Saturday, December 17, 2011

Christians and Alcohol

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 Since coming to college, I have been bombarded with alcohol. Not from invitations to parties, or my “secular” friends who drink daily, but from the Christians around me who seem intent on making sure that I can support their convictions. Throughout high school this was certainly something discussed in church and youth group, but never to the extent that I needed to constantly defend my position. When a non-Christian asks me why I don’t drink, they are fine with a simple reason. But when the question is from a Christian, they continually press. It’s as if they want to know what scripture I rely upon, what experiences I’ve had, and ultimately, whether or not they can trust me to hold to my convictions when temptation comes.
I don’t know if it comes from personal experience or if it’s just a stigma in the church, but it seems that college students who drink alcohol, or even allow the possibility for it, are viewed as “immature Christians.” I don’t rant about this because I feel condemned or judged, but rather because I want to expose some of the fallacies Christians use to either justify or condemn alcohol use, and then offer my personal opinion on the subject. But first, I want to say that when it comes to the topic of Christians and alcohol, the first and often only sin committed is that of condemning another person based on their convictions.
First, I want to address some of the justifications I have heard from Christians regarding alcohol use. The most common is referencing Jesus turning water into wine to which they say, “If Jesus drank alcohol (and even made alcohol for others to drink) without sinning then so can I.” While this may be true, it totally removes all context from the situation, and breaks down to the argument, “If it happened in the Bible, then it must be OK.” However, a simple reading of almost any Old Testament story would prove just how false this argument is.
The other common fallacy I hear is that wine is praised multiple times in scripture. In fact, the praise of God and of his coming kingdom often includes references to wine (Psalm 104:14-15 and Ecclesiastes 9:7 among others). While this is true, the issue of alcohol is not about whether or not alcohol is good, but about what negative effects it can have. I liken this debate to one that in my experience the church has so far avoided: food. Only a fool would say food is a bad thing, but our society’s widespread, over-consumption of it certainly is. Similarly, alcohol consumption is not a bad thing, but the circumstances surrounding it and amount consumed can make it deadly.
Ultimately, those who argue that alcohol consumption by Christians is alright, tend to have weaker arguments. This causes me to ask the question: Is that because they have nothing to defend? Now I want to look at the arguments against any and all alcohol consumption. These arguments tend to be more personal in their attack and their reasoning.
By far, the most prevalent reason I hear that people don’t drink is because they have seen the negative effects in their lives. Whether it is a parent, relative, friend, or spouse, they have been forced to come face to face with the reality that alcohol has the ability to destroy relationships and families, end lives, and cause second-hand destruction so violent, that it leaves the victims loathing even the thought that someone else would indulge in this addictive lifestyle. While this argument certainly contains truth, it is situationaly exclusive, not allowing the victim to look at alcohol any other way. While I won’t ask anyone who has experienced alcohol-related trauma to change their convictions, I think it is important to understand that when a conviction comes from personal experience, it may be difficult for others to agree with.
Regarding the debate among Christians in general, I think far more grace needs to be displayed on both sides. For Christians who view alcohol as an OK or good thing, do not try to convince others to deny their convictions. For Christians who feel alcohol should be avoided, do not condemn or try to “reason with” those who feel differently. Ultimately, we need to understand that our convictions are formed by God and attacking someone because they are on the “wrong side” of the debate is never beneficial.

          Obviously this can be said about almost every disagreement in the church. Whether it be baptism, worship styles, gender roles, or a host of other conviction-based debates, it’s important to remember that we should encourage one another to be more like Christ, rather than more like us. With that said, I want to share my personal conviction about alcohol use.

