What It Feels Like to do Nothing

By Steven Barto, B.S. Psych.
Excerpts from The Demon in the Freezer written by Richard Preston.

I feel like I’m hiding from responsibility. Or, more specifically, my calling. I feel stuck. Stymied. Like a deer caught in the frickin’ headlights. The more of nothing I do, the less I feel like there’s anything I can do. This hit me hard last evening while reading a chapter in Richard Preston’s book The Demon in the Freezer. Preston also wrote the best-selling book The Hot Zone, which was recently a featured mini-series on National Geographic starring Juilanna Margulies.

The Demon in the Freezer is Preston’s true account of the inside story on virus outbreaks and the history of biological weapons. [You can order a copy of the book at Amazon.com] In the chapter called “Strange Trip,” he takes us on a wild ride that begins with Dr. Lawrence Brilliant (his real name) and Wavy Gravy, who met at Woodstock, and ends with participation in the Eradication Program for smallpox started by the World Health Organization in New Delhi. As I read this chapter, I saw strange but convincing parallels to my own life. Like Dr. Brilliant did initially, I have been postponing the fulfillment of God’s call on my life. Not unlike Dr. Brilliant and Wavy Gravy, much of this hindrance has been fueled by chronic drug and alcohol use that became what the DSM-5 (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition) calls Substance Use Disorder (SUD).

I will provide a complete account of “Strange Trip” in this blog article, and will jump in here and there to describe how this tale mimics my sloth-like approach to life and to my mission. I’ll comment on the terrible danger of allowing your journey to be interrupted; explaining what it’s like to tune God out and concentrate on assuaging emotional and physical pain as if my life depended on it. I don’t intend to go easy on myself. This is an important story that will hopefully inspire someone else to get off their rump and begin the trip that God has laid out before them. Failure to do so will haunt you. A Christian friend of mine recently told me, “God wants you to know that if you don’t do what He has called you to do, He will get someone else to do it!”

LET’S GET STARTED

There is no other way to do life but to do it the right way.

IN THE SUMMER OF 1970, a twenty-six-year-old medical doctor named Lawrence Brilliant finished his internship at Presbyterian Hospital in San Francisco. He had been diagnosed with a tumor of the parathyroid gland and was recovering from an operation, so he was not able to go on with this residency. He was living on Alcatraz Island in San Fransisco Bay, where he was giving medical help to a group of Native Americans who had occupied Alcatraz in a protest. He ended up doing some interviews on television from the island, and a producer from Warner Bros. saw one of them and offered him a role in a movie. The movie was Medicine Ball Caravan, about hippies who go to England and end up at a Pink Floyd concert. Larry Brilliant played a doctor… The movie also featured Wavy Gravy, one of the founders of the Hog Farm commune in Llano, New Mexico. The Hog Farm commune had recently become famous for running the food kitchen at the Woodstock festival, where they also provivded security…

Medicine Ball Caravan was shot first in San Francisco and then in England, and during the shooting Brilliant and Gravy became friends… In England, Brilliant and his wife, Girija, and Wavy and his wife, Jahanara Gravy—she’s from Minnesota and is said to have been Bob Dylan’s girlfriend and perhaps even the model for the “Girl of the North Country”—pondered what to do next in life. A terrible cyclone had hit the delta of the Ganges River in the Bay of Bengal, in what was then East Pakistan (now Bangladesh), and the eye of the cyclone had passed over an island named Bhota. A hundred and fifty thousand people had drowned when a tidal surge had covered the entire island. The Brilliants and the Gravys hit on the idea of buying a bus and carrying food and medicines to the devastated islanders.

“Wavy and I and our wives—who, remarkably, are still our wives—drove to Kathmandu,” Brilliant said. They started with a rotten old British Leyland bus that they bought cheap in London. They painted it in psychedelic colors and filled the bus with medicine and food and a bunch of hippie friends. They bought a second bus in Germany and equipped it similarly, and the Brilliant-Gravy bus entourage made its way slowly through Turkey and Iran. The buses wandered around Afghanistan for months, and they made it over the Khyber Pass, following the same road that Peter Los and his friends had driven a little more than a year earlier in their Volkswagen bus.

The Brilliant-Gravy expedition wound slowly through Pakistan and crossed into India. Civil war had broken out between East and West Pakistan—this was the independence war of Bangladesh—and the border of Bangladesh had been closed, so they couldn’t get their buses into the country. They turned northward into Nepal, and eventually the buses pulled into Kathmandu. “Wavy got sick and ended up going back to the U.S. weighing about eighty pounds,” Brilliant says. The Brilliants abandoned their bus in Kathmandu and went to New Delhi, India. It seems that the Brilliants were pondering what to do next in life, and nothing was coming along.

Like the Brilliants, many of us tend to get derailed from our plans by difficulties and choose indecision. For me, I’ve had plans to serve the LORD in some capacity at numerous times during my life. I remember telling my grandmother many decades ago that every time I ignore God’s call on my life I end up failing miserably at whatever I decide to do instead. Invariably, that has always led to rather troublesome developments. It’s as if God pulled back on His blessings and waited for me to return to Him ready to serve. Dr. Brilliant and his wife stumbled around India for some time not sure what to do. One day they were in an American Express office in New Delhi collecting their mail, when they met Baba Ram Dass. Baba had recently been Professor Richard Alpert of Harvard University, but he and a colleague, Professor Timothy Leary, had been kicked out of Harvard for advocating the use of LSD.

Richard Preston’s book continues.

Baba Ram Dass spoke glowingly of a holy man named Neem Karoli Baba, who was the head of an ashram at the foot of the Himalayas in a remote district in northern India where the borders of China, India, and Nepal come together. Girija Brilliant was captivated by Baba Ram Dass’s talk of the holy man, and she wanted to meet him, though Larry was not interested. Girija insisted, and so they went. They ended up living in the ashram and becoming devotees of Neem Karoli Baba… He was a famous guru in India, and the people sometimes called him Blanket Baba. The Brilliants learned Hindi, meditated, and read the Bhagavad Gita. Meanwhile, Larry ran an informal clinic in the ashram, giving out medicines that he’d taken off the bus when they’d left it in Kathmandu. One day, he was outdoors at the ashram, singing Sanskrit songs with a group of students, watching them sing. He fixed his eye on Brilliant.

Preston reports that the guru wanted to know how much money Brilliant had. When Brilliant told him he had five-hundred dollars, Blanket Baba asked how much money Brilliant had back home in America. The answer was the same—five hundred dollars. The conversation got quite interesting at this point.

Blanket Baba got a sly grin and started chanting, in Hindi, “You have no money… you are no doctor… you have no money,” and he reached forward and tugged on Brilliant’s beard. Brilliant didn’t know how to answer. Neem Karoli Baba switched to English and kept on chanting. “You are no doctor… UNO doctor… UNO doctor.” UNO can stand for United Nations Organization.

The guru was saying to his student (or so the student now thinks) that his duty and destiny—his dharma—was to become a doctor with the United Nations. “He made this funny gesture, looking up at the sky,” Brilliant recalled, “and he said in Hindi, ‘You are going to go into villages. You are going to eradicate smallpox. Because this is a terrible disease. But with God’s grace, smallpox will be unmulum.'” The guru used a formal old Sanskrit word that means “to be torn up by the roots.” Eradicated. The word “unmulum” comes from an Indo-European root that is at least ten thousand years old—the word is probably older than smallpox.

“So I said, ‘What do I do?’ And he said, ‘Go to New Delhi. Go to the office of the World Health Organization. Go get your job. Jao, jao, jao.’ That means, ‘Go, go go.'” Brilliant packed a few things and left the ashram that night—the guru seemed to be in a rush to “unmulate” smallpox. The trip to New Delhi took seventeen hours by rickshaw and bus. When Brilliant walked into the office of the WHO, it was nearly empty. It had just been set up, and almost no one was working there. The government of India was then headed by Indira Gandhi, and she was skeptical of the Eradication Program and had not yet approved it. The first person Brilliant met was the head of the office, Dr. Nicole Grasset.

