Run the Race to Win
“My church is so great. Rather than be all church like, we have a Friday whiskey and cigar bar. We get together with non-church members and just hang out in a comfortable environment.”
The simplest shot in basketball is an uncontested layup. This is when you are directly next to the hoop, no one is guarding you and you hit the ball off the backboard into the hoop. It is an easy shot if you have played for any length of time. Good players almost never miss layups. They are the lowest hanging fruit of a basket ball game. They are almost boring they are so simple.
They are not mandatory though.
No one is forced to shoot open easy shots in a basketball game. You can shoot with your eyes closed while double teamed. You can repeatedly try to dunk the ball over Shaquille O’Neal. There are a million variations of shots you can take that are within the rules. Some of them are more fun. Others offer more artistry. The choice belongs to the person with the ball. If you want to goof around or admire your own skill, you take the hard shots.
So why do great long distance shooters like Steph Curry always take the layup, if offered? Simple. They want to win.
If you are desperate to win the game you never pass up the easy points no matter what anyone says. Free points are free points. You take them where you get them.
Playing to Win
The issue of alcohol is like the layup of the Christian world. It is a stupidly simple thing not to do. Alcohol has no benefit for the Kingdom of God. It has no actual return for any Christian’s life in today’s world. Yet, it helps the Jesus team win. Each person who chooses not to drink for love of God scores points in our booze obsessed society. They lead themselves and others in holiness.
No one is forcing you to not drink. Take all the long three-pointers you want. You will hit some and miss more. You may never have a problem with alcohol yourself. The question is not whether you are allowed to chuck away. It is your desire to win the whole game – for you and for the Body of Christ. If you want to give all to win, free points are the best way to get there.
The Bible is clear that drinking alcoholic beverages is not sinful in itself. Drunkenness is certainly sinful but Jesus Himself drank wine. The problem is many Christian’s inquiry into the issue ends here. They grab on to things with both hands if they are not listed as explicitly sinful. This is not the life that the Bible lays out for us.
All athletes are disciplined in their training. They do it to win a prize that will fade away, but we do it for an eternal prize. So I run with purpose in every step. I am not just shadowboxing. I discipline my body like an athlete, training it to do what it should. 1 Corinthians 9:25-27
God’s plan is never for you to just avoid sin if you want to win the Christian contest. He wants you to shine like stars among a crooked and wicked generation. What does that look like? The stars are bright. Everything around them is dark. Christians are supposed to be markedly different than those around us.
Paul compared Christian life to running a race.
Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, 14 I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus. Philipians 3:13-14
The rewards for winning are eternal. The judgment for not running also spans the breadth of eternity. It is serious business. Jesus says you store up treasures in heaven by your conduct here. The Bible also sets out how everything you do impacts those you encounter. Your example pushes the lives of others either toward or away from Jesus. Your life is not your own. It was bought with a price and will be used by the buyer – Jesus.
To love God and love your neighbors is the Greatest Commandment according to Jesus. It is upon this foundation that you are called to build our lives. The affirmative call is to do to others as you would want to be done to you.
Love Compels Me
“Love me compels me”, Paul writes.
Compels you to what?
In its simplest form, love causes you to look after the needs of the ones you love. You don’t give your children spoiled milk even though it doesn’t hurt you. You don’t play with fire in front of a toddler despite your being able to handle it. You do things you would not do simply because it is good for the beloved person. You also don’t do things you could do because doing it is bad for others.
This is love in action. Following Jesus is not about rights but about love expressed.
Now apply this standard to all of your life. If you include Jesus’ definition of who you should love – God, friends, enemies and neighbors – and you will be surprised. You will get a different answer on many of “should I do or not do” questions of everyday life.
We Have Alcoholic Sheep in the Church…including Me
The very thought that I am writing this post opposing alcohol consumption is a miracle. It is a testament to Jesus’ power.
Drinking was as natural as breathing for me from the time I was 12 yrs old. I was raised in a family of alcoholics. My mind could not comprehend the idea of not drinking. My family drank with holidays, with birthdays, with the good and with the bad. Every time the family gathered, we drank heavily and called it family time. If good things happened in life, we celebrated with lots of beer. If terrible things happened, we wept and drank copiously. We met our friends and spouses over drinks and bonded with our parents and children over drinking. I could have sooner thought of not eating than not drinking.
Then Jesus stepped in and saved me. It was a miraculous work of God. I went to my knees to call out to Jesus while a prisoner of alcohol. I stood up a few minutes later free. I haven’t thought about having a drink since.
