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Are Cigarettes A Sin?

A reader asks:

I smoke. Is that a sin? Should I quit smoking? I think people automatically assume I’m not a Christian because I smoke. I really struggle with it.

My answer: 

We all struggle with sin. One person’s gluttony or lack of exercise (unhealthy habits)  is no better than your struggle with your physically unhealthy habit. Smoking destroys your body, wastes money (health costs, stinky clothes and cars, it’s hard on your teeth, loss of productivity, etc.) and arguably hurts your testimony (which you have experienced since you admit many people don’t think you are a Christian because you smoke). So in that context, we can surely say smoking is a bad choice for Christians, but…

To declare all smoking dogmatically “a sin” is simply going beyond what the Bible says. Is smoking a cigar occasionally a sin? Many notable Christians smoked pipes and cigars. Before the destructive nature of cigarettes became known, lots of faithful and sincere Christians smoked. As with all sin that is not specifically listed in Scripture (such as lying, adultery, gluttony, drunkenness, etc.), it only becomes a “sin” at the moment God convicts us individually to “stop” and we do not.  I get the same questions about “drinking a beer”. For some Christians, it’s not an issue… for others, God’s has convicted them personally “no!” so for them it is a sin.  I think given the nature of cigarettes it is surely only a matter of time and maturity before any Christian becomes convicted they should cease the habit.

Once God convicts you that “you should stop” and you do not, then it would be a sin for you because you are not obeying God’s will in your life. To come to that conviction about smoking is usually a simple process, just answer these questions: 1) If your body is created by God and is a “holy temple”, does cigarette smoking do undeniable damage to that temple (also if using the supplementary products)?; 2) smoking is pretty expensive, is that a good use of the financial blessings God has given you? 3) is it true that smoking can be a real obstruction to your testimony as Christian? 4) if the Christian life is about victory over “living in bondage to physical desires” (ie. “the flesh”) should you stop any habit that keeps you addicted to or bound to some physical desire that dictates much of your life?

We don’t need to legalistically pronounce smoking a “sin” (when the Bible does not) to wisely bring the maturing Christian to a point where they clearly see that smoking is a bondage God would have us free of.  In fact, the prudent UN-believer would come to the same conclusion just based on health and financial reasons. When you add spiritual and Biblical reasons to the equation, it’s only a matter of time before a genuine Christian will realize their need to stop smoking.

God promises us the the strength and power to overcome the flesh, so every Christian is capable of kicking any habit including cigarettes. Don’t fall for the perpetual victim or endless recovery nonsense the world promotes today. God is greater than any drug, habit or desire and He will give you the strength to beat it if you only ask Him to and keep your focus on Him.

My Spouse Doesn’t Want Me Snooping on His Cheating

A reader asks:

I have been married for three years to a man I dated off and on for almost 15 years. We have children ages two, four and 10. I have found inappropriate chat messages from another female to my husband. My husband said he wasn’t happy, especially with my weight gain. We just finished building a new house and moved into it. The messages to the other woman date back two years. We have been in counseling and everything seemed to be resolved. I have obvious trust issues because I found the text messages. A second time, this time with an ex-wife, my husband says he’s done. He’s tired of me snooping and I just need to get over it. He doesn’t know that I’m aware of the messages from the second woman. I’m afraid to ask since I am not supposed to be snooping anymore. His phone is always faced down because he says you can’t hear it ring any other way. What should I do?

My answer:

This is one of those questions that I have a hard time answering because it is going to contain an equal amount of hard to swallow response for both spouses. The point I want to start out with, which is a general point to everyone reading this (and seems to go lost today in a big way): you reap what you sow. The Bible tells us “be not deceived, God is not mocked, what ever you reap, you will sow.”

A little entry-level sleuthing brings us to the obvious point that while you were dating your future husband, you guys were fornicating. You had children out of wedlock. You had an on-again, off-again relationship which should’ve spoke to you both about the level of commitment. I’m sure there were other relationships during the “off-again” times that most likely had sex involved too. For over a decade you established a pattern with him of being with you part of the time and with other women part of the time and now it surprises you that he still doing the same thing after you signed a piece of paper that says you’re “married”.

Choices Today Have Consequences Tomorrow

It’s not my intention to make you feel worse about the situation, but everyone has to learn at some point in their life that there are consequences that follow choices. You are not in this situation by some innocent and unfortunate turn of circumstances. The behavior your husband is exhibiting is exactly the same behavior he had for the 15 years before that. So it is important to you going into the future that you are a person who learns lessons from the past and does not ignore the fact that your choices today have consequences tomorrow.

As for your husband, the most delicate way I can respond to his “you should not be snooping” is this: he’s an idiot. I’ll bet if you are cheating on him, he would think snooping is okay on his part. I’ll bet if someone was stealing his money, he would be snooping around trying to figure out who it was. This whole idea of a husband or wife demanding privacy from their spouse only comes up when there is something to hide. Spouses don’t need “relationship privacy” when they’re not having inappropriate relationships outside of their marriage. I always get a bittersweet chuckle when I hear those juvenile excuses like “you can only hear the phone ring if it’s face down.” Does he not realize how utterly stupid and juvenile that sounds?

As to your question “what should I do?”, I cannot give you an objective black or white answer but only my subjective opinion based on my experience. I think you should immediately go tell your husband you are aware of the other woman. I think you should tell him that his demands you not “snoop” are ridiculous when he is giving you every reason to be suspicious because of his behavior. I think that you should demand from him that he put in place accountability and safeguards to protect your marriage. I don’t think that you should tolerate for one second any unfaithfulness on his part.

At that point he will no doubt, and in some ways justifiably, throw up all the past in your face. But neither of you can change the past, you can only change what you’re going to do starting today.

Having said that, I will tell you that you are in a very difficult position because your marriage and relationship from the start has been “on-again, off-again” and not based on the commitment and security that only comes with God’s plan for sex and marriage. If both you and your husband are committed to a Godly marriage, there is no doubt that you can have one. Sadly, if both of you are not committed to it, there is not a whole lot you can do about it. From my experience and given what you have told me, if he is not wholeheartedly committed to a Godly marriage he will eventually commit adultery and your marriage will probably end in divorce (“off-again”). It pains me to say that, but you did not write me for anything less than a truthful answer.

We all make bad choices sometimes, and we all have to face the consequences of them. The question is whether not we learn those lessons and take God at his word and begin to live according to unbreakable and unavoidable rule that “God is not mocked, whatever you reap you will sow.” When we reach a point in life where we truly believe that, it will have a profound effect on our choices. So generally speaking to everyone reading this, that’s the message and point I want you to take away from my answer.

Specifically speaking to those who find themselves in this situation or similar, you can’t change the past. You can only do what is right from this point on and pray that your spouse will do the same. Don’t play games, don’t hide from the past, and don’t allow the offending spouse to manipulate the situation with guilt or threats. Put the truth on the table and control the only thing you can control: your own choices and behavior.

Readers, what is your advice and opinion about this?

Feelings Follow Choice: Choice Creates Desire

I have a handful of topics/posts I like to refresh and revisit once a year or so because they are so timeless and important. It benefits new readers for obvious reasons, and never fails to be an edifying reminder to those who may have read about it in the past.

The topic I’m writing about today is especially appropriate for the New Year since many people have made commitments to improve things in their life. This lesson will help in pretty much any endeavor.


Feelings Follow Choice… Willful Choices Produce Desire and Feelings

If there is a favorite thing I like to teach on other than the Bible, it would be the idea  “feelings follow choice”.

We live in a culture where feelings reign supreme with entire industries and markets based on solely on appealing to feelings. I don’t just mean consumer goods… I’m talking about self improvement, marriage and lifestyle choices. We buy things based on feelings, our relationships are dictated by feelings, what we do in life and how we live is based on feelings. Our feelings are elevated to be the tipping point, highest priority of everything our life. My rights, my happiness, my dreams, what I deserve, etc., etc., etc., etc., etc., etc., etc.

We have an entire army of “mental health” experts who teach a person the most important aspect of their emotional and relationship health is how they feel about things. “How does that make you feel?” “Do you feel like that’s the best choice for you?” “Do you feel happy?” “Do you feel like that’s what you want out of life?” “Do you feel like you deserve that?”

It is this obsession with “feeling” which has led to a pandemic loss of personal responsibility, people not keeping their word and generations mulling around in confusion unaware of what is important in life. I have often said, and will continue to say, one of the primary reasons for the lack of stability, personal sacrifice and integrity in our culture is the destructive elevation of feelings, making them our guide, our criteria for decision, and ultimately our absolute individual truth (which is of course, no absolute truth at all).

Let me give you an analogy I’ve repeated often, and then I’ll share with you recent example of how this helped someone.

Feelings Follow Choice Just like the Caboose Follows the Engine

Picture your life as a long train. The engine is your power to make choices, your personal will. The engine is not pushed around by the wind or hills or people standing in the way. It goes where it is headed because a choice has been made on purpose regardless of the circumstances it passes through (all analogies always break down if taken too far, so just leave it there…).

