Monday, May 11, 2015

What Is Really Being Glorified In Public Pastoral Beer Drinking?

For some reason, there is a devastating obsession amongst many church leaders to find a way to shine public light on their beer drinking while taking credit for glorifying God in so doing. I would like to prove to you from Scripture how this actually brings reproach upon God in most cases and can only be reckoned to the pastor as sin. The pretense of the beer-drinking pastor’s publicly displayed freedom masks the reality that their understanding of the glory of God and the acts of men that glorify God is really about as deep as the head of foam they so love to kiss.

“Whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.” -1 Corinthians 10:31

When the Apostle Paul wrote this, he was reaching a climax in an argument he was making for how to apply Christian ethics that glorify God to everyday life. This statement he made was carefully pre-qualified as to its precise meaning and was not meant to be a catch-all bumper sticker to protect the antinomian-minded.

The Stumbling Block Test


Paul’s argument was that, while in itself, matters of eating and drinking are not sinful, the time and place can quickly make it so. The hot topic in Paul’s day was the close association that meals had with idolatrous practices. People were concerned that they may be sinning by eating something from the meat market that had been given a pagan blessing, but Paul assures them that since those so-called gods and blessings are not even real, there is no real spiritual danger. He tells them to “eat whatever is sold in the meat market without raising any question on the ground of conscience” (vs. 25).

Where this determination can suddenly change, however, is in how your meal is perceived by other people. He turns the focus of his argument off of the conscience of the eater and onto the conscience of the bystander by saying: “But if someone says to you, ‘This has been offered in sacrifice,’ then do not eat it, for the sake of the one who informed you, and for the sake of conscience—I do not mean your conscience, but his” (vss. 28–29).

Why?

The Christians in Paul’s day were very aware of the demonic activities that took place in the pagan worship practices and they often involved meals. It was an integral part of the overall experience. It goes without saying that the Christians in Corinth who were saved out of pagan worship that involved sacrificial meat offerings would be very sensitive to any association with it. They had the attitude that Jude wrote about later in “hating even the garment stained by the flesh” (v.23), meaning to hate any effect of and relationship to sin—be it direct, or indirect.

In effect, if any activity could appear to be compromising to someone else, then it became a sinful thing to do. Significantly, 1 Thessalonians 5:22 says to “abstain from every eidos (appearance, or form) of evil.”

Paul balances his argument by saying that while you need not feel guilty for the willingness to eat the meat in the first place: “Why should my liberty be determined by someone else's conscience? If I partake with thankfulness, why am I denounced because of that for which I give thanks” (vss. 29–30). However, you ought to be willing to give it up for the sake of your weaker brother.

The Apostle wrote to the Romans on the same subject. In chapter 14, he makes it very clear that the food and drink in itself is not necessarily the issue, rather it is what you do with it. It is very similar in how Christians ought to handle sexuality. Only in a very specific context can it be expressed in a way that God allows. Outside of that context brings the weight of God’s judgment that condemns sin.

Paul says to the Romans: “Decide never to put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of a brother . . . if your brother is grieved by what you eat, you are no longer walking in love. By what you eat, do not destroy the one for whom Christ died” (13, 15).

The Apostle Paul is constantly looking out for other people’s consciences—not his own rights. In fact, he is fast to give up any right, or liberty, if it means having a greater chance of bringing about someone’s spiritual conversion.

In 1 Corinthians 9, Paul makes the argument:

“Am I not free? Am I not an apostle” (vs. 1)?

“Do we not have the right to eat and drink” (vs. 4)?

“Nevertheless, we have not made use of this right, but we endure anything rather than put an obstacle in the way of the gospel of Christ . . . though I am free from all, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win more of them. To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews. To those under the law I became as one under the law (though not being myself under the law) that I might win those under the law. To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (not being outside the law of God but under the law of Christ) that I might win those outside the law. To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some. I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share with them in its blessings” (vss. 12, 19–23).

