(Remarks delivered to the Tacoma Rescue Mission New Life program)
In the movie Jaws there is a scene where Captain Quint, Doctor Hooper and Sheriff Brody are drinking in the galley. Quint and Hooper are boasting of their war wounds and battle scars. As each man was trying to impress the other Brody glances at his appendix scar and then hides it. He hides is because he recognizes he was in the company of battle tested warriors and felt like the lesser man. In a very real way I feel that way tonight.
A few months ago our fellowship of guys handed out food in the Tillicum Community Center. We didn't do much, just handed out boxes and helped people to their car for Thanksgiving and Christmas. Tillicum has one of the highest drug addiction level in the state of Washington. While I was seeing the people come in for their boxes I wanted to connect, but I couldn't figure out a way to connect. It is hard to do in the short moments we could interact. And then I wondered, "What would I say if we did connect?" I didn't have an answer. I don't like that. Since then I have thought about how I could speak to a community like this.
Right now I feel sort of like a milk bucket under a bull or a screen door on a submarine. I am out of place. I feel like an outsider in many ways. And the reason I feel out of place is I am not qualified to talk to you. I don't know anything about the effects of drug addiction. I have no experience with how it feels to be driven by the need for one more drink, one more high, one more one more and one more.
I don't have any 2nd hand experience with that life either. My parents were not abusive of themselves or others. Me and my four siblings and our families continue to be strongly connected to each other and we get along well.
My wife is my 1st wife. My children have not been in any serious troubles and there haven't been any dramatic crises which have rocked us.
I have not traveled to the places you have and to be honest I don't want to. Your world is as alien to me as the surface of Mars. I hear stories from others and have seen from a distance what can happen but I am very ignorant and un-equipped to help you navigate those twisty rocky roads. So I won't try to.
I have my own wounds. I have fought battles and have my own scars. I have had times of pain and fear and hopelessness. But in the company of you men I feel like Brody. My scars, compared to the battles you have all fought won and lost - I come up short.
Why then, I have asked myself, has God put this burden on my heart to speak to a group like this. You are the experts and I am the one in ignorance. "Surely God has called the wrong minister" I have told myself. Not me but another is who should be standing here tonight. I don’t know who, but someone. Someone who has been there in the same trenches from where you have fought.
Yet here I am. I am stepping out in faith tonight that God has a message to give even if it comes from my lips. And in standing here I have come to understand that as alien as your world is to me perhaps the world I live is in equally as alien to you. Maybe, at least, we have that in common.
The Prophet Jeremiah is my guide in fulfilling the role of counselor. His letter to the Jewish captives after the conquest of Babylon is filled with wisdom. Jeremiah warned his people for twenty years of the cost of their rebellion against God. Twenty years of preaching and he never got a single convert. It is easy to think of yourself as a failure sometimes. With all of his efforts he saw the fall of his people, the destruction of the temple and his people marched into captivity.
I know each of you have had your own Jeremiah in your lives. The person who pleaded with you to turn away from the habits which were leading to your own captivity. Maybe it was a parent, family member or friend. And in seeing lives destroyed surely people might have thought if they could have done one more thing, said the right words or paid the right price, maybe that other person would not have fallen. I am sure Jeremiah had days where he felt the same. I am sure he also felt anger and frustration upon seeing his own prophecy come to pass. He may have beat his fists against the wall saying "Why did they not listen!"
Jeremiah's letter to his people as they were led off to 70 years of bondage shows the depths of his compassion and love to a people in the midst of their own hell. If ever there was a man who could have said "I told you so" it was him. But he does not gloat in his own self righteousness. He reaches out to them with love in their darkest hour.
First he told them the truth. Things are bad he said, and they are going to get worse. It was into a dark place his people were going and he made no attempts to cover the truth with false promises. But he told them to keep living. Keep having wife's and children. Even in the grip of bondage to live the best life that they could. He told them even as slaves they were worthy of love, of life and happiness. They may have been captives but they were created by God and their lives had value.
Some of you have gone into dark places where your freedom was taken or options were few. Some have witnessed the death of friends and the severed bonds with family. For some of you restoring those bonds may seem impossible and the things you have lost seem lost forever. God's mercy is without end but there are limits to human forgiveness and tolerance. In some cases the damages we have done in our lives truly are beyond our ability to heal. But I know this also. Our God is a God of the resurrection and His ability to create new things and wonder filled lives and futures is without limit.
