Discovering Spiritual Truths & Celebrating God's Grace in the Every Day Happenings of Life.
Now that the selections have been made, the All-Star baseball season has begun. 12 of our best 10 year-old players are ready to represent our town in local and regional tournaments. Another great group of kids with an inspiring love for the sport and natural talent and baseball intuition that makes me jealous. They are ready to take the field and play in games that matter. But wait just a second! Unfortunately, it’s not that simple. Before they are allowed to play, there are all kinds of red tape to cross. As a coach, I have to collect all sorts of “official” documentation for each player—original birth certificates and proof of residency, just to name a few. They need more “official” documents than there are weeks in the month-long season. Fortunately, the powers-that-be stop just shy of hair samples and blood draws…for now! After all documents are collected, in addition to another fee (of course), they are taken to an authorized Little League representative so they can validate and affirm each kid’s participation in the All-Star season. It’s ridiculous. All they want to do is play and all we want to do is coach! But rules are rules, and these are the requirements. Plus such rules are in place to ensure a level playing field and the integrity of youth sports and Little League sportsmanship and competition. So, in spite the incredible nuisance of it all, we do what we are told.
A couple of weeks ago, we reflected on how God is gracious to us all. In spite of our imperfections and flaws, we are “all stars” in the kingdom of God simply by His grace, not by our effort or credentials. Can you imagine if our salvation came with strings attached? With papers to fill out and forms to file? This is the way it is in many other religions of our day. You may not have to show a utility bill from 4 months ago or present an original birth certificate, but make no mistake your eternal well-being is completely dependent on making sure you have all your affairs in order. Did you do enough? Did you please the right people? Did you pay enough dues? The metaphorical forms of your life’s work better be filled out and accurate; they better have the t’s crossed and i's dotted. What added stressed and uncertainty these works-righteous religions present.
Praise God that we have a God who has fulfilled all the necessary requirements on our behalf. Leave your pens and papers at home. If your tempted to look at your own credentials, tell the Devil to take his paperwork and shove it. Jesus has it all taken care of. His cross covers the entry fee. In baptism, we have the seal of God’s Holy Spirit. This is our proof and declaration that we belong to God and His church. By His grace and mercy, our names are written in the Book of Life. They are signed into everlasting certainty with the very blood of Jesus. Clothed with the righteous robes of Jesus, we are ceaselessly spared from His wrath and judgement; we will enter our eternal rest in His eternal city to worship Him. (Rev. 3:5, 13:8, 17:8, 22:19) It is a beautiful, refreshing thing to know we are in God’s hands.
He has removed the red tape, He has taken care of it all!
“The grace of forgiveness, because God Himself has paid the price, is a Christian distinctive and stands splendidly against our hate-filled, unforgiving world. God’s forgiveness gives us a fresh start.” (Ravi Zacharias)
Heartbroken. Disgusted. Angry.
My heart hurts. My mind is heavy. My thoughts are strewn.
I don’t know what to say.
We all feel the same emotions in the wake of another horrific tragedy.
There are more layers to this than a large onion...
This is a gun issue. But it is not solely a gun issue.
This is a hate and bullying issue. But it is not solely about those things.
This is a mental health issue. But it is not solely a mental health issue.
This is a family systems issue. But it is not solely a matter of fatherless homes or the collapse of the traditional, Biblical family structure.
This may even be a legislation problem. It may be a control issue.
But it is not exclusively that; and spare me the argument that only one side is to blame.
