Friday, October 26, 2012

The Bible on drinking

Okay, I'm not a theologian, and not really a great teacher. However, I will attempt to give you some idea of what Scripture says about drinking. Feel free to comment if you have insight that I miss!

Surely the grapevine was created by God, but the first story about alcohol definitely reflects the fallen nature of man. After the flood, Genesis 8 says, "Noah, a man of the soil, proceeded to plant a vineyard. When he drank some of its wine, he bacame drunk and lay uncovered inside his tent." This leads to a curse falling on one of his sons (you can read the story). Two things from this story: wine is appealing to men, and the consequences of getting drunk are not pleasant. Alcohol plays a role with Lot and his daughters (Genesis 19). Melchizedek brings Abraham bread and wine after his victory in battle (Genesis 14:18), which definitely reminds us of the last supper which Jesus, our high priest in the order of Melchizedek, shared with his apostles. New wine is part of the blessing that Isaac mistakenly gives to Jacob (Genesis 27:28; he drinks wine in verse 25), and the vine is part of the imagery in the blessing Jacob gives his own sons (Genesis 49). Jacob pours out wine as an offering to God in Genesis 35.

Wine is part of a man's crop on which he should tithe in the Law (Exodus 22:29), and it was used as an offering in the Temple (Leviticus 23:13). The Law also talks about the duties of Aaron and his descendents (the priests), who should not drink before entering the Temple (Leviticus 10:8-10), and a specially dedicated person called a Nazirite, who always abstained from alcohol (and even grape juice, see Numbers 6).

Wine is often associated with celebrations (1 Chron 12:39-40) Psalm 104 praises God: "You cause grass to grow for the livestock and plants for people to use. You allow them to produce food from the earth—wine to make them glad, olive oil to soothe their skin,and bread to give them strength." In light of this Scripture, it seems silly to say that bread is good to eat, but wine is inherently bad.

However, drunkenness is often condemned. Eli the priest accused Hannah of being drunk in 1 Samuel 1 and rebuked her. Sometimes wine is used to symbolize judgement, as in Psalm 75:8: "For the LORD holds a cup in his hand that is full of foaming wine mixed with spices. He pours out the wine in judgment, and all the wicked must drink it, draining it to the dregs" (and many places in Isaiah, Jeremiah, Revelation, etc.) Proverbs 20:1 says that people who are led astray by drink are among the mockers, get into fights, and can't be wise. Proverbs 21:17 associates alcohol with poverty (see also Proverbs 23:30-32); kings are especially warned to stay away from it (Proverbs 31:4).

Solomon, as he pursued wisdom in Ecclesiastes, explored drinking as a potential lifestyle option (chapter 2). His conclusion in chapter 9 is, "So go ahead. Eat your food with joy, and drink your wine with a happy heart, for God approves of this! Wear fine clothes, with a splash of cologne! Live happily with the woman you love through all the meaningless days of life that God has given you under the sun" (v.7-9). I recommend you never take advice from Ecclesiastes without reading it in context, with serious meditation. It is more a book of reflection than rules.

My husband likes to quote Proverbs 31:6: "Alcohol is for the dying, and wine for those in bitter distress," because unlike celebration or drunkenness, this verse refers to alcohol as a medicine. Paul, in the New Testament, told Timothy to not just drink water, but take a little wine for his stomach (1 Timothy 5:23). This verse says to me that there have always been people inclined to stay away from alcohol for moral reasons. I imagine Timothy, raised in a home where his father was a Gentile and his mother a believer, avoiding alcohol in zeal for his God and rejection of his culture. But that's my imagination. I imagine the culture of the Bible being filled with the kinds of people I encounter in my own life.

The two most commonly quoted Scriptures for Christians thinking about these things come from the New Testament. I have given you LOTS of Scripture about wine before writing about these so that you can see how much it is part of the Biblical picture of life. As you read the life of Jesus, you see the same culture--one in which alcohol is a part of man's experience. Wine to celebrate a wedding (John 2), wine to enjoy at a meal with friends (Luke 22:20), wine as medicine (Luke 10:34, Mark 15:23,36). People criticized Jesus for associating with drunkards (Luke 7:33-35), even here a reference to alcohol's dangerous side.

Okay, so the two "big" Scriptures. Ephesians 5:18 says, "Don’t be drunk with wine, because that will ruin your life. Instead, be filled with the Holy Spirit." The obvious command here is to not be drunk; drink can be dangerous. The Scripture doesn't just give you a "don't"; it also says to BE filled with the Spirit. In Him, we find all the joy and freedom that people seek in drunkenness. Romans 14:21 says, "It is better not to eat meat or drink wine or do anything else if it might cause another believer to stumble." Sure, you have freedom as a Christian. Be aware of who is watching you, and how your actions will speak about your Lord. God is always more important than your comfort or your fun.

