The Jesus Way (Part One)

Jesus With Open Arms

Jesus taught an alternative to the dominant ways of the world, not a supplement to them. It is sad how often we see the world—in fact, even fellow believers—unquestionably embrace the habits of high-profile men and women who lead large corporations, conglomerates, universities, nations, and causes; people who show us how to make money, win wars, manage people, sell products, manipulate behavior, and instruct our young. We take absolutely no time to contemplate how many of these “ways” violate the way of Jesus. What is the Jesus way?

The Heart of Jesus

The heart of Jesus was pure, but what is a “pure-hearted” person? Dictionary.com says to have a pure heart is to be without malice, treachery, or evil intent. This person would be honest, sincere, without guile. Jesus, of course, was without guile. He had no evil thoughts or intent and was without sin. Peter, who traveled with Jesus for over three years, described Him as a “lamb unblemished and spotless” (1 Pet. 1:19). Jesus was purposeful, tenacious, and dedicated to serving the will of the Father. He was so focused on His task that He knew when to say, “My time has not yet come” (John 2:4) and when to say, “It is finished” (John 19:30).

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Jesus saw the good in everyone and everything. His very thoughts were pleasant. Children flocked to Him. He could find beauty in the butterflies and the lilies of the valley, joy in worship, and possibilities in the midst of even the worst of circumstances. He would spend days surrounded by multitudes of sick people and yet remain compassionate in every instance. It is phenomenal that He spent more than three decades wading through the muck and mire—the horrible consequences of man’s sin and fall from grace—yet still saw enough beauty in us to die for our mistakes.

His Teachings and Miracles

During the three years between His baptism and His death and resurrection, Jesus traveled throughout the land of the Hebrews ministering to the people. His ministry can be divided into two key aspects. First were His teachings. Looking to Scripture, we see that Christ taught from a position of authority (Matt. 7:29) and wisdom (Matt. 13:54). The crowds were astonished and amazed by His lessons. Even those who doubted Jesus was the Messiah were stirred by His words.

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The second aspect of Jesus’ ministry revolved around His miracles. The Bible records 35 such incidents during His three years of public ministry. These amazing events range from walking on water (Matt. 14:25) to raising people from the dead (Matt. 11:38-44). It’s worth noting that these are only the miracles that were written in Scripture. In fact, if every one of them were written down even the whole world would not have enough room for the books that would be written (John 21:25).

THIS WEEK’S TOPIC:

Gender Dysphoria

Gender has become a matter of uncertainty. Rather than male or female, many see gender as a “relative” matter—on a continuum. They consider gender or sexual identity to be less a reality given at conception than a matter of personal discovery. Transgender questions today carry an urgency unimaginable five years ago. The debate has become all-encompassing. Issues such as civil rights, protection from persecution and discrimination, culture, education, acceptance, spiritual ramifications, and counseling are complex. One main question is whether it is appropriate for parents of so-called transgendered children to allow their kids – who have not yet reached the end of puberty – to define their own gender and establish their goals and life values relative to gender identity and sexuality.

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Most churches and Christians find themselves exposed due their lack of knowledge and understanding—about gender issues and grace. What does the Bible have to say about living life in a gender-nonconforming way? What can faithfulness to Christ look like for a person who desires—who might even say needs—to live such a life?

A biblical perspective on what makes us human emphasizes the role of community. Individuals are “active agents” rather than merely passive objects impacted by genetic and environmental factors. Balswick and Balswick (2014) believe the search for authentic sexuality appropriately starts with an attempt to understand how we are to behave as sexual persons. Achieving authentic sexuality, however, depends more on understanding who God created us to be as a sexual person. Sexuality includes such factors as biology, gender, emotions, thoughts, behaviors, attitudes, and values.

According to Scripture, when God created human beings He created them male and female and blessed their marital union (Gen. 1:26-28; 2:20-25). Moses, Jesus, and the apostle Paul are united in their approach to the moral norms that govern male-female sexual behavior. The God-ordained roles assigned to men and women are clearly laid out in Scripture. How does this help understand gender identity confusion? If the Bible succinctly describes our sexuality as an intended component of God’s intelligent design, perhaps gender dysphoria, along with homosexuality, is an adulteration of that design, which is clearly predicated on our “fallen nature.” Because of Original Sin, nothing is as God intended it to be. The entire universe has been adversely impacted by the Fall. 

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It could be said that dismissing the legitimacy of a person’s experiences is to dismiss the person. Certainly, we shouldn’t dismiss, but feel compassion for, anyone experiencing mental distress regarding conflict between their gender identity and their body. It is important for Christians to realize that people who experience distress, anguish, and conflict over their perceived gender identity really do exist. They’re not freaks. They’re not merely “cross-dressers” or people desiring to “gender-bend.” Their experience cannot be reduced to simply “living a lie” since most don’t feel they are lying to themselves. Actually, the opposite is true. People with genuine cases of gender dysphoria believe they’re being lied to by their body. Such an individual typically becomes convinced he or she is actually a member of the opposite sex.

Psychology Doesn’t Change Ontology

So what is the best approach to this issue?

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First, Christians welcome all into the grace of the Gospel because the Gospel is applicable and available to all (1 Tim. 2:4; 2 Pet. 3:9). Accordingly, our priority must be to offer genuine love to those struggling with gender or sexual identity. We are, however, required to confront such issues with biblical truth. Fact: God made men and women different (Gen. 1:27). Sexual differences are not graded on a continuum where some men are more like women or vice versa. Men and women are different at the deepest levels of their being. Our chromosomes are different. Our brains are different. Our voices are different. Our body shapes and sizes are different. Our reproductive systems are different. Our body strengths are different. Because men and women are different, it’s philosophical impossible for a man to become a woman, or a woman to become a man.

If God made man and woman fundamentally and comprehensively different, then the idea that a man could ever become a woman is simply impossible. The differences between men and women can’t be overcome simply because one person believes they are a member of the opposite sex. Your psychology—your cognition and emotions—cannot change your ontology.

“Truth is not first produced by a method but inhabits experience itself prior to any cognitive labor.” – Andrew Feenberg

Scripture does not specifically address a contemporary understanding of gender as a socially constructed concept different different from biological sex. A Christian response to gender dysphoria is better established through a biblical theology of the body rather than by combing the Scriptures for proof texts in light of specific behaviors.

