The Bible and the 12 Steps: Step Four

STEP FOUR – MADE A SEARCHING AND FEARLESS MORAL INVENTORY OF OURSELVES

“Step Four begins the growth steps of our journey. Here, we examine our behavior and expand our understanding of ourselves. The adventure of self-discovery begins with Step Four and continues through Step Seven. During these next four steps, we will prepare a personal inventory, discuss it with others in the program, and invite God to remove our shortcomings. Being totally honest in preparing our inventory is vital to the self-discovery that forms the foundation of our recovery. This honesty allows us to remove the obstacles that have prevented us from knowing ourselves and truthfully acknowledging our deepest feelings about life.”
~The Twelve Steps For Christians, p.61

“Recovery is the process by which we find new ways of coping and dealing with life instead of using and avoiding. The only way to proceed in that process is to uncover our shame and allow God’s light and life to flow in and heal us. We have made a beginning in the first three steps, and now through working Step Four, we find the roadblocks to lasting recovery.”
~The Life Recovery Workbook, p. 31

To approach the Fourth Step from a biblical perspective, we must begin with the understanding that we cannot “take a searching and fearless moral inventory” without God’s loving help .Not only will he help us to understand our strengths and weaknesses, but he will be there to heal our brokenness, forgive our sins, and strengthen us in our weakness as we honestly, humbly, admit to him, and to ourselves, our shortcoming, our character defects, and everything about ourselves we need to change. After all, as Psalm 139 shows, even if we don’t really understand ourselves yet, He knows us perfectly:

Psalm 139:1-7
You have searched me, Lord,  and you know me.You know when I sit and when I rise;  you perceive my thoughts from afar.
You discern my going out and my lying down;  you are familiar with all my ways.
Before a word is on my tongue  you, Lord, know it completely.
You hem me in behind and before, and you lay your hand upon me.
Such knowledge is too wonderful for me,  too lofty for me to attain.
Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence?

King David, the author of this Psalm, portrays God’s searching knowledge of our minds and hearts in ways that could almost make us uncomfortable. God “hems us in.” There is nowhere we can go to escape the Holy Spirit, nowhere we can “flee from his presence.” But what David wants to teach us in this Psalm, is that when we learn to be open and honest with God ,to welcome his searching love, rather than trying to hide from him, we can find healing and peace. After all, when we’re hiding from God, we’re really hiding from ourselves. When we learn to be honest with God, we learn to be honest with ourselves, as well. This is why the Fourth Step is so important to our recovery.

At the conclusion of the Psalm, , King David accepts God’s searching love for him. He sees it as a blessing rather than a burden. He prays and asks God to search his heart: In other words, to help him take “a searching and fearless moral inventory.” He is asking God to show him “any offensive way” in his character. He has the wisdom and humility to ask God’s help in this process of self-examination. Perhaps he understands that in is not easy for any of us to be completely honest with ourselves about our strengths and weaknesses, our character flaws, and our sin. We need God’s help.

Psalm 139:23-24
Search me, God, and know my heart;
test me and know my anxious thoughts.
See if there is any offensive way in me,
and lead me in the way everlasting.

Discussion Questions
Have you ever found it hard to be honest with yourself about your own shortcomings, character defects, and sins? Have you minimized your faults, tried to justify wrong things you’ve done, or just blamed someone else? Would all this change if you turned your will and your life over to God? If so, why? Is it easier to be honest with yourself when you invite God into the conversation?

Traditionally, one of the biggest obstacles to recovery in the Twelve Step programs has been “denial.”A person in denial says, “I don’t have a problem. I can quit any time. I don’t need a program.” Addicts who think this way are actually hardening their hearts to Jesus, and resisting a great work of healing that he is offering them.

 Matthew 13:13-16: Jesus said,
“This is why I speak to them in parables:“Though seeing, they do not see;  though hearing, they do not hear or understand.14 In them is fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah:“‘You will be ever hearing but never understanding;   you will be ever seeing but never perceiving.  For this people’s heart has become calloused;   they hardly hear with their ears,  and they have closed their eyes. Otherwise they might see with their eyes,   hear with their ears,
understand with their hearts’ and turn, and I would heal them.’16 But blessed are your eyes because they see, and your ears because they hear.

