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What Is Celebrate Recovery and Why Did It Get Started

By Randy Sexton

As I related in my last article, “This Is My Story,” I fell into secret sin in 2009. I was firmly enmeshed in pornography and sexual addiction, when I began seeking counseling to battle these sinful defects of character. I began seeing a Counselor in November 20, 2018. This Counselor had 12 years’ experience as a counselor, was gifted in working with families and couples, had a heart for working with men’s issues, and had been trained at the Institute of Sexual Wholeness. He was certified as an LPC (Licensed Professional Counselor) and as an LMFT (Licensed Marriage & Family Therapist). During our very first session, he told me about this Christ-centered recovery program called Celebrate Recovery. He recommended that I check it out. He said there were several churches in the area that offered Celebrate Recovery ministries. Following his advice, I attended my first Celebrate Recovery meeting at West-Ark Church of Christ in Fort Smith, Arkansas on January 7, 2019. On that same night I asked someone to be my Sponsor and I signed up for a Step Study. I had been reading several books that my Therapist had recommended and I was more than ready for the help that the CR Program offered.

In that first meeting, I attended what was called a “Newcomers Meeting” and was given a little paperback book, Your First Step to Celebrate Recovery by John Baker. That book helped me to understand the history and the benefit of attending Celebrate Recovery meetings. In this article, I would like to share thoughts from the Introduction: What Is Celebrate Recovery written by Rick Warren and from Chapter 1: Why Did Celebrate Recovery Get Started written by John Baker. I would also like to invite you to check out the website to find a local Celebrate Recovery program in your area

I have now been a part of the West-Ark Celebrate Recovery ministry for almost four years and have found healing. In Celebrate Recovery I have found a safe place to work on my hurts, habits and hang-ups. If you are struggling to find healing, I offer the following words as a first step in your recovery journey. God Bless you!

What Is Celebrate Recovery?



Celebrate Recovery started in 1991 at Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, California. At that time, the church was meeting at a high school gymnasium. John Baker wrote Pastor Rick Warren the “now-famous, concise, 13-page, single-spaced” letter outlining the vision God had given John for Celebrate Recovery. After reading John’s letter, Pastor Rick said, “Great, John — go do it!”

As Rick Warren points out, the Bible makes it clear “all have sinned.” Because of that sin, we hurt ourselves as well as others. “This means each of us needs recovery in order to live our lives the way God intended.” Because time doesn’t heal all wounds, we need something more to address hurts because “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.”

“Celebrate Recovery is a biblical and balanced program that helps us overcome our hurts, hang-ups, and habits. It is based on the actual words of Jesus rather than psychological theory. Celebrate Recovery is more effective in helping us change than anything else I’ve seen or heard of.” While there are many 12-step programs around, most of those programs are very vague about the nature of God, the saving power of Jesus Christ, and the ministry of the Holy Spirit.

Rick Warren describes how he began an intense study of the Scriptures to discover what God had to say about recovery, “My study resulted in a ten-week series of messages called, ‘The Road to Recovery.’ During that series, Pastor John Baker developed the participant’s guides which became the heart of our Celebrate Recovery program. I believe that this program is unlike any recover program you may have seen. There are six features that make it unique.

  1. Celebrate Recovery is based on God’s Word, the Bible….
  2. Celebrate Recovery is forward-looking….
  3. Celebrate Recover emphasizes personal responsibility….
  4. Celebrate Recover emphasizes spiritual commitment to Jesus Christ….
  5. Celebrate Recovery utilizes the biblical truth that we need each other in order to grow spiritually and emotionally….
  6. Celebrate Recovery addresses all types of hurts, hang-ups, and habits….”

Why Did Celebrate Recovery Get Started?

The short answer to this question is that CR got started because John and Cheryl Baker realized they needed something more than, what then existed, to help them heal from the hurts that they had experienced in their lives. As Cheryl tells their story in the opening chapter of this book, we see two people who experienced the negative effects of alcohol in their lives, but who also suffered from deeper underlying issues of low self-esteem, insecurity, co-dependency, and need to control.

John and Cheryl met at a fraternity-sorority football game at the University of Missouri where they were both going to school. John was president of his fraternity and Cheryl was president of her sorority.  Cheryl and John were married in John’s senior year.  Little did Cheryl know what the next 19 years would have in store for her.

