Celebrate Recovery Lesson 15: Victory
Given on June 14, 2011 at Overlake Christian Church.
Hi, my name is Grant and I love Jesus and I believe in Christ's victory over my pornography and masturbation addictions.
A little bit about me first. I'm twenty-five years old and five feet two inches tall. I stumbled in the door of Celebrate Recovery about two years ago and was instantly hooked. Searching for a group of authentic people, I knew immediately that this would be a home for me. After going through the 12-Steps myself for about a year. I've spent the second year leading others through the 12-Steps again. Here we alternate on Tuesday nights between testimonies and teaching. Tonight I am honored and humbled to teach on VICTORY.
Victory. Tonight's lesson and acrostic is titled Victory. Principle five of eight principles, step seven of twelve steps, and the lesson title is Victory.
Isn't this a bit strange? I mean, I'd expect “Victory” to be step twelve of twelve, principle eight of eight. Doesn't Victory come at the end? Well, no. Not in this story. A little more than half way through, and we're telling you: you win! There's no “if”, “but”, or “except”, after that. It's the truth. With step seven in the twelve step process, we realize Victory in our lives.
If you're new here, I hope you think this is as strange as I did when I first went through the steps. At Celebrate Recovery, we use acrostics (kind of like acronyms) to hash things out. Let me hash out Victory, letter by letter.
Our first letter, V, stands for “Voluntarily Submit”. With principle five, we voluntarily submit to every change God wants to make in our lives and humbly ask Him to remove our shortcomings. That doesn't sound like victory does it? But friends, I can tell you, it is. In step seven, we lay down our rebelion in favor of God's will for our lives. This is where the rubber meets the road. Don't be surprised if it's harder than it sounds. A choice like this requires sacrifice. Paul explained the sacrifice in his letter to the Romans by saying, “offer yourselves as a living sacrifice to God, dedicated to his service and pleasing to him… Let God transform you inwardly by a complete change of your mind.” Voluntary submission to God's will is a learning process. A process, I'll describe through the next six letters.
But first, I want to dwell on this concept of Victory. Indeed, I believe the Victory we realize in step seven is what carries us through the next five steps. Without realizing victory, we can't hope to make amends or get right with others. The theological basis of our victory rests solely on the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. Through this one man, we receive a new convenant with God that promises redemption and reconciliation. If you remember only one thing tonight, I want you to remember that Jesus is victorious. Jesus is victorious.
For some of you, I have bad news. God is not an undoer. God did not choose to go back to Adam's sin and rewrite history. Ever since Adam and Eve made a bad choice, God has been working to redeem our lives. God is not an undoer but a renewer. To each of us, he offers victory in his son, Jesus of Nazareth. The resurrection presents us no re-written history. God has undone Adam's sin with a second Adam. Not even God will rewrite the past. His victory looks forward.
The whole of our principles for Celebrate Recovery arise from one of Jesus' sermons. You may know this sermon as the “Sermon on the Mount”. The verses we read that start with “Happy are those…” come from a section of that sermon known as the “Beattitudes”. While I appreciate the modern translations that we use, I want to go back for a moment to a more literal translation. From the English Standard Version, we hear: “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness”. I'll say it again: “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness.”
Notice that this doesn't say, “Blessed are the righteous.” That would be a fairly obvious statement, wouldn't it? Among the religious elite, this would've been a checkbox on Jesus' “Help Wanted” application. No. Jesus doesn't say he's looking for those that are righteous. Instead, he calls for those that “hunger and thirst” for righteousness.
And here's the upside down part: why do you hunger and thirst for food? Because you don't have it. If Jesus had preached, “Blessed are the righteous”, he would've immediately counted most of us out. In his day, the religious leaders were exactly that. But no. He says “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness”. Do you yearn for it? As you go through step seven, you'll be challenged in new ways. Do you have the hunger and thirst for righteousness to pull you through? Are you ready for the sacrifice?
If you're ready, I have good news. The second half of Matthew 5:6 in the Beattitudes contains a promise. It reads, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.”. Ahhh. “For they shall be satisfied.” That's not my promise, that's God's promise. To all of you who hunger and thirst, you shall be satisfied. By this, we are confident in God's power to change the course of our lives.
