Dreams are one of the ways God speaks to me. Sometimes I don’t listen very well and I soon forget the very important message Jesus was doing his best to convey to me.
The other night I dreamed I was with some brothers and sisters in Christ explaining how I didn’t want to be associated with alcohol or anything else short of Jesus, Redemption, and Love. One girl started to sing a song about the love of God for us. She sang it poorly but it didn’t matter. The truth of the lyrics immediately made me cry. It made me cry because I knew all the ways I resist God and shut him out and yet He still loves me deeply.
I wanted to learn that song so someone printed off just the chords without lyrics. I played it on my guitar and someone else sang an epic version of a beautiful song about the love of God for us… a song I hope to write soon.
(Note: I was informed this post comes across disjointed. That’s what happens when you start a post in July and finish it in December.)
Since my last posts on the subject (see Alcohol and Jesus) I have grown a great deal in my views of alcohols proper place in the believer’s life (if at all). As a follower of Jesus we all have a responsibility to heed the Lord’s personal direction concerning all things, including the use (or lack of use) of alcohol.
My friend Jeff asked me, “So what’s the upside to alcohol?”
My attempt to answer that:
1.) To enjoy with family when we get together?
While perfectly enjoyable and acceptable, it must be with discretion. For instance, are we setting a good example for young impressionable children in the family? Maybe we can do this by showing how to use moderately and not abuse? But often times it is best to just refrain.
2.) Perhaps there is an occasion where you are hanging with lost people or slippery Christians that having a beer might help build a bridge for sharing the Gospel? (Jesus wants to save Christians too!)
I remember hearing a pastor tell of how he was invited to his neighbor’s house for a barbecue. Someone tossed him a cold beer. He tossed it back announcing, “I don’t drink, I am a Christian.” He regrets that to this day and says, “Why didn’t I just have the beer?” So with this story in mind I firmly believed a beer or a glass of wine could build a bridge for the Gospel of God’s grace (and being led by the Spirit on all future occasions this might still be employed).
Has it ever worked for me? Maybe… but I don’t think so. What has happened on a few occasions is that either I, or the person or people I am with, have too much to drink. This leaves either of us with a sense of shame and regret (or regrettably not). Jesus was not given glory. People are not closer to Jesus thanks to alcohol.
3.) For the pure enjoyment and relaxation “a” beer or glass of wine can bring?
What’s wrong with this? Nothing really. Used in moderation alcohol is not evil. In fact, there are many health benefits to wine. Look it up. My perceptions are that in other cultures, the use of alcohol does not have the same stigma as it does in America. Take Europe for example. Wine with every meal is perfectly acceptable (Christian or not).
Here in America alcohol is often seen as just a tool to get drunk. Likely, our history with the prohibition (and a puritanical Church stance) is to blame for rendering alcohol with its low reputation. It’s given the sin tax by the government as if to say, “Sure, we will allow you this evil much like we allow you to smoke and give yourself cancer or allow you to kill your baby.”
I wonder if America were mentioned in the Bible would it be on par with the Cretans reputation (“Cretans are always liars, evil brutes, lazy gluttons”). Personally I don’t have much respect for how our American ancestors behaved when it came to alcohol or otherwise. A quote from the movie “Gangs of New York” comes to mind: “America was born in the streets”. I have heard or read stories of American history when seemingly everyone was getting drunk, and often. We lacked self-control and alcohol plagued our society for quite some time (and it still does). This is why the prohibition came about. Politicians and sensible people at the time saw the destruction alcohol was wreaking upon society and wanted it stopped.
So yes, I enjoy the fleeting happiness a favorite beer or glass of wine can bring. But I also certainly hate the shame and regret, not to mention the physical consequences, of having too much alcohol. It pains me to see what it is doing to my family, friends, and neighbors. And just as the Bible predicts, it’s difficult being a voice against its abuse when I was “for” its use. After all, I wouldn’t want anyone to feel bad or anything or jeopardize my own tolerance for it in my life. “Yea, I know we drink a lot”, someone would say to me. My response: “Well, I enjoy a glass of wine myself.” (And while it’s probably a good thing to refrain from being everyone’s conscience for them, it’s also good not to invalidate their own conscience’s convictions and conclusions.)
Can You Drink AND Love Jesus?
Some may and do come to the conclusion that just as drinking and driving don’t mix, neither does drinking and radically loving Jesus. This would be a position I would never take. Think about it. Can you honestly say to someone who has an occasional drink (like Jesus did) that they cannot radically love Jesus? No, not really.