After graduation John joined the Air Force and was chosen to be a pilot.  He attended Officers Training School and, in 90 days, learned to act like an officer and drink like a gentleman!  He continued to abuse alcohol and viewed it as cure for his pain, certainly not a sin!  In the service he quickly found the proper use for 100% oxygen – to cure hangovers!  You know, the service is gifted in discovering one’s talents.  John was selected as his squadron’s social officer.  Perfect!  A job that required a lot of hours planning functions at the officers club’s bar.

After the service he joined Scott Paper Co., got his MBA degree at night school and God gave he and Cheryl their first child, a daughter, Laura.  And two years later they were blessed with their son, John Jr.  John was promoted eight times in the first eleven years of his business career.  He was the vice president of sales and marketing for two very large consumer food manufacturers. All of this by the time he was 30 years old.

With all the business success came several relocations.  Attending church became less and less important to John as his drinking increased.  He believed that if he died he was saved; however, he also was beginning to be uncomfortable with his lifestyle, business practices, and priorities.  To the outside world everything with his family seemed normal, but in his heart he knew something was very wrong. As John’s drinking continued to increase, he turned his back completely on God.

John was known as a functioning alcoholic.  He knew he had a problem, but he never lost a job or never got arrested for drunk driving.  Up to this point his secret was still safe.  Cheryl was in denial, or so he thought.  She just couldn’t label him as an “alcoholic” until she noticed his new breakfast drink – beer!  One evening, in her anger, she asked him to go to counseling with her or to just leave.  Much to her surprise, he left!  And their separation began.

John’s life was out of control.  It was an October morning, and he was in Salt Lake City on a business trip.  He woke up and knew he couldn’t take another drink.  But, he also knew that he couldn’t live without one!  He had finally hit his bottom.  He made it back to Orange County and went to his first AA meeting.  He started going to AA meetings daily.  He went to over 90 meetings in 90 days.  As the days passed, he came to “earnestly believe that God exists, that I matter to him, and that he has the power to help me recover.”

Cheryl was completely unaware that John was beginning to deal with his alcoholism. She tells of how her dysfunctions began to surface. She had never told anyone about the breakup of their marriage. She had wanted to tell her close Christian friends at the church pre-school where she worked but she just didn’t feel safe. She wondered if there were others who were also struggling with pain that they were too afraid to share and feeling so different and alone. She says, “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.”

Meanwhile, as John was continuing to work the 12-Steps of the AA program, he came to Step 8: We made a list of all persons we had harmed and became willing to make amends to them all and Step 9: We made direct amends to such people whenever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.

He had quite a long list of names on his amends list.  They ranged from former employers, former employees, friends, and neighbors.  But his most special amends he owed were to his family – especially to Cheryl.  When he got to step nine they were still separated.

On February 14, 1991, after being separated for a year, John left a note on Cheryl’s table asking her to meet him for lunch.  On Valentine’s Day!  She thought it was a little strange to be meeting her separated husband on Valentine’s Day!  During that lunch, John told her that he had been attending Alcoholics Anonymous and that he went to meetings several times a week and had a sponsor.  He told her that AA was founded on the principles of the 12 steps, and he needed to share the ninth step with her.  He simply told her that he was truly sorry for the pain he caused in her life, that he still loved her, and that if he could ever do anything for her – anything – just ask.  Now this is where it really gets interesting.

One Saturday night he was visiting the kids and they asked him to go to church with them on Sunday morning.  Much to their surprise he said yes!  He hadn’t been in a church for five years! John describes what happened, “That Sunday morning, I heard the music and Pastor Rick’s message, and I knew I was home.  Cheryl and I began in earnest to work on our issues that had torn our relationship apart.  And five months later God opened our hearts and we renewed our marriage vows.  As a family, we were baptized and took all the church’s classes – Class 101 (Membership) – Class 201 (Maturity), and Class 301 (Ministry) which is the class that I now teach.  Folks, that can only be the power and grace of God!”

