It’s Christmastime!

This is the 3rd year I’ve reblogged this original piece I wrote about what Christmastime was like growing up. I hope you enjoy it.

Wow, only six days til Christmas Day. The year went so fast I almost forgot there were twelve months. Sometimes the days seem to run together. Partly because of the limited daylight. It’s typical for office workers this time of year to go to work in the dark in the morning and come home after work in the dark. Add to that all the rushing around as Christmastime draws near. Time slips without seeming to move the hands on the clock.

When I was young, time seemed to stand still on Christmas Eve. About six o’clock on WNEP 16 out of Scranton, PA, up-to-the-minute tracking of Santa Claus on radar would begin. It always felt like bedtime would never get here. And when it did, I would never be able to get to sleep. It’s Christmastime, I would think. Santa’s coming. If I go to bed. If I close my eyes and give in to slumber. Impossible, is what I used to think as I looked at the clock again and again, hoping it was time. Everything moves like a snail. Funny, but none of the adults seemed to notice this time problem. They would eat and drink and sing and dance around the living room, smiling and toasting one another. They were oblivious. But how is this possible, I would wonder? How can they be so calm?

Santa’s coming. Quick, everyone. Finish your merriment and put the dishes in the dishwasher. Clean up. Get a plate of cookies and a glass of milk ready for Santa. He’s coming! Straighten up the living room. Move those extra chairs out of the way. Santa needs to put my new bike there. Oh wow, this is taking so long. I can’t stand this. I really can’t. The excitement is causing me to nearly tremble. I have to pee, but I’m afraid to tell anyone. Maybe I can wait til I go upstairs to brush my teeth. It’s as though I think time will slow down even more than it has already. Oh, I have to go now! No waiting til bedtime. Well, what can I do? Nothing. I look at the clock. I don’t believe the hour hand has moved more than a half inch. You’ve got to be kidding me!

After what feels like half a week, it’s finally time to go to bed. I run up the staircase, nearly slipping and planting my face in the carpet at the top of the steps. I dash into the bathroom and head straight to the toilet bowl. I barely get my snaps open before the water works begin. Without having to be told, I grab my toothbrush and get brushing. I know Santa’s watching. I’ve known that for a long time. Have to listen. Have to be good. He is always checking. Sometimes twice. I’ve been nice. I’ve not been naughty. I finish up and sprint to my room to climb in my bed. I am thinking that maybe I should skip my prayers tonight and go straight to sleep. But wait, Santa will know if I don’t say my prayers. So I fold my hands and I get started. Short, but sweet. Done in ten seconds. I reach up and kiss my mom goodnight. She tucks me in and I squeeze my eyes shut real tight, hoping that will cause me to go right to sleep. It doesn’t. My heart is pounding. I can feel it in my ears and in the ends of my fingers. I can’t help but thinking, This is going to be a long night.

Believe it or not, before I know it I am opening my eyes. I look at my clock. It’s six o’clock. At first, I’m thinking the clock never even moved. That it’s still the same time it was when I looked at the living room clock. Then it comes to me. It’s morning. I can’t imagine what might be waiting for me downstairs. I scream out loud. I can’t help myself. I just can’t. Mom shows up at my door grinning from ear to ear. Dad is standing behind her. Good. It’s time. No more waiting.

I nearly tumble down the steps as dad calls out, Take it easy Sport. I am not even all the way down the steps when I see the handle bars. Yep! Handle bars atop a brand new shiny bike. The bike is surrounded by dozens of presents. I am speechless. I took at mom and dad, and then I go sit on my new bike. Mom already has her Instamatic up to her eye, taking my picture. Dad says, Well, what do you think? I just grin and lean in to the handle bars, pretending I’m flying down Race Street hill, leaving a trail of flames behind me. Then I remember, there are presents to open. Man, this is just fantastic. I dive in, ripping at the wrapping paper. Present after present, I am blown away. I stop for a brief moment and think, This was well worth the wait.

Merry Christmas to everyone. Stay safe. Be healthy. Be thankful. And above all else, be patient. Because sometimes the clock just doesn’t seem to move at all.

Ho! Ho! Ho!

