Addiction and Recovery!

Jimmie knew the answers, but he kept on coming back, again and again, seeking the same solutions to the same problems!
He was tired.
He was tired of being tired!

I have known Jimmie for quite a few years, he loves the Lord and frequently prays, I see and know that he wants to do right, but his addictions kept on seducing him and controlling him. I've wept with him, prayed with him and watched his life unfold before my eyes. I sadly and hopelessly watch as the bottle, prescription medications and illegal drugs have caused him to lose his job, contact with his wife, kids and many friends! I mourn as I see him constantly wearing mysterious new cuts and bruises, rotating in and out of jail and not being able to escape the grips of homelessness.

Jimmie desperately wants to overcome his addictions, he wants to live a life of freedom, he wants to be reunited with his family and he wants to live the life God intended him to live! I've sent him into detox on several occasions, with the intention of long-term treatment, but during those brief moments between the programs, the temptations are strong, the bottle inevitably finds him and his journey of addiction continues! Each time, we watch as another bridge burns down.

We all know, he's not the only one; I've seen Jimmie's story acted out by many people over the years. They come to a point when they're ready to change, but it just doesn't happen or they're not quite ready to change yet, so they remain in a state of being captured and desperately struggling.

Finally, Jimmie did hit rock bottom, he came to a point where he understood how weak and fragile he truly was, and he realized he couldn't overcome these addictions on his own. He needed others. He needed God!

We all know: Addiction cripples us, and I'm not just talking about drugs and alcohol. How about the devastating affects of being addicted to things like gambling, money, technology, sports, food or sex? All these things (and more) can tear us and our loved ones apart.

Being addicted to something helps us realize how weak, how incapable and how fragile we are! Addiction helps us realize we need a savior, it helps us know we need God! It helps us realize we can't to do it on our own. We know we need Someone outside ourselves; when Jesus was questioned by the self-righteous Pharisees about why he chilled with undesirable people, Jesus responded; "It is not those who are healthy who need a physician, but those who are sick; I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners." (Mark 2:17)

In those days, the Pharisees were convinced they were healthy and righteous, they thought they didn't need help, they didn't need a savior like Jesus. Whereas the poor, the marginalized and sick realized they needed Jesus and His Kingdom. This is where God needs us all to be, whether we are rich or poor, addicted or sober, healthy or sick, Jesus calls to be free from all pride and arrogance and to humbly come to Him. Jesus said His Kingdom is for those "who are poor in spirit, those who mourn, those who are sinners and those who are weak."

I'm happy to say, Jimmie's story didn't end in despair; in his humility, we finally got him into long term treatment, and miraculously, he has lived a life of sobriety ever since!

His story of despair has transformed into a story of hope!

I want to emphasize another important point. Making this decision, this radical courageous change, didn't mean Jimmie's life instantly became easy; no, now he has new challenges! Difficult challenges! Being in recovery means making huge sacrifices and can also result in facing new and fresh rejection and persecution. Making a radical change like this, takes a lot of courage!

I've never had people tell me that their recovery or treatment was easy, they tell me it was the right choice, that they feel free and have a new view of life, but they emphasize how it's about choosing a very narrow and difficult path. A path that has countless obstacles and challenges. A path that involves suffering and hardship. A path that realizes we are weak and need to make difficult choices.

But, despite all these hardships; we must never forget: this is a path full of faith, hope and love!

While traveling on this "road less traveled", the temptations seem to be stronger than ever, people will often tell me things like; "when I'm trying to do good, people just walk up to me and offer me money, a drink or drugs! That never happened when I was running the streets", or "when I don't want it, they come, people I ain't seen for years, they just come out of the woodwork!" Often when we want it to get easier, the journey gets harder, and that's why we need the faith and courage to endure!

This new life often means new challenges! It could mean not being able to make money, see certain people or go to certain places. Friends we've had for years may suddenly reject you. I've known people who've been beaten, threatened and made homeless, simply because they chose to live this new life. Living this new life always involves the courage to endure!

