Healthy Truth, Exercising Love

Christian Living, The Church

(By: Nick Kennicott)

truth-and-loveFood is one of the greatest gifts from God. I love food. I love to smell it, I love when it’s put together in a way that is visually beautiful, I love to cook it and prepare it and try new things with it. Think of all the colors and textures and tastes, and the wonderful creativity that God has inspired in the hearts of mankind to come up with new and different ways to use everything so that we can have an ever-changing variety of edible options.

One of the difficulties with food is that not everything that we want to eat is particularly healthy. Cheesecake and bacon double cheeseburgers may be delicious gifts from God, but you won’t be doing much for the Kingdom after a few days if that’s all you eat! God gives us food to teach us self-control just as much as He gives it to delight and sustain us. Oftentimes, (ok, let’s be honest, most of the time) the healthiest options aren’t always the most delicious. For some reason, eating 46 loaves of bread is not the same as eating raw cauliflower or a bag of kale chips (mainly because Kale Chips aren’t actually made for human consumption). If you’re like me, it takes work to consistently eat healthily. And every medical professional will tell you not only to eat healthily but to also have a regular routine of exercise. Because what gets you out of bed more quickly in the morning than tofu and sit-ups?

Several times throughout his letters, the Apostle Paul uses the human body as an illustration of what a local church should be, and every Christian should be concerned about keeping the body healthy. If a local church is going to persevere, a healthy diet and calculated exercise are necessary, and in Ephesians 4:15-16 Paul tells us what that should look like: “Speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love” (Ephesians 4:15–16).

The healthy diet of a local church is truth

Paul isn’t just admonishing the church to tell the truth, but is addressing the importance of holding to the truth. Quite literally the text implies that we ought to be “truthing in love.” The truth of God’s Word must be held to in every local church that strives to be healthy, and the corollary is that everything unhealthy must be rejected. This is a corrective to the ecumenical spirit of only affirming the things agreeable to those who call themselves Christian. There are false teachers who are deceitful and crafty, and an open-ended spirit that invites anything and everyone to join hands without any standards is exactly what Paul writes to protect the church from. Without discernment and understanding of what the Bible actually teaches, and the fortitude to hold to it unflinchingly, the body will break down. In most instances, it won’t be obvious right away, but little-by-little the body will take on a new shape as it makes its way to the grave, and eventually, a mere glance at an old snapshot of what the body used to be will be evidence of an unhealthy diet.

A church’s diet is greatly assisted by the historic creeds and confessions of the church. One of the greatest benefits of confessionalism is being able to hold to something that has been meticulously written, worked through, studied, and proven to be biblical throughout the centuries. A church can claim to “believe the Bible” all day long, but the real question that needs to be asked is, “What do you believe about the Bible and what it teaches?” That’s where the true diet is found. Is it all sugar and fat, or is it healthy and nutritious?

The exercise of a local church is love

Many Christians seem to think we can say whatever we want in the way we want, as long as it’s true. But truthing isn’t entirely true apart from love; Our motives matter. We can puff our chests in pride and say, “I’m telling it how it is,” but truth and love are a unit that cannot be divided. In other words, we can eat a healthy diet, but if we aren’t exercising to use that diet in a way that strengthens the body, it’s not helpful. We need exercise, and the exercise of the local church is fulfilling the two greatest commandments (Matthew 22:37-40).

Truthing in love means we are humble in all we proclaim, acknowledging our own fallibility and susceptibility to mistakes and errors. “Sometimes the truth hurts” isn’t always a biblical concept in how it’s applied. Solomon reminds us in Proverbs 18:21 that “Death and life are in the power of the tongue.” Undoubtedly, our words hold tremendous power and we have a great need to be instructed to “let no corrupting talk come out of [our] mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear” (Ephesians 4:29). The truth is powerful enough on its own that it does not need an unloving delivery to strengthen it.

The Spirit of God will strengthen and unify any church body that is dieting on truth and exercising in love, and they will grow up in every way in Christ so that the gates of Hell will not prevail against them. Trim the fat by dieting and exercising well. The Lord will bless the obedience of His Church, preparing us for that great feast with the Son.

Random Musings on Christian Humanism

Humanism

(By: Nick Kennicott)

I have thought a lot lately about how often I hear or read someone mocking the liberal arts. The study of humanities has fallen on hard times over the past few decades, and culturally, it shows. Education in America and Western culture, in general, has shifted away from a pursuit of the good, the true, and the beautiful, eschewing the very humanistic ideals that formed America in the first place. In return, the majority of students hear from their teachers that all they’re really doing is preparing for the next test, preparing for the next grade, and preparing to get to college.