So let's consider more deeply the 'why' that leads to such horrific acts. We cannot band aid the disease; we need to treat it head-on. Thus we need to call it what it is. At its core, this is a spiritual issue. A morality problem. It is a condition of the human heart—this is a sin issue. Sadly, evil will not go away until Jesus returns. Take away the guns and the evil will persist. It will just find different means to enact it. It is not enough to simply limit or remove items that provide this nature of destruction with ways to destroy. This could only have surface results, a mere managing of sinful outbursts. Rather, the root of the problem is much, much deeper, and it needs to be dug out. It is only through the perpetual death of the sinful nature – returning to Baptism in repentance and faith, that there is any hope for reasonable peace, love, and service amongst mankind. And so, as the debate over guns and regulations continues in our society, steadfast churches armed with God’s Word will continue to point out the problem of the sinful heart – the root of all sin. And the Church will continue to call all people to repentance and faith in Christ Jesus, our Lord. "Return, O Israel, to the Lord your God, for you have stumbled because of your iniquity." (Hosea 14:1)
How can we reunite people with the Lord? A friend of mine put it this way, this is a love your neighbor problem. Hurting people are hurting people. Right now, there are families hurting in ways we cannot comprehend. But truth be told, I am as guilty as anyone of not reaching out with care to my neighbor. I want to blame someone, but first I need to look in the mirror and admit that I have not loved others as I could. Instead of presuming myself to be the one with all the answers who has it all figured out, I will make a change. Look out for those that are alienated. Find the people on the fringes. Reach out to those that seem to be quietly hurting. I will show respect and dignity to everyone, whether I agree with them or not. Love without exceptions. If enough of us do the same, we will see real change. People like you and me, by the Holy Spirit’s strength to show Jesus’ love and forgiveness, can solve problems like this. In this aftermath, there is certainly nothing wrong with “thoughts and prayers” for these families. But it must not end there. Let God empower you to be the change!
I know that in this church we have people, passionately and outspokenly, on both sides of the political spectrum. This why we avoid politics in the church. “Stick to the scriptures pastor!” After all, no matter the issue, no matter what is said, you are bound to piss someone off. But the most powerful weapon we have against hatred is not more hatred. It is not blame, bitterness, and further division. Dr. Martin Luther King once said: "Darkness cannot drive out darkness, only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that." Our most faithful response is love—a love that reaches across aisles, backyards, and cubicles. A Jesus-type love that knows no boundaries. A love that joins hands with the broken hearted at their most vulnerable. Love that joins hands without fear, with people who we seemingly have nothing in common with… other than the fact that we share this world, this life, this brokenness together in our own unique ways.
We will disagree on all kinds of topics; but I hope we can all come together in acknowledging the brokenness of the world, the problem of sin. This world needs hope; it needs love. God’s Word speaks to our society, but not about legislation. It goes much further by showing that the human condition is so lost, so evil that only a radical confrontation of the sinful heart is sufficient. Unless we let our divine physician take a scalpel to the sin-scarred nature of our lives, nothing will ever change. The symptoms will continue to rear their ugly heads. So, we return to the heart of the Gospel, and let God’s grace carve the sinful nature out of us. We bow before Christ-crucified. In other words, healing is always and only found in Jesus.
I hope that nothing in this post was hurtful or offensive. Hopefully, it was coherent enough to give some insight as to where I’m at personally and pastorally in the aftermath of another avoidable tragedy. Like yours, my heart is a mess and my mind is scrambled with talking points. I invite genuine, concerned conversations and reflections, though not a combative debate. I can't make sense out of this, and neither can you. I can't offer words that will heal the heartbroken or sustain the suffering, and neither can you. I can't promise that anything we do will guarantee this doesn't happen again, and neither can you. But I can hug my children tighter, sleep a little closer to my wife, and intentionally refuse to overlook each of those ordinary, taken-for-granted moments that all feel different and more special this morning. All those little things that you just appreciate a little more on a day like this. And so can you.
Please take time to hug your kids, your nieces and nephews, your grandkids. Ask them how they are doing. Listen to them. Take time to talk to your neighbors, coworkers. Sit down with your employees, your classmates, your students. Let those you love, know you love them!
“The Lord heals the brokenhearted and bandages their wounds.” (Psalm 147:3)
“The last enemy that will be abolished is death.” (1 Cor. 15:6)
So we pray… come quickly, Lord Jesus!
(My thoughts are infused by many reflections and inspirations that I read over the past 24 hours. In many cases, I've directly quoted from many online articles and authors, far more articulate and well-spoken than me. Truth be told, I simply did not recall where different thoughts came from as I compiled. My apologies. I'll do better next time.)
As part of my Little League coaching responsibilities, I have to select All-Stars from each opposing team. Over the past two days I have gotten several emails with team rosters and instructions on how to rate and rank each player. Soon we will have a coach’s meeting where we will officially vote on this summer’s All-Star team. The goal is to pick the cream of the crop—the most skilled and most committed players so that we can field a competitive team that will travel around and play the all-star teams of neighboring townships. Some rankings will be simple; other decisions will be more difficult. But even at the young ages of 9 and 10, these kids will be put under the microscope by a handful of coaches as we search for the best.
