Jan 26, 2008

Weighing in on Christians and Alcohol - Part 1

Alright, now that I have finished my next paper that I have been buried in for the last three days, I can finally come up for air for a few moments. This week, a nice little banter occurred between two of my college students about some issues related to Christian liberty. Just what can a Christian do as a recipient of God's grace and not sin? It's an interesting question that has been debated for many years. I don't suppose to have a corner on the market here. And, I know that many of my opinions are just that, opinions, and will not be shared by many. That's ok.

My friend Caleb started this discussion with a post on his blog that can be found here: http://thehiddenmeanings.blogspot.com/2008/01/why-i-set-boundries.html

Then my other friend Michael, who loves a good controversy and debate, answered Caleb here: http://afterwelefteden.blogspot.com/2008/01/why-i-will-drink-when-im-of-age-and-why.html

Needless to say, I appreciate both of their opinions and their right to share them. I will not comment as of yet on the issue of cursing (because I do more of that than I should). Any of you that know me will probably know where I stand on the issue of the issue of alcohol. Many will assume that I have these opinions because I am a pastor and because I went to seminary and because I am a Baptist (and Baptists don't drink or chew or go with girls that do.) However, my opinions on alcohol were formed completely apart from those issues.

Let me start by making clear to you how I really feel about alcohol. I absolutely hate it! I hate everything about it. I hate it so much that I wish that all alcoholic production facilities would disintegrate and all the people who make billions of dollars making and pushing a legalized drug would spend an eternity being flogged with little whips by those whose lives have been destroyed by their poison. But since I am not God and that decision is not up to me and since alcohol is an evil that will not go away, then I have had to spend a lifetime deciding how I would deal with it.

Thank you for allowing me to vent with a little irrational emotion. With all that said, let me give you a few personal reasons why I hate alcohol and then I will get to some Scriptural and ethical reasons I believe drinking alcohol is unwise for anyone, but especially for a Christ-follower. (Notice I didn't say it was wrong for them to drink, just unwise. And I didn't say it was unwise for a Christian, but for a Christ-follower. Those two things are mutually exclusive)

Personal objections to alcohol
1. My Dad - My father drank alcohol for most of my life until a few years ago. Many years of my life were filled with Pabst Blue Ribbon, Coors Light, and Bud Light. I thought every one's father drank. My dad was not a bad drunk. He tolerated alcohol quite well. However, 30 years of drinking 6 or more beers a day helped to destroy his marriage to my mom and put him in the hospital twice with a heart attack.
2. Johnnie - I met Johnnie when she came to work at Hibbett's with me in college. She was a great girl and to my knowledge, didn't drink. She did hang out with several who did though. One night, the pressure and her problems got too much and she gave in. Three hours later she rolled her car and was killed instantly. I swore at her funeral that my resolve would be stronger than ever.
3. Finances - As I mentioned, my dad drank regularly for most of my life. When I prepared to go to college, there just wasn't enough money to send me to the school of my choice. I did the math though. 6 beers a day, 365 days a year, 18 years - more than enough for tuition. Just helped me see that alcohol may not be the wisest use of money.
4. Too many teenage funerals - As a youth pastor for 15 years, I got sick of attending funerals for students who where killed because either they or someone else was drinking. I know that they weren't old enough to drink and that their immaturity led to their death probably as much as alcohol, but that doesn't change the point. And the whole "Don't drink until you are 21" thing. That's just stupid and an attempt to add some control to something that's unwise anything. I was no more mature on my 21st birthday than I was on my 20th.
5. Personal responsibility to my family - I have a wife and three precious gifts from God in my sons. I owe it to them to represent a Christ-filled image of a man of God as much as possible. I have enough struggle doing that when I lose my temper or fail to lead them in prayer and devotional. I sure don't need to add to that fact confusing them about whether a man of God should drink or not. Life for them will be confusing enough.

Now, with that said, let me make clear my opinion. I do not think its wrong for a Christ-follower (or Christian) to drink. It's not an issue of morality to me. (Although the production of it may be a moral issue to me.) I believe it's an issue of wisdom. I believe that God calls his children to walk in the path of wisdom. The book of Proverbs is filled with commands to such. Also, Christ has become for us wisdom:
It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God—that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption. 1 Corinthians 1:30

I believe its a very unwise thing for a Christ-follower to drink and a bad use of the use of the Christian liberty that we have. For it to classify as a sin, it would have to be an intentional, culpable violation of God's will - including violating the Holy Spirit's role in our conscience. I have never been convinced by anyone that drinking alcohol is not an unwise thing. Most of the time the debate is about whether there is something wrong with it. Now, I know that there are a lot of things we do that are not wise - watching too much TV, spending hours playing NCAA football on Playstation, driving 75 in a 70 mile/hour zone. Life is filled with the battle for wisdom on our part. That's why I believe that this issue is so important. Why would I do something unwise that adds no value whatsoever, no matter how culturally acceptable it may be?