The Bible describes the process of examining ourselves, or taking a “searching and fearless moral inventory,” as coming out of our personal darkness, and coming into the light of the Lord. In his light, we can see clearly our character flaws, spiritual weaknesses, and moral failings ,and bring them to God for forgiveness and healing: No more hiding in denial and darkness:

 John 3:19-21: Jesus said,
This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. 20 Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that their deeds will be exposed. 21 But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what they have done has been done in the sight of God.”

Ephesians 5:8-11
For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light (for the fruit of the light consists in all goodness, righteousness and truth)10 and find out what pleases the Lord. 11 Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them.

1  John 1:5-8
God is light; in him there is no darkness at all. If we claim to have fellowship with him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live out the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin.If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.

Discussion Questions
Do you feel that God is calling you to come out of the darkness and into his light? How would taking a “searching and fearless moral inventory” help you?

The Biblical Discipline of Self-Examination:

When Angry: Psalm 4:4: Be angry, but do not sin;  when you are on your beds,  search your hearts and be silent.

When Tempted to Judge Others: Matthew 7:1-5:
‘Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way as you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you. ‘Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, “Let me take the speck out of your eye,” when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.

The scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in adultery, and placing her in the midst they said to him, “Teacher, this woman has been caught in the act of adultery. Now in the Law Moses commanded usto stone such women. So what do you say?” This they said to test him, that they might have some charge to bring against him. Jesus bent down and wrote with his finger on the ground. And as they continued to ask him, he stood up and said to them, “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her.”

When Faith is Weak: 2 Corinthians 13:5: Examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith; test yourselves. Do you not realize that Christ Jesus is in you – unless, of course, you fail the test.

Only With the Lord’s Help Can we Truly Examine Ourselves. He will give us the Honesty and Humility to understand Ourselves Before Him:

Psalm 19:12-14
Who can discern his errors?  Declare me innocent from hidden faults.
 Keep back your servant also from presumptuous sins;    let them not have dominion over me!
Then I shall be blameless,  and innocent of great transgression.

 Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart
be acceptable in your sight,
O Lord, my rock and my redeemer.

Psalm 26:2-3
Test me, Lord, and try me,
examine my heart and my mind;
for I have always been mindful of your unfailing love
and have lived in reliance on your faithfulness.

The Bible and the 12 Steps: Step Three

STEP THREE – Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.

Matthew 6:8-10: Jesus said, “In this manner, therefore, pray: ‘Our Father in heaven,    Hallowed be Your name. Your kingdom come. Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.'”

Jesus teaches us to pray for God’s “kingdom,” his royal authority, to come to this world, and for his will, not our will to be done. To pray like this, and really mean it, we would truly have to “turn our will and our lives over to his care.” Jesus himself gave us the best example of turning his will and his life over to God when he prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane, just before he went to the cross:

Matthew 26:39,42: Going a little farther, he fell with his face to the ground and prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.”

He went away a second time and prayed, “My Father, if it is not possible for this cup to be taken away unless I drink it, may your will be done.”

In order to do God’s will, we have to be sure just what his will for us is. Some of his will for us should be obvious: We have to be diligent in doing good and refraining from evil. But sometimes  it may be hard to tell what God’s will is. At times like these we can pray and ask him. Through a passage of scripture you read, through a sermon or a Bible lesson you hear, or even just through a good conversation with another believer, God will make his will known to you. Pray like King David prayed:

Psalm 143:10: Teach me to do your will,  for you are my God; may your good Spirit lead me on level ground.

Or we may know his will for us, but not really want to obey it. We may come under spiritual attack, with Satan trying to get us to do things we know are against God’s will. At times like these it will be very important to pray through your struggles with God and make sure you have really turned your will and your life over to him. James calls the act of turning our will and life over to God “submitting” to him. And he shows us that it is the best weapon we have against the evil one.

James 4:7-10: Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Come near to God and he will come near to you. 

Discussion Questions:

  • Jesus taught us to pray, “your will be done.” Are we really ready for God’s will to be done in every part of our lives? In our attitudes toward others? In our relationships with others? In how we talk? In how we think? In how we act?
  • Is there anything in our lives that would have to change for God’s will to be done in us? If we “turn our will and our lives over” to God, do you think he will help us change? How?