My daughter’s softball team is a unique bunch this year. The age range of girls are barely 8 all the way up to 11½. That’s a big gap in size and maturity. The gap in terms of their interest in the game is even more expansive. On a team of 14 girls, less than half of them actually want to play the game. Midway through their last game, the girls were asked who wanted to go back into the field to play. About three of them volunteered, several of them said ‘no.’ They were completely content to sit in the dugout. They had no interest in softball. Granted many of them are still young, but for now, they view softball games and practices as nothing more than a chance to socialize. They were signed up by their parents. They just want to draw silly pictures on the dry-erase lineup board and do cartwheels in the grass behind the dugout. Who needs to play defense when they can chase their younger siblings around? The only perk of playing in the field is being able to dig a hole in the infield dirt. And I haven’t even mentioned the distracted chaos that ensued when one of the mother’s brought their puppy near the team dugout. Nevertheless, they’re still on the team. They still wear the jersey. Their names are still on the roster.
I think we can make a connection with the life of a Christian. It is probably an easier connection to make in conversation than in written form, but let’s give it a try. In our baptism, we put on the uniform. By His grace, we are part of God’s team. Our names are written on the lineup card (the book of life). We are part of His church. But truth be told, many of us would rather not play. Many people would rather just stay in the dugout and off the proverbial field. Socialize. Act silly. Goof around. Not show up. Do whatever else they want. Many people are on the team, nominally, but have little to no interest of practicing for the sake of the team. God expects more from us than this. Check it out here. “Take up your cross and follow me,” Jesus says on multiple occasions. He calls us to prioritize being a part of His team over anything, and anyone, else. He wants us to be on the field and in ready position. Ready to play, ready for action. Just as no ball gets passed an engaged shortstop, no witness opportunity gets past a participating disciple. We are on our toes and ready for any chance we have to speak of the hope and strength we have in Jesus.
Here is another way to look at it. Now is a good time to be a fan of baseball in the area. Both of the two New York teams are playing lights-out baseball (#LGM!). They’ve been winning a ton of games and it is easy to get excited about it. It’s even more fun to talk about it with fellow fans. Sports talk radio is flooded with people who want to talk about their favorite local team right now. We are all like that. When we are really excited about something, we like to talk about it. When we find a new show we love, we urge others to binge it. If we have discovered a new favorite place to eat, we tell others to check it out. If we find a good deal on something, we share it with others. Then why is it, that when it comes to something as exciting as Jesus, do we shut up? Shouldn’t something that has changed our lives, something that affects how we live our lives everyday, be something we share with others? It is a sad reality when we talk about our favorite baseball team winning with everyone we know, but when it comes to sharing our faith, we tell no one. After all, we have something way more exciting than a winning team, we have a winning God. We have a God who loves us, and gave everything so that we could experience life eternal with Him.
What do you say church? Are you ready to get in the game? As His church, He wants us to be on the go—teaching, baptizing, discipling. To be sure, God is the coach. He is always the One in charge. And we know that ultimately, in Jesus, we will win the game. We will be victorious. But in the meantime, He expects the members of His team to be doing whatever we can for the sake of saving others. So—swipe on some eye black and put on your glove, it’s time to get out there. It is time to take the field, to be winsome for the sake of the church and growth of His Kingdom!
“I am able to keep everything in perspective, because I know that following Christ is the most important thing in life.” (Mariano Rivera, Yankee HOF pitcher)
I love the Gospel reading for this coming Sunday. It is from John 21:1-14, a great post-Easter account. It is the first reference to a game of “Go Fish” and also the likely origins of a Midwest, Friday night fish fry. Since I will not be preaching on it this weekend, I thought I would share a few thoughts now…
A resurrected Jesus reveals Himself again to His disciples. This is the third time. He finds them unsuccessfully fishing. Of course, this is somewhat ironic itself as it is exactly how Jesus had found them three years prior. But this time is different. They have three years of history together. Countless conversations. Travel stories. Shared experiences. There is a deeper relationship between Jesus and His followers now than there was before. There is a deeper level of love and trust on display.
