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Applying Faith I:

Eating, Drinking, and Vacation

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Question #1:   I am still enjoying your website. I look forward to the updated every Saturday. It's a good part of my weekend when I can learn something from them. I have two questions.

Question #1. I am sure there is a balance between God's grace to save us through faith and holiness/obedience. What I am trying to say is, can you tell me what it is? For example, I know that I am saved by God's grace, because of the gift of faith that I have in what Jesus did on the cross for me. I also know that in the Bible it says to be Holy as God is Holy and to stay away from worldliness. For whoever loves the world is not born of God. My problem is, is that I can't seem to fit it in that I am saved by faith, but I still worry that I could be doing something worldly or am not being holy enough. Perhaps I am doing something wrong. My real intent in my heart is to please God. I just want to do what is right, for He has done wonderful things for me. But I am always nervous that something I do will displease him, or I could end up being worldly and therefore not go to heaven.

Question #2. I know that the resources God has given me in this life are to be used for his purposes and His glory. I make sure that I am not wasting his money. But is it wrong for me to want to go on a vacation? I have never been anywhere in my life. I guess that I would feel bad if I spent a lot on a vacation when I know that money could go to MANY people that need it or for spreading the gospel. I tried looking up SOMETHING in the Bible that would relate, but couldn't find anything.

Thank you for your help.

Response #1:  I'm happy to learn that you are getting some help from the ministry – that really makes my day.

As to question #1, the first thing that I would wish to say is that we are all in this same boat. The fact that you are concerned about the issue shows that your heart is in the right place and that you haven't lost your "edge" as someone who is trying to please the Lord. Secondly, none of us is perfect, nor will we ever be so. On the one hand, we ought to be striving in this direction every day. On the other hand, we are going to have our ups and downs. In very practical terms, I would say that the important thing is to try and develop a good, holy approach to one's daily life, to strive to hold on to that good approach, and to build on it, making it better as one learns more and grows more in the Lord. We have to be careful not let ourselves lose heart or lose faith when we fall and when we fail. If we are too ambitious and it turns out that we cannot maintain some good discipline we have developed, we have to be careful not to get down on ourselves or start blaming the Lord. This is like a long fight or a long distance run. We will have good laps and bad laps, good rounds and bad rounds. We will know the joy of an energetic sprint, and the embarrassment of being tripped up. We will know the thrill of landing a good punch, and the demoralization of getting laid out on the canvas. But we can't get so elated that we stop doing the little things, the basic things upon which all of our spiritual advance and growth has been based (like consistent prayer, Bible reading, Bible study, and ministering according to our gifts), nor can we afford to let a bad day or a bad mistake take us out of the running, out of the fight, altogether. Any ground we lose, any "points" we lose, we will only have to make up later, after all. The key here is faith. God is gracious; we are weak. He contributes everything; all we have to do (or indeed can do) is to follow His lead in faith. As long as we are hanging on in faith, we are also hanging in. He will continue to show us the way in each and every situation if we but have confidence in Him. He will continue to pick us up when we stumble if we but trust Him to forgive us and have patience with Him. Our relationship with our heavenly Father is very much like that with a loving parent. We don't have to worry about being punished if we are wrong – but when we are it will be in love and for good in every way. We don't have to worry about the fact that we are not going to be perfect – like every good parent, He is there to help us and to train us until we grow up into responsible spiritual "adults" who very seldom "misbehave". And whether this process is long or short, painful or relatively painless, as long as we remain obedient in the way that children do (i.e., we may not be perfect, but we don't "run away from home" or get to the point of complete rejection of authority), He will work with us. So you ask for the "line" and I would say that the line is drawn at the point of His authority and our acceptance of it in faith. It is one thing for a child to disobey. It is another for a child to once and for all irrevocably reject his or her parents' authority. As long as we accept Him as our God and Father and Jesus as our Lord and Master, then whatever mistakes we make, whatever inadequacies we manifest, while these may set us back and cause us some grief, they will never undermine the love He has for us or our standing as children of God. Everyone who "keeps the faith" is free to revel in the absolute security of the love of God in Jesus Christ our Lord, even on and perhaps especially on those days when we may feel "down" because of less than perfect application. It is precisely at those times of testing and darkness that we need to make a special effort to see our Lord Jesus clearly with the eyes of faith, rejoicing in the hope of eternal life that is ours as children of faith.

As to your question #2, I remember in seminary there was a discussion about whether we should send our wives flowers on their birthday, and one of the fellows was really exercised about this for exactly the same sort of reasons you advance here. My attitude then was similar to what it is now – I would have sent my wife flowers (if I'd had a wife), and done so without guilt and regret. It is true that we are not to love the world. We are not to get overly excited about the world. We are not to get overly concerned about money – but that cuts both ways. The disciples (and Judas in particular) were very upset about Mary pouring valuable ointment on Jesus' head, but Jesus wasn't overly concerned about the "waste" at all, for she had a definite purpose in mind, that of calling attention to His coming death for the world. Not that our Lord Jesus didn't live frugally – indeed He did. Like all such things, there is always a balance. It is equally possible out of a morbid "love for money" either to spend too much of it, or to be too stingy with it. On the one hand, God gives us resources and we are responsible to husband them wisely; on the other hand, all the riches of the universe belong to God and He could turn all the rocks in our backyards into gold instantly and without effort (lest we think that our efforts in this regard are at all important). As it says in Ecclesiastes, there is a time for everything. There is a time to save and a time to spend. There are certainly times when a person needs a bit of refreshment. In our culture, that often takes the form of a vacation, and I personally don't see anything wrong with that. In my observation and experience, and taking a cue from the scriptures (see the link: "Poles of Application"), it is best for most of us to avoid extremes most of the time.

