Ten Years a Missionary

Well, it’s been ten years and as of last week, I’m no longer a missionary. Well, I’ll always be a missionary, because like James Fraser said, true, lasting missionary work is done on our knees. I won’t be getting off my knees. But I will be looking elsewhere for employment.

It’s been a long complicated road to arrive at this conclusion. And there will be a lot I miss about working as a missionary in China. Hell, I’m gonna miss noodles like crazy. But, on the bright side, I can say hell whenever I want now.

Now I’m just going to be a Christian. No longer will I be a “professional Christian”. I can walk my faith, live and breathe the gospel the way I believe it should be lived and breathed. Not a whole has stood in the way of that before, but it wasn’t always easy. I have had an audience of many, not an audience of one. That’s part of the complication of living on support, which is often a huge blessing. But sometimes it’s utter foolishness. Now I’m excited to put the foolishness aside and be who I’m called to be in some secular workplace in America.

You know, assuming I can find a job.

Until then, I no longer have to binge eat donuts and burritos because I’ll be able to have them whenever I’d like.

I will, however, now have to binge eat noodles when I go back to China for a week next month to shut everything down.

China, you’ll be missed. Hopefully I can get a job that brings be back to you with some regularity. Hopefully you’ll always be a part of my life, not least in my prayers.

This is a big intimidating change. Not sure what to expect.


There’s a shocking amount of uncertainty in my life right now. Shocking because of how little there was six months ago. Shocking because I have always known who I was, where I was going, and exactly how I intended to get there.

It turns out the whole world as my apple kind of scares the hades out of me. I’d rather know exactly where I’ll be taking a bite and how, and where that will lead three years from now.

Instead I’m chasing away questions I’m unwilling to ask because I’m too overwhelmed by the ones I can’t answer. They pile up and I shove them under a rug and yell loudly at myself, “This isn’t a midlife crisis!” Hoping if I say it loudly enough I’ll grow to believe it myself. I beg myself to believe what I teach—what I believe—that God is in control and somehow has a place for this. There is a road yet ahead. Not just a cliff.

And hopefully there will be very few casualties on said road. I’m not sure I can handle it any other way. My hopes are fading with my burning desires. Desires burning to ash. Not desires not burning inside of me.

Infrequent Opportunity

Preaching this Sunday on a topic of sound theological basis, but with lots of complex explaining needing to be done to fit in with different eschatological views. Hope I can skirt the right issues, and address the right ones. Landing where the Lord is honored, and His Kingdom is grasped better by those who hear.

It’s interesting to only have infrequent opportunity to speak on whatever topic I’d like. I speak a lot, but seldom do I get to choose to share what’s on my heart. In these situations I feel the need to jam a lot in, and hopefully allow my passion for the topic to not overshadow the scripture it’s founded on.

Turning Over a New Stone

This week, namely yesterday, marked a new stone turned over. I tried something I’ve wanted to try my hand at for years and put myself out there in a new, scary, and strange way. Maybe I’ll be shut down, and try to tell myself I never really wanted it anyhow. Maybe I’ll be well received and panic and run. But turning over new stones is always scary. What if there’s something new under this one?

I’ve had a lot on my plate for some time now and I am acutely aware of my inability to sort through even knowing what I desire. I feel like the Lord has me on a precipice and is threatening to push me over. Not to kill me, mind you, just to make fall briefly into my discomfort zone.

It’s fascinating to watch theology I’ve had all my life be challenged by the reality of having to face the situation. I can believe I’ll behave one way, but I’m watching my doubts and fears respond in whole new ways. Especially as I attempt to consider my family and their needs and desires.

I’ve watched pastors and other believers whom I’ve counseled deal with similar situations and I always thought them so weak for not knowing what they want. And now I have no idea what I want. I figured if ever in this situation I would be clear about what I wanted, or at least the Lord’s will, and then I would pursue that boldly. “Like a man,” if you will. But now? Well, now I know to compassion on those in these situations. To love them, encourage them, and help them when they fail. Even when they fail to pursue what I think they want. Because apparently sometimes, we genuinely don’t know.

Here’s to hoping this stone only has bugs and dirt I’m familiar with on the other side. Or else something fascinating I can’t look away from. I’m fine with either one.

