Why Are Churches Against Drinking?

Doing anything to excess is bad for you. If you eat too much it’s bad for you, because you’re going to get fat. That’s how eating becomes the sin of gluttony. But we don’t say eating is a sin. We say gluttony is a sin. That’s why we don’t say, “Christians are not allowed to eat.”

So why do churches say we can’t drink?

A lot of churches have a rule that drinking alcohol is not allowed if you’re a member of the church’s staff. I don’t agree with that. They are saying that if I’m a pastor, or a youth pastor, or some other member of the staff, then I’m not allowed to sit at my dinner table and have a glass of wine with my wife. Why shouldn’t I? Why do you think anyone should be reprimanded for that?

Of course if the pastor has a drinking problem, then his church is going to take some flak for it. And as James says, he’ll to be held to a higher standard. But the “higher standard” is not whether pastors should drink or not. Jesus is the higher standard to which we are held. Jesus is the highest standard! Jesus, who drank wine.

Some people say drinking is a sin because of what it represents. They say that drinking a glass of wine at the dinner table misrepresents the church.

Does that mean Jesus misrepresented God when He drank wine?

People also talk a lot about avoiding the appearance of evil. But why is it evil to have a glass of wine at dinner with my wife? There’s no “appearance of evil” in that. If I’m drinking wine and standing on the table acting like a hoodlum, then that’s different. That’s the appearance of evil.

Enjoying an alcoholic beverage with my wife over dinner has nothing to do with evil. That’s just your judgment, and it’s not appropriate for you to judge me. I’m doing nothing wrong.

I am only expressing my personal opinion here, but I think that when churches make a rule against drinking, they are living in fear of man, not God. They are too afraid of their reputations. They’re afraid people are going to think bad things about them. They’re afraid if someone on staff has a glass of wine, people will say, “Oh, those aren’t good Christians.”

But why would anyone say that?  No one is doing anything wrong.

Well, they say, the nonbeliever will think that you’re sinning. Again, I have to ask why. Why would nonbelievers judge me for drinking? They wouldn’t. They are nonbelievers. They don’t believe in sin!  Suppose a nonbeliever sees me having a beer and says, “Aren’t you sinning?” If that happened, I would ask, “Well, do you think it’s a sin to drink?” Obviously they would say no. So then I would ask, “Then why do you think I’m sinning?”

There’s no reason to say that drinking alcohol legally, responsibly, and in moderation is a sin. This is a judgment. If you’re not living in sin through drink, then you’re not giving any kind of appearance of evil. You’re not doing anything wrong.

Jesus is the highest standard there is, the King of Kings, God in human flesh! His appearance is the appearance we should reflect, in all our words and deeds. His appearance is the only one that matters. Let’s reflect Him into the world without fear!

See you Wednesday.

Drinking and Driving

Never drink alcohol to the point where you’re no longer sober-minded. My sons are going to know that.

When they ask me if it’s wrong to drink, I will say, “No. It’s not wrong. If you drink to drunkenness, son, that’s when it is wrong.”

I won’t tell them it’s a sin to drink because it’s not true. But it is against the law for them to drink. They can’t legally drink until they are twenty-one. I’ll make sure they know that!

When my sons turn sixteen, they might ask me, “Why can’t I have a beer?” I will tell them, “In this country, it’s not legal. The Bible says to obey the government, and this government doesn’t want you drinking at sixteen years of age.”

Why do I think they’ll ask me at sixteen? It’s the age when they will start driving. Do you remember driving at sixteen? It’s a challenge. You have to build your confidence. Sometimes you don’t know whether to make a left turn or a right turn. You’re not even confident enough to know whether to speed up or slow down at a yellow light. It’s really easy to make a wrong decision.

It’s against the law to drink and drive because the consequences of a wrong decision can be huge. You can kill someone. And teenagers are especially vulnerable to making poor decisions.

I’ll invite them to think about how hard it is to be sixteen and drive. And then I’ll ask, “What makes you think that you’re going to make the right decision at the wheel when you’re sixteen and drunk?”

The government says that when you turn twenty-one, you make adult decisions. An adult decision is a decision that can influence another person’s life. So at twenty-one, you can go ahead and drink. But if you drive drunk and someone dies, you can be jailed with adults, and you can be punished as an adult.

I know young people will argue. They’ll say, “I’m eighteen years old, so I should be able to make my own decisions.” Right. Because you’re good at that. At sixteen, seventeen, eighteen years old, you’re telling me that the decisions you make are made with a lot of wisdom. You’re telling me that you’ve been through life. You know exactly what you’re doing and why you’re doing it.