Do not be overly righteous, and do not be overly wise – why should you ruin yourself? Do not be overly wicked and do not be a fool – why should you die before your time? The best thing for you [to do] is to lay firm hold on the former (i.e., wisdom and righteousness), while not completely releasing your hand from the latter, for the man who fears God will escape both [extremes].
Ecclesiastes 7:16-18

Far from encouraging sinful behavior, the verses above merely demonstrate that we are never going to 100% sure about everything in many questionable situations. There are clear "no question" situations in live, but something like vacations which you are asking about here would definitely fall into the "no extremes" category. It is possible to be zealous for God and in one's spiritual advance and production without becoming inordinately excessive in personal self-sacrifice that falls into the "extremism" rubric. So while it is always a good thing to be zealous for the Lord in a good and righteous way, guilt feelings about failing to be what we or someone else might call "100%" are inappropriate and possibly even dangerous. God wants our whole heart, but He also always wants us to be aware that He is the provider of all of our means and all of our blessings, not us. There will always be opportunities to serve Him and to do so in a zealous way ("The poor you will have with you always": Matt.26:11), but the true power and resources come from Him. After all, He is the One who made the real sacrifice for us in the ineffable gift of His one and only Son Jesus Christ.

In Him who made Himself poor that we might be rich with Him and in Him forever, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

Bob L.

Question #2: 

Hi Dr. Luginbill:

I may be taking God's word about swine flesh completely out of context, especially since the text to which I refer is speaking of eating swine's flesh, but it seems that God is deeply offended by pigs.

Those sanctifying and cleansing themselves at the gardens, After Ahad in the midst, Eating flesh of the sow, And of the abomination, and of the mouse, Together are consumed, An affirmation of Jehovah.
Isaiah 66:17

I know that the "party line" with most Christians is that Jesus' remarks regarding what comes out of the heart, rather than what goes into the mouth, as being defiling, along with Peter's vision of the sheet filled with "unclean" animals recorded in Acts, teaches us that God has made all these animals clean (though I think Peter's vision might have actually been symbolic). I am very interested in any insight you might be willing to add.

Thank you in advance.

Response #2: 

With all the barbecue I've consumed in my life I would be in some pretty big trouble if I thought that there was a serious penalty attaching to pigs. Your remembrance of Peter's vision in Acts is the first thing that came to my mind too: the Lord was showing Peter that all food was now clean for those with clean hearts (see also Mk.7:19; 1Tim.4:4-5). Symbolism is an issue here, but in reverse, I would say. The dietary provisions of the Mosaic Law are there primarily to teach a lesson, to wit, that God's people must be sanctified from the world. In this lesson/analogy, the "unclean" foods represent what is unclean in the world, and staying away from them represents sanctification. But we know that true sanctification comes from the water of the Word (Eph.5:26), from the heart responding to God's truth and staying away from sin rather than some type of food (Heb.12:14). Our hearts must be strengthened by grace rather than special foods (Heb.13:9).

So don't let anyone judge you in regard to food or drink, or in the category of festival observances, be it of new moons or Sabbaths. All these things are shadows of what is to come, but the reality has to do with Christ. Let no one gain control over your life, desiring to [enslave you to himself] through a show of false humility and the adoration of angels, basing his approach on what he has [allegedly] seen while puffed up by his own fleshly thoughts, yet not embracing the Head [Christ]. For it is from this Source that the entire body [the Church] is [truly] supplied and instructed through [all] its joints and sinews, and [thus] produces the growth that God has given. If you have died with Christ to these false [pagan] principles [belonging to] this world, why are you letting yourselves be [wrongly] indoctrinated as if your life were of this world? In accordance with the commandments and teaching of [mere] men [these false teachers tell you] "Don't handle! Don't taste! Don't touch!", even though [we know] that all these [are only] things [which] decay with use.
Colossians 2:16-22

But I don't think your question is "weird" at all. There is clearly an animus against pig's flesh in the Old Testament (your quotation from Isaiah 66:17 is certainly germane, although it is really focusing upon perverse customs of satanic worship where the worship is the true problem rather than the menu), but given everything that the New Testament has to say about the matter it seems to me pretty clear that, as with many other issues, we have now passed from symbol to substance, from shadow to revealed truth (just as we no longer celebrate Passover since "Christ our [true] Passover has been [now already] sacrificed for us": 1Cor.5:7). And while I can't find any biblical reason whatsoever for saying that the situation you describe is a cause for alarm, I can understand your concern. This is one of those issues where, although we think we know something from the Bible, we feel nervous about applying it for some reason or another. Thus, real life tests our beliefs and also tests the depths of our faith, and, of course, "everything that is not of faith is sin" (Rom.14:23).

