Newness of Life and the Business of Death

One of the more pivotal half-truths that make a lifestyle of alcoholism and/or drug addiction so compelling is the idea that, “Well, we’re all going to die anyway, so really, what’s the difference? I might as well get some relief from my emotional pain while I am still on the ride.” Just like all of the other damnable lies that patiently worm their way into our inner self-talk, there is a great deal of truth woven into the fabric of this idea such that – at first glance, anyway – it does look remarkably like truth.

But just like so much junk that can be purchased from street vendors in our larger cities, closer inspection reveals that we are paying way too much for a Truth knock-off.

I spent much of my young life looking for relief from emotional pain at the bottom of a bottle. A search for anything to fill the “God-shaped hole” in my heart had yielded nothing, at least nothing that could consistently hold my interest. Absent God, if we are truly honest, there is no ultimate meaning we can attach to the labels “good” or “bad;” life becomes merely an expression of individual preferences, and ultimately unlivable. Absent Jesus as our moral center, we are prone to believing even the most absurd of spiritual deceptions.

Heroin AddictionFor many, sadly, the price tag for accepting this worldview is yet another fatality borne out of despair and meaninglessness (Ecclesiastes 1:1-11). Now, as a recovering alcoholic, I have a deep-seated understanding of the twin siren calls of cynicism and fatalism that are the bread and butter of just about any good addiction you care to point to.

Yes, sure enough, the mortality rate is still 100%. Not one of us will escape the eventual claim of death on our mortal bodies. The Apostle Paul took pains to point out that if we truly believe that Jesus did not walk out of His tomb on the third day, then yes, we might as well “eat and drink” since sooner or later we all end up in the grave (1 Corinthians 15:32). I interpret Paul’s use of the phrase “eat and drink” to include its modern-day expressions: “smoke,” “snort” and “shoot.”

For the unbeliever, then – and especially for the addict – the key question will nearly always boil down to, “Does it even matter what we do between now and the day of our death?” This past weekend provided me with what I considered as a powerful study in contrasts revolving around that most basic of questions.

On Friday, I was dismayed (though not surprised) to learn that this generation of mobile-device-empowered teenagers has the ability to acquire black-tar heroin safely and inexpensively. By simply sending a text, our kids can now have a dealer drive to a location of their choosing and deliver a balloon of reasonable-quality heroin without the fear of deadly street violence that – horrible as it is – at least served as a deterrent in days gone by. Suburban kids don’t typically want to get tangled up in scenarios that resemble something out of “New Jack City.” But according to author Sam Quinones, the barriers of violence and unreliability have been torn down; heroin has gone mainstream:

Fatal heroin overdoses in America have almost tripled in three years. More than 8,250 people a year now die from heroin. At the same time, roughly double that number are dying from prescription opioid painkillers, which are molecularly similar. Heroin has become the fallback dope when an addict can’t afford, or find, pills. Total overdose deaths, most often from pills and heroin, now surpass traffic fatalities…the most important traffickers in this story hail from Xalisco, a county of 49,000 people near the Pacific Coast. They have devised a system for selling heroin across the United States that resembles pizza delivery….street crime is no longer the clearest barometer of our drug problem; corpses are.

If these deaths are the measure, we are arguably in the middle of our worst drug plague ever, apart from cigarettes and alcohol.

Serving All Your Heroin Needs
By Sam Quinones
Author of “Dreamland: The True Tale of America’s Opiate Epidemic.”

Articles like this tend to “stick” to me longer than I would prefer. I was “mildly haunted” by what Quinones wrote for much of this past weekend, especially since what he was reporting on stood in such stark contrast to what took place around the lunch hour on Sunday.

April 19th Baptism ServiceYesterday, after third service at The Crossing, my wife and I had the great pleasure of witnessing our toddler grandson receive the sign of Christian baptism, “marking him” as a member of the covenant community of Jesus Christ throughout history and around the world.

At this particular ceremony, I also knew the turbulent back stories of several of those who were now professing personal faith in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, and I knew many of the parents who were claiming Christ’s covenant promises for their young children. I understand all too well the hopes and prayers that parents pour into their kids over the years that they would come to know the hope that God calls them to in Christ (Ephesians 1:18-19) and the newness of life represented by the Christian sacrament of baptism.

Watching other parents commit themselves to raise their children to at least have a good understanding of Who Christ is and what His life, death and resurrection hold for all of mankind could not be a more powerful antidote to the hopelessness, cynicism and ultimate despair that leads many in our midst to enslave themselves to alcohol, pornography, heroin, or what-have-you. For anyone who can see through the flimsiness of what the world, the flesh and the devil dangle before our eyes, the answer is not self-destruction. It is rather a resounding affirmation that, indeed, our lives apart from God are exercises in futility, as meaningless as they already appear, and not to be trusted.

As someone who has drunk deeply from both streams – worldliness and Living Water – all I can say for sure is that abiding with Christ has “changed my taste buds” such that my heart no longer has any desire to ingest poison. It took some time, and it has for sure been a bumpy ride more than once, but as I watched the pastors splash water on dozens of people, I silently thanked God that somehow He has worked in my heart that the baptism of a toddler causes my soul to flourish in a manner unreachable by booze, pills or anything else this life has to offer; I have instead become a hope addict. Praise God!

1 Corinthians 15:12-14,20 (NLT)
But tell me this – since we preach that Christ rose from the dead, why are some of you saying there will be no resurrection of the dead? For if there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ has not been raised either. And if Christ has not been raised, then all our preaching is useless, and your faith is useless…but in fact, Christ has been raised from the dead. He is the first of a great harvest of all who have died.

I was invited to have coffee one morning with Konrad Adenauer before he retired as the Chancellor of Germany. When I walked in, I expected to meet a tall, stiff, formal man who might even be embarrassed if I brought up the subject of religion. After the greeting, the Chancellor suddenly turned to me and said, “Mr. Graham, what is the most important thing in the world?” Before I could answer, he had answered his own question. He said, “The resurrection of Jesus Christ. If Jesus Christ is alive, then there is hope for the world. If Jesus Christ is in the grave, then I don’t see the slightest glimmer of hope on the horizon.”
Billy Graham

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