At the crux of the transgender experience is gender incongruence, an internal sense of a gender identity that is at odds with one’s birth gender. Lately, a common way to deal with that incongruence is to show a preference for one’s internal “sense” of gender as representing one’s true self in opposition to physical identity. A biblical theology of the body, however, argues that it is essential to reference the physical body when determining gender identity. The biblical definition of man and woman remains regardless of the cultural understanding of gender.

Christianity Today on Transgender Christians

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On June 22, 2018, Christianity Today published an article called “Embracing Our Transgender Neighbors on God’s Terms.” The article referenced a book written by Austen Hartke titled Transforming: The Bible and the Lives of Transgender Christians. Hartke’s identity is as important to the book as the subject matter he covers. Hartke was born female. He experienced gender dysphoria in his youth. His decision to transition from female to male was not made lightly. Naturally, he wondered if there was a place in mainline Christianity for someone like him who didn’t agree with every iota of Christian doctrine, who was gender-nonconforming, and who considered himself bisexual. Certainly, not all believers are on the same page on this sensitive issue.

Hartke decided there was a place for him in Christianity. He was baptized in 2008, and went on to graduate from Luther Seminary’s master’s program in Old Testament/Hebrew Bible Studies. He hosts a YouTube series called “Transgender and Christian” and is increasingly sought after at conferences and events. Hartke says his ministry is “to help other trans and gender-nonconforming people to see themselves in Scripture.” His main tenet is that transgender people must be embraced by the church on their own terms. He believes that if transgender feelings are real, they are therefore good and blessed by God.

In Understanding Gender Dysphoria, Mark Yarhouse sets forth three main frameworks for understanding the origins and morality of transgender phenomena and then offers an integrated framework he supports. His position is popular among conservatives who sympathize with transgender individuals while at the same time affirming the goodness of sex and gender as God designed them. He argues that gender dysphoria is a result of the Fall—a view I personally maintain—and thus an example of brokenness that deserves deep compassion rather than moral blame. Hartke’s answer to this position is that gender dysphoria “is not original sin manifesting within us. It’s the effects of the Fall showing up in the way human being treat each other.” To me, suggesting that this abuse and persecution is the true fallen condition of mankind, rather than such abuse and gender incongruence being distinct results of the Fall, seems to miss the point. I believe the Fall tends to warp and twist our world.

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In order to counter this argument, Hartke agrees that the incongruence between internalized gender and biological gender “might possibly” be a result of the Fall, but quickly asserts that “this does not mean that the person’s movement away from suffering toward affirmation of their perceived gender identity is sinful.” He compares “gender affirmation” to getting eyeglasses. To me, the glasses metaphor doesn’t hold: No one contends that there is a moral component to correcting poor vision. Obviously, choosing to express one’s gender in a way that obfuscates one’s God-given sex invariably makes a moral statement—that we are free to reject God’s design when our own desires point elsewhere. How can one hold this position without systematically rejecting Genesis 1?

Christian theology has consistently sought to distinguish desires and feelings from behavior. Greed, rage, jealousy, resentment, arrogance, depression, and the many shapes that lust can take are but a few examples of feelings or desires that every human experiences to various degrees and at various times. I believe such desires are part of fallen human nature itself (Gal. 5:17 or 1 John 2:16). Regardless, this is no excuse. Such desire is to be opposed and curbed, rather than to be given free reign (Rom. 13:14). The
Christian theological tradition has therefore sought always to distinguish between desires and acting out on desires, and between specific behavioral sins and the sinner. It recognizes that in our fallen humanity, behavior can be disciplined to some degree, while inner feelings are far less subject to human control.

Christianity understands homosexuality, bisexuality, or transgendered identity and desire within such an overall moral framework. It seeks to follow natural law (the objective truth of our bodies) and the revealed truth of Scripture, even if the truth conflicts with societal or professional opinions, such as that of psychology or psychiatry. One response to such reflection is that, while there is biblical direction which clearly forbids homosexual activity, there is no explicit scriptural reference to transgendered individuals. There are only references that hint at implications for the individual who feels discomfort with his or her identity as male or female.

THE JESUS WAY

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Jesus was the most forceful, demanding teacher who ever lived. He taught that even one’s closest family members must give way to loyalty to Him (Luke 14:26). Several words in the Greek New Testament reveal insight into the amazing compassion of the Lord, even in the face of sinful behavior. He wished that no one would suffer. That none would perish for all of eternity. Consider Hebrews 4:15: “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weakness, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin” (NIV). Bromiley (1985) notes that the term tempted (as noted in the above Scripture) is touched in the Greek, stating the word “does not signify a sympathetic understanding that is ready to condone [behavior], but a fellow feeling that derives from full acquaintance with the seriousness of the situation as a result of successfully withstanding the temptation” [Emphasis mine].

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We are told in John 14:6 that Jesus said, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life.” We simply cannot proclaim the Jesus truth then act any way we want. Nor can we follow the Jesus way without speaking the Jesus truth. Those two positions are diametrically opposed. But Jesus as the truth gets far more attention than Jesus as the way. We can’t skip the way of Jesus in a hurry to get to the truth of Jesus as He is worshiped and proclaimed. Frankly, I don’t see how we can even hope to get to the truth of Jesus without deciding to follow the way of Jesus. The way of Jesus is the way that we practice and come to understand the truth of Jesus, living Jesus in our homes and workplaces.

We know that Jesus associated with the outcasts of His day. Please note I am not suggesting transgender or gay individuals should be considered “outcasts.” However, the example Jesus showed during His lifetime for those who were outcasts demonstrated compassion and concern while they were yet sinners. Granted, countless numbers of transgendered or gay individuals do not necessarily buy into the “sin” concept regarding their choices. Jesus reserved His condemnation for religious zealots who lived a hypocritical and highly judgmental lifestyle. So it is worth asking if Jesus came today, would He associate with transgendered and gay people? Would He visit them in their homes or go to their parties? Or would He only associate with “good” churchgoers?

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The Jesus way is a way of sacrifice. A way of freedom. A way of holiness. But it is also a way of compassion and unconditional love. Do we emulate Him in our churches today? Do we make transgendered and gay individuals feel welcome? Do we treat them as our equals? Can they see the love of Christ in us? Would we invite a gay couple to our home for dinner? If we find ourselves answering No to these questions, how can we expect such individuals to trust God enough to consider surrendering their sexuality to Him? How can we expect them to see God as loving and compassionate if we make Him appear to be unloving and judgmental? They already know the “abomination” texts in the Bible.We should not throw Scripture at these individuals.

