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).

Non-Biblical Literature and the Bible: Ancient Near Eastern Literature (Ninth Post)

Books, Christ in the Old Testament, Christian Education, Church History, Culture, Scripture, Theology, Worship

My last two posts are increasingly so vast in scope that it is in some ways pointless to even attempt what I’m going to do here. Nevertheless, I want to try.

For as long as biblical studies have been done (dating back to at least Philo in the first century), Ancient Near Eastern (ANE) literature has been used to illumine the Bible. Indeed, it is beyond question that the OT authors themselves read and employed ANE literature for their own polemical purposes (usually to prove that Yahweh, rather than some usurping deity, is God). For example, Daniel 7 has so many parallels with the Baal Cycle that it is impossible that it is coincidental. What Daniel is doing is simultaneously mocking Baal while glorifying the True God and his only begotten son (see chart). Understanding this backdrop adds multiple rich layers to our understanding of the passage, layers that profoundly enrich our knowledge of Jesus Christ (in the chart, note how the “son of man” parallels “Baal” in the polemic), who is the focus and point of all the Scripture.

Daniel 7 and Baal

Chart by Douglas Van Dorn

In modern times, the 19th and 20th centuries saw several amazing discoveries of ANE literature that brought to the table texts not available to the Fathers, the Medievals, or the Reformers (we have already seen the Dead Sea Scrolls and the Nag Hammadi library). Two other incredible discoveries of the last 200 years must be included in this post. The first discovery was made late in 1849 in ancient Nineveh in the Royal Palace of king Sennacherib (705–681 BC), with whom Hezekiah had dealings (cf. Isa 36:1ff). Three years later, a vast collection–thousands of clay tablets and fragments—were unearthed just a few yards away. This became known as the now famous Library of Ashurbanipal (he is called “the great and honorable Osnappar” or “Asenappar” in Ezra 4:10). The find contained myriads of texts and genres collected by the great king in the 7th century B.C., but telling about history for more than a thousand years before that. The find included the Babylonian creation story the Enuma Elish and their Flood story the Epic of Gilgamesh, both of which share much in common with the biblical stories (as well as much that is not in common).

Mt Aqraa (ancient Mt. Saphon) towering over the ruins of Ugarit.

Mt Aqraa (ancient Mt. Saphon) towering over the ruins of Ugarit.

The other discovery took place in 1929 in a dig in the beautiful Syrian port city on the Mediterranean call Ras Shamra (ancient Ugarit), some 26 miles south of the astounding Mt. Zaphon (Isa 14:13 NRS), which rises over a mile straight out of the Great Sea. Zaphon was Baal’s mountain, and the tablets at Ugarit provided for the first time in over 3,000 years ancient stories of Baal, El, and other religious deities that are so intimately tied to the OT. In fact, the Scripture calls God “El” many times. As cited in the first post of this series, Dr. Michael Heiser has written an excellent article showing why Ugarit is so important to biblical studies.

ANE Literature is basically divided into five geographical categories:

Ugarit (see above).

Hittite. The Hittites empire was established in Anatolia around 1600 BC. It reached its height during the mid-14th century B.C., when it included most of Asia Minor as well as parts of the northern Levant (today’s western Syria, Jordan, and Israel). These people are mentioned often in the early parts of the Old Testament.

Akkadian (see above). The Akkadian Empire reached father east and much longer back in time than the Hittites, reaching its peak in the 24th and 22nd centuries B.C.

Sumerian. Sumer is one of the most ancient civilizations known, reaching much of modern-day southern Iraq, as far as 3,500, 4,000, perhaps even 5,000 B.C. The Dynastic period begins c. 2900 B.C. and includes such legendary figures as Gilgamesh—who is supposed to have reigned shortly before the historic record opens c. 2700 BCE.

Egyptian. Egypt is well known to most people. Its empire is world famous, especially because of its colossus pyramids and sphinx that still stand to this day.

The kinds of literature we have from these places include Canonical Texts (including myths, prayers, rituals, incantations, epics, historiography, biography, oracles, proverbs, wisdom, and instructions), Monumental Inscriptions (royal inscriptions, mortuary inscriptions, building and dedication inscriptions, temple hymns), and Archival Documents (letters, contracts, accounts, court cases, wills). As you can see from this list, the literature is vast. There is much here to learn for the eager person that is interested.

Again, because there is a certain hostility that conservative Christians have towards ANE literature, a final word should be said. If the reader keeps in mind that Scripture is God’s word, then it is quite easy to read the other writings of the ANE without feeling like you are compromising something essential. Daniel, Ezekiel, Isaiah, and even Moses didn’t feel like they were. So why should I? Rather, they understood that the nations’ beliefs about anything from the gods to morality were rooted in truth, but had become badly distorted to the point of spiritual darkness and enslavment. Holy Scripture sometimes uses their own material against the nations, subverting their narratives, and replacing them with truth that reveals the glory and goodness of the God of gods and his only begotten Son.