The caboose represents your feelings. Feelings in and of themselves come and go based on circumstances and environment. Feelings are led around by what happens to us, our physical condition, our emotional state and the randomness of life. Our feelings are fickle and like the well-known phrase in the Bible are “tossed to and fro on the waves” of life.

By comparison, choices can be made based on knowledge, absolute truth and the force of our will regardless of circumstances or emotions. Our choices can be determined by unmovable principles, responsibility, duty and timeless truth regardless of how we happen to feel at the moment.

At this point in our discussion, even a mildly discerning person should recognize which of the two (choice or feeling) are more reliable and should have the highest priority when it comes to our decision-making. Isn’t it obvious? Should our feelings, which are prone to change on the spur of the moment in the storm of circumstances, dictate the important decisions of our life? Or should we base our choices on unchanging truths, objective knowledge, deep convictions and commitments we have made?

Burn this picture into your mind: your life is a train rolling down the tracks of life. The engine is not drifting along aimlessly. The engine is your source of power controlling the speed and direction of your life. The caboose is your feelings and they will always follow the engine and its choices. Even when the engine has made a decision to turn left or right or switch tracks, it may be a while before your feelings catch up and follow the same path. This is an important point to remember and the reason why I use the phrase “feelings FOLLOW choice.” It is not always immediate but it is always a sure thing. Feelings follow choice.

Choices Came First Back When…

Here’s a practical example. Everyone understands what happens when you meet someone and decide you’d like to pursue a romantic relationship. At the point of meeting them, you don’t have deep feelings of love, commitment and sacrifice. You start out with the initial twinges of attraction and interest. So what do you do next?

You make the CHOICE to begin doing things that will cultivate the feelings of attraction, romance and eventually love both in you and the other person. You carve out time for them. You do nice things for them. You buy gifts for them. You go out of your way to compliment them and say things to them to make them feel good. You think about them.

You make all these choices to do everything possible to not only cultivate your own feelings (which started out as just potential surface indications of interest) but you do everything you can think of to nourish and nurture the other person’s feelings for you. You may spend weeks or months, sometimes years, making choice after choice after choice to bring about the feelings that will cause the relationship to go further and become more serious.

…But Now You’ve Got It Backwards and Feelings Come First.

Fast forward a few years into marriage. Now everything is backwards. You don’t feel like doing anything nice for your spouse and you never do. You don’t feel like spending time with them so you don’t. You don’t feel romantic so you don’t do anything to create romance. You don’t feel like complimenting them so you don’t. You don’t feel like sacrificing anything for them and you aren’t going to.

It’s all turned around exactly opposite now. You will not CHOOSE to do anything you do not feel like doing. Our culture has brainwashed you into believing if you do something without feelings motivating it, then you are being insincere or hypocritical. You’ve been brainwashed by our “self” focused society (self-esteem, self love, self happiness, self forgiveness, etc.) into believing your happiness and feelings must come first before you can do anything positive about others feelings, especially your spouse.

You don’t feel like you are in love anymore so you are not going to CHOOSE to do anything a person in love would do. You don’t feel like you are in love so you aren’t going to act like you are in love.

We Choose to Do Other Things We Don’t Feel like

While many people lack the self-discipline to do anything they don’t feel like doing most of us can understand the following:

  • We choose to work out or train even if we don’t feel like it.
  • We choose to eat less or eat differently even if we feel like eating something unhealthy.
  • We choose to get up and go to work even though we may not like our jobs or feel like working.

There are many things we choose to do each day regardless of how we feel about it. On the flip side, if you are a person who never does anything unless you feel like it then most likely you are a walking definition of being undisciplined and your life is a series of reactions instead of purpose.

Feelings follow choice. It doesn’t matter whether it’s marriage, work, health, serving others or spiritual growth, we have to face all of these situations repeatedly and routinely at times when our feelings do not match what we know we should choose to do. My point?

If you can CHOOSE to do one single thing for your life
(name it: excercise, diet, work, etc) even when
you don’t FEEL like it, then you can CHOOSE
to do ANYTHING in your life, even if you don’t feel like it
(spiritual growth, restoring your marriage, changing your attitude).

In What Areas Is Your Caboose Leading?

Now that you understand what I’m saying  – “feelings follow choice” – consider what areas of your life are being lead by your caboose (but shouldn’t be). In what important matters have you been allowing your feelings to dictate your choices?

