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Nets and Steps

By Alberto Negron
In eLetter
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As he was walking by the Sea of Galilee he saw two brothers, Simon (called Peter) and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea (for they were fishermen). He said to them, “Follow me, and I will turn you into fishers of people.” They left their nets immediately and followed him. Going on from there he saw two other brothers, James the son of Zebedee and John his brother, in a boat with Zebedee their father, mending their nets. Then he called them. They immediately left the boat and their father and followed him. - Matthew 4:18-20

In the passage above, Jesus calls to Simon (Peter), Andrew, James, and John with a proposal to follow Him. All these men were fishermen, which means they all had nets. If I can be a bit less literal though, they probably all had safety nets as well—things they had and did to make life comfortable and manageable for themselves. On the face of things, they appeared to be managing well. They had families and family businesses which provided them with stability, comfort, and predictability, all of which are good things—good things that Jesus came and disrupted with the invitation to follow. Still, they left their nets, boats, and families to follow Him. They needed to grow and learn, to mature in their walk, and this was a necessary first step: leave the safety of their nets (and everything else) to follow Jesus.

When I first came to Jesus at the Union Rescue Mission in downtown Los Angeles, it was easy to respond and drop my “nets”. When I arrived, I heard the Gospel and responded to Christ’s invitation and began to follow. At the time, I had nothing. I had hitchhiked from New York City in the winter of 1979 and taken a northern route to maximize the chances of death from exposure. Really, I wanted to die. That’s a story for another time, perhaps. At any rate, Jesus called, and I followed.

Over time, the difficulties of life and the responsibilities of marriage and raising children brought out more hidden “nets”. These nets, unlike those of the fishermen, were not manageable. I quickly learned, however, that I should maintain an appearance of manageability in order to be thought of as a good Christian man. I soon found myself living a double life. I assume (now but not then) that many people have one. As long as I could make it appear that I was managing my life well, no one questioned the mask I put on in public. But over time my secret hurts, habits, and hang-ups demanded more time and more nourishment to stay hidden. The progression was relentless, like a type of virulent spiritual cancer, eating its way through my heart and poisoning my soul. I needed to admit my powerlessness again, like I had at the Union Rescue Mission, but I didn’t want to. I had fooled even myself into thinking that I could somehow manage to get it, and keep it, together.

“…the admission of powerlessness is the first step in the assumption of responsibility.” - Gordon Bruin, Innergold Counseling Services

“What we have done in the first three steps is to get in touch with God in a way that allows us to access his power in overcoming Sin and its consequences in our lives. In Step Three we decided to get out of the driver’s seat and move ahead into the rest of the Twelve Steps with the protection and guidance of God; we are now willing to risk stepping out of the self-centered Sin position and inspecting our Sin-diseased personalities. This prospect is so unsettling that most of us would only do it to find relief from the intense pain brought on by our character defects that have been such troublesome mysteries to us and to our families.” - J. Keith Miller, A Hunger for Healing

Let me elaborate on something. These nets I’m talking about—these hurts, habits, and hangups—are sometimes referred to as addictions. I think the word addiction, while correct and descriptive, has mistakenly served to convince some that their habits are not addictions, and that they are not addicts. But the Bible begs to differ: “For there is no distinction, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:22-23)

All of us, without exception, have the Sin-disease (a term borrowed from Miller, whom I have quoted above). We are naturally prone to try and figure out life for ourselves, to find our own way of doing things, and to cover up (Genesis 3:7), rather than to admit there is nothing we can do without the Lord (John 15:5). And while it’s sometimes easy to believe that it’s the habit that’s the problem, in reality it’s the habit that is used to avoid the problem. We manipulate, control, drink, obsess, eat, risk, cut, shop, and hook up, all to dull the pain and forget the unmanageability.

"...I’m trying to describe something that, if you are in denial, may be almost impossible for you to see: the nature of powerlessness and unmanageability in the lives of people who are apparently coping adequately. But what I am counting on is that you feel some significant personal pain, frustration, fear, resentment, shame, guilt, anger, or discouragement that persists even after you have tried everything you know to do to make things right." - J. Keith Miller, A Hunger for Healing

It's been ten years since I finally admitted my powerlessness and took the first steps toward healing by joining Recovery. In Recovery, I am not recovering from something as much as I am trying to recover God’s original intention for my life: to bring Him glory by correctly reflecting His divine nature and reaching out to the still sick and suffering. In Recovery, I am not trying to shirk responsibility for my problems, I am dealing with my problems for what could be the first time in my life! Formerly, I was afraid to open my mailbox, to pick up the phone, or even to come home. Why? Because one more thing was expected of me, or one more problem needed to be faced, or one more inadequacy was ready to be revealed. My mind would say, “You’re a screw-up and you don’t deserve anything!” God didn’t want me in that kind of shame, so He gave me Recovery and the Twelve Steps as the way to a deeper relationship with Him.

A member of our Recovery family once said, “What is unmanageability? Me trying to do what only God can do while asking God to do what I should be doing." If you feel like your life has become unmanageable, how about considering a new path? The Twelve Step path is a road many have traveled, though it may actually be the road less traveled. It is a different road, for sure. Not a road of learning about changing, but a road of experiencing actual change. A pastor I know once said, “God doesn’t work quickly, but He does work suddenly.” My time in Recovery has led to a greater understanding of self, a greater closeness with Christ, a greater ability to be present with others, and a greater desire to be of service.

“I am the vine; you are the branches. The one who remains in me - and I in him - bears much fruit, because apart from me you can accomplish nothing. If anyone does not remain in me, he is thrown out like a branch, and dries up; and such branches are gathered up and thrown into the fire, and are burned up. If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you want, and it will be done for you. My Father is honored by this, that you bear much fruit and show that you are my disciples. “Just as the Father has loved me, I have also loved you; remain in my love.” - John 15:5-9

It is sometimes difficult to describe coherently, but even after ten years in Recovery, I have only just begun to scratch the surface of real spirituality. This is the first time I’ve truly considered myself “spiritual” even though I’ve been a Sunday School teacher, Youth Group leader, VBS director, short-term missionary, a pastor (twice), and more. The amazing thing is that God knows how to pour blessings out of cracked pots. He doesn’t require me to be perfect to be usable. This is not a rationale to remain stuck in unhealthy patterns, but an incentive to hand over my will and life to God to use for His will. If not for Christ and Recovery, I would not be looking forward in hope, and dreaming dreams.

I’m reminded of one of the Recovery Promises: “I will intuitively know how to handle things which used to baffle me.” Nowadays, going to the mailbox is not such a problem. However, I know there will always be nets to let go of and steps to take in following Jesus. Will you join me?

For more information on Recovery at IBC, visit www.irvingbible.org/recovery.

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