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Your First Step to Celebrate Recovery: How God Can Heal Your Life

Your First Step to Celebrate Recovery: How God Can Heal Your Life

by John Baker

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You’ve undoubtedly heard the expression “time heals all wounds.” Unfortunately, it isn’t true. As many pastors and counselors know, people still carry hurts from thirty or forty years ago. The truth is, time often makes things worse. Wounds that are left untended fester and spread infection throughout your entire body. Time only extends the


You’ve undoubtedly heard the expression “time heals all wounds.” Unfortunately, it isn’t true. As many pastors and counselors know, people still carry hurts from thirty or forty years ago. The truth is, time often makes things worse. Wounds that are left untended fester and spread infection throughout your entire body. Time only extends the pain if the problem isn’t dealt with.


Your First Step to Celebrate Recovery introduces you to a biblical and balanced program that has helped nearly a million people overcome their hurts, hang-ups, and habits. Based on the actual words of Jesus found in the Sermon on the Mount rather than psychological theory, the Celebrate Recovery program has helped people for over 20 years to grow toward full Christ-like maturity.


Author and founder John Baker tells the true story of how Celebrate Recovery became one of the largest Christ-centered recovery programs in history. Baker will help you discover how God’s love, truth, grace and forgiveness can bring healing into your life.

Product Details

Publication date:
Celebrate Recovery
Sold by:
Zondervan Publishing
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File size:
2 MB
Age Range:
18 Years

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Your First Step to Celebrate Recovery

How God Can Heal Your Life
By John Baker


Copyright © 2012 John Baker
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-310-69477-9

Chapter One

Why Did Celebrate Recovery Get Started?

You are not alone.

In the small city of West Monroe, Louisiana, men and women meet at Celebrate Recovery to share the hurts, hang-ups, and habits that have affected their lives. In greater Atlanta, Georgia, sixty-five churches are safe places where people come to Celebrate Recovery to find victory over their past. Elementary, junior high, and senior high school students are meeting in their own groups to talk about their hurts. In jails and prisons across the country, men and women are meeting in small groups to work through the participant's guides and the eight recovery principles based on the Beatitudes found in Matthew, chapter 5. Regularly, men and women from churches across the United States are making trips to countries such as Rwanda, Brazil, Great Britain, and Australia, to name a few, to share Jesus Christ as the one and only true Higher Power who can help them on their road to recovery.

You are not alone.

This book will help you understand how Celebrate Recovery got started, what the program is based on, and what to expect the first time you come to a Celebrate Recovery meeting. In addition, we will answer the questions that you may have as you begin this exciting, life-changing adventure.

I have asked my wife, Cheryl, to share with you our journey through recovery and how God's vision of Celebrate Recovery was born.

Cheryl and John's Story

I was born in St. Louis, Missouri. My dad was an Air Force sergeant and my mother loyally followed him throughout the United States as well as overseas. Alcohol was prevalent in my home, but my parents assured me that it was not a problem because they didn't drink at work, they just enjoyed the taste of beer, and they could quit whenever they wanted. I noticed that my parents were different after they drank, and I observed that my friends' parents drank very little, but I wanted very much to believe Mom and Dad's behavior was normal.

My mom had polio as a child and suffered a great deal of pain. She spent a lot of time in hospitals after surgeries and felt abandoned and alone. She said she could not believe in a God who would allow little children to feel such agony. Our family never went to church. When friends invited my brother and me, we were discouraged to attend.

By the time I was sixteen, we had lived in Missouri, Texas, Kentucky, New York, Portugal, Japan, and England. I learned early on how to use masks to hide my feelings of insecurity, to accept everyone, and to use a sense of humor when things got uncomfortable. These skills helped me to make friends by the end of the first day of every new school transfer.