Step Three asks us to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God. This implies that God will “take care of us.” He wants us to give our lives to him so he can heal us, nurture us, grow us, and bless us. The God of the Bible never wants to boss us around, control us, manipulate us, bully us, or dominate us. He wants us to give ourselves to him so he can bring us from death to life, from darkness to light, and from brokenness to healing.  God will reach out to us with an infinite, compassionate love when we come to him. The Good Shepherd loves his sheep, and he promises to take care of us;

Ezekiel 34:11-16:  ‘For this is what the Sovereign Lord says: I myself will search for my sheep and look after them. 12 As a shepherd looks after his scattered flock when he is with them, so will I look after my sheep. I will rescue them from all the places where they were scattered on a day of clouds and darkness. 13  14 I will tend them in a good pasture, and the mountain heights of Israel will be their grazing land. There they will lie down in good grazing land, and there they will feed in a rich pasture on the mountains of Israel. 15 I myself will tend my sheep and have them lie down, declares the Sovereign Lord. 16 I will search for the lost and bring back the strays. I will bind up the injured and strengthen the weak.

Jesus used a different figure of speech to describe how he would take care of us if we came to him:

Matthew 11:28-30: “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

Discussion Questions:

  • If you turn your will and life over to God, do you think he will take care of you?
  • In what ways will God take care of you?
  • Are there ways in which you have been trying to take care of yourself?
  • Have there been times when taking care of yourself didn’t seem to work?
  • Do you think God could do a better job of taking care of you? Why?

If Jesus is our Higher Power, what does it mean to turn our will and life over to him?

We have to be willing to give up everything to follow Jesus:

Matthew 4:18-20: While walking by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon (who is called Peter) and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea, for they were fishermen. 19 And he said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.”20 Immediately they left their nets and followed him.

Matthew 16:24-26:  Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 25 For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it.26 What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul?

Acts 3:1-20: Healing Ministry, Then and Now

One day Peter and John were going up to the temple at the time of prayer—at three in the afternoon.Now a man who was lame from birth was being carried to the temple gate called Beautiful, where he was put every day to beg from those going into the temple courts. When he saw Peter and John about to enter, he asked them for money. Peter looked straight at him, as did John. Then Peter said, “Look at us!”So the man gave them his attention, expecting to get something from them.

Then Peter said, “Silver or gold I do not have, but what I do have I give you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk.” Taking him by the right hand, he helped him up, and instantly the man’s feet and ankles became strong. He jumped to his feet and began to walk. Then he went with them into the temple courts, walking and jumping, and praising God. When all the people saw him walking and praising God, 10 they recognized him as the same man who used to sit begging at the temple gate called Beautiful, and they were filled with wonder and amazement at what had happened to him.

11 While the man held on to Peter and John, all the people were astonished and came running to them in the place called Solomon’s Colonnade. 12 When Peter saw this, he said to them: “Fellow Israelites, why does this surprise you? Why do you stare at us as if by our own power or godliness we had made this man walk?13 The God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the God of our fathers, has glorified his servant Jesus. You handed him over to be killed, and you disowned him before Pilate, though he had decided to let him go. 14 You disowned the Holy and Righteous One and asked that a murderer be released to you. 15 You killed the author of life, but God raised him from the dead. We are witnesses of this. 16 By faith in the name of Jesus, this man whom you see and know was made strong. It is Jesus’ name and the faith that comes through him that has completely healed him, as you can all see.

17 “Now, fellow Israelites, I know that you acted in ignorance, as did your leaders. 18 But this is how God fulfilled what he had foretold through all the prophets, saying that his Messiah would suffer. 19 Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord,20 and that he may send the Messiah, who has been appointed for you—even Jesus.

In the first chapter of Acts, we heard the promise Jesus made to the disciples just before he ascended into heaven. He said, “You shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to me…” Jesus not only made a promise to them, to pour out the Spirit on them; he also gave them a responsibility: to be his witnesses.

In the second chapter of Acts, as Jesus keeps his promise and pours out the Spirit on the believers, Peter respond with great courage, faith and obedience, bearing witness to Christ with the first great evangelistic sermon of the church; and three thousand people get saved.

Now, in the third chapter, another way of bearing witness to Christ begins; the healing ministry of the church. Through the power of the Holy Spirit, in the name of Jesus Christ, Peter ministers healing to this totally disabled beggar, “lame from his mother’s womb.”

The healing ministry was a central element in the work of the Holy Spirit in the early church. In Acts, Luke tells us of at least seven instances of healing by the apostles in the name of Jesus. As a physician he carefully documents some of them in detail, as we read today in Acts 3.