© Steven Barto 2014

New Funding Opportunities in Response to the Opioid Crisis

From the blog of Dr. Nora Volkow
Executive Director, National Institute on Drug Abuse
December 10, 2018

Today, NIDA is releasing several new funding opportunity announcements related to the NIH HEAL (Helping to End Addiction Long-term) Initiative. Researchers now can submit proposals for major projects funded through NIH HEAL in the areas of preventing opioid use disorder (OUD), improving OUD care in justice settings, determining the appropriate duration of treatment with medications to treat OUD, and better understanding how to manage mild or moderate OUD.

Prevention

Older adolescents and young adults (ages 16-30) are the group at highest risk for opioid initiation, misuse, OUD, and death from overdose, so targeting this age group for prevention interventions could have a sizeable impact on reducing the toll of opioid misuse and addiction. The research project called Preventing At-Risk Adolescents from Developing Opioid Use Disorder as they Transition into Adulthood will develop and test strategies to prevent initiation of opioid misuse and development of OUD in different healthcare settings (including primary care, emergency departments, urgent care, HIV/STI clinics, and school or college health clinics) as well as workplaces and justice settings. NIDA will fund a suite of integrated studies developing, testing, and validating screening and prevention tools in areas most affected by the opioid crisis or with indicators of an emerging crisis. For more information on funding opportunities related to this project, see the funding opportunity announcements for the Coordinating Center and research studies.

Criminal Justice System

Substantial research over the past several years has highlighted the consequences of untreated OUD in justice-involved populations—for instance, the high rates of overdose death among people recently released from prison—as well as showing the benefits of treating opioid-addicted prisoners using medication. It remains unknown what specific strategies are most effective at addressing opioid addiction in this population and reducing adverse outcomes. As part of the HEAL Initiative, NIDA will fund the creation of a network of researchers who can rapidly conduct studies aimed at exploring the effectiveness and adoption of medications, interventions, and technologies in justice settings.

The Justice Community Opioid Innovation Network will implement a survey of addiction treatment delivery services in local and state justice systems around the country and will develop new research methods to ensure that treatment interventions have the maximum impact.  For more information, please see the funding opportunity announcements for the Coordination and Translation Center, Methodology and Advanced Analytics Resource Center, and the research centers. 

Other Initiatives

In addition to the above referenced projects, NIDA will be partnering with other NIH institutes and centers on several opioid-related research projects. HEAL funds will also be used to answer some important research questions to address the opioid crisis. For example, NIDA’s Clinical Trials Network (CTN) will be utilized to determine the optimal length of medication treatment for opioid addiction and to identify treatment strategies to manage patients who present to primary or integrated care settings with low-level opioid misuse or OUD. Finally, HEAL funds are being considered to support a longitudinal study to understand the consequences of pre- and postnatal opioid and other substance exposure on the developing brain and behavior.

A silver lining of the dark cloud of the opioid crisis is that it has galvanized communities, healthcare systems, and government agencies to take significant steps toward ending opioid misuse and addiction in a compassionate, science-based way. The funds granted by Congress as part of the NIH HEAL. Initiative will accelerate scientific solutions to the crisis and generate new knowledge that will prevent future drug crises, as well as inform many other areas of medicine and public health. Information related to these projects is available on the NIH site.

Find Help Near You

The following website can help you find substance abuse or other mental health services in your area: www.samhsa.gov/Treatment. If you are in an emergency situation, people at this toll-free, 24-hour hotline can help you get through this difficult time: 1-800-273-TALK. Or click on: www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org

Is Your Faith Based on Circumstances?

“Rejoice always, pray continuously, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus” (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18).

Matthew Henry tells us in Matthew Henry’s Concise Commentary on the Whole Bible, “A truly religious life is a life of constant joy” (p. 1175). Paul was a living example of this. While under house arrest, he wrote his letter to the Philippians. Although he was living at home, he was chained to a Roman guard around the clock and was not able to go anywhere. He knew his trial was likely years away. Given that God had called him to preach the Gospel to the Gentiles, he was stuck in Rome unable to plant new churches or visit with those he was nurturing by letter. Certainly, he had every right to complain. He’d been beaten, shipwrecked, and persecuted for Jesus. Instead, his letter to the church at Philippi was filled with rejoicing. He wrote, “Now I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that what has happened to me has actually served to advance the Gospel” (Philippians 1:12, NIV).

