Nice blog post on Old Independent Baptists.
I previously wrote about how I try and balance rules with practical considerations. I believe my rules are 100% correct, if I thought otherwise I’d change the rule. However, I try and balance my “perfect” rule with another principal I believe equally strongly in – independence. I believe you should agree with me and be willingly to follow my rule, but I have no desire to force you. If you disagree with me, it doesn’t really bother me.
But I run a household. How can I balance my role as a leader in my home to all the crazy rules I like to come up with? It actually hasn’t been challenging to come to an agreement with my wife, we have very similar personalities. I simply state my case and my decision and let her make her own call. She tends to respect my leadership in a decision and usually follows it, even if the rule seems (is?) crazy.
Where rules cause heart ache is with my kids. I want my kids to have and do everything, but much of Las Vegas is centered around casinos. Bowling, movies, restaurants, meeting rooms, even something as benign as a school field trip to an aquarium is centered around a casino. I don’t want to force my rules on others, but I believe casinos are wrong and I’m supposed to train my child – even if my Church holds a less dramatic position.
My oldest child is now able to go to church “teen group” activities. The signature event is a teen all-nighter with various activities, including bowling at a casino. And it was really really important to my daughter to attend. The event is chaperoned, and the group is filled with “good” church-kids. Bowling has a separate non-casino entrance. How important are my rules? That was the challenge I was facing.
God can be funny. The purpose of the law is that of a schoolmaster (Gal 3:24). School works best when you think upon the rules. While I was internally debating my rule, I heard the pastor that runs the event speak. I don’t recall message, but he had 2 relevant illustrations. He talked about an inappropriate incident that occurred while his family was watching the Bellagio fountains and another inappropriate incident that occurred at the bowling alley at a prior year’s teen event. I believe the message was some sort of leadership message as both incidents ended safely because of strong leadership.
But those incidents confirmed my rule. Consider this: What do you think when you hear of a person placed in a bad situation that continues to stand for what is right? That’s the type of child I want to raise – one that does right even in adversity. But is that a biblically good situation to be in? Aren’t you supposed to ask God to keep you away from temptation and evil (Matt 6:13)? My child is not being blessed if they are being tempted, rather they are being blessed if they are not tempted. A Christian should not unnecessarily place themselves in an evil situation.
Sometimes target fixation occurs. I believe it was my wife that pointed out the solution. I wasn’t opposed to the event in general, just the bowling portion, which occurred towards the end of the night. Just leave early. Duh.
My daughter wasn’t pleased with that solution, but it was better than staying home.
One of my first attempts to apply my no-casino rule was during a convention at the Mirage. I wanted to go to the convention, it was for work. I decided I would enter the casino like normal but from the convention center area I would figure a way back to my car that avoided the casino. Perhaps you know a better way, but I couldn’t find a direct route. I ended up going through back alleys and walking around the backside of the building.
It was far from convenient and I while I could exit that way, I wasn’t sure I could enter the same way. My ‘rule’ was facing a crisis. I had a work obligation that conflicted with a personal conviction. Out of a practical need I modified my “rule” from a blanket prohibition on casinos to a more flexible rule of “avoid casinos and never go when you don’t have to.”
At the time, I was making a practical compromise, but let me share with you a bible principal that supports this type of compromise. 2 King 5 tells the often told story of Elisha and Naamen. Towards the end of the story Naamen is converted. However he has a problem (2 King 5:18-19) – he is servant of his King, and when his King goes to the “false” church, Naamen is obligated to worship this false god. Worshipping a false god is a grave sin – it’s as black and white of a religious rule as you can find in the Bible, you DO NOT EVER worship a false god.
God, through Elisha never tells Naamen that he can worship a false god. Elisha simply acknowledges the problem and bids him to go in peace.
Where rules don’t work is the ‘user’ of the rule often forgets the principal of the rule, the heart and emotion that the rule is based on. I am not satisfied with my compromise, but I can go into a casino with a pure conscience. And by putting my rule under such direct fire and realizing that even though my ‘black and white’ position is correct, I’m still in a casino. It is difficult to cast self-righteous stones at you when I’m in the same place you are.
Black and White decisions in Las Vegas
I’m a person that believes in “optimal” solutions. You might say I see things in “black and white”. I’ll get into that subject some other time, but for now that description of my decision making style will work for this discussion. People with this style can easily fall into a self-righteous trap: My way’s right, everyone making a different decision is horribly wrong.