On other occasions, there’s just so much healing going on he sums it up with descriptions like this  in Acts Chapter 5: “The apostles performed many signs and wonders among the people. And all the believers used to meet together in Solomon’s Colonade…..Crowds gathered also from the towns around Jerusalem, bringing their sick and those tormented by evil spirits, and all of them were healed.”

The healing ministry was a central element in the work of the Holy Spirit in the early church. In Acts, Luke tells us of at least seven instances of healing by the apostles in the name of Jesus.

Jesus himself had had an extensive healing ministry. In fact, out of the 37 separate miracles of Jesus recorded in the gospels, 23 were healing miracles. And in Matthew 11 there’s this fascinating story of a time when John the Baptist in prison apparently began to lose faith: He sent his disciples to ask Jesus, “Are you the one who was to come, or should we expect someone else?”

And listen to what Jesus said: “Go back and report to John what you hear and see: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is preached to the poor. Blessed is the man who does not fall away on account of me.”

Jesus didn’t prove he was the promised Messiah  by saying, “I walked on water” or “I turned water to wine” or “I fed 5,000 people with three loaves of bread.” Those were real miracles, but the ultimate proof that he was the  Messiah was the fact that so many people were getting healed. His mercy and compassion proved he was the Son of God as much as his power and authority over disease and infirmity. And the healings performed in Jesus name in Acts prove his love as well.

Two thousand years later, we are still called as Christians to minister healing in Jesus’ name. And that includes physical healing. But I believe the emphasis of our healing ministry has changed.  We may not all need physical healing, But we all need spiritual healing. Healing from our sin, and healing from the damage our sin has done. God calls us into a lifelong process of spiritual and emotional healing.

Healing from sin begins at the cross. In the famous words of  Isaiah 53:5-6:

“He was pierced for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities,
The punishment that brought peace was upon him. By his wounds we are healed.”

When Jesus took up our sins on the cross, he took up the aching, throbbing pain of our guilt and shame. He took up the humiliation and disgrace our sin has caused us. He took up the hurt of the broken relationships caused by our sin.

He took upon himself all the hurt of our regrets, and all the times and places and relationships we look back on with anguish. If only we had not been so caught up in sin,  we could have spared ourselves and others so much pain.. He took up the bitterness of our resentment, and all the times we tried to blame everyone else.

Jesus took up our vain, tormented pride, our desperate need for approval, our inability to let go and forgive the very ones we so longed to reconcile with. He took up the failure and the shame of our addictions, our selfishness, our lust, our anger, our failure to love and be loved, to just be whole, to just be real: These things and much more like them are the symptoms of this fatal illness called sin.

But the GOOD NEWS is: Jesus knows all about our failures and our sins, but he loves us anyway. He wants to heal us and forgive us, and help us make a fresh start. He took it all on the cross for you, and paid the price in full, so you don’t have to carry any it around with you anymore. By his wounds, you are healed.

The Bible often talks about sin as a life-threatening disease, and the forgiveness of our sin that we find on the cross as a powerful healing. Jesus saved our lives when he gave his life for us on the cross. So we read passages like this:

Ps. 107:17-22: Some became fools through their rebellious ways  and suffered affliction because of their iniquities. They loathed all food and drew near the gates of death. Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble, and he saved them from their distress. He sent out his word and healed them; he rescued them from the grave.
 Let them give thanks to the Lord for his unfailing love  and his wonderful deeds for mankind. Let them sacrifice thank-offerings and tell of his works with songs of joy.

 

If we really understand how sick and afflicted we were when we were lost in sin, and how powerfully God healed us, when he revealed his salvation to us, our hearts would always be full of prayers of praise and thanksgiving.

As David says in Ps. 103:1-5:

Praise the Lord, my soul; all my inmost being, praise his holy name.
 Praise the Lord, my soul, and forget not all his benefits – who forgives all your sins,
and heals all your diseases, who redeems your life from the pit, and crowns you with love and compassion,  who satisfies your desires with good things, so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.

As we prepare to take communion, we remember the words of the Apostle Paul: “A man ought to examine himself before he eats of the bread and drinks of the cup.” Let our prayer be the prayer of David :

Psalm 139:23-24: “Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.”