“I was wearing a white dress and sandals,” Brilliant says, “I’m five feet nine, and my beard was something like five feet eleven, and my hair was in a ponytail down my back.” Grasset had no job to offer him, so Brilliant returned to the monastery and, having not slept in at least thirty-six hours, reported back to the guru. “Did you get your job?” “No.” “Go back and get it.”

A PERSONAL MISSION

The guru was convinced Brilliant would get his job eradicating smallpox. It was, after all, his dharma—his “calling.” Brilliant returned to New Delhi. Dr. Grasset was quite shocked to see him again, but nothing had changed. There was no job. Brilliant went back and forth between New Delhi and the ashram at least a dozen times. I’m not sure if this indicated Brilliant was like a dog with a bone, determined to get his job, or that God had called him to this task, which would ultimately materialize. Each time he returned, the guru would say, “Don’t worry, you’ll get your job. Smallpox will be unmulum, uprooted.” Brilliant returned to the WHO in New Delhi.

“On one of my trips, there was this tall guy sitting in the lobby of the WHO office. He looked up and said, ‘Who are you? What are you doing here?'” “I’ve come to work for the smallpox program,” Brilliant replied. “There isn’t much of a program here.” “My guru says it will be eradicated. Who are you?” “I’m D.A. Henderson. I’m the head of the program.”

Henderson, for his part, was a little put off by Brilliant’s white dress and his talk of a guru predicting a wipeout of smallpox. That day, Henderson wrote a note in the employment record, “Nice guy, sincere. Appears to have gone a little native…” Indira Gandhi was herself a devotee of Neem Karoli Baba, and she had visited him at the monastery, where she had bowed down to him and touched his feet and asked for his advice. Blanket Baba wanted smallpox pulled up by the roots, and he was annoyed at Mrs. Gandhi for resisting the efforts of the World Health Organization to get on with the job…

Brilliant thought he’d increase his chances of getting a job if he looked more Western, so every time he returned to New Delhi he trimmed off some of his beard and shortened his ponytail, and he began to replace articles of clothing. He ended up with medium-long hair and a short beard, and he was dressed in a checkered polyester suit with extra-wide lapels, a thick polyester tie, and a lime green Dacron shirt. He had made himself unnoticeable, for the seventies. By that time, Nicole Grasset had decided to hire him, and D.A. Henderson agreed that he might have some potential as an eradicator. He started as a typist.

At this point, it is obvious Brilliant was determined to get the job he’d been called to do. He remained obstinate and did not take no for an answer. Moreover, he made the necessary changes to accomplish his goal, especially his outward appearance that was distracting people from seeing him for who he truly was: a man destined to help eradicate smallpox from the world. Interestingly, as we’ll see later, the simple decision to learn to speak Hindi allowed Brilliant to get through to the native Hindi people to get vaccinated. Had he known only English, or had to speak through an interpreter, I don’t believe he would have been as well received. Fulfilling our calling often revolves around similar commitments and changes.

I’m sure most of us can see ourselves in the example of Dr. Brilliant. When we feel compelled—indeed, called—to do something, we invariably go through stages of action and inaction, assurance and doubt, but if we believe in the call on our life we will remain tenacious. Unfortunately, on many occasions the devil throws every possible obstacle in our path to stop us from answering that call. For me, it was a number of things, ranging from materialism to pride, but the toughest hurdle has been my struggle with active addiction. In fact, the longest time I have remained at a job in my life was three years. I have a friend who’s had two jobs since high school, and both are in the same industry! Moreover, I have finally completed the first step in answering God’s call: I’ve obtained my B.S. in Psychology at age 59, and I am starting my Master’s in Theology in August.

Preston’s chapter continues.

Eventually, they sent Brilliant to a nearby district to handle smallpox outbreaks, where if he got into trouble they could pull him out quickly. He saw his first cases of variola major. “You can’t see smallpox and not be impressed,” he said. He began to organize vaccination campaigns in villages. He would go into a village where there was smallpox, rent an elephant, and ride through the village telling people in Hindi that they should get vaccinated. People didn’t want to be vaccinated. They felt that smallpox was an emanation of the goddess of smallpox, Shitala Ma, and that therefore the disease was part of the sacred order of the world; it was the dharma of the people to have visitations from the disease.

Brilliant traveled all over India with Henderson and the other leaders of the Eradication, and they came to know one another intimately. “D.A. read nothing but war novels and books about Patton and other great generals in history,” Brilliant said. “Nicole Grasset read nothing except scientific things. Bill Foege was reading philosophy and Christian literature—he’s a devout Lutheran. I was reading mystical literature.” They ran a fleet of five hundred jeeps. They had a hundred and fifty thousand people working for the program, mostly on very small salaries. For a year and a half, at the peak of the campaign, every house in India was called on once a month by a health worker to see if anyone there had smallpox. There were a hundred and twenty million houses in India, and Brilliant estimates that the program made almost two billion house calls during that year and a half.

After he helped eradicate smallpox—his “calling”—Larry Brilliant did other things. He became one of Jerry Garcia’s physicians. He became the founder and co-owner of the Well, a famous early Internet operation. He was the CEO of SoftNet, a software company that reached three billion dollars in value on the stock market during the wild years of the Internet. He and his wife had three children. He eventually obtained the position of professor of epidemiology at the University of Michigan, and, along with Wavy Gravy and Baba Ram Dass, he established a medical foundation called the Seva Foundation. Today, that operation has cured two million people of blindness in India and Nepal.

“I’ve done a lot of things in life,” Brilliant said, “but I’ve never encountered people as smart, as dedicated, as hardworking, as kind, or as noble as the people who worked on smallpox. Everything about them—D.A. Henderson, Nicole Grasset, Zdenek Jezek, Steve Jones, Bill Foege, Isao Arita, the other leaders—everything about them as people was secondary to the work of eradicating smallpox. We hated smallpox.”

There were numerous setbacks during the World Health Organization’s campaign to eradicate smallpox. In fact, there were two false conclusions that the virus had been wiped out. Each time, the eradicators implemented known procedures, creating vaccination “rings” around the outbreaks. On October 27, 1977, a hospital cook in Somalia named Ali Maow Maalin broke out with the world’s final natural case of variola. They vaccinated fifty-seven thousand people around him, and the final ring tightened, and the life cycle of the smallpox virus stopped.

CONCLUDING REMARKS

God calls upon believers and non-believers alike to do His work. Although I am a theist of Christian belief, I take nothing away from the actions and the determination of Baba Ram Dass and Neem Karoli Baba. It is important to note, for the record, that I believe such brave and dedicated non-believers have not earned their salvation in spite of their paramount accomplishments. Salvation comes from Christ alone through faith in Christ alone. I can only hope individuals such as these brave warriors against smallpox come to know the truth during their mortal lifetime and make a conscious decision to accept the saving grace of God through the shedding of the blood of Jesus on the cross.

I will say, however, that these people we’ve read about today convicted me to stop making excuses for my long periods of inactivity, disobedience, and selfishness. I am sure the conviction I felt when reading the chapter “Strange Trip” in Preston’s book, and, moreover, while writing this blog post, came from the Holy Spirit. It is, after all, through the worldview I hold as a Christian that I receive and believe in such guidance and conviction. It is my responsibility to listen to that small voice and take steps to stop the practice of habitual sin. To cease walking in and serving the flesh and begin to walk in the Spirit of God.