In the Jew’s case, Paul was willing to give up the eating of certain foods and drinks that were considered unlawful if it meant not putting a stumbling block in front of them to really know God. How vastly different is that from the mentality of our ongoing generation of immature church leaders who act as if God should cater to them and their rights regardless of the public around them?

This mentality flies in the face of God’s command to not put a stumbling block in front of anyone. As church leaders, we are in the public eye, held to a higher standard, and critiqued more closely. This is especially true when we multiply our audience through social media. If we ever purposely draw attention to our affinity of alcohol in a world that is saturated with the excessive use of it already, what are we really glorifying in such pretense? The Apostle Paul tells us it is not God.

The “Above Reproach” Test


Another aspect to this issue of being known for public drinking is in the very command to church leaders that we be men who are “above reproach”.

First Timothy 3 says that an “overseer must be above reproach . . . not a drunkard . . . not addicted to much wine” (vss. 2–3, 8).

Titus 1 says that elders must be “above reproach . . . and not open to the charge of debauchery,” which means to indulge excessively.

It is significant to see how many different ways the Apostle addresses drinking alcohol. While drunkenness is condemned altogether, alongside other gross sins such as sexual immorality, corruption, sensuality, orgies, drinking parties, and idolatry (Rom 13:13; Gal 5:21; 1 Pet 4:3), he goes so far to say that even the possible charge that you indulge in alcohol too often is a warning flag that you are not called to be a leader in God’s church because you would not effectively lead people, by example, to consider God’s call to holiness as you ought.

In the above mentioned verses where drunkenness is condemned, we see that people who do such things “will not inherit the kingdom of God” (Gal 5:21). Is it any wonder that God would not have the alcohol lover in a position of spiritual influence over a body of people where there are sure to be those who struggle with the thought of it?

The call for pastors and church leaders is a much higher one than what is typically modeled today. There seems to be an obsession for pastors to talk about things like love and self-sacrifice in very general terms, but rarely is there a careful articulation of how this can be fleshed out in our own lives by giving up our own rights.

In the words of Isaiah: “Woe to those who are heroes at drinking wine, and valiant men in mixing strong drink” (5:22). To put it another way—be not known for your alcoholic consumption and the love thereof.

The Temptation Test


This really serves to strengthen the first point made in that we are not to be a stumbling block to anyone. Let’s look at it with a slightly higher-powered lens.

When the Lord Jesus was speaking about temptation in Matthew 18, He made some very revealing statements that ought to make every Christian take their responsibility as ambassadors of Christ more seriously.

Beckoning to a child, the Lord said, “whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened around his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea” (vs. 5–6).

If your presence here on earth is going to be one that causes others to even be tempted to sin, then you’re better off dead—for everyone’s sake.

He continued: “Woe to the world for temptations to sin! For it is necessary that temptations come, but woe to the one by whom the temptation comes” (vs. 7), (emphasis mine)!

These are not words to be taken lightly. If God would think us better off dead and in need of a statement of woe on our actions, then that only means one thing—we are not glorifying God. The most frightening possibility would be that we are not really saved, which could be indicated by our carelessness to God and His children. The fruit of the Spirit is the fruit of someone who is really saved. If we have been regenerated by the Holy Spirit, then His fruit will start growing—the first one being love. If we love God we will obey God and give up our rights for others.

It is true that our own sin nature and the depravity that comes with it, is able to conjure up temptations on its own (Js 1:14), yet those sinful bents can be exacerbated by the acts of others. Each person is responsible for not acting on their sinful inclinations, but everyone else can also be culpable for our temptation at the same time.

I recall the Apostle Paul’s command for children to obey their parents in Colossians 3 and Ephesians 5 & 6, while simultaneously charging parents not to provoke their children either. It goes both ways.

A Few Final Remarks


While all Christians are to be mindful of any situation that could potentially cause someone to struggle in their hearts and minds about anything in particular, pastors must be even more careful—especially as it pertains to alcohol. We cannot drink whatever we want, whenever we want, and always think we are doing so unto the glory of God. That is an entirely ridiculous, even irreverent, presumption to think that whatever we do determines the glory of God. On the contrary, it is when we act within God’s predetermined will that brings glory to God. Scripture is clear on this. It is not as if—as some would have us believe— the act of drinking alcohol commends us to God (1 Cor 8:8)! It is often in our abstinence of that thing in particular that will bring honor to God, considering the vice that so often surrounds it.