(by: Doug Van Dorn)

Non-Biblical Literature and the Bible: Apocrypha (Third Post)

Books, Christian Education, Christian Living, Church History, Culture, Discipleship, Scripture

Say the word “Apocrypha” to a Protestant and you may find a hand reaching down instinctively to find the six-shooter attached to their hip. “Them’s fightin’ words! That’s what those Roman Catholics think is the Bible. That’s where those non-biblical doctrines of purgatory and prayers for the dead come from. To even consider readingYosemite-Sam-warner-brothers-animation-30976315-800-766 those books would be akin to blasphemy. If some Roman Priest reads it, you can count me out.” Of course, that would also have to include books like Genesis or Revelation, since they read those too.

The London Baptist Confession talks about the Apocrypha (the only group of books outside of the Bible that it does talk about). “The books commonly called Apocrypha, not being of divine inspiration, are no part of the canon or rule of the Scripture, and, therefore, are of no authority to the church of God, nor to be any otherwise approved or made use of than other human writings” (LBC 1.3). True, we do not consider them Scripture, nor is what I just said in any way meant to give the impression that purgatory and prayers for the dead are true or good. But don’t move too quickly in what the Confession just said. Think about the end, “… or made use of than other human writings.” “What, you mean like the writings of Anton LeVey, Nostradamus, or Edward Casey?” Sure. But also the writings of those like John Owen or John Calvin or R. C. Sproul. “Other human writings” include all of these. (Remember from the Introduction that a key here is to think the best, not the worst, of these books. One can do that without thinking they are Holy Scripture).

Though written by Jews (not Roman Catholics) prior to the NT, and translated by Hellenistic (Greek-ized) Israelites who included them in their Greek OT Septuagint (LXX), the Protestant Reformers were pretty much in agreement that the Apocryphal books should not be regarded as Holy Scripture, as they are not included in the Hebrew canon. Nevertheless, they still had fairly high regard for many of these books. In 1530, the Swiss reformer Oecolampadius stated, “We do not despise Judith, Tobit, Ecclesiasticus, Baruch, the last two books of Esdras, the three books of Maccabees, the Additions to Daniel; but we do not allow them divine authority with the others.[1] In his introduction to the Apocrypha which he translated into German in his 1534 Bible (he put them as a kind of appendix, but would not include as part of the Bible, a tradition that would be followed in most every Protestant Bible until the late 1800s), Martin Luther wrote, “Apocrypha: these books are not held equal to the Scriptures but are useful and good to read.[2]

Luther’s popularity seems to have brought the term “apocrypha” to the common tongue. So what is the Apocrypha? From a word meaning “hidden” (referring either to their authorship or their not being approved for public religious reading), the Apocrypha refers to a collection of a dozen or so books written in the intertestamental period, between Malachi and Matthew—the so-called “silent years” that were really anything but silent. Rome and Orthodoxy refer to them as “deuterocanonical” (literally “second canon”) as opposed to protocanonical (“first canon”). As their term implies, both consider them Holy Scripture. Protestants do not believe there are levels of authoritative books, so “apocrypha” is a less confusing and better term in this regard.

These books vary in genres. There are wisdom books akin to Proverbs such as Ecclesiasticus (also called Sirach) or the Wisdom of Solomon; historical fiction such as Tobit or Judith; history books like the Maccabees (there are 4 books of Maccabees, but at least one is usually included as a pseudepigrapha, see next post); expansions on Scripture such as additions to Esther, Jeremiah, and Daniel (including the Prayer of Azariah and Song of the Three Jews, Suzanna, and the funny and fascinating Bel and the Dragon); prophetic and apocalyptic books like Baruch (Baruch was Jeremiah’s scribe in the Bible) or 2 Esdras (Ezra); and songs such as The Prayer of Manasseh.

So why would you want to read the Apocrypha? Here are a few reasons. The first is put in the Preface to the Apocrypha of the 1560 Geneva Bible (which retained the books as an appendix, as did almost every Protestant Bible until the 1800s), the favorite Bible of the Puritans, “… but as books proceeding from godly men were received to be read for the advancement and furtherance of the knowledge of the history and for the instruction of godly manners, etc.” So just like you might go to George Washington’s Rules of Civility, so also you might go to Sirach to learn wisdom (remembering that the President was an Anglican and the author of Sirach was quite possibly a believing Jew prior to the coming of Jesus Christ). Or, just as you might read Anne Frank talk about the Holocaust, so also you might read about the fascinating wars of the Maccabees.

