Our next speaker is Bart Nollenberger. I met Bart through Pastor Will, who unfortunately couldn’t make it today. It was an instant connection. Speaking with him and hearing his story is nothing short of amazing. Moreover, his book has just got published, making him a newly-printed author. Let’s welcome Bart to the stage.
“What’s up, everybody?!” Bart greeted as he stepped in front of the camera. “We’re bringing it today, I’m telling you right now! I don’t know if I need this mike,” he gestured towards something off-camera, “but we’ll try it. We’re going to bring it today!
He paused momentarily before continuing, “Okay, we can start anytime you’re ready. But before we do that, everyone, stand up. Get in the middle. Let’s get this thing going. Come on, come on! Let me see everybody there. Look at all these beautiful people! Yes, wave! Wave your hands in the air like you just don’t care.”
“On three, let’s shout ‘Yes!’ Ready? One, two, three… YES! Good morning. My name is Bart, and I’ve got a master’s in stupidity and a doctorate in dumbness.” He laughed at his own joke before turning serious.
“You know what’s so cool? Freud was wrong. He said we have to go backward, but we don’t. What we have to do is stay in the now and go forward. The difference between a counselor and a coach is that counselors want to keep going back, opening up those ugly doors. Coaches ask, ‘Where are you now, and where do you want to be?’ And I don’t know about you, but I’m tired of being a victim.”
“Now, I really want to change my thinking to get to the other side, to make a difference in the world. Can I get a ‘Yes’?” Bart asked, and the crowd responded affirmatively.
“One more thing: we wouldn’t be here today without Tonni. We wouldn’t be here today if she didn’t think ‘Yes’. So, everyone, stand up, and let’s look right over here. Let’s give her all you got. On three, let’s say ‘Yes’ as loud as you can. Ready? One, two, three… YES!”
Bart paused again, catching his breath and scanning the crowd. “This is a special day for many reasons. But it’s particularly special because I get the chance to speak in front of all of you. I’m not just excited; I’m honored. I know why I’m here. I’ve lived as a victim before, I’ve lived in darkness before. So, let me give you a bit of my backstory.”
“A number of years ago, I was a finance manager at a car dealership. Late one night, I had papers strewn all around me. I’m what’s called an ‘I’ personality. I can move a room, but I can’t move paper. So there I was, with a 12-pack of beer and a gram of cocaine in my pocket, ready to get things done.”
“I went into the bathroom to do that line of cocaine. What I didn’t know was that my boss was still there. He came in through the back door and busted me. The next morning, I walked into the office, and he said, ‘Bart, we need to talk.’ I knew I was in trouble. At that point, I was a raging alcoholic. I wrecked six cars in high school. I was also a cocaine addict, among other drugs, spending about five grand a month. I weighed 150 pounds then. Now, I’m a solid 220.”
“I was a sick individual in so many ways,” Bart confessed. “So when my boss sat me down and said we needed to talk, I knew what was coming. He said they were going to have to let me go. The first thing I did was unbutton my tie and loosen it. Six months earlier, I had tried to get help, but I was kind of a big deal and couldn’t take 30 days off.”
“The next morning, I woke up crying like a newborn, on my knees, praying to a God I did not know, asking for help. At that moment, I got an intuition. I decided to call a treatment center that I had looked into six months earlier. I got Reba on the phone, and guess how many beds she had? One. And within two hours, I checked myself in.”
“Two weeks into that treatment center, Gus, my counselor, said to me ‘Bart, you’re not going to stay sober.’ I asked him why not. He said it was because I still had narcissism because I still had my daughter, my nice cars, and my house. I wanted to punch him in the nose, but I had to jump. I was all talk.”
“The next morning, I had another meeting with Gus. While getting ready, I found something in my pocket. It was a stash of cocaine that I had put there months earlier. My first test. I opened it up, looked at it, and flushed it down the toilet. Take that, Gus. Two weeks later, I graduated from that treatment center and today, by the grace of God, one day at a time, I have 13,856 days of sobriety. On Wednesday, I’ll have 38 years free from drugs and alcohol.”
“People ask me all the time: how do you stay sober? Well, I did have a process. The first thing I did was to get accountability partners because we’re only as sick as our secrets. I got a sponsor, and my sponsor held me accountable. His lifestyle was different from mine. He told me he was gay. I said that’s okay. I don’t want to date you; I just want you to help me stay sober.”
