Something Worth Fighting For

A few days ago I was talking with a friend, who is also a pastor, and we got on the topic of marijuana legalization here in Colorado, and the issue of Christians and recreational weed.

This pastor friend of mine said something to the effect of: our twenty-somethings are already so apathetic, the last thing they need is to get stoned all the time.

While I agree that getting stoned and checking out on life is dissipation, I told this friend of mine that I strongly disagree with his generalization about young people being apathetic.

The words I would use to describe those coming out of high school and college would be much different. I would say rather than “apathetic”, they are heroic. They are idealistic. They are people of action.

It is a highly discussed phenomenon, that young people, especially in the age range of 18-30 tend to disappear from church, only to reappear in their 30’s. A plethora of conferences, books and blog articles try to solve the problem of how to get these people to stay in church. Many theories as the to reason for this have been postulated, such as that young people need to come to faith on their own, or that they go off to “enjoy their twenties” by sinning a bunch, and then return to the church once they are married and have kids and realize how much they need the Lord!

Here’s what I think: one of the reasons why the church has trouble retaining twenty-somethings, is not because they are apathetic, it’s because we struggle to give them sufficient outlets for their heroic aspirations to change the world and make a difference.

I believe that young people are chomping at the bit to do something significant and change the world. I was that way when I was fresh out of high school – I didn’t want to spend 4 years at college; I felt that time was of the essence, and I wanted to get out there and change the world NOW. I realize now that in order to make significant change and contribution, some investment is necessary, e.g. doctors go to school for a long time, and as a result they are able to save lives. But as a young man, I wasn’t apathetic at all, and I don’t believe young people today are apathetic in the least. I believe they are heroic.

But if young people are as heroic as I claim they are, why do so many of them waste their 20’s smoking weed and going nowhere?

I believe it’s because they don’t have sufficient vision and they don’t have sufficient outlets for their heroic longings. They haven’t been given something worth living for, something worth dying for – something worth fighting for. And so, as a result, they direct their enthusiasm towards useless things.

For many young people, the only vision the church gives them is to go to groups and sit around talking. That is less than compelling for many of them. They desire community, but they want dynamic community – and they want an outlet through which they can be used by God to change the world. I don’t think that’s wrong – in fact, I think it is very much in line with the Gospel.

Another thing about young people today, is that they don’t just want to be given a task, they want to understand the vision for WHY that task is important, necessary, crucial to a greater mission – and what the end goal of that greater mission is.

I believe the challenge for the Church today is to give direction and vision to these heroic young people for how they can be used by God to bring His love to others and instigate redemption and transformation in the world, so that their heroism doesn’t get crushed by the weight of life and turn into apathy.

I have heard it said by leaders before: “I would rather have to reign in a racehorse, than kick a mule to get it moving.”
I think that’s where we need to be with young people: giving them outlets for their heroic longings, while yet being present to teach, guide and direct, so that their enthusiasm isn’t wasted by being spread out in so many different directions.

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Marijuana Leglaization Changing Colorado

A few weeks ago I had my first experience meeting someone who had relocated his family to Colorado because of medicinal marijuana. This man, a professing Christian, told me his story of being so sick with intestinal issues and nausea, that he couldn’t eat for several months. During this time he lost about 200 lbs (he was big to begin with), and was unable to work. His doctors from his home state encouraged him to try medical marijuana – he travelled to Colorado and looked into it, then moved here and later brought his family. This man explained to me that he doesn’t drink alcohol and had never gotten high in his life – but that marijuana as medicine has helped him greatly. He’s now able to hold down food and a job.

What are we to make of this – especially as Christians?  Certainly there is a difference between getting high and taking medicine. But is marijuana a legitimate medicine? Dr. Sanjay Gupta of CNN seems to think so. Not long ago Gupta was outspoken against all forms of marijuana legalization, but has recently come out in favor of medical marijuana. 

