My Name is Paul and I’m an Alcoholic, Step 4

One Thursday each month I will share a post on one of the 12 Steps. This month is Step 4. Recovery is an area of life that 12 Step groups have done amazing work with, yet many churches (and other community groups) struggle with what to do. My hope is that this series will help those who are not in recovery learn more about their friends and family members who are in recovery. I welcome any feedback, questions, and concerns you may have!

“Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.” Step 4.

We though “conditions” drove us to drink, and when we tried to correct these conditions and found that we couldn’t to our entire satisfaction, our drinking went out of hand and we became alcoholics. It never occurred to us that we needed to change ourselves to meet conditions, whatever they were (Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions, p. 47).

Though our decision (in Step 3) was a vital and crucial step, it could have little permanent effect unless at once followed by a strenuous effort to face, and to be rid of, the things in ourselves which had been blocking us. Our liquor was but a symptom. So we had to get down to causes and conditions (Alcoholics Anonymous, p. 64).

The fourth step is scary. Words like “searching” and “fearless” and “strenuous” and “effort” abound. For many in recovery, the reconnection with God through the first three steps is difficult enough. Once that connection is made, the addict is then told to be more self-reflective than they have ever been.

The fourth step is a difficult part of the journey. It is a time to remember a lot of the crap that exists in our lives. And not just the stuff we did when drunk or high, but all the things that have happened to us; all the things we have done to others even in the absence of substances.

When a recovering addict or alcoholic works on the fourth step inventory, he or she will ask many questions. They fall into four basic categories:

  1. What happened or who am I angry at or afraid of?
  2. What is the cause of the emotion?
  3. What instinct, or part of me, is affected (especially the social, security, and sexual instincts)?
  4. What was my role?

The first three questions are hard enough. First, I list all of the people and institutions and ideas that really bother me. This list includes my spouse, my children, my siblings, my parents, my friends, myself, and God. It also includes the church, the government, Walmart, etc. It may include items such as injustice, sexual abuse, racism, or other ideas that we experience. After listing these things, I need to ask what it is that is really causing the anger, fear, or whatever emotion. The instinct question is one that a sponsor really helps with. It was Bob Wilson’s contention that the three basic human instincts were: social—need for friends and relationships; security—home, employment, basic needs; and sexual—need for an intimate relationship. Sometimes, multiple instincts are affected by one person.

Then comes that pesky fourth question: what was my role? How did I play a part? Maybe those times I was upset with my wife were actually partially my fault because I was not being honest. Maybe the church is bothering me because they are calling me on my crap and I don’t like it. Maybe I was really angry with someone and if I had spoken with them the issue could have been resolved. Whatever the issue, quite often I played a role in it.*

The fourth step is the part of the process where the recovering addict will be the most open, the most vulnerable, and possibly the most susceptible to a relapse. This is scary. It is scary because (maybe for the first time) addicts are finally admitting that other people and things did not make us drink. We drank because we are alcoholics.

It is time for the addict to stop trying to change people and conditions. It is time for the addict to start changing themselves.

And it is hard.

In AA or NA or any 12 Step group, the addict has the benefit of a sponsor and other friends in recovery to walk alongside them during the process. This is so vitally important.

But what can the church community do to help?

First, do your own inventory. I don’t just mean jot down a list and be happy. I mean go through the process of a searching and fearless moral inventory. By doing so, you will better understand the emotional experience of writing an inventory. If you understand this through your own experience, you will be able to be more empathetic towards others when they go through the experience. However, do not do this on your own. Which leads me to:

Second, get to know people in your church who are in recovery. And by “get to know” I don’t mean find out who they are so you can send other addicts to them. Get to know them so that you can learn from their experience. Get to know them so you can learn how far they have come. Get to know them so you can learn how the steps they have walked can help you in your own spiritual journey. When you know them, you can ask them to help you in the process of doing your own inventory.

Third, read Psalm 139 and Romans 8. In the process of becoming more self-reflective, remember that nothing can separate us from God’s love. Which means nothing can separate the addict you know from the love of God. As they continue search and knowing more about themselves, find ways to gently remind recovering addicts that God loves them, that they are more than conquerors through Jesus who loves them, and that nothing in all creation can separate them from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.


The following links are PDFs of a Fourth Step Inventory. They are from a website that has permission to share and distribute them freely. DO NOT fill one of these out online or in a PDF file. Print them off and write in them. This is a private matter for you to write about it; you do not want to leave any digital imprint of it.

Fourth Step Inventory: Resentments

Fourth Step Inventory: Fears

Fourth Step Invetory: Sex Conduct

Fourth Step Inventory: People We Have Harmed

*It is important for victims of abuse to not blame themselves. They were victimized and they played no role in that. Celebrate Recovery does a great job in speaking about this with victims of sexual and child abuse. When you are an innocent victim, do not look for ways to take on blame. Remember that you were a victim, but through recovery you can come to a place in life where you are no longer defined by your victimization, but you can be defined by God’s love in your life.

The Day After

The Day After.