“I also followed the 12 steps of recovery. They are the best personal development steps on the planet, period. I also prayed every single day and continued to do that. But it wasn’t just walking around the house praying. It was prayer like this: every day, every time, without fail, no exception.”
“But unfortunately, I flipped addictions. I didn’t drink and use, but I flipped to women, to narcissism, to attention seeking, to objectifying women, to inappropriate pictures of women. I was a sex addict and a porn addict. I’m not proud of that. I’m ashamed of it.”
“Then one day, I drove by a place called Santa Cruz Bible. I pulled in, got out of my car, and went in. They were playing rock and roll in a Christian church. That’s when I heard about Romans 12 – ‘Do not be conformed by the patterns of this world, but be transformed by renewing your mind.’ When I got sober from drugs and alcohol, I had to admit I was powerless.”
Everyone said, “Amen,” and I admitted I was, but I didn’t do that with my other addiction. That’s why the steps are so powerful. Because if you admit, first of all, whatever it is, it changes the whole dynamic. It changes our cellular structure. I didn’t do it with the other addiction. Who needs to admit something? You may need to be nicer to your dog. You may need to not drink coffee with cream in it anymore. You may need to stop looking at TikTok or stop scrolling through Instagram. Maybe you need not have that 15th glass of sangria. You get my point. Who needs to admit something? No one raised their hand, so that might be something to think about.
Let me ask you a different question: who needs to change something? Everybody, don’t you get it? And you know where change starts? Self-awareness. Clarity. I admit it’s hard. I admit, so I went to this church. I heard about Christ. Didn’t know who he was at all. We weren’t Christians, but I had grandparents that prayed for me here. They were. I know I’m here because of them. But anyhow, I found out about this thing called Celebrate Recovery. I got a sponsor for my sexual integrity issues. I got accountability partners. I went to a lot of meetings. I didn’t change. I admitted it. I came to believe, step two, everybody says that. I came to believe that Jesus could restore me to sanity.
I thought I did, but you know what the problem was? I wasn’t all in. I was in the church, I was with my Christian brothers on Saturday mornings at Bible study, but I wasn’t all in. I was a lousy gambler, and lousy gamblers only go some in. I was lousy at that, but at that moment, thinking about man, I got to believe. I’ve got to run with this. There’s something here. I was a New Ager. I was good at that, but I finally felt there was something different going on here.
So, I went to a therapist, and my therapist said to me, “Bart, you need the Intensive program.” I asked, “What’s the Intensive program?” Be careful if your therapist says you need an intensive. Google it. So, what happened was he said, “I’ve got a cabin in the woods, and what’s going to happen is, you’re going to go in this cabin, 30 days off the grid: no phone, no internet, no human contact. We’ll put 30 days of food in the refrigerator, and that’s it,” and I was desperate. So, guess what I said, “Yes.”
I got to this cabin two days later, and it was not a cabin. It was a shack. I walked in, food still in the car. Looking at this place, it had a round table, about half the size of that, a few steps. Later there was a crack in the floor, and there was howling going through the house because the walls weren’t even solid. It was cold, there was a fireplace and a rocking chair, and to the left was, it was a bedroom. I had a twin bed in it; dude, I’m six-two. There was a bathtub there. I went, and I decided to sit in front of the fireplace, and I cried. It was a common thing for me those days. Still is.
A few minutes later, I picked up this thing called the Bible. I never picked it up before, and I started reading it over and over and over. I had nothing else to do. I started writing. I was talking out loud to God, even though I didn’t know who he was, and what I read in there was that God loves me. Said it over 150 times. Me. And it said in there that I can do all things with Christ who strengthens me. What it said in there is that I’m not alone. Suppose I keep doing the same stuff over and over. Paul talks about in Romans, why do I keep doing the stuff I don’t want to do and don’t do the things I want to do? Paul wrote more books than anybody in the Bible. If Paul can say that, wow, I realized that maybe I’m forgiven. I read about it. I went from Matthew to Revelation in that period of time and read it all, and I realized I’ve been redeemed by the blood of Christ, and I’m not who I was.