Missionary Tenure

Growing up I always assumed that the word tenure came from an old English word meaning 10 years. I’ve since looked it up and found the two have nothing in common. Nonetheless, tenure for a missionary seems to come at or around the ten year mark.

Tenure for a missionary is like tenure for a professor in the sense that getting tenure means you’re arriving at a kind of ensured longevity. But tenure is different from teaching because in teaching you get tenure for great teaching, research, or published scholarly articles. And as a missionary you get tenure for being broken down and wiped out, eventually staying in the field as just a shadow of what you once were. When the missionary gets tenure it means he finally lays himself down and really learns a slow dependance on the Lord.

You can tell the missionaries with tenure because the young and new missionaries all think of them as lazy, sometimes wondering why they are still around. Conversely the tenured missionary has patience for the young kid with an insatiable “go-get-em” attitude because he’s been there.

No one gets to tenure just by learning from the older generation. They have to get there the hard way—through long years of work and consistent failures from trying to operat without the Spirit.

Tenure is a good thing, the Lord can use the tenured differently because they’ve given up on doing things by their own strength.

The Documentary Hypothesis (JEDP) as applied to a Nigerian e-mail request for money transfer

I've recently been thinking about Biblical criticism and found that I could apply what I've learned to an email I recently received requesting my help for a transaction of a large sum of money. I was really quite shocked to find that not one, but probably as many as four people or groups of people helped to compose this email to me.

My breakdown of the text is based largely on who is the master (or the most important person) of the email at the time. I have broken this down into four parts the "Sir," the "Help," the "I," and the "They." At four different times this email was edited by people who leaned towards thinking a different audience was the master of the email

You will see by notes below just how clear these different authors were. And I hope my point will become clear to you as you read through these notes.

From: DR. RAYMOND OHIRO [D_ohiro@annmaiLcom]
Subject: Immediate Response

(S) - Here you can see the first master of the email. The composers of this first part considered the master (the main subject) of the email to be the person they were writing to. This letter is addressed to "Sir" because it made the recipient very comfortable in believing this was going to be about him.

I would date this probably sometime in early 1995 back when people had just discovered email and used it primarily to learn more about others than to share about themselves.

Good day to you. You were introduced to us in confidence through the Chamber of Commerce, Foreign Trade Section. The reason for this letter is that your help is being sought in order to facilitate and successfully complete a profitable venture that is of immense benefit to you, and us the originators within a stipulated time frame.

(H) Help is how we will refer to the second writer of this email. Likely sometime around the dot-com crash of 2000 this letter was found and then revised with the master (or focus) of the email no longer being the recipient of the email but rather the urgent need for help. This was characteristic of the time and people's lack of money.
I am Dr.Raymond Ohiro, a director with the Department of Petroleum Resources (DPR) and the Secretary of the Contract Award and Monitoring Committee (CAMC) of the Department of Petroleum Resources (DPR). This profitable venture involves the sum of US$15,600,OOO.00 (Fifteen million Six hundred thousand United States Dollars) which is presently in an account of the DPR with the Apex Bank in Nigeria, the Central Bank. We need your help as a foreigner to help transfer this sum of US$15.6M (Fifteen million Six hundred thousand United sates dollars).

(I)I is the third person or group to edit this email. This must have been at least 10 years after the original was written as the focus is now completely removed from the "Sir" at the begging of the email and at this point the "I" believes they can be more persuasive if more is offered about them, then asked of the recipient.

Notice the continuing pleas for help throughout this part of the email... clearly added at a later date when 15 million would have been a more reasonable sum (than back in 95 when probably the number would have been closer to 10 million to be a believable sum).
(T) "They" is the fourth and final person/group to edit this email before it was mailed off to my inbox. This group is set apart from the previous I because the email loses it's personal tone of a dealing between two people and shifts to a transaction between one individual me-- the recipient -- and they a group now seen clearly in the word "we." We cannot make this transfer on our own or in our names for the fact that we are civil servants (still in active service). But you as a foreigner can assist us in the sense that the money to be transferred will be paid to you as a contract entitlement for a purported contract executed for my government. The money in question is ready for transfer into an overseas account which we expect you to provide. We have agreed that the money will be shared according to the ratio stated below;a) 20% of the money will go to you for acting as the beneficiary of the fund.b) 70% to us originators (which if possible we may enter into a partnership with you)c) 10% for any expenses that both parties may incur in the course of this transaction

