Category Archives: Basic Principles

Nuggets of Hope 28 – Gotta Serve Somebody

In 1979, Bob Dylan surrendered his life to Jesus Christ. References to the Bible, Jesus, and God’s Kingdom began to appear in his concerts. His conversion was marked with a new freshness in his music and the release of a new album, Slow Train Coming. The track “Gotta Serve Somebody” became Dylan’s first hit in three years.

I had not been a huge fan of Dylan up to this point, but I loved this album and this song. It was hard-hitting, fresh, and focussed, with this repetitive, driving refrain :

It may be the devil, or it may be the Lord
But you’re gonna have to serve somebody.

As the COVID-19 pandemic wears on, even with the partial lifting of lockdown restrictions, everybody’s life is affected. Whatever the details of our circumstances, we can easily become slaves to the pandemic. It can start to dominate our thinking.

I have found that to navigate these times, I need to step back, get perspective, and remind myself of who I am and where I am going. The COVID-19 pandemic is a circumstance that I cannot control, but I can choose how I am going to look at life. I am a disciple of Jesus Christ. I do not live without hope, direction or focus. I have a purpose. I am living for the Kingdom of God.

This morning I started my day with a walk around my neighbourhood. I prayed the ancient words of the Lord’s Prayer. I asked the Father to show me what it would mean for His name to be hallowed in my life. I prayed for His Kingdom to come on earth. I prayed for my neighbours and myself to hunger and thirst for His righteous rule in our lives. I thanked God for His daily provision, His forgiveness and His deliverance from evil.

I wasn’t made to live for myself. I was created to belong to the One who made me. I have been redeemed – set free at a high cost – so that I might serve Him and give Him glory with my life. In fact, living for yourself is an illusion – a costly mirage that leads to sorrow, emptiness, death and eternal loss. As Dylan wrote back in 1979,

It may be the devil, or it may be the Lord
But you’re gonna have to serve somebody.

Over many years of learning to follow Jesus, I have found that living as His servant and friend has given me a liberty that I did not have when I was trying to set my own direction and have my own way.

If you already know what I am talking about, let me encourage you to remember the Lord and reset your focus on Him today and every day. If you don’t know the freedom of belonging to Jesus, but want to talk about it, leave me a comment and I’ll contact you.

God bless you.

 

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Nuggets of Hope 27 – Are you listening?

PSSST … 

Hey you. I have some things to tell you. Secrets. Things that can help you.  Are you listening? This is really important.

God. 

This is a time of many opinions, much commentary, many unknowns and uncertainties, many claims and counter-claims, much fear and anxiety, much suspicion and accusation, much unrest and contention.

In the storm of words, it is a great gift to be able to quiet one’s thoughts by giving our attention to the Holy One.

Before I was born again, I could not do this. I was a young United Church pastor – attempting to be a shepherd to others although I did not yet really know the Good Shepherd. I was driven and anxious much of the time. I wanted peace – wanted it desperately – but I could not think my way into it.

I found that the way to peace was through surrender of my will to Jesus Christ and baptism with the Holy Spirit. Right away my life became much simpler as I no longer felt compelled to solve every problem or come up with a solution for every situation. There was such freedom in not being responsible for everything.

I am very grateful for those who trained me, early on in my walk with Christ, in learning to listen to the quiet whisper of Holy Spirit speaking to my spirit.

Nowadays, in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, I am finding that to stay healthy I need to practice a few simple disciplines.  Physical exercise, prayer, Scripture, work, rest.

One of the most important is to pay more attention to the voice of the Lord than to the voice of man.

From the time I was a young child I always wanted to know what was true and what was false. I also have a strong sense of justice and hate to see lies and wrongs prevail. These are good qualities but I have found that in order to stay in God’s peace – which is the place of order and productivity and fruitfulness and life and hope – I need to discipline myself to listen to His voice in preference to all the other voices. When I forget this, even for a short time, I pay a price. When I remember it, peace returns and I am able to see clearly again because I have heard the voice of the One who is True.

The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy.
I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.

