Recovery From A Broken Will"
January 26, 1997
Cornerstone Community Church
A. I am not an alcoholic, nor a drug addict, nor a workaholic, but I know as well as anyone what it means to be an addict. And, no, it's not because I'm addicted to TV or sports or chocolate or electronics stores. I know what it means to be an addict because I am addicted to sin.
B. I wish that weren't so. It's rather embarrassing to have to admit that, being a pastor and all. You even pay me to be good, right, and here I am standing in front of you admitting that I am addicted to thinking wrong thoughts and acting in wrong ways. But what gives me the freedom to admit my addiction is that I know I am in good company. The Bible tells us that all of us are addicted to sin. Even though we know that sin will ultimately do us more harm than good, and even though we know our sin will catch up to us sooner or later, and even though we often don't want to sin, we still sin.
C. And so we are here this morning not just to learn about the problems of "other people," about people who are addicted to alcohol or drugs or sex or work or gambling or food -- we are here to learn how we can all become free from our own addiction, our addiction to sin. In John's Gospel we read these words of Jesus: "I tell you the truth, everyone who sins is a slave to sin." (John 8:34) And that "everyone" even includes "religious" people. One of the most religious and most devoted followers of Jesus who ever lived was a man named Paul. Listen to what Paul wrote about his addiction to sin:
We know that the law is spiritual; but I am unspiritual, sold as a slave to sin. I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do ... As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me ... For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do -- this I keep on doing.
D. In moments of sober reflection, we would all admit that we know exactly what Paul is talking about. We understand what it means to do something that is wrong even though deep down we really want to do the right thing. We know the frustration of feeling powerless to stop ourselves, to feel powerless to change. We may never have felt powerless to stop drinking, but have felt powerless to stop sinning.
E. But with that said, we must also face the fact that there are many people in our community and in our church who suffer with particular addictions that some of the rest of us don't have, and who likely know far more about the pain of being an addict than I can even imagine. Let me give you just some of the statistics to help us put the problem of addictive behavior into perspective:
- Six million Americans are addicted to cocaine. Americans consume more than 60% of all illegal and addictive drugs in the world. Three billion dollars is spent every year in the U.S. on drug paraphernalia.
- Ten million Americans are addicted to prescription drugs.
- Alcohol is the most widely used drug in America. Two-thirds of the American population drinks on a somewhat regular basis. A tenth of those who drink consume half the alcoholic beverages sold.
- 55 million Americans are addicted to nicotine. Every year 40% of all smokers try to quit. Statistically, most are unsuccessful.
- Between 60 and 80 million Americans are compulsive overeaters. Between 5% and 15% die from their overeating. Americans spend $20 billion every year on weight loss products.
- Eight percent of all women are bulimic (purging themselves by self-induced vomiting); one in every 250 women is anorexic. Ninety-eight percent of women say they would change their looks if they could, and many women have become addicted to plastic surgery.
- As part of the evidence of the sexual addiction of many Americans, consider the fact that 60 million Americans experience sexual abuse by the time they are 18 (one-quarter of the population).
- There are 12 million compulsive gamblers in the U.S. The suicide rate for compulsive gamblers is 20 times the national average.
- An estimated 15 million Americans are addicted to work. These are men and women who become physically ill when they are forced not to work. (This is one I really can't relate to.)
- Finally, it is estimated that every addict directly affects at least ten other people. In a Gallup Poll, 41% said they had suffered physical, psychological or social harm as the result of someone else's drinking.
F. To have an addiction is to be stuck, to be trapped, to be locked in a jail cell with no way out. But that's not the whole picture. According to Jesus, our sin and our addictions may have enslaved and may have locked us up and thrown away the key, but the truth for those of us who know Jesus is that we are locked in a room with open doors.
G. Think about that for a minute. Try to picture being locked in a room with open doors. When I was a kid I became fascinated with Harry Houdini, the greatest escape artist of our time. Houdini could escape from anything. No chains, no sealed boxes, no airtight jail cells could hold him. My favorite story about Harry Houdini is when a small town in England challenged Houdini to try to escape from their jail cell. Houdini boasted he could escape from any jail in the world, and this little English town took the dare. With much fanfare Houdini was shut into the cell while the townspeople and the media waited outside. Most people expected Houdini to make quick work of this challenge; that was certainly Houdini's expectation. But to Houdini's surprise, the door to this little jail cell proved to be harder than usual to crack -- much harder in fact. For an hour Houdini struggled to open the door, with no success. After a brief break, he went back to work. At the end of two hours Houdini was soaked in sweat, utterly exhausted, and -- to his embarrassment -- totally defeated. He could not open this door. In defeat Houdini slumped to the floor and fell against the door -- which to his surprise swung wide open. But the most surprising discovery was still to come. It turned out that Houdini had nothing to do with unlocking that door, because the door had never been locked to begin with. The jailer forgot to lock it. Harry Houdini, the world's greatest escape artist, had been locked in a room with an open door.