Only by coming to grips with our humanity—our total lack of inability to conquer the flesh and discontinue all sinning—can we hope to stop the practice of sin. Furthermore, the flesh and its myriad distractions will drown out the voice of God. We will fail to hear Him tell us who we are in His Son, Christ Jesus. We will miss the calling on our lives. How will we know if our failure to step up and listen to God’s plans for us will result in, for example, the deaths of millions of people because we did not become the “eradicator” He needs us to be. To wipe out whatever we’re called to wipe out, whether it be smallpox, addiction, human trafficking, terrorism, violence, or mental illness?

We don’t know unless we surrender and start listening to God.

References

American Psychiatric Association (2013). Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition.

Preston, R. (2002). The Demon in the Freezer: A True Story. New York, NY: Random House.

In Whom Are Hidden All the Treasures of Wisdom and Knowledge

“My goal is that [you] may be encouraged in heart and united in love, so that [you] may have the full riches of complete understanding, in order that [you] may know the mystery of God, namely, Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (Colossians 2:2-3, NIV).

By Steven Barto, B.S. Psych.

Paul’s opening statement in Colossians is what I like to refer to as very meaty. It is rich beyond what we can comprehend, containing much promise for the Colossians. It applies to us today as much as it did to those living in Colossae. Paul wanted the Colossians to grasp what was available to them as new Christians. They were to be encouraged in heart and united in love, enjoying the full riches of complete understanding. He noted that through Jesus they had access to the mystery of God. Not that they would know the mind of God, or be like God; rather, that they would begin to comprehend all the hidden treasures of knowledge and wisdom that was revealed through Christ Jesus.

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Revealed through Him? Yes. He walked in complete harmony with the Father, determined to do the Father’s will no matter what it cost. He was the embodiment of love, yielded to the will of the Father—even unto death—and exemplified compassion for the lost and the downtrodden. If Christ were to walk the Earth in the twenty-first century, I have no doubt He would teach, admonish, heal, and serve everyone no matter their personality, sexual orientation, political affiliation, denomination, afflictions, habits, or hangups. Jesus Christ came that all might know the Father through Him. He only displayed anger and disappointment when confronting the self-righteous. The Pharisees. The Hypocrites.

That’s a strange phrase: the self-righteous. In the secular world, it means “having or characterized by a certainty, especially an unfounded one, that one is totally correct or morally superior” That is a rather convicting statement even without a spiritual component. I’ve known some self-righteous people in my life. Some who know me might think the term applies to me. I’ll admit I have a difficult time being humble, but I’ve never felt morally superior. On the contrary, I have often felt inferior, shameful, unable to be redeemed. I have often struggled with being trustworthy, honest, or transparent. The root-cause of these rather ugly traits are deep for me. It’s something I’ve worked hard to overcome. It has not been easy forgiving myself and shaking the sense of shame and guilt.

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It is not surprising that we cannot achieve “righteousness” on our own. Isaiah 64:6 says, “But we are all like an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are like filthy rags; we all fade as a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, have taken us away” (NKJV). Eugene Peterson translates this verse as follows: “We’re all sin-infected, sin-contaminated. Our best efforts are grease-stained rags. We dry up like autumn leaves—sin-dried, we’re blown off by the wind” (MSG). That’s quite an indictment. Who can stand before God clothed in such a manner and hope to survive His judgment? No one. We can’t save ourselves, earn God’s grace, pay the ransom for sin, or escape through our own power the punishment we justly deserve.

Today’s New Atheists want us to believe God is a heavenly despot who unjustly inflicts pain and takes away life. I’ve heard it said that there is no “free will” in Christianity. These militant atheists say that because God threatens us with hellfire and brimstone (and the gnashing of teeth) if we don’t accept the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, it’s as if God is holding a gun to our head, saying, “Believe in my Son or I will kill you.” These so-called scholars want to convince us that God kills with impunity. That He has no right to create a sentient being and then kill him for not believing in Him. My initial response is quite adamant: Yes He does. But beyond that, God never intended for mankind to suffer, or for His creation to be wrought with pestilence, disease, famine, disasters, wars, and death. Nothing is as God intended it to be.

I don’t believe God kills or hands out cancer, Alzheimer’s, heart disease, COPD, diabetes, or whatever infirmity you may list. He does not condone pedophilia, rape, murder, theft, deception, or environmental crimes. When our first parents, Adam and Eve, chose to disobey God’s one command (that’s all they had to do was not eat of the forbidden fruit), man (and thus mankind) fell from grace. Because of original sin, the Garden of Eden and access to the Tree of Life was closed off to all. Any attempt to behave or earn our way back into God’s grace (back into the Garden) is doomed to fail. Our own righteousness is like filthy rags. The righteousness of Christ, however, is white as the driven snow; as pure as the wool of a young lamb. It is sad, however, that many fail to see themselves as God sees them, including me.

IN WHOM ARE HIDDEN

According to the Dake’s Annotated Reference Bible, the phrase “in whom are hidden” in Colossians 2:3 does not necessarily mean in whom, but rather in which, referring to the mysteries of verse two. In these mysteries of the Gospel are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. In Romans 11:33-36, Paul wrote, “Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable his judgments, and his paths beyond tracing out! Who has known the mind of the Lord? Or who has been his counselor? Who has ever given to God, that God should repay them? For from him and through him and for him are all things. To him be the glory forever! Amen” (NIV). These mysteries have been revealed by God in Christ.

Jesus knows all. He created all. He died to save all. He sustains all. When we see Him, we see the Father (John 14:9). Jesus was one with the Father and the Holy Spirit even at the moment of Creation. In fact, John wrote, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made (John 1:1-3, NIV). John said that in Christ was life, and that life was the light of all mankind (v. 4). Genesis 1:26 reads as follows: “Then God said, ‘Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.'” (NKJV).

There are three possible explanations for God’s use of the plural “Us” in this instance. First, some believe God may be referring to Himself and the angels. I don’t agree with this conclusion given the rest of Scripture’s depiction of angels as representative servants or messengers of God who are not endowed with the power to create. Indeed, Lucifer’s fall from grace was a direct result of his wanting to be equal with God. Second, this could be what scholars call a plural of self-exhortation or self-encouragement, meaning God is referring only to Himself. This would also be referred to as “the royal ‘we,'” something we see used by human kings and rulers when making proclamations or decrees. I believe the third possibility is the truth: That God is speaking as a Trinity—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. According to Scripture, the Trinity was present as a whole at Creation. Genesis 1:2 describes the Spirit of God hovering over the waters, and John 1:1–3 reveals that the Word, Christ, was active in the creation of all things.

THAT WE MAY KNOW

Jesus simply knows all things. John 16:30 says, “Now we know that You know all things, and have no need for anyone to question You; by this we believe that You came from God” (NASB). The extent of Jesus’s knowledge was compelling proof of His divine origin. At the end of His time on earth Jesus pressed Peter: “The third time He said to him, ‘Simon son of John, do you love me?’ Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him the third time, ‘Do you love me?’ He said, ‘Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you.’ Jesus said, ‘Feed my sheep'” (John 21:17, NIV). Peter concluded from Jesus’s words that Jesus had knowledge of his heart. “You know all things” is a general and unqualified statement that John’s gospel presses on our minds.

The greatest thing that can be said of Jesus’s knowledge is that He knows God perfectly. We can only know God partially and imperfectly. Jesus knows Him like no one else can. He said, “All things have been committed to me by my Father. No one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him” (Matthew 11:27, NIV). Accordingly, our knowledge of the Father depends wholly on Jesus’s gracious revelation. But our knowledge of God is derivative, partial and imperfect. First Corinthians 13:12 says, “For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known” (NIV).