Jesus, John 10:10

My thoughts are not your thoughts,
neither are your ways my ways …
as the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways
and my thoughts than your thoughts.
God, Isaiah 55:8-9

The Lord knows the thoughts of man,
That they are a mere breath.
Blessed is the man whom You chasten, O Lord,
And whom You teach out of Your law;
That You may grant him relief from the days of adversity,
Until a pit is dug for the wicked.
Psalm 94:11-13

The Holy Spirit is such a blessing to me. In an instant He can cut through the confusion of human voices and give me His perspective. He doesn’t answer all my questions but He directs my attention to the one thing that I need to pay attention to in that moment. This brings rest to my thoughts and keeps me stable, focussed and productive.

One of my favourite Psalms speaks of the secret counsel of the Lord which is available only to those who fear Him. It is like the counsel that one gives to a trusted friend. I need that secret counsel on a daily basis, to guide my life, to show me His ways and keep me from trouble.

I daresay you need that daily counsel of the Lord as much as I do.

Are you listening?

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Nuggets of Hope 16 – Hidden with Christ

Waiting.

For those of us whose main assignment is to stay home, the waiting is one of the hardest things about the COVID-19 pandemic.

For many Christians, this pandemic exposes our drive to be rescuers. Surely there’s something we can do! Surely we can fix this! If only we hold enough online prayer meetings, gather enough online worshippers, fast enough, we can turn this thing around.

For the more activist-minded, this can take other forms. If only we can sew enough face masks and disinfect every surface within reach, we can fix this thing.

Of course I believe that God can be in all these activities. I have been blessed many times by online worship, and I have prayed for the online prayer meetings held by others because I believe that God can use them to reach desperate people. And I have great appreciation for anyone who is investing time and energy finding ways to serve – including making face masks. But I have a confession to make. Two confessions, in fact. I haven’t made a single face mask. I also haven’t followed most of the online prayer meetings to which I’ve been invited, as excellent as they no doubt were. If I had, I wouldn’t have been able to keep up. And as I myself have sought the Lord, the direction He has given me is to quiet my soul, to wait on Him, and then do what He shows me to do – which may not be what He has shown someone else to do.

What if that’s the first and most important thing God is asking of all of us, all the time? What if that’s always what He has been asking of us, not only during COVID-19?

Jesus had quite a lot to say about this. He said that He could do only what He saw His Father doing. And in case anyone should think that method of operating only applied to Him, He also had this to say.

My sheep listen to my voice;
I know them, and they follow me.
John 10:27

What was Jesus doing between Good Friday and Resurrection Sunday? We know that His Spirit wasn’t dead, because of what He told the repentant thief. In the midst of his own agony, Jesus promised this broken man,

Truly, I say to you,
today you will be with Me in Paradise.
Luke 23:43

He was waiting. He was waiting in a good place, in a heavenly place, but He was waiting until the time set by His Father, when the three days would be fulfilled. The grave was still sealed. His body was still in the grave, awaiting its resurrection. And even after His resurrection, and the outpouring of the Spirit, He is again waiting for another time that has been set by His Father, when He will return for His Bride.

The same thing applies to every believer in this age. We are waiting. We aren’t just waiting to go to heaven. As wonderful as heaven is, it’s not our final destination. We are waiting for all things to be made new.

For you have died,
and your life is hidden with Christ in God. 

When Christ who is your life appears,
then you also will appear with him 
in glory.
Colossians 3:3-4

In the same vein the Apostle John assures us,

Beloved, we are God’s children now,
and what we will be
has not yet appeared;
but we know that 
when he appears
we shall be like him,
because 
we shall see him as he is.
1 John 3:2

Our flesh – our old nature – doesn’t like to have to wait for things. We like everything to happen right away. But in the rhythm of Easter weekend, there is a pause between Good Friday and Resurrection Sunday that mirrors, in a small way, the long extended pause in which we currently find ourselves, between the Day of Pentecost and the Day of the Lord. We have hope, we know Jesus is alive, we know He is with us, but we are still waiting.

All of us are waiting eagerly for the COVID-19 pandemic to be over. That will be a day of great rejoicing, but those who belong to Jesus are awaiting something far better. We are waiting for the redemption of our own bodies, and we are waiting for the restoration of all things. We are waiting with hearts full of hope, because we have a promise. We are promised that when we see Him, we shall be like Him.

O Happy Day!