It must further be said that we must not be so offensive to the godly men who have gone before us in the past who have been documented as having enjoyed, made, been paid in, and sold things like beer and wine as being the justification for our modern and loose standard today. For one thing, they are not apostles and, therefore, do not exist as the final example of anything, per se. Secondly, there were practical benefits that spurred the consumption of beer in the Reformation period, for instance, like curbing the spread of dysentery in the water—reminiscent of Paul’s encouragement to Timothy to have some wine with his water for his frequent stomach ailments (1 Tim 5:23). Alcohol has a purifying effect in water. There is virtually zero need for any alcoholic consumption today in civilized areas, which places us in an entirely different situation, thus limiting our reasons.

It cannot be forgotten that even men of old, while at times articulating the same truths of the amoral quality of alcohol, were still privy to its common association and connotation that came with its public use. Spurgeon, in a sermon on the topic of parents whose children were not walking in the truth, once said, “I pity the father whose children are not walking in the truth, who yet is himself an earnest Christian. Must it always be so, that the father shall go to the house of God and his son to the alehouse?” His dichotomy is not without purpose.
 
Even Martin Luther, who has wrongly been criticized as a drunkard, wrote vehemently against drunkenness. He knew the difference and did not even want an association with it. For the modern hipster “pastor” to purposely self-promote their consistent consumption of alcohol is nothing short of having a very low view of what a pastor is actually called to do, not to mention what holiness is. Ultimately this stems from lacking the appropriate fear of God. Being above reproach becomes nearly impossible if that is what you are known for because that is a standard that is to be generally understood by all men—not just close friends who may approve and commend the practice.

This is not to say that a pastor couldn’t rightly enjoy some in his own private time, but it is not a matter for public display since impressionable eyes could be watching. Even at restaurants, the pastor must be thinking of more than himself. The time and place makes a huge difference on the perception of the order.
 
I have a dear friend who I knew to enjoy the taste of beer and would often order just one if he were at a restaurant—nothing more. Once he started teaching Sunday school at his church to younger children, though, he came under the conviction that it could be a devastating thing for one of his Sunday school kids to see him in a restaurant with a beer in his hands. Though he would never get drunk, he knew that it could be a devastating stumbling block, not to mention implicitly advocating alcoholic consumption as their spiritual teacher! He wisely decided not to ever order beer out again.
 
I told him how much I personally appreciated that because I was one of those children once. I used to immediately associate alcohol with sin—always. I only knew of it in a bad context. If I knew of a pastor who liked to drink, then I was instantly taken back to my former association with it (not mine, but family member’s) and it bothered me greatly. We eliminate the stumbling blocks by eschewing the practice. My friend’s concern was in the heart of the people who were watching and he gave up his rights. This is what God expects of us, men.
 
Ultimately, the alcoholic culture we live in today demands our higher level of prudence in regards to alcohol. Let us not be immature children who demand our own rights and then parade them as some self-stylized badge of godliness. Let us be careful to not approve, or commend, someone else to sin by our own lackadaisical approach to the faith.

“It is good not to eat meat or drink wine or do anything that causes your brother to stumble. The faith that you have, keep between yourself and God. Blessed is the one who has no reason to pass judgment on himself for what he approves” (Rom 14:21–22).

In His Sovereign Grip,

Ben

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

On Measles, Mumps, and Data Bumps

I’m a numbers guy. I like to see numbers tell a story and reveal trends. This is probably why I thoroughly enjoy working out of Microsoft Excel for eight hours a day tracking numbers and creating graphs to tell stories about historical levels and current levels of financial execution. While I love numbers, I would be remiss to not look deeper and see that I ultimately care about details when it comes to data and text. This is probably why I enjoy getting into the weeds of word studies when I read the Bible and try to understand the true meaning behind the Greek and Hebrew words that are translated into our English language, but that is more of an aside. Today, I am mainly interested in helping all of us understand some of the nuances of statistics that are presented on, well . . . just about anything. I think this will be particularly helpful, though, for those of us who have been racking our brains over discerning true and false information on the internet related to vaccinations.