Well kids, I know you think you know everything. But you know what? You don’t! I know, because we all thought the same thing when we were sixteen. Or eighteen. I thought I had it all figured out too. I get it! I understand. But it’s not true. And when it comes to alcohol, too much of it can cause you to lose self-control, and this can be dangerous. It can get you or someone else killed.

That’s what I’ll tell my sons. I’ll tell them, and I’ll keep dialoging with them about it. Because when they turn twenty-one, they will no longer be in my control and I won’t be able to help them. They will be adults. They will be making adult decisions. I will still give them wisdom. I will still help them. But I can’t sit there and slap their hands if they have a beer or an alcoholic drink at twenty-one. They can do what they want, and I can’t go to battle for them.

That’s why I have to protect and prepare them now. More on this next time. See you Wednesday.

The Ultimate Parent

I want to raise my sons to follow in the footsteps of Jesus and become servant leaders. In order to do that, I need to parent my sons the same way that God parents me. I mean, God is the ultimate leader! There is no better example I can give them, if I want my sons to grow up to lead by serving.

But this means that I have to think about how I’m parenting them. There can be a very tight connection between the way we view our parents and the way we view God, so I need to be thoughtful with my sons. To be a good parent, I need to look at how God parents me.

It’s very common for us reflect our feelings about our parents onto God. Our parents become a filter through which we see God. Until we’ve had a chance to think this through and grow in maturity, we might expect the same things from God that we got from our parents. This isn’t good if we were parented without grace.

For example, if your parents managed you by punishing you, then you might think of God as a punisher. That causes you to think in negative terms about yourself. When you have trouble in your life, you might think that you deserve it, or that you brought it on yourself. We all bring trouble on ourselves sometimes, sure, but when you think God is punishing you, you don’t realize that He wants to help you.

If your mom or dad was a heavy disciplinarian, or you had an abusive parent, then you might have some really negative ideas about how God sees you. You might believe that God looks at you and says the kinds of things they said, like, “You can’t do anything right.” You might believe that God shames you. You might truly believe that this is how God works.

We can also reflect our feelings about God onto our parents. So if we are angry with God, then we might show it as anger with our mothers or fathers. If we are experiencing God’s forgiveness, then we might be at peace with our parents.

All of this belongs to the ways that we, in our human flesh, portray God. That’s why we have to think about how we’re parenting, so that we don’t put ourselves or our feelings in the way of God. We want to reflect Jesus into our children’s lives, not ourselves as substitutes for Him.

Since we are sinners, we don’t have God’s purity. But we can do this. I start by asking, okay, what do I know about God? Well, I know that God regards me as His child, and He is the ultimate parent. He parents me with grace. God parents us with a ton of grace. He parents us with a ton of love and mercy.

So that’s what I do with my children. I do my best. I mess up! I don’t always do it right. But there is no condemnation. I see that everywhere in scripture. I see it in the Gospels and in Paul’s letters. There is no condemnation because we’re in Christ now. We’re part of God’s family. And in His family, there is no condemnation when we do wrong.

That’s how I parent my sons. God parents me, His child, with grace, so I parent my children with grace. That does not mean that my children get a free pass. I don’t get a free pass either. That’s not the point. The point is that we are living in Christ.

If you live in Christ, you will reflect Him. You will live in relationship with love, grace, and mercy. And when you do mess up, there is no condemnation. There is no shame. There is love, and grace abounds.

More on this next time. See you Friday.

Hiding in Shame

The consequences of hiding in shame are deep and damaging.

When you hide in shame, you don’t reveal who you truly are. You don’t let your husband in. You don’t let your wife in. You don’t let your children in and you don’t let your friends in. This is very serious. If you don’t let them in, then they can’t protect you.

You will fall.

Eventually you’ll get to the point where you won’t even let Jesus in.

That’s when you get entrenched in addiction, whether it be alcohol, gossip, porn, lying, negative thoughts, anger, rage, or something else. Whatever it is, it all comes from the absence of grace. In the absence of grace, shame moves in.

If you can extend grace to other people, then you can give them permission to speak into your life and protect you.

People who affect you deeply are the hardest to give grace to. I’ve seen it. It can create a nasty cycle of anger, fear, despair, and distrust. And it all happens because of shame. So the one thing I never want to hear in my home is, “How dare you do that? You should be ashamed of yourself!”

That is not said in my home. But in how many homes is it said? I was raised in it. I had it said to me. And I’m sure my parents had it said to them. “You should be ashamed of yourself.”

I’ve heard it from the pulpit! “You should be ashamed of yourself for doing that.” No I shouldn’t! I shouldn’t be ashamed. None of us should be ashamed of our weaknesses. We should recognize them and ask for help. 