Jeremiah next advised them to not make their situation worse by rebellion against Babylon. This would have been foolish and wasted effort against the wrong enemy. The true enemy was not Babylon but their own rebellious heart against God. Their situation was merely the tool God used to turn their hearts back to Him. God uses all things for His glory to restore people to Himself. Your addictions are your Babylon and it is something you are escaping. In the dark place you had to make a choice. To become one with darkness or crawl your way back into the light. Your presence here, in this house, shows how far you have come. You have made new relationships and are restoring others. You have come far and yet the road calls you to go further.
Then Jeremiah's closes with the promise of a brighter day when God would restore them as His people. He wrote:
When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will come to you and fulfill my good promise to bring you back to this place. For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you,” declares the LORD, “and will bring you back from captivity. I will gather you from all the nations and places where I have banished you,” declares the LORD, “and will bring you back to the place from which I carried you into exile.
Jeremiah gives them the promise for a brighter day. And that is why I came here tonight. I came here to tell you what living a life free from addiction is like. I don't do this to gloat or be self-righteous, but to give you hope of what's possible if you continue to struggle away from your old life and to endure the fight to continue swimming upstream against your pasts. I know it is not easy and there are days it may not seem worth the effort. I tell you tonight that it is.
I go to sleep each night in a place where I am allowed to be. I have no fear that anyone will wake me up and tell me to move along. It is my place and I have control over who I share it with and how I use it. It is not fancy. It is not perfect. But it is my home.
I wake each morning next to my wife. Sometimes in her arms when I can smell her hair and feel her warmth. Sometimes her feet are cold as ice, and sometimes her breath is as bad as mine but I don't mind so because it's all her. She is the wife God choose for me and I can't count the ways she has blessed it.
My daughter who is 20 and my son who is 17 are in their rooms safe and secure when I wake up. They never have the anxiety of an abusive parent or wonder if today violence will touch them. They don't sleep with one ear open listening for someone on the hunt to do harm. Their rooms are a mess but it is not a big problem.
My house is simple but solid. We have fresh water every day, clean clothes and food in the kitchen. When we run out we go shopping and tell the kids to stop eating so fast.
We smile and laugh a great deal in our home. We hug and kiss each other and calls of "I love you" are an everyday event. We not only love each other but we like each other too.
When we all leave for the day know in the evening we will gather together again. We never consider any other possibility.
We have no experience with DEA, INS, CPS or any other agency of the government invading our home. With the one exception of my son using a BB gun years ago the police have never come to our front door.
Our yard has grass, flowers and room for the puppy to run around in. We have parties with our friends who come and leave sober. Nothing gets broken, no one fights and everyone looks forward to the next gathering.
We share our dreams, worries and problems. We support each other because we could not think of doing anything else.
We love, we share and we are tender to each other. We can't understand why anyone would choose to live any other way.
We help friends in need with our time and money. We always wish we could do more but we do what we can.
We have the respect of our community, church and each other. People wave to us and smile when we enter a room. Sometimes friends call or send letters wishing us well and share their latest news.
Birthday parties and special celebrations for friends seem to happen all the time and we live in the company of happy people and strong fellowships.
Perhaps this sounds as strange to you as your worlds are to me. To me it is the way life should be and can be for anyone willing to choose it. My family is not made up of super humans. We are not overly gifted. We have a lot of flaws. We can be selfish and petty. Sometimes we get mad at each other. We have had our problems and challenges. But we always come back together with love and forgiveness.
We are enjoying a peace and prosperity which was passed to us by our parents. My mother's was raised with an alcoholic who crawled out of World War II and into a bottle. When I was a kid, to ease his pain he put a bullet in his head. My mother comes from a lot of alcoholic's in her family. But my mother decided to break the cycle and not pass that heritage to her children. My mother carries scars like yours which I do not.
Not everyone escapes their Babylon alive. Some die, some choose to stay and some forget who they were before captivity. And perhaps, for some, the best they could do with their lives was bless next generation. I am blessed and I am passing the blessing to my children. It is not always easy but it is has always been worth the effort.
I feel so blessed tonight to have the chance to cook for you, to enjoy your fellowship and to get to know you a little. I thank you for making me feel welcome in your home and for taking the time to hear what God has asked me to share with you. I am encouraged by the testimony you all have of making the choice to live a better life. I hope that one day you can each stand where I am today and be someone else's Jeremiah. When you do I hope you can stand with the humility to admit you only stand by the grace of God. It is Him who makes all things possible.
I will pray for you often and ask that you pray for each other constantly and when you have time for my family too.