My dad retired from the Air Force in the city where I was born, St. Louis, where I began to attend college. At a fraternity-sorority football game, I met John. At the party after the game, John told me that because he was president of his fraternity and I was president of my sorority, it was our "duty" to start off the dancing. Months later, I learned that John had arranged that entire evening so that he could meet me. (Years later, in Celebrate Recovery, I learned this was very manipulative and controlling!)

As John and I began dating, I learned that his childhood was very different from mine. He had been raised as an only child and had lived in a small town, Collinsville, Illinois, his entire life. Two years before John was born, his parents had given birth to a baby boy who died during his first few days of life. His mother never quite got over the pain of the baby's death, but her small Baptist church helped her deal with the loss. John grew up in that church and accepted Jesus into his heart at age thirteen.

It appeared that John had many successes while in high school: he was class president and lettered in baseball, basketball, and track. But John never felt that he was quite good enough. He was always certain that he was letting someone down—his parents, teammates, friends, and girlfriends. While searching for a college to attend, John had applied to several Christian universities to pursue a position in ministry. However, his feelings of low self-esteem caused him to feel unworthy to answer God's call, so he decided on the state university instead.

As soon as John arrived at college, he joined a fraternity and found the solution to all of his problems—alcohol. While he was the life of the party—it didn't start until he got there and wasn't over until he left—I approached the sorority life with caution. I had seen the effects of alcohol at home, and I was afraid that I might be someone who would not be able to handle it well. I didn't drink at all until I was twenty-one, and then I drank very little.

I was aware that John drank a lot in college, but I wanted to believe that it was normal behavior for someone just enjoying the college experience. I did not want to see it as a problem. Despite the warning signs, we got married in our senior year of school. We did not want to wait because we anticipated that John would be called to serve in the war in Vietnam.

John attended Officer Training School and pilot training, and he learned to act like an officer and drink like a gentleman. Again, it continued to cover his pain of low self-worth. He even discovered that the 100 percent oxygen in the plane could cure morning hangovers! When the war ended, he was assigned to a reserve unit and quickly began to pursue a business career. He joined a paper company and earned his masters' degree in business in night school.

After being married for four years, John and I had our first child, our daughter, Laura, and two years later, our son, Johnny, was born. John had been persistent in talking to me about accepting Christ. After our daughter was born, I did accept Him as my Lord and Savior. However, our church attendance was very irregular.

A few years later, when our son started attending a Christian preschool, Johnny explained to me that we could go back to his school on Sundays to hear more stories about Jesus. This tugged at my heart, and we finally committed to our first church home. Meanwhile, John continued to be promoted at work. He was achieving all of his life's goals before the age of thirty.

Each time John was promoted, our family moved. I was following in my parents' footsteps and going from city to city. I worried that my children would have feelings of insecurity from so many relocations. I also noticed that with each business success, John seemed unhappier. He certainly wasn't the life of the party anymore. He drank more and more and got quieter and quieter. I didn't know what to do or whom to turn to. I didn't want my children raised in an alcoholic home. By this time, church had become very important to me. I even taught preschool at our church, but I didn't feel like I could tell anyone there about our struggles. Everyone at church looked and acted as if their lives were perfect. The kids and I already felt different enough because John wasn't attending church with us anymore.

Gradually, things began to change between John and me. We didn't seem to understand one another, and we talked less and less. At first, I thought our relationship was shifting because of all of our relocations—we had moved seven times in the first eleven years of marriage. Or maybe we were losing touch because he traveled so much with his job. But I could see that his drinking was increasing and his relationship with our family was changing. He was emotionally distant and uninterested in our lives.

Each time I confronted John about his drinking, he assured me that it was not a problem, because he did not drink at work, he just enjoyed the taste of beer, and he could quit whenever he wanted. But even though I had grown up with those words, they had a different impact on me as a wife and mother. If he could "just quit whenever he wanted," then why didn't he quit? Maybe there was something about me that caused John to keep drinking. Maybe if I were prettier, or smarter, or funnier, or if I just worked harder, maybe then John would quit drinking. Since we didn't tell anyone about these struggles, to the outside world we looked like an average, normal family.