 

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Nuggets of Hope 14 – Not Separated

The three cuties in this pic are my granddaughters Madeleine, Sophie and Alivia. They live in Kansas City with their parents, my son Simeon and his wife Heather. This photo was taken during their last visit to us, just after Marion’s Mom passed away in December 2019. Marion and I had been planning to visit them this week, but the COVID-19 pandemic put plans for a visit on hold.

One of the impacts of COVID-19 has been to separate people. Our other children and grandchildren are much closer by, but we can’t see them in person either. With the need for social distancing to slow the spread of the virus, not only can many people not go to work, but churches and community groups can’t meet as they normally do, and family members and friends can’t see each other.

Even more painful is the separation due to death. As painful as that is in more normal times, during this pandemic some have lost loved ones due to other causes and have not been able to hold normal funeral observances due to the need for social distancing. Others have lost loved ones to COVID-19 and have not been able to be at their loved ones’ bedside when they passed because of the risk of infection. In Wuhan, Italy and Spain, where the pandemic has been more severe than what we have so far experienced in Canada, at times normal funeral observances have had to be completely bypassed. All of this only serves to accentuate the sense of loss and grief due to the separation of death.

In the midst of all this separation, pain and loss, I am so thankful for the glorious truth that nothing can separate believers from the love of Christ.  In the powerful closing section of Romans 8, Paul asks a rhetorical question :

Who shall separate us
from the love of Christ?
Shall tribulation, or distress,
or persecution, or famine,
or nakedness, or danger, or sword?
Romans 8:35

He goes on to answer his own question.

No, in all these things
we are more than conquerors
through him who loved us.
For I am sure that neither death nor life,
nor angels nor rulers,
nor things present nor things to come,
nor powers, 
nor height nor depth,
nor anything else in all creation,
will be able to separate us
from the love of God
in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Romans 8:37-39

This was not written by someone who was a stranger to suffering. Paul suffered many things because of his devotion to the cause of Christ. But he had no regrets because he had encountered the love and power of the risen Christ. He knew Jesus was alive and he knew he had an eternal inheritance in the Kingdom that cannot be shaken.

The Bible tells us that we were made for eternity. This is why humans hate and fear death.  When the author of Hebrews writes of those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery, he’s speaking of a universal human experience. But praise God, Jesus has conquered death on our behalf and opened for us the gates of eternal life.

One day we will inherit a renewed heaven and earth where there will be no more death. This is a glorious and blessed hope. We look forward to the Day of the Lord when this age of death will be over and a new age will dawn. But we have an advance taste of this inheritance now. I want to encourage you to practice talking to the Holy Spirit. He is the living deposit that Jesus has put into every believer. Not only can you talk to him, he can talk to you. He is eager to comfort and strengthen you with strong confidence that Jesus is alive and can guide your every step.

Although all of us – even introverts like me – find it hard to be separated from loved ones, COVID-19 is actually a great opportunity to take extra time alone with God and get to know Him better. The Bible talks about a secret place of the Most High, and says that the friendship or secret counsel of the Lord is for those who fear him. God has not left us alone, but to experience his friendship we need to practice talking to Him and listening to His voice. This is not complicated. In fact it’s surprisingly simple. Although the Holy Spirit can speak to us in many ways, the most common way is through his still small voice, a gentle nudge in our spirits. This can come when we are reading Scripture, but will also come at other times if we are paying attention. The Holy Spirit will always lead you to Jesus and show you things that are consistent with His word, so this is one way that you can be assured you are hearing from God. If you’re concerned about family members or others in need, He can also show you how to pray for them. I often ask Holy Spirit to show me how to pray for specific situations or people, and He never fails to answer.

Jesus assured us that he would not leave us alone.

The Helper, the Holy Spirit,
whom the Father will send in my name,
he will teach you all things
and bring to your remembrance
all that I have said to you
.
John 14:26

I will be thoroughly delighted when I can hug my children and grandchildren again, see my friends and go places freely. I’m sure you will too. But I have sensed the Spirit of God nudging me to make good use of this time of being “shut in” to get to know Him better. As much as circumstances allow, I want to encourage you to do the same. Even if you have busy young children, you can train them to take some quiet time so that you can do the same. Time with the Lord is your lifeline. He is waiting to speak to you.