Eugene Peterson puts an amazing focus on Philippians 1. In essence, Paul is saying, “I want to report to you, friends, that my imprisonment here has had the opposite of its intended effect. Instead of being squelched, the Message has actually prospered. All the soldiers here, and everyone else, too, found out that I’m in jail because of this Messiah. That piqued their curiosity, and now they’ve learned all about him. Not only that, but most of the followers of Jesus here have become far more sure of themselves in the faith than ever, speaking out fearlessly about God, about the Messiah” (v. 12-14, MSG).

Paul essentially said his sufferings for Christ had furthered the Gospel by provoking others to zeal for Him. Paul focused on preaching the Gospel no matter the circumstances in which he found himself. He wanted nothing more than to worship God in Spirit, rejoice in Christ, deny his flesh, forge ahead toward the prize, looking only toward the Savior, striving to be an example for others. He added, “As long as I’m alive in this body, there is good work for me to do. If I had to choose right now, I hardly know which I’d choose. Hard choice! The desire to break camp here and be with Christ is powerful. Some days I can think of nothing better. But most days, because of what you are going through, I am sure that it’s better for me to stick it out here. So I plan to be around awhile, companion to you as your growth and joy in this life of trusting God continues. You can start looking forward to a great reunion when I come visit you again. We’ll be praising Christ, enjoying each other” (v. 22-26, MSG).

TRUST REQUIRES PATIENCE

Trusting God always requires patience, because God doesn’t work on our timetable. Patience allows us to enjoy life while we wait. No doubt this is a difficult proposition. We are, after all, only human. We measure success and failure, happiness and disappointment, in terms of emotion first and then in actual results. When we feel bad, especially when we really, truly hurt, we want a way out right away. For many, including me, that can include drugs and alcohol. I ran from hurt and pain for decades. I simply had no concept of or capacity for patience.

Quite often the reason God is requiring us to wait is simply that He is using our difficulty to work patience in us. Learning to be patient is important enough to God’s plan—for us and for those whom we will touch with our lives—that I believe he ordains everything we go through. He is not going to short-change His plans by giving us what we want the second we want it. Sadly, however, the desire for instant gratification causes many people to make snap decisions. Some get high or drunk. Some spend beyond their means. Others have sex without thinking. Some marry someone who is wrong for them because they’re not willing to wait for the right someone. The false belief that we should have instant gratification is at the root of our unwillingness to suffer through the bad times.

It’s not easy being a Christian in today’s pluralistic society where moral relativism, hatred, distrust, bigotry, and fear run rampant. There seems to be an increasing tension between Christians and non-believers. When we focus on others rather than Jesus, we see them as enemies instead of children of God worthy of our love and respect. Admittedly, culture has taken a dramatic shift recently. Religion is no longer seen as a social good. Instead, it is considered an old, awkward, worldview that is no longer relevant.

GOD’S VOICE IN OUR CIRCUMSTANCES

As Christians, we all want to hear from God. I’ve often dropped to my knees and begged Him to say something—anything—as long as it was aloud. I wanted to know if He was there. Was He listening to me at all? Did He care about what was happening to me? What did He want me to do? It is even more challenging to determine what God is not saying in any given situation. He spoke to the prophets in the Old Testament. He appeared before non-believers. He sent angels. He told people what to do. He even told them what not to do. And He often accompanied these directives with promises—blessings and curses. He was often extremely clear about His wishes.

Today, we tend to expect the grandiose voice of God—and sometimes God speaks that way. More often, though, His voice comes through more subtly. God often speaks to us through the quiet moments, through other people, and through life’s circumstances. It can be difficult to distinguish His voice from the chaos of our situation. In order to decipher what God is saying, it is important to know and understand His Word. Spending time in the Scriptures will help us hear His voice. He will never contradict Himself. He will never speak to us through our circumstances in a manner that goes against His written Word. The Bible must be our yard stick. And when He puts others in our path to guide us, we need to distinguish between those who practice seeking the heart of God from those whose ambition is to control and manipulate others.

It is extremely important to remember that one incident is not necessarily indicative of God’s intent for our entire life. One swallow does not a summer make. (Google it!) Never make a life-changing decision on one event or one set of circumstances because God may or may not be speaking through this particular event. We need to look over the span of months and years. It is critical that we ask ourselves, Where is God leading me? He chose us and ordained our lives even before we were formed in the womb. I met a recovered addict last summer while serving as on-site manager for a motel. He was working as an itinerant electrician at a new gas-fired power plant being built in my area. He said, “God wants me to tell you something.” My ears always perk up when I hear someone say that! “God says everything you’ve been through from the moment you were born until you met me right now, all the good and the bad, was ordained by Him to help make you into the man He needs you to be in order to fulfill your calling.”