         For me, it has rarely been a question of whether or not I should drink because my dad never drank. I realize how weak of an argument that is when I am faced with temptation, but it is also representative of how much I respect my dad and how important parental influence can be. Growing up I always wanted to be just like my dad and the fact that he never drank alcohol has had a lasting impression on me. Since my childhood however, I have developed a much more solidified position on alcohol.
The central force in guiding me towards my position on alcohol has been my experience with its negative effects. I have witnessed my friends’ fathers abandon them, relationships wrecked by them, and have watched numerous friends end up arrested because of alcohol. While I’m sure the majority of these issues were primarily caused by immaturity rather than alcohol, the fact that it is addicting, readily available, and a socially acceptable way to deal with life’s problems has lead me to want nothing to do with it. Similar to the way I avoid other addicting behaviors, I have had to recognize that I wouldn’t be able to resist the temptation.
When I look at the many struggles I’ve had in the past, whether it be impulsive lying or pornography, I can’t deny that when faced with a choice between being responsible or being selfish, I try to grab as much as I can as fast as I can. I know that if there is even a chance that this could ruin my relationships with my parents, siblings, future wife or family, then I want absolutely nothing to do with it.

One final thought. When I think about whether Christians should or shouldn’t drink alcohol, I am reminded of Colossians 2:16-23 when Paul instructs us to not condemn or judge other Christians based on “proper” behavior. And as he says in verse 23, “Such regulations...lack any value in restraining sensual indulgence.” Having strict rules governing how I should behave or think doesn’t make me a Christian. Trusting the fact that Christ died for someone who rarely does the “right” thing and who always concerns himself with what other people think is what allows me to turn to Him when I am weak.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011


This is a continuation of my “what does it mean to be a man?” series.  The first post can be found here.
          To be a man means to have integrity.  All the great men I have ever know have been men of integrity.  Whenever I have heard men talk about what it means to be a man, they talk about integrity.  While these aren’t my only reasons to write about integrity, they have definitely bolstered my view of its importance.  I hope to both define this word, which is commonly overused/misused, and to argue for its importance in defining what it means to be a man.
          The most common definition I hear for integrity is in relating to what someone does when no one is looking.  In other words, do you do the right thing when it is not directly beneficial to you?  If no one is going to praise you for your good works, or condemn you for your foolish actions, what will you choose to do?  While this is certainly a useful definition, it lacks a complete application.  First, how often are you making decisions for which you won’t be judged?  Second, if you have an aversion to doing what is right, wouldn’t that ultimately spill into all areas of your life?  While I do like this definition for it’s simplicity, there is a much more practical and true definition.  Integrity means wholeness of character.
          This definition presents much more difficulty in explanation, but does not confine itself to any particular situation.  Wholeness of character means that a man does not change who he is depending on his situation.  Whether he is with his family, friends, at church, at home, at school, at work, alone, or with others, he is the same man.  It also means that whether he is angry, happy, upset, annoyed, excited, or depressed, he does not alter how he handles the circumstances of life.  Now this may sound like I am saying men should be dull and emotionless, which far too many men (including myself) are prone to be.  Instead, I am saying that men should not be so easily overcome with outside influences when they are called to lead.  Instead of drawing upon fear, pride, ignorance, or selfishness, men should be predisposed to patience and compassion.  Instead of allowing the situation to dictate how they should react, men need to look beyond the now and towards the future.  The easiest way to do this is to plan.
         In my life, planning has been both a blessing and a curse.  I enjoy planning out my day, planning out what I want to do/buy/eat, planning basically anything.  It allows me to build anticipation while instilling confidence that I will succeed.  However, planning is also a chore.  Often I want to just “try it out right now” instead of figuring out if it will work.  Men regularly choose immediate results over lasting solutions.  That is why it is vital that if a man is to live in integrity, he must plan his reactions.  Again, I am not saying men should ever be logical robots, but rather they should be reasonable decision makers, who never allow emotions to dictate unwarranted reactions.  Integrity requires that a man knows beforehand how he will react.  When he is faced with injustice how does he react?  Does he react with blind opposition fueled by uncontrolled anger, with confident confrontation fueled by a heart for the oppressed, or with cowardly passivity fueled by fear?  While these reactions do reflect one’s character in general, in a given situation they reflect one’s integrity.  By planning how you will react to events regardless of their location, environment, or circumstances, you can begin to build your integrity.  All of this may be good, but at the end of the day why does it matter?
          I’ve heard far to many people tell me that integrity is important because God demands it, or because it secures one’s reputation, or because it prevents many problems that exist without it.  While all of these are true and important, they miss the point.  Integrity is important because it allows a man’s character to be solidified.  All men desire to be respected, and the only way to earn true respect is to remain who you are when everyone is doubting your manhood.  In that sense, integrity is what you do when everyone is watching.  When the people around you are allowed to see into your heart, and you are not ashamed of what’s hidden simply because nothing is.  A life of integrity is a life of openness and wholeness.