God bless you.

 

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Nuggets of Hope 12 – Cancelled

Cancelled.

Many things have been cancelled because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Travel plans, meetings, projects, school, parties, shows – you name it.  Most of these cancellations are unwelcome, although some people are discovering a hidden blessing in the enforced slower pace of life.

For believers in Jesus, something else has been cancelled, and the cancellation has nothing to do with COVID-19.

Our record of sin has been cancelled. Our punishment has been cancelled. Our penalty – eternal separation from God in the lake of fire – has been cancelled.

The Apostle Paul summed it up with these memorable words (Romans 8:1-2 ESV)

There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death.

If you’ve been a lifelong Christian, it may be hard to think of yourself as a potential object of God’s wrath. But the Scriptures are very clear about this. All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. The wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. Had Jesus not gone to the cross for us, we would stand before God guilty and condemned.

If you are inclined to doubt this, consider one simple question. Do you want your own way? If you answered honestly, you have just admitted to being innately in rebellion against God. We humans like to think of ourselves as innocent and just. It’s other people who are perverse, not us. We’re very good at convincing ourselves of this. We far prefer this to facing our own guilt. Of course, if you’ve been learning to surrender to the work of grace, then you’ve been crucifying that rebellious, devious old nature – but you can only do that because Jesus – the perfect Lamb of God – went to the cross, wiped your slate clean, and secured for you a record of Not Guilty.

Let’s not waste the precious and wonderful gift of freedom that Jesus won for us. Let’s treasure it. If you have put your hope in Jesus, the wonderful, glorious truth is that you are not condemned. You could have been, should have been, but you weren’t, because Jesus took your condemnation for you. You don’t have to be afraid of COVID-19. You don’t have to be afraid to die. Your sentence was cancelled. You are free – free to live a new life for the glory of God.

Even if I don’t succumb to COVID-19, the reality is that I don’t know how long I have left in this life. When I consider what Jesus has done for me, I don’t want to waste the years I have left. My record of sin has been cancelled, and so has my ticket to the Lake of Fire. By the mercy of God, I’m going to miss that party.

Instead, I have an invitation to a much better, more glorious party – the wedding banquet of the Lamb and his Bride, a celebration of God’s glory, beauty and goodness that will never end. But I don’t want to get there, and find that I’m ashamed to go in because I’m not dressed for the occasion. I want to be dressed in the pure white garments of those who have been transformed by the love of Jesus.

That choice is open to anyone who wants it. If you’ve never given Jesus central place in your life, the COVID-19 pandemic is a great opportunity to take stock of where you’re really headed, turn to Jesus, turn in your cancelled ticket to hell and accept your free ticket to glory.

If you’ve already done that, this pandemic is also a great time to re-set your course and decide again that you want to be wholeheartedly for Jesus, so that when you get to the celebration you’ll have no need to be ashamed, and you can walk in and enjoy the party.

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Nuggets of Hope 11 – Complete in Christ

Yesterday afternoon, as I came back from a long Saturday walk, I saw a small crowd gathered in front of the house diagonally across from ours. At least, it was a crowd by COVID-19 pandemic standards. People were standing on the lawn and the street in clusters of twos and threes, each cluster well separated from the next one (for the most part anyway). I arrived home just in time to observe the festivities with Marion. Standing on our front deck I could faintly hear the bride and groom say their vows. They had come together as a couple some months ago, and now they were committing themselves to each other in sacred promises. A beautiful little girl was in the wedding party, the offspring of a past relationship.

It would have been easy for this couple just to continue living together without exchanging vows, but something in them made them want to make a covenant. I believe they are hoping for a fresh start. As I listened to their vows and thought about all this, I asked God to pardon their past failures, bless their intention to have a lasting marriage, and help them stay faithful to each other. The poignancy of the moment was heightened by the uncertain times in which we live. As we move from childhood to adulthood and begin making our own life choices, many of us start out with hopes, dreams and good intentions, but we don’t always know what will come our way on the path of life. Marriage, perhaps more than any other major life choice, tests our resolve. Will we be strong enough to keep the covenants we have made?

The classic symbol of marriage – the gold wedding band – speaks of the unbroken perfection of God’s love. It has no beginning and no ending. It is perfect in its simple beauty.