I will have some more opinions to post about this subject later, but I want to answer some of my friend Michael's points.

1. "not only is drinking, in moderation, not hazardous to ones help, it has been proven that red wine actually increases the antioxidants, which helps prevent heart attacks." Come on! You gotta do better than this. Drinking wine may help prevent heart attacks, but so does Lipitor, Crestor, and running 5 miles a day on treadmill. There are lots of ways to be more healthy without this. At one time, placing leeches on someone to drain poisons out of their blood was considered good for you. Don't see a lot of people rushing to the store to by leeches. Just because something may be good for your health does not mean it may not be wise.
2. "the perception that alcohol is immoral is held by a small majority of individuals, most of whom reside in the Southern Baptist Convention. outside of the south, drinking is social. in europe, where the drinking age is sixteen, the rate of alcoholism is lower, and drinking alcohol with a meal is morally accepted. here in the US, it is only viewed as immoral by those who have seen the abuse of alcohol, and not its use in moderation." First, this is not an issue about what is acceptable to most Southern Baptist or Presbyterians or any other religious persuasion. It's about biblical wisdom. Second, just because drinking is considered socially or morally acceptable does not mean its wise. There was a time, both here and in Europe, that it was socially acceptable and in some peoples beliefs morally acceptable to own slaves. Not only that, but the Bible would appear to not only not condemn slavery, but speaks to slaves and slave owners (Philemon). There were also many slave owners who were very good to their slaves, treating them as family. Many people could not understand why William Wilberforce and others saw it as an immoral issue. However, few in our day and time accept it anymore. Would the fact that in some countries smoking marijuana is socially and morally acceptable make it a wise thing to do?
3. "now there is something to be said for not doing something for the sake of a weaker brother, which is in 1 Corinthians. but should we not look to strengthen our brother by freeing them from their legalistic mindset? this is where true wisdom is, not in the degradation of alcohol, but in using alcohol moderately, and being wise about whom one drinks with. but this is by no means an argument for giving up the use of alcohol all together." I agree that legalism gets us nowhere. However, the weaker brother principle is not about freeing people from "legalistic mindsets". It's about being wise enough to know that the freedom of Christ may allow us to do some things, but wisdom keeps us from exercising freedom for our sake. How does showing someone that I can drink in moderation actually free them from anything? Especially when you do not know their spiritual background and condition? Furthermore, why would the gospel need a Budweiser to give it credibility? True wisdom is not found in exercising our freedoms in moderation, but in being able not to exercise them at all, not because someone or some system told us not to, but because we are "bought with a price and I am not my own." (1 Corinthians 6:19-20)

Finally, I would tell my friend Michael this - "Have a drink on your 21st birthday. you are free in Christ. Be careful. Be temperate." However, I want to know something. Did Jesus tell you to do this? Did you arrive at your opinion or conviction through careful prayer and attentiveness to the Holy Spirit? Or did you arrive at it by debating alcohol with your friends and looking for some proof texts for it? Is there something about the formation on the character of Christ in you that calls you to this? Or did you just find something on Mark Driscoll's website or book that you thought was cool? I will not argue with you that you are perfectly justified to drink and I believe you would do so in moderation. But I also believe that exercising your freedoms sometimes come at a cost that we pay for many years.

I will have more to say on this subject soon, including some Biblical reasons and some opinions of others why the path of wisdom with alcohol might be abstinence.

Jan 22, 2008

Deepest Sympathies to Rick Burgess and Family

I want to send out my deepest regrets to Rick Burgess, his family, and the entire Rick and Bubba Show crew. If you haven't heard, Rick's youngest son Bronner (Cornbread) drowned in a terrible accident Saturday evening. His memorial was today in Birmingham and I heard that Rick did an outstanding job of presenting the gospel. I have been a fan of the show and the stand they take for the Kingdom of God for several years now. I had the privilege of having Rick speak at an Upward Basketball Awards Night several years ago and got to meet him then. Since that time, God has used him in massive ways to advance the message of the gospel.

I have also had the opportunity to get to know Calvin "Speedy" Wilburn in recent months. Besides being a fellow MSU fan, Speedy has faithfully led his family in being a Christ-following home this past year. I know that this week has been very hard on him.