The way to find the Lord’s healing for our sin sickness is the way of honesty, humility, and self-examination. For us today who know Jesus, the way to healing is through the cross. We come to the cross  through honest, humble confession:

Psalm 32:1-5: Blessed is the man whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered. Blessed is the man whose sin the Lord does not count against them,and in whose spirit is no deceit. When I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long. For day and night your hand was heavy on me; my strength was sapped as in the heat of summer. Then I acknowledged my sin to you, and did not cover up my iniquity.
I said, ‘I will confess my transgressions to the Lord.’
And you forgave the guilt of my sin.

The Apostle James writes, “Confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed.” (James 5:16) The Apostle John writes, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” (1John 1:9)

As we prepare to take communion this morning, let’s go back to the cross, where Jesus has provided not only forgiveness for our sins, but also healing for our souls. At the cross, where his body was broken for us and his blood poured out for us, Jesus has already atoned for our sin and healed us. “By his wounds, we are healed.”

Maybe some of you have been struggling with sin lately, and feeling the soul sickness that comes with it. Come back to the cross for healing. In communion, we remember the wounds that heal us: His body broken for us on the cross, and his blood poured out to wash us clean.

In communion, we express our need to actually participate in his healing wounds, by symbolically taking his broken body inside ourselves, and drinking his cleansing blood.

We do this  to acknowledge that his healing work is ongoing in us, and to symbolically receive his healing work again and again throughout our lives as Christians. At the cross, our sins are forgiven. At the cross, we are healed.

The Bible and the 12 Steps

Here is the kind of Bible study I bring into the jails. This is specifically for use with the class I teach on “The Bible and the 12 Steps”

Why Jesus is my Higher Power:

The 12 Steps of Narcotics Anonymous

  1. We admitted that we were powerless over our addiction, that our lives had become unmanageable.
  2. We came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.
  3. We made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.
  4. We made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.
  5. We admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.
  6. We were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.
  7. We humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings.
  8. We made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all.
  9. We made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.
  10. We continued to take personal inventory, and when we were wrong promptly admitted it.
  11. We sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understood Him, praying only for knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry that out.
  12. Having had a spiritual awakening as a result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to addicts, and to practice these principles in all our affairs.

Introduction: (Read the Twelve Steps:)  Since the start of AA and NA more than 70 years ago, millions of alcoholics and addicts have found healing and deliverance through working the Twelve Steps. But as the Steps themselves make clear, we don’t just practice these Steps to get “clean and sober:” the real goal is to have “a spiritual awakening.” (Step Twelve.)

Wise men and women have known for thousands of years that we need “a power greater than ourselves” to have this kind of spiritual awakening.  What kind of “Higher Power” could give us the power to turn our lives around, stop using alcohol and drugs, start being really honest with ourselves, have our character defects removed, and make amends to those we have harmed?

I have found my Higher Power in the person of Jesus Christ. As he is revealed in the Bible,  Jesus is a Higher Power who loves us, understands us, forgives us, and heals us. My goal in this study is to show through scripture how perfectly Jesus fits as the Higher Power who can help us in our recovery.  He is infinitely wise and powerful, because he is God, but he is understanding and compassionate, because he has been a man.

STEP 1:We admitted we were powerless over addiction: our lives had become unmanageable.

The spiritual condition of the alcoholic or addict is described here as “powerless.” The Bible describes us as ” lost sheep.” Sheep are  powerless to take care of themselves. Without a shepherd to take care of them, protect them, and provide for them, they will soon perish.

Matthew  9:36: When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.

STEP 2: Came to believe that a power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.

Jesus is our Good Shepherd, who finds us when we’re lost and restores us to sanity:

1 Peter 2:24-25: He himself bore our sins in his body on the cross, so that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed. For you   were straying like sheep, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.

Luke 15:3-6: Then Jesus told them this parable: ‘Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Doesn’t he leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it? And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders  and goes home. Then he calls his friends and neighbors together and says, “Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep.”

John 10: 26-28: Jesus said, “I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me. My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me.  I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one will snatch them out of my hand.

John 10:11-18: “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. 12 The hired hand is not the shepherd who owns the sheep. So when he sees the wolf coming, he abandons the sheep and runs away. Then the wolf attacks the flock and scatters it. 13 The man runs away because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep.14 “I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me— 15 just as the Father knows me and I know the Father—and I lay down my life for the sheep. 17 The reason my Father loves me is that I lay down my life—only to take it up again. 18 No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again. This command I received from my Father.”