We must never put God in a box. He is much more infinite and all-knowing than we can ever grasp. No matter what the dire, dreary circumstance, God can turn each into a hopeful future. He can reverse, restore, revive, and renew. We need only look for His plans that are already in motion right now, even in the midst of our difficult time. Trust Him. He can take any circumstance and use it for our good and His glory.

Offense Kills!

 

HATE.png

As humans, we’re easily offended. We fail to understand, however, that offense can become resentment; this, in turn, can lead to anger. Ultimately, unresolved anger can morph into hatred. Hatred, if left unchecked, can destroy us.

Hatred corrodes the container it’s carried in.

John Bevere, in his book The Bait of Satan: Living Free from the Deadly Trap of Offense, tells us the issue of offense is often the most difficult obstacle an individual will face in his or her life. Jesus wisely told His disciples, “…if your brother or sister sins against you, rebuke them; and if they repent, forgive them” (Luke 17:3, NIV). Bevere writes, “Often when we are offended we see ourselves as victims and blame those who have hurt us. We justify our bitterness, unforgiveness, anger, envy, and resentment as they surface. Sometimes we even resent those who remind us of others who have hurt us” (p.10). Hatred actually walls us off—from God and from others. Proverbs 18:19 says, “A brother offended is harder to be won than a strong city; and their contentions are like the bars of a castle.”

THE WALLS WE BUILD

We build walls when we are hurt to safeguard our hearts and prevent any future wounds. We become selective, denying entry to all we fear might hurt us. This could not be more true when it comes to romantic relationships. We’ve all heard the phrase, “He comes with a lot of emotional baggage.” Perhaps you’re married and have spent the night on the couch after offending your spouse. Unfortunately, without our knowing, these walls we construct become a prison. We guard our rights and personal relationships carefully. But there is a huge trade-off here. If we don’t risk being hurt, we cannot give unconditional love. We avoid the hurt, yes, but we inadvertently cut off the good as well. I’m a huge Garth Brooks fan. One of my favorite songs by him is The Dance, which brilliantly and poignantly touches on this topic.

Bevere believes when we are offended and in unforgiveness and refuse to repent of this sin, we fail to walk in the knowledge of the truth. We are deceived, and we confuse other Christians and non-believers with our hypocritical lifestyle. We become a spring that spews forth bitter waters. You see, those who are planted in the love of Christ and the will of God will flourish. But those who harbor resentment, anger, and hatred will isolate. They will begin to avoid those with whom they are angry. Social connections will begin to die off. Wither on the vine. They become miserable and their prayer life begins to suffer. The unavoidable result is a faltering relationship with Jesus. This can only lead to a diminished capacity to forgive and to love. This is nothing less than a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Worse yet, offended people begin to believe everyone is out to get them. With this attitude it is difficult for them to see areas in their own lives that need to be changed. God simply did not create us to live alone on an island. We are to love and care for one another. We are social beings. We are flesh and blood, but we are also spiritual. If we stop confronting our own character flaws, we fail to grow. Spiritual perfection is not about being perfect—never making a mistake. If you’re attending a church where that message is taught, it’s time to find a biblical church. Spiritual maturity is about growth. It’s about maturity. When we blame everyone else, we stymie our growth. We fail to see the plank in our own eye. In this regard, we are literally hiding from reality.

THE THREE MOST HARMFUL EMOTIONS

In her book Living Beyond Your Feelings, Joyce Meyer addresses the topic of anger. She says the three most harmful negative emotions are anger, guilt, and fear. She believes anger is number one. When a crime is described as being one of passion, that means it was incited by anger. Anger is such a dangerous emotion that people end up in prison because of what it causes them to do. This begs the question, “Is hate instinctive?” What I do know is unconditional love—true, God-like agape love—comes only from God (see 1 Corinthians 13:4-7). In the flesh, we have no capacity for this kind of love.