We will require from you: a) Name and address of Company or Beneficiary. b) Details of the account which you are the only signatory that the money will be transferred into. The above requirements is to legalize the claim for payment and transfer of the money to your account. Be informed that the reason we are sending you this letter is because we know that the only way to succeed is to seek the help of a foreigner. Your professional status is not a matter of hindrance in this transaction. Please, your assistance is highly solicited. We have no doubts at aIl that this money will be released and transferred if we get the necessary foreign partner to assist us in this deal. Therefore, when the business is successfully concluded we shall through the same connections withdraw all documents used from all the concerned government ministries for 100% security. All expenses regarding the opening of an account if not already in existence shall be borne by you, all expenses are however reimbursable on the conclusion of this business transaction. It is of high hope that you will consider this humble request and respond positively. If you are still in doubt after the receipt of this letter, please do not hesitate to contact and ask any question(s) that may hinder your decision on this matter. If in the alternative you are indisposed, please an acknowledgment of the receipt of this letter will be appreciated stating such. For more details on this transaction, you can call me on my telephone number +234-1-774-4594. The telephone line be busy, please keep on trying till you get through. While awaiting your early response, thank you in anticipation of your most valued assistance. Yours faithfully, Dr. Raymond Ohiro (MNIM) P.S. PLEASE TREAT AS URGENT AND CONFIDENTIAL

The constant ebb and flow of good/poor English can easily be explained by the lack of unity with the original writers.

Just to conclude... The original "S" text was written sometime around 1995 (using the best estimates of my understanding of the language and the culture at the time), the first major modification -- "H" -- being being made sometime around the turn of the millennium.

"I" would have rewritten and added their text sometime around 2005.

It is my best guess that "T" brought the whole text together into a sort of combination I like to call S. H. I. T. probably around the end of 2007.

At this point I intend to respond to this email as quickly as possible and I hope to receive my 20% of the 15 million by the end of the month. I hope that my brief adaptation of the JEDP hypothesis to this Nigerian letter shed at least a little light on how you approach the documents of importance in your life.

Beer and the Resurrection

Years ago I lamented that I could find no good spiritual parallels for beer. Well good people, I’m glad to say my theology has evolved (joke in there somewhere) and I’ve done it. My reading and pondering lately have all been in the realm of eschatology and the resurrection. Thus…

Beer is an excellent example of the transformation we undergo in resurrection.

Bland wort (the syrup made from soaking grains which is later fermented in to glory) turns to glorious deliciousness through the wonders of yeast. Likewise, we are bland (even bad) fallen in nature until we are, through the work of Christ, resurrected in to our heavenly nature. Beer is imperfect, and we are imperfect. But we are citizens of heaven invading earth. Beer is a product of heaven invading earth.

And then there is the hops. What was for a long time considered nothing more than a bitter worthless weed becomes the foundation of flavor which makes beer so good. It’s like the sins and wounds of our past. Those bitter parts of our history now gives us our unique flavor. Our greatest help to believers often comes from our greatest wounds. Resurrection turns the bitterness of our sins and wounds to mere testimony of the glory of the Lord. We use those things to bless, encourage, and empathize with others.

Yeast is the Spirit at work within us, transforming our nature in to something perfect.

Beer. The resurrection. Awesome.

Of Significance

As secure of a person as I feel I am, I think I am surprised at how much I nonetheless wrestle with significance. Am I doing what I’m supposed to be doing? Am I a faithful enough missionary? Will my work have a lasting impact? Will anyone care or remember me? Do I even want to be remembered?

What if I made more money elsewhere, would I then have a greater impact on the Kingdom? Do I spend enough time in prayer to be doing to real lasting work? If I had to leave tomorrow would anything I’ve built last long enough to accomplish the Lord’s purposes?

And this last question brings to light my misunderstanding. I know without question I have built nothing of value in my own strength. The Lord either builds through me or none of it does matter.

Yes, probably sometimes I build things which will not survive the refiners fire when Jesus returns. But if I’m depending on the Spirit of the Lord, which I am so terribly inadequate at, and if I preach His word, He WILL accomplish His purposes in and through me. My significance comes not from of what I’ve done. But from of what I’ve allowed Him to do in and through me. I am of significance because I am a child of God. My work matters because I have tried to do it by His strength and not my own. My work will survive the refiners fire when it is actually revealed to have always been His work.

