a 12-step recovery meeting. Now, this particular meeting was a little bit unique, not so much because the room was full of alcoholics, drug addicts and even criminals. This particular 12-step meeting was unique because all of the addicts and criminals in attendance were also all dressed alike in these blue jumpsuits. In fact, we were all currently residing at the same address right smack in the heart of downtown Los Angeles. We were all inmates in the LA County Jail. Yep, so there we sat waiting for the meeting to begin (talk about a captive audience, right?). Finally, the group of guys that are volunteering to lead this meeting are escorted into the room by a couple of county sheriffs. So, with about 30 inmates staring at him and two enormous county sheriffs standing on either side of him, one of the volunteers stands up and introduces himself and then proceeds:
We admitted we were powerless over our addictions and compulsive behaviors, that our lives had become unmanageable.
Now by that time I’d been using drugs for the better part of fifteen years and had been addicted to crystal meth for ten of those. I was a “pack-a-day” smoker and I’d been drowning in a pornography addiction for years. This wasn’t my first time in jail. In fact for quite a few years my life had been a vicious cycle of getting arrested for drugs, getting released from jail and put on probation, violating my probation by using drugs, and going back to jail for probation violations.
So as I’m sitting there in my “county blues”, surrounded by my fellow inmates, and this guy starts talking about “powerlessness” and “my life being unmanageable.” It wasn’t too hard to imagine those things being true of my life. That I was completely powerless to control my tendency to do the wrong thing and that my life was completely unmanageable these things were pretty clear at that point.
But the question is, why did it take so many years and so much misery before I was able to admit my powerlessness? Well, the answer is that I was too proud to admit I was powerless. (and you’re probably like, “proud of what?) But that’s the tricky thing about pride that even with all the years of addiction, sexual brokenness, loneliness, and depression that I had brought on myself. For me to admit my powerlessness meant admitting that I really wasn’t in control. It meant that the people that loved me and were closest to me were right. I had been making terrible decisions for years and years that I was sick and afraid and that felt like death. I’d been playing God for so long, that for me to step out of all of that denial and to let go of the illusion that I was in control. . .and that I could change myself if, in fact,I wanted to. . .and to me, man that just felt like death. It’s not that it seemed hard. . .it seemed impossible.
What about you? Does any of that sound familiar? It may look different for you, but aren’t there areas in all of our lives where we’re sometimes tempted to play God? Where we pretend to be in control of some unhealthy behavior, even when we know that we’re not? Places where we’re desperately trying to control what others are doing or what others think of us?
Why do we do this? I mean, are you really in control? Ya know, last week John asked each of us to come back this week having identified the one thing that has us the most stuck. Did you do that? Did you ask those closest to you–what’s the One Thing you see that’s holding me back?
What is that “one thing” for you? And why is it so hard to admit that we’re not in control? That we’re powerless to change on our own?
Well I’ve been giving a lot of thought to John’s question because now, of course, it’s 2014 and nearly a decade has passed since I sat in that 12 step meeting in jail. I’ve been following Christ, drug free and in recovery for over nine years now. I’m not on probation and there aren’t any warrants out for my arrest. We do have some standards here in case you were concerned. I have a healthy marriage, 3 amazing little boys, and I serve at Gateway. I am living proof that No Perfect People Are Allowed here. The point is, that by God’s Power and Grace, my life looks a lot different than it use to. Night and day different!!. . .and it should right? I mean, we’re told in 2 Corinthians 5 that …if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold the new has come.
But here’s the question I have to ask myself as you and I jump in to this “Unchained” series together:
Is Step One any less applicable to my life today than it was ten years ago? Am I, in-and-of myself, any less powerless than I was then? Under my control, is my life any more manageable than it used to be?
I’m tempted to just look back on my life and to rest on past victories. . .victories over symptoms. . .drugs, porn, sexual promiscuity, cigarettes. I’ve been walking in freedom from those things for years! And what I want to do is just celebrate the absence of those symptoms from my past instead of acknowledging the presence of their roots in my life today. Don’t get me wrong. I am so very grateful to be free from those things but at the end of the day, those things were symptoms of much deeper issues. . .fear, pride, anger, insecurities, etc. . .those were the root issues that I was trying to manage or control. . .trying to escape or just numb-out from.
The thing is, although the symptoms may look a lot different today. Those character defects: fear, pride, anger, insecurities, etc., those things are still very much a part of my life today. If I don’t stay spiritually awake in my own recovery, I can tend to get a bad case of the “yah, yahs”. “Yah…I’ve done these steps before. . .yah…I’ve been sober for awhile. . .yah…I’ve heard this all before. . .”
I am no less powerless and my life is no more manageable than it was 10 years ago.
But this is true for all of us though, isn’t it? Don’t we all have things in our lives that, on some level, we know are just robbing us of joy and happiness? Things that have us completely stuck in the mud while our wheels are just spinning? Things that we’re trying desperately to control but in reality are just controlling us?