Mankind has been endowed with a certain kind of awareness—one which animals were not given. We possess the capacity for reason, morality, language, personality, and purpose. We can ponder the wonder and meaning of life. Morality and spirituality are unique to man. Like God, we possess the capacity to experience and understand love, truth, and beauty. In this manner, we are God’s chosen image-bearers. So when we accept Christ, we become one with Him in death and in new life. This must occur in order for us to see that which is hidden in Christ.

The desire to know the hidden treasures of God is truly a gift. Not everyone believes in any theistic being at all. Many do believe but don’t buy into the Christian faith or believe in the divinity of Christ. For those who do believe in Jesus, it is not a matter of believing in something or someone that is known through external observance. Instead, it is a matter of finding and knowing the truth by way of deep and serious meditation. It is a matter of faith. But the reward for such faith is full revelation of the reality, nature, character, morality, and truth of God.

Matthew Henry (1997) says our soul prospers when we have clear knowledge of the truth as it is in Christ. We not only believe with the heart, we also are ready (when called) to make confession with the mouth. The truth is so huge we cannot contain it within our own spirit. Knowledge and faith make the soul rich. The more we know and understand the truth, the stronger our faith. These true statements are hidden from non-believers. This, of course, includes the atheist who is determined to shout from the mountaintops how irrational and backward is our faith in Jesus. They simply cannot see the truth for they have chosen to reject the truth ad hoc.

Naturally, we cannot be built up in Christ, nor can we grow in Him, unless we are first rooted in Him—founded upon Him. Once established in the faith, we are exhorted  to abound and improve in it, working out our salvation daily. The Greek word for full assurance in Colossians 2:2 (plêrophoria) actually means “full and accurate knowledge” or “full persuasion.” This implies not only knowledge, but an accurate understanding of that knowledge. We cannot achieve such a degree of certainty by our own mental capacity. Thankfully, that which Paul is speaking about is literally revealed in and through Jesus. Christ Himself is the mystery in Whom all the treasures of wisdom are hidden. Understanding this passage of Scripture allows us to better understand why no one can “know” God through application of empirical tests and measurements. The fullness of the knowledge of God is revealed by the Father through the Son.

References

Dake, J. (2008). Dake’s Annotated Reference Bible. Lawrenceville, GA: Dake Publishing, Inc.

Henry, M. (1997). Matthew Henry’s Concise Commentary on the Whole Bible. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, Inc.

 

 

 

 

 

Do You Look for Loopholes as a Christian?

Written by Steven Barto, B.S. Psych.

The standard definition of a loophole is an ambiguity or inadequacy in a system, such as a law or a set of rules, which can be used to circumvent or otherwise avoid the purpose, implied or explicitly stated, of the system. It is basically a small mistake which allows people to do something that would otherwise be illegal. Generally, the cause of a loophole is a divergence between the text of the law (how it is written) and the meaning of the law (its intended effect).

Loophole Graphics

PHARISEES AND THEIR THEOLOGICAL LOOPHOLES

Pharisee Pointing

It’s no secret that the Pharisees of Jesus’ days were typically angry over infractions of the Sabaath. This was a huge issue between them and the Lord. Interestingly, the Pharisees created a loophole that allowed them to break their own rules regarding the Sabbath whenever convenient. According to Rabbinic teaching, a Jew could take no more than 3,000 steps on the Sabbath, nor carry more weight than half a dried fig. To circumvent this law, the Rabbis designed a small wearable tent. The tent had poles that rested upon their shoulders, lifting it from the ground. A chair was fastened to their rump Accordingly, they were not technically carrying anything. They would walk 3,000 steps, sit on the stool, then stand and walk 3,000 more steps, repeating the process over and over until they arrived at their intended destination. They declared the tent to be their home each time they sat down. Their “theology” gave them a loophole for travel and manual labor on the Sabbath if they found it necessary. Technically, they were in the clear. That’s what loopholes do for us—permit us to be “technically” right while breaking the rules.

CHRISTIANS AND THEIR LOOPHOLES

When Christians look for loopholes, they change Scripture to fit their circumstances. A believer with this mindset is not concerned with what Scripture dictates; rather, they are concerned about making Scripture say what they need it to say. Individuals who are Christian “in name only” look for loopholes. True followers of Christ don’t look for an out. Unfortunately, many believers today claim certain doctrines, proscriptions, or edicts in Scripture for “back in ancient times” rather than the modern church. This is basically a form of “progressive” Christianity, which flies in the face of God’s unchanging Word. Jesus is the same yesterday, today, and forever. Second Timothy 3:16 says, “All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness” (NIV). Ecclesiastes 3:14 says, “I know that whatever God does, It shall be forever. Nothing can be added to it, And nothing taken from it. God does it, that men should fear before Him” (NKJV).

PAUL

The Apostle Paul 001

Romans 7:19-21 says, “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. Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it. So I find this law at work: Although I want to do good, evil is right there with me” (NIV). It is important to note that Paul was not speaking about a non-believer, nor was he describing a carnal Christian. He was talking about a victorious disciple still at risk for sinful behavior. Admittedly, Paul is not speaking of the practice of sin by a believer—willfully sinning despite knowing the consequences.

Paul was leading a crucified life, putting on the righteousness of Christ (see verse 25). He delighted in the Law of God in the inward man (see verse 22). That means he was gratified by love, goodness, righteousness, and mercy. The part of his mind that was focused on serving God no longer practiced sin. His thoughts were on Jesus. He told the Christians at Corinth, “I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified” (1 Corinthians 2:2).

There were several aspects of Paul’s life where he had not yet received light. In such instances, he was taken captive by the law of sin in his flesh, causing him to do things he hated (see verse 23). Someone who is willfully committing sin is not doing what he hates. His mind approves of it. When desire is conceived, it gives birth to sin. We actually consent to the desire in our mind and sin is born. James 1:14-15 says, “But each person is tempted when they are dragged away by their own evil desire and enticed” (NIV). Such Christians are serving the law of sin with his or her mind.

THE LOOPHOLES OF ADDICTIVE BEHAVIOR

Addicts frequently use denial, rationalization, and loopholes to hide or downplay their abuse of drugs or alcohol. Heavy or chronic alcohol use leads to psychological and physical dependence and possible addiction. The Diagnostic and Statistics Manual of Psychiatric Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5) says substance abuse related disorders encompass separate classes of drugs: alcohol; caffeine; cannabis; hallucinogens; inhalants; opioids; sedatives; hypnotics; and stimulants. 

Here are four common loopholes used by alcoholics and addicts:

  1. I’ve already ruined everything. Addicts try to avoid or not acknowledge the consequences of their actions—at least until these consequences are severely compounded. Whether it’s losing a job, legal trouble, homelessness, dysfunction in the household, or all of the above, addiction progressively destroys lives. Although hitting “rock bottom” causes some to seek treatment, others justify continued addiction because they focus on the perceived irreparable damage they’ve caused. 
  2. I don’t deserve a happy, healthy life. According to the Journal of the American Medical Association, roughly half of all individuals diagnosed with a mental health disorder are also affected by substance abuse. Although this is a co-occurring diagnosis (often referred to in 12-step parlance as “double trouble”), it is not a loophole for addiction. Admittedly, feeling undeserving of a happy, healthy life due to mental health symptoms can be a trap. This often leads to drinking or drugging to self-medicate for chronic anxiety or depression. Accordingly, a loophole is created for continued use. 
  3. Now I can finally handle it. This justification is a loophole for relapse, as well as active addiction. When someone feels that their life is now more manageable—perhaps, due to a period of sobriety or fixing certain problems while in active addiction—they may justify drinking or taking drugs again or continuing to use. Unfortunately, the progressive nature of addiction quickly disproves this rationale. This loophole often rears its ugly head following inpatient treatment at a rehab. The individual feels he or she is “armed with” enough information to finally use safely.
  4. For me, it’s just normal life. For some, addiction is a solitary issue. For others, however, addiction may be shared with friends, family members, or partners. These individuals tend to justify their actions because they feel their behavior is part of the fabric of a relationship or social agenda. Even if someone believes their own addiction may be a problem, they can justify their dependency by referring to getting drunk or high as part of the “norms” of social life. 

