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On Saturday, July 23, 2011, singer Amy Winehouse died in her home at the age of 27. As of Monday, July 25, 2011, no official cause of death had been assigned. Even so, it is suspected by the way that Winehouse lived her short life, that her death likely stemmed from substance abuse. Indeed, on the night before her death, it is reported that Winehouse had purchased cocaine, ecstasy, and the horse tranquilizer, ketamine. Unidentified sources have stated that, on the day of her death, she had been imbibing alcohol and taking ecstasy. Police stated that they will have the toxicology report back in two to four weeks.

Amy Winehouse was a multiple Grammy Award winner despite the fact that she actually only released two albums over the span of her musical career. Those albums, however, have sold millions of copies worldwide. Indeed, she did posses real talent. She will be immortalized now because she joins a tragically elite group known as, “The Forever 27 Club” or, simply, “The 27 Club.” This “group” includes such deceased musical luminaries as Jim Morrison, Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, Brian Jones, and Kurt Cobain. All of them died at the tender age of 27. Though many chose to focus on the statistical oddity that they all died at the age of 27, the true link that they all shared was a history of substance abuse.

Winehouse worried many of her family members and friends who saw that she was destroying herself. They encouraged her to get help, especially her father, Mitch. Her reply to all those wanting only the best for her was delivered via one of her hit songs, “Rehab,” on her “Back to Black” album released in 2006.  In the song, she makes it clear that despite the encouragement of others for her to go to rehab that she just simply would not comply, stating that she did not want to drink again and could just get through her problems with the help of a friend. Despite her very public protestation to the idea, Winehouse did, in fact, finally go to rehab in May of 2011. Unfortunately, she stayed only one week. Some suspect that it was a broken heart that finally pushed her beyond the brink. Friends say she was binge drinking in the days leading to her death. Her ex-boyfriend, movie director, Reg Traviss, had broken up with her only about a month prior to her death. Allegedly, his reason for breaking off his relationship with her was his belief that she could never sober herself up.

Many have expressed sadness over the early demise of such a young, talented artist, but very few have expressed much surprise. Though the timing of her death caught people by surprise, the fact that her lifestyle finally killed her did not. Even her own mother stated publicly following her death that she long believed it was only a matter of time before her daughter killed herself.

How do we respond to the news of Amy Winehouse’s death as Christians? Do we reflect upon the truth that her life was not an exemplary one for imitation or admiration? Do we simply shrug off her death off by saying, “the wages of sin is death?” How about compassion and sorrow? Does her death invoke those emotions? Friends and brethren, I am not saying that we should embrace the way that Winehouse lived her life or even support her estate through the purchase of her music. I am, however, saying emphatically, that we, as Christians, ought to reach out to the many individuals like Amy Winehouse that are in this world. When we think of the earthly ministry of our Savior Jesus Christ, one word should come to our minds, the word, “compassion.” Note how many times it is said of Jesus in the Gospels that when He saw the Amy Winehouses of the world, that He felt compassion for them. Of course, this did not make Jesus very popular with the Pharisees of His day. Do you recall what they said of Him as recorded in Luke 7:34?

The Son of Man has come eating and drinking, and you say, “Behold, a gluttonous man and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!” (NASB)

I am afraid that we tend to have a rather Pharisaical attitude towards the sin sick today as well. Each of us know that, as Christians, in order to practice “pure and undefiled religion,” we have a duty to remain unstained by the world (James 1:27). Sadly, many Christians will use this as an excuse to completely avoid the very people who need the saving message of Jesus Christ the most. Yet, in no place in Scripture are we taught that remaining separate from the ways of the world means that we must isolate ourselves from the world we are tasked to evangelize! Rather, we avoid its polluting influence by undergoing a daily transformation of the mind (cf. Romans 12:1-2). Once thus prepared we are to go into all the world, preaching the Gospel (cf. Matthew 28:19-20; Mark 16:15-16).

Amy Winehouse did not want to go to rehab. Our apathy towards individuals like her, those whom we have the ability to help save, reinforces the negative beliefs held by such sinners that they are worthless and that no one truly cares for them. Our task is to remind them that, yes, there is One Who loves them as no other, One Who loved them so much that He died to absolve them of their sins. We need to tell them that He loved them so much that He does want them to perish but to repent (2 Peter 3:9). Once converted, we then have a duty to encourage these individuals so that they will remain sober and then help them when they stumble.

We may thump our chest when we look to the addict and say as the Pharisee praying in the Temple that we are thankful to God that we are not as other men, like the tax collector (Luke 18:10). However, we need to remind ourselves of how Jesus ended that story in Luke 18:13 and 14. He contrasted the proud Pharisee with the humble tax collector, also praying in the Temple.

But the tax collector, standing some distance away, was even unwilling to lift up his eyes to heaven, but was beating his breast, saying, “God, be merciful to me, the sinner!” I tell you, this man went to his house justified rather than the other; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but he who humbles himself will be exalted. (NASB)

Despite their bravado or protestations, sinners, such as addicts, are usually very aware of their need for transformation and desire to expunge themselves of the guilt they feel from their lifestyle choices. They are looking for someone possessing the mind of  Jesus Christ to reach out to them. Can you be that light today?

Therefore if there is any encouragement in Christ, if there is any consolation of love, if there is any fellowship of the Spirit, if any affection and compassion, make my joy complete by being of the same mind, maintaining the same love, united in spirit, intent on one purpose. Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others. Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. (Philippians 2:1-8 NASB)

Scripture taken from the NEW AMERICAN STANDARD BIBLE®, Copyright © 1960,1962,1963,1968,1971,1972,1973,1975,1977,1995 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission.