The complete tally of funerals he’s attended don’t include the funerals of his grandparents, and it far exceeds the number of funerals I had attended by his age. We live in a different time.
Probably everyone reading this knows someone who has lost a loved one to the heroin/opioid epidemic that is engulfing our nation. It reaches across race, cultural, socio-economic and religious lines. It doesn’t discriminate on any basis. I don’t have an answer. I have lots of questions.
I will never forget the confusion and shock I felt when a young man once said to me, “Last night I died in the bathroom of the restaurant. My mom was waiting for me at the table.” What?!
Yes, that’s what he said! Thankfully someone saw him, called 911, and paramedics arrived with Naloxone, the drug that reverses the overdose.
There is a heartbreaking world of destruction around us that we just don’t want to talk about or even acknowledge, but it is real. So. Very. Real. Not talking about it won’t solve the problem or make it go away. What do we do? I don’t know.
I do know that even if we find a way to remove this scourge, there will be another and when we remove that, something else will take its place. We live in the Valley of the Shadow of Death. There is evil at work, and evil thrives in the realm of death.
Evil is real. This is not to say that people who take drugs are evil. It is to say that there is a devil who exists, who has many weapons in his arsenal, and who is looking for people to attack and destroy.
Therefore, we must stay alert! We must watch out for our great enemy, the devil. He prowls around like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour. We must stand firm against him and be strong in our faith (1 Peter 5:8-9a NLT).
This seems like a contradiction — if he is roaring, wouldn’t that alert us to his nearness? Shouldn’t that be sufficient warning to send us scurrying away in the opposite direction? Maybe we aren’t scared off because we deceive ourselves into thinking we can fend him off. We think we’re in control. Maybe that is the greatest deception of the Great Deceiver.
We think we can play with fire and not get burned. Did any of the young adults, whose funerals my nephew has attended, set out with the goal to die at the hands of a drug? I dare say, no. They thought they were in control, they were deceived.
We all suffer from this deception to a degree. We think we are strong enough to withstand temptation, knowledgeable enough to establish our own boundaries and prescient enough to know what is best for us. We fool ourselves, and then we fall.
We think we can enjoy the pleasures of sin for a little while and no one will get hurt, until someone inevitably does. That is the nature of sin. It is like a credit card: buy now, pay later. The bill will come. It will be more than is expected. It will take longer to pay off. It can cost us our very lives.
Whatever our vice, our guilty pleasure, our secret sin, we must realize that we are playing with death when we play with anything that displeases God. The apostle Paul tells us that the wages of sin is death; something always dies when we choose sin because sin kills — it kills relationships, reputations, careers, hopes, dreams, and sometimes bodies.
However, we don’t have to fall for Satan’s deceptions. Jesus is the way, the truth and the life (John 14:6), and as we trust in him, he will lead us along right paths. He will give us a way to stand firm when temptation comes. He will guide us in the way of righteousness. He will protect us from evil. He will bring us safely to the Father.
Perhaps that is the enemy’s greatest lie: if we commit to follow Jesus, we have to forfeit everything that’s fun and exciting. Perhaps that’s the roaring that we hear, the sound of everyone telling us how awful life as a Christian will be, how much we’ll be giving up. We hear evil coming, but we fall for the deception because we falsely think that choosing Jesus will mean living in bondage to rules.
The opposite is the truth: choosing Jesus frees us. Jesus frees us from the bondage of sin. He has broken the power of sin. He has broken the power of death. Not only do we live freely now, we live freely with him forever!
As the Psalmist says, The Lord is my shepherd; I have all that I need. He lets me rest in green meadows; he leads me beside peaceful streams. He renews my strength. He guides me along right paths, bringing honor to his name. Even when I walk through the darkest valley, I will not be afraid, for you are close beside me. Your rod and your staff protect and comfort me. You prepare a feast for me in the presence of my enemies. You honor me by anointing my head with oil. My cup overflows with blessings. Surely your goodness and unfailing love will pursue me all the days of my life, and I will live in the house of the Lord forever (Psalm 23 NLT).
As you walk through this valley, who is leading you? Are you following the deceiver? Or the Savior? What risk are you willing to take, even at the cost of your life… your eternal life?
O Lord, I give my life to you. I trust in you, my God! Do not let me be disgraced, or let my enemies rejoice in my defeat. No one who trusts in you will ever be disgraced, but disgrace comes to those who try to deceive others. Show me the right path, O Lord; point out the road for me to follow. Lead me by your truth and teach me, for you are the God who saves me. All day long I put my hope in you. Remember, O Lord, your compassion and unfailing love, which you have shown from long ages past. Do not remember the rebellious sins of my youth. Remember me in the light of your unfailing love, for you are merciful, O Lord. The Lord is good and does what is right; he shows the proper path to those who go astray. He leads the humble in doing right, teaching them his way. The Lord leads with unfailing love and faithfulness all who keep his covenant and obey his demands. For the honor of your name, O Lord, forgive my many, many sins. Who are those who fear the Lord? He will show them the path they should choose. They will live in prosperity, and their children will inherit the land. The Lord is a friend to those who fear him. He teaches them his covenant. My eyes are always on the Lord, for he rescues me from the traps of my enemies. Turn to me and have mercy, for I am alone and in deep distress. My problems go from bad to worse. Oh, save me from them all! Feel my pain and see my trouble. Forgive all my sins. See how many enemies I have and how viciously they hate me! Protect me! Rescue my life from them! Do not let me be disgraced, for in you I take refuge. May integrity and honesty protect me, for I put my hope in you.– Psalm 25:1-21 NLT
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