MY FAVORITE LOOPHOLE

Unfortunately, I have often looked at certain habitual sins in the light of Paul’s own struggle, saying to myself, If the apostle Paul failed to resist the flesh and do what’s right, then how can I ever hope to do so? I am sure you see the hypocrisy of this conclusion. Basically, I have allowed this part of Paul’s teaching to serve as an excuse for what amounts to the “practice” of sin. Worse, the type of habitual sin that has been prevalent in my life involved deception, lying, and stealing narcotic painkillers from family members.

THE ADDICTED CHRISTIAN

Morgan Lee edited and published a provocative article in Christianity Today, called “Why a Drug Addict Wrote a Christianity Today Cover Story.” The article was written by Timothy King, a Christian who contracted very painful acute necrotizing pancreatitis. He was discharged on IV medication and given opiates for pain. Eventually, King’s doctor realized King’s reliance on narcotic painkillers was impeding his ability to eat and to recover from pancreatitis. Despite being a believer, King had become addicted to opiates.

Here is an excerpt from King’s article:

I use the term addicted. There are some medical professionals who use the word dependent because I didn’t go out and engage in behaviors typically associated with addiction. I chose to use the word addicted because it accurately describes my situation. It is a term I hope other people feel less stigma about in the future to describe their own situation. When we give the right name to something that is going on in our life, it kills its power over us. Naming something is incredibly important. Opioid addict is now tied to my name. I’ve had to think through that, but once again I have had a great community of support to encourage me about this story.

Whether deserved or not, believers struggling with an addiction are often shamed by the church rather than being provided an atmosphere for healing. Believers and non-believers alike are dying every day because of drug overdose. This should be cause for concern and a great opportunity for the church to be the church (the Body of Christ). After all, Christians are called to be a loving community of grace and healing. The church should not choose to see active addiction as a moral issue, ignoring the physical and psychological elements of the disorder. This only serves to ignore or sidestep this crisis, evidenced by believers (and some church leaders) who choose to sit on the sidelines, judging and ostracizing those who are suffering.

THE MINDSET OF A DISCIPLE

Paul answers his own question regarding his—indeed, our—struggle with sin that dwells within us. In Romans 7:25, Paul writes, “Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, on the one hand I myself with my mind am serving the law of God, but on the other, with my flesh the law of sin” (NASB). Before Jesus overcame the power of sin and darkness, leaving us with an example to follow, it was impossible to completely overcome all sin in the flesh. But Jesus sent the Holy Spirit Who can show us our sin (convict us) and teach us the way through it. Like Paul, when we repent and begin to serve God, we have a new mindset—it is no longer our conscious, daily choice to serve sin. What comes from our flesh is not necessarily done willfully.

When we are in Christ Jesus and choose to serve God with our mind and our spirit, there is no condemnation if we absentmindedly do the things we hate (see Romans 8:1). We aren’t condemned for being tempted (thoughts or feelings that entice us to sin), nor for actions we do which haven’t passed our conscious mind first, allowing us to make a conscious choice. But in order to accomplish this, we need to walk in the Spirit, which means acting according to the light that we receive. This comes only from allowing that light to illuminate our habitual sins. We will then be able to recognize the desires of the flesh—the body of sin that is to be crucified daily through Christ. How do we accomplish this? We count ourselves dead to sin. We can then be disciples of Jesus, denying ourselves and taking up our cross daily (see Luke 9:23-24).

Disciple is another word for a follower of Christ; one who is learning to be like his Master. originally meant pupil or apprentice. Too many Christians believe they became disciples of Jesus when they accepted His death, burial, and resurrection for forgiveness of their sins. We were certainly dead in our trespasses. Thankfully, we are forgiven through Christ. He made us alive together with Him (see Colossians 2:13). However, forgiveness of sin is not discipleship. Once we have received atonement for our sins and are reconciled with God through the crucifixion of Christ, we come to the beginning of a new us. We are now instructed to start following Jesus. Emulating the examples He provided to us during His life and ministry.

CONCLUDING REMARKS

If you or someone you love is struggling with addiction, closing the loopholes of active addiction may be imperative before seeking treatment. In reality, we can rebuild our lives. But this involves realizing that addiction is progressively destructive. Further, it is important to believe we deserved to be happy and healthy, and that active addiction is not a normal, fulfilling human existence. Jesus said, “The thief does not come except to steal, and to kill, and to destroy. I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly” (John 10:10, NKJV). Eugene Peterson translates this verse as follows: “A thief is only there to steal and kill and destroy. I came so they can have real and eternal life, more and better life than they ever dreamed of” (MSG). Living life in bondage to addiction is certainly not an abundant life.  

Second Corinthians 5:17 talks about new life in Christ: “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here” (NIV). When we recognize that old things have passed away, we stand a better chance of living life without resorting to loopholes. Frankly, making decisions based upon loopholes is the hallmark of an unrepentant carnal Christian. When we are truly “in Christ,” we are a new creation. Old things have passed away. This is the “abundant” life we read about in John 10:10. We cannot hope to have an abundant and glorious new life in Christ if we excuse our occasion to sin as something not even the apostle Paul could avoid.

 

 

 

A Plague of Darkness

“Then the LORD said to Moses, ‘Stretch out your hand toward the sky so that darkness spreads over Egypt—darkness that can be felt.’ So Moses stretched out his hand toward the sky, and total darkness covered all Egypt for three days. No one could see anyone else or move about for three days. Yet all the Israelites had light in the places where they lived” (Exodus 10:21-23, NIV).

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Written by Steven Barto, B.S. Psych.

The plagues of Egypt in the story of the Exodus are ten calamities inflicted upon Egypt by God in order to force Pharaoh’s hand to free the enslaved Hebrews. Pharaoh’s stubborn resolve caused Egypt to suffer extreme devastation because of the ten plagues. The Egyptians ultimately lost nearly everything, including their crops, potable water, livestock, their first-born sons, and even their army. One would think Pharaoh would get the message after seeing his land and its people suffer plagues of blood, frogs, lice (or gnats), flies, livestock, boils, hail, and locust infestation. Yet he remained defiant, refusing to free the Hebrews.

The LORD instructed Moses to call darkness down upon Egypt. Eugene Peterson’s translation of Exodus 10:21-23 states, “GOD said to Moses, ‘Stretch your hand to the skies. Let darkness descend on the land of Egypt—a darkness so dark you can touch it.’ Moses stretched out his hand to the skies. Thick darkness descended on the land of Egypt for three days. Nobody could see anybody. For three days no one could so much as move. Except the Israelites: they had light where they were living” (MSG). According to the Hebrew-Greek Key Word Study Bible, in the footnote, God created darkness, and He can use it against His enemies. This pervading darkness is also referenced in Joel 2:2a: “…a day of darkness and gloom, a day of clouds and blackness” (NIV).

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Matthew Henry’s Concise Commentary on the Whole Bible notes this plague as “darkness which might be felt, so thick were the fogs. It astonished and terrified. It continued three days; six nights in one; so long the most lightsome palaces were [as] dungeons” (p. 87). The Egyptians literally sat in a soup of darkness, unable to see anything or do anything. Pharaoh’s bullheadedness regarding God’s demand that he free the Hebrews brought upon Egypt a physical darkness that nothing could penetrate. Matthew Henry’s commentary states, “…never was [a] mind so blinded as Pharaoh’s, never was [the] air so darkened as Egypt”[emphasis mine].  If three days of utter, palpable darkness were so dreadful, I wonder what everlasting darkness will be like 

This darkness was specifically calculated by God to effect the spirit of the Egyptians, whose chief object of worship was Ra, the sun-god. Its suddenness and severity mark it as a preternatural withdrawal of light. No matter how you interpret the mechanism by which this darkness developed—thick clammy fog, vapors, a sandstorm, or chamsin—it was such that it overwhelmed the senses, and so protracted as to continue for three days. Seventy-two hours of sheer madness. The symbolism is uncanny given that the sun was an object of Egyptian idolatry. This calamity correlates with Revelation 16:10: “Then the fifth angel poured out his bowl on the throne of the beast, and his kingdom became full of darkness…” (NKJV).