Now, my marriage was falling apart when I went in there, and guess what happened after? I got out, and it died. So, you think, “Oh man, that didn’t work.” Look, I’m a hard study. My mama used to say to me, “Bart, you’re going to be a late bloomer,” and you know what? I love my mama. But that’s another thing, like you’re not worth it yet, right? But she would never say that to me. But yes, I’m a late bloomer, but I didn’t get it quickly, and I walked out of there, though, and the third step of recovery says I made a decision, and I made a decision. When I left that cabin and lost my relationship, I said, “I’m deciding from this period on to turn all of myself over to Christ.” I admitted I came to believe. I believe what this book said. Now, listen to me. I wasn’t raised this way. I was raised Unitarian. I don’t even know what they are, yet he grabbed me here because he wanted me to be in this room today and talk to somebody. That’s why.
Now, I have to tell you a little story about what happened yesterday. I entered the door and left my phone in my Uber. I called, went online to find my Uber, and I’m a little off track. But, you have to hear this story because I believe that you need to. I didn’t have my phone, so I went online to find out how you can get a phone. Got a hold of the guy, and he came by yesterday. In this place, my book was delivered, and yesterday I opened up a box full of my books for the first time in my life on this planet.
Bart continued, “Every book I wrote, that I mean, my book – I got to touch, kiss, and hold. I slept with that book last night. I am not kidding. I opened up this book. My wife will be jealous; don’t you dare tell her. I gave it to the Uber driver – the first one I’ve given anybody, signed. He started to cry, and I prayed over him. He called me today and said he and his mom want to attend the talk. He might have to work, but he would like to be here. He’s not here, but isn’t it funny how God tells us to be careful who we’re talking to because it just might be an angel? Amen, amen, amen.”
“So, in this journey of leaving that cabin, I started to get it and met everybody. I had met ‘Come to Believe’ and made a decision. In 2014, I asked Cornerstone Church if I could help put a ‘Celebrate Recovery’ in our church. Guess what they told me? No. In 2014, I met the woman of my dreams. Guess what she told me? Yes. In 2015, we married and went on our honeymoon in Nashville, Tennessee. We went to the K-Love Fan Awards in the Grand Ole Opry, and I met a young man named Steven Copeland. Steven has written 15 books. I thought, ‘I’m talking to him. He’s cool.’ He asked about my story, and I told him. He said, ‘That’s a book.’ I said: ‘No, it’s not.”
“Anybody ever told you you’re beautiful and you can’t handle it? Does anybody tell you you have God in your spirit and can’t hear it? I couldn’t hear it. Do you know why? After much explanation, it’s best understood in this way: no human being can exceed their level of self-belief until you and I see exceed our self-esteem, self-belief, and self-love. Guess what I do now. I do it every single day. I spend an hour with affirmations, an hour with Jesus, and an hour writing down my values. I changed my thinking every day because, as we know, we got to put on the armor of God, and we have to put on the helmet of protection. It takes work. Penicillin was an accident. When Fleming found that the bacteria was eating his petri dish, he could have said, ‘Oh, that’s nothing.’ He worked to find out where that might have value. It was a mistake that worked. I will tell you, I am a mistake from the past that didn’t work because I listened to what He had to say. Amen.”
“And so are you. We are valued. Amen. In 2020, a friend asked me, ‘Will you start a Celebrate Recovery at our church?’ Oh yeah. Wayne Dyer used to say it best, ‘When the student is ready, the teacher will appear.’ Because you know what, if I did in ’14, I was still caught up in the mud. In 2020, I had some freedom. Today, I have a love story. Today I have four birth kids that we have an incredible relationship with. And get this, I’ve been married three times, but next week I officiate one of my twins’ weddings. Me! Moses did it. Why not me? David was a murderer; why not me? Paul killed Jews, and killed Christians, why not me? The past does not equal the future.”
“I get to marry my son next week, not literally, and it’s my second son that I was able to officiate. Today, our Celebrate Recovery has over 100 people in it. Today, I’m a coach. I do leadership coaching for businesses all over the country. Let me tell you why because I listened to what God said. In 2013, I became a leadership coach with the John Maxwell team, and I dabbled in it, but last year God told me, ‘Now, you’re going all in.’ And guess what I said. Everybody say it, come on, like you mean it, say ‘Yes!'”