The last rays of merciful light, the last message of mercy to be given to the world, is a revelation of God’s character of love. The children of God are to manifest His glory. In their own life and character they are to reveal what the grace of God has done for them. (Ellen G. White)

Concluding Remarks

Not only does the male/female relationship reflect the image of God, but their coming together in marriage to bring forth new life reflects the deepest and most intimate analogy of God’s relationship with His people. Throughout Scripture, God and His people are portrayed as husband and wife or as a groom and bride. The creation account found in Genesis lays out this gender-based, matrimonial picture and sets the stage for the eternal union of God and His people—of Christ and His bride—described in Revelation.

Gender matters. In recent years, a revisionist transgender theology has been put forth in some theological circles that violates God’s clearly articulated and intentional design for the sexes—thereby distorting His image and His plan for sexuality, marriage, family and the just and proper ordering of society. Unfortunately, the discussion regarding this issue often becomes convoluted, incoherent, or angry, degenerating into a shouting match. Regardless, we must come to grips with the fact that God isn’t silent about human sexuality. The key to this issue must be grounded in Scripture; however, we simply cannot dismiss transgendered or gay people out of hand.

In his presentation on Christians and homosexuality, Joe Dallas (2014) says, “The voice that must go out from the Christian community is one that is absolutely unsparing in truth and will not compromise under the worst conditions, yet also equally unsparing in love, saying ‘Hate us and we will love you. We will be to you what you need us to be.’ For we will all stand before the judgment seat of Christ, just as Paul said, and we’ll be asked what we did in this life. Surely, that interrogation will include how we responded to the responsibilities and issues of our time. May God help us on that day when we are asked to give an account of how we responded to the difficult issue [of gender fluidity and homosexuality] so that we might hear Him say, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant.”

Please join me next week for The Jesus Way (Part Two): Marriage and Divorce.

References

American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th Edition (DSM-5). Arlington, VA: American Psychiatric Association.

Bromiley, G. (1985). Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, abridged. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans.

Balswick, J. and Balswick, J. (2014). The Family: A Christian Perspective on the Contemporary Home, 4th Edition. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic Press.

Dallas, J. (2014). How Should We Respond? An Exortation to the Church on Loving the Homosexual. Colorado Springs, CO: Focus on the Family.

Gilson, R. (June 22, 2018). Embracing Our Transgender Neighbors on God’s Terms. Psychology Today. Retrieved from: https://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2018/june-web-only/austen-hartke-transforming-transgender-neighbors.html

Facing Late Autumn

In light of the winding down of Summer—oh, the sad, sweet departure of blue skies and dazzling colors and wistful stray clouds dancing along the horizon and lazy afternoons at the swimming hole—and the coming of, dare I say it, Fall and, ultimately (arg!) Winter, I am re-posting this seasonal poem by the incomparable Brian Fanelli.

The leaves lay like a wound,
red and deep across the lawn, while what remains
is frightened away by bursts of November wind.
I look at concrete-gray clouds and sigh,
knowing it is time to cover flower beds,
yank out roots of annuals,
their petals shriveled and frail, as fine as dust
released to the air.
Soon I will cut back roots of perennials,
until everything in the yard is brown,
until birds no longer chirp,
but vacate their nests,
more visible now as branches of trees
shake against the wind
and scrape against windows like angry fingers,
while the house creaks at its joints.

©2016 Brian Fanelli

“The Ballad of Reading Gaol”

Oscar Wilde (1894-1900) wrote the following poem while in prison. He is most noted for his novel The Picture of Dorian Gray, but he also published numerous poems. Wilde had the Marquess of Queensberry prosecuted for criminal libel. The Marquess was the father of Wilde’s lover, Lord Alfred Douglas. The libel trial brought to light certain evidence that convinced Wilde to forego his complaint in court and led to his own arrest and trial for “gross indecency” with men. After several retrials, he was convicted and sentenced to 2 years hard labor. He died destitute at the age of 46.

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I never saw sad men who looked
With such a wistful eye
Upon that little tent of blue
We prisoners call the sky,
And at every careless cloud that passed
In happy freedom by.

 

The Billy Graham of Generation Z?

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Jordan Whitmer’s zeal for evangelism and vision for a movement have some comparing his ministry to that of Billy Graham. And he’s only 19.

Hannah Stephens was 17 and in trouble with her parents. She had gotten caught stealing their tablet computer in order to chat with strangers online and subsequently grounded. “The only places I was allowed to go were home, school, and church,” Hannah said. To this brooding teenager in the small Ozark town of Mountain Home, Ark., life seemed painfully limited. Yet she was about to discover a whole new world.

In January 2016, Hannah’s partner in chemistry class at Mountain Home High School Career Academies invited her to join the planning team for an upcoming event for teenagers called HowToLife. The planning process would require her to attend several meetings leading up to a night of worship, testimonies, and prayer. Hannah knew little about the event—only that it had something to do with Christianity. “This counted as a church activity that could get me out of the house and away from my parents,” she said. That was all the incentive she needed. She was in.

“The second I entered that meeting at the First Baptist Church of Mountain Home youth room, my life was completely changed,” Hannah says, recalling that the students she met seemed to be genuinely in love with God and weren’t merely serving Him out of habit. “I went home that night in tears, telling my mom I wanted what they had, the hope they had.” That may sound unusual considering Hannah is the daughter of an itinerant church planter, raised in the church and reared in a Christian home. She could recite Bible stories and prayed to accept Christ as the Messiah as a little girl. “I did it because I knew that’s what I was supposed to do,” Hannah remembers. But that was as deep as her relationship with God had gone. She had grown up in a Christian culture but wasn’t yet a follower of Christ.

Christ Carrying His Cross

We might “inherit” our faith from our parents, but we cannot inherit their salvation. In fact, we are told to work out our individual salvation with fear and trembling (Phil. 2:12). The faith of my parents is my faith. My mother and father brought the family to church every Sunday morning, Sunday evening, Wednesday night Bible study, and Thursday night prayer and worship. Although I tried numerous times in my adolescence and young adulthood to rebel against it, as we all have, it is clear to me that my faith is truly grounded in the example shown by my parents. I don’t necessarily agree with everything my parents have believed over the years relative to Christian doctrine, but my faith is what it is in part because of their influence.

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For a month leading up to the HowToLife event, however, Hannah felt the Lord working on her heart. She was beginning to really see who was at the heart of the hope she noticed in her peers. Because her family never settled down in one place, she hadn’t ever connected deeply with Christian young people. Now she felt a dynamic closeness with her new friends. She could see the joy of intimately knowing Christ coloring virtually everything about them. Though deep down inside she still felt spiritually unprepared, she served as a counselor on the night of the event. “I saw so many hearts changed that night, including my own,” Hannah says. “I had friends who started crying and confessing their sins to God, opening up for the first time since I’d known them. It reaffirmed that my generation is utterly heartbroken and needs Jesus.”