The darkness that fell upon Egypt when Pharaoh refused to set the Hebrews free was not just darkness. Rather, it was a pervasive physical and metaphysical darkness so great and total that the Egyptians could not even safely walk through their houses without danger. Amazingly, the antithesis of this darkness is the miraculous Light of the LORD that shined in the homes of each Jewish family throughout the duration of this plague. God was not simply amusing Himself through the ten plagues. Rather, it showcased the cumulative effect of a complete and pervasive manifestation of God’s glorious justice—a literal example of the punishment God dishes out for complete and continual disobedience.

Darkness followed the plague of locusts without warning or pronouncement, signifying God’s relentless resolve. Its substance created conditions that were physically unbearable. Massive and considerably burdensome. This plague had a repressive impact on the mind and spirit of the Egyptians. Imagine having no physical reference point. No indication that anyone or anything existed. The nagging question would be, Where did everyone go? Even if the Egyptians could have moved, they would not have been able to outrun the darkness. It would have chased them down. It was the utter absence of life-giving light. Nothing can grow in darkness. All that is real and alive is choked off.

I cannot imagine darkness so thick it can be felt. The only event in my life that comes close to putting “utter darkness” in perspective involves a trip to an anthracite coal mine with my sons when they were younger. While 300 feet down in the mine shaft, the tour guide gave us a warning and then shut off the lights. You cannot fathom sheer darkness unless you experience it. I literally could not see my hand in front of my face, and lost all sense of where I ended and the darkness began.

The Amplified Bible expresses Exodus 10:21-23 as follows: “Then the LORD said to Moses, ‘Stretch out your hand toward the sky, so that darkness may come over the land of Egypt, a darkness which [is so awful that it] may be felt.’ So Moses stretched out his hand toward the sky, and for three days a thick darkness was all over the land of Egypt [no sun, no moon, no stars]. The Egyptians could not see one another, nor did anyone leave his place for three days, but all the Israelites had [supernatural] light in their dwellings.” The Dake’s Annotated Reference Bible says “…darkness which could be felt was so dense that no light could penetrate it enough for anything to be seen. No one could move from his place. This could be a picture of the outer darkness of hell.” The footnote regarding Moses stretching his hand toward heaven, although a simple gesture, showed the powerful result of Moses obeying the LORD. In other words, God said, “If you do this, I will do that,” and it came to pass in a flash.

WHEN GOD SPEAKS, WE MUST LISTEN AND OBEY

Malachi 2:2 states, “If you do not listen, and if you do not resolve to honor my name, says the LORD Almighty, I will send a curse on you, and I will curse your blessings. Yes, I have already cursed them, because you have not resolved to honor me” (NIV). Frankly, we can only “listen” to the LORD when we have prepared our hearts to hear Him. If you want to hear Him speak, you must be quiet, focusing on what He is saying. Listening for God’s voice requires having a desire to actually hear Him. Not surprisingly, this also requires making a conscious decision to block out the chaos around you and focusing your thoughts on Him. David said this in Psalm 143:8: “Let the morning bring me word of your unfailing love, for I have put my trust in you. Show me the way I should go, for to you I entrust my life” (NIV).

God Uses Darkness to Lead Us to the Light

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I love Isaiah 9:2, which says, “The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned” (NIV). It’s no secret that we are living in a fallen world; one marred by sin and disobedience, resulting in servitude, misery, illness, deceitfulness, hatred, bigotry, stubbornness, and countless calamities. It is rather easy to get discouraged under such circumstances. Worse, it is likely most of us forget the fallen nature of mankind and all of creation. Many believers today get ensnared by the devil, blaming God when bad things happen to good people. This is a sure sign that we’ve gone “heart blind.” This is a kind of spiritual sickness in which we give up and give in, expecting nothing but doom and gloom. We become accustomed to existing in a broken world, no longer able to see the Light.

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It cannot be denied that where there is sin there will be darkness. Jesus said, “This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that their deeds will be exposed. But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what they have done has been done in the sight of God” (John 3:19-21, NIV).

Jesus: The Light of the World

Then Jesus spoke to them again, saying, “I am the light of the world. He who follows Me shall not walk in darkness, but have the light of life” (John 8:12, NKJV).

“I am the light of the world,” is rooted in Jesus’s relationship with the Father. He speaks from God and for God and as God. Apart from Jesus, we live in darkness. We have limited (human) capacity to understand who we are in Christ. We cannot accurately interpret or explain what we see in the world. Aimee Joseph puts it this way: “The beauty of our humanity is still evident, but ugliness abounds.” In her blog post The Lack of a Loom she writes, “Without a loom, without what is called a meta-narrative, we end up with disconnected piles of threads and yarn and fabric. Sure, we can organize them into neat piles, putting sweet silky feelings and experiences in one pile, grouping commonplace day-to-day experiences and emotions in another and gathering the itchy, scratchy strands of suffering into a discard pile. But, living without a loom leaves us with lives and hearts and societies that are divided and compartmentalized at best, and schizophrenic and purposeless at worst.” In other words, without Christ, our beauty remains incomplete and unexpressed.

The light of Christ is the brightness of God shining on the scrim of our human soul. Life can be wonderful on earth—as it often is—but not fully complete without Jesus. In other words, it is not “abundant life.” We are all created to crave the Creator, our Father, and we’re given access to the Father through a relationship with Jesus. When we come before the Father through our Great Intercessor, we begin to see even the darkest corners of our hearts brighten. But it is only through coming to the end of us that we find Jesus. We begin to see ourselves as God sees us: clothed in the righteousness of Christ. Only then are we set free to run to and cling to God. Only then can we hope to escape the darkness of sin.

References

Baker, W., Zodhiates, S. (2008). Hebrew-Greek Key Word Study Bible. Chattanooga, TN: AMG Publishers.

Dake, F. (2008). The Dake’s Annotated Reference Bible. Lawrenceville, GA: Dake Publishing, Inc.

Henry, M. (1997). Matthew Henry’s Concise Commentary on the Whole Bible. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, Inc.

Joseph, A. (January 17, 2019). “The Lack of a Loom.” [web log comment].  Retrieved from: https://aimeejoseph.blog/2019/01/17/the-lack-of-a-loom-3/

 

 

Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation Recovery Advocacy Update

Startling data recently made public show the details of how pharmaceutical companies saturated the country with opioids. In the seven years from 2006 to 2012, America’s biggest drug companies shipped 76 billion oxycodone and hydrocodone pain pills in the United States. The result? Opioid-related deaths soared in communities where the pills flowed most. These new revelations come from the Washington Post, which spent a year in court to gain access to a DEA database that tracks the path of every single pain pill sold in the United States.

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The database reveals what each company knew about the number of pills it was shipping and dispensing and precisely when they were aware of those volumes, year-by-year, town-by-town. The data will be valuable to the attorneys litigating cases to hold manufacturers accountable, including a huge multi-district case in Ohio, where thousands of documents were filed last Friday. The data show that opioid manufacturers and distributors knowingly flooded the market as the overdose crisis raged and red flags were everywhere.