We all have hurts and habits from which we need to be Unchained. So many of us see patterns of behavior in our lives that we know aren’t healthy and yet we can’t seem to change on our own. We’re often aware of the ways that our choices and behaviors our negatively effecting our own lives and the lives of those closest to us and yet we’re powerless to stop. But again remember, you’re not alone.
The apostle Paul puts it like this:
What I don’t understand about myself is that I decide one way, but then I act another, doing things I absolutely despise. So if I can’t be trusted to figure out what is best for myself and then do it, it becomes obvious that God’s command is necessary. But I need something more! For I know the law but still can’t keep it, and if the power of sin within me keeps sabotaging my best intentions, I obviously need help! I realize that I don’t have what it takes. I can will it, but I can’t do it.
– Romans 7:15-18
Now I must admit that I do take just a little comfort in hearing these words coming from Paul. I mean, he’s one of the heroes of the first century church. He was God’s appointed minister to the Gentiles and he wrote 2/3 of the New Testament. Yet, here he’s saying, “I look at my life sometimes, and I just don’t get it! I keep failing to do the things that I know I should, and I continue to do the very things I hate. I really want to do what’s right, but I’m unable to do it.”
It’s so important that you see that this isn’t just for “those people.” It’s not just about addictions and compulsive behaviors (although it is about those things too), but this is a sin problem and that’s true for all of us. Step One is about admitting that we are powerless over our sin and over our tendency to do the wrong thing! So, according to scripture: we are all “those people”.
Just like Paul, I still have this battle going on between my old way of living and my new way of living the residual effects of my old nature that are competing for the allegiance of my heart. Many of us are feeling completely stuck in that battle right now between what we know God wants for us, and what we often can’t help but do in our addictions and sin patterns.
Does that sound familiar to any of you? Does that kind of powerlessness resonate true with you in your own life? If so, then are you ready to take Step One? Are you ready to experience something that can only be experienced when we release control? There is power in the midst of powerlessness. I know it sounds kind of crazy. It sounded crazy to me too until I actually experienced it for myself.
Step One says:
We admitted we were powerless over our addictions and compulsive behaviors, that our lives had become unmanageable.
What are your fears in taking this first step? What have you got to lose, except maybe the burden of trying to control all the things that you’re powerless to control? . .or maybe the feelings of isolation and disorientation that come from struggling alone?
Here’s another question: What if taking this very difficult first step actually brought you closer to God’s Kingdom? Closer to the “full, abundant life” that Jesus says He came to bring?
For those of you who are feeling stuck and burdened this morning, for those who’s hearts are broken, for those of you who are exhausted and just trying to keep from drowning: I want to offer you some hope.
In Matthew 5, Jesus begins his public ministry, and He does so, sitting on this hillside where a large crowd of people have gathered. A crowd that probably wasn’t very different from us. I want to you to imagine those people and there experience as they hear the words that Jesus is about to say.
Rather than shaming them or rebuking them as the Pharisees often did, Jesus gave them principles that will help them recover from their destructive and burdensome existence that they’d been living.
Jesus said: Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Matthew 5:3
Jesus is saying that the first step towards freedom is to be poor in spirit – not pretending you’re strong and in control and have it all together, but to admit we’re powerless. That’s where recovery truly begins. Being blessed by God begins when we come to the end of ourselves and admit we are powerless.
Jesus is saying that the very first thing we need to understand, is that we are unfit to manage our own lives. That’s true for all of us. He wants us to first realize that we can’t do this by ourselves but our response to our powerlessness needs to be: “God, I need you to rescue me and to heal me!”
People who get this principle are the ones to whom Jesus says, “the kingdom is for you.” It’s not for those who have it all figured out or for those who pretend to have it all together.
Jesus said: “Healthy people don’t need a doctor—sick people do. I have come to call not those who think they are righteous, but those who know they are sinners.” Mark 2:17
Jesus said this to people who thought they were healthy, but pride had blinded them. In their denial they ended up crucifying Jesus.
But for those of us who know we’re sick, who know we’re in need whose hearts are broken, Jesus says, “I came to heal and restore your life, and my kingdom is for you.” This is Jesus’ way of saying to those who are stuck, and know they are powerless, “I’m going to get in the trenches with you!”
God cares more about how you’re doing than what you’re doing. He’s not saying, “get it together!” Instead He’s saying, “I’m going to comfort you by jumping in with you. As you grieve the loss of that crutch, I’m not going to let you suffer alone. I’m going to comfort you and bring you hope!”
So are you ready to take Step One? Are you ready to experience something that can only be experienced when we release control? Are you ready to experience His power in the midst of your powerlessness.
What is your next step?
(For the audio or video version of the entire message, go to www.gatewaychurch.com/podcast.)