“And what I did was I followed the principles of this book right here. I’m just going to tell you the story as we start to wrap up. The book is ‘Developing the Leader Within You,’ and I do Leadership Lessons with companies based on this book. What’s so cool about this book is it allows people to look at their own stuff, their own character, their own priorities, and their own personal development, and I do it in a company environment. But what happens after the 10-week boot camp? Guess what? They want to break out into individual one-on-one groups because they’re having trouble talking to their wife or they don’t have a relationship with their kid. And God put me in this place to do exactly this. I didn’t know this was going to be my topic. John Maxwell has 250 topics, but He put this in front of me, and what I realized was it went hand in hand with my book, and I prayed about that. Where can I take my book? The 12 steps of recovery are in my book, and each step is a leadership lesson.”
Bart continued, “Where can I take those 12 steps and apply them? I realized I could apply them as I’m leading others in group and individual coaching and developing them. They probably, in many cases, need to hear ‘keep the change.’ Seventy percent of the people in the church have a porn problem. It’s just the way it is. It’s ugly, and we’ve got to eradicate it. It kills marriages, it kills relationships. I can go to my wife and say: ‘Hey honey, I did a line of cocaine today’ and she wouldn’t smack me. But if I go to her and I say, ‘I looked at something on a site that was not you’, it crushes her heart. Men have to know that it is unfair for us to do that. It is not right, it kills the spirit of our partners and your future partner if you can’t break that bondage before you really get into the relationship.”
“God is good, but man, we got to listen. We got to be obedient. There are three questions that you get to ask yourself today. Number 1: What do I need to admit? Go ahead and say it. What do I need to believe about God, my higher power, to go to the next level to connect with him deeper? Everyone’s saying what do I need to believe? Say that. And lastly, what decision do I need to make? What decision do I need to make?”
“Lastly, I don’t know where I am with time. It’s not on. But I will tell you this right now. I follow a scripture, Romans 12:2. We’ve already brought up Psalm 123:23-24, 139:23-24. I will read it right now, okay, and in that Psalm, I want you to hear this. There are three questions I ask God every day, and I want you to hear it because it isn’t about my question. Isn’t ‘God, will you please give me a Maserati?’ or ‘God, would you please give me this?’ or ‘God, would you please give me that?’ Stop! It’s ‘God, what can I do for you today?’ ‘God, what can I do for you today?’ And in my season of life, I’ve got to do that, and maybe in your season too. But what do you want me to do so I can be the light, the spirit that has to change the world? We change the world. We’re here on a Saturday.”
“The number 2 question: God, where do you want me? Where do you want me? Put me in that place. What can I do for you? Where do you want me? And The 3rd question is: what am I doing to get in your way? Absolutely, I do behavior assessments, and I’m very careful not to data dump here, but the thing I love about these behavior assessments is they allow you to have self-awareness. Clarity is huge for our ministry. Clarity is huge for you to talk to other people. You need self-clarity. What’s cool about assessments is they are a scientific self-clarity. Why do I say that? Because you need to know your blind spots, you need to know the areas where you’ve got masks on, and you can blow those up, amen, amen.”
“Here’s that last Psalm I want to read to you, and I want you to hear it in the way God’s talking to you: ‘Search me, O God, and know my heart. Try me and know my anxieties. See if there’s any wicked way in me.’ Take that garbage out just like our prayer says, and lastly, ‘Lead me, Lord, in the way everlasting.’ You were born to love. You were born to make a difference. To whom much is given, much is required. We aim to change the world, one Uber driver at a time. You never know who they are.”
“In the back of the room is the book I wrote. I’d be honored if you’d consider reading it. It’s $10, which is half off. If you don’t want to get it today, it’s back here, signed by me. Get it later; it’s $18. When you get the book, come see me, and I will make a personal note there, but I also invite you to my course. It’s a one-hour webinar called ‘Managing Your Mind’ and how to really look at your thinking. We’re going to do that in July. We’re going to do it on a webinar where we’re going to look at our thoughts, our habits, our intuitions, and our affirmations. It’s so powerful. Buying the book will get you in that course, and we’ll be doing that in July.”
“Thank you for allowing me to present that to you. Thank you, I’m so honored to be in front of you, and thank you for walking out this door and asking yourself: ‘God, what can I do for you? What can I do to make a difference on this planet?’ And everybody said amen, and everybody said yes, one, two, three… Yes! Thank you, everybody. Thank you.”