Hope for America’s Opioid Epidemic Is Grace in a Syringe

Why addiction ministry can include fellowship, the gospel and Narcan.

The man in front of me is almost dead. His lips are blue. He isn’t breathing. His eyes are half open and still. His arms fall limply off the stretcher, and he doesn’t flinch as needles are threaded into his veins and his clothes are stripped away. His wife is wailing in the doorway.

His pulse—a barely palpable flutter beneath my fingertips—is the only indication that something might be done. We have only a few seconds to act before the faint, fast rhythm slips away entirely and he is gone. Irreversibly. Irretrievably.

We secure a syringe to his IV, we push the plunger, and we wait.

He gasps.

He coughs, he flails, then screams and kicks. He rips his IV out and tumbles to the floor: wild, naked, and incoherent. He is in agony. But he is alive.

Resurrected.

This is Narcan. This is the scene that plays out daily in my emergency department at a community hospital fighting for lives deep in the heart of opiate country. We have only a few tools to combat the overdoses that will take more lives this year than car accidents or guns, and Narcan—the opioid reversal medication also known as Naloxone—is the most effective. A spray up the nose, a shot in the thigh, or a push through an IV and within seconds: a miracle. The dead live. A sin is forgiven. The hopeless receive hope. For a Christian doctor, Narcan looks like grace in a syringe.

As our country slips deeper into an epidemic that President Donald Trump declared a national emergency on Thursday, the debate around Narcan for opioid overdoses has surfaced as a unique pro-life issue. While this medication has the power to prevent the majority of opioid deaths, its efficacy relies on it being administered quickly, within minutes, to an overdose victim. …

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What Brilliant Psychologists Like Me Are Learning About Humility

Measuring meekness can help the church as long as we remember the only One who had something to brag about.

We all know we shouldn’t text as we drive. Or more precisely, we all know other people shouldn’t text as they drive. As for me, I’m exceptionally cautious, just sending off a few words to keep life moving. Plus, my texts aren’t a real problem since I’m an excellent driver.

It turns out that 93 percent of us in the United States believe we are above-average drivers—a conclusion that defies the very notion of what average means. Likewise, most of us perceive ourselves to be above average in intelligence, friendship, marriage, parenting, leadership, social skills, work ethic, and managing money. As a college professor, I might guess myself to be immune from this sort of normative overestimation, and that guess would be wrong. Almost 9 out of 10 college professors believe themselves to be above-average teachers.

We live in a Keilloresque Wobegon world where “all the women are strong, all the men are good looking, and all the children are above average.” To admit being average at anything—or worse yet, to call someone else average—seems shocking these days. But while it may come as no surprise to Christians commanded to “be completely humble” (Eph. 4:2), it turns out that humility is really good for us. It just took the science a while to prove it.

Experiments of Virtue

For many decades psychologists have studied what goes wrong with people and how to help repair the damage. In contrast, positive psychology—the science of virtue—looks at what goes right with people and how to help them flourish and thrive. Many of today’s leading scholars in positive psychology are Christians studying topics such as forgiveness, gratitude, hope, wisdom, grace, …

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Six Degrees of Separation: Why Our Witness Matters

Our lives reach farther than we can imagine.

Connectedness is largely taken for granted in today’s world. In many ways, interconnectivity is the air we breathe. Six degrees of separation is a familiar concept to many and it holds a magnifying glass to the relational connections we have. Originally developed in 1929 by a Hungarian playwright named Frigyes Karinth, the theory of six degrees of separation suggests that any two people on earth are connected by as few as six other networking relationships. The idea was popularized in America by John Guare, a playwright in New York who in 1990 developed a theater performance by the same name.

It may have been a small world when that play was released, but the reality is that the world has shrunken dramatically since then! Sysomos, a firm monitoring social media, reported in 2010 that the average relational distance on Twitter is 4.67 degrees of separation. Our increasing interconnectedness is taken for granted in many spheres of our lives, but let’s take a moment to consider how the principle of six degrees of separation might impact our evangelism.

Here’s an example from history of what that might look like:

In 1855, a Sunday school teacher by the name of Edward Kimball led a teenage D.L. Moody to Christ. About 20 years later, after one of his evangelistic meetings in the 1870s, D.L. Moody had a conversation with a man by the name of J. Wilbur Chapman through which Chapman received the assurance of his salvation.

About ten years later, in the 1880s, Billy Sunday converted to Christ during an evangelistic event hosted by the Pacific Garden Mission in Chicago. For a time, Billy Sunday worked for J. Wilbur Chapman, helping him organize Chapman’s evangelistic meetings, but Sunday then went on to host his …

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#Charlottesville This Morning, the Christian Response Today, and Your Church’s Response Tomorrow

Silence on matters of hatred and bigotry is antithetical to the gospel.

I know I’m not the only one who has been keeping track of what is happening in Charlottesville, VA, and feeling both sadness and anger at the same time. I returned to the United States this morning, to a country that seems to be bursting at the seams with tension, hatred, and division.

