Wednesday, June 22, 2011

I Just Can't Do This-The Struggle to Quit

The reaction to my last blog on "Christians and Drinking" revealed to me that I must continue this conversation with a couple more blogs. I would like to speak to the person who is struggling and failing with attempts to break out of their bondage to booze.

Please, if you are in the camp of "It's okay to drink stop judging me already" please hold your comments until my next blog where I will seek to explore how the Christian should handle their freedom. But for now, please look beyond your freedom and recognize there are many Christians struggling with this very real battle. The two sides of this discussion are not balanced--the lives being destroyed through the consumption of booze far out weighs those whose freedom is being impeded to consume alcohol (without drunkenness) by people judging them. Also, more importantly, the Bible's warnings against drunkenness is overwhelming and exhaustive in contrast to its support of alcohol consumption.

My struggle. I became a Christian in 1996 and my battle with booze came to a climax in 2000. Where did it begin and how did it progress? I know I was drinking in high school. I know that during my high school years I had drank to the point where I vomited on multiple occasions. This cycle continued until I stopped drinking altogether. So as I reflect on this, I realize for the first time that my drinking years lasted about a decade--the 90's. Instead of reflecting on my low-light reel, I want to share some of the emotions I felt during that era and how I successfully achieved victory over drunkenness.

Hopelessness. I think this word best describes how I felt when I was looking at my life in light of the battle to gain control over drinking. My drinking was ruining my life. I couldn't gain control over it and I could see the devastation it was having on my life--an abortion 1994, resisting evading arrest 1995, losing my security clearance 1996 (which meant my life in the teams was over...turns out it was temporary). Do you see the progression here? I didn't like the path booze was taking me down. I wanted off, but I couldn't seem to stop the train. Life was unraveling upon me big time and I was desperate for help. This is when I met Jesus, or when I believed upon Him for salvation.

The slow change. I've heard of people who become Christians and everything changes instantly. This wasn't me. I was more like a huge container ship in the ocean that takes miles to turn around after the course has been changed in the wheel house. God was at work (I can see this in hindsight), but it was hard to see the change between the years of 1996 and 2000. I would have seasons of months of sobriety followed by a crash of binge drinking. This cycle culminated until I felt like I could continue no longer with my dual lives. I was going to church and growing while partying all week long. Finally after a weekend of drinking, I sort of threw in the towel with God. I really liked the hope the Bible offered, but I wasn't seeing it in my life. I could no longer walk these two paths simultaneously. I remember one night checking out with God to tell Him I could no longer do the whole "Christian thing." This wasn't because I didn't want to walk the Christian walk, but it just wasn't working out so I would just stay on the path of partying. Little did I know, but God's Spirit was convicting me and exposing my hypocrisy. The anguish I felt inside was really a good thing as it forced me to confess and to call to Him for help.

Tell it to Jesus. If you are in a season of hopelessness with drinking. Know there is hope. Jesus can and wants to help you gain victory over this through His help. In the recent years, I have come to love a hymn that gives very practical advice. Wow, tears are welling up just reading through the verses of this hymn.

Are you weary, are you heavy hearted?
Tell it to Jesus, tell it to Jesus.
Are you grieving over joys departed?
Tell it to Jesus alone.

Tell it to Jesus, tell it to Jesus,
He is a Friend that’s well known.
You’ve no other such a friend or brother,
Tell it to Jesus alone.

Do the tears flow down your cheeks unbidden?
Tell it to Jesus, tell it to Jesus.
Have you sins that to men’s eyes are hidden?
Tell it to Jesus alone.

Do you fear the gathering clouds of sorrow?
Tell it to Jesus, tell it to Jesus.
Are you anxious what shall be tomorrow?
Tell it to Jesus alone.

Are you troubled at the thought of dying?
Tell it to Jesus, tell it to Jesus.
For Christ’s coming kingdom are you sighing?
Tell it to Jesus alone.

Don't under estimate alcohol's danger. I never considered myself an alcoholic, nor am a sure I buy into this teaching. Namely I hear people who have been Christians for many years and have drank in decades and they still label themselves as an alcoholic. The Bible is clear: You are a new creation in Christ (2 Corinthians 5:17). But alcohol is as addictive as any other drug--I just think it places its choke-hold on a person slowly over the course of years. I have done visitations with people in the hospital going through detox when they stop drinking. It is just as ugly as all the big drugs like heroine and others.