A BROKEN GENERATION

Demographers, social scientists and journalists commonly refer to Hannah’s generation, starting approximately with people born in the mid- to late-1990s, as Generation Z. Though there seems to be no clear agreement on hard and fast boundary lines, it’s safe to say that anyone who’s a teenager today is part of Generation Z. This generation has grown up in the digital age, giving it some advantages over prior generations. News outlets have broadly described members of Generation Z as more inherently comfortable with technology and better skilled at multi-tasking than their predecessors.

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But there’s a dark side too. The numbers show Generation Z socializes (at least in person) far less than Generation X or the Baby Boomers. Today’s teens spend large chunks of time checking social media. A sense of isolation often sets in for Gen Zers, psychologist Jean Twenge wrote in a recent article for The Atlantic, because of factors like cyberbullying and the nagging sense of missing out on the fun everyone else seems to be having. As a result, Gen Zers’ rates of suicide and depression are so high, Twenge fears today’s teens are “on the brink of the worst mental-health crisis in decades.”

That fact hasn’t been lost on Jordan Whitmer. ‘[Generation Z is] more ready than any generation to date to experience Jesus, to have that hope,” says Whitmer. “So who better than teenagers who do have that hope—who do have Jesus—to be able to step up, to share the Gospel and to reach Generation Z for Jesus?” Whitmer is the founder and CEO of the HowToLife Movement, the organization responsible for the event that changed Hannah Stephens’ life. It began as an idea in Whitmer’s dining room in December 2014. Back then, Whitmer was in his junior year at Harrison High School in Harrison, Ark., just across the border from Branson, Mo. He felt a burden for his classmates, so many of whom were spiritually lost. How could he reach them with the Gospel?

Christian Teens

The vision that began to take shape in Whitmer’s mind was a student-led youth rally for his whole community. He invited three friends over to brainstorm. There, around the dining room table, they hashed out the details. It would be a night of drama, testimonies, prayer, and worship music, all led by students. Though security guards and a few adult chaperones would be in attendance, Whitmer and his fellow organizers decided no one older than 18 would be allowed to take the stage.

The four friends also came up with the unusual name “HowToLife.” Whitmer notes, “We were thinking along the lines of how to live your life or talking about how to do life, and the ultimate answer to that is Jesus… so that’s kind of how the name emerged.” Students and adult leaders at schools and churches across Harrison got involved in spreading the word. When the rally became reality, in March 2015 at a local junior college, 750 students attended—and 75 of them reported placing their trust in Christ for eternal life. Whitmer was blown away by what God did that night, and he sensed it couldn’t just end there.

A MOVEMENT IS BORN

Word of what happened in Harrison rippled across the Ozarks. Students in other communities wanted to know how they could invite similar work from God where they lived. Whitmer’s instincts were right: HowToLife had become more than just a one-night event in his hometown. It was an emerging movement. During Whitmer’s senior year, he helped organize HowToLife rallies in Missouri and other parts of Arkansas. HowToLife became an official 501(c)3 nonprofit organization in August 2016. Then, during the 2016-17 school year, communities in Illinois, Tennessee, and Texas hosted events. All told, Whitmer says, there have been 19 HowToLife events in seven states so far. That number is on pace to expand to 15 states by summer vacation, and 20 by the end of 2018. About 600 teens have become Christians at HowToLife rallies so far and gotten connected to local churches.

A FAMILIAR MODEL

For the moment, Whitmer is HowToLife’s only paid employee, working out of his parents’ home in Harrison. The ministry has 5,000 followers on Instagram, and over the past six months, Whitmer says, hundreds of students have messaged him on social media platforms asking how they can hold HowToLife events in their communities. He responds by assuring them there’s a tried-and-true template to follow. “It’s in essence like a mini-Billy Graham Crusade event that is done by local high school students to reach their friends and their community for Jesus,” says Whitmer.

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Indeed, HowToLife’s event planning model bears many similarities to that to the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association. A regional team of students must provide each event’s core leadership. Weeks of detailed preparation (including meetings for prayer worshiping, and reciting testimonies) follow. All the while, publicity is spread as students wear #HowToLife t-shirts to school (the social media-friendly hashtag is ever-present in HowToLife’s marketing efforts) and church youth pastors are invited to get involved. The prayerful preparation pays off the night of each event. To date, more than 6,000 teenagers have attended HowToLife rallies.

Whitmer readily admits the Graham crusades of the latter half of the 1900s have served as his model. That makes sense given that his grandfather, radio broadcaster and teacher Ron Hutchcraft, has a long history with Billy Graham, who passed away on February 21, 2018 at the age of 99: Hutchcraft chaired a crusade in New Jersey in the 1990s and has spoken extensively for the organization over the last 30 years. “I would so love to see a generation of teenagers around the U.S. and around the world that emerge,” Whitmer says. “People that step up, that have a passion for evangelism, a passion for the Great Commission.”

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Does all of this potentially make Whitmer his generation’s Billy Graham? Yes and no, he says. Unlike Graham, he doesn’t feel evangelistic preaching is his gift (though he did speak at several HowToLife rallies before he “aged out”). In his desire to build an organization that has global impact, however, Whitmer definitely senses a kinship with the 20th century’s most famous preacher. “My dream is that ultimately there may be some aspects of true global awakening to Jesus that could come through something like this,” he says.

THE NEXT PHASE

From his earliest days, Whitmer has had a sense of where he’s going, and seen no reason to wait in getting there. He led Bible clubs in elementary, middle, and high school. After graduating from Harrison High School in 2016 (he was valedictorian), Whitmer sprinted on and completed his bachelor’s degree in Biblical Studies online through Liberty University just a year and a half later. Now Whitmer is taking on his most exciting, and perhaps daunting, task: Moving HowToLife to the next level. “I would love to see that we have significantly more paid staff and a headquarters in the next two years, by 2019 or 2020,” Whitmer explains. Getting there, he estimates, will take $500,000. That’s why, in addition to helping regional student leaders organize rallies, he spends much of his time crisscrossing the country on a fundraising blitz.