The Post has also published the data at county and state levels in order to help the public understand the impact of years of prescription pill shipments has had on their communities. Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation says to expect many reports from local journalists using the data to explain the causes and impact of the opioid crisis in their communities. The Post did its own local deep-dive, taking a close look this weekend at two Ohio counties that soon will be at the center of the bug multi-district litigation. Barring a settlement, the two counties are scheduled to go to trial in October as the first case among the consolidated lawsuits brought by about 2,000 cities, counties, Native American tribes and other plaintiffs.

Meanwhile, the CDC posted preliminary data suggesting that the number of Americans who died from drug overdoses finally fell 5% in 2018 after years of significant increases. This new data, while still preliminary, covers all of 2018, so it is firmer. And it is a rare positive sign. But it’s only one year and no cause for celebration or complacency—especially with continued funding for opioid crisis grants are uncertain and the decline in deaths anything but uniform across the states. For example, 18 states still saw increases in 2018. Policymakers must be reminded that we’re still very much in the midst of the nation’s worst-ever addiction crisis—one from which it will take years to recover. Federal funding remains essential, as advocate Ryan Hampton points out in his latest piece making the case for the CARE Act, a Congressional bill that would invest $100 billion over the next 10 years.

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If you missed the premiere of  “The First Day,” a powerful, one-hour documentary that shows the evolved talk of former NBA-player-turned-recovery advocate Chris Herren, you can catch it again July 30 at 10:00 p.m. Eastern on ESPN. It is also now available for sale as a download. Herren has spoken to more than a million young people, and the film follows him on a dozen or so speaking engagements up and down the East Coast.

Delta Air Lines announced that naloxone, the medication used to treat (reverse) an opioid overdose, will be available in all emergency medical kits on flights beginning this Fall.

Delta’s decision comes after a passenger tweeted that a man died aboard a Delta flight last weekend from an opioid overdose. It’s unfathomable why naloxone isn’t already on all flights for all airlines. Last year, Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation joined the Association of Flight Attendants in urging the FAA to require it. No one should have to die before airlines take this common-sense step.

Oklahoma’s lawsuit against Johnson & Johnson went to the judge, who will decide later this summer whether to hold the drugmaker accountable for the state’s opioid epidemic. Oklahoma is seeking more than $17.5 billion to abate the costs of opioid addiction. Purdue Pharma and Teva Pharmaceutical settled their part of the Oklahoma case. But they and other drugmakers and distributors face some 2,000 similar lawsuits by states and local municipalities.

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Purdue Pharma, a pharmaceutical company owned by the Sackler family, invented the so-called non-addictive drug OxyContin. The company was found to have falsified the addiction rate at less than 1% when in fact it was over 10%. Raymond Sackler had a personal net worth of $13 billion in 2016. He passed away on July 17, 2017. The Louvre in Paris has removed the Sackler family name from its walls, becoming the first major museum to erase its public association with the philanthropist family linked with the opioid crisis in the United States.

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Dr. Nora Volkow, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, has written and spoken extensively about the importance of prevention in addressing the opioid crisis. NIDA studies have shown that teens who misuse prescription opioids are more likely to initiate heroin use. You can visit NIDA’s site by clicking here.

 

 

There’s A Kind of Love

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By Steven Barto, B.S. Psych.

LOVE. IT’S MORE THAN A four-letter word. At its basic, love is a noun meaning “strong affection for another arising out of kinship or personal ties,” such as a mother’s love for her child. Of course, it also means “attraction based on sexual desire: affection and tenderness felt by lovers.” It can mean admiration, benevolence, warm attachment, devotion, a term of endearment. However, love is not merely a noun.

Love is also an action verb. In other words, it’s not about something, it’s about doing something. Something selfless at the very least. The Merriam-Webster Dictionary indicates it is a transitive verb that means “to hold dear: cherish.” It can also implicate a lover’s passion, tenderness, amorous caress, copulation. Its etymology is from the Old English word lufu, which includes, “feeling of love; romantic sexual attraction; affection; friendliness; the love of God.” The Germanic word is from the Proto-Indo-European (PIE) root leubh, meaning “to care, desire, love.” It is “the love of God” I wish to talk about here.

There are seven types of love in Greek:

  • Eros—sexual or passionate love; the type most akin to our modern construct of romantic love.
  • Phileo—brotherly love; friendship; shared good will.
  • Storge—familial love; natural or instinctual affection, such as the love of a parent for his or her child.
  • Agape—a Greco-Christian term referring to “the highest form of love; charity; the unconditional love of God for man.”
  • Ludus—this form of love includes game-playing, manipulation, lying; the purveyor of ludic love has “conquests” but no commitments.
  • Pragmaalso known as “pragmatic” love, it is the most practical type; convenient love that involves “being of service” to another out a sense of duty.
  • Philautia—this type of love is within oneself; essential for any relationship because we can only love others if we truly love ourselves. One of the key lessons on a spiritual journey is learning to love unconditionally. In many ways, this type of love is a stepping stone to grasping agape love.

WHAT OF THIS THING CALLED “UNCONDITIONAL LOVE?”

I’ve heard it said that unconditional love is easy. You probably find that hard to believe. I did. There would be no boundaries to loving someone unconditionally. No matter what they’ve done or not done. One blogger posted an article titled “Unconditional Love: Is it Real or Just a Romantic Illusion?” The post analyzes relationship love. It notes that when love is unconditional nothing can tear it asunder. This is the “we are one in our new relationship” love that is ageless, timeless, and infallible. The writer states, “But here’s what you have to know: unconditional love is a romantic illusion, and one that reflects love that is immature.”

In the introduction to his book, Real Love, Greg Baer, M.D. describes his struggle with emotional problems and addiction to tranquilizers and other narcotics. One evening he took a handgun and went into the woods intending to end his life. He put the barrel against his head, ready to die. Instead, he realized something had to change. He sought treatment at a rehab, but said when he returned home clean and sober he was still at the same place that took him down the dark path of addiction: alone and empty. He was missing the profound happiness he’d been longing for his entire life. Reading Baer’s introduction, I saw myself on the pages.

Life for me has always been an emotional roller coaster. I was a little hellion who could not behave no matter what my father tried. His go-to answer seemed to be corporal punishment. This made me hate him and despise myself. I came to fear his very presence; to feel unloved and unlovable. In my heart, I wanted to please him and make him proud. But in my flesh, I wanted nothing but numbness and escape. As each year passed, I became increasingly sullen and doubted I’d ever amount to anything. Why couldn’t I stop lying, stealing, cursing, trashing my room, getting sent to the principal’s office? As my anger grew, I started hating everything and everyone. I got good at deception. After all, who wants to be in trouble all the time? This was the perfect breeding-ground for alcohol and drug abuse. Finally, I could feel euphoric, happy, invincible. I could escape.

As you can imagine, this was not a very sound solution. I ended up right back at the same place every time. Clean and sober for a short time, but lost and alone. Empty. Without friends. Estranged from my family. So I went back out there, drinking and drugging. Numbing the pain and hiding from the world. Withdrawing behind drawn curtains. I was convinced that I was one of those that Jesus couldn’t save. I drifted further from my Christian roots. My high school friends all left for college. I stayed home and hung out with the party crowd. Out until three, sleeping until noon. Just like the shampoo bottle says, “lather, rinse repeat.” I no longer believed God cared about me. It wasn’t long before I doubted the existence of God.

After four decades of active addiction and numerous relapses in my forties and fifties, I found my way back to the church. I started teaching Bible study at two local prisons and did a lot of studying and writing. You’d think my life improved, right? That I finally reached my happy ending. That there was nothing left but to love and be loved; to be clean and sober and help others find their path to sobriety. Sadly, that was not the case. Chronic and ever-increasing pain from a back injury, degenerative disc disease, severe arthritis, and fibromyalgia taunted me and drove me to opiate addiction. I knew better. I just couldn’t decide better. I was letting my physical pain dictate my behavior.