  • Health: do your feelings dictate a poor diet, no exercise and hours in front of the computer or TV instead of healthy choices?
  • Relationships: do your feelings dictate your moods, whether you are kind and loving, how much you sacrifice for others, and especially how you treat your spouse and family?
  • Work: do your feelings cause you to gripe, complain, and do as little as possible?
  • Spiritually: do your feelings allow you to keep putting off hard work, discipline and change needed to begin maturing spiritually?

Feelings follow choice. You know this in your mind to be true but maybe you’ve never put it to the test (except when you “feel” like it, ironically). Perhaps this is the key, the truth, the principle you’ve been waiting to hear… the missing piece of your life puzzle needed to make the real changes you know you need to make.

What are your questions for me?

Run Forrest, Run

Philippians 3:12 – Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own.

The Apostle Paul loved to use analogies common to his time. Sometimes we have a hard time relating to word pictures in the Bible because we spend so little time learning about the historical and cultural context. But sports are something we can certainly identify with today.

Philippians 3:12-14 (emphasis mine) Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own.  13 Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead,  14 I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.

In verses 12-14 Paul uses the imagery of a runner to describe the Christian life. Think of it:

  • A runner starts, runs a path, then reaches the finish line. They have not “finished” (become perfect) until the race is complete.
  • A runner always runs forward and is unconcerned about any previous steps. Always forwards, always ahead, leaving the past behind.
  • A runner does not burden themselves with things that will slow them down (Heb 12:1).
  • A runner has a distinct and focused path and goal.
  • A runner overcomes discomfort, obstacles, and challenges with only one thing in mind: cross the finish line.
  • A runner gets better at running by… running.  You improve over time.
  • A runner does not quit over little nagging aches and pain and nuisances. They power through them.
  • A dedicated racer will crawl on their belly to the goal line rather than quitting or giving up.

“Press on” is the picture of an aggressive sprinter. Not a lazy casual walk. Not a slow easy jog. A sprint. A hard sprint. We are to aggressively leave the past behind and sprint towards increased spiritual growth and Christ-likeness.

Contrast that to the therapeutic mindset of today that has people constantly and perpetually re-living and analyzing their past, always recovering but never truly moving PAST their flaws, shortcomings, and failures. And why would they? We have a vast and growing army of “mental health professionals” – invading the church too – who would lose their market if we all “pressed on” and put the past behind us. Yes, there is a very real need and place for counseling, but Biblical counsel has us deal with issues and move on as opposed to lifelong “recovery.”  Once again we see a black-and-white comparison between God’s command versus human wisdom. God says press on; the world says be a victim of your past.  I’ll take God’s way; I don’t want to live as a recovering victim the rest of my life.

“Made me his own”… other translations say “lay hold” which is the idea of making something a personal possession. Jesus chose each of us as His own personal property and our goal is to be just that – “Property of Jesus Christ” – in our actions, words, and thoughts.

Keep It Simple

We often whine about things being too hard, we have too many things to consider, too much to change, too much to keep track of. Okay, this is for you then. Paul reduces the Christian life down to “one thing I do.” Is that simple enough? One thing?  What is it?

Forget the past, press on to the prize.

The whole point of sanctification (becoming like Christ) and living the Christian life is summed up in the following: forget the past (whether one second or one year or one decade ago) and push forward towards Christ, keeping your eye on the prize: perfection in Heaven (the “upward call,” that time when God brings you home to be with Him).

That’s it.  Live up to that and you will run the race of life the way God would have you. Forget the past. Keep your eye on the goal line of someday being in the presence of Jesus, free of sin, living eternally.

  • Forget the past. Confess your sin, repent, and move on. Guilt cannot hamstring you if you press on.
  • Forget the past. Failures and defeats cannot discourage you if you forget them.
  • Forget the past. Do not waste time on self-pity and narcissistic self-analyzation (not to be confused with genuine self-examination, a lesson for another time).
  • Forget the past. Do not live as a perpetual victim, ever handicapped by your circumstances.

As a Christ-follower, you are a runner in the race of eternal life. Keep your eyes on the goal line. Aggressively pursue the prize. Sprint ahead spiritually with all your might. Forget the last step, it does not matter and cannot be changed. Sprint in one direction only: towards Jesus.

Run Forrest, run.

My Son The Jerk

A reader asks:

How do I give my twenty-something year old son an ultimatum when I know it isn't totally his fault that he is acting the way he is?  What I want to say to him is this:

"Either participate in our family unit or don't expect anymore effort from any of us until you do show some sort of desire to be involved. You have refused to make contact with your family here and you have not acknowledged the gifts you have received and you have not made any effort at all to call anyone."

