Thousands of people from 38 states descended on Austin, Texas on Jan. 13 for the inaugural All Together Rally, sharing a vision of hope and healing through a fast-growing, Christ-centered program for anyone who has a hurt, habit or hang-up.
"We're all a bunch of hope dealers," said Bryan Crute, National Director of Cultural Communities for Celebrate Recovery. "Hurt people hurt people, but changed people change people." Then he punctuated his talk, like all the other major speakers, with the main message of the rally: "I don't have it all together, but we're in this all together."
The All Together Rally spotlighted popular Christian worship leaders, artists and comedians in a rousing demonstration, but at its heart the gathering was essentially about spiritual "family" in the body of Christ—and actually honoring, respecting and being authentic with one another, without an unrealistic expectation or façade of being "perfect."
This self-described "forever family" of people who carry a perpetual, life-changing message of hope to the world and to churches are linked together by the recovery program called Celebrate Recovery, which was started at Purpose Driven Life author Rick Warren's Saddleback Church in California and is used today by thousands of churches across America.
Going beyond the traditional definition of a "recovery" program, Celebrate Recovery—also known as "CR" for short—impacts the lives of people who never thought they needed to overcome a hurt, habit, hang-up or addiction.
CR is for the average person who wants to eject the "junk" from their life, gain new realms of victory (even over seemingly little things that cause anger and frustration) or fine-tune their soul for more peace and confidence in their life, as well as for those who are deep in alcohol, sex and drug abuse. Breaking the chains of dysfunction, it releases people from "fixing" other people, but still allows them to have an impact.
With CR, recovery is a decision followed by a process.
Rooted in love, CR teaches how to let go of shame and arrogant self-reliance (pride that the Bible says God hates), in addition to how to apologize and forgive. Recovery is also about setting boundaries, resetting expectations and building trust over time.
Although the rally featured world-class worship music by Plumb, Matthew West and Zach Williams, stunningly poignant spoken word artistry from Hosanna Poetry and the incomparable comedy of The Skit Guys, the All Together Rally (#AllTogetherRally) was more than just an inspiring event full of worship, fun and stories. It cast a vision for what any church could be anywhere, anytime.
"We believe we are in front-line ministry of what the church should be all about," said Mac Owen, national director of Celebrate Recovery. "Never let go of hope. God never wastes a hurt. No one is exempt from hurt in this world. It's what you do with it that matters. And God only uses broken people to advance His kingdom."
Founded by John and Cheryl Baker in the early 1990s, Celebrate Recovery is a Christ-centered program (with Jesus as the "higher power") that helps people to recover and gain freedom from family dysfunction, anger, fear, grief, insecurity, porn addiction, codependency, alcoholism, perfectionism, drug addiction, control issues, eating disorders, sex addiction, food addiction, people-pleasing, the effects of abuse and other dysfunctional, self-defeating, harmful behaviors and tendencies.
Over 5 million people have completed the CR program.
"If you have ever been hurt, then CR is for you," said John Baker, a pastor at Saddleback Church. "The thing that is opening doors is Celebrate Recovery. Churches that have the CR program understand each other."
If the world largely sees Christian churches as judgmental, hypocritical or lacking in love or grace, CR is like an antidote to those things that turn more people off from attending church.
Built into the DNA of Celebrate Recovery are unmerited unacceptance, love, truth, support, emotional safety, confidentiality and compassion—what one speaker at the rally associated with "the full onslaught of God's grace."
"The only way to get back on track is to stop making excuses and deal with things head-on," said one of the Skit Guys after doing a humorous "skit" about "poop brownies that send people to the Dr. Phil Show." (People accept a little bit of sin—a pornographic image, an F-bomb, a lie, a manipulative action, a slice of denial and so on—but would they accept "a little bit of poop" in their brownies?)
Testimonies of changed lives were shared at the All Together Rally, including stories about:
- A small-town Christian minister who was addicted to internet-based pornography, gaining victory through the CR program and celebrating almost two decades of freedom from the destructive force of porn. (He shared that he experienced tremendously positive relief from "getting the junk out into the open.")
- A woman who was suffering from eating disorders, gaining victory through the CR program and celebrating the realization that her value has nothing to do with the way her body looks. ("It never has and it never will," she asserted. "The truth is worth fighting for.")
- A successful businessman who struggled with shame, used self-reliance as an excuse, did not trust people and used alcohol as a comfort, gaining victory through the CR program and celebrating the realization that he needed to connect with others in an authentic way. (He recalled when he first started in CR, someone told him, "If you don't go buy the book, you will get a full refund—a refund of your misery." In the end, he went "all in" with CR and didn't need or want the "refund.")
- A man who was struggling with codependency, gaining victory through the CR program and celebrating the revelation that he had been carrying other people's emotional and spiritual "baggage," (falsely) believing it was his own. (When a person says "I love people too much," it may actually be that the person manipulates people too much. "You want to control people too much." CR addresses this weakness by bringing it out into the light.)
"If you have a relapse, welcome home," said John Baker, National Director of Celebrate Recovery at Saddleback Church. "God is not done with you yet. The desire to change comes from God. That voice says, 'It's time. Begin the process.' There is no shame."
Jennene Eklund, CR's "chief encourager" and author of the book Overthrow, said, "It is never too late to start again. There is no hurt that goes too deep. How do I know it's true? The tomb is empty. The Resurrection is the ultimate new beginning."
In addition to blessing the attendees at the All Together Rally, the Celebrate Recovery team came to bless Texas and, specifically, to offer one more ray of hope for the hurricane victims in Houston as their "new beginning" continues to unfold in a long process. The leaders of CR stamped its rally in Austin with compassion by presenting a check for over $20,000 to a local charity that assists people in need in Houston, which reportedly continues to struggle in certain areas in the months after Hurricane Harvey.
The "forever family"—comprised of individuals who attend CR meetings in their local neighborhoods—spent more than 12 hours together in one of Austin's largest churches on a chilly day to kick off 2018. They continue to walk "the road of recovery" together, encouraging each other along the way.
"The 2018 All Together Rally is the very first one, and it has been amazing," said Cheryl Luke, executive pastor of Shoreline Church, which hosted the CR rally and has one of the most robust Celebrate Recovery programs in Austin. "The love, respect and authenticity that you experience in our forever family will shape your life in ways that will last through eternity."
Churches can bring CR into their own towns and connect with what God is doing to heal people's hurts, habits and hang-ups. It leads to healthier church communities, marked by grace as a force for change. For more information, go to celebraterecovery.com.
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