It’s only the love of God that can help a marriage truly succeed. And whether or not you are married, we all need that perfect love living within us to live a life that bears good fruit for eternity. We simply can’t do it on our own.

Like the couple across the street who exchanged wedding vows yesterday afternoon, you wouldn’t be reading this blog if you didn’t have good intentions. But we need more than good intentions to fulfill our hope of living a life that is blessed by God, pleasing to him, and endures to eternity. We need the power of God.

The good news is that God has made that power available to us in Jesus. Writing to a group of new believers who were in danger of being led astray by other philosophies and practices, Paul pointed them back to the simple truth of Christ in them (Col 2:8-10 NLT)

Don’t let anyone capture you
with empty philosophies and high-sounding nonsense
that come from human thinking
and from
the spiritual powers of this world,
rather than from Christ.
For in Christ lives all the fullness of God in a human body.
So you also are complete through your union with Christ,
who is the head over every ruler and authority.

We live in challenging times. In the face of COVID-19, all of us are tempted to feel powerless at times. We recognize the need to walk in wisdom to safeguard our health, but we can’t control the actions of others. The news is full of stories of people descending into behaviour motivated by selfishness, hopelessness and panic. Truly, fear has the power to make us do very stupid and short-sighted things.

In the midst of all this, those who have put their hope in Jesus don’t just have an example to follow. We do have that, but we have something far more. We have Jesus living inside us. And so we can have peace. He is our hope, for the present and the future. He is able to do miracles, and often does, but our hope is more than just that we won’t get sick. Eventually we will all die. That’s the reality of our life in this age. But we know that we who believe in Jesus will be with Him forever. He lives within us and is changing us day by day to make us into a better reflection of His beauty, glory and goodness – even in the face of COVID-19. And no matter what happens to us in this crisis, we know that if we stay faithful to our covenant with Jesus, we will share His glory in a world made new.

What a hope. What a promise. We are complete in Christ. We have hope for eternity. Thanks be to God.

 

P.S. This will be my last Nuggets of Hope post for a few days. I am sensing the Spirit telling me to pause for a time, to spend some time resting and meditating on the hope we have in Jesus so that I have fresh bread to share when it’s time for me to resume. God bless you. 

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Nuggets of Hope 9 – An Open Door to God

One of the hardest things about the COVID-19 pandemic for many people is isolation. Yes, it’s better than getting sick, but not being able to have contact with friends and loved ones is hard for all of us.

You probably all have lists of people that you are missing. I miss my children, my grandchildren, my friends from our church Bible Study group. I’m thankful to be able to see them online through the blessing of technology, but it will be wonderful to be able to see them in person and hug them again.

Others have bigger concerns. A friend contacted me recently asking me to pray for his ageing parents, who live in Chicago and both of whom have COVID-19 symptoms. His father is in ICU and at last report was fighting for his life. Many have similar concerns for loved ones.

In the midst of this pandemic, I want to encourage you with this simple but powerful Scriptural truth. As believers in Jesus, with our record of sin washed away by the blood of Jesus and our spirits made alive by the indwelling Holy Spirit, we have full access to God. That has not changed. He is near, he is not far off.

Long ago, the Apostle Paul wrote to the believers in Ephesus that before the coming of our Saviour we were without hope and without God in the world. This is how many people today feel about their lives – no hope, and no God. But that’s not God’s final word on the subject. Paul goes on to speak these words of assurance (Ephesians 2:17-18).

He [Jesus] came and preached peace
to you who were far away [Gentiles]

and peace to those who were near [Jews].
For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit.

God has an open door policy. He has paid the debt of sin that stood against us so that we are not condemned, and given us His Spirit so that we can draw near to Him. His Spirit in our hearts prompts us to cry out Abba, Father (Abba is a word that means much like Papa or Daddy). He wants us to come to him. He is waiting for us to come.

Recently I heard a powerful testimony from a man of God whom I know personally, a man of integrity. In an online prayer meeting, they had been praying for a young woman who was battling COVID-19 in ICU. He spoke over her that angels would minister to her and that she would be healed. Some hours later she was recovering well and reported that angels had visited her.