I have written before on this blog, that I’m not a supporter of the legalization of marijuana for recreational purposes. Interestingly, the man I mentioned above is not a supporter of it either. He moved to Longmont, a city with a moratorium on both medicinal and recreational marijuana sales, because he said he doesn’t want to be in a place with a lot of dispensaries because of all that comes with them. I think there’s a big difference between medical marijuana and recreational marijuana. My teenage son got a prescription for codeine recently after a tooth extraction. There’s a big difference between using codeine (a narcotic) for medical purposes and taking codeine or any other prescription drug recreationally.

On the local news last night, it was reported that Colorado is now a major destination for college kids on spring break. Doesn’t take a lot of guessing to figure out why: Denver has become the Amsterdam of the Americas. Yes, this brings in a lot of tax revenue, so much so that CNN Money reported today that Coloradans may be looking at getting a tax break because of the millions of dollars pouring into state coffers from recreational marijuana taxes, which are only expected to increase as recreational sales increase – but is it worth it?

CNN posted another video this week mentioning a lot of the same concerns that I’ve also expressed: namely that the legalization of marijuana won’t actually kill the black market for marijuana since it is taxed so highly, but will simply increase recreational marijuana use all across the board by making it more mainstream, especially amongst teenagers. Everyone agrees that wouldn’t be good – but in fact, it is already happening.

The encounter I had with the man mentioned above was my first – but I suspect it will not be the last. The legalization of marijuana is changing Colorado.

What are your thoughts on this? Leave a comment below and let me know what you think.

Marijuana Legalization and the Effect on Kids

One of my most popular posts on this blog so far was one I wrote about marijuana legalization and Christianity.

In that post, I mentioned that one of the greatest concerns I have with legalizing marijuana is NOT that I want to legislate Christian moral values on people who aren’t Christians (read more about that issue here) – but that it will make it more accessible to children, something that no one on either side of the discussion wants.

It seems that my concern is legitimate, and that this is already happening. The Denver Post published an article this week titled: “Pot problems in Colorado schools increase with legalization”. Here are some quotes from that article:

  • [Mike] Dillon… a school resource officer with the Mesa County Sheriff’s Department, said he is seeing more and younger kids bringing marijuana to schools, in sometimes-surprising quantities.
  • school officials believe the jump is linked to the message that legalization (even though it is still prohibited for anyone under 21) is sending to kids: that marijuana is a medicine and a safe and accepted recreational activity. It is also believed to be more available.
  • “Kids are smoking before school and during lunch breaks. They come into school reeking of pot,” “They are being much more brazen.”
  • when school officials were asked to identify the reason for students’ expulsions. Marijuana came in first. It was listed as being a reason for 32 percent of expulsions.
  • National statistics also point to marijuana being more prevalent in schools. The National Institute of Drug Abuse found that marijuana use has climbed among 10th- and 12th-graders nationally, while the use of other drugs and alcohol has held steady or declined.
  • “They need to know how destructive it is to the adolescent brain,”

I remember when I was in high school, kids brought pot to school and smoked it at school. I certainly don’t want my kids doing it though, and it seems to me that legalization will only make it more accessible – the facts show that is already happening.

What do you think? Is this something we should be concerned about?

Marijuana Legalization and Christianity

This week a Gallup poll came out which showed that for the first time, a majority of Americans favor legalizing marijuana. In fact, in the past year, the support for marijuana legalization surged from 48% to 58% of those polled. Here in Colorado, we live in a state that has had medical marijuana legal for years and which voted last November to legalize its recreational use as well. Not to mention that here in Boulder County, whether it’s legal or not, people in this area have been smoking a lot of pot for a long time and will continue to do so. A friend of mine who just moved to BoCo wrote this about how prevalent marijuana use is just in his daily commute. Just the other day I was talking to someone about Lyons High School (thinking ahead for our kids); they said it’s a good school – but that it’s known for the kids there smoking a ton of weed.