Don't be a lone ranger.
This is not a lone man's battle. Find others to encourage you, to pray for you, and to help you stay accountable along the way. You may even need medical treatment if you are in the advances stages of alcoholism. My victory over alcohol came in large part through the help of like minded buddies who want to win this battle as well. I encourage you to find a good church where the Bible is taught and the people are loving and sincere. This is a good step.

What's your Kryptonite? I eventually had to evaluate how I was losing this battle. I traced back my steps to figure out what tripped me. I realized there were people I had to avoid because when I was around them I wanted to drink. This was hard because as a new Christian these were friends that I wanted to share Christ with, but it wasn't my time for this. I really needed to work on my walk with the Lord. This was hard, but looking back now, I realize I am still friends with these friends. Some are Christians now, some are not, but I am no longer a slave to booze and can be around them and not stumble. This is my theme verse for this season of my life, "Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed that he does not fall. No temptation has overtaken you you but such as common to man; and God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, so that you will be able to endure it" (1 Corinthians 10:12-13).

Press on, don't look back. Looking back on the past tends to cause two reactions in people: 1) Shame and discouragement that they will never succeed, or 2) a prideful spirit about how righteous they are. Rear view mirrors are good and I am not opposed to using them, just don't live your life looking exclusively in the rear view mirror. We must look forward like Paul says, " Not that I have already obtained it or have already become perfect, but I press on so that I may lay hold of that for which also I was laid hold of by Christ Jesus. Brethren, I do not regard myself as having laid hold of it yet; but one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus" (Philippians 3:12-14).

What have you found helpful in your battle against drunkenness?

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Christians and Drinking

How should Christians handle the question of alcohol consumption? This is a question Christians struggle with and argue over. Seriously, people get passionate discussing this issue.

Whenever I begin a blog concerning important issues (this is one) I feel I must give a disclaimer of the quality of work. This format is more of a conversation than a scholarly work. As a pastor, I get this question a lot from three basic groups of people: 1) the “parent” who is looking to me as the voice from God to affirm their position that consuming any alcohol is an abomination in God’s eyes; 2) the “partier” who is seeking to use the Scriptures to affirm their position that consuming alcohol is a gift from God and should enjoyed liberally by all; and 3) the “searching one” who is struggling (on either end of the spectrum) to understand what the Bible says and how it applies in their lives. My aim is to respond to this last group for the sake of helping someone, not for the sake of getting into a theological sword fight.

A few disclaimers. First, I am not covering every verse of the Bible concerning this subject. I am seeking to share some thoughts that come to mind concerning this issue. Second, Scripture is very clear about submitting to the authorities. So in light of this discussion, the Bible would frown upon any alcohol consumption that violates the law of the land.

Our relationship with God is based upon His grace poured upon us through faith in Jesus. As a young Christian I struggled with this concept of grace. When I “fell off the wagon” and went on a bender I was riddled with guilt and failure. I thought God’s love for me ebbed and flowed like the ocean tides and was contingent on my success or failure trying to walk the Christian walk. This works based relationship is not of the Lord. If you are reading this and struggling in this area, know that God loves you because He created you, He paid your debt of sin, and He is working on you in this area in you because knows what is best for you! On the other side of the coin, I haven’t drank in something like 10 years. This doesn’t mean that God loves me more simply because I am observing this law that I have placed over myself because of my own failure with moderation. I have been tempted to have a glass of wine just to remove my ability to say with a prideful heart, “I haven’t consumed alcohol in over 10 years. Look at how awesome I am!”

The dangers of alcohol. How can I adequately cover this section? I can’t. I would venture to say that alcohol has killed more people, destroyed more lives, devastated more relationships than any other drug. Forget biblical reasons for just a moment—consider alcohol from a purely pragmatic perspective. I often share with people that I didn’t stop drinking for religious reasons, I stopped because it was destroying my life. I was abused by my biological alcoholic mother until I was removed from her custody when I was about 12 years old. I started drinking at an early age which resulted in a number of terrible things in my own life—hurt shoulder (to this day) from crashing a dirt bike while drunk in the desert, an abortion, and a resisting evading arrest charge that led to the losing of my security clearance for a number of months. I literally can’t think of any good thing that alcohol has produced in my life (okay, I’ll give credit to rubbing alcohol and NyQuil).

Proverbs 23:29-35 shares wisdom concerning the temptation and danger of alcohol:

Who has woe? Who has sorrow? Who has strife? Who has complaints? Who has needless bruises? Who has bloodshot eyes?