I first received the news by e-mail late Saturday and was deeply impacted. Not because I am somehow close friends with Rick. I don't think he would really know me. I was impacted for two reasons. First, when you listen to someone as much as I have Rick and Bubba, you develop a kindred heart with them. Seeing Rick's suffering has caused me and my family to have a deep pain in our hearts for him and his family. I know this sentiment was shared by many others in our church on Sunday morning. Many people who have never met Rick wept openly upon hearing the news. That is the power of the Body of Christ.

Another reason the news impacted me so greatly is because having some harm befall one of my children is the greatest fear of my life. I have recurring nightmares that something has happened to one of them that is beyond my control. I have been stunned awake many nights and had to get up and check on them. There is nothing in this world more important to me than my family and especially my boys. I consider myself to be an overly blessed man with three of the most incredible blessings God could have given me.

Don't get me wrong - they are typical boys. I have to get my belt out more than I want to. I wish they would eat more vegetables and less potato chips. However, I'll buy more chips if it will help keep them around longer. It's times like these that the battles you have to fight as a parent don't always seem as important.

I cannot imagine having to receive the news that Rick Burgess did last Saturday night - especially being 4 1/2 hours away! What a helpless and distressing feeling. I heard today though how he handled it with grace and dignity. God is comforting Rick and his family right now through their family, friends, and the Body of Christ. I know that Yahweh will use this to glorify himself through their suffering. He already has. By the way, he knows what's it's like to have a child die.

Now I have to go give my kids another kiss.

Jan 20, 2008

New Feature - Books You Need to Read

Alright. I've decided to add something to the blog of educational value. Everyone who knows me knows that I have a lot of books and that I like to read. (Actually, I like to look like I like to read. I don't get to read as much as I like. Mostly because it's too noisy around my house to enjoy anything until everyone goes to bed and because I watch too much TV. But I digress..)

So, occasionally I will post my thoughts here about books that I have read or am reading that I think you should check out and why. My first book to meet this status is The Trivialization of God by Donald McCullough. I first picked up this book in 1996 when it came out and was deeply impacted by it. It quickly became one of my favorites and one I recommended frequently. I loaned out my copy to someone who never returned it (someone will answer for that). Soon after, the book went out of publication. I had to buy a used copy of EBay.

Recently, I had to read this book again for a seminar and enjoyed it as much as the first time. The premise of the author is that the modern-day church has lost much of the awe and reverence for God. In his place, many Christians has substituted more "manageable" deities - gods of their own making that provide security and comfort but don't inspire much awe. Some of these gods identified by the author are "The God of My Comfort" who exists to provide blessing for me and help me find a better parking spot or take away any pain.

Another manageable god is "The God of My Understanding." This god fits nicely into my theological constructions and tradition. He exhibits the characteristics that I read from him in the Bible or what's been told to me through my church. However, he is limited to these constructs and can't go outside of them. I need a god I can easily explain and who tows my party line or creed.

Other false gods are "The God of My Success", "The God of My Nation", and "The God of My Cause". Each of these gods make me and my causes the center of the world. The don't ask for much and truthfully, they aren't much to worship.

One of the most helpful contributions of the author was the concept of "reverent agnosticism" - meaning that we as Christ-followers need to be comfortable believing in God but not exactly knowing everything about Him or being able to explain Him. We lose the awe and reverence for God at the point that he becomes predictable and coercible. We need to revere and worship God, especially what we don't know about Him.

While it is disappointing that the author of this book later left his ministry because of a moral failure, this is still a great book and one that will stretch your faith. You will have to buy this book used, which is really a shame. I could loan you mine, but you'll have to put a deposit so I don't lose it again.

Jan 19, 2008

Let it snow!

It's snowing now in Alabaster and coming down pretty good! My kids are having fun making snowballs and whining about frozen hands. Funny how wet, cold, 30 degree snow has a way of making your hands cold and hurt, especially when you can't find you gloves.

Anyway, lots of fun right now. Hopefully, I can post a photo or two. Gotta go and get some more firewood.

Jan 17, 2008

Why I stink at this Christian life thing

Alright, I 'm back from New Orleans and my 3 day seminar. I took a seminar entitled "Spiritual Formation and the Minister". It was a seminar designed around the concept of the importance of spiritual growth for both the pastor and the congregation. For spiritual health and vitality in a church, the minister must be aware of his own spiritual soul and cultivate the habits and disciplines necessary for a growing Christian life and for the formation of the life and character of Christ within his own soul. I learned early on in ministry that I can never take anyone in my ministry deeper than I have mined myself.

