Christian Liberty and Drinking

I have seen so many lives utterly destroyed by alcohol. I have known people who have died, wives and children who have been beaten by drunks, incomes wasted at a bar while families go hungry and children who go to school in rags. I have seen men go to prison because of alcohol influenced behavior and innocents killed by drunk drivers. I have seen children with Fetal Alcohol Syndrome and pregnant women falling down drunk and marriages destroyed. I could go on but I think I have made my point.

Recently a friend of mine lost a family member because he stopped to assist when he came upon a very bad accident late at night. The driver was apparently ejected from his car and was nowhere to be found. While searching for the victim, this young man who was searching for the injured driver fell to his death. He was only married just over a year and had a brand new baby. You may have guessed that it was later learned that the accident was due to a drunk driver who had lost control of his car.

I personally am not an abstainer. I rarely drink but might occasionally enjoy a glass of beer or wine. And yes, I do believe there is Christian Liberty regarding alcohol. But it is a thoughtless practice to talk blithely about drinking and it is dangerous to break out the alcohol in gatherings with your brothers and sisters in Christ when you do not know the struggles of others nor their besetting sins.

Here is an excellent article from the Gentle Reformation blog: http://gentlereformation.com/2015/03/16/drinking-and-christian-liberty/#comment-7223

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Thoughts on Sanctification and Stoicism

In light of certain struggles in my life, I am often tempted to fall into a stoic approach to unpleasant or difficult circumstances. However, there is a certain discomfort and it feels a bit like whistling past the graveyard. I say to myself, “I don’t care” when I really do care and the pretense of not caring rarely becomes a reality, and yet I persist. I don’t always recognize right away that I have fallen into that trap until my lack of peace catches up with me, but still I try to fit stoicism into some Christian form. I torture it and twist it and try to make this round peg fit into a square hole.

How does one distinguish between stoicism and the shedding of temporal concerns and worldliness that naturally flow from the process of sanctification by God? Do they achieve the same end in the Christian’s life, a weaning from the world? Is there such a thing as Holy Stoicism? What does it look like in comparison? What contrasts are there? What are the characteristics of stoicism that sets it apart from properly turning from worldliness as applied to believers? Would God call us to a stoic approach toward worldliness? If stoicism leads to more time for reflection, then would it not be a proper tool to use or a proper attitude to the degree that it aids us in our Christian growth?

As I reflect on extreme stoicism, I see that there are problems with it indeed.  Perhaps it is the fact that stoicism does not actually acknowledge sin? Is stoicism a man centered philosophy that denies the power of God to bring about real transformation in our hearts? Is stoicism the lazy man’s spirituality? Yes, I think it is lazy and simplistic. On the surface it might seem good but it is egotistical and denies God. I try to pepper my days with it but it never works out very well.

Stoicism depends on the strength of the individual’s will power. On the other hand, as a follower of Christ, it takes great faith and dependence on the means of grace to turn from worldliness (a requirement that stoicism does not embrace).

Stoicism then lives in the house built on sinking sand. When the great tragedies of life present themselves to the stoic, ultimately, the stoic has no help but to help himself. If he has been unsuccessful in his pursuit of stoicism, he will fail and the house will crumble. Then stoicism will be revealed as shallow and ineffectual and non-restorative. It is also non-redemptive, as man’s natural strength to overcome worldliness fails (and it will fail), there is no redemption, no forgiveness, no genuine sanctification.

Stoicism says “deny yourself” and replaces that self-denial with nothing. Christ says deny yourself and take up your cross and follow me. And where does “follow me” lead the true believer? The answer is a vastness of wealth that the stoic will never experience nor achieve. It is a narrow path that does require the shedding of worldliness but the path is divergent. The Christian’s repudiation of worldliness and self-denial begins with our calling and ends with unity with Christ. It is indeed not stoicism that weans us from worldliness but God who weans us from it through His sanctifying work.

I return again to Thomas Boston: The Crook in the Lot

There is not in anybody’s lot, any such thing as a crook, in respect of the will and purposes of God. Take the most harsh and dismal dispensation in one’s lot and lay it to the eternal decree, made in the depth of infinite wisdom before the world began, and it will answer it exactly, without the least deviation, “all things being worked after the counsel of His will”.

