January 24, 2016

          Back when I was growing up, you were cool if you managed to snag a bottle of Boones Farm, and shared it among your friends.  And yes, back in high school we had the stoners, but hard drugs were literally unheard of.  Jump forward a decade or two, and cocaine was the hot drug; as well as satan's bargain basement variety, crack, which broke many a mother's heart when she discovered burnt tin foil under her teenager's bed.  I know, because I was one of those mothers.  Today, almost anyone can go out and buy heroin for $10.  And the rate of addicts just keeps growing and growing.  What started as an a chemist's quest in the late 1800s to find an alternative to morphine (which was the drug of choice for Civil War soldiers) has turned into the something far worse than he intended to replace. Think it can't happen here?  Think it is only an inner-city problem among blacks?  Today nearly 90 percent of the people who try heroin for the first time are white. And a growing number are middle-class or wealthy, with the biggest surge among white women.  What's more, heroin use is actually more prevalent in small cities and rural towns than in large metropolitan areas.  My daughter, Erika, told me that not too long along her and Sophie found two hypodermic needles lying on the lawn outside the apartment complex where they live in Morris.  Satan is using heroin and opiate-based painkillers to trap people at an alarming rate, men and women, young and old, rich and poor.  It makes no matter to him.  He will take anyone he can get.  And we as Christians have to first of all be wise.  We have to know our enemy.  We have to be aware of his tactics.  And then we have to be willing to fight.  Kind in mind, satan doesn't give up easily.  If an addict tries to stop using, they will face terrible withdrawal symptoms, and are very likely to give up and succumb to resuming their habit. 

          But don't think heroin, or other opiate drugs, are the only thing satan uses to addict people - to keep them from God and under his thumb.  For thousands of years he has used alcohol.  While it is legal, and more socially acceptable, it also can maintain a choke hold on its prisoner.  Is having one social drink a sin?  Of itself, I personally don't believe it is.  But for someone who is fighting addiction, it might be all it takes to send them plunging back into the black hole of alcoholism.  I don't think I even have to mention how hard it is to kick the nicotine habit. Cigarettes aren't as popular as they once were, but they still are doing their fair share of slowing killing their addicts.  And I can't resist adding the favorite of Methodists, coffee.  Yes, caffeine is a drug.  It can enhance your mental ability and help you wake up, and moderate consumption has even been shown to help you live longer.  But even it can be abused, and those with high blood pressure definitely need to limit its use.

          And I'm not done yet...  Drugs and alcohol aren't the only things that satan can use to addict people.  There are countless men, and women too, that are slaves to pornography.  Video games, which are becoming more and more violent, also can get a grip on your psyche, putting gamers into zombie-like trances for hours or even days at a time. With machines that sell 'scratchy' tickets, and even video poker machines, popping up in places you never would have expected a decade ago, gambling is a fast-growing addiction in this country.  How many people spend every extra dollar on these machines?  And sadly, there are too many people that spend the rent and grocery money on them as well.  And I know no one wants to hear this, but I am willing to bet that the fastest growing addiction, and the most prevalent, is to our cell phones.  Don't think so?  Try giving yours up for a week.  Maybe even a day.  You will find yourself reaching for it, or waiting for that sound of a new text message...  Of themselves they are not a bad thing, and can even save lives in an emergency.  But the flip side is that personal relationships can suffer, or be completely destroyed, at their hand.   And while facebook can be used to spread the Gospel, it also can become addictive.  In fact, satan can take just about anything that can be used for good, and turn it into something evil - if we let him.  Those that know me, know I bought a powerball ticket a couple of weeks ago, and I like coffee, and even an occasional glass of wine.  And I not only have a personal facebook account, but am the administrator, or one of the administrators, of several pages and groups.  So I am not trying to make anyone feel guilty for any of these things, or make myself out to be better than anyone else.  But we all need to be aware of the fact that if you put any of the things I have mentioned, or any I have not mentioned, as your primary focus in life, even if not completely addicted, you are committing idolatry, which is a sin against the first, and foremost, commandment.  For anything that is more important to you than God, has become an idol.  OK.  So now what?

          As I said earlier, a Christian has to be wise and has to be willing to fight.  A few weeks ago I preached a message on wisdom.  So now how do we fight satan and help someone caught in his grip?  The fight begins on our knees.  Prayer should always be our first weapon, both defensive and offensive.  Paul said to the Galatians, "Dear brothers and sisters, if another believer is overcome by some sin, you who are godly should gently and humbly help that person back onto the right path. And be careful not to fall into the same temptation yourself." (Galatians 6:1)  Our first prayer should be that God's protects us from falling into addiction ourselves.  You might say, "Well, I would never _________", but being exposed to the spirit of addiction could infect you with a different strain.  So keep your defenses up and pray a shield around yourself.  Next, suit up with the armor of God.  Paul told the Ephesians that to be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power, they should "Put on all of God's armor so that you will be able to stand firm against all strategies of the devil. For we are not fighting against flesh-and-blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in the heavenly places.  Therefore, put on every piece of God's armor so you will be able to resist the enemy in the time of evil. Then after the battle you will still be standing firm. Stand your ground, putting on the belt of truth and the body armor of God's righteousness. For shoes, put on the peace that comes from the Good News so that you will be fully prepared. In addition to all of these, hold up the shield of faith to stop the fiery arrows of the devil. Put on salvation as your helmet, and take the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God."  (Ephesians 6:11-17)  If you don't know God's Word, and don't comprehend the power of the Holy Spirit within you, you could be the meanest, toughest DEA agent ever, and satan will only laugh; because it takes more than physical strength to break addiction.  It takes spiritual strength!

          Ready to take the offense?  Keep reminding yourself that satan is already a defeated foe.  Repeat to yourself God's promise that, "the Spirit who lives in you is greater than the spirit who lives in the world. (1 John 4:4)  Remember, the sword of the Spirit is the Word of God.  Satan will try to twist it, to make you question it, and get you to doubt it; but if you know what it says, and believe it in your heart, there is no mightier weapon.  And there is nothing in satan's artillery that can stand against it! 

          What else?  Use God's Word along with the triple threat.  The 1, 2, 3 knock out punch.  Faith, hope, and love!  Faith that God will answer your prayers.  Faith that God will stand behind His Word.  Faith that God is stronger than any addiction.  Hope that won't give up, no matter how long it takes.  Hope that knows that in the end, God wins.  And love, for without love, what's the point?  Victory without love is meaningless. Love is the reason that Jesus defeated satan for us at the cross.  And it is the reason we fight to free others from his grip.  And then, as we heard in our Gospel reading (John 8:31-36), when the Son sets them free, they will be truly free!  Amen.