Second, any time you can read other material written near the time of the Bible, it helps shed light on the customs, philosophies, and culture of the biblical authors. This in turn helps you to understand and interpret them more accurately. In this case, this is especially true of the NT authors, who were not far removed at all from the world we read about in Apocryphal books.

Third, believe it or not, you might just find the reading of these books both fascinating and even inspiring (do not read “inspired”), just as you would reading any good Christian book worth its salt today. Fact is, the Apocrypha has stood the test of time in terms of great literature. For that reason alone, but for so many more, they are worth diving into.

(by: Doug Van Dorn)


Chart by Douglas Van Dorn

[1] Cited in The New Oxford Annotated Apocrypha: Augmented Third Edition, ed. Michael D. Coogan (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007), 6. This book is a helpful compilation of the Apocrypha along with brief introductions to each book.

[2] Martin Luther, Luther’s Works, Vol. 35: Word and Sacrament I, ed. Jaroslav Jan Pelikan, Hilton C. Oswald, and Helmut T. Lehmann (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1999).

Ants Marching

Christian Living, Culture

anttrailThere’s a lady at the local Waffle House location here in Rincon, Georgia who has been employed by the Waffle House since 1974. If you’re like me and need someone to do the math for you, that’s 41 years at the same job. And if you’re short on knowledge when it comes to job statistics, let’s just say 41 years with a single employer is as rare as a Christmas Island Frigatebird. On average, workers in the United States will have 11 jobs in their lifetime, which means a new job around every 4 years. That’s a lot of transition!

As I was enjoying my near-weekly All-Star Special (bacon, oatmeal, scrambled eggs, plain waffle, and wheat toast) with a black coffee (no cream, no sugar… a man’s drink) at the Waffle House this morning, I got to thinking about work and being on the same job over four decades. What is it like to step up to the same taskwafflehouseoutside every week for 41 years? Few will ever know. Most people think of their work in the way described in the Dave Matthews Band song Ants Marching:

He wakes up in the morning
Does his teeth bite to eat and he’s rolling
Never changes a thing
The week ends the week begins

Lights down, you up and die

When all the little ants are marching
Red and black antennas waving
we all do it the same
we all do it the same way

Unfortunately, the mundane plodding of life seems to be the very thing most people are seeking to escape as quickly as possible in this life. We often see no value in a life lived wherein we wake up, work, and go to bed most days of the week. Is that all there is? Surely the weekends and vacations should be the norm instead! But the Bible’s description of work is far different than the perception of most people. Mankind is created in the image of God, thus man is created as a worker and has the responsibility to harness and utilize the earth’s resources for service and enjoyment.

The work that God calls each person to is not a post-fall reality that we have to suffer through, but a pre-fall gift that God made us for. The first job recorded in the Bible was given to Adam by God in the garden of Eden: cultivate the ground and take dominion over all the earth. It seems like such a mundane job… gardening. But it’s a dignified and holy job because God provided it and called it good. Indeed, all legitimate work done to the glory of God is dignified and good. The post-fall reality of work is that it will be difficult and full of trials, but it’s still good and worthy of our time and effort.

I have a good friend who has a part-time job reading through essays that accompany applications to a well known university in the northeast. Apart from the lack of future writers in the stack, the other glaring reality my friend and I regularly discuss is that the average college applicant has one thing in mind: Graduate college to get a high paying job. What do they want to do with their life and what will it count for? They usually can’t say. So why do they assume a college degree means they’re worth a big paycheck and a position in the company of their choice? I believe it’s because we’ve lost sight of the value of all kinds of legitimate work and have exchanged it with a high view of self. While the developed/developing world seeks to funnel every 18-20 year old into a college, the reality is that most jobs in a standard economy don’t need a four-year college education, and are just as noble and necessary as the jobs that take 8-12 years of college. Where would we be without sanitation workers, mechanics, electricians, plumbers, roofers, and farmers? Trust me…. you don’t want me working on your car or building your house!

I hope Christians can change the conversation. Instead of marching like an ant to the workplace each day, can we instead think of our work as a noble, God-glorifying pursuit? Christians should be the best employees, wherever they work, because we work not ultimately for man, but onto the Lord (Colossians 3:23). It’s not inherently wrong to change jobs and start a new career, but it can also be an indication that we struggle to be content.

When the gospel changes a person, their entire outlook on life changes. For the workaholic, they no longer seek their identity in their job, because they know their identity is in Christ. For the sluggard, they no longer see work as a drudgery and a curse, they understand it as a gift, albeit filled with difficulties. The Christian will live life in such a way as to not bring reproach to the name of Christ, but will instead execute their duties in life in such a way that Christ is honored and exalted.

So what about you? Is a bad day of doing your hobby better than the best day of work, or is your work a gift from God that you are thankful for, that you do to the best of your ability, and that you utilize as a means to bring glory to God and good to those you work with and for?

(By: Nick Kennicott)