One of my closest friends has the unenviable job of reading essays written by aspiring college students applying to the well-respected institution he works for. In a recent conversation, he told me that one of the questions the students are asked to write about is, “Why do you want to go to college?” He said at least 50% of the essays say something along the lines of wanting to get a high paying job, so as far as they can tell, the only logical next step is to go to college. Very few young people are taught how to learn, and as a result, there’s very little desire to engage with ancient literature, understand history in context, think critically about art or music, or wrestle with competing ideas about the reasons why men and women make the decisions they do. Enough with the reading and writing and debating and speeches, just show me the money. Don’t believe me? Ask ten teenagers how many books they’ve read on their own from cover-to-cover in the past twelve months, and then fasten your seatbelt to hear the answer. I’m not down on the teens… go and ask their parents the same question and try not to have a major medical emergency (don’t say I didn’t warn you). 27% of adults in a recent Pew Survey admitted to having not read a single book in an entire year. To the man or woman with a love for humanities, that’s like saying they didn’t breathe! I feel my heart nearly stop when I hear those awful words, “I hate reading!”

I’m actually quite unsurprised that many college campuses across America have turned into offense-free zones where guest speakers with ideas (usually Christians and/or conservative) that do not conform to the majority of the students and faculty on the campus are harassed, maligned, and often cancelled because the very thought of them being on the premises is too much for people to handle. I’m not surprised when graduates walk out of graduation speeches by people they don’t like, I’m not surprised when conservative professors are fired for even suggesting different ideas should have a place in university classrooms, or when entire institutions are maligned and boycotted for holding to principles that differ from their counterparts. Why would people who were never made to read and discuss and debate dissenting ideas in the first place ever think there was all the sudden a place for those ideas? How can people who think injustice is defined as being offended ever engage in civil discourse? I suggest the slow movement away from the liberal arts in western society has created the culture of division in America that is so often defined as left and right, and yet both sides are plagued with the same malady.

Too often, “liberal arts” is used as a pejorative term rather than describing a noble pursuit. I am particularly disheartened when I hear disparaging remarks from Christians about these very ideas that set the stage for the Protestant Reformation and were foundational in the thinking they most admire in many of their heroes of the faith. C.S. Lewis and G.K. Chesterton both said they hated their studies in grammar and Latin, but also admitted it was those areas of study that made them the writers and thinkers they became. The Greek and Hebrew languages were all but lost along with most of the works of the Church Fathers throughout the middle ages, and if it weren’t for Christian humanists rediscovering and studying them, and using the printing press to distribute them, where would the church be today? I thank God for inspiring His people to reject the status quo of their day to make discoveries of the works of old and renew the ideas and methods that formed many great nations, men, and women.

I truly believe churches would be far more mature, sermons would be far more substantive, and outreach and evangelism would be far more effective if we took Christian humanism seriously–if we taught ourselves and our children how to think, how to reason, how to discuss, how to read and study. We would be far more conversant with our culture in a winsome way if we engaged with the standard Western canon of literature and if we studied and honed the arts of logic and rhetoric, even from a very early age. The church would be far more equipped to answer fools (Proverbs 26:5) and make a defense to anyone who asks for a reason for the hope that is in them with gentleness and respect (1 Peter 3:15).

This short film (below) is a great piece that depicts something of what causes unrest in my heart (yes, I recognize the irony of including a dialogue-free film after all my blather about reading books and listening to and engaging in discourse). I appreciate the very notion being portrayed that perhaps we’re doing it all wrong! We used to have a culture that valued art and music, speech and well-crafted argument, stage productions and substantive political debate. No longer. All of life has conformed to the cookie-cutter ideals of the industrial revolution and now we think ourselves successful when we continually stamp out more of the same. God has gifted each person differently, and each different person should be given opportunities to explore and utilize their unique gifts that they might flourish in ways others don’t… it’s a humanist ideal that we’ve lost, but I hope there’s still time to see it recovered. Enjoy the film.

Gluttony is a Joke

Christian Living, Culture

Gluttony(By: Nick Kennicott)

It seems to me that everyone is fine to talk about the sins of drunkenness and sexual immorality, but nobody wants to talk about gluttony. I’ve heard plenty of jokes about how a proper Baptist church has a lot of desserts at the fellowship meal and proper Baptist preachers have 40” waistlines. I’ve even heard people comment that exercise is overrated and unnecessary because, after all, the Apostle Paul wrote, “Bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way” (1 Timothy 4:8). Apparently “some” has a different meaning when we’re justifying our sin.

I’m no physical trainer trying to sell my services, or a fat camp instructor trying to motivate you to put down the donuts and do more stair-climbers. I am a man who, six months ago, realized he was a glutton, repented of it, and by the grace of God, has been able to do something about it. This morning I saw something I haven’t seen in eight years: The first number on my scale was a 1 instead of a 2. I had a little party in my head and rejoiced that, by God’s grace, I’ve been able to lose 31 pounds over the past six months. Lord willing, the trend will continue. I used to be in extremely good shape. One year I was in three competitive marathons, a few 5ks and 10ks, a sprint triathlon, and an 70.3 Ironman triathlon. But that was then, and this is now. Life happens and we get comfortable with the things that can so easily ensnare us. It seems ironic that the Bible reminds us, “Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8). He can devour us when we so easily devour food without addressing the sin in our hearts.