  • Jesus mentions five times in these seven verses that he would “lay down his life for his sheep.” How would  his death on the cross  demonstrate  his shepherd love for us?
  • Who does the “wolf” represent? how does the Jesus’ death on the cross protect the “sheep.” from the “wolf?” How do the following verse help explain this?

The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the devil’s work.” 1 John 3:8 (John 12:31; Hebrews 2:14-15)

A shepherd had to be prepared to fight wild animals and predators that threatened the sheep. Jesus was ready to lay down his life for his sheep. His great ancestor, David, who was a shepherd and a king himself, was renowned for his victories over wild animals, and The enemies of God’s people (1Sam.17:32-37)

When he became King, David wrote Psalm 23: “The Lord is my Shepherd.” When Jesus said, “I am the Good Shepherd,” he was saying that he is the Lord, the Shepherd of Psalm 23:

The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
He makes me to lie down in green pastures;
He leads me beside the still waters.
He restores my soul;
He leads me in the paths of righteousness
For His name’s sake.
Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil;
For You are with me;
Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.
5You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies;
You anoint my head with oil;

My cup runs over.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
All the days of my life;

And I will dwell in the house of the Lord
Forever.

So admitting we were powerless over our addiction (Step One) and coming to believe that a power greater than ourselves can restore us to sanity (Step Two) is expressed in Biblical terms as being humble and honest enough to admit we are “helpless and harassed, like sheep without a shepherd,” and coming to Jesus, the Good Shepherd, for his protection and healing.

These verses teach us that when we make Jesus, the Good Shepherd, our Higher Power, He will watch over us, protect us, take care of us, and love us. He brings us to places of healing and peace: green pastures and still waters. He restores our souls and he leads us in paths of righteousness. He has even atoned for our sins, and saved our souls: The Good Shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.

Discussion Questions: Is it hard to admit that you are “powerless?”

  • Do you think it’s true that “you have to hit rock bottom” to admit your powerlessness?
  • Have YOU hit rock bottom yet? Has YOUR  life become “unmanageable?”
  • Do you think working the Twelve Steps can help you? If so, how?
  • Do you think making Jesus your Higher Power can help you? If so, how?
  • Jesus says as The Good Shepherd he saves us or restores us to sanity  by “Laying down his life for the sheep.” Peter says “He bore our sins in his body on the cross.” How does the way Jesus “lay down his life” for us save us and restore us to sanity?

The power of Jesus to “restore us to sanity” is expressed in the following verses as “lifting us out of the slimy pit” or “making us alive in Christ even when we were dead in transgressions:”

Psalm 40:1-2: I waited patiently for the Lord;
   he turned to me and heard my cry.
He lifted me out of the slimy pit, out of the mud and mire;
he set my feet
 on a rock
    and gave me a firm place to stand.

Ephesians 2:4-10:  But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions – it is by grace you have been saved. And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus.

God can “restore us to sanity:” He can do a lot more for us than we might think. His power is at work in us:

Ephesians 3:20-21: Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, 21 to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever! Amen.

Discussion Question: The Bible describes the way that Jesus, as our Higher Power, can “restore us to sanity” with expressions like “He lifted me out of the slimy pit,” he “made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions,” and “God raised us up with Christ.” In the following passage from Psalms, Jesus hears us when we cry out to him, delivers us from all our troubles, and saves us when we are crushed in Spirit. Do you believe Jesus can do this for you? Have you asked him?

Psalm 34:17-18:

The righteous cry out, and the Lord hears them;
he delivers them from all their troubles.
The Lord is close to the brokenhearted
and saves those who are crushed in spirit.

Discussion Question:

  • In the following passage, from the Old Testament Prophet Isaiah, we see a vision from God of the coming Messiah (The Christ, The Anointed One.) Although Isaiah wrote this 700 years before Jesus came, the Prophet saw clearly how Jesus would minister to the poor, the brokenhearted, the prisoners, and those who mourn. Don’t the people Jesus came to save sound a lot  like us recovering addicts? Doesn’t the portrayal here of his compassion, comfort, and healing sound good? Don’t you think he should be our Higher Power?