My basic conclusion is that it was part of the life of man. Like money, it can be used for good, but also tempt us to where we don't want to be. Things are pretty neutral; how we use those things are very telling about our own character.

A Safe Community

At the last Lunch at Angie's, we talked about alcohol. Do you drink? What do you think about drinking? Our group is quite a mix of women (ages, backgrounds, life situations), and so the answer was kind of like hearing the Church itself speak. Granted, we are all American Protestants, but still, it was varied, real, and refreshing.

Being a part of meaningful conversation creates some sort of marker in our lives. Being able to express your real thoughts, hearing from the hearts and lives of others, is not something that happens to us all the time. I pray that you have a group of friends or a family environment that connects with meaningful words. It is food for the soul, a refreshing drink.

Someone once called Lunch at Angie's a safe environment. There is a theology behind being safe. Did you ever think about that, the beliefs that are in place to have safety?

1) God loves you, and He knows everything in your heart, whether you say it out loud or not.

2) We are all sinners--this is one of my favorites. Many religions are a list of do's and don'ts, but Christianity is about knowing Truth, a personal God who wants to be known. One of the realities that Christianity teaches is that we all mess up, we are all short of the holiness of God. I never have to put on a false front before my God or His people. I can be known for what I really am, warts and all.

3) We are meant to encourage each other. Christians are not lone rangers who pull themselves together and do the right thing. We need each other...other insights, other perspectives, the knowledge others share, the example (good or not) that they provide. Not only does God love you, but so do your sisters in Christ. And we love with a love He has planted in our hearts, which is awesome and beyond our own ability.

Our only Scripture was "Seek first His Kingdom, and His righteousness" (Matthew 6:33). This must be the primary focus of our lives. Everything else--what we know, what we do, how we fail, how we succeed--is secondary to chasing Him, to living out His call. On the journey, may we help others along.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Say it out loud

The other day, I had some time to talk with my best friend. Sometimes life gets crazy and we miss those moments. It's especially nice when we have open-ended time, instead of, "I've got ten minutes, let me tell you what's going on." I like conversation that can wander; it allows my heart to unfold.

I told her the story of finding our pet rat Cookie dead in her cage on Saturday morning. I told her about an incident that, until I told the story, I didn't realize had hurt my feelings. I talked about my daughters. For me, it is theraputic to put my life into words. I think and even feel the emotion of the situation better if I set things into conversation. Are you that way? I don't think it's true of everyone. My youngest likes to withdraw and put her thoughts together. It is important, I think, to keep up with the narrative of your life, whether you need to think about things or talk them out.

It is also good to acknowledge moments. Always kiss me goodnight, greet me when you come home, say goodbye when you leave...these little habits are worth building into your family. My best friend tells me I am a scientist watching rats in a maze, so for me, being intentional about sentimentality is necessary, and I treasure these things.

Here's another thing to say out loud: I'm sorry. Does anyone come to mind when you read that? I pray the Holy Spirit would show you your heart, if there is someone you need to be reconciled with. That said, I used to be a compulsive "I'm sorry"-er. I drove my friend nuts in grad school, saying sorry all the time, over everything. I think I was taking responsibility for things that I wasn't truly responsible for. "I'm sorry" also doesn't mean very much if you just want the other person to be happy, but you're not really addressing what caused the situation. Let your "I'm sorry" bring clarity and healing. If you're not sure it's doing that, spend some time talking to God before you talk with that person.

We mark moments in our lives with little rituals, including those things we bother to say out loud. May your words connect you deeper with the people around you today.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Remember where you've been

I have been really down lately about not having a church home. I've been through all sorts of phases since we left our church, but this recent time found me not really thinking about any particular thing...just sad.

I don't like being sad. It actually makes me a bit angry, so you can imagine I've been a joy to be around. I'm pretty good on the surface, but if you bump me--well, yuck. Then at some point last week (probably 4:13pm on Thursday), I remembered.

God values remembering. A lot of the psalms are just reminders of what history Israel has been through. Many times when he addresses individuals he begins with flicking their forehead and saying, "Remember da da da, o beloved moron?" Have you had that happen to you?

At 4:12, I thought, "I just need to think all of this through, settle in my mind what has happened." And at 4:13, God flicked me on the forehead and said, "Remember? Remember when you left your church home after 10 years, walking away from a women's class that you were leading, that you loved? What kind of 'understanding' did you find then? Remember?"