I write this to preach it to myself. Because I too often forget it.

Most Shocking to Me Daily Is

There are people in this world with a tolerance for monotony I cannot help but quietly envy.

Insider Movements are Bad Mothers-in-Law

If you accept the imagery of marriage being a picture of Christ and His Church, then insider movements are the bride trying to bring her mother along to the marriage. There is leaving and cleaving in marriage, there should be leaving and cleaving when you become a believer (become a member of the Church) and you cling to Christ.

Anything else isn’t asking for a successful marriage; too much baggage is being brought along for it to have any hope of working.

An Empty Box of Chocolates

In my younger years I was not, what most would call, suave. In fact while there were lots of examples of this, perhaps the most telling situation was when, in seventh grade, I asked an eight grade girl to be my girlfriend. She took three days to think it through, which in itself probably should have given me pause. Then one day right after the bell rang, she pulled me in to the hallway and said “no” in front of all my peers. That wasn’t that big of a deal in itself I suppose, even George Clooney was probably rejected once or twice in his life. But I was not rejected once. I was rejected about eleven times. By the same girl. You might wonder why I kept asking her the same question. Because something told me she regretted her decision. The first time she was just confused. The tenth time she just hadn’t come around yet.

Like I said, suave.

Well the months passed. And actually my interest did eventually fade from that girl to one of her best friends. They ran in a pack of three. There was Sarah, who had shut me down countless times. There was another girl of some unusual descent with an epic nose and an even worse name—Camel. You can’t make this up. She was actually named after the animal with a hump perfectly descriptive of the one on her nose. And then finally, to protect her identity, let’s call this new focus of my attention Mary. Mary was blonde, cute, and funny. When one of my friend’s told me she was too much of a “Barbie” I didn’t understand how that could possibly be a problem. The whole world complains Barbie is a standard no one can possibly live up to, and here Mary’s being accused of being like Barbie as though it’s a bad thing? Clearly my friend was an idiot.

I liked Mary but, being the mature seventh grader that I was, I had no idea how to show it. Shyness was not something I struggled with, and this is probably all the more reason why I utterly lacked suaveness. Valentines Day came along and one of my friends, Reed, came to school with a large heart-shaped box of chocolates. His mother had given him this as a gift, and by the end of first period he had already eaten the last of the chocolates. Now my school was small, and I had made a fool of myself on more than one occasion, but I decided it would be amusing for me to take this box and ask girls if they would be my valentine.

Most, upon seeing me on my knee proposing something with no meaning at all, simply giggled and walked away, knowing I was an idiot. But eventually I did make my way to Mary. While my heart was much more a flutter at the time, I was going through the same routine I had hundreds of times. In retrospect it’s hard to know what I was thinking, perhaps I was preparing myself for a life in sales and wanted to get used to rejection. It’s difficult to understand the motivations of pubescent boys. Even though I was one—this specific one. I remember that entire stage of life through a hormonal blur of self consciousness.

So there I am, on Valentines day, at the top of the stairs to the Jr. High School floor. I was facing south with my back to the stairs and I caught Mary as she was closing her locker door. The air was dry. I had my shirt tucked in. The mole on her right cheek was particularly cute that day.

I lowered myself to one knee and asked Mary to be my valentine. She turned bright and clasped her hands behind her back as she swayed slightly back and forth. I was scared—probably sweating in some new places. She then smiled and said, “Yes.”

Time freezes sometimes. But it’s different than in the movies. In the movies when time freezes the camera pans around the room and shows you the face everyone is making right after an explosion or something. In real life, when time freezes, you simply get to live the most painful moments of your life for much longer than a moment. I had long enough in my head to process the fact that this girl, the girl I wanted more desperately than anything at the time to like me, was making a gesture which suggested she in fact did like me. And I had an empty box of chocolates. Empty.

Reed’s mom had given them to him, not me. And I definitely was not competent enough to be giving a real box of chocolates to Mary. What was I thinking putting myself in this situation?

I knew I couldn’t stand there forever, though that was probably already how long I had waited. I had to say something. So I mustered all my intellect, had a meeting in my brain and “It’s empty,” was all I managed to mutter.