As a Christian leader watching all that unfolded surrounding today’s Unite the Right rally, which saw white nationalists, neo-Nazis, Ku Klux Klan members (all making up what we sometimes call the alt-right) call for “taking America back,” my heart is grieving. And seeing the violent turn things took this afternoon, I am crushed.

Now, there are certainly bad people on all sides, but there are not “many sides” to this issue—this was a gathering of the alt-right and, whether you supported now-President Trump or not, there is no question they have been emboldened by his election (as I explain here).

So, as a white evangelical, part of a demographic category who disproportionally supported President Trump, let me start by saying this movement is antithetical to the gospel. It is an abomination to all that we stand for, and it must be condemned on every level of leadership in the Church. There is no room for waffling. We cannot sit in silence hoping this will pass.

As I’ve written before, there can be no question about where a denomination, or Christians in general, stand on this more polished form of racism.

Furthermore, if any evangelicals have influence on President Trump, they should call on him to have the specificity he has shown with numerous individuals, from Mitch McConnell to Mika Brzezinski, and do what he said President Obama would not do with radical Islamists—call out the evildoers.

They …

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The Use of Nuclear Weapons Is Inherently Evil

No earthly leader gets the ‘authority to do whatever.’

Much of the world has responded with “fire and fury” to President Donald Trump’s message to North Korea that continued threats will “be met with fire and fury like the world has never seen”—an unmistakable allusion to using nuclear weapons. Given the gravity of this remark, it seems appropriate for onlookers to be unnerved by America’s apparent stance.

Still, not everyone was troubled by it, with some evangelical Christians actually cheering the President on (more on that in a bit). So we have to acknowledge that Christians are divided on nuclear weapons.

As a study by the Presbyterian Church in America (“Christian Responsibility in the Nuclear Age,” 1987) put it, “Given the dilemma of possible escalation to an all-out nuclear war on the one hand, and the near certainty of enslavement to a totalitarian power on the other, it is not clear that the nonuse of nuclear weapons is an absolute moral obligation.”

And further, “The thought of killing masses of helpless people who are themselves at the mercy of their own government is abhorrent. Only if there were no other way to prevent an even worse catastrophe could nuclear retaliation ever be justified.” The language is nuanced, but the point is clear: The use of nuclear weapons is, in extreme cases, morally just.

Others of us emphatically disagree: Under no circumstances would the use of nuclear arms be justified. Our reasons hinge on the sixth commandment, “You shall not murder,” and the indiscriminate nature of nuclear weapons. Simply put, they end up killing a great many more civilians than combatants, and therefore, their use violates one cardinal principle of just war: proportionality.

Sadly, …

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The Gospel of Mark Zuckerberg

Facebook and others have started to imitate, but can’t replace, church community.

From the late 1980s, many churches made the decision to run like businesses and now, in a surprising twist, businesses in 2017 are running like churches.

At Facebook’s inaugural Communities Summit earlier this summer, CEO Mark Zuckerberg lauded the role churches historically played in society, from providing support in community to stoking charitable volunteerism. In the face of declining church membership, he suggested that Facebook could now fill the void left behind.

“It’s so striking,” he stated, “that for decades, membership in all kinds of groups has declined as much as one quarter. That’s a lot of people who need to find a sense of purpose and support somewhere else.”

At Facebook, he continued, “we started a project to see if we could get better at suggesting groups that will be meaningful to you. We started building artificial intelligence to do this. And it works. In the first six months, we helped 50 percent more people join meaningful communities.”

There’s much that Zuckerberg gets right.

The much-discussed “nones”—those unaffiliated with any particular religion—have indeed been on the rise for decades, and their growth isn’t just obvious in emptying churches.

Instead of Catholics or white evangelicals, it was religious nones that represented the largest religious voting bloc in the 2016 election. Another set of affiliations, major political parties, also saw allegiances drop with the rise of the independent voter, who refuses to align with either party.

In 2000, Harvard professor Robert D. Putnam first noted the collapse of civic engagement in American society. Since the 1960s, fewer Americans had been investing in “social …

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What We Mean When We Say ‘Orthodox Christianity’

James K.A. Smith wants to focus on the creeds, not sexuality. But there’s more to it than that.

Is affirming same-sex sexual relationships as righteous before God a heresy? Even if you believe it’s un-Biblical, are heresy and orthodoxy even the right categories for addressing the problem?

Over the weekend, philosopher and Calvin College professor James K. A. Smith argued that recent use of the words orthodoxy and heresy in debates about sexual ethics surrounding same-sex marriage is a selective and illegitimate expansion of the terms. Instead, we should reserve the language of orthodoxy and heresy for those beliefs which are “conciliar,” and “rooted in, and measured by, the ecumenical councils and creeds of the Church (Nicaea, Chalcedon)” because they refer to the fundamental truths of God’s triunity, the resurrection, the virgin birth, and so forth.

In contrast to this ideal, Smith says these terms have been reduced from this creedal basis to a single issue: “a particular view of sexuality and marriage.” He deems this development, “recent, innovative, and narrow,” symptomatic of a modern tendency to reduce Christianity to its morality. Indeed, unless we’re careful, the term orthodox will simply become the adjective we append to any issue we personally find important, thereby writing off “swaths of Christians who affirm conciliar orthodoxy” and closing down conversation in the church.