Ever since he began living with his dad when he was much younger, he completely stopped any and all effort to have a meaningful relationship with me and my family. No matter how hard we try, and we have really tried endlessly and tirelessly; we still get pushed aside. The only reason we barely have contact now, is because all of us are making the effort. Is it time for me to put my foot down once and for all?

My Answer:

Yes, at twenty-something years old, it is certainly time to hold him accountable as an adult but saying "it's not totally his fault" is not doing that. 

Unless you can tell me some legitimate reason he is being forced (not influenced, genuinely forced) to act this way, then he is choosing to act this way and you need to quit making him a "victim" which feeds his obvious selfish nature.  We seem to have a generation of MTV boys around his age that are masters at playing the victim, especially when the parents are divorced.

A 10 year old can be manipulated and has an excuse. A 20-25 year old is choosing to ALLOW himself to be manipulated because it is to his benefit (he feels there is some personal advantage in it).  Either that, or he is just spoiled and narcissistic; again we seem have a large army of young male adults who live this way now. I know it's a very difficult situation, and I don't tell you this flippantly or without realizing how hard it is. 

As you wrote it, what you want to say to him SOUNDS a more like a declaration appropriate for an adolescent (to shock him) than it does a serious, loving declaration to a young adult (what you wrote sounds like something I'd say to my 13 year old but not a 22 year old). I don't know all the details but maybe something like this:

"You're a grown man now and responsible for your own behavior and choices no matter who is trying to influence you or what difficulties you've endured. We've all had hard times in our lives and that doesn't give any of us excuse to treat others poorly.  You have chosen to ignore us and not to acknowledge or be appreciative of our efforts to have a relationship with you. Your choice. We are going to back off and give you your wish. We remain hopeful that you'll want to participate with our family and build a relationship with us. We are always here and the door is open any time you decide to be part of our family. We'll not try to force the issue any more so you'll see that we won't be trying to contact you or send you things at this point.  Relationship goes both ways. Whenever you want to begin to put some effort in from your side, we are ready. And we really hope you'll decide you want us to be your family too."

Either way, you have start thinking of him and treating him like an adult and that means DO NOT make excuses for his behavior ("it's not all his fault").   If that means the relationship will be estranged for now, then so be it, even though I know that's hard. YOUR door is open… he has to grow up and walk through. Remember, your "kids" grow up to become adults who can make their own choices just like you and me.  Sometimes they can become "jerks". Just because they are our kids doesn't make them immune from being selfish jerks (just like parents and siblings and friends can be selfish jerks).

I know it's hard… but you have to turn him loose from being "a child" (which is different from being "your child" which will never change) and pray for him. You cannot control, persuade, cajole, threaten or manipulate him into being the "good son".

Should I Marry So I Can Share Jesus With Them?

A reader asks:

I'm in love with someone who practices Islam, not Christianity. I know there are concerns about marrying an unbeliever, but I don't want to miss out on sharing Christ with her.  What do you think?

My answer:

You are mixing two things… witnessing and marriage. Marriage is the God-ordained image of Christ loving His Bride, the Church. To marry an unbeliever is to destroy that image. To marry an unbeliever is to be tied (or "yoked" as the Bible says which is the picture of two plow animals hooked together for common work) to someone pulling in a different direction.  just like Israel tried to appease the Canaanites by allowing their idol worship, marriage to an unbeliever opens the door to the destruction of your faith; it is a monumental compromise of your faith that will certainly lead to spiritual peril and marital disaster.  Experience shows clearly that you are far more likely to compromise or abandon your faith than you are to convert her to yours in all authenticity.

Marriage is NOT to be entered into as a witnessing opportunity.

The stories are never ending about people who convert to a religion just to land a spouse, then abandon it later on. As a Christian you should not consider marriage to an unbeliever or even a new Believer until you can securely determine they didn't convert just to marry you.  It is playing with spiritual fire and you will not escape unburned.

Marrying a Muslim has even more concerns. You are an apostate and infidel in the eyes of Islam. She will be shunned by all genuinely faithful Muslims and she will most likely be disowned by her family if they are serious adherents. It is a mistake for a Christian to marry a non-Christian PERIOD (no gray area), and though it sounds harsh, you would be categorically sinning and inviting disaster to do so.  

Most people will ignore an answer like this they don't want to hear. Love is truly blind for many.  I wish I could give you a sugary "happily ever after" answer. Perhaps you will be one of the rare people who will hear a hard Biblical answer and let it dictate your choices, rather than allowing your feelings to reign supreme. Put God first even though it can be very hard. He will bless your faithfulness.