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A survey from the Barna Group released last October revealed that only 4 percent of Generation Z holds a biblical worldview. About 35 percent claim to be atheist, agnostic or unaffiliated with a religion, a figure 5 percent higher than for Generation X, and 9 percent more than that of Baby Boomers. Such findings led Barna Group to consider Gen Zers as the first “post-Christian” generation. Post-Christianity is characterized by loss of the primacy of the Christian worldview in political affairs, especially in the Northern Hemisphere where Christianity flourished, in favor of alternative worldviews such as secularism or animism.  It includes personal worldviews, ideologies, religious movements, or societies that are no longer rooted in the language and assumptions of Christianity. A post-Christian world is one in which Christianity is no longer the dominant civil religion, but has gradually assumed values, cultures, and worldviews that are not necessarily Christian.

Whitmer notes, “People are excited to come out to events that are completely led by their friends because teenagers listen to teenagers more than anyone else,” adding that the teen-to-teen dynamic is “the biggest strength of this movement.” HowToLife board member Ralf Stores, 63, agrees. “That idea of youth leading youth to Christ has a very powerful component to it,” he says. “I have found over the years there’s almost a universal culture among youth—clothes and talk and music and those sorts of things. It transcends languages and it transcends the different countries and cultures around the world.” That’s why, going forward, Whitmer says HowToLife will keep the teenagers-reaching-teenagers, no-one-over-18-on-stage component. He believes that inspired idea conceived at his dining room table is timeless.

But he also wants to continue impacting Generation Z as its members enter their 20s and 30s. He’s open to HowToLife becoming a multi-generational, international ministry. “I believe that God can and will continue to do incredible things through this movement on a teenager level, on an adult level and [through] more and more elements as things continue to grow,” he says.

CLOSING REMARKS

Whitmer expects to continue leading the HowToLife Movement for the long haul. Under his leadership, he says not to expect the Movement to get sidetracked by political debates or to delve deeply into secondary (though still important) moral issues. His plan is to borrow another page from Billy Graham’s playbook and keep the primary focus on the Gospel. “My firm belief is that the lack of understanding of the Gospel is the root [of Generation Z’s problems]. Everything else stems from that,” he says. “Focusing on Jesus and the Gospel at the center of everything is what I continue to commit to doing.”

FOR MORE INFORMATION To learn more information about the HowToLife Movement visit: http://howtolifemovement.com

 

I Wrote a Poem Once While Sleeping

I wrote a poem once while sleeping,
Each line flowing into the next, flawlessly fitting,
As easy as knitting (remembering Grandma).
It was as if I could not stop, I could not fail.
Although the words were like building blocks,
As if I were erecting the world’s greatest skyscraper,
It was not about architecture.
It was not even about substance.
It was, dare I say it?
Poetic.
Truly rhythmical, imaginative and melodious.
Not epic. Not really. But not the least bit commonplace.
I was soaring. Becoming one with the atmosphere.
Unstoppable. Insatiably gluttonous for words.
Dining on the abstract. Gobbling up the abstruse.
It seemed as though I could write forever.
And then the alarm clock went off.

©2015 Steven Barto

Supporting Our Physicians in Addressing the Opioid Crisis

From the blog of Dr. Lora Volkow dated August 31, 2018

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A recurring theme among addiction researchers and professionals is the so-called treatment gap: under-utilization of effective treatments that could make a serious dent in the opioid crisis and overdose epidemic. Ample evidence shows that when used according to guidelines, the agonist medications methadone and buprenorphine reduce overdose deaths, prevent the spread of diseases like HIV, and enable people to take back their lives. Evidence supporting the effectiveness of extended-release naltrexone is also growing; but whereas naltrexone, an opioid antagonist, can be prescribed by any provider, there are restrictions on who can prescribe methadone and buprenorphine.

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A series of editorials in the July 5, 2018 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine made a strong case for lessening these restrictions on opioid agonists and thereby widening access to treatment with these medications. For historical reasons, methadone can only be obtained in licensed opioid treatment programs, but experimental U.S. programs delivering it through primary care docs have been quite successful, as have other countries’ experiences doing the same thing. Although buprenorphine can be prescribed by primary care physicians, they must first take 8 hours of training and obtain a DEA waiver, and are then only allowed to treat a limited number of patients. Some physicians argue that these restrictions are out of proportion to the real risks of buprenorphine and should be lessened so more people can benefit from this medication.

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Stigma contributes to reluctance to use evidence-supported treatment—both stigma against addicted individuals and stigma against agonist medications, due to the persistent myth that they just substitute a new addiction for an old. This idea reflects a poor understanding of dependence and addiction. Dependence is the body’s normal adaptive response to long-term exposure to a drug. Although people on maintenance treatment are dependent on their medication, so are patients with other chronic illnesses being managed medically, from diabetes to depression to pain to asthma. Addiction, in contrast, involves additional brain changes contributing to the loss of control that causes people to lose their most valued relationships and accomplishments. Opioid-dependent individuals do not get high on therapeutic doses of methadone or buprenorphine, but they are able to function without experiencing debilitating withdrawal symptoms and cravings while the imbalances in their brain circuits gradually normalize.

Treating patients with addiction may be uniquely complex and demanding for several reasons. Patients may have co-morbid medical conditions, including mental illness; thus they may need more time than doctors are reimbursed for by insurers. They may also have pain, and while pain management guidelines have changed to respond to the opioid crisis, those changes have not necessarily made a doctor’s job any easier, since there are currently no alternative medications to treat severe pain that are devoid of dangerous side effects.

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Because of the complexity of Opioid Use Disorder (OUD), providers may find that it is not sufficient to simply dispense a new prescription after a quick consultation. These patients often need ancillary services provided by nurses or other treatment specialists; and in the absence of these extra layers of support, treatment is less likely to be successful, reinforcing physicians’ reluctance to treat these patients at all. In short, physicians are being blamed for causing the opioid epidemic, but thus far they have not been aided in becoming part of the solution.

Medical schools are starting to respond to the opioid crisis by increasing their training in both addiction and pain. For example, as part of its training in adolescent medicine, the University of Massachusetts Medical School has begun providing pediatric residents with the 8-hour training required to obtain a buprenorphine waiver—an idea that is winning increasingly wide support. Physicians in some emergency departments are also initiating overdose survivors on buprenorphine instead of just referring them to treatment. And through its NIDA MedPortal, NIDA provides access to science-based information and resources on OUD and pain to enable physicians to better address these conditions and their interactions, including easy-to-use screening tools to help physicians identify substance misuse or those at risk.