Mary walked past me and down the steps. I stood staring at the wall in disbelief until disbelief turned to devastation. Unfortunately however, this is not the end of the story.

A few weeks later, our school, like many before it, decided to add to our already socially awkward lives by offering a free Post-Valentine-Gram mailing service, or something with an equally terrible name. This little excercise was easy, the student council set up boxes thoughout the halls which we could fill with notes to whomever we wanted and in a few weeks, right before a school dance, the notes would be delivered during homeroom to whomever we wanted in our school.

This was my chance at redemption. I could taste it as I tucked my hands under my pillow in bed at night. I knew my poetic mind could come up with something to win Mary over. Her expression of vulnerability would not forever be lost to the nether of Jr. High, I would swoop in, save her by asking her to a dance (a move I could actually back up), and this would become something we would both laugh about in our fifties. Just me and my barbie.

Thus began a long tortuous process of writing poetry, prose, or more likely, just complete sentences to win over Mary. I experimented with everything. But at this point in life the only thing I knew how to write was book reviews and reasons why marijuana was bad. School was preparing me for academic and perhaps professional life, but was clearly coming up short on helping me with reality. While I don’t have the letter in my possession any longer (I’m sure it’s still tucked away somewhere in Mary’s special drawer of prized possessions), I can say with some confidence that it said something like this:

Dear Mary, Roses are red. Violets may be as well, I’m a little color blind. There’s a dance coming up which I hope you’re not entirely unaware of because I’d really like you to come with me, if you wouldn’t be embarrassed to do so. Not that you should be embarrassed, I’m not saying that, I’m just saying if you wanted to, and it happened to work out that your parent’s aren’t opposed to you going to dances or anything…. well. Would you come to the dance with me?

Yours, The only guy who ever gave you an empty box of chocolates.

This was it. I had done it. This was going to work. It had to work. It was going to be a week until it was delivered and it was all I could think about. I thought about it when I put my books in my locker after class and while I was trying to engage my friends in conversation at lunch.

And finally the day came. I didn’t know when in the day it would happen until a bunch of student council folks showed up in my homeroom class and starting handing out notes. She was there right across the room from me. She was handed what was definitely my note and I was going to get to see her face as she read it.

She opened it, her eyes moved back and forth the way they should. She stopped. And then she didn’t look up and look at me. Instead she handed the note to her friend next to her for consultation. But they looked bewildered. Did she really not know who had given her an empty box of chocolates?

Just as I was contemplating what I could have done wrong a note landed on my desk. A note asking me to the dance. And it was from Camel.

I’ll save you the details about the smoothness with which I responded to this quandary but suffice it to say Mary and I were never an item.

Why I Smoke a Pipe

About three years ago I took up pipe smoking in earnest. I had been smoking a pipe with occasional opportunity since when I was with a few friends, every night around midnight my freshman year of college.

Now I don’t get back to the states but once every three years or so, and thus my dental hygienist was a bit surprised at what she saw. Knowing what I do for a living she said, “I’m really surprised at the amount of stain I see in here. It almost looks like smokers stain, but I assume it must be coffee.”

Nope, it’s smoke.

This, well, I’m not sure she had a box to put smoking in. And now I’m personally out of her missionary box and in some “other” box. Can’t win them all.

The reasons I have continued smoking a pipe are many. But here are a few in no real order.

  • Email will someday be the death of me. But you know what makes doing email really shockingly bearable? Headphones with loud music and great tobacco in a big pipe. Suddenly I’m dining instead of just responding to another organizational email about which I couldn’t possibly care less.

  • Playing outside with my kids is awesome. But I do wary quickly. In extreme heat or cold this is intensified. A pipe makes me the one encouraging them to stay outside, “Just until daddy is done.”

  • William Makepeace Thackeray said, "The pipe draws wisdom from the lips of the philosopher, and shuts up the mouth of the foolish: it generates a style of conversation, contemplative, thoughtful, benevolent, and unaffected.” I firmly believe the pipe is helpful in shutting my mouth.

  • Men need something else between them. Maybe this is a modern American thing, but we can’t get together just to talk. Well, we can. But only if we tell each other it’s actually to enjoy a pipe, or a beer, or something of the sort.

  • I smoke a pipe because I thoroughly enjoy it. And as a believer, I not only have the freedom to do so, but I can even enjoy it to the glory of the Lord.