Jesus comes again to them and says, “Children, do you have any fish?” Jesus calls them children. This is the first and only time in the gospel that Jesus addresses them this way. With a word, He captures not their childishness but His deep affection for them. He speaks to them tenderly as a loving parent, to a resilient child. The Lord of all creation lives and has come yet again to care for them. But this is not the only reason He comes to them now. It is likely that the disciples did not fully understand or appreciate the magnitude and implications of the resurrection. It is hard to fault them for that. But it also appears that in the immediate days following Jesus triumphant return from the grave, the disciples had gone back home to the rigors and routine of “normal” life. They went back home, back to work. Jesus shows up, but not just to feed them. He comes to let them know that they will not remain in their homes. They will not stay in their familiar, comfortable bubbles.
As followers of Jesus, they are about to be pushed out of their homes and into the world of people lost and hurting—a ripe harvest field to be sure! The impressive catch of fish is just a foreshadowing of the lives they will catch for Jesus. They will go out in mission to the ends of the earth. But they will be loved, and they will be led... by Jesus. He knows how to navigate this strange world. The One who died for them, now lives, and cares for them as He awakens them to His call. The days after Easter are strange. We are slowly returning to our patterns of Church life and family life after the festivities of Easter. Yet, we need to be careful we do not become too comfortable with the comforts of home. For what Easter has taught us is how this world is changed. Jesus has risen from the dead and rules over all things. He not only saves us from sin but leads us in life from the comforts of home to the call of His Kingdom. There, at the end of our strength, is the beginning of His grace. Jesus has risen to bring you, His child, into His mission in His Kingdom. Happy fishing my friends!
Reference Article that inspired thoughts and provided many of the words.
You’ve probably heard this old Benjamin Franklin quote before: “There are only two certainties in life—taxes and death.” How true that is!
Hopefully, you were able to get all your taxes taken care of by last Fridays’ deadline. No doubt you are now anxiously awaiting your bountiful refund check from our beloved national treasury. We’ve all seen the H&R Block commercials suggesting that we can “get our billions back!” Needless to say, I’m still looking for mine from the first time I saw that commercial. 😊 For many people, tax season is stressful and burdensome. Not at all for me. During the months of January and February, I gathered up all my necessary documents and financial information so that I could send it off to my tax guy. It is so nice to have someone else take care of it. There are nuances of self-employment and clergy allowance that I don’t pretend to understand. Every year, laws and requirements change a bit. It is an immense relief to not have to worry about any of it. No headaches crunching numbers. No anxiety trying to reconcile the final amounts. No need for me to invest in the newest TurboTax software. It is a wonderful, burden-free feeling to put the papers in the mail and then not have to fuss about it. No stress at all. My tax guy will work through the mess, comb over the details, and make sure all my files are in order. He’ll make sure the government gets its due. He’ll make sure I don’t land in jail or get flagged by the IRS. To be sure, I do have to pay for the services of my tax guy. But it is worth it. It is a tolerable investment to have a capable, reliable guy take care of things that I can’t adequately do myself.
Can you sense where I’m going with this? Today, as we stand in the afterglow of Easter. The energy and excitement of Easter Sunday has dissipated a bit as we quickly had to get back into a normal work week routine. Our “He is risen indeed!” choruses have faded somewhat as we find ourselves in between Sundays. Now we gear up for the home stretch of the school year, spring planting, and other outdoor activities. We start thinking about summer vacations, fishing trips, and full days at home with the kids or grandkids. Yet we dare not so easily close the book on Easter; Easter is supposed to have a lasting impact. The joy and celebration, the good news and victory of Easter still rings loud in our worship and in our lives. Like taxes, we are all forced to face the reality of death. We’ve dealt with it personally and we see it constantly on the news. Easter reminds us that death does not win, because we have “a guy” that takes care of it for us!
That’s the Easter message—because Jesus conquers death, so do we! No need to worry. No further work or effort needed from us. We don’t even have to pay for His services. Our guy, our Lord Jesus, makes sure all our spiritual affairs are in order—free of charge! He has covered the bill Himself, written in His own blood. We no longer need to fret over what may happen to us; Jesus assures us that He is always with us. He offers us a hope that can stare death in the eye and proclaim, “Oh death where is your sting!” Thanks be to God who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. (1 Cor. 15:57) Throughout our time upon this earth, we have “a guy” who takes care of us. 1 Peter 5:6-7 says, “Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you at the proper time, casting all your anxiety on Him, because He cares for you.” Thank you, Jesus, for taking care of us.