But if physicians are going to assume a bigger role in solving the opioid crisis, healthcare systems must also support them in delivering the kind of care and attention that patients need. Physicians need the tools to treat addiction effectively as well as the added resources (and time) for patients who need more than just a quick consultation and a prescription.

Victory Over the Darkness: Realizing Your Identity in Christ

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Is who you are determined by what you do, or is what you do determined by who you are? It is time to discover who you are in Christ, and what that means for your life. Jesus promises us we can live triumphantly. As Christ hung on the cross, He said, “It is finished” just before taking his last breath. What is finished, and just what does it mean to you and me? If we really knew God, our behavior would change radically and instantly. Consider this: When heaven opened to reveal the glory of God, individual witnesses in the Bible were immediately and profoundly changed.

Who Are You?

Who I am—who you are—is far more than what can be seen on the outside. Paul said, “We recognize no man according to the flesh” (2 Cor. 5:16). Most of us identify ourselves and each other primarily by what we look like (tall, short, stocky, muscular) or what we do (plumber, police officer, carpenter, physician, clerk). When we Christians are asked to identify ourselves in relation to our faith, we usually talk about our doctrinal position (Protestant, evangelical, charismatic, Calvinist), our denominational preference (Baptist, Presbyterian, Methodist, Independent) or our role in the church (Sunday school teacher, pastor, elder, worship leader).

You need to know who you are in Christ so that you can live your life as God intended and fulfill your destiny. The more you are in agreement with how God sees you the more your behavior will begin to reflect your God-given identity. After all, it’s God’s opinion that matters. Understanding who you are in Christ will provide a solid foundation on which you can build your Christian character.

Know Who You Are; Know Who Christ Is

Is Jesus just another prophet? Is He an historical figure? A “good man?” A teacher? Or is He much more? Is He the Son of God? The Christ? The Messiah? Jesus is more than a good man. He is God revealed in the flesh, who came to rescue mankind from the wages of sin. But the key is to see Jesus as He is, not as others see Him.

Our identity is discovered through a more thorough understanding of who we are in Christ. Once Peter realized his identity in Christ, he went from ordinary fisherman to a key participant in spreading the Good News of the Gospel. On the day of Pentecost, he preached and thousands were saved. He performed miracles and is credited with helping establish the early church. He found out who he was in Christ, which made all the difference.

I Know Who I Am

Scripture contains numerous passages on who we are in Christ:

  • I am a child of God. “Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God” (John 1:12).
  • I am a branch of the true vine; a conduit of Christ’s life. “I am the true vine and my father is the gardener. I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:1,5).
  • I am a friend of Jesus. “I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you” (John 15:15).
  • I have been justified and redeemed. “And all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus” (Rom. 3:24).
  • I am crucified with Christ. “For we know that our old man was crucified with him so that the body ruled by might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin” (Rom. 6:6).
  • I am a fellow heir with Christ. “Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory” (Rom. 8:17).
  • I am called to be a saint. “To the church of God in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus and called to be his holy people, together with all those everywhere who call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ—their Lord and ours” (1 Cor. 1:2).
  • I am a new creature in Christ. “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come. The old has gone, the new is here” (2 Cor. 5:17).
  • I have been set free in Christ. “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery” (Gal. 5:1).
  • I have been made complete in Christ. “And in Christ you have been brought to fullness. He is the head over every power and authority” (Col. 2:10).
  • I have been raised up with Christ. “Since then, you have been raised with Christ, set your heart on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God” (Col. 3:1).
  • I have been chosen of God; I am holy and beloved. “Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience” (Col. 3:12).
  • I am victorious in Christ. “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” (Phil. 4:13).
  • I am God’s masterpiece. “For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do” (Eph. 2:10).
  • I am totally and completely forgiven. “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness” (1 John. 1:9).
  • I am called. “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose” (Rom. 8:28).

Life in God’s Kingdom

What about life in God’s kingdom? Everyone has the same chance to live a meaningful life. Why? Because wholeness and meaning in life are not the products of what you have or don’t have, what you’ve done or haven’t done. You are already a whole person and possess a life of infinite meaning and purpose because of who you are—a child of God. The only identity equation that works in God’s kingdom is you plus Christ equals wholeness and meaning.

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If our relationship with God is fundamental to wholeness, why do so many believers struggle with their identity, security, significance, sense of worth, and spiritual maturity? Ignorance is probably the primary reason. The prophet Hosea said, “My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge” (4:6). For others it is carnality, the lack of repentance and faith in God, and some are being deceived by the father of lies. Sadly, a great many Christians are trapped in the downward spiral of self-doubt. We fail, so we see ourselves as failures, which only leads to more failure. We sin, so we see ourselves as sinners, which only leads to more sin. We have been deceived by the enemy into believing that what we do determines who we are. Of course, such a belief can send us into a tailspin of hopelessness and more defeat.

Who we are is rooted in our identity and position in Christ. If we don’t see ourselves the way God sees us, to that degree we suffer from a false identity and poor self-worth.

The Example of Christ

God’s plan for redemption began to unfold when Christ, the Last Adam, appeared. The first thing we notice about the life of Christ is His complete dependence on God the Father. He said, “By myself I can do nothing; I judge only as I hear, and my judgment is just, for I seek not to please myself but him who sent me” (John 5:30). Also, “I live because of the Father” (6:57). And, “The words I say to you are not just my own. Rather, it is the Father, living in me, who is doing his work” (14:10).

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Like the First Adam, Jesus was born both physically and spiritually alive. This was made evident by the fact that Jesus was conceived by the Spirit of God and was born of a virgin. Unlike the First Adam, although Jesus was tempted in every way He never sinned. He never lost His spiritual life because of any sin he committed. He kept His spiritual life all the way to the cross. There, He bled and died, taking the sins of the world upon Himself. He committed His spirit into the Father’s hands as His physical life ended (Luke 23:46). What Adam and Eve lost in the Fall was spiritual life, which Jesus came to restore. Jesus said, “I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full” (John 10:10b).

What a Difference Christ Makes In Us

The difference between the First and Second Adam spells the difference between life and death for us. Perhaps that life-giving difference is best noted in 1 Corinthians 15:22: “For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive.” Being “spiritually alive” is mentioned often in the New Testament. For example, in the six chapters of the book of Ephesians alone we find forty references to being “in Christ” and having Christ “in you.” For every biblical passage that teaches Christ is in you, ten teach that you are “in Christ.”