The Biggest Problems in Missions Today

It may be these issues apply to all ministry and not just missions, but missions is what I know and so that is the focus. This is not an exhaustive list of the problems in missions, there cannot be one because the people who do missions are, well, people. But these are the things I see most often, even in myself.

1. We desire our own name to be glorified instead of the name of Jesus. 

This is by far the biggest issue and has many negative fruits.

We complicate this by heroizing old missionaries instead of the work God did through them. We make these people out to be super-saints, and no doubt they were not wimps. But we whitewash their history of neglecting their families and sin. These people rise to a standard no longer achievable (partially because we have no record of their foolish tweets or boneheaded blog posts). We then desire to be famous like them, and to do the great works "they" did, when really it was the Lord who did great things through them. Even when these missionary histories are written in a God-honoring way, we still read them the wrong way.

Then when our focus is on our own name being glorified, we forsake the true goal of honoring the name of Jesus and we therefore operate by own strength instead of the Holy Spirit.

With our eyes on ourselves we hope to plant a church. And build a church. And we want our church to be the biggest best church around. We aren't working to build the church, the body of Christ. Rather we want to build our church with our theology, our people we can call our own. This, we figure, brings honor to our sending churches (which is true, but it's the wrong kind of honor) and makes our supporters write bigger checks.

When we have our minds on impressing the world back home, or being super-missionaries we prefer any means by which we can in increase our numbers (of converts, or church plants, or coffee's sold to non-believers). This leads to all kinds of strange methodology and is (in my opinion) what leads to things like insider movement methodology. We'd rather have ten pseudo-Christians (I know, it's not a real thing) stuck in the slavery of Islam than one true convert who is free indeed.

Finally, this all leads to the missionary desire to be the savior instead of point people to the one who actually has the power to save.

2. We teach cultural bias and cultural theology instead of the gospel

This one is short, simple, and self-explanatory. Yet, it is very difficult to do correctly, and for the most part we're doing it wrong.

3. Neglecting the unreached for sexy people groups

See previous post for details on this.

If we really care about the lost we need to be investing as heavily in Italy, New York, and Japan as we do in Africa and the Middle East. The lost are not limited to third world countries, yet it's a lot easier to raise support to go to such places.

Alcohol and Tobacco Policies as Bad Missiology

(This has been re-written, or at least edited... hopefully for the better).

For the nine years I've been in the field I've been watching the folks from the IMB (the Southern Baptist missions arm), among other organizations, send people overseas with strict No Alcohol and No Tobacco policies.* Apart from feeling bad for them and how often they're missing out on fellowship with other missionaries, I only occasionally gave the issue much thought. I do know that many abstain from both tobacco and alcohol and have good reasons for it, and I think I always assumed those would be the type of people who would join the IMB.

But now I've heard my organization is soon to pass similar policy. I suppose I've mentioned once, or a bunch of times, that I partake of both alcohol and tobacco products. Often this is with others and, increasingly I allow it to intersect with my ministry.

Creating or having policies which outright (or situationally) ban the use of tobacco, alcohol or other substances (besides those which are illegal) causes unnecessary difficulty in appropriate preaching of the gospel and is thus bad missiology.

Sometimes it looks better on paper that your missionaries don't smoke, drink, and chew, or go with boys who do. But I'm increasingly convinced it hinders the teaching of the gospel when it is universally applied.

Here I should say I will primarily be addressing the arguments about alcohol, because I cant think of any good arguments against the use of tobacco. Yes, it's not good for you, but neither is Coca-Cola and only the Mormons have proved theologically consistent enough to outlaw that. Yes addiction is bad, becoming dependent on something other than the Lord is a problem; but  we blind our eyes to caffeine, video games, etc...  Many partake of these things because the benefits outweigh the negatives. And because some can properly handle their substances and game playing, even enjoying them to the glory of the Lord (like the pipe I'm smoking while writing this), all without becoming addicted.

1. An argument from convictions 

There are lots of good, even Biblical reasons not to drink. However, it's very very difficult (and bad exegesis) to make an argument that drinking is Biblically sinful.

That said, if you are convicted personally not to drink, then not drinking can be a great way to preach the gospel. You can talk about how you're abstaining because you have a personal conviction against drinking and the Bible tells us not to sin against our conscience. This is honoring to God. (Romans 14:23).