It is easy to come up with theoretical rules to live by. But I live and work in Las Vegas. When I set a rule in my life, that rule will absolutely be tested. At times it can be painful and emotional, but intellectually it is great. It removes a lot of the self-righteousness from the equation. I have to distill the principle that the rule is based on down to its core and then balance other principles that are equally important.
I’ve probably confused you. This thought sounded very elegant while I composed it on my run, but no one ever accused me of being the most persuasive writer. Perhaps some examples will clarify my point. Even if you disagree with the rule I’m going to describe, I hope the way I describe balancing rules is helpful.
I decided I was going to avoid casinos – religiously avoid casinos. Several events occurred that crystalized my position. I can detail the events if you want, but it all came down to casinos are marketing a hedonistic lifestyle that mocks traditional values and ultimately is destructive to society. So my decision is to stay out of casinos. A good black/white rule if there ever was one. But did I mention I live in Las Vegas?
What do I do when there is a convention in town at the Mirage? What about when I go out to dinner with a business colleague? What about when the company banquet is at a casino, and I’m an officer of that company? Those are the easy questions. Harder ones involve my family. How do I go to a movie when most of the theaters are in a Casino? How do I go bowling? What about when my Church goes bowling at a Casino? (Nothing feels more self-righteous that telling your Church friends that “we don’t go to a church sponsored event because it is a sin. 🙂 ” )
I never want to force you to follow one of my rules. I believe in independence, if you disagree with me then don’t follow my rule. But how do I apply those rules to my Wife or my Children? How do you tell your child that they can’t go to the movie with their friends because we don’t go to casinos?
Again, the balancing of the rule caused a lot of tears and emotional stress. But intellectually I love taking the broad rule and figuring out the details on how to apply that rule to life.
I’ll follow up with the story next week.
One of the reasons why I ‘play’ with coffee is it provides an alternate to the culinary experience of alcohol. I began to go to a church that discouraged the use of alcohol. Rather than worry about what is discouraged, I chose to focus more intently on what is allowed.
When you join any organization, you should follow the ‘rules’ of that organization as long as it doesn’t conflict with higher priority rules (I.e. Bible ‘rules’ trump other ‘rules’). The Bible says that if you disagree with important doctrine, your job is not to change the organization, your job is to avoid that organization (Romans 16:17).
At the time, I was not persuaded in the Biblical requirement of no-alcohol that my Church taught. However, there was nothing biblically wrong with abstaining. I had no problem eliminating the consumption of alcohol from my life to comply with that ‘rule’. Where it got tricky was the fact that I sold alcohol in my family’s business. It was one thing for me to stop drinking to following a rule, its entirely different to limit my long term career path because I wanted to follow a particular leader.
To evaluate the doctrine, I searched for every reference of wine in the Bible. My initial search didn’t seem to indicate there was a Biblical prohibition on alcohol. People who disagree with this doctrine commonly point to Jesus turning water into wine. If Jesus gave people wine, how could selling wine be bad? It is a compelling counter-argument.
You can use your own google-kung-fu to evaluate both sides of the argument, here are the facts that helped me make a decision:
There are unambiguous verses that state that strong drink is bad. (Proverbs 31:4)
When Jesus turned water into wine, it does not specifically state that the wine was fermented. As we are conditioned to believe the alcohol is good, when they bring out the ‘good wine’ in the story, you are pre-conditioned to think about alcohol.
I believe other passages that seem to advocate alcohol use, are misunderstood. There is one Law for everyone, however different people have greater responsibilities within the Law. For example 1 Timothy 3:3 is not a code of conduct for existing deacons, rather I see this as a “pre-employment background check” that should be given to Church officers. After “employment”, a deacon should more closely follow God’s Law.
There are other examples that I can point to, but the bottom line is I was persuaded. I like to be passionate in what I do. If I don’t think a product is good and beneficial, I am not going to do a good job promoting it – in fact I don’t want to promote it. So why do something I don’t want to do?
It’s hard to strip something out of your life without filling that void with something else (Luke 11:24-26). Coffee was the answer. Rather than seek out micro-brews, I seek out independent coffee bars when I travel. I experiment with the preparation and serving of Coffee and Espresso drinks at home. And of course I began to roast coffee.
One of the best things I’ve learned is: Focus on what you can do, don’t worry about what you can’t do.