Isaiah 61:1-3:The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me,
because the Lord has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to bind up
 the brokenhearted,
to proclaim freedom for the captives
and release from darkness for the prisoners,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor, 
to comfort all who mourn,
and provide for those who grieve in Zion—
to bestow on them a crown of beauty
 instead of ashes,
the oil of joy
  instead of mourning,
and a garment of praise
  instead of a spirit of despair.

Prayer requests

Rev. Matt Kantrowitz
Isaiah 61 Ministries LLC
C/O The Church at Prison, Inc.
Box 8318, Essex Junction, VT 05452

mmkantrowitz@gmail.com

“…To preach good news to the poor, to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives, and release from darkness for the prisoners.” Is. 61:1

 

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

Thank you so much for your generous support of Isaiah 61 Ministries! Your gifts and contributions come to me through The Church at Prison in Vermont, and they are always a great blessing and encouragement to me. Thanks also for the support you offer through your prayers.

I lead Bible studies now in three different institutions each week. As I am getting to know the men in the prisons and jails more and more, I am becoming more and more aware of their struggles and their needs. Please keep these men in prayer. Here are some prayer requests:

  • Please pray for reconciliation and healing between prisoners and their families. Many of the men I talk to are turning to Christ and finding reconciliation with God. (2 Corinthians 5:18-20; Romans 5:10-11). They long to be reconciled with their loved ones as well. They know how badly they have hurt and disappointed their parents, their wives, and their children, but they are praying God will soften their hearts. They want to be forgiven, but often they need to forgive their family as well, Abusive, neglectful parents, and unfaithful wives, have left some deep wounds. But Jesus teaches them to let go of the pain, anger and resentment, so the Holy Spirit can come in and do his healing work in their souls. Please pray for men in prison that are trying to forgive and to be forgiven.
  • Please pray for men who are turning to Jesus to find healing from drug addiction and alcoholism. These substances have had such a hold on their minds and bodies, that they find it hard to believe that the Lord can set them free. Satan has filled them with shame and self-loathing. But Jesus has taken all their guilt and shame away on the cross. May they understand what Jesus did for them on the cross: “By his wounds we are healed.”
  • Please pray for men in prison who are living for the Lord , even in such a difficult environment. There are men reaching out to win others to Christ. There are men starting their own Bible studies in their living areas. Pray that God will strengthen and use them .
  • Please pray for women in prisons and jails. Often their time “inside” is harder for them than for the men. Many women in prison are victims of sexual abuse. They have turned to drugs and alcohol to ease the pain. Sometimes they are shamed and hurt even more by being called “unfit mothers,” and losing their children to the state. Pray that they can turn to Jesus and find the healing they need so badly. Pray for me, in the Bible study I have weekly for the women in the County Jail. Ask God to show me how to reach them.

In Christ,

Matt Kantrowitz

April newsletter

Rev. Matt Kantrowitz
Isaiah 61 Ministries LLC
(C/O) The Church at Prison
Box 8318, Essex Jct. VT 05452

mmkantrowitz@gmail.com

“…To preach good news to the poor, to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives, and release from darkness for the prisoners.” Is. 61:1

 

Dear Friends,

Praise the Lord! He has opened a new ministry for me. In the first week of April I will start going in to The Hillsborough County Jail, Manchester, NH (also known as The Valley St. Jail) on a weekly basis. I will be reaching out to inmates there in much the same way that I already have been in The Rockingham County Jail and The Merrimack County Jail.

My outreach to men and women in the County Jails begins with a basic Bible study class. We meet once a week in Hillsborough County and Rockingham County, and twice a week in Merrimack County. (once for men, and once for women) We have had some great classes, but there are some challenges as well.

Most of my Bible students have never read the Bible before, and have little or no knowledge of Christian beliefs. So I offer a study on Who is Jesus. Another study I use often is Who Are We In Christ. I also have a series of studies called “The Twelve Steps and the Bible.”

Many of the inmates have been to Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous meetings, and they are familiar with the Twelve Steps as a proven method to get “clean and sober.” They really want to overcome their addictions. I try to show them how effective working the Twelve Steps can be with Jesus as their “Higher Power.”
In all these Bible studies, I always pass out outlines with all the scriptures I want to cover, and discussion questions. But quite often we don’t get to cover much of what I had planned, because the men come up with such good questions, and I try to give them good answers.

