An open letter to the leaders and members of the Christian churches in and around Bennington
Dear Sisters and Brothers in Christ,
Ask anyone on the street, in the stores, or around the water cooler what they think our community’s biggest problem might be, and you’ll surely hear a lot about addiction. This is not a new problem, but it is clear that we have a crisis on our hands. Lives are being lost and destroyed, sometimes bit by bit, and sometimes suddenly. The demon of addiction is threatening and destroying our community like never before, and it is time for the followers of Jesus to respond all the more. The situation may seem hopeless at times, but as children of God, we are called to bring the light of Jesus into the darkness.
What does God think about our community’s addiction problem? And what should we, as God’s people, do about it? Some prefer to ignore the problem. Some feel powerless, so find it best to do nothing. Some are happy to pray for “those people” but don’t do anything beyond that. Some are active in loving folks in the midst of addiction. Some want to help but don’t know how. What should you do about it? What would God have you do?
If you look around an average church on an average Sunday morning you might see our nice clothes, our impressive buildings, and our fancy pipe organs (or guitars, if you like), and conclude that “church” and “religion” is only for those who’ve got their acts together. But, as it turns out, that is the exact opposite of what God says: “God demonstrates his love for us in this: that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8). Jesus also said, “Blessed are the poor in spirit.” (Matthew 5:3). God’s heart is also revealed in the Psalms: “The Lord works righteousness and justice for all who are oppressed.” (Psalm 103:6).
Many of us believe something like this: “Those folks got themselves into their mess, so they can get themselves out.” But this perspective is missing out on God’s heart we find all through the scriptures and in our own experience. Yes, addiction often starts with a choice, but the life-destroying consequences of that choice often far exceed what is imaginable. Especially with opiates, the capacity to choose is quickly stolen away, and is only restored by a miracle of God’s grace. If we wait for folks to “get their act together” before we show them any love, we clearly forget that God didn’t wait for us to get our act together before he loved us.
Our secular friends are doing most of the work in the recovery community: 12-step programs, recovery centers, counselors, doctors, and the like. But if I may be so bold, God’s people have something they do not. We, as followers of Jesus, have the power of the Holy Spirit at work within us. We serve a God who can do far more than we can ask or imagine. We have a Savior whose love cannot be stopped by angels or demons or powers or anything else. The question before us now is: will we, as the Christian community, step up to make a difference? Or will we continue to largely ignore the biggest problem in our community?
I believe “the answer” to addiction ultimately comes down to one thing: relationships. We find hope, healing and wholeness in our relationship with God through saving faith in Jesus Christ, by the power of the Holy Spirit. Amazingly, God most often chooses us, his people, to express his love to others through our personal relationships. Our relationships are needed for folks to find hope, healing, and wholeness that can only come from God.
So a little while ago, here at First Baptist Church, we started a gathering we call Mercy Street. It is a simple monthly gathering of those affected by addiction: whether in recovery, in active use, family, friends, survivors, supporters, or whoever. Those of all faiths or no faith are welcome to come together for music, story, and prayer. We sing songs of hope and deliverance. We share stories of recovery. We pray hard for each other and our community. And we find relationships, which is where the real power is. Perhaps more will come from this simple beginning, but then again, perhaps it is enough to look someone in the eye and say: “You are loved.”
It is a humble beginning, a seed of a movement of love. Will you join us as we gather to share God’s love with anyone affected by addiction? Will you join us at 601 Main Street in Bennington on February 28 at 7pm?
Individually we can make a difference. Together we can make a movement.
Will you join us?