It’s often a day of disappointment. Remember all those December 26ths growing up? No? Why not? Because the excitement was on the 25th. The excitement was on the day of celebration; not the day after.

It’s often of day of questioning. Why did we spend so much time on the day before? Was it worth it? Did we actually gain anything? Sometimes, it doesn’t seem like it. The day after allows us to apply hindsight and question everything.

It’s often a day of emptiness. One of the worst days to deal with when a loved one dies is the day after the funeral. Because all of the food has been eaten. All of the stories have been shared. All of the guests have returned home. And you are left to deal with the reality of life with a huge hole in your heart.

It’s often a day of regret. Sometimes, it’s a day of asking, “What happened?” The day after provides us the needed opportunity to deal with all of the consequences of the previous day’s actions. The day after can even lead to all sorts of entertaining television episodes or movies (think The Hangover).

But sometimes, the day after is a little more difficult than a simple hangover.

The Hope of Easter. Followed by The Reality of The Day After.

Easter is Resurrection Sunday—the day death was defeated. The day we are given the ultimate promise of life after death. The day that we are told emphatically sin and death do not have the last word.

But on the Monday after Easter I find myself still facing sin and death. There are too many people still fighting against their demons. There are too many tombs that are not empty.

I cannot get upset at the disciples hiding out in a locked room after the Resurrection. I cannot get upset that they didn’t believe Mary when she came and told them she had seen the Risen Lord. I cannot get upset that Thomas didn’t believe his companions when they told him what (or better, Who) they had seen.

I can’t get upset because I AM EXACTLY THE SAME!

It is easy for me to celebrate on Easter Sunday. It is easy for me to get wrapped up in the singing and the fellowship and the greeting/response of, “He is risen; He is risen indeed.”

But I need someone to tell me today that Jesus is still risen.

Because today there is no fanfare. Today there is no special program. Today there is no excitement or hustle and bustle to occupy my mind.

Today there is only real life. And it is in the midst of real life that I need to be reminded the tomb is empty.


It is possible to experience joy and sorrow simultaneously. Don’t ever let anyone tell you differently.

Graduation: joy at the accomplishment; sorrow at the goodbyes.

Funerals: joy for a life well-lived; sorrow at the loss.

One of my favorite hymns catches this phenomenon: “See from His head, His hands, His feet; Sorrow and love flow mingled down. Did ever such love and sorrow meet? Or thorns compose so rich a crown?” The Passion of Jesus is a time of great joy and great sorrow. It is a time of extreme hope and ultimate despair.

So honestly, it makes perfect sense for humans to feel conflicted about their Easter experience.

Did you have a wonderful time yesterday? Did you wake up today wondering if any of it was worthwhile? Did you have to live through the difficult realities of life? Did you experience disappointment, questioning, emptiness, or regret?

Then it sounds to me like you’re pretty normal.


He is risen. He is risen, indeed.

Will you tell me that today? And tomorrow?

Singing Maundy Thursday

After the meal, they sang a psalm and went out of the city to the Mount of Olives” (Mark 14:26, The Voice).

What had just happened? The Passover meal is one of the holiest moments of the Jewish year. It is a time to remember how blessed God’s people have been. Even during the darkest days, God was present and active. God delivers His people.

But during the meal, this special meal, Jesus was being all cryptic with His, “So I’m gonna die soon” talk. And then Judas—a friend, companion, partner in the journey—leaves; apparently to go betray Jesus.

Holiness, gratitude, confusion, betrayal.

And they all sang a song.


For the first Sunday in weeks, all the families involved in the accident were present at church. More than that, the people who witnessed the accident and stopped to help were able to attend. Also, the first responders were invited to attend this special worship assembly.

It was a church that had two worship services. The family whose child died was unable to attend both the second service. It was too emotional; too painful. For the church as a whole, it was difficult to process the death of a young child. It was difficult to understand how this could happen. But there was also a sense of gratitude for how the community came together to lend love and support to one another.

It was a holy moment.

Holiness, gratitude, confusion, questioning.

And they all sang a song: “You give and take away; My heart will choose to say, ‘Lord, blessed by Your name.’”


The power of music.

Joy. Sorrow. Confusion. Holiness. Irreverence.

There is music for every mood.

Jesus was about to give His life for all people. He was about to be betrayed, arrested, beaten, denied, deserted, crucified, buried, and resurrected.

And He sang a song.

The most important event in the history of the world was about to take place.

But not until after the singing of a hymn.

Duck Dynasty and Holy Week

Over the weekend, my alma mater hosted three members of the Duck Dynasty family: Si, Alan, and Lisa Robertson. Although it was not an ACU event, it was held on campus.

The presence of the Robertson family generated many emotions. First, there was extreme excitement. After all, Duck Dynasty is the most successful reality show in the history of cable television. Second, there was extreme disappointment. You might recall one member of the Robertson clan (who was not scheduled to attend this weekend, by the way) said something a few months ago that ignited quite a kerfuffle. (I added my two cents here.)