I tell them, “I won’t just give you my opinion, but I will try to answer your questions from the Bible.” Most of their questions really boil down to “What must I do to be saved?” (Acts 16:30)

In almost every class, I’m able to share Isaiah 53:4-6, and explain Jesus’ atoning sacrifice on their behalf. I John 2:1-2 is also a good passage to help explain the atonement. Other passages I use quite often are Romans 8: 5-14 and Galatians 5:16-26 ( Is your mind controlled by the flesh, or the Spirit?) I try to show them that Jesus promised the indwelling Spirit to everyone who believed in him. (John 7:37-39)

I explain  that Jesus is calling them to a covenant relationship with him, through his blood shed for them on the cross. (Luke 22:20) I explain what a covenant is: “It’s not a religion, it’s a relationship.” And I show them how they can be “transformed by the renewing of their minds” (Romans 12:1-2) And they can be “new creations” in Christ. (2 Corinthians 5:16-21)

I think the idea that they can really change in Jesus; That they can be healed, delivered, transformed, and “born again;” is really important to men and women in jail. Too often they are convinced that they are failures, losers, hopeless addicts, and that they can never change.

Sadly, they often have learned this from their own parents, who have told them over and over that they are no darn good, and never will be any good: They’ll never amount to anything. They get the message that they are worthless from parents who never show an interest in them, never spend time with them, and never seem to value them. Many of the men I talk to in jail have never known their fathers .Others have been verbally and physically abused by their fathers all their lives. The women have been sexually abused by their fathers and scorned, ridiculed, and blamed for it by their mothers. Very often the parents are drug addicts and alcoholics. One man told me, “I got my first shot of heroin from my father.”

Most of the men and women I see in the jails are heroin addicts. There seems to be an epidemic of heroin addiction in our region these days. Many of the men and women who come to my Bible studies have been using heroin for years. Their life has been living in and out of jail, in and out of rehab, and always ending up back in bondage to drugs. Sadly, they believe that this is who they are, and they don’t think they could ever change.

The Accuser is working overtime to keep them believing this about themselves. But Jesus has a different view of them. I tell them that everything would change for them if they could learn to see themselves as Jesus sees them, as someone well worth dying for. (Romans 8:31-34,) Nothing can separate them from his love.  (Romans 8:35-39)

I try to get this message across in my Bible studies. But I get an opportunity to pursue these matters further with the inmates when I visit with them individually. These meetings are called “Clergy Visits.” At the close of each Bible study, I offer the inmates to meet with them individually. I take the names of those who are interested. I visit with each one in the following week. I see them in a little room in the visiting area, set apart for attorneys and clergy.

I have some wonderful talks with the men in these visits. Sometimes my role is just to be a good listener, to show that I understand what they are going through, and I care about them. And in every visit, I open my Bible and show them scriptures to help them understand their relationship with the Lord. Often in these visits, I can pray with a man to accept Christ as his Savior, to ask God to forgive him for his sins, and to ask God to transform him, heal him, deliver him, and help him to overcome his addiction, his anger, his selfishness, and his resentments. I follow up with additional visits every week or two, and I try to  be a teacher, a mentor, a brother, and a friend.

This is what I do. The Bible studies and the Clergy Visits are a source of great joy and satisfaction to me. I thank God that he has provided for me such great opportunities in these County Jails to teach the Word, and to use all the training and all the experience he has given me over the years. And he has showed me his love for his lost sheep in the jails. I really appreciate all of you who support this ministry with your donations and your prayers. Thank You, and God Bless You!
In His Love, Matt K.

Loving vs scolding

In 30 years of ministry with those society considers the “worst” sinners: prison ministry, I have learned one thing: We can’t SCOLD people into the kingdom. Our rebuke: “Calling sin sin” comes across as disapproval, judgmentalism, scorn, and rejection. We take their sin (and our own ) seriously. But we realize they will find salvation and forgiveness for their sin, healing and transformation to live a new life: they will find all this a lot faster if we incarnate God’s LOVE to them than if we SIN against them by lecturing them when God is calling us to LOVE them.Look at the example Jesus set for us in John 8::1-11. First he shows his LOVE for this woman by protecting her from self-righteous, judgmental bullies: “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.” He saves her life, and then he tells her he DOES NOT condemn her. He then tells her, “Go thou and sin no more.” He does not deny that her adultery was sinful, but instead of picking up a stone and joining in her condemnation and punishment, he wins her respect, gratitude, and love, so she can hear him and obey him, and repent.