Nothing justifies an attitude of hatred. I must admit I’ve hated in the past. I did not get along with my father. I allowed my anger to boil over into hatred. It poisoned my relationship with him. It created a dark film over my eyes; I saw everything he did through that distorted view. It robbed me of the opportunity to learn from him. It caused me to fear and avoid him. Hatred will change your worldview. We see the world not so much as it is but as we are—as we are conditioned to see it. You see yourself and the world in a particular way, mostly based on environmental factors. This is both paralyzing and empowering. It is not uncommon to find yourself wondering How did I get here, to this place, at this point in my life?

Anger shows up in many ways: it criticizes, withdraws, ridicules, humiliates, teases, puts down, strikes out physically (against people and property); it causes poor concentration, bad decisions, a miserable life, depression (when turned inward), drug and alcohol abuse, bullying, passive-aggressive behavior, disrespect. It causes a spike in adrenaline and cortisol, which creates anxiety and the sensation of fight-or-flight. It can lead to headaches, digestive problems, insomnia, high blood pressure, skin problems, heart attack, or stroke.

WHAT ABOUT RECONCILIATION?

Jesus told His disciples, “What you are in your heart is how you really are!” That is quite an accusation. Humility and meekness were paramount to His ministry. So was gentleness and kindness; forgiveness and compassion. He illustrated the importance of letting go of anger and bitter offense. He indicated that not dealing with anger can lead to hatred. Reconciliation was far more important than being right. Obviously, there are limitless scenarios for offense. Maybe the person who offended us was truly wrong. Perhaps we’re convinced of the reasonableness of our anger. We feel justified. However, Jesus exhorts us to reconcile even if the offense is not our fault. It takes maturity to walk in humility in order to bring reconciliation. This is what is meant by being a peacemaker. Romans 14:19 says, “Let us therefore make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification” (NIV).

Reconciliation involves a change in a relationship, either between you and God or between you and another person. It assumes a breakdown in the relationship and a need for restoration. Of course, reconciliation is the objective work between God and man through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross (2 Corinthians 5:19). Reconciliation is also the subjective work between a man and his wife; between a brother and his sibling; between a supervisor and his or her subordinate; between two best friends. We are to pursue that which makes for peace between us. We need to remember that pride is anathema to this process. Pride defends. Pride blames others. Humility agrees, and says, “You’re right. I should not have acted that way. Please forgive me.” This takes Godly wisdom. Paul tells us in Ephesians 5:1 that we are to imitate God.

THE WAR WITHIN

We often feel like a war is going on within us. Our renewed inner man wants to do what we know is right. The apostle Paul fought this battle. He wrote, “I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the Law is good… for I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing” (Romans 7:15, 16, 19, NIV). The key is learning to understand the difference between flesh and spirit. We need to practice crucifying the flesh daily, walking instead in the Spirit. In newness of life. Scripture tells us that when we receive Christ as our Savior and Lord, He gives us a new nature (see 2 Corinthians 5:17). He imparts to us His nature. He grants us access to a spirit of temperance. He gives us not a spirit of fear but of sound mind (see 2 Timothy 1:7).

This battle also applies to forgiving those who have offended us. Many people—believers and non-believers alike—decide forgiving others is just too hard. They choose avoidance instead. They wallow in unforgiveness. They stew. They allow resentment to build. They become callous. They build walls. Stop making friends. After all, they’ll only get hurt again. People suck, right? But deciding not to forgive can be spiritually crippling. The Bible clearly says that if we don’t forgive others, God will not forgive us (see Matthew 6:14-15). If we allow this to happen, we’re permitting sin to stand between us and God. We will find it difficult to hear His will for us. We won’t be able to sense His presence. I know firsthand that harboring resentment robs us of peace, restful sleep, happiness, relationships, contentment, joy. It affects our physical and mental health. It robs us of our spiritual well being.

Do you have someone in your life that has wronged you? Have you been harboring anger, resentment, unforgiveness? Speak to God about it. Ask Him to forgive you of your unforgiveness. Seek His guidance on how to best approach that individual. Then, when you feel led by the Holy Spirit, go to him or her. And whatever you do, give that person the freedom to be themselves in the same manner you expect to be given the freedom to be you. We’re all children of God. Love and forgive others in the same manner that He loves and forgives you.

References

Bevere, J. (2004). The Bait of Satan: Living Free from the Deadly Trap of Offense. Lake Mary, FL: Charisma House Publishing.

Meyer, J. (2011). Living Beyond Your Feelings. New York, NY: Faith Words

Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture references are from the King James Version.