Of course, new life requires new birth. We weren’t born in Christ. We were born dead in our trespasses and sins (Eph. 2:1). What is God’s plan for transforming us from being in Adam to being in Christ? Jesus said, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God” (John 3:3). Physical birth gains only physical life for us, period. Spiritual life, the eternal life Christ promises to those who come to Him, is gained only through spiritual birth (3:36).

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Spiritually Alive!

What does it mean to be spiritually alive in Christ? The moment you were born again your soul came into union with God in the same way Adam was in union with God before the Fall. This is creation as God intended. Adam and Eve were completely immersed in communion with God in the Garden. Not only did Adam enjoy a sense of significance, but he also enjoyed a great degree of safety and security. All his needs were provided in the Garden.

At the moment we accepted Christ as the Messiah, we became spiritually alive and our name was written in the Lamb’s book of life. Eternal life is not something you get upon your physical death. Paul wrote, “Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day” (2 Cor. 4:16). He was referring to the spiritual life of the believer that doesn’t age or decay as does the outer shell. To be spiritually alive—characterized in the New Testament by the word zoe (the God-like life)—means your soul or soul/spirit is in union with God. That is the condition in which Adam was created—physically alive and spiritually alive, in perfect union with God.

For Christians, to be spiritually alive is to be in union with God. This spiritual life is most often conveyed in the New Testament as being “in Christ,” or “in Him.” Like Adam, we were created to be in union. You may have heard the expression Man is a social animal. We truly live for interpersonal relationships. Man, however, is also a spiritual being. Unfortunately, Adam sinned and his union with God was severed. It is God’s eternal plan to bring human creation back to Himself and restore the union He enjoyed with Adam at creation. That restored union with God, which we find “in Christ,” is what defines who we are as children of God.

A Christian, in terms of his or her deepest identity, is a saint, a spiritually born child of God, a divine masterpiece, a child of light, a citizen of heaven. Being born again transformed you into someone who did not exist before. Of course, it is not what you do as a Christian that determines who you are; it is who you are that determines what you do (see 2 Cor. 5:17; Eph. 2:10; 1 Peter 2:9-10; 1 John 3:1-2).

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It’s all in how you see yourself.

You don’t change yourself by your perception. You change your perception of yourself by believing the truth. If you perceive yourself wrongly, you will live wrongly.  If you think of yourself as a worthless bum, you will probably live like a worthless bum. If, however, you see yourself as a child of God who is spiritually alive in Christ, you will begin to live accordingly.

Naturally, Satan’s main strategy is to distort the character of God—in my opinion, one way he does this through the rantings of militant atheists, with Christopher Hitchens calling God a “heavenly dictator”—and he can’t do anything to change our identity and position in Christ. If he gets us to believe a lie, we will live as though our identity in Christ isn’t true.

New life results in a new identity.

 

Caring For the Least of These

PRINCE GEORGE’S COUNTY CORRECTIONAL CENTER’S FIRST FEMALE CHAPLAIN SHARES WHY SHE FEELS CALLED TO CARE FOR THE LEAST OF THESE

Michele Reynolds is learning what it means to follow God’s calling—even when it’s difficult. She’s working toward earning her Master of Arts in Christian Care at Lancaster Bible College and working as a chaplain for Good News Jail and Prison Ministry at Prince George’s County Correctional Center in Upper Marlboro, Maryland. Seminary can be tough, working in ministry is undoubtedly tough, and working in a prison setting is even tougher. But Reynolds says, “The most challenging part about chaplaincy is assisting the senior chaplain in managing 400 volunteers, working two jobs, and going to seminary simultaneously.” An understatement, to be sure. And yet, she’s taking it all in stride.

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Impressive academics and incredible stamina aside, Reynolds says she’s always had a heart for volunteerism, which she credits to her parents. She said chaplaincy “just makes sense” to her. “I had been volunteering for almost 15 years at Prince George’s County Correctional Center when our senior chaplain fell ill, and I was temporarily placed in his position for nine months,” she explained. “I call it my ‘divine internship.’ It’s a part of my Jeremiah 29:11.” In her role as the first female chaplain at the correctional facility in Upper Marlboro, Reynolds has many responsibilities. “Primarily, I am in charge of making sure all female inmates’ spiritual and emotional needs are met,” she said. “I also train all volunteer managers and manage the volunteers themselves and provide spiritual guidance and counseling to correctional officers and staff.”

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Reynolds noted that her education at Lancaster Bible College Capital Seminary and Graduate School is making a real difference in the way she does her job. “Most times what I am learning in the class I’m already experiencing and or practicing every day,” she said. It gives me confirmation in how I’m doing in ministry, and classmates can see through me that the subjects we learn will be practiced one day in their ministry.”

Reynolds is intimately familiar with the challenging situations a chaplain might face on any given day. “Recently, a woman names Mrs. Johnson called us and said that her granddaughter Sharon was in our correctional center,” she said. “The grandmother was frantic because Sharon’s baby was nowhere to be found.” Reynolds and other staff members were able to talk with Sharon, but it became apparent that she suffered from a severe mental illness, and much of what she said was unintelligible. They never found out where the baby was. “We assume that the baby was picked up by child protective services, but we don’t know,” said Reynolds. “It’s heart-wrenching and makes emotions surface in my quiet times with the Lord. In the midst of these situations, I pray and look for the ways I can assist the inmates and their families during these difficult times. In this field, you come across a whole lot of horrible things, but you embrace the good things. Working as a chaplain teaches me to to be even more compassionate and to remember in the end, it’s all about Jesus and serving Him and His people.”

“I was called to minister to the least, the lost, and the left out,” said Reynolds. Overall, she says she’s grateful for the training she’s receiving through the seminary. “My journey to obtain my MA in Christian Care is more inspiring and meaningful since I’ve become a chaplain,” she explained. “I took a couple of breaks before, and I’m glad I did… but now it’s much more meaningful in my life and in other lives.”

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To learn more about the master’s degree programs at Lancaster Bible College visit: http://lbc.edu

 

The Opioid Issue: Part 6

Part 6: Hope, Not Handcuffs

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In a growing number of towns, police aren’t arresting people facing addiction. Instead, they’re providing a doorway to treatment.

Judge Linda Davis hasn’t only seen the toll opioids take from the bench. She’s also seen it at home—with one of her daughters. “I thought our family would be the last family on earth this would happen to,” she says. “I was a judge and a former prosecutor who’d run the drug unit. We talked about these issues constantly.”

Then one of her daughters—a fine student and athlete—got hurt at age 17 and needed knee surgery. Pills were prescribed. That led to heroin. And later, a four a.m. confession: “Mom, I’m a heroin addict. I need help.”

