A Story of Rebellion and Redemption

by John Leonard, Founder

This was given to Redeemer Bible Church as part of a sermon series on addiction.  We pray you find it helpful.

You probably already know my story.  It’s one we’re all familiar with.  It’s a story of rebellion…self-centered rebellion.  You see, I have a problem and it’s the same problem we all have… a worship problem.  I worshiped the counterfeit gods of my own desires rather than the one true God. 

When I was a young boy, my father was a real estate developer and got in over his head.  The Lord used the adversity of bankruptcy to bring him to Christ.  He took me to church where I was exposed to the gospel.  The Holy Spirit began to work on my heart.  I remember singing songs of praise with tears rolling down my cheeks.  One night we were praying together and I was overwhelmed by the need to be rescued.  I asked the Lord to come in to my heart and he gave me the gift of repentance.  I was overcome with joy and began to fight the sin in my life. 

I remember going to grade school and telling all the other kids about my newfound treasure.   But I failed to nurture my faith, and like the parable of the sower, my seed was sown on rocky ground where it had no soil.  It sprang up instantly, but it had no root and fell away.  Now I was a very troubled soul.  I knew the truth but refused to yield.  I started getting into lots of trouble.  I discovered alcohol and eventually drugs.  I loved the sense of ease and comfort that I got from taking a drink or a drug.  I liked it so much that I did it all the time.  It enabled me to hide from the truth…or so I thought.  Eventually I became dependent.  I had to have it or I would get terribly sick. 

This went on for over twenty years.  I ended up at a methadone clinic.  I spent four years going to a clinic every day to get my fix.  I was a slave.  One day I woke up in jail.  I was really sick and needed $150 to get out on bail.  I called all my friends and family and they thought I was right where I needed to be.  I was all alone.  There was no one to enable me anymore.  I made a decision right then and there that I was going to get sober.  The jail was overcrowded and they let me out the next morning.  With nowhere to go, I walked to the Salvation Army. 

I remember standing on a street corner in the rain talking to my dad on a payphone.  He said “son, your mother has been so worried about you that she’s neglecting me. I’ve had this infection in my nose for over a year.  It was misdiagnosed by my doctor and I just found out that its cancer.  He said… son, you’re killing me.”  That was a moment of clarity.  I began to cry.  I was 31 years old and for the first time in my life, I realized that my behavior was affecting other people.  That was it.  I had to get sober but I still refused to repent.  I was going to do it my way.  The drugs were the problem, and if I could just stop using, it would all be ok. 

It took me two years but I eventually got sober.  I went to treatment at Hazelden and moved to MN.  I worked the 12 steps and became very active in the recovery community in St Paul.  There’s power in community and it was enough to keep me sober…for a while.  But like all idols, it left me wanting.  I sponsored a lot of guys and got a job at The Retreat.  The allure of a better life and the novelty of sobriety was my motivation, but it was shallow, and after a few years I lost interest.  The spirituality of change wasn’t working anymore.  I eventually had surgery and relapsed on the pain meds.  I got really strung out and had to go back to treatment. 

By now I had a beautiful wife, a three month old son and a wonderful career.  My identity was wrapped up in my recovery and it had been shattered.  I was about to lose everything.  I was back in treatment but there was really nothing there for me.  I needed to be rescued and there was only one who had the power to do it.  I had fought the Lord long enough.  I had turned my back on Him and tried to suppress the truth with chemicals, but he was faithful and never let me go.  He pursued me and showered me with grace in spite of my rebellion.  I began to examine my life.  What was my purpose?  Why was I here?  Deep down I knew it was to glorify God, and anything short of that was going to bring me right back where I was. 

I began to focus on the cross.  I saw beauty there…the perfect act of love and mercy, and the only way I could really respond was to reciprocate with love and repentance.   It’s been over six years since my relapse.  Today, I realize that my life is all about dependence.  I’m still a slave but now I’m a slave to righteousness.  Not free from sin, but free to fight sin.  I’ve been given a gift…the gift of desperation.   I have a new motivation for change and it’s based on attraction.  Not the attraction of a better life, but attraction to the love of Christ and a desire to be with him…to please Him and to share in His righteousness. 

I’m not running away from my past, but running toward something bigger and more powerful than I am…something beautiful.  I still struggle but I’ve learned to celebrate the small but cumulative victories over my own desires.  My natural state is to drift away from God.  At any given time, I’m either headed toward relapse or growing in my faith.   There is no neutral territory.   I’m still a mess…but I worshiped my way into addiction and today, I’m worshipping my way out.  I pray that you are too.  Thanks for reading.  Praise God!