OPENING ACTIVITY: Following Jesus Is Better Than …
Write the following on a board or sheet of newsprint and ask students to complete it:
Following Jesus is better than ___________________ because ____________________ .
They may answer that following Jesus is better than following other religions because what we know about Jesus is based on the truth of the Bible, not false teachings. They also may note that following Jesus is better than making the pursuit of money, prestige, or physical pleasures the focus of their lives, because in the long run it will always be more rewarding.
This week’s story focuses on a man who learned from his addiction to heroin the value of following Jesus as the focus of His life.
OPENING STORY: [Read the story aloud or make copies and pass them around.]
A NEW AFFECTION
John Leonard, founder and CEO of Redemption House, a ministry in Minnetonka, Minnesota, knows firsthand the futility of trying to get fulfillment in life through something other than Jesus. Leonard was once addicted to heroin. What prompted him to start using drugs was believing that this would provide escape and relief from the pain he experienced as a consequence of being abused as a child and being the victim of someone else’s sins. He also wanted escape and relief from the recognition of his own depravity and sin. Shooting up with heroin seemed to provide that.
Leonard remembers the first time he got high from taking heroin. The euphoria he experienced resulted in him feeling that he “had escaped from all that was wrong with the world.” But he soon found that this sense of well-being was deceptive. Although shooting heroin could numb “the pain of sorrow and sin,” he discovered “that’s all it could do.” And whatever relief he experienced was temporary. No matter how much heroin he injected, “the pain kept resurfacing.”
Like others with similar addictions, Leonard felt an increasing amount of shame for his inability to overcome his dependence on heroin. He knew it was wrong—that it was a sin—and felt “unlovable and ultimately condemned by God.” That changed when he went to a Christian treatment program, heard the Gospel, and realized that Jesus had the power to free him from his addiction. The key to experiencing this was to repent and then honor and worship God in everything; it was to reorient his life toward what God says is right and true rather than toward the solutions the world offered to deal with the pain he was experiencing; it was, in effect, to worship his way out of addiction.
What Leonard learned through his experience of redemption from addiction through Jesus is that while heroin can numb us from the awareness of our sin, what Jesus offers is forgiveness from it; he learned that what heroin does is to enslave us, while what Jesus does is to liberate us; and he learned that while heroin can provide only fleeting pleasure, what Jesus provides is true and eternal joy.
Leonard’s addiction and the freedom he found by worshiping and following Jesus prompted him to found Redemption House. Leonard believes that we’re all created to worship—that “it’s in our DNA”—but that the pursuit of comfort, control, or the desire for escape can “begin to function as gods for us.” Over time we can become “slaves to our own desires.” In order to break free from this enslavement, “we must reorient our identity and replace the selfish desires of the heart with a new affection,” an affection focused on worshipping Jesus and doing what He says is right and good. Redemption House’s mission is “to liberate people from the enslavement and idolatry of addiction by radical transformation of the heart through a redemptive fellowship with Christ for His glory and our joy.”
Now have your students form small groups to discuss their answers to these questions.
- Why do we say “Yes” to things the world offers that we know are not good for us?
- How can these things of the world control us?
- What problems may we be trying to “escape” through these things?
- Why is it better to respond to our needs and desires in ways that God says are right and good? What can happen if we don’t?