Let’s make no mistake: what Phil said was wrong. He dehumanized people with same sex attraction. He defined them by a sex act. Whatever one thinks about the rightness or wrong-ness of homosexuality, his words were not Christian words filled with love. Even when Jesus taught that something was wrong, He always maintained the humanity and the identity as a child of God of those He encountered.

Additionally, he discounted the experience of generations of African-Americans because when he was a child he knew black people who were happy. Listening to African-Americans who grew up in the segregated South has taught me many lessons. Among them, they knew that regardless of how they really felt, they needed to act as if everything was fine. Because if they didn’t, they would pay for it. True or not, it was their perception. (And it was probably accurate.)

Both statements were wrong. Both statements indicate a lack of awareness of the power of words. But do they make him a hate-mongering, racist, homophobe?

Not necessarily. Because here is the thing: I don’t know Phil Robertson and neither do you.

How can you know someone based on two quotes?

How can you know someone by watching only 60 intentionally produced hours of their lives?

Are there any two quotes from your life that totally encapsulate who you are as a human being? Would you like for your life to be judged based upon two things someone else in your family said?

Is there any 60 hour portion of your life that can totally define you? (Quick math equation: if I figured correctly, I have lived 14,173 days. That equals 340,152 hours. Can I really pick only 60 of those to describe who I am?)

In other words, to completely discount Phil or any member of the Robertson clan makes one exactly as guilty as you can accuse Phil of being for what he said in his magazine interview.


Which brings us to Holy Week.

Jesus arrives to become a King riding on an animal of peace. The Lion of Judah becomes the Lamb for sacrifice.

And He did it for you. And for me. And for Phil. Because all of us are broken. All of us are in need.

Many of us are like the fig tree with no figs: we look good but bear no fruit.

Many of us are like the sellers in the Temple: we have perverted that which God intended for good by manipulating it for our profit.

Many of us are like the goats in the parable: we only do good things when we think we will benefit from them.

Many of us are like the chief priests and scribes: we think we look and act better than everyone else.

Many of us are like Judas: we are quick to take the easy way out for the right price.

Many of us are like the other Apostles: we are ready to follow Jesus to the ends of the earth; until we are faced with a true challenge.

Many of us are like Phil: we have said things that are regrettable.

And Holy Week tells us that Jesus has entered into our lives to bring the redemption that only He can bring.

Holy Week tells us that the judgment of the world will not win out over the judgment of God.

Holy Week tells us that only Jesus can do what Jesus came to do.

Thank God He does not treat me based on the worst thing I have said or done. He treats me as His child, redeemed by what Jesus did on this, the holiest of weeks.

So whether a Duck lover or a Duck hater, the message is the same:

Jesus went to the cross for you.

Book Review: When Helping Hurts

On the second Thursday of each month, I would like to share my thoughts about some of the books I have read recently that have impacted my life in meaningful ways. This week’s book is When Helping Hurts. It is an essential resource for anyone who desires to help people in poverty; domestically or internationally. You can purchase it here:

When someone needs help, what is your first reaction? Probably to provide the most pressing, obvious need. Maybe even go above and beyond to take care of the person. For instance, take the person at the street corner asking for whatever change you can spare; maybe you give them some change but then also take them to the closest fast food restaurant and buy them a meal.

And that is a good thing. But it may not be the best thing.

Our country is full of people who want to help others. That’s why we see so many churches and other organizations sending truckloads full of supplies and carloads full of people to places that are devastated by hurricanes or tornadoes. That’s why so many popular media outlets set up the opportunity to text in donations for causes across the world. There are numerous agencies that send people into distant countries to help fight the extreme poverty that exists.

All of these are good things. But we need to ask if they are the best thing.

In When Helping Hurts, Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkert challenge us to understand, truly understand, poverty. In truth, all of us experience poverty in some way, whether it is poverty of resources or poverty of being.

Early in the book, Corbett and Fikkert make two major points: first, “until we embrace our mutual brokenness, our work with low-income people is likely to do far more harm than good” (p. 61). Second, “one of the biggest problems in many poverty-alleviation efforts is that their design and implementation exacerbates the poverty of being of the economically rich—their god-complexes—and the poverty of being of the economically poor—their feelings of inferiority and shame” (p. 62).

This book will challenge its readers to articulate their definitions. What is your worldview? How do you define poverty? What do you think causes poverty? Why do people stay in poverty? Many of us have made up our minds on these questions and may not even realize it. Reading this book will help give a good foundation for understanding the causes of poverty and the best tools to move people out of poverty.

Overall, the most important point the authors make is that in order to combat poverty we need relationships. It is not helpful to insert ourselves into people’s lives for a short time, give to them out of our abundance, and then leave. We must listen to people who are in need; find out what they truly need. We need to build relationships. This means listening, repenting, reconciling, and empowering.

In other words, we need to move from a relief model to a development model. Corbett and Fikkert speak a lot about the need for development as well as the difference in Doing To, Doing For, Doing With, and Responding To.

The challenge for many people is to realize that it is not our duty to swoop in and give those who have less what we think they need. We need to repent of the ways we have failed the poor among us in the past and look for ways to serve those in poverty around us.