My intent is not to necessarily make a case for or against vaccinations (even though I do possess a general opinion), rather to equip us with some critical thinking skills that will come in handy when reading presented data.

I think parents are smart to know more about what they're doing, particularly what they’re allowing to be injected into their children. No matter the current side of the debate, as long as a parent’s intent is to keep their child alive and healthy, then everyone is at least pursuing the same agenda. There’s a grain of unity after all. If the assumption is that every parent is only seeking to provide their children with the best possible chance of a healthy life, then it is indeed helpful and necessary to understand whether or not Decision A provides the best chance for a healthy life, over and against Decision B.

From a biblical perspective, parents are tasked with raising godly children and doing the basic job of nurturing our children to be as healthy as possible. The Apostle Paul said that there is indeed value in bodily training—being healthy—though godliness should always be the first aim of the Christian who loves God (1 Tim 4:8). He even told Timothy to drink some wine with his water in order to avoid his frequent stomach ailments (1 Tim 5:23). Furthermore, we know that physicians were acknowledged in Jesus’ day as having a purpose to help people be healthy, rather than sick (Mk 2:17). Luke, who wrote the Gospel of Luke as well as the book of Acts, was a beloved physician himself (Col 4:14), so spoken of by the Apostle Paul.

What’s the point? I think it helps to see that seeing a doctor in and of itself does not nullify one’s faith in God unless someone—in their heart of hearts—really doesn’t trust God. We make decisions all of the time that will increase our safety and we take preventative measures to avoid medical problems in the future. The Bible teaches the general principle of planning for the future in regards to food (Prov 6:6) and finances (Prov 13:22), so health would certainly not be out of place if we are to be good stewards with everything we have been given by God.

With that said, no one can make a biblical case against all medical procedures and all medicines. One may have to draw the line somewhere for matters of personal conscience and others should respect that, but no hands-down argument exists for boycotting medicine and physicians altogether.

So then, how do we handle the vast amount of data going around about vaccinations? Well . . . as I said, I am a numbers guy and not a scientist (though I love science), nor a medical professional (though I used to be a Pharmacy Technician and appreciate the science behind the medicine), so I will just stick to what I know best—data!

Here’s what I want to do . . . I simply want to offer a note of caution in regards to how to interpret cold, hard facts. The more I have read financial charts and graphs on all kinds of official documents and having created plenty of my own, I have learned that you can take valid and legitimate information and still display it in a way that seems to prove a point that the data never intended.

I once read an incredibly fascinating and insightful book called "The Wastrels of Defense" by Winslow Wheeler, a staffer on Capitol Hill for about 30 years, who testified to this very thing. Congressmen will many times do legitimate data pulls from the Library of Congress or the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO), for instance, and then tweak the x-axis and y-axis just right while highlighting a particular point of a historical trend—not revealing the larger story that the graph fits into—to make the point they wish to make, which looks seemingly obvious due to their visual presentation. Not only that, but when you’re dealing with financial information it gets even trickier since one graph may show inflation, while another does not, so are you really comparing apples to apples? I digress.

Let me give you an example. Below is a graph that depicts the amount of bad apples that Ben’s Bakery has received from his distributor over the years using real, verifiable evidence:




Thankfully, Ben has an insurance policy on such atrocities. In order to show his insurance provider just how bad it is, he created a graph of his own with the same real, verifiable evidence:

 


Upon further consideration, the insurance company asked a third party to review Ben’s Bakery’s bad apple distribution. The results were indicated in the graph below:




Unfortunately for Ben, the insurance company did not feel that his business had suffered unusual loss, so they denied his claim. In fact, if history repeated itself, Ben may be in for another healthy decrease in bad apples just like he experienced after his 2009 bump.