It was a really close call, though. I tried to stop drinking on many prior occasions. I always came back to it. I had no reference point of what life could be like without drinking. It was all I knew. I went to church, served in the church community and was leading a Bible study but my flesh greatly wanted to continue serving my addiction.
I needed hope that there was a way out. I needed reference points for life after alcohol. I needed lights that shined in the darkness of alcohol saturated culture…and so do so many people around YOU.
A City of Refuge
A 2017 study showed that 1 in 8 Americans have significantly struggled with alcohol. That is roughly 24 million people. That does not even speak to those who abuse other substances. I think this number is way too low.
Some of these people are in your church. You might not know it. You may have served alcohol to them unintentionally contributing to their imprisonment.
I polled 15 guys at a recent men’s event and found a shocking commonality. Every one of them had a problem with alcohol at some point in their lives. These are 15 random guys being honest and sharing their pain. This does not include their extended families and their parent’s struggles. The damage from alcohol abuse is everywhere in the culture. It is almost certainly among your church, friends, and co-workers.
Will you take them into account when deciding whether to drink or not? Do you want to win the game with eternal rewards? Take the easy points.
I started going to a new church just before Jesus saved me from alcohol. The new church had interesting differences from the ones we had attended. It was great and vibrant and taught the Bible unfiltered. It left out the traditions and opinions of man. The folks there sought to follow the Word and Jesus as much as they could.
They also importantly sought to provide a refuge for those who were struggling with the sins of the world. A place of safety from the pulls of the world.
Our new pastor willingly chose not to drink because he did not want to put a burden on any struggling sheep.
I made new friends. They did not drink for the same reason.
The culture did not endorse alcohol. It was safe.
They chose love for their brothers, neighbors and even enemies over a simple pleasure. They could have stood behind the 3 point line in freedom, bombed away hoping to hit a few baskets and not hit a few onlookers. They took the layup, instead, because they wanted to win.
They understood they had the freedom to drink. They never preached fire and brimstone against it. They chose not to out of protective love for others.
This was like an oasis in the desert for me. God had been showing me before this I should stop drinking. I was able for the first time to see people who I liked and respected live without alcohol and with no regret. It was not a dry, miserable and dusty life. It was free from any spirit that would sap or compete with the Holy Spirit’s influence. It was true freedom!
It was only Jesus who freed me. Yet, it was a group of humble believers loving perfect strangers rather than their own desires that opened the door to that miracle.
I would still be a prisoner today if my church had a whiskey and cigar bar. These folks are shooting half-court shots blindfolded and hoping it goes in.
A Minefield in the Church
Now multiply my example by the millions who battle with alcohol every day. Many of them are like I was, struggling mightily because of what sin has done to them.
The questions are simple for you to answer:
Who do you want to be to God’s struggling sheep? A refuge or a stumbling block?
Who do you want to protect? Your right to please your palate or your brother?
Do you want to take every easy opportunity to win the game of Christian life? Take the easy points and choose not to drink.
The loss is nothing to God’s work. The possible damage is huge.
Paul compares you as a Christian to an athlete comparing for the Olympics. Their goal impacts everything they do. They tailor what they eat, drink, how they sleep and every other facet of their lives to win their event. It only makes sense. They do what they have to in order to win the medal.
Saying no to a glass of wine is a minor thing that could impact someone’s eternity. Yes, it’s permissible, but is it worth it.
This does not even get into whether we are squelching the Spirit by choosing alcohol? Drunk with Wine v. Filled with Spirit?
It does not inquire how many people are pushing the line between drunk and sober when defining their alcohol consumption.
This an unpopular opinion in many churches. Craft beers and small groups at bars are a thing these days. Why should you give that up if the church is doing it?
Jesus is always our example. He came to an undeserving population and gave up everything so that we could be saved. Jesus knew He had the right to march into Jerusalem and place Himself on the Throne of David. He could have simply judged every one of us.
Yet, He let go of those rights and laid down everything for us. He made heaven a safe place for us through His sacrifice. He did so voluntarily out of love solely for our benefit.
The selfless love of Christ helped saved us. The same sort of love from His disciples can save others from a lifetime of struggle.
Are you willing to do the same for your brothers and sisters imprisoned by drugs and alcohol? Are you willing to be different?
Take every single layup available. Be holier than those around you and shine. Then you will win the rewards for running the eternal race as God intends.