Ironically, until that thump on the head, I thought I had sorted that out. After all, I have so much peace about that time period in my life. But as it was happening? It was awful. I didn't know if we were doing the right thing, and people were certainly not applauding us. When we would tell someone our decision, we often got shocked expressions and a bit of distance. But after a year, things were better. After four years, they were amazing.

But I never "understood." There are parts of that scenario that were just painful, that I can't explain, and some of those parts taught me the most. I had to trust that God was guiding my family, that He would take care of us and prepare a good future for us. Which He did.

Psalm 131 says, "My heart is not proud, O Lord, my eyes are not haughty. I do not concern myself with great matters or things too wonderful for me. But I have stilled and quieted my soul, like a weaned child with its mother, like a weaned child is my soul within me." Read it's like a lullaby for your spirit.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Sweat and inspirational music

I don't finish a lot of the nonfiction books that I read. Sometimes the title alone is enough to inspire me, but usually after about 3-4 chapters, I think, "Yes, yes, I get it." However, this weekend I finished Donald Miller's A Million Miles in a Thousand Years. His math isn't very good, but his writing captivates me. This book is about the concept of story. Here's an excerpt:

Before I learned about story, I was becoming a fatalist. I was starting to believe you couldn't feel meaning in life because there wasn't any meaning to be found. But I don't believe that anymore. It's a shame, because you can make good money being a writer and a fatalist. Nietzsche did it with relative success. Not personal success, mind you, because he rarely got out of bed. But he's huge with twenty-something intellectuals. He's the Justin Timberlake of depressed Germans, and there are a lot of depressed Germans.

One time the team I was on was preparing to go to a conference where Donald Miller was a speaker. I said that I was excited to hear him, and my coworker scrunched up his face as if something smelled bad and shook his head. "Donald Miller is not my favorite," he said. A year later, that coworker was found to have been living a horrible double life of sin and church leadership. I don't know if I really like Miller anymore because of that story, or if it is just symbolic in my head of "real Christians" and the fake ones.

My daughter and I went to a modeling audition on Saturday, and it was a wonderful experience. They told us that everyone is called to do something: if singing or acting or modeling is a tool God has given you in your tool belt, use it to get the job done. If it is some other career, go and do what God has made you to do, go do your part in His Kingdom. The head scout told us to have no fear in the audition. Be yourself; give it everything you have. If you bomb, make sure you bomb big.

The modeling audition and Miller's book are both about living awake, about living a good story. About facing fear and taking risk and staying the course even when it's hard. This morning, I considered, "What if I just gave up on church?" Other people have done it, been hurt and run away for years, sometimes their entire lives. But I don't want to be THAT character in the story. I want to be the one who hangs on through the pain, the sadness, and all the things that don't make sense and find hope, some wisdom, and a new start.

When you watch a movie about a character training for some really difficult goal (like Rocky), they show that character working and sweating while music plays, always something inspiring. During those scenes, I, being a realist, think how much work that prep really is, and we're just glossing over it for a good story. That said, the work entitles you to be the main character. The Story may gloss over the hard, tedious parts of your life, but those times earn you the story worth telling. No one wants to watch someone at the Olympics who gave up and stopped training.

I don't know what is in store for my family in the future, but I think I am going to listen for the soundtrack of inspiring music that I know is playing in some cosmic background.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Speeding along

What is your natural speed? I'm a 65mph kinda girl. I like life fast, a little hectic even. My husband says, "You're only happy when you have too much to do." A bit embarrassing, but I think he's right.

Last week, I dialed down to 35mph. I couldn't "do nothing" because I'm a mom. I still had to homeschool, drive the kids around, feed everybody, make coffee. But I needed some space to breathe, so I chose a slower pace.

I think we often feel like there is a posted speed limit, and we're not doing it. Either we're going too slow (everyone else is doing more than I am!) or we're not going slow enough (everyone else has margin in their life!). Maybe God doesn't have a standard speed that He's measuring us by. Maybe our eyes shouldn't be on a white sign off to the side somewhere, but up. Are we obeying Him? He ordained a "time for everything under the sun" (Ecclisiastes 3). Sometimes rest, sometimes chaos, sometimes laughter, sometimes mourning. Wherever you are now, are you there with God?

Isaiah 40 says that those who wait on the Lord "will soar with wings like eagles. They will run and not grow weary. They will walk and not grow faint." Sometimes in life we run; sometimes we walk. Either way, the Lord is able to sustain us. There is not a judgement on which you should be doing. The first part of that verse says, "They will soar with wings like eagles." Because we know Jesus, we can be lifted up above our circumstances. We don't always remember that, but we have an access to the clouds because of Him. Perhaps you need to take a deep breath and beat your way up to the air currents for a bit.