To begin, the process of Victory, we'll start with the letter, I, which stands for “Identify Character Defects”. You probably can't work on everything at once. When I first asked God to reveal my character defects, he started naming a list much longer than I'd thought. Of course I knew I struggled with lust and selfishness but God added mocking others, sarcasm, pessimism, workaholism, greed, over-eating, derisive nature, and even paranoia. In this stage, a sponsor, with whom you've done your fourth and fifth steps is crucial. As if God's worklist of character defects weren't enough, I had to contend also with a sponsor that stuck up for God. “Yep,” he would say, “I can see how God would want you to work on that.” The key here is to ask God and others. God will lead you in identifying which character defect to work on first. From Solomon's proverbs, we learn “In his heart a man plans his course, but the Lord determines his steps.” You're going to recover one step at a time. The path of least resistance is lighted by God.
Our next letter is V-I-C, C, and it stands for “Change Your Mind”. Once you've identified a character defect, there's probably something about that which is the result of bad thinking. As part of your identity in Christ, God will transform you by renewing your mind. This renewal is a team effort but your responsibility is to take the action to follow God's direction for change. Paul explains later in his letter to Romans that you are “not to conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. [With that renewal] you will be able to test and approve what God's will is - his good, pleasing and perfect will.”
Breaking my conformity to the pattern of this world has been the most challenging battle for me. These battles wage back and forth in how I view things. As I mentioned when I introduced myself, I'm five feet, two inches tall. That's short. Growing up, my height was a source of many unpleasant memories. In many ways, even as I went through college and realized a great deal of success in my life, I still felt insecure and I resented anyone that looked down on me. On Good Friday in two thousand ten, I attened the service here at Overlake Christian Church. During the service we had the opportunity to write a hurt, habit or hang-up down and nail it to the cross. As I sat in that service and pondered the things I could write, God spoke to me and asked me to write just two numbers: 5'2”. I struggled hard against this stirring. So long had I looked down on those numbers. I had made my attitude toward them a part of my identity. In that service though, God was asking me to change my mind.
See, just a few days before that service, God reminded me of a letter my Dad wrote me. I can hardly call it a letter because it's only a few sentences scribbled on a note of paper but I've kept and cherished that paper for more than a decade. In one sentence, my Dad wrote “I love your smile.” I can't tell you how that makes me feel. Before I ever read that, I didn't think much of my smile. But having read it and knowing that my Dad loves my smile, suddenly, it is the source of great pride for me. Knowing my Dad loved my smile meant that I loved my smile.
And so there, in that Good Friday service, God was speaking to me and saying “I love your height”. By writing down 5'2” and nailing it to the cross, I was symbolically changing my mind. I said, “ok Abba, since you love what you made, I will choose to love what you made in me.”
Our next letter, T, stands for “Turn Over Character Defects”. This sequence, I-C-T is the kernel of our Victory step. With I, we Identify Character Defects, then with C, we Change Our Minds, and finally with T, we Turn Over Our Character Defects. The truth is, relying on your own willpower has only blocked or slowed your recovery. You trying to change your hurts, hang-ups, and habits by yourself will be unsuccessful. Turning over our character defects puts pressure on God to support us. This is risky and it's worth acknowledging your fear. Repeatedly through the scriptures, however, we can affirm the faithfulness and strength of the Lord. Just two examples from the book of James and Thessalonians remind us to “Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up.” For, “the Lord is faithful, and he will strengthen and protect you from the evil One.”
Along with our letter, T, I want to discuss something that I call “Tactics vs. Strategy”. Developing both Tactics and Strategy is important, but in the long run a winning strategy is what matters. Tactics appear important because they impact the day-to-day but they can slow us down if we rely too heavily on them. Let me make it concrete. In my fight against internet porngraphy, I developed tractics that included staying busy, blocking specific sites in my internet router and placing my computer in the living room. These tactics encouraged my sobriety but they were all defeatable. Some weekends, I chose not to stay busy. When the power reset, the router forgot its settings. And with a laptop, I could always move it wherever I wanted to. Instead, and in time, winning stragies for me were learning that “God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.” It included, developing an accountability partner that I could trust and share with intimately. And finally, accepting that God is always with me, no matter how I try to hide. These strategies accept God's truth and develop healthy relationships. That's a winning strategy.
Our next letter, O, stands for “One Day at a Time”. A year ago, I recorded my progress through Victory in my journal. Here's some selected excerpts:
- May 4th: Lord, please remove all my shortcomings.
- May 6th: Lord, I have some terribly deep issues with love complicated by my mind and body but I pray that you would remove all my shortcoming with loving others.
- May 7th: Lord, please help me. How do I love myself? Why do I love myself? Please, Jesus, remove all my shortcomings.
- May 10th: O God, how there is room for growth! Please, help me.
- May 11th: God, please remove all my shortcomings.
- May 12th: I'm afraid but I'm hungry. I'm hungry for this change. God, so be it. Please help me. I'll let the old self die. Please remove all my shortcomings.