Marijuana is here to stay. It’s already been legalized in this state, and will soon be regulated. Interestingly enough though, I have heard almost NOTHING from Christian leaders on this topic. I have, however, heard a lot of people talking about it – including Christians, saying things like: If marijuana becomes legal and readily available in the same way that alcohol is, then is there anything wrong with trying it out? If you can buy it in a shop and it becomes socially acceptable, then is there any reason to not occasionally indulge?

Up until now, pastors have been telling people they shouldn’t smoke pot because it’s illegal, and the Bible instructs us to honor the laws of the land we live in (Romans 13). But now – guess what: game changer! Marijuana is no longer illegal! Drinking alcohol in moderation is more or less acceptable in most Christian circles these days – so if marijuana gets put in the same legal category, then is it okay to treat it the same way?

These are real questions that people – including Christians – are considering. If Christian leaders aren’t talking about what people are actually thinking about and talking about, then we have become irrelevant and are not engaging people and bringing God’s word to bear on the time and place we live in, as we are called to do.

So, what should be the Christian response to the legalization of marijuana?

What does the Bible say?

The Bible doesn’t say anything about marijuana – just like it doesn’t say anything about tobacco or chemical weapons or genetically modified food. But there are principles the Bible lays down which apply.

The “don’t do it because it’s illegal” argument is soon to be off the table, so what should our position be towards recreational marijuana use? The Bible doesn’t say anything about marijuana in particular, but it does speak about mind-altering drugs – in Greek: farmakeia – which were used recreationally rather than medicinally.

Also, the Bible tells us not to be drunk, but to be filled with the Holy Spirit – i.e.: Don’t be under the influence of substances, but be under the influence of God’s Spirit.

The differences between marijuana and alcohol

More and more people are speaking up about how much safer marijuana is than alcohol. You never hear about people committing violent acts because they are stoned. Marijuana has also not been shown to cause long-term brain damage as alcohol has.

But the difference between marijuana and alcohol are that you can drink alcohol without getting intoxicated. It’s possible to drink wine (like Jesus did) or beer with a meal to enjoy the flavor without getting drunk. No one smokes marijuana just for the flavor – the very point of smoking it is mood alteration.

Will marijuana legalization change anything?

It’s clear by now that adults are going to smoke marijuana whether it is legal or not – which is why more and more people are saying, ‘why not tax it and regulate it then?’. It has been estimated that up to $40 million dollars in tax revenue could come in from recreational marijuana sales in Colorado, which would be earmarked for schools. Regulating marijuana, they point out, could also kill at least part of the black market for it, which inevitably leads to violent crime.

Certainly marijuana use would increase once it’s legalized – as people who were once worried about doing something illegal would no longer have to worry about that. Also, and this is a concern for me – it would make it more accessible to kids, because they would no longer need to find a dealer, they will just have to find a friend with an older brother who is willing to buy it for them – just like with alcohol and tobacco.

I smoked pot when I was a teenager, before I gave my life to the Lord when I was 16. I have family members who smoke pot regularly, and I don’t want my kids to smoke pot. I don’t want them to check out or get intoxicated to cope with life or to have fun – whether with alcohol or marijuana or any other substance.

Legislating morality and the real issue

There are plenty of things the Bible instructs us not to do that are legal in our society, such as adultery, fornication, drunkenness, sorcery, etc. Christian maturity means being able to discern and choose for yourself, from a heart-felt response to God’s grace rather than needing to have someone hold your hand and dictate to you what to do.

There are plenty of ways to harm yourself which are completely legal. You can go buy some glue and sniff it and get high – legally. There are also ways to harm yourself, however, which are illegal, such as chemical food additives, cocaine, certain medications, meth, etc. which we consider detrimental to society and harmful to people, which we have banned and we don’t give people legal avenues to indulge in.

For us as Christians, the point is clear: marijuana is intoxicating. We should not be intoxicated or controlled by substances, but by the Holy Spirit. It’s pretty cut and dry.

For society in general, it’s a question of whether or not it would be helpful or harmful to have more intoxicated people everywhere and to make a mind-altering drug more accessible to children than it already is.