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.