In Philippians, Paul wrote that he had learned to be content with plenty and with little (chapter 4). The verse applies to finances, but it can just as easily apply to time, the currency of choice in today's suburban lifestyle. Paul was content in any circumstance because he knew that Christ could give him strength.

You only need to ask yourself one question: can you see the face of God? If you can see Him, chances are, the cry of your heart is answered. If you can see Him, you can sense His peace, His joy, His provision...that thing that you are needing. There is no "right" way that you should be doing your life. Look at Him; are you pleasing Him? Then you're okay.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Be awake, but not alone

It is not easy to live awake. There are so many options for checking out, whether substances, entertainment, or just emotional distance and distraction. So if you're living with sadness, worry, or anger today, know that you are at least engaged. Be awake to the problems in your life, and move towards a solution.

However, you don't have to face anything alone. Jesus said, "Come to me, all you who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest." He said, "My yoke is easy, and my burden is light." Jesus is not encouraging us to check out, to live as if we have no problems. He is telling us to give them over to Him, and He will pull with us. With Him, it is not so heavy to carry those emotions and trials.

Please realize, today I am clearly speaking to myself. Do not imagine me happy and content, typing away some advice that I am not in need of. As I was driving home to teach this morning, having dropped off each younger daughter, I was working these truths out like a butterfly battling out of my coccoon. It's okay to be tired, Angie, when you are working out tough things. Oh, and guess what, Angie? You can take these burdens to God, and He will genuinely help you.

It is so easy to forget.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Stepping in

I have been privileged to be part of a church that promotes fostering and adoption. "Religion that the Father considers pure and blameless is this: to keep oneself from being polluted by the world, and to look after widows and orphans in their distress" (James 1:27).

As I have watched my friends foster, I have discovered something: even in this area of life, Christians are channels of blessing. In many circumstances, we do more than swoop in and rescue the child. If there is hope for even one of the parents, Christians try to minister there, to build up the original family so that they can raise their child. The love we give is indeed like salt, working through the culture so that it is better in the end than in the beginning. Even in a broken system, our effort makes a difference.

If Republicans and Democrats each put action to their words, what a great culture we live in. Republicans would labor to keep people from making mistakes, and Democrats would care for those who inevitably do mess up. Just do something. If God is in your life, what you do will be incredible as He blesses the work of your hands.

This past Sunday, in a women's class at a church in Broken Arrow, the teacher asked the question, "What fields do you see ripe for harvest?" There were many answers, and not all of them resonated with me. I would maintain that what YOU see is unique. Because of your passions, experiences, and upbringing, you see needs in the world from a unique angle. Go there. Don't compare the field you see to someone else's...just go. You are designed to harvest. Step in.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012


My basic theology is, "Life is often crappy. Better to go through things with God than alone." In John 16:33, Jesus said, "I have told you all this so that you may have peace in me. Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world.” Jesus said that we will have trials and sorrows. He did not say that on earth, we would overcome all unpleasant circumstances. We go through them knowing that He has overcome this world, and in the end, everything will turn out under His authority.

In the story of David & Goliath, we are often encouraged to see ourselves as David, fiercely slaying the enormous enemy with our faith. But recently, I heard a preacher remind us who we are in that story: we are the Israelites. We cower before our enemy, and we will not send anyone forward to fight him, despite all the armor and weapons we have assembled. Each day when he taunts us, we run away. We cannot defeat the things that come against us on our own; we need a champion. That champion is Jesus. He looked at our sin and guilt and defeated them. We charge after him into battle, but we are not Christ. We are the Israelites. Christ overcame the world, and we follow Him into victory, through our trials and sorrows. We do not skip over suffering, the same way that Christ did not use His divinity to trump pain and sorrow.

But He is peace. How often do we look to our circumstances and just want them to go away? Is it enough for us that He is our peace? In our journey to become more like Jesus, we renew our minds--we change our thinking to be more like His. I think simple things are very profound with Him, things we would rather overlook as easy assumptions. Things like, God is good; God loves me; I sin; Christ is the way, the truth, and the life. These are the graduate school of Christianity as well as the basic building blocks. There is no lesson that concludes, "And now your life will be easy and super great." But God is sufficient, sovereign, and more than we could hope or ask for.

In Jesus' day, people were very disappointed in their Messiah, because He failed to do the one thing they wanted: overthrow Rome. Are you also disappointed in Jesus?