I have found in my own spiritual life – and found a very great personal cost, I might add – that in all such matters of application, in the end, we absolutely must "go with what we know" in faith rather than with what we feel. That is to say, if we are convinced that scripture teaches something, then we absolutely must follow that teaching, even if we feel nervous or guilty, or if what our eyes see make us doubt what we can see for certain is the scriptural truth that resides in our hearts. This is the step that takes us beyond mere knowledge of scriptural truths and into the realm of deep and abiding faith. Faith operates on what is not seen, taking God's Word for something, even in the face of guilt or shame or worry or doubt or the voices and counsels of others.

[Let us] not [be] having [any] regard for what can be seen, but [instead] for what cannot be seen. For the things which can be seen are ephemeral. But the things which cannot be seen are eternal.
2nd Corinthians 4:18

For we are walking [our Christian walk] through faith [in the Living and written Word], not through appearance.
2nd Corinthians 5:7

It is faith [in the Living and written Word], moreover, that substantiates what we hope for. [Faith] provides proof of things unseen.
Hebrews 11:1

I have come to adopt what I believe is the only correct method in such things – and would hope that I would continue to do so even when the going gets tough – namely, to find out what scripture says, believe it, then let the chips fall where they may.

In our Lord Jesus Christ,

Bob L.

Question #3: 

Thanks for your thoughts on the document "Should Christian leaders refrain from drinking in public?". As a college pastor and missions coordinator, my role is between young people in many different cultures and ministering to various settings. I thought your article provided a lot of great insight. If you have any comments on the parameters on drinking around youth I would appreciate it. I do exercise the freedom to drink, but I exercise abstinence around my students...I was wondering how you think other Christian leaders in youth ministry should handle the topic with their kids...be honest and let them know the things in your article or avoid the subject altogether (I know that can't be the answer).

Response #3:

As a college professor myself, I certainly prefer not to see events where professors drink when students are present. I make it a point to have the social events involving students in our Classics section alcohol free. There are a number of reasons for this, not the least of which is the strong desire not to have one of our number wrap him or herself around a tree on the way home. This has been my policy since becoming a professor. I don't make a point of letting my students know that I don't drink (or that I did when I did), but to my mind that wasn't and isn't really the issue. It just has seemed to me, in addition to the potential hazards intimated above, a bad message to be sending. I find this directly analogous to the situation Paul describes where he doesn't find any hypocrisy in refraining from eating idol-sacrificed meat in public even though he doesn't have any problem with eating it in private. It's a question of the message sent even more than the example. I do believe in the necessity of setting a good example for all Christians, and especially for anyone in a leadership role, formal or merely based upon influence. But what we have here is behavior which is not necessarily sinful, so I think we have to apply the rule of love and common sense. Given the susceptibility to being influence by a leader on the part of anyone he or she leads, it does seem to me that we come in for a higher standard. I would think that it would send a fine message, actually, for a group of junior high school students to see a leader refraining from drinking around them even though they might be well aware that he or she did partake in private. It is a message of restraint, of responsibility, of care and concern, and of the need to be circumspect about one's choices. On the other hand, it seems to me that by drinking in front of them one communicates the opposite of all of these things. I hasten to add that this is the way I see it in situations in which I have found myself and/or am well familiar. In certain cultures and traditions, alcohol is much less of an issue because of the familiarity of use, just as in others it is completely taboo. Therefore I wouldn't want to present the above observations as any sort of ultimate standard since what scripture has to say is, in my view, pretty clear, and the e-mail response to which you refer above ("Should Christian leaders refrain from drinking in public?") says about all I believe scripture allows me to say from the point of view of dogmatism and also from the point of view generally applicable interpretation.

From what you have shared with me, I think that I would be inclined to behave exactly as you are behaving. As to the question of "what to tell the kids", that is more of a judgment call. A lot depends upon your church and/or denomination's position, the age of the kids in question, and not the least factor in the equation – their level of responsibility and spiritual maturity. There are a lot of things in scripture that are good and true, some of which I would be inclined not to share with a junior high school audience unless it were very important and absolutely necessary to do so (and some of which I can't imagine a circumstance wherein it would be). I think there is value in training young people up to be responsible in the use of alcohol, for example, but one would have to be careful not to embolden them to experiment by the very fact of bringing the subject up in a substantive way in the first place.

To answer your question as honestly as I can in a vacuum, I would be inclined to talk about a whole host of the wonderful things that the Bible teaches before I ever thought about bringing up the subject of alcohol. If it came up, I would give an answer that presented a biblically correct view without making it sound unduly attractive. And I would hope that the example I was setting and the choices that I was making would send an even stronger message. Perhaps, the very fact that situations where the opportunity to imbibe are coming up is a very good thing, because it allows those who are watching you, and watching you they most definitely are, to see that even for someone who does not consider drinking a sin, there are most definitely ground rules of restraint and responsibility, ones which they will associate with a person they admire and respect, and, one hopes, will also emulate.

In our Lord who gave up everything for us.

Bob Luginbill

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