Where do you go to find healing?
Last spring, I attended an Alcoholics Anonymous gathering nearby in my city. The group was looking for a new place to meet, and one of their members invited me to check them out. I watched as 40-50 “Gen-X” young adults shared from the heart about their struggles, failures, hopes, and milestones on their journey to recovery. There was an atmosphere of safety, acceptance, and openness. They held fast to the teachings in their “Big Book,” and religiously followed its 12 steps, of which the first three are:
- We admitted we were powerless over alcohol–that our lives had become unmanageable.
- We came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.
- We made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.
I was impressed by the mutual support between the members, and the personal drive each of them showed to climb out of their addiction. I was filled with hope for these people, who sought so eagerly for a “higher power,” but couldn’t help thinking as Paul thought in Athens when He stood up and proclaimed:
“People of Athens! I see that in every way you are very religious. For as I walked around and looked carefully at your objects of worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: to an unknown god. So you are ignorant of the very thing you worship—and this is what I am going to proclaim to you.
Paul went on to explain that God was not out of their reach, and wanted them to seek Him. They were trying so hard to worship and seek God in the right way, and just needed to know that God didn’t need their help – He was ready to help them! (Acts 17:22-23)
Our church happily welcomed the AA group to use our building twice a week, and looked forward to developing a cooperative and healthy relationship. After 9 months, it has been great, and a few of their members have sought for the “Higher Power” with us on Sundays too!
Last fall, several months after AA came under our roof, our church launched Freedom Session – a Christian 12-step program that explicitly names Jesus as the Higher Power who will bring us healing and growth. This was for two reasons – first, so that we could offer the good news of Jesus to people of the recovery community who were seeking answers. Secondly, because we as a church had a lot to learn from the recovery community – about opening up and becoming more authentic with one another. Freedom Session would be a step in that direction. Perhaps both sides could learn from one another!
Freedom session is designed for people to deal with any issue (abuse, addiction, behavior, etc.) and its corresponding coping strategies and “drugs of choice.” It also follows the same 12 steps as AA, with some slight changes in wording. Here are the first three:
- We admitted that, in our own strength, we are powerless to rise above our hurts, resentments, unhealthy behaviors and attempts to control. Our lives have become unmanageable.
- We came to believe that God exists, that He loves us deeply and that, through a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, we can be healed and fulfill the purposes for which we were created.
- We made a conscious decision to turn our lives, our pain and our will over to the care of God and the leadership of Jesus Christ.
Coincidentally, as we trained and prepared to launch Freedom Session, I was preaching through the Gospel of Mark in September. With only 3 Sundays to work with after the Labour Day weekend, I decided to focus on identifying the main message of Jesus. This I found in His opening remarks in Mark 1:14-17:
- Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God. “The time has come,” he said. “The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!” As Jesus walked beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen. “Come, follow me,” Jesus said, “and I will send you out to fish for people.”
In this summary of Jesus’s Gospel message, He begins by stating the fact that the kingdom has come. God’s promise to come and save His people was coming true. Jesus’s name meant that He would save people from their sins. He was also called “Immanuel,” meaning “God with us.” God’s kingdom was being launched on earth – a movement of people who trusted and followed Jesus.
Jesus then asks for a response in 3 simple commands: Repent, Believe, and Follow. We are to have a “change of mind,” as the Greek word for “repent,” metanoia means – and this should result in a complete reorientation in our life. We must turn from our wrong ways, and turn toward a new way – believing in Jesus as our Savior. And for believing to bear fruit, it must translate into action – following Jesus. This will result in us becoming able to “fish” for others – to share what we have.
I couldn’t help but notice that these 3 simple commands corresponded with the 3 steps of AA and Freedom Session. It is well-known that AA has Christian roots – and we can see it today! One must confess that there is a problem, come to believe in a source of hope, and then decide to follow through. If only it was clearly understood who that Source of Hope was, who originally gave us these 3 steps!
Going on in Mark, I preached on the Parable of the Sower. I hadn’t planned it this way, but it was fascinating to see how this parable illustrated the same 3 steps! The seed is the good news of Jesus, and the soils are the hearts of different people:
- The hardened soil on the path failed to take step 1 – to confess/repent, and be open to receive the message.
- The shallow, rocky soil failed to take step 2 – to believe and endure through adversity.
- The thorny soil failed to take step 3 – to follow through and set aside distractions.
Only by taking all 3 steps can we expect “fruit” – change, recovery, and healing!
My last message was Jesus’s encounter with Blind Bartimaeus. Here, we have a real-life example of someone taking these steps. Bartimaeus admits that he is blind, and calls out for help: step 1. Then, Bartimaeus demonstrates faith by specifically asking Jesus to restore His sight: step 2. Finally, having been healed, Bartimaeus uses his newfound eyesight to get up and follow Jesus: step 3!
I share this as an encouragement to all – God is not far off or out of reach – in fact, He has been reaching out to us all along! He has sent Jesus as our Savior, Who calls us to 3 simple steps: Repent, Believe, and Follow!
May we find hope and healing in Him.