We know that the inevitable and guaranteed certainties of life are already dealt with.
My tax guy has my taxes done.
My death & sin guy has the rest under control.
Time to relax and enjoy the spring weather.
He is risen indeed! Alleluia!
“A dead Christ I must do everything for; a living Christ does everything for me.” (Andrew Murray)
It’s easy to simply go from Palm Sunday to Easter. Turn the page from one upbeat story to another. Think about it… there was great energy and excitement in church this past Sunday. Our hymns were upbeat and the general parade-like atmosphere was light and jovial. We recounted the story of that first Palm Sunday, with children and people shouting and celebrating as Jesus rode into Jerusalem. The crowds were beyond ecstatic to roll out the red-carpet for Jesus; He received a hero’s welcome! No tension, no animosity, no real threat—just crowds celebrating with cloaks on ground and branches in their hands. Indeed, it is far more enjoyable to seamlessly transition from the excitement of Palm Sunday into the victorious choruses of Easter. However, when we do this, it is like receiving an Oreo cookie without the double-stuff filling inside. Something is missing! Sure, you may enjoy the crunchy, chocolate cookie on each side, but it is the inside filling that brings it all together to make one complete, tasty treat. Truth be told, without the inside, you don’t really have an Oreo at all.
In the church, if we only go from the triumphant “hosanna” of Palm Sunday to the glorious “He is risen!” of Easter Sunday, then we miss the important inside that brings it all together. If we don’t stop and commemorate the events of Maundy Thursday and Good Friday, then something is dreadfully missing. We cannot have Holy Week without the center—the suffering and sacrifice—sandwiched between the two celebratory Sundays. Each day of Holy Week allows us to peek into the heart of our Savior at intently proximity. Each scene reveals further the nature of His redemptive work. Each act builds up to the reconciling power of His final sacrifice. Every step is significant. Every moment matters. Every action accentuates His authority. Every word proclaims the restorative power of our God. The story is building to a divine, climactic moment—how Jesus would change the history of the world forever.
Granted it is harder to worship in the middle of the week. Our home and work schedules are busier. The service time is less convenient. The sky is darker and there is more traffic on the roads. Plus, the once-uplifting nature of Palm Sunday takes a drastic turn. The exultant tone turns somber and dark. The parade gives way to the passion. The donkey gives way to death. The plot thickens and tragedy becomes unavoidable. The coming demise of Jesus is real and raw. We know it happens, we’ve heard the story; but it is still something we’d rather not ponder or think to intently about. Forget the bad news, just get to the good stuff. And so the temptation for us is to fast-forward. Skip the rest of the week and get to Easter. Maybe because we simply don’t like it, maybe it makes us uncomfortable. Maybe because it’s makes us feel bad or because it’s too graphic. Maybe because it’s just depressing. But no matter the reason, we dare not skip the cross.
We cannot skip the cross. It is here that we see what God does for us and what He gives to us. The cross is about God and His sacrificial love FOR us that knows no boundaries. From the roughhewn throne of a cross, Christ the King, looks at the world and no one escapes His judgement. He judges us all. From the cross the pronouncement is made, and the judgement is… FORGIVENESS. Here the Gospel is fulfilled, that declares: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.” (John 3:16-17) The cross is where God saves us. Love and grace on beautiful display. It is where our sins are atoned for. It is where every chain and shackle is taken away. The cross is the good stuff, the essential stuff in the middle. It is what brings all of the Holy Week cookie together. Don’t miss it!
“The Cross is the word through which God has responded to evil in the world. Sometimes it may seem as though God does not react to evil, as if he is silent. And yet, God has spoken. He has replied, and his answer is the Cross of Christ: a word which is love, mercy, forgiveness. It is also reveals a judgment, namely that God, in judging us, loves us. Remember this: God, in judging us, loves us. If I embrace his love then I am saved, if I refuse it, then I am condemned, not by him, but my own self, because God never condemns, he only loves and saves.” (Pope Francis)
What a crummy couple of days it has been. Cold. Cloudy. Gray. Wet. Blah!
Sometimes the weather of such a few days can creep into our psyche and cloud our spirits. These rainy days are usually when we would rather just call in sick, pull the covers back over our head and stay in bed.