That was 12 years ago: Davis’ daughter has been clean since then. “I’m just one of many parents with a story like that,” Davis says. “It amazes me that every time I share it, someone says, ‘I have a son or daughter or grandson or nephew or mother or grandmother with a problem like that.’ It’s that widespread.” Davis hasn’t stopped at telling her story. She volunteers her lunch hours to serve on drug court on top of her normal docket as a judge in Clinton Township, Mich. She co-founded a group, Families Against Narcotics (FAN), which has spread across the state. And that group is taking a leading role in promoting a new approach to fighting opioid addiction.

Angels Among Us

In May 2015, Gloucester, Mass. Police Chief Leonard Campanello posted a Facebook announcement: Anyone could come to the police department, report an opioid addiction, and police would get them into treatment. No arrests, no punishment. Just help. In the first year, 376 people showed up. Almost 95 percent got direct referrals for treatment. Today, that’s grown into a national program: the Police-Assisted Addiction and Recovery Initiative (PAARI), with nearly 400 participating police departments in approximately 30 states. Some 12,000 people have been ushered into treatment so far.

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The largest of those partners is Macomb County, Mich., comprised mostly of 860,000 Detroit suburbanites—FAN’s home base—where an important new element was added. FAN’s idea, successfully pitched to police and community leaders: Rather than burden police in such a populous area with getting people into treatment, specially-trained community volunteers—known as “angles”—would help with the load.

Under the Macomb County program—called “Hope, Not Handcuffs,” an angel is called to the police station to give one-on-one attention to the person reporting an addiction. The volunteer sits with him or her, helps fill out forms and makes the calls to get into a treatment center right away. The angel is there after treatment too—helping, if needed, to find housing or support services, among other things.

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It’s an approach which has captured a lot of hearts and minds. Some 250 people have stepped up to the angel role. Three emergency-service ambulance companies agreed to provide free transportation to treatment centers. Hope Not Handcuffs already is operating in eight Michigan counties, and spreading. “The program started a little over a year ago, and already we’ve placed almost 1,300 people in treatment,” Davis says. “We’re working with up to 90 police departments on implementing this in the state of Michigan. “We get calls from all over the U.S. wanting to initiate the program. But as an all-volunteer group, we don’t have the resources to coordinate with them. We can’t grow that fast.”

After decades as a judge and prosecutor, Davis is struck by the change in law enforcement’s approach. “Police officers are leading the charge for reforms,” she says. “We’ve had a big shift from the ‘lock ’em up’ mentality they were taught in the academies. “Now you’ll hear officers say it all the time: ‘We can’t arrest our way out of this. This is a disease, and locking up people with a disease won’t work.’ For them to say that is really changing the stigma of addiction and opening up new possibilities.”

Living Testimonies

Signs of that changing mentality in law enforcement are popping up all over. There are more than 3,100 drug courts in the country, the U.S. Department of Justice reports—specialized docket programs focusing mostly on treatment and rehabilitation. Roughly half of them deal with juveniles; the other half, with adults.

In Macomb County, a lot of people are grateful. And some are giving back. Micki Dodson’s mom was an addict. Micki, now 30, eventually followed in her footsteps, spending the better part of a decade on pills, heroin, and crack cocaine. Only after her mother died of an overdose last year did she turn the corner. Dodson has been clean since May 2017, and she’s scheduled to graduate from the drug court program in October. “I’m a huge fan of Hope Not Handcuffs,” she says. “Drug court has been my saving grace. I can’t thank them enough: They worked wonders for me. I couldn’t stay clean on my own.”

Now Dodson plans to undergo angel training, so she can do for others what someone did for her. “I have to give back,” she says. “It helps me. I want to let them know there’s hope. If I help one person today, I’ve done my job for that day.”

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Anthony Mattarella is giving back too. Much like Davis’s daughter, he was injured in his youth and went from prescription opioids to heroin and other drugs. That lasted eight years, with numerous fruitless stints in jail or rehab. Three years ago, when his case was bounded over to Davis’ drug court, things changed. “Before I got into the program, I wanted to die,” Mattarella says. “When I got in, I was willing to do anything they asked of me. I knew I was either going to kill myself or I was going to get sober.”

Now he’s a peer-recovery coach for 41B Drug Court in Clinton Township, Mich.—the same court where Davis serves. He’s helping lost people find their way, using his experience to connect with them and guide them. “It’s so rewarding,” he says. “I see them go through the [recovery] process; I see the smiles on their faces when they start to understand.”

Looking back, Mattarella marvels at the change in his life.

“It’s absolutely unbelievable to me,” he says. “I never thought I’d be here. I never thought I’d be someone who helps people.”

FOR MORE INFORMATION: To learn more about Hope, Not Handcuffs, go to familiesagainstnarcotics.org/hopenothandcuffs. For more information on the Police-Assisted Addiction and Recovery Initiative, visit paariusa.org.

The Encounter in the Desert

He stood, sweating, gazing over the vastness
of what looked like nothingness; hot, glaring,
monochromatic landscape, broken only by an
occasional dune. His eyes batted against the
stinging bits of sand encircling his head as He
tried to catch His breath. He was, after all, Jesus
in a mortal body.

He was hungry. He had not eaten for the past
forty days. He caught sight of an approaching
figure surrounded by piercing light. The desert
floor began to vibrate. The figure was enormous
in size, and seemed to exude tremendous power.

As if reading His mind, the figure said, “Tell
these stones to become bread.” In response,
Jesus took a confident breath and said, “It is written:
‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every
word that comes from the mouth of God.'”
Although Jesus stood his ground, the figure reached
toward Him and whisked Him away.

Now, Jesus and the figure were at the Holy City,
standing on a steeple. The figure said, “If you
are the Son of God, throw yourself down, for it is
written, ‘He will command his angels concerning
you, and they will lift you up in their hands, so that
you will not strike your foot against a stone.'”

Jesus answered, “It is also written: ‘Do not put
the Lord your God to the test.'” The figure was
persistent in his provocation, reaching toward Jesus
again, spiriting Him away to a very high mountain,
where he showed Him all the kingdoms of the world
in all their splendor and beauty and majesty.

“All this I will give you,” said the figure,
“If you will bow down and worship me.”
“Away from me,” Jesus said, “For it is written:
‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve Him only.'”
Jesus could not be tempted or drawn away,
nor did He lose His faith in God, as a result
of his encounter with the devil in the desert.

©2016 Steven Barto