Since He makes the crook, there is, doubtless, a becoming design in it, which we are obliged in duty to fall in with, according to that, “Hear the rod.” And, indeed, if one did not shut his own eyes, but is willing to understand, he may easily perceive the general design of it to be, to wean him from this world, and move him to seek and take up his heart’s rest in God.  ~Thomas Boston~

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Enlightenment and the Bonfire of the Vanities

If my crude hammer shapes the hard stones

into one human appearance or another,

deriving its motion from the master who guides it,

watches and holds it, it moves at another’s pace.

~ Michelangelo  Buonarotti ca. 1528 ~

Michelangelo lived at a time of great enlightenment and great political unrest. Many artists thrived during the renaissance. But there came a monk to Florence by the name of Savonarola (1452 – 1498) who was hostile toward the renaissance. The infamous Florentine Bonfire of the Vanities, in which many works of art and literature were burned, was instigated by his followers.

The zeal of Savonarola and his followers created much destruction in the arts and literature. Even Sandro Botticelli (1445 -1510), in a fit of remorse and repentance, threw his own work on the fire. Who knows the extent of the loss of great works of genius?

We all know that this isn’t the only time works of art and literature have been destroyed by zealots. Hitler had his Entartete Kunst (Degenerate Art) purge, and the Taliban blew up the Buddhas in the Bamiyan Valley.  Governments and religious leaders are often concerned about the impact of art and literature on the masses.

I have always been opposed to censorship of art by governments. It is dangerous. But neither am I in favor of governments supporting contemporary arts with funds and grants.  There is a significant difference however between a government’s influence on the arts and religious influence on art. Our pastors and religious leaders should be speaking about the proper and godly use of creative forms of expression.

Our creativity should not be in opposition to the holiness of God. There is a proliferation of vile, nihilistic art and personal expression that seeks to offend shock and assail the world with images of violence, evil and crudeness. It is in our faces everywhere, at work, at school, in the places where we shop and where we dine and sadly even at church. We have become so jaded that we hardly recognize evil and we shrug our shoulders at images of death and blood. We sing along to songs that scream profanity and promote violence and exalt anger and angst.

Maybe our current postmodern enlightenment needs a torch to shine a bright light, or to set afire a personal bonfire of the vanities.  The zeal of Savonarola has begun to impress upon me the indifference toward art and culture that seems to be present in the church. Art is not meaningless, and expressions of creativity are not disconnected from our Christian walk. Perhaps a private personal bonfire of the vanities would be in order. Maybe a bonfire of the vanities in our hearts would be appropriate.

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The Sojourner’s Helper

Our home is in heaven. That is reality. We are just aliens and sojourners here on this earth. Once we   grasp that reality and lay hold of it firmly, our life should become more serious as we make use of this time and as we wait for the fulfillment of our homecoming.

What we do in this world as a sojourner is of great importance. Knowing that we are sojourners is even more important.  It is a matter to which we must attend daily and indeed moment by moment. The sooner in life we learn this, the better off we will be and the closer we will draw to heaven.

What is the purpose of this sojourning? Why is it important? My hope and my prayer is that my sojourn will lead to conformity to the image of Christ. Luke 2:52 says that Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men. He sets the precedent. Follow Christ.  Watch as His life unfolds. Watch as he joyfully lays His life down. Watch as “He carried out the command of God with Willful Delight in His heart” as He went to the cross.

Sensitivity to the Holy Spirit is key in our sojourning. I pray that the Holy Spirit would be strong in every believer and that believers would not be indifferent to those urgent tugs toward righteous behavior or ignore the subtle waves of influence that permeate the life of a sensitive believer. Jesus said that He would send a Helper. Let us not turn down the volume on that helper. The Holy Spirit can cultivate Willful Delight in our hearts too as we seek to be conformed to the image of Christ.

Sinclair Ferguson in his teaching series “Who is the Holy Spirit”, reminds us that the Holy Spirit comes to bring form to our formlessness, fullness to our emptiness and order out of our chaos. What better companion to have in our sojourning.

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For we are stra…

“For we are strangers before you and sojourners, as all our fathers were. Our days on the earth are like a shadow, and there is no abiding.”  1 Chronicles 29:15

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