Here is a fitting poem entitled “The Rainy Day,” by 19th century poet Henry W. Longfellow.
The day is cold, and dark, and dreary;
It rains ,and the wind is never weary;
The vine still clings to the mouldering wall,
But at every gust the dead leaves fall,
And the day is dark and dreary.
My life is cold, and dark, and dreary;
It rains, and the wind is never weary;
My thoughts still cling to the mouldering past,
But the hopes of youth fall thick in the blast,
And the days are dark and dreary.
Be still, sad heart, and cease repining;
Behind the clouds is the sun still shining;
Thy fate is the common fate of all,
Into each life some rain must fall,
Some days must be dark and dreary.
As I read this poem, I could not help but think of the close of our dark Lenten season. Easter is just around the corner. No matter how long or how hard it rains, the sun will shine again. Like a rainbow at the end of a storm, these dreary days will not last. Pretty soon, the Son will rise. We will be refueled with the hope and joy of our risen Jesus!
A couple of days ago, I sat with a homebound member, reflecting on the depressing news that is unavoidable anytime you look at your phone or turn on a television. Tragedy at an amusement park. Massive casualties as a passenger airline falls out of the sky in China. Car accidents that take the lives of many young people far too soon. Natural disasters that leave people homeless and cities destroyed. Not to mention the ongoing war raging on in Ukraine. Sure, you can take my preferred approach and just stop watching the news altogether. But that won’t stop the sadness from occurring. Evil still rages on this world. Tragedy still transpires. Hurt still happens. Whether we tune in or not, the destruction brought on by a godless, sinful world still shatters the lives of every family. Indeed, many are the things that captivate the public news cycle, but there is plenty of heartache that happens privately and goes unnoticed by most. It is sad that it often takes such shattering calamities for perspective to ground us in what is truly important. They provide a “reality check” for our lives.
Such is how the season of Lent began, a reality check that we are but mortal beings awaiting the return of our conquering King Jesus. “From dust you came, to dust you shall return… ” This season is a somber reminder of the world’s brokenness, of our brokenness. Our time here upon earth is temporary. We are all sin-filled and frail. We cannot stand on our own. We cannot save ourselves. The penitential season of Lent firmly puts us in our place with a harsh reality—“we have sinned and we each fall short of the glory of God.” This is why, to begin our worship services, we drop to our knees in repentance. “Lord, save me! God, give me strength!” We need God’s tender mercy; we need His intervention. As the saying goes, “Tomorrow is never guaranteed.” As a result of sin, death will now come for all of us. This is a morbid and ugly reality. Yet ever since Genesis 3 this has been unavoidable. It doesn’t matter your status or your wealth. It doesn’t matter what is your heritage or worldly accomplishments. At some point (and God-willing peacefully in our old age) we will all leave this world through the unavoidable means of death. Each day is a gift from God. We would do well to not take that granted. This is precisely the reason behind our opening proclamation each Sunday morning to start our worship. “This is the day the LORD has made; We will rejoice and be glad in it.” (Psalm 118:24) Any day we are upright and above the ground, any day we are able to take nourishment is a good day. That is not to say we won’t have problems or feel pain; but it is a day made by and gifted to us by God. Rejoice! Let us not fill our days with resentment, anger, fear or despair. Instead seek to give thanks and overflow with the joy of the Lord. Live each day and each moment with gratitude in your hearts.
The forty days of this Lenten season continue to count down. And with that, the somber tone of this opening blast begins to build with hope-filled anticipation. The darkness lifts and gives way to light. Repentance gives way to rejoicing. Guilt gives way to grace. Sadness turns to celebration. Our posture goes from pain to praise. Shame gives way to salvation. Can you hear the familiar refrains on the horizon? I can almost catch the brass band and banging drums of Easter morning. The organ hymns shifting from somber, introspective tones to melodies that infuse energy and excitement into everyone. The shouts of “Alleluia, He is risen indeed” will soon be filling the sanctuary to the rafters. This is the reason we celebrate the death AND resurrection of our Savior Jesus. This is what the somber season of reflection and confession throughout Lent culminates in. Lent is important; it is necessary. But it isn’t how the story ends. We await Easter! A stone rolled away. Jesus risen. Tomb empty. Death destroyed. Debt paid. Access granted. Tears wiped away. New and eternal life in paradise granted to all who trust in Him.