When you ask for help, you give your loved ones permission to protect you in the areas where you are weak. If you don’t ask them to help you, then you will hurt them, because you’ll react out of the weakness you are trying to hide. You can avoid this. You only have to reveal your true self. That includes your weakness.

It’s not easy! I know it’s not. It’s very hard to reveal our weaknesses when we have been shamed. Shame makes it very hard to ask for help. But we have to ask. If we can’t overcome shame, then we will die in our weakness, and we can’t let this happen! It contradicts what Jesus did on the cross. He hung on a cross to take away our sin and our shame! 

And yet Christians shame each other all the time. We can’t seem to acknowledge that everybody will react out of weakness now and then. We are shamed so much that we end up hiding in it.

No matter how hard it seems, it’s okay. We already have all the help we need. We have Jesus. Jesus loves us! We are so precious to Him! We can give Him permission to protect us, because He longs to do it. Then through Him, we can give permission to our loved ones. We can allow them to love us as we truly are, and they will allow us to love and protect them in return.

Jesus will help us before we react out of weakness, whether it be anger, rage, fear, pride, greed, laziness, envy, or something else. Other people can protect us too. They can stop us when they see what we are doing, or are about to do. They can protect us from circumstances that trigger our weakness, either by intervening directly with us or running interference for us.

In your shame, you might ask, why would they do this for me? Easy! They’ll do it because they love you.

A lot of things go into relationships. A lot of things go into marriage, and parenting, and friendships. These relationships are very important and we need them to be healthy. But a relationship is only healthy when the people in it protect each other. You have to allow this. You have to protect others and allow them to protect you. It takes a lot of patience, but it honors what Jesus did for us on the cross. His sacrifice was for our sake. It was for the forgiveness of our sins. Look at what He did! He took away our shame, and gave us the gift of life!

This is a big deal. It’s a deep deal. It needs to be addressed, and very quickly among Christians. Grace is the way to Christian unity, and our unity in love and fellowship is something that Jesus deeply desires for us.

So let’s love one another in truth. Let’s love each other openly, not hiding in shame. “By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:35)

See you Tuesday.

All Messed Up, and It’s Okay

“I know you’re a mess.” That’s what God says.

He knows. He knows that every single one of us is a mess. We’ve messed up before, we’re messing up now, and pretty soon, we’re going to mess up again. God’s promise is that there will be no condemnation. There will be no shame. (Romans 8:1)

There are plenty of people who hear that and are incredulous. “Wait a minute!” they say. “No condemnation? No shame? How is that possible? You have to be punished for breaking a rule.”

And God says, “How did that work out for you guys the first time?”

He says, “That’s why I sent my Son to the ultimate punishment. He died! And now, because of His sacrifice, you don’t have to sacrifice lambs or sheep. You’re already right with me.

“You also don’t condemn people and stone them. Don’t do that! Jesus died for everyone.”

In His death, Jesus also took away shame. So now God says, “Don’t sacrifice your souls by keeping yourselves in shame. Don’t keep other people in their shame either. Don’t sacrifice your relationships by trying to control people. You’re never going to have control. You’re not!

“Why not just trust me instead? Trust that I sent Jesus because I know you people are a mess.

“If you give me permission to speak into your lives, then I can protect you. Trust me to protect you. When you mess up, I won’t punish you. I’ll help guide you. Some of my guidance will include discipline, yes. Sometimes there will be ramifications. But it won’t be because I’m mad at you. It will be because your choices can really hurt you. That’s why sometimes a slap on the hand is okay. The sting helps. It lets me tell you no, you don’t want to do that, and here’s why.” 

God says, “Do you know what? No matter what you do, I’m still going to love you. If you will let me, I’m still going to speak into your life. I’m still going to guide you. I know you’re going to mess up again, and when you do, I’m going to say it’s okay. In your flesh, you have weaknesses. You have weaknesses that are unique to you. I know what they are, because I know what has happened in your life. That’s also why I know that you’re going to mess up. It’s okay. You don’t have to be perfect for me.

“If you can trust me and give me permission to speak to you, then I can protect your heart. That way, you don’t have to make the same mistakes as often. Hopefully, you won’t have to make them at all.”

In the wake of His passion and resurrection, this is God’s message to us.

You only have to allow God to do it.

See you Friday.

Grace is not a Chore

In a life filled with grace, you receive such joy and fulfillment from loving your neighbor and doing the right thing that the law becomes unnecessary. You want to love, so you love. You want to give, so you give. You don’t need a set of rules to tell you to do it!