There is a reality that many people live with every day that, because of physical problems or necessary medication use, no matter how healthy they eat or how much they exercise, they may never take off excess weight. It’s important to remember that gluttony is not so much about weight and size as it is about a lack of self-control and overindulging. In other words, if a person is large, they may not be a glutton and it’s never safe to immediately assume they are. However, most people aren’t the exception to the rule. Americans in particular are susceptible to the sin of gluttony, and by the looks of things, it’s only getting worse.

God hasn’t given us a height and weight chart to measure ourselves by so that we can determine a healthy size for our bodies. However, God has given us the common grace of medical research and practice to be able to show us what’s ideal if we are to take advantage of the value the Apostle Paul mentions. Being physically healthy prepares us to more readily fulfill whatever ministry God has given. According to a National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, more than 2 in 3 adults are considered overweight, and more than 1 in 3 adults are obese. 1 in 20 adults are “extremely obese.” Unfortunately, the statistics for children are on the rise as well, as nearly 1 in 6 children are obese. These numbers are shocking, and reveal a lot about our spiritual health right alongside our physical. Overweight and obese people are at higher risk for type 2 diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, alongside various other health problems. There’s a reason why heart disease remains the number one cause of death in America each year.

American culture seems inundated with health and wellness products, workout routines, and gyms, but the Christian community seems reluctant to say anything about gluttony. There is undoubtedly a lot of pressure on women especially to look skinny, and even those who are healthy and thin often don’t think they are. However, a biblical perspective on food isn’t about how we look, it’s about what’s in our heart and what we are seeking our joy in. There’s a loving and gracious way to talk to our brothers and sisters about the mountains of food we shovel on our plates from the sea of slow-cookers and casserole dishes at church functions, without calling on one another to be obsessed with how we look. Vanity is as sinful as gluttony, so there’s a real danger on both sides of the issue. But I do know that even though I never wanted to hear a person tell me to consider slowing down on my eating, it certainly would’ve gotten my attention.

Food is a gift from God, and I am the first to tell you it’s one of my favorite gifts that He has given. I prefer my meals gourmet, and cooking is my daily hobby. I’ve taken cooking classes, I subscribe to food podcasts and vodcasts, and I’m always trying to improve my craft. I like to use fresh ingredients, and make everything from scratch. I’ve often wondered in my culinary adventures why it seems as though the best tasting foods also happen to be those that are the least healthy. But the Lord didn’t design things haphazardly. Many of the things we are most likely to turn into idols are the things God has graciously limited. It’s possible to enjoy sweet and savory delights to the glory of God without being excessive, but if we are, the results will show. In my case, the results showed with each successive pant size.

The ways in which we eat and drink, use entertainment and media, search the internet, watch sports, etc. all say something about what we find to be most valuable and serve to prove what we’re seeking our hope and enjoyment in most ultimately.

God’s people have the Holy Spirit within them, and the fruit of His presence is self-control. Just like we can enjoy a drink without being drunkards and sex in its proper context without being sexually immoral, we can enjoy food without being gluttons. It’s not easy in a world of processed foods, fast food restaurants, and butter, but it’s possible. The Apostle Paul identifies that in the last days, people will be “without self-control” and will be “lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God” (2 Timothy 3:3, 4). The Proverbs offer several warnings against gluttony, revealing that the tendencies of a glutton are excess in various other areas of life as well (Proverbs 23:20-21, 28:7). In fact, the remedy to resist gluttonous temptation is given in strong hyperbole to, “Put a knife to your throat if you are given to appetite” (Proverbs 23:2). Self-control is essential if believers are to live free of gluttony.

The more we have conscious communion with God, the more we are able to use His gifts in a healthy and fruitful manner. Food is one of the best ways to build community and create opportunities for fellowship. Jesus and the Apostles were regularly sitting at a table with one another (Luke 9:10-17; 10:38-42; 22:14-38; 24:28-32, 36-43), eating with sinners (Luke 5:27-32; 7:36-50; 11:37-52; 14:1-24; 19:1-10), or breaking bread from house-to-house (Acts 2:42). One of the most important things the Church does as she gathers is enjoy a meal, namely the Lord’s Supper (1 Corinthians 11:23-26). There are purposes for food beyond our bellies: “Whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God” (1 Corinthians 10:31). One day we will enjoy the heavenly feast that awaits us, free from the temptation to sin and overindulge (Revelation 19:6-9). And I have to believe the menu will include bacon wrapped bacon. Until then, may God be pleased to help His people enjoy His gifts as He has designed them, and may we enjoy them more than we ever have because they are turning our eyes heavenward toward Him. Bon Apétit!