As John attended his AA meetings he was mocked when he talked about his Higher Power – the only true Higher Power – Jesus Christ.  And at church he couldn’t find a place where individuals could openly relate to his struggle with alcoholism. He knew they were there because in a church of then 6000, he couldn’t be the only one struggling with a hurt, hang up, or addictive habit.  So John wrote Pastor Rick a concise 13 page single-spaced letter outlining the vision that God gave him – the vision of Celebrate Recovery a Christ-centered 12 step recovery program.  And he said, “Great…do it!”

John was finally able to accept God’s call, and he entered Golden Gate Baptist Seminary.  He committed his life to God to serve him wherever and whenever he chose. The first meeting for Celebrate Recovery started on November 21, 1991 with four open share groups: women’s chemical addictions, women’s codependent, men’s chemical addiction, and men’s codependent. Forty-three people attended that first meeting with volunteers leading their worship and lessons were taught in a large group format. John was asked to join the Saddleback Church Staff in 1992. In 1993, Rick Warren preached “The Road to Recovery” sermon series that became the basis for the 8 Principle of Celebrate Recovery. In 1994 and 1995 John wrote the 4 Participant Guides that now serve as the basis of the Celebrate Recovery Step Study.

Read Cheryl’s words as she describes the growth that resulted, “As we began to use the participant guides, we had a huge growth spurt. Leaders began to emerge from those step study groups and wanted us to start new groups. Gradually groups for newcomers, anger, eating disorders, food addictions, love and relationship addiction, sexual addiction, codependents in a relationship with a with a sexually addicted man, gambling, sexual/physical/emotional abuse, and adult children of the chemically addicted were added to the original four small groups.”

“Celebrate Recovery has helped more than 17,000 people at Saddleback, attracting over 70% of its members from outside the church. Eighty-five percent of the people who go through the program stay with the church and nearly half serve as church volunteers. Celebrate Recovery is now in over 37,000 churches worldwide!” (

If this sounds like a program that you would benefit from, I would invite you to begin your Celebrate Recovery journey by visiting a local Celebrate Recovery ministry near you.

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“This Is My Story” by Randy Sexton

Note: I delivered the following message as part of an “invitation talk” on December 18, 2019.

The Psalmist wrote, “Blessed is the man Who walks not in the counsel of the ungodly,

Nor stands in the path of sinners, Nor sits in the seat of the scornful; But his delight is in the law of the Lord, And in His law he meditates day and night. He shall be like a tree

Planted by the rivers of water, That brings forth its fruit in its season, Whose leaf also shall not wither; And whatever he does shall prosper” (Psalm 1:1-3). This passage not only describes the favored position of the godly man but it describes the progressive nature of sin in the sinner.

We sometimes sing a song in our worship services (#541 “Blessed Assurance”) that contains these words in the chorus, “This is my story, this is my song, Praising my Savior all the day long…” That song speaks to the assurance that we have in Jesus. When we sing that song we are celebrating the fact that we are “heirs of salvation, purchase of God, Born of His Spirit, washed in His blood.”

Today I am going to share my heart with you …This is my story. Well actually it’s not MY story. It’s the story of Jesus working in my life! What I have to say may alarm some of you; I hope not. Some would call this my testimony. And some of us don’t like testimonies. My purpose in sharing my story with you is to remind us all that we must bear the consequences of our sin. My prayer and my hope is that my openness and vulnerability my help others who struggle. In part, my decision to use this as an invitation message, was stirred by the discussion that ensued in a class I recently attended on “The Sin of Gossiping.” In that class, the question was asked, “What would you do if someone came up to you and said, ‘I need to tell you something, but you must promise me that you won’t tell anyone else.” My observation (though I did not offer a comment in class) was that many of us in the church DO NOT UNDERSTAND THE CONCEPTS  OF  ANYNYMOTY AND CONFIDENTIALITY.  That is why it is often not a SAFE PLACE for those who are hurting and seek to find healing. And as the brother who was teaching the class pointed out, there are many “out there” who are hurting!

Today I want to tell you Who I Was, Who I Became, and Who I Am Today.