How the Gospel Creates Integrity
          The gospel creates integrity not because it makes us sinless or perfect, but because it allows us to live openly without fear.  No man can live a life he is truly proud of; in fact, pride only comes when we cover all of our regrets and flaws.  The gospel creates integrity by not covering or removing our flaws, but by paying for them.  No longer are we defined by what we do, say, or think, but rather by the one who loves us.  It is impossible to live a life of integrity apart from Christ because you will always fear the judgement of others, always doubt the value of yourself, and never be able to be completely and vulnerable with anyone.  In Christ there is no longer judgement, you are called immeasurably valuable, and total intimacy with God is not only a possibility, but your greatest desire.  The gospel creates integrity because it allows a man to be open and whole, without insecurity.

Monday, December 5, 2011

What Does it Mean to be a Man?

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          Going into college, I was anticipating entering a world that was both more mature and more solidified that high school.  I was hoping for a world free from high school drama, free from “popular” people, free from confusion about who I was and what it meant to be me.  Ultimately, I hoped that college would not only define what it meant to be a man, but that it would make it easy to become one.
          You are supposed to go into college with a major, which will then define your life’s work.  College is supposed to be the last step you take to becoming a “real adult.”  After college, you get a job, a car, a house, and a family.  This is the time in your life you are supposed to figure it all out and then go into the “real world” with confidence.  All too often however, college is viewed as the last time in your life that you can act as a kid.
          While I was anticipating that some people wouldn’t progress from high school to adulthood immediately, I was shocked to learn that people don’t change just because they are now in college.  In fact, I have found the only difference between college and high school guys is that college guys will shake your hand when they meet you.  All of this was a significant let-down, one that greatly depressed me about what would lie ahead in the next four years.  But why was I so disappointed?
          For much of my life I have looked to others for guidance.  As a young child, I believed my parents were omniscient and invincible.  As I grew older I saw there flaws but they were nowhere near as bad as mine.  Then in high school, as most teenagers do, I decided my parents were ignorant, afraid, and deeply flawed.  Basically, I had discovered that my parents were just as sinful as me and my world turned upside-down.  
For the first time I needed to find someone else to look up to, someone else who was smarter than me and who could show me who I truly was in a world of such uncertainty and confusion.  I was convinced I would find those type of people in college and I was sorely disappointed.  I tried to discover my identity through other people and I found that most of them have no clue who they are either.  
          This post and the ones that follow is intended to answer, to the extent of my limited knowledge on the subject, what it means to be a man.  While I have read many books, heard many talks, and done quite a bit of studying on my own in order to answer this question, my greatest and truest source of information has been my father.  I don’t write that in order to claim that my dad is that greatest man ever, in fact I have probably seen more flaws in him than in any other man I know, but he is a man who has allowed God to be the highest influence in how he conducts his work, leads his family, and most importantly, how he guides his heart.  As I said before, my intent is not to write about my dad specifically, but to write about what he has showed me it means to be a man.  
          In order to answer the question “what does it mean to be a man?”, I have decided on six attributes that I believe are biblical, and that I have seen in the life of my dad.  They are (in a very specific and well-planned order): integrity, loyalty, love, humility, courage, and submission.  While I’m sure there are many other words that could be used to define true manhood, these are the most important.  I’m also sure that everyone has heard these words, heard how they apply to what it means to be a man, and have a predisposition to what their true value is.  I ask that anyone reading what I have written would not blindly reject or accept what I have to say, but that you would challenge what I write with what has been written on your own heart.  
          I will be posting on the various attributes as soon as possible, but if you are reading this after I have already completed some, the links are below.


Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Religion and the Gospel

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This morning I was reading Chaos and Grace by Mark Galli and I stumbled upon a quote that at first delighted me with its truth, but then convicted me with its blatant honesty.  The quote, which I have included below, seems very “friendly” at first, calling out those who are caught up in religion and hiding from the piercing power of the gospel.  It is only once I realized how much like “them” I am that his real message was conveyed to me.

As we read the New Testament, we are reminded time and time again that the gospel isn’t about making life safe and orderly, but entails the risk of following Jesus.  It is not about improving people, but about killing them and then creating them anew.  It’s not about helping people make space for spirituality in their busy lives, but about a God who would obliterate our private space and fill it with himself.  The gospel is not about getting people to cooperate with God in making the world a better place -- to give it a fresh coat of paint, to remodel it.  Instead it announces God’s plan to raze the present world order build something new.
     How often do I search for a life that is safe and orderly while running from Christ?  How easy is it for me to compare my spiritual maturity to others, rather than allowing the Spirit to kill my pride and grow a new heart in me?  How regularly do I fret about not having the time to focus on improving my walk with God while never surrendering a single moment of the time that I choose to devote to more "important" things?  How often do I buy into the lies of the world and the foolishness of its philosophy, without ever considering (much less proclaiming) the transformative reality of the gospel?  How much of my life is devoted to making sure my "religion" is separated from how I really want to live my life?
     While considering these questions is a great exercise in humility, it can quickly lead to guilt and shame.  Exposing one's sin is certainly beneficial, but done separate from the gospel can be fatal.  Instead of relinquishing ourselves from the power of a "works based" mentality, we end up isolating ourselves from God's love, gaining only a stronger desire to gain His affection.  This downward spiral only leads us away from grace and rejects the gospel.  I do not intend to say that a life following religious discipline is bad, but rather reiterate the point Galli makes: The gospel isn't about making Christians (or the world they live in) "better", rather it is about exposing the gap between ourselves and God while exposing the truth about how big Christ's work on the cross was in bridging that gap.
     Today I also read part of an interview of Tullian Tchividjian.  In it he describes the ways Christians add things to gospel in order to gain control of our lives.  He finishes with the following questions: 

“What is the one thing, or things, that if God were to take away from me, I’d feel like I don’t want to live anymore? What am I functionally depending on to make me feel like I matter?
That’s the something that I’m enslaved to–the something that might be ok to enjoy, but not to worship.”
     We all find it difficult to accept God's unconditional love and to surrender control of our lives to Him.  Whether we use relationships, success, authority, or a host of other enjoyable gifts from God to maintain some semblance of order in our lives, the Holy Spirit will eventually break us of these "additions to the gospel."  In the Gospel alone can we find the grace to stand on.  

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Football Part 1

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My first season of football

This post continues from my first post which can be found here.