However, for those Israelites who wished to be close to God they would take a Nazarite vow which meant that they would abstain from alcohol for a season. For a few of the most important prophets in Biblical history this was a lifelong commitment. So there is definitely a strong biblical argument for giving it up for good, especially considering the times and the need for prophets who are close to Jesus and hear from him.
This blog post isn’t about using alcohol responsibly. It’s about the times we fail to do so… and I have failed to do so. In my last post on the subject I talked about how I would never abuse alcohol again! Did you know that “never” can also mean “in two months”? Yes, I have slipped a few times. That is the strength of a persons resolve.
I recently watched a sobering movie about an alcoholic. It was amazing to see the freedom and even faith gained in the end by someone choosing honesty and facing who you are rather than continuing to lie. In Elementary, one of my favorite shows, Sherlock is a recovering addict. What baffles me is how we can even manage to “control” one area of our life, as the character in Elementary does, but then allow other areas of our life to be completely out of control. For instance Sherlock controls his substance addiction but gives himself complete license when it comes to sexual sin.
Isn’t there a higher goal beyond controlling our addictions or managing our sin? Indeed there is. Jesus holds out to us complete and absolute freedom in our relationship with him and gives us a kind of grace that is a game changer.
It’s his commitment to forgive and remain committed to love us that teaches us to deny ungodliness and worldly lusts and live soberly and righteous lives.
For the grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people. It teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, while we wait for the blessed hope—the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good.” (Titus 2:11-14 NIV)
I have an unparalleled ability in recent years to immediately receive the grace and forgiveness of Jesus when I fail – which is a REALLY GOOD THING! I don’t wallow in shame or beat myself up. Honestly I didn’t expect any better from the saboteur anyway. BUT, I would never want to justify my sin! I’d rather simply part ways with it. Thankfully Jesus makes repenting and parting ways with sin rather simple. You just have to be ruthlessly honest about yourself and your sin (not always as publicly as I am).
Because I came out publicly with such a “pro” argument for its acceptable use I felt the need to address this issue again (hopefully for the last time). This is why I am publicly repenting of my abuse of alcohol and being as brutally honest as I can be… OK, that’s a lie. You will never get the full brutally honest story. Only God knows that one.
I met a woman recently who had been sober 24 years after being an alcoholic for most of her life previous. She said she has never felt accepted or loved until she found it in Jesus. She keeps trying to reach her alcoholic son and refuses to give up hope for him because Jesus never gave up on her.
I recently came back from visiting where I grew up. One of the people I used to drink with is still a raging alcoholic nearly twenty years later. Don’t we ever learn? Another has turned to alcohol to self medicate a constant physical pain and I think perhaps to also numb the emotional pain of the past. But even more than this I think it is used to numb the ache of just missing Jesus.
In a broken world such as ours with so much pain and anguish, is it any wonder people turn to alcohol (among other things)? But don’t we know to turn to Jesus? Why not?
So many people just don’t know, or don’t believe, that Jesus loves them. I don’t know about you but most of the time when I hear, “Jesus loves you”, it seems trite and silly like that old Sunday school song. It’s old hat. You know what I mean? The message so often fails to even enter our heart. We are immune and inoculated from the love of Jesus.
I think it’s because we aren’t willing to trust and be willing to give up all the carefully constructed ways we medicate our misery. Ultimately, this isn’t about drinking at all, is it? It’s about knowing and loving Jesus. Do we really know him? Have we embraced his love? Are we really his disciple? (See a previous blog about being a disciple called Dust).
In the beginning of June of this year the Lord was trying to get my attention and was calling me to be his disciple. He did this by giving me the following dream:
I saw the world for what it truly was in the spiritual dimension. It was a place of darkness and confusion and the air was filled with poison. It was as if the entire world was a house filled with carbon monoxide. People were dropping around me like flies and I was shaken by it. Someone, who I perceived was the Lord, was trying his best to rescue people. But people were hiding from him. Demons were also constantly busy hiding people from Jesus and in frustration he said to himself (the Trinity) “It seems like they are going to get away with everything.”
So how in the world did I turn a profound dream of Jesus loving rescue operation into a defense for a Christians right to drink? How slippery I am!