Even after returning to the church of my youth where I accepted Jesus as my savior; despite attending a Christian university and graduating with a bachelor’s degree in Psychology; regardless of years of research, writing, and blogging about addiction and spirituality, I continued to mess up and kept helping myself to narcotic painkillers of family members. Again, I was shunned. They were back to believing I will never change. I’d work my way back into their lives to only repeat my selfish and deceptive behavior.

So what is this all about?

It might sound too simple, but I’m wrestling not against flesh and blood, but against powers and principalities, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places (Ephesians 6:12). But it’s true. This is exactly what Paul means in Romans 7 when he says, “For I know that good itself does not dwell in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. 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. Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it” (verses 18-20, NIV). Although this is instrumental in helping me learn to crucify my flesh and walk instead in the Spirit, it does not alleviate the hurt, disappointment, and anger my family feels toward me. Their utter disgust and inability to trust me.

THE KIND OF LOVE ONLY GOD KNOWS

I recently discovered an incredible song by the Christian group For King and Country, called “God Only Knows.” Although the entire song cuts me to the core, several lines really stand out. Wide awake while the world is sound asleepin’, too afraid of what might show up while you’re dreamin’… Every day you try to pick up all the pieces, all the memories, they somehow never leave you. God only knows what you’ve been through, God only knows what they say about you… You keep a cover over every single secret, So afraid if someone saw them they would leave. God only knows where to find you, God only knows how to break through, God only knows the real you…

LOVE FROM GOD’S PERSPECTIVE

What happens when we look at love from God’s perspective?

The love of God is central to His relationship to the world. We cannot grasp His kind of love through our own intellect. Certainly, there are many paradigms, worldviews, and theological interpretations for God’s kind of love. Theologians consider divine love to be an overriding component of God’s character, if not the very essence of God. Conceptions of divine love vary widely. This is due, in part, because man has a tendency to split hairs over metaphysical matters. The result is theories and definitions which are often cemented in denominational, doctrinal, or other theological differences.

But here are some basic features of God’s love:

  • We can trust in God’s love. First Corinthians 13:4-8 provides an excellent description of God’s (agape) love. It is patient, kind, does not envy, does not boast, is not proud, does not dishonor others, is not self-seeking, is not easily angered, keeps no record of wrongs, does not delight in evil (but rejoices with the truth), always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails. Clearly, there is a powerful and unrelenting component to God’s love. We see evidence of this in His covenant relationship with His people. Even in our sinfulness, He demonstrates patience, showering us with unmerited grace and mercy.
  • Our salvation is an expression of God’s love. God loves us enough to have established a plan for our redemption before the foundation of the world; before man’s first sin of disobedience. He provides access to that redemption through His Son, Jesus Christ, who died in our place (see John 3:16). God did not send Christ as a reward for those of us who can keep the Law; rather, He provided Jesus as a solution to the sin problem by making Jesus a ransom for our disobedience. Although we were bought (redeemed) with a price, redemption is much more than being set free from the wages of sin. The crucifixion of Christ restores our fallen status by making peace between us and God. It takes away our shame. It provides for our physical healing. It provides for our spiritual rebirth and restoration.
  • God’s love serves as an exemplar for us. Truly, God has restored us to Him through Jesus Christ. It is up to us to work at restoring our relationships with others. We can only do this by being rooted in God’s love—striving to understand its depth and implications. God asks us to emulate this behavior.
  • The Holy Spirit produces love in us for others. The link between Christ’s love for us and our love for each other is found through the Holy Spirit. We see Christ’s love for us to the point of obedience unto death.

Paul writes, “…that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the width and length and depth and height—to know the love of Christ which passes knowledge; that you may be filled with all the fullness of God” (Ephesians 3:17-19, NKJV). By accepting the full measure of God’s love, we are able to begin practicing unconditional love toward others. We will by no means measure up to this divine attribute. This “no limits” love cannot be achieved through human endeavor. We become able to love this way only through yielding to the Holy Spirit. We can only accomplish it because God first loved us. What connects us with Jesus is faith—trusting His forgiveness; banking on His promises; cherishing His fellowship; desiring to fulfill His Greatest Commandment: to  love the Lord God with all our heart and with all our soul and with all our mind; and to love our neighbor as ourselves (see Matthew 22:36-40).

LOVE—PART OF THE FRUIT OF THE SPIRIT

Galatians 5:22-23 reminds us of what is achieved in us through the Fruit of the Spirit. Eugene Peterson translates it like this: “But what happens when we live God’s way? He brings gifts into our lives, much the same way that fruit appears in an orchard—things like affection for others, exuberance about life, serenity. We develop a willingness to stick with things, a sense of compassion in the heart, and a conviction that a basic holiness permeates things and people. We find ourselves involved in loyal commitments, not needing to force our way in life, able to marshal and direct our energies wisely” (MSG).

The late Billy Graham said, “This cluster of fruit should characterize the life of every Christ-born child of God. We’re to be filled with love, we’re to have joy, we’re to have peace, we’re to have patience, we’re to be gentle and kind, we’re to be filled with goodness, we’re to have faith, we’re to have meekness, and we’re to have temperance. But what do we find? In the average so-called Christian today we find the opposite.”

True love—the unconditional agape love of God—always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres (1 Corinthians 13:7). Jesus tells us in John 15:12, “My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you” (NIV). Paul reminds us in Romans 12:9-10, “Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves” (NIV). When we expect this kind of undying love from our friends or family, we set ourselves up for disappointment. Further, as in my case, we’re at risk of living in the sin of offense because we become unforgiving of their unforgiveness. Rather, we must look to God for this kind of love. A love that culminated in the crucifixion of Jesus Christ.

CONCLUDING REMARKS

Each of us, before coming to Christ, is dominated by one nature—the “old man.” We’re controlled by our ego, our self. We are selfish at best; deceitful at worst. No one likes to be wrong. That’s human nature. Repeated mistakes—especially the ones that continue to break the hearts and spirits of those we love—are the hardest for us to let go. I loath myself when I cannot seem to do that which I want to do, and keep doing that which I wish not to do. I have to remember I am in good company, as the apostle Paul wrote of this very struggle in his life. 

The moment we receive Christ as our Savior, self is put down. We identify with His death, burial, and resurrection through backward-looking faith. Accordingly, we are to crucify our flesh daily. No amount of human power can relieve us of our habits, hangups, or addictions. But when we walk in the Spirit and not in the flesh, we put Christ on the throne in our lives. We dethrone ourselves. The Spirit of God is in control. It is only through realizing this and living it every day that we can ever hope to love unconditionally.

References

Baer, G., M.D. (2003). Real Love: The Truth About Finding Unconditional Love in Fulfilling Relationships. New York, NY: Avery.

Peterson, E. (2003). The Message//Remix: The Bible in Contemporary Language. Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress.

Skinner, K. (December 16, 2013). “Unconditional Love: Is It Real or Just a Romantic Illusion?” Retrieved from: https://www.yourtango.com/experts/kathe-skinner/unconditional-love-it-real-or-just-romantic-illusion

 

 

These Pesky Grapes of Wrath

I stumbled.
Turning, I looked in the
Bathroom and saw the
Evidence.

Shower curtain torn,
Laying on the floor
In a pool of vomit.
Not again!

Powerless.
Not my favorite word
To say the least.
Sounds like, failure.

Small.
Sweet.
Fermented.
Steeped in brokenness.

Killer of relationships
Thief of dreams.
The mortar of excuses,
Able to destroy.

Yet impossible to
Resist
No matter the cost.
Regardless of consequence.

I know where it leads,
Yet I have no human capacity
To resist
These pesky grapes of wrath.

©2019 Steven Barto