May this Easter joy, this Good News be with you always! In the midst of endless bad news, in the midst of pain and death, in the midst of hardships and inconsolable grieving, in the midst of cancerous tumors, broken marriages, strained relationships, horrific accidents, unmet expectations, financial hardships—Jesus Christ comes to bring YOU hope. To bring life. To showcase love. To bring a reason to rejoice and be glad. To bring you and me into His eternal family. To bring perspective… that God loves us so much He didn’t want us to drown in death’s sea of despair any longer. Jesus comes so that YOU know—no matter what may happen—God’s got YOUR back and He will never let YOU down. “For sin is the sting that results in death, and the law gives sin its power. But thanks be to God! He gives us victory over sin and death through our Lord Jesus Christ.” (1 Corinthians 15:56-57 NLT)
"Somehow we just don't make the same boisterous fun of Holy Week that we do of Christmas. No one plans to have a holly, jolly Easter." (F. Mathewes-Green) …We need to change that! 😉
Nothing cute or clever from me today. Instead, I need to take on a more serious tone. It’s not fun to talk about, but very important. Several years ago, research showed that the average life expectancy in America had dropped for the first time in recent history. This was trending even prior to the current COVID pandemic we are in which only exacerbated the problem. Why? Many experts believe that the opioid crisis is one big part of the reason. For example, over 100,000 related deaths occurred between April 2020 and April 2021. Earlier this week, I sat in a presentation for area clergy with a team of people from New Pathway Counseling Services. They are a local organization that is committed to helping people with addictive disorders—whether that be alcohol, opioids, prescription drugs, or other.
Over the past several years, opioid abuse has reached epidemic proportions – and it’s happening within our communities. The face of the opioid crisis is no longer the heroin addict strung out on the streets. Roughly 21-29% of patients prescribed opioids for chronic pain misuse them (that equated to 11.4 million prescription opioid addicts in 2016). In other words, the people who are struggling with such addictions are not necessarily doing so intentionally. They’re not looking for trouble. They're not longtime drug abusers. Opioid use is entirely centered around one objective–pain alleviation, whether physical or psychological. As a result, these are the people we do life with on a daily basis. It’s the college athlete with the long-term effects of knee injuries. It’s the neighbor who has just returned from active service in the military. It’s the mother of two that is in so much pain from surgical complications. It’s the teenager that didn’t realize how dangerous this “quick-fix” could be. In other words, it is our neighbors and co-workers, our friends and our family. They’re desperately trying to remove the physical pain and numb the emotional hurts as well, but in doing so, they find themselves in a spiral of despair and danger.
A related online article asked this question, putting this concern front-and-center for clergy…
"Is anyone suffering in your congregation or community? If so, then be assured they are tempted to escape through self-medicating (whether prescribed or illegal) rather than running toward the Lord. Church leaders are gatekeepers for those in any sort of pain, who find themselves stuck between those two alternatives – Jesus or drugs. Hesitating to speak openly with the church about the opioid crisis, share facts about the dangers, train members to recognize the signs and intervene boldly when required leaves those in pain at risk of falling to temptation."
As I said, I know that this is not an enjoyable read. However, the point of sharing this with you all, is to increase your awareness just as mine was during that presentation. Opioid, alcohol, or drug abuse is not a moral failing for us to just shake our heads at. It's not that simple. It is a disease. In Jesus’ time, people who were blind or lame were not looked upon by the pious as people with a disease or a disability; they were “sinners” who “deserved what they got.”
Jesus taught differently, and rightly called His followers to lead the charge of those who were sick and hurting. In that vein, you need to know that the church is here to help. Any church, any clergy. I am here to help if you or someone in your family struggle with any sort of addition or destructive behavior. I may not be the one directly counseling you; but I will get you in touch with the best people who can bring swift healing and recovery. I can connect you with the people that I am meeting and the resources that are available in our community. This will get you, or the people you care about, the help needed so much quicker than by going through a general website or helpline. I know this issue is uncomfortable; it can be delicate and even disconcerting. But it has long been said that the church is a hospital for sinners. We know this is true spiritually, but our care for broken people doesn't end there.
Jesus said, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.” (John 10:10)
Pastor Steve Vera