Make no mistake. COVID-19 is a powerful enemy. But Jesus is a more powerful friend. We have friends in high places. Let’s be wise, and take all necessary precautions, but let’s not allow fear to paralyze us. We still have access to our God and He is still the King. In the midst of many shakings, which we know will increase as the end of the age draws near, let’s draw near to God – which is our privilege in Christ – and trust Him to show us His favour and glory. He is good.

God bless you today.

 

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Nuggets of Hope 8 – Adopted

The children in this photo are orphans. They live in a group home in East Asia, run by people who love Jesus and love children. In this group home they are cared for by volunteer house parents. Having lost their family of birth, they have found a home in a new family where they are chosen and wanted.

This is a picture of one part of the Biblical meaning of adoption. It’s a picture of children who, instead of being rejected and discarded, are loved and highly valued.

The other part of the Biblical picture of adoption speaks of inheritance. Paul says (Galatians 4:4-7 ESV)

But when the fullness of time had come,
God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law,
to redeem those who were under the law,
so that we might receive adoption as sons.
And because you are sons,
God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts,
crying, “Abba! Father!”
So you are no longer a slave, but a son,
and if a son, then an heir through God.

The reason for the gender-specific language here is that in that culture, it was sons who inherited. Daughters married into their husband’s inheritance. Paul uses the terminology of adoption as sons to underline the fact that as believers, we have come into a great inheritance. This is true for every believer, male or female – just as every believer is also Jesus’ bride. Whether you are God’s daughter or God’s son, you have an inheritance in Him.

There’s a third dimension of being adopted that is even more powerful. We can come to God as His beloved sons and daughters, and we can cry out to him as our Father, and he will listen.

Abba is not just the name of a famous Swedish pop band from the 1970s. It is the Hebrew word for Daddy or Papa. It conveys both tenderness and respect. This is the word that Jesus used when praying to His Father. He opened up for us a relationship of intimacy with our Father. Even though we deserve death and hell, we have been grafted into the family, given an inheritance, and given a relationship with a Father who loves us.

In the midst of the COVID-19 crisis, it’s easy to feel despairing, helpless and alone. In the face of these temptations, I want to remind you of these three powerful truths. If you have put your hope in Jesus, you are not alone. You are your Father’s son or daughter. You are chosen and loved by Him, and you have an eternal inheritance that nothing can take away from you. You are his forever, and you share all His glorious riches. We will receive the full inheritance in the Age to Come, but even now we have His Spirit in our hearts, giving us access to a foretaste of His blessings. So, in the midst of this crisis, we can pray, live and act with courage, boldness, confidence and hope – hope for the present and for the future.

God bless you.

 

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Nuggets of Hope 3 – Not Guilty

Not guilty.

That’s what God, the Judge of all the earth, will say on the Last Day to all those who have put their hope in Jesus, the slain Lamb of God.

In the midst of the Coronavirus pandemic, I am offering these brief reflections as a way of finding hope by turning our attention to God. Today I want to focus on the good news that those who have put their hope in Jesus have peace with God because of the Lamb’s sacrifice.

In Romans 5:1, Paul writes these powerful words.

Therefore, since we have been justified by faith,
we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. 

First, he says we are justified. That means we are declared innocent.

COVID-19 is something we can’t control. But what about the things you can control?

If you think of your actions and life choices as articles of clothing, are there things you don’t want to be wearing when you stand before God? Being justified means that instead of wearing those things, you can wear the purity and goodness of Jesus. The Bible depicts this as a clean white robe of righteousness. It’s been assigned to you as your inheritance.

Second, he says that we are justified by faith. Not faith in ourselves, not faith in our own intelligence or hard work, not faith in our spouse or our children or in the medical system or the government, but faith in Jesus. He died for us so that we might live free of regret, free of shame, full of confidence in God’s love.

Third, he says that because of this we can have peace with God. How wonderful in times like these to know that you can come to God humbly for mercy and help in time of need, and you don’t have to wonder whether he will welcome you.

I am so thankful to have this inheritance of peace with God. It’s available to you as well. All you have to do is ask.

God bless you.

 

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Raise a Yuletide glass?

Christmas is coming, and with it the inevitable holiday parties where food and drink of all sorts will be offered.