- May 13th: Still, Lord, I'm hungry. Still Lord, I'm desperate. Please, O God, change my heart.
And it continues. Do you see the hunger? Do you see the daily longing? That hunger is Victory. Choosing to believe in God's power, admitting I'm afraid, asking Him to remove all my shortcomings, that's principle five.
Everyone's recovery works one day at a time! Your lifelong hurts, hang-ups, and habits need to be worked on in twenty-four-hour increments. After the Beatitudes in the Sermon on the Mount as recorded by Matthew, Jesus teaches, “So don't be anxious about tomorrow. God will take care of your tomorrow too. Live one day at a time.”
Our next letter, R, stands for “Recovery is a Process”. As a process, think of your recovery as a journey, not a destination. Don't look for perfection; instead rejoice in steady progress. No matter how many times you pick up a twenty-four hour or thirty day chip, know that we celebrate every one of those with you. The encouragement of Apostle Paul in his letter to the Philippians has taught us to be “sure that God who began a good work within you will keep right on helping you grow in his grace until his task within you is finally finished on that day when Jesus Christ returns.”
As a process, God'll teach you things when you're ready. One thing God taught me in the middle of my struggle was that I could not trust myself. I would easily flip-flop on promises I made to myself to remain sober. To combat this, I developed a technique in which each morning I would consciously ask myself, “Am I going to look at pornography today?” I would then write down my answer on a post-it note and stick it where I could see it. When temptation came, I could look at that post-it and remind myself that I had already made a decision that day.
Our last letter, Y, stands for “You Must Choose to Change”. The focus here is on making the choice, not on making the change. We've got to stop trying to make changes based on our own power. Instead, we rely on God's power to change us. The choice we make is an act of faith and humility. From James' letter in the new testament, we hear “God gives strength to the humble, … so give yourselves humbly to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you. And when you draw close to God, God will draw close to you.” As with exercising, choosing to voluntarily submit to God, will increase our appetite for righteousness. Instead of burning calories, we burn our pride. My wife was perhaps the first to hear this change in my voice when I said, “I'm sorry. I hate that I do that and I want to change. What could I do in the future so that goes better?”
If you're just checking us out for the first time, that's terrific. We're excited you're here. You may be interested in a book that covers the eight recovery principles called, “Life's Healing Choices” by John Baker. Tonight we've covered Choice 5: The transformation choice. We also hope you keep coming here. We can come off weird on our first impression because of our honesty and openness. But keep coming. A lot of us could never have found what we were looking for if we didn't keep coming to this group.
If you've been coming a couple times and you've attended our small groups, then you've heard someone talk about the Steps Groups. Our Steps Groups are based on four workbooks and are where you really dig into your recovery. I've participated in a Steps Group and am leading a Step Group now and my wife has participated in a Steps Group. I couldn't recommend them more. If you've started to trust this group and you've got a hurt, habit, or hang-up then a Steps group is your next step.
Finally, if you're an old timer: you've come to the meetings and the small groups, you've gone through the Steps study; well, are you serving now? Have you reflected and tried to write your testimony? Even after we go through the steps, we've got to keep growing. I wound up here tonight more or less because I complained, saying: “Drew, I hear you talk too much. When are we going to get more teachers?” And he said, sounds like you volunteered yourself. And he was right. That itchy-sweater feeling I had sitting in large group was a prodding to step up. Writing this talk has deepened and challenged me in ways that continue to grow me.
I hope you're ready to make this a new day. I hope you're ready to choose God's way instead of your own. In Jesus, there is Victory. As I was preparing this talk, I stumbled on a hymn named “This is a Day of New Beginnings”. I think it applies rather well:
This is a day of new beginnings, a time to remember and move on, a time to believe what love is bringing, let's lay to rest the pain that's gone. For by the life and death of Jesus, God's mighty Spirit, now as then, can make for us a world of difference, as faith and hope are born again. So let us, with the Spirit's daring, step from the past and leave behind all our disappointment, guilt, and grieving, let's seek new paths, we're sure to find. Christ is alive and goes before us to show and share what love can do. This is a day of new beginnings; Our God is making all things new. In faith, friends, we'll gather round the table to see and share what love can do. This is a day of new beginnings; Behold, God is making all things new.
Let me pray.
May God be gracious to us and bless us and make his face to shine upon us, that God's way may be known in our lives, and his saving power in our afflictions. Let the peoples praise you, O God; let all the peoples praise you! May we be glad and sing for joy, for you judge us with equity, Lord, and guide our steps through our lives. Let the peoples praise you, O God; let all the peoples praise you! Our lives shall yield an increase; God, our God, shall bless us. God shall bless us; let us all worship him!