     There are few things in life that get me as excited as football.  Whether watching or playing I am completely entranced.  I don’t find football attractive merely for the physicality, strategy, or vast range of skill-sets involved, but rather for the way in which these are combined to make it the greatest team sport ever.  It is a collection of men, ranging from 160-360 pounds, who are willing to work together to achieve a common goal.  While all sports require commitment and sacrifice, football is the most physically, mentally, and emotionally demanding sport there is.  Vince Lombardi, arguably the greatest football coach ever (I mean they named the super bowl trophy after him) summed up the reason so many men love football when he said, “I firmly believe that any man's finest hour, the greatest fulfillment of all that he holds dear, is that moment when he has worked his heart out in a good cause and lies exhausted on the field of battle - victorious.”  At the core of all men is the desire to expend all of themselves to achieve something great.  Football allows guys with all sort of skills to achieve victory while in close community with one another.  Football really is awesome!
     While I refuse to renounce my love of football, I also cannot deny that I have at times been defined by it.  Throughout high school I relished my persona as “one of the guys” while at school and as the “tough football player” with my friends at church.  Being that I have struggled heavily with finding my identity in others, I used football to elevate my status.  While the way others viewed me provoked me to succeed, that motivation fails in comparison to the gifts God has given me.
     Even though I am not physically dominating (at least to most people) I was motivated to continue in football due to my desire to help others.  I absolutely HATE being in the spotlight, and even more so, I hate being recognized for work that I did; which is why playing a scout team lineman is one of my proudest and most enjoyable memories.  A team’s offensive line comes in a group of five.  While a player may at times be recognized for his achievement or failure, the success of the line depends on all five players, working together.  A team also has a starting lineup, and a scout team.  Each week the scout team must not only run the plays of the upcoming opponent, but also learn to play like them in order to give the starters a taste of what to expect.  As various coaches would mention every year, “the starters are only as good as the players they practice against.”  I absolutely delight in sacrificing myself so that others will succeed and football provided the perfect outlet.  While I believe my desire to help others is a gift from God, I cannot ignore I have at times felt uneasy and wanting of more glory for myself.
     The opportunity for my absolute awesomeness finally came my senior year.  After not starting for anything since 8th grade, the door appeared to finally be opening.  Now, I had worked hard to get to this point.  I had stuck with football when many of my teammates quit.  I put in time in the gym and time on the practice field and I was bigger, stronger, faster,  more motivated, and had more knowledge of the game than even before.  I was at the pinnacle of my high school career and I was ready to embrace the reward I had worked so hard for.  But God had other plans and had finally decided to humble me.  To be continued... (hopefully soon)

Monday, November 14, 2011

No Longer Asleep

Above my door there is a sign (well two signs actually but I’ll talk about the other one some other time).  This sign represents a defining moment in my life.  It is a time I look back on with pain and remorse, but also with joy and relief.  This moment was when I decided, after some violent and intense pressuring by God, to open my eyes to his mercies.  I realized I had spent my entire “christian” life on my own, and I had reached a point of total depravity.  I finally began to recognize my utter inability to “do my life right” and I had rammed so violently into the ground that I had given up.  I gave up trying to do my own thing and I gave up trying to do the “right thing.”  I gave up trying to please the people around me by begin someone else, and I gave up trying to please my self by doing what I wanted.  I had had given up on myself and I was sitting in my counselor’s office trying to rationalize why I needed to start trying again.
It had been three months since I had been devastated by the consequences in my life.  Since that time I had been pulling together the remaining scraps of my life while at the same time trying to convince myself I was going to be OK.  My parents had forced counseling on me and while there had been momentary “break-throughs” like me realizing how stupid some of my actions were, there was never that “AH-HA moment”.  The counseling sessions consisted of me holding back as many of my thoughts and emotions as I could while my counsellor graciously peeled back the layers of my shell.  This day however, was different.
It was January 15th, 2010 and I was talking through that various details of my life with my counsellor.  I would often play this game with him where I would tell him what I thought he wanted to hear but then act as though I still knew more than him.  (To think that today this man has had one of the biggest impacts on my life is a testament to both his skill as a counselor and his deep understanding of God’s grace.)  However, today he was not going to settle for little tidbits; he knew what was in my heart and he knew he needed to expose it.  As I was muttering on about the various mistakes I made he said to me, “You know what Ben, you have been trying your whole life to please people.  You’ve tried to please your parents, friends, teachers, and girlfriend, but you always came up short.  You need to stop wandering around trying to figure out who other people want you to be and become the man God made you to be.”  I almost instantly broke out in a nervous laugh because this man hadn’t just called me out, he had looked into my heart (as deeply buried as it was) and exposed the difference of reality between who I thought I was and who God says I am.  Since that day I have been learning to live out of this new reality and I have been awakened to the Gospel as it penetrates ever deeper into my life.  
In the posts that follow in the coming days, or more likely weeks, I will be explaining how my life led up to this point and how I had previously been defined by football, academics, and relationships.  While none of these areas are “evil,” investing your self-worth in them will be.  My true worth is found in the truth of the Gospel and apart form that truth,  I will always find myself inadequate.