If you choose not to partake just because of a policy (rather than your convictions), this confirms in the mind of others that our religion is primarily about rules. When actually this is the precise point which makes belief in Jesus so different from the rest of the world's religions. Living our freedom in Christ is one of the most important things a Christian missionary can do. Not abusing that freedom, living it (Romans 14:13-23). Because openly living out our freedom in Christ is preaching the gospel.

When Peter shied away from his convictions in Antioch, Paul opposed him to his face. Submitting to a law when a law is not required for salvation is teaching religious weirdness in place of the gospel. (Galatians 2:11-14). Now, I'm not saying you shouldn't submit to a policy that asks you to not smoke and not drink—you should submit to your authority. We're called to and must. What I am saying is the policy itself is actually a detriment to the gospel being fully preached.

2. An argument regarding reputation

Sometimes the problem is simply that an organization is fearful of the reputation it would have should it's staff be seen drinking alcohol. If reputation is an issue, we need to remember we do not represent an organization, we represent Christ. This then begs the question why was Jesus not concerned with this reputation? (Matthew 11:19). Part of the reason is He wasn't actually drunk. We know He was drinking (John 2:10), but he wasn't drunk. If our organization has people getting drunk in it that is a problem (Ephesians 5:18), but if they're just drinking we need not be worried.

Followers of Christ were not called to be ascetics, or pharisees. Buddhism, Taoism, and even Islam (and just about every other religion in the world) are about following rules, and following them well enough to find salvation. The gospel of Christ is the opposite, this is something we must be boldly proclaiming with our lifestyle.

Another reason Jesus wasn't concerned about others seeing him or his disciples drinking is because wine (and I believe it's safe to extrapolate to other forms of alcohol) is a gift of God. Alcohol brings joy and makes the heart glad (Psalms 104:15, Eccl 10:19). Gifts from God are meant to be enjoyed for His glory. A missionary using alcohol in appropriate settings for building fellowship with others is a good and right thing to do. It is also important that missionaries, more perhaps than anyone else, proclaim there is a right and good place for alcohol. The same way we don't ban sex, we just teach it's made for certain situations and not all situations.

Not all missionaries are discerning. But a blanket policy means the discerning ones will no longer have opportunity to preach these things. It also means the discerning will not have opportunity to teach the undiscerning when and how to properly enjoy such things.

3. An argument from experience

About six years ago, I had an opportunity to take a crowd of about seven locals out to do some evangelism. That night we shared with a homeless man under a bridge. This man was obviously drunk and very excited to have people to talk to. He offered each of us all that he had—a cigarette. My friends, in order, each turned him down. I was second to last and I took the cigarette and let him light it for me. My friend's were shocked.

Now keep in mind, I hate cigarettes. I don't understand why anyone on earth smokes the things. But I do not believe cigarettes are inherently evil, or even sinful to smoke. I also believe this was a situation to be all things to all people (1 Cor 9:21). The same way I eat pig brain when offered to me, I often smoke a cigarette with people when I believe they will then give me their ear.

That night this man refused to hear from anyone other than the one guy who accepted a cigarette. I was the only foreigner and my gospel presentation was, without question, the least clear that could have been offered that night. Yet this man heard us. He believed. And I have good reason to think that cigarette was essential to the transaction.

This is one very black and white situation, but there are many like it regarding alcohol. When those who are comfortable having a drink have the freedom to drink with non-believers it can open the door to talk about the gospel. Again because of rules; people believe all religions can be boiled down to rules. And it is true. For everyone except us. Our God fulfilled our rules, so we don't have to. Because we can't. This IS the heart of the gospel message.

This kind of policy  doesn't reflect the gospel. The gospel is about freedom and when we're with a disciple we can't preach freedom and yet live our lives following a rule we don't have conviction in. This confuses those we're discipling. Policies like this also close the door on the (admittedly) occasional opportunity we have to open doors through clear-conscience partaking with non-believers.

Rules which are not Biblical rules cause us to live in a manner conforming to things which we cant back up with doctrine—for missions this is foolishness. Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying abstaining will ruin all missions work. The gospel and our God are bigger than these rules. But it is our job to preach the gospel. Period. Even as it relates to enjoying alcohol and tobacco.