Now let’s look at some cold, hard facts that one website offered in their case against the Measles’ Vaccination. Again, I am simply coming at this from a numbers standpoint only because it is a great example of how verifiable data can be used on both sides of an argument, thus demanding critical thinking and the ability to ask the right questions.


If you just looked at the link you can see that the case is stated clearly: Zero people have died from the Measles in the last 10 years according to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), while 108 people have died from the Measles’ Vaccine in the last 10 years, according to the Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System (VAERS). I did the same search and it is a legitimate search result, which can be found here.

Open and shut case?

A quick search about the Measles at the CDC website will tell you that 1–2 people out of 1,000 will die from the Measles and that most people who get Measles are unvaccinated.

Here’s a key question: How many people were vaccinated, say, 12 years ago when this article started tracking?

According to the CDC, the National Immunization Survey (NIS) reports about 93% of children aged 19–35 months had received at least one does of the MMR vaccination in 2003. This report can be found here in Table 1.

To understand rates and percentages, we need to understand the denominator, i.e. what was the total US population of 19–35 month old babies in 2003? This is a more difficult number to ascertain and this is where finding real statistics becomes tricky and even allows people some room to fudge the data.

Case in point, when you search the United States Census Bureau for the total US population by age in 2003, the youngest age bracket is 4 years old and younger—that is 48 months old and younger. This information can be found hereOur age bracket in question (19–35 months old) only makes up about 33% of the youngest population bracket. How do you determine that?

When you subtract 19 from 35 you get a range of 16 months. You then have to divide 16 months into 48 months (lowest US population bracket span) and you end up with 33%.

Assuming all things are equal (a perfect world, no doubt) then you can then use the 33% and apply it to the total population number in the lowest bracket to get a number of children who are between the ages of 19 and 35 months. The US census tells us on the same page that there are 19.8 million children who are 4 years (48 months) and younger. 33% of 19.8 million is 6.6 million.

This means that 6.6 million children in the United States were between the ages of 19 and 35 months in 2003.

So then, if about 93% of these children received their MMR immunization shot in 2003, then that would be 6.1 million children, thus leaving roughly 462,000 children who are not vaccinated with the MMR.

Now let’s see how many kids received their MMR in 2013 when this article first surfaced. This will help us understand the trend for those 10 years that the article wrote about.

The NIH reports that the percentage decreased slightly to 91.9% of a coverage rate, found hereNot much changed, but what was the US population of these children in 2013? According to the census bureau and applying our same math using 33%, there was a population of 6.6 million children between the ages of 19–35 months. Again, not much changed. That information can be found here.

So then, if about 91.9% of these children received their MMR immunization shot in 2013, then that would be 6 million children, thus leaving roughly 532,000 children who are not vaccinated with the MMR.

Important note: Trends over a decade like this are important to consider because as these children grow up they are still vaccinated against the MMR that they received as a baby. While we may be focusing on the younger age bracket as a fixed point in time, it is only because of the fact that the MMR is administered at that age. Overall, we can safely assume that as these generations get older and maintain a vaccination rate of 92-93%, then the entire population would have a coverage rate at that level—albeit given enough time.

Since we have done some leg work in seeing that the vaccination rate has stayed consistent, then let’s apply this rate to the entire United States population—from 2003 to 2013. The article implied that there is a problem with the Measles vaccine because it has killed 108 people over a ten year period.

The total United States population in 2003 was 285.9 million people. As of 2013 it was 316.1 million people. This averages to 301 million people.

92% of 301 million gives us 276.9 million—the estimated amount of all MMR vaccinated people in the US.

According to the article (citing VAERS), 108 people have died because of the MMR vaccine.

The percentage of MMR-vaccinated people then who have died from the vaccine is a simple mathematical equation that gives you a rate of:

0.000039%

I don’t know about you, but I’m comfortable with that.

Now then, consider the other side. First of all, were there really zero deaths due to Measles in that 10 year period?

The CDC reports 2 in 2009 and 2 more in 2010.

