The peril of Cuban cigars

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The peril of Cuban cigars

June 27, 2023 -

Two hands roll multiple Cuban cigars in a wooden mold created to hold 10 cigars. © By Arsgera/

Two hands roll multiple Cuban cigars in a wooden mold created to hold 10 cigars. © By Arsgera/

Two hands roll multiple Cuban cigars in a wooden mold created to hold 10 cigars. © By Arsgera/

On this day in 1939, one of the most famous scenes in movie history was filmed: Rhett Butler and Scarlett O’Hara’s parting in Gone with the Wind. Director Victor Fleming shot the scene using an alternate line, “Frankly, my dear, I just don’t care,” in case film censors prohibited the word damn. The censors approved the movie with its now-famous line, but they fined producer David O. Selznick $5,000 for including the profanity.

It’s hard to exaggerate how much popular culture has changed in the decades since the movie was made.

Jesus called Christians “the salt of the earth” and “the light of the world” (Matthew 5:13, 14). Note the definite articles indicating that we are the only spiritual salt and light in our fallen culture.

Said negatively: If the room is dark and I am holding the only flashlight, whose fault is the darkness?

Said positively: If the room is dark and I am holding the only flashlight, who has the light we need?

Touring a cigar factory in Havana

I have had the privilege of more than ten visits to the island of Cuba over the years. Each time I go, it feels as though I am walking around in the Book of Acts. The Cuban pastors and Christians I know are some of the most faithful, courageous, and inspiring believers I have ever met. One of them is my personal pastor and a brother for whom I pray every day.

I have also learned, however, that while Cuba is only ninety miles from the US, its culture and customs can be very different from ours.

For example, on one of our first visits to the island, our group was taken on a tour of the massive cigar factory in Havana. Encompassing several floors, it is an impressive operation. At the end, visitors are permitted to purchase Cuban cigars. Some in our group decided to do so as souvenirs from the trip.

However, we learned that the Cuban pastors with whom we were working strongly discouraged their members from participating in the cigar industry or using its products. I assumed this was for health reasons or because the factory’s proceeds help support the Communist government.

Both were true, but there was a third reason as well: abstaining from cigars and the cigar industry was a way for Cuban Christians to be set apart from their fallen culture.

“Do not be conformed to this world”

Moses instructed the Israelites before they entered the promised land that “in the cities of these peoples that the Lᴏʀᴅ your God is giving you for an inheritance, you shall save alive nothing that breathes, but you shall devote them to complete destruction” (Deuteronomy 20:16). The purpose was so “they may not teach you to do according to all their abominable practices that they have done for their gods, and so you sin against the Lᴏʀᴅ your God” (v. 18). (For more on this issue, please see my article, “Why did God tell the Jews to kill the Canaanites?”)

It was because the Israelites did not do as Moses instructed that they eventually participated in these “abominable practices” and eventually lost their land to the Assyrians and the Babylonians.

We are instructed: “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect” (Romans 12:2). John added: “Do not love the world or the things in the world” (1 John 2:15).

We are to “set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth” (Colossians 3:2). Paul warned us to “flee from sexual immorality” (1 Corinthians 6:18), seeking “godliness with contentment” (1 Timothy 6:6). We are to “give no opportunity to the devil” (Ephesians 4:27).

At the same time, however, the apostle told the Corinthians, “I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people—not at all meaning the sexually immoral of this world, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters, since then you would need to go out of the world” (1 Corinthians 5:10).

Jesus was criticized by the religious authorities for eating with “tax collectors and sinners” (Matthew 9:11), to which he responded, “I came not to call the righteous, but sinners” (v. 13). As noted earlier, we are the “salt of the earth” and the “light of the world” (Matthew 5:13–16); neither is effective unless it comes in contact with that which it is to influence.

“If your right eye causes you to sin”

So, what is the balance between engaging the culture and compromising with it?

Of all we could say in response, I’d like to close by focusing on one specific issue: our desire to engage our fallen culture can be used by our Enemy to draw us into its sins.

Many believers (and pastors) face what the Puritans called “besetting sins”—recurring temptations against which we especially struggle. Yours may not be mine and mine may not be yours, but many of us can identify such “sins” in our lives.

In these cases, we should take special steps to distance ourselves from such temptations even at the cost of cultural engagement. For example, in the case of lust (Matthew 5:28), Jesus taught us, “If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away” (v. 29). Do whatever is necessary to break the cycle of temptation and sin.

I believe this issue is behind many of the moral failures we are witnessing among church leaders today. In our quest to be relevant to our fallen culture, we engage in activities that lead us into private (and eventually public) moral compromise. Then, rather than attracting lost people to the difference Christ makes in our lives, we repel them by our hypocrisy.

“We are reminded of our own consciousness of guilt”

The good news is that the Holy Spirit will show us our “besetting sins” if we ask him. He will empower us to refuse them if we will seek his power. If we’ll develop the reflex of turning temptation into intercession, bringing it immediately to the Lord for his help, we will use Satan’s schemes for our sanctification.

And, as Erasmus noted, Satan hates nothing so much as for his evil to be used for good.

St. Cyprian, commenting on the Model Prayer’s intercession that God “forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors,” wrote: “How necessary, how provident, how salutary are we reminded that we are sinners, since we have to beg for forgiveness, and while we ask for God’s pardon, we are reminded of our own consciousness of guilt! Just in case anyone should think himself innocent and, by thus exalting himself, should more utterly perish, he is taught and instructed that he sins every day, since he is commanded to pray daily for forgiveness.”

Over what “debts” do you need to “ask for God’s pardon” today?

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