H. As addicts, whether we are addicted to some substance or some sin, we are locked in a room with open doors. Jesus has opened the doors for us, and made it possible for us to escape our slavery. But while freedom is possible, it is not automatic, not for any of us. So let's see what we can discover about how to get free from our addictions.
I. The Truth Will Set You Free: Understanding Addictive Behavior
A. Just before Jesus told his listeners that everyone who sins is a slave to sin, he said this: "If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free." (John 8:31-32) With that hope in mind, let's spend just a few minutes discovering the truth about addictive behavior.
B. Let me give you a definition of "addiction." An addiction is any self-defeating behavior that a person cannot stop despite its adverse consequences. I've already given you some of the statistics on addictions and some example of addictions, but let's see if we can get a little more sophisticated in our understanding of the problem.
C. First, it is helpful to break down the general problem of addiction into some categories. One way to do that is to note the distinction between substance addictions and process addictions. Substance addictions are addictions to mood-altering substances that are deliberately taken into the body and which almost always create, over time, a physical dependence. I don't have any of those kind of addictions. I don't need to take anything to help me get through the day. As long as I have a gallon of Coke a day, I don't need anything to alter my moods.
D. Process addictions are different. Instead of being addicted to a substance, like caffeine or alcohol or drugs or food, process addictions are addictions to certain behaviors or actions. Gambling and workaholism are just two examples. Another example that might be too close to home for those of us who have grown up in churches is addiction to religion, which is one of the fastest growing addictions in America.
E. Another way of categorizing addictions is to note the distinction between hard addictions and soft addictions. Hard addictions are those addictions we all worry about and we all agree are harmful -- such as addictions to drugs or gambling. The soft addictions are the "socially-sanctioned" addictions, the addictions we sort of wink at and sometimes even laugh about. Workaholism is one of the soft addictions. We almost celebrate workaholism in the Silicon Valley. That's what it takes to get a start-up going -- hard work and long hours to the exclusion of everything else. Here's another soft addiction -- shopaholism. Since I generally hate going shopping, this is another way that's hard for me to relate to, yet on the other hand it really isn't. I've felt the rush of buying something new. I know the intoxication of walking into "The Good Guys" and hearing all these big screen TVs calling me, "Buy me, buy me!" Yet for many people -- male and female -- shopping is an obsession. They buy things they don't need or want because of the rush of buying.
F. So how do we can we tell whether we or someone we love has an addiction? How do we know when they've crossed the line from liking certain substances or behaviors to being addicted to them? And what kind of harm do our addictions cause us? Let me briefly give you five characteristics of addictive behavior and how they impact us.
G. First, addictive behavior is obsessive. When you obsess about something, you invest a great deal of time and emotional energy thinking about your obsession and planning your next "fix." You can't wait to do it again. The thought of not being able to do makes you anxious and panicky. My family will, I'm sure, be glad to tell you about some of my obsessions -- like my obsession with cleaning gutters and vacuuming in straight lines -- but my kids can have their own obsessions. One night Kelsey, our four year old, was pestering me and Brenda for dinner. We were both at our respective desks, and we kept telling her we would have dinner soon. Finally, little Kelsey, who weighs all of 35 pounds with her clothes on, stomped into my office and with a very stern voice announced, "If I don't get something to eat, I'm going to panic!" There you go, one of the signs of an addiction -- panic at the thought of not getting what you want.
H. Second, addictive behavior has negative consequences. A true addiction is harmful to the addict and to the people around him/her. Addictions cause us to live restricted, cramped lives, lives that have little room for people because they are full of our addiction. Addictions limit our capacity to love. Then there are the obvious consequences of addictions -- the destruction of our health, the financial drain, the draining of our energy, the guilt, the destructive things we do to the people around us, including the violence and the abuse of people we love.
I. Third, addictive behavior involves a loss of control. In a true addiction, once you have begun the activity, you find it next to impossible to stop. An alcoholic can't take just one drink; a gambler can't place just one bet; a television addict can't watch just one show.
J. Fourth, there is denial. The addict really believes he/she really is in control. They really believe they can stop anytime. The addict will minimize their problem, he will avoid talking about it, he will blame other people, he will rationalize, he will excuse it, cover it up, and just plain deny that he even does what he does. The experts on addiction, which I am not, are all agreed on this -- Denial is the biggest problem when it comes to overcoming addictions.
K. The fifth characteristic of addictive behavior is what is called tolerance and withdrawal. What this means is that the addict always wants and needs more and more of the substance (or process) in order to feel satisfied. The "high" a person once got from two drinks now takes five drinks. The "high" you once got from making a thousand dollars now takes a lot more, and so you risk more in the stock market or you work longer hours or you do whatever it takes to get more money because you've got to have more money to feel the high again.