In fact, after I poured out all my alcohol, I was making it again within two days! Why, you may ask? Oh, I had my reasons. Among all my reasons, the biggest reason is this:
I miss Jesus. I wanted to relieve the ache of missing him. Alcohol did that for me and I wasn’t ready to give it up. Now, however, I’d rather just have Jesus, even if it means never having alcohol ever again.
I was afraid to feel the pain of Christ for others as well. I avoided this pain and so was sabotaging the advancement of the kingdom of God. Unless you and I embrace the love of Jesus and join with Jesus in his rescue operation, unless that becomes our driving ambition in our life as it is Christ’s, and yes, even embrace the pain that comes with the mission of actually caring about lost people, then we become part of the problem. We end up putting sandbags on the drowning victims instead of pulling them to safety. We end up turning away from, and skirting around, the beat up victim instead of coming to their aid (see the Good Samaritan story). We end up handing a drink to the alcoholic. We remain silent when we should speak out. We stand by and watch them suffocate. We stand by and watch people drown themselves with alcohol and give them encouragement, “It’s ok. It’s your Christian right to drink.”
I don’t want that anymore.
I don’t want any more people whom Jesus dearly loves to slip by and never fully embrace the love and grace and redemption that Jesus has for them! I don’t want Christian brothers and sisters to settle for an existence that is so far below anything you could remotely call an ‘abundant life’ that Jesus offers them. I want everyone to “be found” by Jesus and be in love with their Creator and Savior!
This isn’t really about alcohol at all. This is about Jesus finding people and saving them from whatever may be distracting and drowning them (their idols). This is about people becoming disciples of Jesus.
There are probably plenty of reasons to never drink again. My permissive attitudes might have already encouraged others to drink who shouldn’t be drinking. This is tragic and feels like I’m handing a loaded gun to someone who is suicidal.
I was reminded today from reflecting on the Psalms that God holds each one of us accountable. You and I will be held accountable and none of our excuses will be valid or amount to anything. Sooner or later our hearts WILL be exposed, our sin will come to light. I choose the sooner.
My wife was reading through the Bible and came upon this Scripture from the prophet Micah:
“Suppose a prophet full of lies would say to you,
“I’ll preach to you the joys of wine and alcohol!”
That’s just the kind of prophet you would like!” Micah 2:11 NLT
I was arrested.
“For the word of God is alive and powerful. It is sharper than the sharpest two-edged sword, cutting between soul and spirit, between joint and marrow. It exposes our innermost thoughts and desires.” Hebrews 4:12 NLT
Even if it is entirely ok for me to drink or even have a winemaking hobby, (which I know it is – I do still agree with everything in my first blog on this topic), God has a way of exposing our carefully constructed arguments and excuses for what they are to expose our heart and motives.
Why was an occasional drink so important to me anyway?
I felt it made me more human. I felt that it further separated me from the realm of religious prick (which I abhor) and into the realm of real and human and love. This is why I was committed to not being a teetotaler.
But… on the flip side, might I be a partaker of destroying lives and helping people to hide from Jesus and giving them a Biblical defense to do so? If that is the case, then God help me!
The thing is, God has helped me and continues to help me. He sets me free from idols… because even if I had the slightest doubt that alcohol stood between me and Jesus, then guess what… it did. Because, “whatever is not of faith is sin.”
The simple truth is this. Our conscience dictates all these gray areas of morality. This makes perfect sense when you think of this in terms of relationship. I am one side of the relationship, God is on the other. If I think something is hindering that relationship then it most certainly is because I “think” it is and that affects me. Even if to God that gray area is perfectly acceptable, I may not be mature or aware enough to know that. My faith may not connect with that.
Paul writes about this in terms of meat offered to idols. My understanding is that in Paul’s day in age you could hardly find meat in the market that hadn’t been offered to an idol because the butcher shops served the idol worship industry that was so prevalent. Many early Christians ceased eating meat altogether lest they “offend God” by unwittingly taking part of idol worship. Paul was mature and aware of the fact that an idol is nothing and nonsense so enjoy the meat, but never at the expense of another’s conscience. In that case the persons conscience always trumped the “freedom” because that person’s relationship is worth more than the freedom.
A person’s relationship with God is always worth more than any freedom.
My bottom line is this: What do we want our life to be about?
I don’t want to be known as the guy who makes and enjoys wine, but as the man who loves and is passionate about Jesus! Ultimately I want my life to be about knowing and experiencing fully and then preaching the joy of knowing Jesus. I’d rather not be a stumbling block to anyone finding that joy!
Please pray for me.