Sons and Daughters of Noah and the Insanity of Racism

Creation, Culture, The Gospel

skincolor(By: Nick Kennicott)

On the way home from watching Is Genesis History? last night, my oldest daughter and I had a wonderful conversation about all the people of the earth coming from Noah (and, of course, Adam before Noah). The discussion began as we talked about how the different kinds of cats in the world (e.g. lions, tigers, cheetahs, etc.) could come from only two felines from Noah’s Ark since a housecat and a lion is so different. Very quickly we began talking about the same issue with humans and how people have different features (e.g. skin color, facial features, bone structures, etc.), not because we are inherently different as human beings, but because God created us in such a way that small changes would take place over time for our bodies to adapt to our environment in a way that it is best suited to withstand our regularly recurring conditions. A person’s skin is darker when they descend from ancestors who, for many generations, have been in environmental conditions that are harsher in terms of heat and light, as opposed to those with much lighter complexions whose descendants are from colder and darker climates. Likewise, people who, for generations, have come from climates with a lot of snow will likely have eyes that are more narrow because they need protection from light glare off the white surface, whereas dark and dreary climates might mean larger, rounder eyes.

We then discussed how we live in a time where many of these differences are coming together in ways they haven’t in the past because of the ease of travel and communication around the world. Until the modern era, it wasn’t likely that someone from Mongolia was going to have much interaction with someone from Mexico, however, it is very possible that today a Mongolian man might meet a Mexican woman and the two marry and have children. We are seeing new ethnic make-ups that we’ve never seen before, and it’s exciting! What will the great-grandchildren of those children look like over the next 100 or 500 years? Only God knows, but it’s wonderful to consider how He is glorified by displaying his creative power and diversity through the many differences that exist amongst the people of the world and how those differences coming together makes for all new possibilities.

I was reminded in our discussion of the insanity of racism. In fact, I don’t prefer the term racism at all because it implies that there is more than one race–We are all humans. More accurately, what we understand to be racism is ethnocentrism or cultural bias, because the differences that are highlighted in bias only pertain to one’s physical make-up or cultural nuance, not the condition or make-up of the soul. Every human being, be they a Mongloid-Mexican or an Australian-Filipino, bleed real blood, have real physical needs, and most importantly, are dead in trespasses and sins apart from Jesus Christ (Ephesians 2:1). Ethnocentric bias is insane because it’s based on genetic differences that developed over time through environmental adaptation. If we trace our lineages back far enough, all of our ancestors looked alike. My heart was glad to hear my (very) white daughter say, “If I marry a man with dark skin like our friends from Nigeria, our babies aren’t going to look like they would if I marry a man from China or a man who is white like me… that’s really cool!” Indeed, that is really cool.

I have been reminded once again of the beauty of the gospel to make right what sinful man has gotten so wrong. I praise God that one day all of His people will be intimately aware of the insanity of man’s sinful projections on others when we see the multitudes gathered in worship. “After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, ‘Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!'” (Revelation 7:9-10).

On This Rock (Christ Shaped Church Part II)

The Church

The church is central in the Bible. Most of the New Testament is made up of letters to churches and the parts that aren’t either tell the story of the church, lay its foundation, or predict its future. Even in the Old Testament, there is a way to understand Israel as God’s church in the world. From beginning to end the Bible is a thoroughly church-centered book, which means the Christian life is a thoroughly church-centered life.

This truth is often misunderstood. I am not arguing for some sort of ecclesiastical formalism, or depreciating the individual Christian life. I am also not defending everything that can be or has been done in the name of the church. Sadly, there are plenty of true stories of ecclesiastical abuse and unfaithfulness, but my plea is this: don’t give up on the church. Don’t lose hope in something that Jesus loves. The promise of the church endures, because Jesus guarantees the promise.

This series is a study of 1 Peter 1:22-2:10. Any number of passages would serve as excellent studies of the church, but there is something poetic about studying Peter’s writings. It was Peter, after all, to whom Jesus made the statement in Matthew 16:18:

And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.

1 Peter 1:22-2:10 is a deeply rich section of Scripture concerning the local church. Several themes coexist and intertwine with one another in such a way that a quick reading risks missing the thrust of the whole. The passage begins with community (love one another earnestly, 1:22) and ends with community (Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people, 2:10). The heart of the passage is about community as well (As you come to him… you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, 2:4-5a).

Here’s the key theme of this entire series: The only answer to our longing to belong is found in Christ’s Christ-shaped community: the church. Our goal in the next article will be to give that phrase meaning.

(By: Nicolas Alford)