I love eating and drinking! Food and drink are among the chief pleasures of this life. Our capacity to enjoy food and drink is a wonderful blessing from our generous Creator. But, like all good things, these blessings can be abused.

In this short reflection, I want to consider the topic of alcohol use. My frame of reference in this post is that of a Christian believer. If you call yourself a Christian, I’m hoping this post will prompt some sober reflection on how we ought to look at this issue.

I grew up in a Dutch immigrant family. In my family growing up, it was considered normal to drink wine at celebrations. Alcohol was offered to adults, but drunkenness was frowned upon. Since surrendering my life to Christ at the age of thirty-four, I’ve given quite a bit of thought to this matter. As a new believer in the late 1980s, I soon learned that many of my new evangelical Christian friends saw alcohol use as totally off-limits for any genuine Christian. So I had some thinking to do. This post is the fruit of those reflections.

I have friends – brothers and sisters in Christ – who are recovering alcoholics, or who are married to recovering alcoholics. For them, alcohol is dangerous. It’s a no-go zone.

I have other friends – brothers and sisters in Christ – who have never touched a drop of alcohol, and who believe and teach that no Christian should ever do so. This conviction stems from their awareness of the potentially destructive power of alcohol.

I have yet other friends – brothers and sisters in Christ – who believe that moderate alcohol use adds to their enjoyment of social gatherings and does no harm.

My friends in the third group would probably see this as a matter of Christian liberty of conscience, much as the apostle Paul did in regard to the matter of clean and unclean foods (Romans 14), which was a divisive issue in the first century community of believers. His position was that as a believer you are free in Christ to follow your conscience in these matters.

But he also said something else, and to me this is the crux of the matter. None of us lives for ourselves alone.

Having given this matter careful consideration, I don’t see any Scriptural basis for forbidding alcohol use. It’s clear to me that wine was a common part of life in the Hebrew scriptures, in the Jewish community from which the first church sprang, and in the New Testament world in general. The use of wine was considered to be normal. I’ve heard the arguments that the wine used in the Bible was alcohol free, but I don’t think this conviction holds water.

Drunkenness, however, was and is absolutely forbidden for followers of Jesus. To live a life that’s led by the Holy Spirit, we need to keep ourselves free from other influences. This means that for a disciple, alcohol use needs to be restrained and moderate. And when in doubt, we need to follow the most important and simple rule of all. Are we walking in love? In other words – is our conduct helping others live well, or does it have the potential to cause harm to another? Is what we are doing aiding or hindering in our primary calling – to display the goodness of Jesus to a needy world?

So, to my friends who exercise their liberty to enjoy a glass of wine or a bottle of beer in moderation, I have a question for you to consider. When you make the decision that it’s OK for you to enjoy a glass of your favourite brew or vintage, can you honestly say that you honour God as the Creator of all good things? If so, good on you. But if you drink to excess, and lose control of your ability to govern your own behaviour, how is this glorifying to God? And even if you’re very careful to stay sober, do you choose to draw attention to your exercise of your liberty, maybe by posting a pic online, or mocking those whose conscience won’t let them join you? If you do, whose good are you thinking of? Is this in any way doing good to your brother or sister? Or is it potentially causing division in the Body of Jesus, and doing harm to someone who can’t handle alcohol at all, and might be influenced by your choice?

And to my friends who never touch a drop of alcohol, I have a question for you to consider as well. Are you mature enough to see your abstinence as a personal choice, an expression of your own obedience to God? If so, good on you. Or are you using it as a measuring stick by which you assess who’s “in” and who’s “out” of God’s favour, presence and Kingdom? If so, be careful. It’s not up to you and me to exclude people that God doesn’t exclude. From what I can tell by my reading of the gospels, Jesus ate food and drank wine with some people that were counted as “unclean” by the religious rule-makers of the day. Their salvation was more important to him than someone else’s external rules about who was in and who was out.

I was trying to think of a good way to end this, but I can’t really find a better way than by quoting, once again, from the words of Paul. Love does no harm to a neighbor (brother, sister). Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law. When you get right down to it, it’s not about us. When we think it is, we get messed up. When we keep our focus on giving delight to God and loving those around us, we do well.

Happy Holidays! And may your celebrations make Jesus smile.

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