L. And at bottom, what is so tragic about our addictions is that they make us less than human. It is not how God designed us to live. I've listed for you the five characteristics of addictive behavior, behavior that makes us less than human. Let me list for you the nine characteristics of a person who is fully human and fully alive, the person who is living life as God designed us to live it. This list comes, in fact, right from God:
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.
M. To be fully human and fully alive is to have self-control, to be in control of what you consume, what you think, what you do, and how you treat the people around you. And Jesus tells us that it is possible for us to walk out of the cell of our addiction and through the open door into a life of self-control and joy and peace and goodness if we so choose, that he can give us real help to make a real recovery from our addictions. So how do we do it? How do we who are locked in a room with open doors get free of the addictions that have dehumanized us and threatened to ruin our lives and the lives of the people we love?
II. The Truth Will Set You Free: Getting Real Help For A Real Recovery
A. Let me take you back to Romans 7, that chapter in the Bible where Paul talked about his slavery to sin and his inability to do the good he so much wanted to do. Let me show you how you concludes that chapter of his letter:
I delight in God's law; but I see another law at work in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within my members. What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God -- through Jesus Christ our Lord!
B. I want you to look closely at that phrase "body of death." Let me tell you what Paul was referring to. That phrase describes a particularly gruesome method of execution used by the Romans in Paul's day. A cadaver would be attached to a condemned person so that the prisoner could not get free from it. The rotting flesh of the carcass would begin to pollute the body of the prisoner. Eventually, the prisoner's own body would become diseased and infected and the prisoner would die a slow, painful death.
C. That, Paul said, is what his addiction to sin was doing to him. And that is what our addictions, including the addiction every one of us has to sin, do to us. Slowly but surely, they kill us. But Paul also discovered the good news that by his death on the cross for our sin and his resurrection from the dead, Jesus had set us free from the body of death. He has cut the cords that bind us to the body of death, he has unlocked the door of our jail cell. And so the first thing all of us who are addicts need to know and to believe is that there is hope. Because of what Jesus did, there is hope we can be free, there is hope we gain regain control of our lives, there is hope we can recover from the havoc and the misery of our addiction, there is hope we can live differently. No matter how far you've fallen, no matter how many years you have been tied to the body of death, no matter how many times you have tried to change and failed, you need to know that there is hope.
D. But as much as I would like to tell you that you can be free of your addiction if you just close your eyes, click your heels together three times, and say "There's no place like home, there's no place like home," the truth is that recovering from a broken will rarely happens overnight. For most of us, recovery is a process, a process of owning up to our addictions and taking responsibility for the hurt we have caused, a process of repenting of our sin and making amends for the damage we've done. And it is a process that only really works when it is done in a community, when it is done with the love and support of other people who can help you a step at a time to walk out the door Jesus has opened.
E. If you have been involved in any kind of recovery group, you know all about the Twelve Step Program. The Twelve Steps were developed by one of the founders of Alcoholics Anonymous, Bill Wilson, a doctor who by his own admission was a "drunk." But you may not know that the Twelve Steps are based directly on the Bible. Bill Wilson was a Christian who was inspired and helped in writing the Twelve Steps by his pastor, Rev. Sam Shoemaker, the pastor of Calvary Episcopal Church in New York City. We surely don't have time to talk about each of the Twelve Steps this morning, but let me simply list the basic concepts of the Twelve Steps as summarized by Lyman Coleman:
Step One - Move beyond denial
Step Two - Put our faith in God
Step Three - Repentance
Step Four - Take a moral inventory
Step Five - Admit our wrongs
Step Six - Desire for God to remove our wrongs
Step Seven - Ask God to remove our wrongs
Step Eight - List people we have damaged
Step Nine - Make amends with those we have damaged
Step Ten - Regularly take personal inventory
Step Eleven - Pray, read the Bible, meditate
Step Twelve - Share our experience with others
F. If you are struggling with an addiction, I strongly encourage you to take advantage of the real help that is available to you. There are scores of people who know exactly what you are struggling with and who would love nothing more than to help you begin the journey to wholeness and healing of the Twelve Step Process. We have literature for you in the lobby that you can take with that tells you how to get real help, that lets you know who you can call and where you can go. And you should also know there are many people sitting here this morning who are both qualified and willing to help, if you'll let them.
G. Let me leave you with this one last thought. When Jesus left this earth, his disciples were very scared. They were scared of being alone, they were scared that they would have to do all the things Jesus told them to do on their own, and they weren't sure they could do it. But Jesus didn't leave them alone, and he hasn't left us alone. He sent his Holy Spirit to live in us, to give us the power and the strength and the courage and the will to break free from our addictions. In 2 Timothy 1:7 the Bible says, "For God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love and of self-discipline." If you are a follower of Jesus, you don't ever need to say, "I just don't have any self-control. I just don't have any discipline." If you are a follower of Jesus, you have the Holy Spirit living in you, and he is a spirit of power and of love and of self-discipline. He is your real help for real recovery.