Let me be the first to admit - when it comes to spiritual disciplines and consistency - I stink. I have never been able to cultivate consistent spiritual disciplines. And it bothers me. First of all, let's take just the daily reading of Scripture. I am very inconsistent in reading the Bible. One of the problems is that I am a minister and I can read the Bible in my office for a living. As a matter of fact, if people walk by my office and see me reading the Bible, the assume I am being holy and doing what they pay me to do. If I were an accountant and people walked by my office and always saw me reading the Bible they would say, "Hey, I know you are a Christian, but shouldn't you be reading some flowcharts or ledgers every so often?" However, as a pastor, you can just sit an open Bible on your desk and everyone assumes you are walking with the cherubim and seraphim. It's easy to fool everyone. As a matter of fact, I got a new "one year" Bible for Christmas. One of those ones where the Bible is broken down into 365 days and you read what it tells you to. I made it to Jan 3 this year.

Don't get me wrong. I read the Bible. Just not enough, and certainly not enough to cultivate it as a discipline. However, I don't beat myself up about it. I think it's just as wrong to read the Bible for some legalistic reason or because I am a pastor and because we have more holiness than anyone else (yeah right), then I have to read it everyday.

Then take journaling. I radically suck at journaling. This shouldn't surprise you if you read my blog regularly because I radically suck at putting anything of content down here. Here's the truth. I currently own at least 3 journals that I have bought over the years. Each one of them has about 2 personal entries in the front of them. Then, they have some sermon notes. But nothing really past page 5. Guess what I bought at the end of last year? A new journal. I went with the smaller kind telling myself it would be easier to keep. It's in my backpack and 17 days into the year, not one entry.

Fasting - one look at my body and you can see the problem with that. I've tried fasting 4-5 times. I usually make it to about 2 o' clock and then I binge on donuts and nutty bars.

Solitude - come on. I have 3 boys (stooges I call them) under 9 years of age. I haven't seen anything close to solitude since Monica Lewinsky was a White House Intern. And when I do get a few moments quiet, it's so creepy I have to turn on the TV to keep from getting spooked out.

Meditation - Because I don't read the Bible enough, I don't usually have a lot in there for meditation.

Anyway, you see the point. I stink at spiritual disciplines. However, I realize I stink and have made some small progress lately. After this seminar, I am a little more hopeful that some of these disciplines will see some progress soon. The truth is that God knows how much I stink at these things more than I do. And He's teaching me each and every day how vital it is to feed my own soul. So, I'm looking forward to finishing the readings for this class and setting out a plan to incorporate some of these practices a little at a time.

On another note, I have been storing up some thoughts lately on a lot of stuff about the current state of American Christianity and the church lately. Excuse some of the rants that may come down the pike pretty soon. I just keep hearing way too much from church goers that sound very different from the words of Paul and Jesus and it's really starting to bug me. So, you may hear some of this soon.


Jan 16, 2008

Hail State!

Way to go Jarvis Varnado! Great win on national TV!

Jan 11, 2008

Brief check in...Heading to Starkvegas

Just a brief check-in this week to let you know I am still alive. Unfortunately, the 2 papers that are supposed to be written by tonight are still not written. One is almost finished, the other just started. I hope to make some major headway on them today.

Tonight I am taking my oldest son Nathan to a Father/Son Baseball Camp at MSU in Starkville. Baseball has been a major passion of mine since I was a kid, especially at MS State. Some of my fondest memories are going with my dad to Starkville for a double header SEC game and sitting in the stands at Dudy Noble. I remember watching Will Clark hit a ball as far as I have ever seen one hit over the right field fence. I remember that Palmeiro was always my favorite. I loved the smell of the burgers and ribs cooking in the Left Field Lounge, even though my dad never went out there.

Nathan and I will be spending the night tonight and going through some drills with the MSU coaches and players during the day tomorrow. He's becoming a pretty good ball player and I hope this helps him become even better. Mostly, I just like that we get to spend 24 hours together, just the 2 of us.

Pray for me that I get these papers typed. Still got a lot of reading to do too.

Jan 4, 2008

Taking a blogging break...

Happy New Year everyone. I will be taking a short blogging break for the next couple of weeks while I work hard on writing my papers for my upcoming doctoral seminar. I have been reading the books listed on the bottom of my blog for a seminar on "Spiritual Formation of the Minister" that I will be taking in New Orleans on Jan 14-16. It's been some good reading. However, I have two 10-12 page papers that are due on the 14th and several other papers that are due over the next three weeks.

I will post some small updates and blogs when I can, but time will be limited. I also have lost of thoughts that have been generated by my readings, specifically in The Trivialization of God by Donald McCullough. This is the third time I have read this book and it's one of the most personally challenging books I have ever read.

Hope you had a great holiday season and that you are still busy keeping all your New Year's resolutions. Congrats to Mike Huckabee on the Iowa Caucus win last night. Still not sure where I am on the whole political presidential race yet, but Huckabee is a promising candidate.

I'll keep you posted as I can...