4. An argument from culture

Just about anywhere in the world that has any issue with drinking or smoking learned it from Americans. Not from their reading of the Bible. But from American missionaries.

South Korea is a nation which learned of Jesus, but every South Korean I've ever met never learned how to enjoy alcohol appropriately because the missionaries we sent there didn't teach it. And to this day many Koreans live as though this one thing is a special sin. They know the gospel, but also kind of think in their hearts they might be in some special trouble with God if they have wine at their friend's wedding reception.

I spent some time recently with a small people group who have a similar culture. They believe Christians cannot under any circumstances smoke or drink. Sadly many believe this what makes them a Christian. They think you call Jesus your God, and then stop smoking or drinking and you'll go to heaven. That's a bummer, but it is what happens over time when hardline rules— instead of gospel freedom—are taught. Our hearts like rules because they are black and white and we can try our best to follow them. Naturally we will revert to such thinking, and naturally we will forget the gospel, unless the gospel is consistently taught in the face of rules. A policy makes this difficult to do.

The missionary who went to this minority people a hundred years ago taught them not to drink because their culture was one which only drank to get drunk. He did not model that drinking does not have to lead to drunkenness. He simply made a rule. But a rule has no power over fleshly desire (Col 2:21-23). A man who models submitting his desires to the Lord is far more powerful in the long run, and is lot a less likely to lead to false teaching—because alcohol consumption does not send you to hell.


There will always be people, even in the mission field, who abuse substances. But the solution is never a policy against them. If staff are handling these things incorrectly, refusing them alcohol or tobacco will not solve the problem. It may help the "reputation of the organization" for a brief period of time, but we should be more concerned with the reputation of Christ (and he wasn't worried about these things). We also should be concerned with helping those who are abusing these things to figure out how to use them appropriately. Otherwise we get immature staff who never learn how to properly handle alcohol and tobacco, they return home from the field and go and use them foolishly.

If you want to model appropriate use, do not make a policy against using such things, make a policy encouraging younger staff to learn from older staff. It might be a better idea to make a policy which says your new staff can only partake of these things around seasoned staff for their first year or two until they learn when and how to drink and smoke appropriately. If addiction is the issue you have bigger problems than a policy will solve, and it should begin with a conversation with leadership rather than a set of rules.

If people have messed up, while not fun, it's not the end of the world. One of the best things we can do as missionaries is respond appropriately to our sin. We can demonstrate to locals how we confess our sins, repent, and lean on Jesus.


I always wondered if I would choose to stick around should my organization pass such a policy, and I've heard this is about to happen. I believe too much in what we're doing to give it up just for the freedom to use alcohol and tobacco. But that’s not all that's at stake here. What’s at stake is the preaching of the gospel (and man's ability to misunderstand it), and I’m not sure I’m okay with being subject to such a policy for very long.

I will mourn the loss of the fellowship I have with other missionaries and local pastors over beer and tobacco. I will mourn the loss of opportunity to speak the truth and talk about why a drink will not condemn me, and how I can partake freely because of what Christ did. And I fear the future and our disciples forsaking the gospel for a law they believe we followed.  I'm afraid they might end up like a friend of mine who believes the Lord might never forgive him for the tattoo he got on his arm before he became a believer.

But as locals take over our ministries, I realize I want to stick around long enough to help them understand why such policies are not only unhelpful, but actually detrimental to the preaching of the gospel. I want to be there as they run in to this issue, when they wrestle with policy for ministers and missionaries. I want to help them learn what kinds of things are worth spending their time worrying about. And I hope I can convince them that there is an appropriate response to missionary use of alcohol and tobacco.

But new policy isn't it.

*There are lots of organizations I could pick on, but the International Missions Board is the easiest just because of how big they are.`


I haven’t pulled a post from this blog in a while. But I pulled the last one after some feedback that gave me pause. It’s being reworked and will be reposted. The last time I pulled a post it was because someone pointed out it was in conflict with the gospel. Ouch.

Hopefully this one is less of a problem and is just a matter of better or clearer wording to better express what I meant. But as always, I reserve the right to say, and I’m saying right now, “Please disregard what you might have just read. It was foolish of me to publish it for any number of reasons. Hopefully the next thing to be posted will be better. Sorry. And thank you.”