The interesting thing is that the article almost makes Measles sound like it has no real, inherent danger for anything like death at all, yet globally, 145,700 people died from Measles in 2013 alone according to the World Health Organization (WHO)Granted, that is also a very small percentage, but apparently the article is, in fact, very interested in small percentages.

Additionally, let’s not forget that death is not the only thing one can experience with Measles. According to a CDC Infographic:

- 1 in 4 people become hospitalized

- 1 in 1,000 people develop encephalitis (brain swelling), which could lead to permanent brain damage

Okay, so let’s consider again that 4 unvaccinated people have died from Measles out of our unvaccinated population of 24 million (difference between 301 and 277 million). This gives us a death rate of:

0.000017%

So, as far as deaths go, it appears that non-vaccinated people had a lower death rate right? One problem. On the VAERS website that recorded the vaccine-related deaths, it has a caveat that almost flushes all attempts of factual analysis down the toilet:

“When evaluating data from VAERS, it is important to note that for any reported event, no cause-and-effect relationship has been established. Reports of all possible associations between vaccines and adverse events (possible side effects) are filed in VAERS. Therefore, VAERS collects data on any adverse event following vaccination, be it coincidental or truly caused by a vaccine. The report of an adverse event to VAERS is not documentation that a vaccine caused the event.”

Even if VAERS could positively identify that all 108 deaths were directly tied to the MMR vaccine, then we are still left to wonder if all of the commotion regarding the pros and cons of taking or not taking the vaccine is worth arguing over when we are dealing with competitive mortality rates like 0.000039% and 0.000017%? This compares with, say, being killed by lightning—a 0.000011% chance, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

The number one killer in the US—besides the devastating reality of abortion—is heart disease, coming in at just over 600,000 deaths per year—a death rate of 0.2% of our population average of 301 million.

But again, is death the only thing that the vaccine protects someone from? One must not forget all of the other potential side-effects that could have mingling effects in someone’s life. Considering that VAERS is not a cold-hard fact as it states itself, the weight of evidence seems to indicate that there is no reasonable evidence to reject a vaccine like the MMR based on negative outcomes alone. If anything, there is a better chance of adverse impact in an unvaccinated person.

Finally, if there are other personal reasons for avoiding vaccines, then let’s be careful to not place political and selfish principles over our children’s health. I say this only because I hear arguments made that there are people at the top who are manipulating the costs and schedules for vaccines to make a lot of money.

So what?

Personally, I am totally fine with an elite few making billions of dollars because they sell something that keeps my family alive. In fact, thanks. Arguing from this point of view reeks of the selfish entitlement mindset that permeated those who decided to #OccupyWallStreet because they were the 99% who didn’t make as much as the 1%. The sooner we can get over that and take the Apostle Paul’s stance to be content in all circumstances—whether in plenty or in want (Phil 4:11–12)—the better we will be and the more we will honor the Lord Jesus Christ.

Let’s not make this somehow-controversial issue bigger than it is. Let’s not be conspiracy theorists about everything that goes on at a corporate and governmental level. Let’s be diligent, discerning, and wise. If (some) vaccines are still against one’s comfort zone due to ingredients, or source of ingredients, etc. then those are things to address one at a time, but as far as the basic arguments for the safety one way or another . . . in this case, the vaccine has the upper hand as far as I can tell.

By the way, I’m willing to rethink my whole approach if my assumptions and/or data were not accurately presented. I don’t want to be right just to be right, but I do want to know the right information so I can make the right decisions that pertain to my family’s health. That’s what we all want, right?

Hopefully this shined some light on how information is presented on the internet and how many different aspects can quickly change the outcome of the data being presented.

Ultimately, as Christians, make sure you still respect the person who you are speaking with, even if you are trying to persuade them one way or another. Don’t hold one another in derision based on something like this. Remember that no matter what, God is sovereign over your time of death and he has also given people medical skill in order to care for our bodies while we’re here on the earth. Use your resources while simultaneously trusting God’s providence.

In His Sovereign Grip,

Ben