John began to be defensive about his drinking. He had grown up in the church and was starting to feel uncomfortable with some of his choices: his relationships with our family, his work practices, and the steady increase in the amount of alcohol. He knew that he had a choice—to continue to live by the world's standards or to repent and turn to God. Proverbs 14:12 (TLB) says, "Before every man there lies a wide and pleasant road that seems right but ends in death." But John turned his back on God, and the drinking escalated.

Our family continued to live as if the drinking was not affecting us. After all, John told me repeatedly, he had never lost a job due to alcohol. He had never even gotten pulled over by the police for drunk driving. He wanted so much to convince us that he was a normal, social drinker.

However, when John began drinking beer for breakfast, I knew that we had to face the family secret. John was an alcoholic. This time when I confronted him in anger, I gave him an ultimatum: quit drinking or leave our home. I was completely surprised when he packed his suitcase and announced that we were separating after twenty years of marriage.

Finally, the attempt to cover up John's hurts, hang-ups, and habits with alcohol was causing the breakup of our family. At first, alcohol seemed to be the solution to help him with his low self-esteem, but now it had become the problem in his life that was affecting him emotionally, mentally, physically, and most importantly, spiritually.

While on a business trip in Salt Lake City, John came to the realization that he could not take another drink, but he had no idea how he was going to live without one. Although he did not realize it, he had come to the first Christ-centered recovery step: We admitted we were powerless over our addictions and compulsive behaviors, that our lives had become unmanageable. "For I know that good itself does not dwell in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out" (Romans 7:18).

He had finally hit his bottom. He went back home and attended his first Alcoholics Anonymous meeting and attended over ninety meetings in ninety days. Then he became ready for Step 2: We came to believe that a power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity. "For it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose" (Philippians 2:13).

As it became clear to John that God loved him unconditionally, he began to find hope. It was time to make the decision to turn over his life and will to the care of God. This was a departure from the secular program he was attending where a "higher power" was very vague. As a child, he had learned who his Higher Power was: Jesus Christ!

John's stubborn willpower had left him empty and broken. The definition of willpower had to change. Willpower now became the willingness to accept God's power for his life. He began to accept, "I can't, God can, and I decide to let Him, one day at a time." He was ready for the third step: We made a decision to turn our lives and our wills over to the care of God. "Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God's mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God—this is your spiritual act of worship" (Romans 12:1).

God provided a sponsor to help navigate the road to recovery. The sponsor taught John that recovery is not meant to be a journey that is traveled alone—we need others to help us. He helped John stay balanced and didn't judge him. He guided him through the fourth step: We made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves. "Let us examine our ways and test them, and let us return to the Lord" (Lamentations 3:40).

Finally, John had to take a look at that young boy from Illinois and face the hurts, hang-ups, and habits that he had attempted to drown with alcohol for all those years. He discovered how the loss of his brother as an infant had impacted his family and affected his low self-esteem. This inventory made it clear that his alcoholism had destroyed all of his important relationships.

In Step 5 he learned: We admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs. "Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed" (James 5:16). Finally, John was able to face the truth of his past and to accept the forgiveness of Jesus, which led him "out of darkness into his wonderful light."

I was completely unaware that John was beginning to deal with his alcoholism. I was busy putting all of my energies into using a mask, once again, to hide my pain. It was important to look as though nothing was wrong—I had to "hold it together." This is when my dysfunctions really began to surface. I had never told anyone about the breakup of our marriage. I didn't even tell my parents until they came to visit us seven months into the separation. I wanted so much to tell my close Christian friends at the church preschool where I worked, but I just didn't feel safe. I was afraid they might judge me. I didn't think they would understand. As I looked around my church, I wondered if there were others who were also struggling with pain that they were too afraid to share and feeling so different and alone.

Thinking that if we switched churches we would find a safe place to tell others about our pain, the kids and I began attending Saddleback Church. But we didn't want to feel different or alone, so we didn't tell anyone there about the separation either.

