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Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Celebrate Recovery

In the past, I've mentioned Celebrate Recovery on this blog. It is a ministry invented at Saddleback Church, where the term "Purpose Driven" was coined by Pastor Rick Warren. I've been both a fan and a critic of Celebrate Recovery.

Recent experiences with my own church and experiences I've had visiting some other churches have caused me to re-examine my thinking on the subject of Celebrate Recovery. If I'm totally honest with myself (a concept Celebrate Recovery would encourage), I have to admit that my relationship with this ministry has been a bit like a roller coaster.

I remember years ago, when I was involved in men's ministry. Promise Keepers, a ministry to men, was big at the time. I jumped on the Promise Keepers bandwagon. I took men to their conferences. I even took 22 men to their "Million Man March" on the Mall in Washington, DC. They were incredible experiences. And of course I bought the Promise Keepers music CD's, t-shirts and coffee mugs. Today, Promise Keepers is pretty much not a part of my thinking. It's off the radar.

Looking back on my relationship with Celebrate Recovery, I see some similarities to how I related to Promise Keepers. To be sure, both ministries had a positive impact in my spiritual growth. To be fair, Celebrate Recovery has had a much stronger impact - with longer lasting results. But I see that I jumped on the CR bandwagon, buying their CD's, attending their conferences, even getting the t-shirts and coffee mugs. I was a "fan." That first cycle lasted a good couple of years.

And then it happened. Someone in Celebrate Recovery wounded me. So I recoiled. I got hurt. I got disappointed. I began to question whether CR was really an impactful ministry or a fad. I compared it to Promise Keepers, and concluded that it lacked strategy and leadership. In time, the wounds would heal and I would again be drawn back to Celebrate Recovery. Over about six years now, I've been through at least a couple of those cycles. At one point, I saw myself as the wise critic - able to see the benefits, but even more qualified to evaluate the weaknesses.

It would be accurate to say that Celebrate Recovery has a flawed distribution model. Saddleback has done a dismal job of moving this ministry out into the local churches. Very few churches actually do it well. In fact, I'd say that most of the CR churches in North Texas have a mediocre Celebrate Recovery ministry at best. It's open to interpretation and application. Of course leadership and discipline seem to make the difference in whether a church gets an excellent CR ministry or not. And I thought it was that simple.

But God has recently shown me a couple of things. First, Christianity in general has a flawed distribution model. Too much of it is open to interpretation and application. Of course leadership and discipline seem to make the difference between a good church and an ineffective church.

I see that Jesus told His disciples not to worry too much about that. "If they're not against us, then they are for us." I believe that was basically what He said. I think He meant that any brand of Jesus that is based on truth is better than no Jesus at all. I think He meant that is true even if a particular brand of Jesus (i.e., denomination) doesn't meet our expectations or our human standards. I'm understanding that this is probably true of Celebrate Recovery as well.

Second, I suspect God is showing me Celebrate Recovery, or at least its principles, have become part of my "spiritual DNA." In other words, they have become so ingrained in my thinking that I cannot leave them behind. I was asked to share my testimony last week at a church which has Celebrate Recovery. I had shared it at this particular church before, and they were interested in an update. So I sat down to write it out. Of course I prayed before I began writing. I was surprised by what I ended up writing.

God led me to write out the eight (8) principles of Celebrate Recovery, and talk about their practical application in my own life. If you're not familiar with this ministry or its principles, they are based on Jesus' Sermon on the Mount, found in the 5th chapter of Matthew in the New Testament. In this sermon, Jesus gave us His principles for the effective Christian life. Saddleback Church wrote the eight principles of Celebrate Recovery from them - helping to put them in a practical, easy-to-understand context.

I was fascinated by how my own story unfolded when I wrote it this way. Many of the things I wrote I'd said before. I'd just never said them together. When they were assembled together, they seemed to say something significant. Not something significant about me, but about God's work in me. You see, as I've participated in Celebrate Recovery over the years, and worked its principles, God has changed me. The irony is that He has changed me more than even I realized.

If you're not familiar with Celebrate Recovery, I encourage you to check it out. It is often considered a twelve-step program, and I've heard it called "AA with Jesus on it." Neither is a fair analogy. It is probably the most powerful, most effective discipleship tool I've ever seen. Jesus commanded us to "go and make disciples." Most of us don't have a clue what that looks like in practical application. I'm more convinced now than ever that Celebrate Recovery puts that into perfect practical application. It's not about recovery. It's about growing up in Christ.

Most of us have lives that we aren't satisfied with. And we wonder why. The fact of the matter is that Jesus can change all that. We just have to learn to work with His rhythm to accomplish it. And Celebrate Recovery teaches that. I'm still learning what Celebrate Recovery is all about. The enormous irony here is that I'm probably as knowledgeable as any about this particular ministry. But at the same time, I am overwhelmed by my own ignorance about this ministry. But God continues to unfold the story, revealing more to me each day.

I suspect my relationship with Celebrate Recovery is about to change again. But this time it looks like the roller coaster ride is over. Perhaps I will stop dating the ministry and put my perspectives in God's hands once and for all. Stay tuned, and I'll be sure to share with you as the story unfolds!

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