There are ways to teach our children about this. How often do we meet resistance when we say, “Clean your room!” When I tell one of my sons that he has to do something, the resistance can be incredible. There might be yelling, and jumping and stomping of feet. Doors might be slammed.

But what if I can look at him and say, “Hey bud, you know what? It’s your call.”

In other words, what if I take my son’s freedom into account? When I do, it is amazing. No one gets angry! I don’t yell at him and he doesn’t yell at me.

If you can allow your children to make their own decisions, then you may not meet quite so much resistance.

I have learned to talk with my sons, instead of making demands. I tell them, “You need to clean your room, because Mama has asked you to clean your room. I’m just letting you know that you can make your own call here. There are two roads you can take, and you’re the one who has to choose. If you take the wrong road, there will be consequences, but we’ll deal with them together. I’m going to help you, and I’m still going to love you. So it’s your call.”

That way, when it comes to doing chores, my sons knows it’s their choice. And I also tell them, “You can be angry. It’s okay to be angry. I’m not going to force you to clean your room. We’re living in grace here. I’m not going to tell you what you have to do. I’m going to help you understand what you should do. And then after that, it’s your call. If you make the wrong choice, we’ll handle it as we need to, in love. It’s up to you.”

After explaining it to one of my sons this way, I just look at him. He looks at me. And then he says, “Okay, I’ll clean my room,” and he does. He cleans his room and we go on with our day.

I’ve had to learn. My way of making decisions is not necessarily the way any of my sons make decisions. My boys don’t have the same personality as mine. God has given each of them their own personalities. It’s tough to learn the different personalities of your children. It’s a challenge! But when we can do it, there’s freedom. There’s freedom in being able to allow our children to live in grace. There’s freedom in saying, “Hey, look, it’s going to be better for you if you choose to do right, but it is your choice.”

I think God treats us the same way. We have the freedom to choose between right and wrong, and when we choose wrong, there are consequences. But there is no condemnation. We’re living in grace here. God has brought us into His family, and He will help us deal with the consequences of our choices. He will help us in love.

I’m going to love my son just as much if he doesn’t clean his room, even though my wife and I will discipline him. I will never love my son less. I couldn’t!

How much more does God love us?

See you Tuesday.

The Difference Between Joy and Hell

Jesus is grace. This is a very, very big idea. It’s huge. It’s almost too big to fully grasp, because it sums everything up.

Then one of the scribes came, and having heard them reasoning together, perceiving that He had answered them well, asked Him, “Which is the first commandment of all?”

Jesus answered him, “The first of all the commandments is: ‘Hear, O Israel, the LORD our God, the LORD is one. And you shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ This is the first commandment. And the second, like it, is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” (Mark 12:28-31)

“No other commandment greater than these.” Love is the golden rule of relationships. Our lives happen in relationship. God is a relational God. He dwells within and among us. He teaches us, heals us, and loves us, in relationship. And the key to relationship is grace. That’s the big idea.

To love God with all your heart, soul, and mind is to love the One whose grace is infinite. Our love for Him brings us into the community of grace. Our love for our neighbor reflects His grace. Grace is It! Without grace, there is chaos.

Now from the sixth hour until the ninth hour there was darkness over all the land. And about the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, “Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani?” that is, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?”…And Jesus cried out again with a loud voice, and yielded up His spirit.

Then, behold, the veil of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom; and the earth quaked, and the rocks were split, and the graves were opened; and many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised; and coming out of the graves after His resurrection, they went into the holy city and appeared to many. (Matthew 27:45-46, 50-53)

Just for a moment, Jesus felt forsaken. The world was devoid of grace, and there was chaos. There was darkness in the middle of the day! The temple curtain was torn in two. There was an earthquake that split rocks and opened tombs. The bodies of saints rose from their graves and went into the city!

If this is what happens when grace leaves, then oh, my goodness! God, don’t turn your back!

No grace. That’s hell.

People ask, “Is hell a real place?” I don’t know, but I can tell you this: hell is devoid of God. When there is a lack of God, there is a lack of grace. That’s why there is gnashing of teeth, arguing, bitterness, shaming, judgments, and fighting. It’s hell. A relationship without grace is hell.

Can you be in a living hell? Yes, if you have no grace. Relationships without grace become relationships without trust.

When there’s no grace in a marriage, it’s a hellacious marriage. When there’s no grace with your children, it’s a hellacious life for you and them. When you don’t have a relationship of grace with your family, you will not have them, and they will not be yours. 

This is not what I want! This is how huge grace is. It’s the difference between joy and hell.

See you Friday.