I was afraid that the church where I worked would judge me if they learned about the separation, so I accepted the position as the director of another preschool. This job paid more—and the pastor was understanding of my situation. The preschool had 400 families, 50 women on staff, and as I learned my first day on the job, was $40,000 in debt. The first thing I was expected to accomplish was for the school to pay back the money.

Up until this point, I had done a good job of pretending that I could manage all of the changes in my life. But after the first day of my new job, I fell apart. I couldn't stop crying as the pain of the drinking, the failed marriage, and now the impossible job came together. I couldn't believe it when John arrived at the house to visit the kids and to find out how my first day on the job had gone. I was embarrassed to have lost control, but I didn't seem to be able to do anything about it.

As I was crying about the job, I noticed that John had tears in his eyes as he tried to comfort me. He asked what he could do to help and offered suggestions. I realized that we were having a loving conversation—he seemed to be hurting right alongside me. This was confusing to me. John was showing signs of changing, and I had no idea how to cope.

Although I didn't know it at the time, I began working Steps 1 through 3. I knew I was completely powerless to get through the separation by myself. I began to trust Jesus and to lean on Him. Colossians 1:11 (NCV) tells us, "God will strengthen you with his own great power so that you will not give up when troubles come." I held onto that verse, but I didn't realize that Jesus was getting me ready for more changes.

John completed Step 6—We were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character. "Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up" (James 4:10)—and Step 7—We humbly asked Him to remove all our shortcomings. "If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteous ness" (1 John 1:9). He allowed God to change everything in his life and rebuild his self-worth based on God's love for him alone, no longer trying to measure up to the world's standards.

Gradually, John began coming by the house more frequently. He said he was coming to visit the kids, but because they were teenagers, they were often not at home. I began to see a lot of changes in him. He would bring along a pizza or a movie, and we began spending some evenings together. John smiled more often, and sometimes he even laughed out loud. I hadn't seen him laugh like that in years. Although hesitant, Laura and Johnny asked him to join us at our new church. John loved Saddleback Church and said he felt like he was home. He began meeting us there every week on Sunday mornings.

Meanwhile, John began working on Step 8: We made a list of all persons we had harmed and became willing to make amends to them all. "Do to others as you would have them do to you" (Luke 6:31). After being separated for a year, John left a note on my table asking me to meet him for lunch.

I was surprised that John wanted to meet for lunch on February 14, 1991—Valentine's Day! John explained that he was in recovery, and that he went to meetings every day. He was working on Step 9: We made direct amends to such people whenever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others. "Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to your brother; then come and offer your gift" (Matthew 5:23–24).


Excerpted from Your First Step to Celebrate Recovery by John Baker Copyright © 2012 by John Baker . Excerpted by permission of ZONDERVAN. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Meet the Author

John Baker is the founder of Celebrate Recovery®, a ministry started at Saddleback Church. It is estimated that over the last 25 years more than 3.5 million people have gone through this Christ-centered recovery program. There are currently over 27,000 churches that have weekly Celebrate Recovery meetings.

John has been on staff since Celebrate Recovery started. He has served as the Pastor of Membership, the Pastor of Ministries, and is currently the Pastor of Saddleback Church’s Signature Ministries. He is also serving as one of the nine Elder Pastors at Saddleback. John is a nationally known speaker and trainer in helping churches start Celebrate Recovery ministries.

John’s writing accomplishments include Celebrate Recovery’s The Journey Begins Curriculum, Life’s Healing Choices, the Celebrate Recovery Study Bible (general editor), and The Landing and Celebration Place (coauthor). John’s newest books are Your First Step to Celebrate Recovery and The Celebrate Recovery Devotional (coauthor).

John and his wife Cheryl, the cofounder of Celebrate Recovery, have been married for more than four decades and have served together in Celebrate Recovery since the beginning. They have two adult children, Laura and Johnny, and five grandchildren.

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