Those who linger over wine, who go to sample bowls of mixed wine.

Do not gaze at wine when it is red, when it sparkles in the cup, when it goes down smoothly! In the end it bites like a snake and poisons like a viper. Your eyes will see strange sights, and your mind will imagine confusing things. You will be like one sleeping on the high seas, lying on top of the rigging.

“They hit me,” you will say, “but I’m not hurt! They beat me, but I don’t feel it! When will I wake up so I can find another drink?”

Jesus’ first miracle was making wine. Yes, this is true. It was wine, not grape juice. There is nothing more frustrating to me when people manipulate the Bible for the sake of supporting their side. Jesus made wine. Jesus drank wine. Jesus was NEVER drunk, for that would be a sin.

There is freedom for a Christian to consume alcohol—so long as they do not get drunk. This issue is ultimately control. There is no clear line between sobriety and intoxication. The Bible makes it clear that we are to be controlled by the Spirit of the living God. “And do not get drunk with wine, for that is dissipation, but be filled with the Spirit” (Ephesians 5:18). I find this verse uncanny. Drunkenness is forbidden and the Spirit filled life is commanded as the key to maintaining healthy relationships (i.e. Husbands to wives and vice versa, parents to children and vice versa, employees to employers and vice versa) in this life. The uncanny part is the vast destruction drunkenness has caused to these relationships throughout the history of humanity. How many lives and relationships could have been spared if people set down the bottle and lived Spirit filled lives?

Sure, you have the freedom in Christ to have an alcoholic beverage, but be very careful because the warnings concerning drunkenness are severe.

I am up pretty late writing this. I apologize for typos or thoughts that are incoherent. I am losing steam. I want to end with an important section of Scripture. I would encourage you to open your Bible and read through Galatians 5. Pray and ask God to give you wisdom concerning this issue in your own life.

Galatians 5:16-26—the deeds of the flesh contrasted with the fruit of the Spirit.

But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh. For the flesh sets its desire against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; for these are in opposition to one another, so that you may not do the things that you please. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the Law.

Now the deeds of the flesh are evident, which are: immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions, envying, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these, of which I forewarn you, just as I have forewarned you, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. Now those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Reflecting on Life

King Solomon says, "It is better to go to a house of mourning than to go to a house of feasting, because that is the end of every man, and the living takes it to heart" (Ecclesiastes 7:2). I am not a fan of participating in funerals or "houses of mourning." Regardless of my preference, I seem to find myself in these places more often than the average person. Solomon is absolutely correct in his analysis as the "house of mourning" does force us to examine our own lives in light of our approaching death.

Last Monday, June 13, I attended the funeral of a friend from the SEAL teams, LtCDR Kaminski, or Andy, or "Coach", or "Gus", or...I think he had a couple other alias, but they allude my memory now. We went through SEAL training and then served at SEAL Team 3 together for a number of years. He was strong, healthy, kind, and full of life. He died before he saw 40 years on this earth because of brain cancer. Every funeral seems to impact me in a different sort of way and this is certainly true of Coach's.

Three lessons from Coach's life are lingering in my heart after attending his funeral.

The first is summarized in this saying I heard many years ago: "You can't control the length of your life, but you can control the width of it." No one knows how long they have on this planet. The reality is our lives are short--whether you live 20 years or 200 years--we are but a vapor. I was reminded again that life is short, time is a limited commodity, and to take to heart the exhortation of Paul gives in Ephesians 5:15-17.

The second lesson is character counts. I was struck by the consistency of testimony of the people who shared at the memorial. They were people who knew him in a variety of settings and throughout many different years, yet what they said about Coach was consistent. He was a man with a long history of integrity and solid character. This was powerful. I was reminded of how important character and integrity are in a person's life. I want to finish this life strong.

The final lesson was a reminder of the value of a personal touch. I don't know how he did it, but he sent hand written cards to everyone. Seriously, all sorts of occasions, all sorts of people, and all the time. How he did this as a man boggles my mind, but he did nonetheless. Why did he do this? I believe he did this because he saw the value and importance of relationships. This is something we are losing in our culture between email, text messaging, Facebook, and all the varying other forms of social networking. We seem to be more connected than ever before, yet totally isolated in the midst of this. I feel like I am really bad in this area and I really would like to improve on my personal touch skills. Maybe a hand-written letter is coming your way soon? Don't hold your breath...

Coach, you were a great leader and man. I am blessed to have known you and to have served under you. Thank you for helping me develop as a man and a leader.