Predictably, this argument set off some discussion on the internet. Notable entries include Alastair Roberts’s argument that Smith has truncated the notion of creedal orthodoxy, and Alan Jacobs’s defense of Smith against Roberts and other critics, which Smith himself has commended. No doubt more entries will come.

Before proceeding with my own judgments, …

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Thankfulness Protects Against PTSD

In the aftermath of tragedy, gratitude helps us grow.

I can still remember with perfect clarity the moment I read the news about the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary. I was out for a walk with my young daughter. I felt physically sick to my stomach and immediately began weeping, thinking of all those families that had just lost a little one like mine. It feels as though the past 10 to 15 years have been full of one tragedy after another—whether terrorist attacks or acts of violence, it’s hard to make sense of it all. But is there another way?

Some psychology research suggests that this rise in traumatic events can actually lead to a surprising reaction: gratitude.

Gratitude, of course, will not be our first response. It’s impossible not to go through pain, confusion and anger when you hear about these tragedies, and even more so if you experience it firsthand. This response is called Post-Traumatic Stress (PTS), but there is also a second psychological concept called Post-Traumatic Growth (PTG). Post-Traumatic Growth happens in the season after the trauma, when some people start to feel thankful to be alive, thankful that the trauma wasn’t even worse, and grateful for the chance to learn more about themselves.

In a fascinating study, researchers Julie Vieselmeyer and colleagues followed up with 359 students and faculty that were present on campus or somewhere nearby during the Seattle Pacific University shooting of 2014. They wanted to discover whether gratitude can actually protect someone from the detrimental effects of witnessing trauma.

Participants took a survey four months after the shooting occurred. Researchers asked them questions about how close (physically and emotionally) they were to the shooting, and the kinds of post-trauma symptoms they …

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The Fight for Social Justice Starts Within

Only a vibrant inner life can sustain the activist’s soul.

A little over a decade ago, no emblem of young Christians’ blooming justice activism flashed brighter than Invisible Children. It was born in 2004, shortly after Jason Russell and two other recent college graduates returned to the United States from Uganda with burning hearts and miles of amateur film footage.

The trio produced a shoestring documentary baring the pain of Uganda’s civil war. Within three years, tens of thousands of activists were participating in the group’s “night commutes” to raise awareness of Uganda’s child soldiers. In 2012, Invisible Children launched another video, Kony 2012, which struck hard at warlord Joseph Kony and pressed for stronger government efforts to capture him. Time magazine declared it the most viral video in history, garnering 100 million views in the first week after release.

But the stunning rise was short-lived. In Uganda, Kony proved tenacious. In the United States, stress and the glare of the public eye sent co-founder Russell into a tailspin. Ten days after the video’s release, another video went viral—this one of Russell’s public mental breakdown on the streets of San Diego. In December 2014, BuzzFeed announced “The End Of Invisible Children.” The pronouncement was premature—the organization is still active today—but many advocates parted ways.

Looking back on the battle that he and millions of supporters had waged against a single African war criminal, Russell concluded bluntly, “I feel like Kony won.”

An All-Too-Common Story

Russell’s story is dramatic, but he is hardly alone. His is merely the amplified tale of countless other advocates, activists, social workers, and nonprofit founders. …

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Missions Sunday: The Missing Key to the Refugee Crisis: Christian Hospitality towards Muslims (Part Two)

A biblical view of hospitality can offer a corrective to the current view of refugees.

Read The Missing Key to the Refugee Crisis: Christian Hospitality towards Muslims, Part One (The Calling of Levi: Jesus Invites the Marginalized; Levi’s Feast: The Challenge of Hospitality to the Marginalized; Jesus Reveals His Motive; Jesus and the Samaritans: Enemies among the Marginalized).

The Early Church: Embracing Marginalized Enemies

Acts 8:4-25 gives a vastly different account of the Samaritans; Phillip proclaimed the gospel to the Samaritans and many came to faith. As a result, the Jerusalem Church sent Peter and John as representatives to investigate. They sent the same John who earlier wanted to call fire down from heaven on a Samaritan community for their inhospitable behavior towards Jesus (Luke 9:52–55). Yet John probably felt a different attitude as he set out for Samaria with Peter (Bruce 1988, Kindle Electronic Edition: Location 6306-6307).

When Peter and John arrived, they witnessed the work of the Spirit of God among the Samaritans. Instead of calling judgment upon them, they extended their hands and prayed for them. As a result, the Samaritans experience an outpouring of the Spirit: “Suddenly the Spirit of God is poured out and their lives too and they will never be the same” (Barrett 1994, 412).

Convinced of God’s work among these Samaritans, Luke pointed out the impact of their change. While Peter and John were on their return journey to Jerusalem, they were “preaching the gospel in many other Samaritan villages” (Acts 8:25). This time, they were not asking for judgment by fire on more Samaritan villages (Luke 9:51–55).

The Spirit of Jesus changed John and Peter’s hearts. Other Samaritan villages welcomed them and they bore witness to what Christ had …

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