Who I Was

I was raised by godly parents. My father preached the gospel for more than 40 years and my mother supported him as he moved from place to place to proclaim the gospel. Many of you may have known my parents. At the time of his death in 2006, my father had served as an elder and a preacher at the Van Buren Church of Christ in Van Buren, Arkansas, but had resigned the eldership because he was going to be gone on Sunday mornings. He saw a great need to preach the gospel and began traveling to Waveland to preach on Sunday morning and then to Bethel to preach on Sunday afternoon and then he was back at Van Buren for Sunday evening service.

With that as a foundation I “grew up in the church” as we often say. I obeyed the gospel when I was 13 years old and I tried to live the life of a good Christian. I became a Bible class teacher. I did quite a bit of what the old-timers used to call “appointment preaching.” I served as a deacon, a treasurer, and an elder in the local church where I was a member.

But something happened not long after my dad passed away. In fact, someone who is still very important to me recently said, “You kind of lost your way when he passed away.” And she was right. I wasn’t ready for Dad to leave me. He was a wise counselor that I turned to when I was troubled by something. Like the time I was laid off after 15 years with Union Carbide, he helped me work through that.

In about 2009 secret sin entered my life. I was good at hiding it from everyone but God. The progressive nature of the sin that I found myself embroiled in led me deeper and deeper.

Who I Became

I became a hypocrite. I looked at things that a Christian has no business looking at. I knew what I was doing was wrong. I was hurting but I did not know where to turn. I felt the pain that Paul talks about in Romans 7:15 when he says, “I don’t really understand myself, for I want to do what is right, but I don’t do it. Instead, I do what I hate.” I found myself involved in a struggle between the flesh and the spirit. Paul again says in Galatians 5:16-17, I say then: Walk in the Spirit, and you shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh. For the flesh lusts against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; and these are contrary to one another, so that you do not do the things that you wish.” 

I sought recovery on my own, reaching out occasionally for help but not really knowing where to turn. I did not really feel safe admitting my problems to my brethren. As it always does, sin will find you out (Numbers 32:23). It found me out in 2018 and I tried, like I had for 9 years to tackle it by myself. I tried but I relapsed and eventually my wife of 23 years. Divorced me and I became a broken man. A young man, wiser than his young years said to me recently, “I’m confused how, for 4 whole years, you could be unfaithful to a woman who was not only a great mother and Christian, but a great and caring wife towards you for over 20 years.”

Eventually, I found a safe place, it is called Celebrate Recovery. It is a Christ-Centered 12 Step program designed to help people find healing from their hurts, habits and hang ups. The power of the program is that it directs people to Jesus Christ. The 8 principles of CR, that are based upon the Beatitudes, and the anonymity and confidentiality that is part of the DNA of the program, helps to guarantee it as a safe place!

Who I Am

I am not a perfect man but neither am I the man that I became because of the sin that I allowed to remain in my life. I was broken, I am now healed. I was controlled by secret sin; I am now open and transparent. I was a man struggling to find healing alone, I now am a man who is working the 8 Principles and the 12 Steps of recovery. I am now a man forgiven but still suffering the consequences of my sins.


There is no sin so great that it cannot be forgiven when repented of. The consequences of those sins, however, may be severe and affect us the rest of our lives. This is where I now stand: I have repented and asked forgiveness from those I have harmed but I still suffer the alienation of family; my wife of 23 years refused to reconcile, and one of my two sons, whom I love, will not speak to me!   As I share my story, so that others who suffer from similar struggles might find hope, it is my prayer that my focus will always be upon Jesus, the author and finisher of my faith! Just as true now as it was in the first century, “Nor is there salvation in any other, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12).

If you are reading these words right now, and you have not obeyed the gospel of Jesus Christ, please know that only in Him can you find forgiveness for your sins and healing from those things that trouble you. He promises, “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened. (Mt. 7:7-8). And again, “Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.” (Mt. 11:28-30). The simple plan of salvation calls for you to believe in Him (Acts 2:38), repent and follow him (Acts 3:19), confess Him as King of your life (Rom. 10:9-10), be baptized into His precious blood (Acts 2:38), and live faithfully to him until your last breath is taken (Rev. 2:10). If you have done these things but then you have stumbled and fallen, pick yourself back up, repent and pray (Acts 8:22). As you move forward in your faith and recovery journey always look to Jesus, living life one day at a time, enjoying one moment at a time. May Bod bless you!