Let me be clear; Everybody's different and each person's journey is also different; but one thing is certain; when we actively choose to follow Jesus and reject the addicting qualities that have seduced us; rejection, persecution and difficulty will strike us all. We must endure.

Jesus knew this, by stating his road is narrow, and therefore calls us to endure, persevere and be patient; In Matthew 24:13, he said; "But the one who endures to the end, will be saved". Or again in Matthew 10:22: "You will be hated by all because of My name, but it is the one who has endured to the end who will be saved."

This is where I want to encourage us all, because He's calling us to battle, to be faithful to the end, to not give up the fight. He's not calling us to passively fade away, but to aggressively draw closer to him. Though the battle is hard, He's calling us to persevere.

This isn't a battle we should or need to face alone; God loved us through our addictions and He's going to keep loving us through our recovery. He is there, right with us. He's loving us and using our trials to create something better within us. He using our trials to draw us closer to Him. James emphasizes this in his letter; where he writes...

"Consider it all joy, my brothers and sisters, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing." (James 1:2-4)

I know the phrase "consider it all joy" is a lot easier said than done. Trials are hard, they make us weep and pull our hair out. The decisions we have to make, when we are being pulled from both sides, when we are torn between things like family and doing right; these things are hard. And into these scenarios, James has the audacity to say; "consider it all joy."

The reason he's telling us this, is because he knows that when we endure, we become closer and closer to the person God wants us to become. He's also telling us this, because God is there with us, moving us, helping us and giving us wisdom when we ask. He's telling us to endure and consider it joy, because when we do, he's perfecting us, he's completing us and helping us lack in nothing.

I find this phrase,"Lacking in nothing", an interesting term, it seems to be the very opposite of addiction. When we have the courage to endure to the end, when we let endurance have it's perfect result, it is then that we can say, "all we need is you Jesus", or as the psalmist proclaimed in Psalm 23:1; "the Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want!"

I want to finish with a quick word of encouragement; I wish had one tenth of the courage and endurance of some of the men and women I meet daily. I just love witnessing the amazing testimonies of these guys who have overcome adversity, faced rejection and humiliation, struggled down that narrow path, to become wonderful examples of faith!

I love bumping into Jimmie; here is a man who's been through it all, he had to sacrifice and endure a lot to become the person he is now! He makes sure he keeps that humility fresh, he makes sure he saturates himself with prayer and looks to God, the One who freed him from a life of addiction.

Jimmie also tells me this good word: "never forget your story, never forget where you came from!"

Keep fighting,
keep the faith,
keep enduring,
keep looking to Jesus,
because "the one who endures to the end will be saved!"

A brief summary of why I wrote this: There's a ministry on the West-side of Chicago called Mission:USA; every Tuesday night they have a Church service called The BRIDGE. Their services are open to everybody, but especially those who find it hard to gel in their local congregations! Or to put into cruder terms; a lot of these men and women are ex-offenders, homeless and low-income folk who have felt ostracized and rejected by many churches, so their mission is to be a bridge between prison, the streets and the Church. The Bridge helps these wonderful men and women find churches that will welcome them with open arms.....  
And isn't this exactly what the Gospel and the "Kingdom of God" is all about? 

Every Tuesday night, The Bridge has a host team from a Church, who greet the guests and provide a meal. The guests anonymously submit questions about their "walk of faith", and staff from The Bridge pick out a relevant question.Meanwhile, they have invited 3 pastors from 3 different churches to come and give a 10 minute sermon each about this specific question or topic. In my humble opinion, this is a great concept and ministry, who's staff is very loving, compassionate and supportive to the "least of these".

This was a sermon preached on 3/18/14, in response to this question;
“Sticking with the right solution”
'I need help because I’m currently in a drug rehab program, and I’m having problems. I’m thinking about leaving, even though I know it’s the best place for me right now. It’s hard to keep going with the program, and I feel like quitting. Plus, my mother is having problems, and I know she’d be better off if I were out there taking care of her. What’s the right solution, and how can I stick with it? I want to honor God because He brought me a mighty long way, but sometimes I just feel like giving up.'

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