A F.R.E.S.H. Look at Gluttony (Part 4)

       In looking at gluttony we have found that it may not be as easy to identify in others as we have thought, but at the same time, we come to realize that it may affect us in more ways than we knew. So what do we do about it? What ways are there to combat the vice of gluttony? Before we jump into some conclusions, we will go ahead and note that balance must be part of the solution. While we don’t want to be gluttonous in our approach to food and drink, we also don’t want to approach it with a lack of appreciation, denying ourselves what we need. As we look for this balance, we can find three different ways to fight against this habit in the writings of Augustine.

       First, he calls us to eat in a way that contributes to and tries to maintain our overall health and well-being. This still does not give us the ability to stereotype gluttons, as we tend to do. Someone who is pregnant might eat more “for two,” or an athlete might need a lot more food as they obtain the proper number of calories. Some diets may have heavy restrictions on sugars, while others may need more. Some might be celebrating and may sometimes eat more than they typically would. There is no hard and fast rule about what or how much someone can eat. We need to eat well enough for our body to function well, which both gluttony and deficiency fail to do.

       Second, Augustine calls us to remember that eating is a social act. How and what we eat should be approached in a way that is conscientious about, not only the needs of our family, but about the needs of our community as well. This goes back to greedy eating, in which we might deprive others to seek our own pleasure. It could also condemn acts such as keeping foods in your house that others are forbidden to eat for health or personal reason, or failing to keep your children’s diets healthy because you don’t want to restrain your own. In her book, DeYoung describes the cultural practice of a Nigerian student she had. In this practice, the eldest child would get the first and largest serving of food, but he had to eat slowly enough so that if the youngest child was still hungry after he ate, the youngest could then get seconds from the plate of the eldest. This may seem strange to us, but the family learns to see eating for the social act that it is. Sometimes, for those of us that never miss a meal, it would be good to withhold on seconds so we don’t risk taking from those that may be lacking in food.

       Third, Augustine calls us to remember that God made us for a spiritual purpose. We all have gifts that God has given us, and roles that we play in as we fulfill God’s calling. These different gifts and roles might determine to some extent how we approach eating and drinking. We might consider the difference between the roles of John the Baptizer who did not come eating and drinking, and Jesus who did. As DeYoung illustrates “perhaps being a parent or teacher of children means that we have to curb our own desires beyond what we might otherwise choose, in order to set a good example and encourage good habit formation in them.” She also suggests that as Christians living in a culture of heavy consumption we might need to be very careful about our eating and drinking in order to be a good witness to a better way of life. Our eating habits and daily disciplines have social consequences, and can cause others to have a skewed perception of our identity in Christ as well as our mission in Him.

       One final tool to fight against this vice could be fasting. While Christians should certainly find joy in feasting and celebration, for one struggling with gluttony, abstaining from food could be a necessary means to “reset” their view of eating and drinking. Fasting can be something that quickly shows the things that control us. Whether we are giving up specific types of food and drinks for a season, or giving up food and drink entirely for a few days, we can find at least two benefits in this in combating gluttony.

       First, fasting helps us to be content with simple foods. Concerning this, author Kallistos Ware wrote, “It would be misleading to speak only of this element of weariness and hunger. Abstinence leads, not merely to this, but also to a sense of lightness, wakefulness, freedom, and joy… While involving self-denial, fasting does not seek to do violence to the body but rather to restore it to health and equilibrium. Most of us in the Western world habitually eat more than we need.” While we might often associate fasting with discomfort and hunger pangs, it instead frees us from the power of pleasure so that we might be able to better appreciate the simple foods and drinks.

       Second, fasting helps us be more aware of our dependence on God. Again, Ware writes, “If we always take our fill of food and drink, we easily grow confident in our own abilities, acquiring a false sense of autonomy and self-sufficiency. The observance of a physical fast undermines this sinful complacency.” He touches on the fact that, like all of the other deadly vices, gluttony grows out of pride. Gluttony continually leads us to act in a way that tries to provide our own pleasure and fulfillment. Rather than recognizing food and drink as the good gift from God that it is, the glutton turns it into a means to feel self-confident and secure in what he can provide for himself. As DeYoung writes, “gluttons want to be in charge of defining their own happiness in pleasure, with its attainment firmly under their own control.” This is why we must not only seek to properly understand and identify gluttony in our own lives, but also seek to stamp it out through proper discipline.

       Especially in our Western culture, gluttony is much more rampant than we might recognize. While we might not have made gluttony a habit in our lives, many of us could be dangerously close and not even realize it. Why? Because as the demon Screwtape noted to his nephew Wormwood, Satan wants us to see gluttony in a very limited way, and only in the lives of others. Because of this we not only often misdiagnose gluttony, but fail to evaluate our own lives and eating habits. Yet there is hope. There are a number of things we can do, and mindsets we can adopt in order to fight this vice. Most of all we must remember that true and lasting joy doesn’t come out of a perfectly cooked steak, the most filling meal, or eating until you can’t eat anymore, but instead from God through His Son.


A F.R.E.S.H. Look at Gluttony (Part 3)

       In the last post, we looked at the problems that can stem from why we eat, and how our motivations can leads us to gluttony even if we eat small amounts and have perfect manners. The other three aspects of our gluttony acronym provide a look into how we eat, which may fall in line more with our typical understanding of gluttony, but may also still give us a few surprises. This post will look at eating ravenously, excessively, and hastily in terms of gluttony.

       Ravenous eating is greedy eating. This type of eater wants to make sure that he gets enough, especially when there may be competition for some of the foods. Especially as a preacher, I often think of the many fellowship meals that churches often have, and often how I can find myself guilty of this way of eating. You are going through the line of foods, and you are not sure that everything you want will be there the second time through the line, so you pile your plate up high, and arrange all of your foods so that you are able to perfectly fit everything you want, and a bit more. If you go back and the food you want is gone, do you feel unreasonably disappointed? Maybe to prevent this (if we don’t pile our plate too high the first time) we’re back in the line for more before everyone has been able to go through the first time. This more or less makes eating an act of fearful competition. We become afraid that someone else is going to take away our ability to fully satiate our desires, and will keep us from experiencing the full amount of pleasure we could have had if we were only able to get one more spoonful of our favorite dish. It is a dangerous way of eating not only because it leads us to only look at food as a way to bring us pleasure, but because it also pits us against other people and leads us to viewing them as a threat to what we want.

       Excessive eating is typically more in line with how we view gluttony. One might think of the disgusting Mr. Creosate from ‘Monty Python and the Meaning of Life’ (don’t look this up if you just ate or have a weak stomach…), and yet still one can be underweight and eat excessively as I did when I was a teenager at a height of 6’7, and only 155 lbs. in weight. The excessive eater is one who eats past the point of being full. “I’m so full, but I can’t resist one more bite!” they might say. Or even after proclaiming fullness they can’t resist that dessert they’ve had their eye on. This has been embraced culturally as almost all fast food restaurants have added medium and large sizes to their combos for the person who just can’t survive on the already plentiful amount of food offered in these meals. This person might be scrawny due to a fast metabolism or excessive workout regimen, and they might not mean to harm their body by continually stuffing it past the point of fullness, yet they are still willing to overlook the consequences if it means they can obtain just a bit more pleasure from their eating.

       Finally, we might describe hasty eating as “shoveling it in.” Maybe we put another spoonful of something in our mouths before we’ve finished chewing the previous bite. We can’t be patient and enjoy what we’re already chewing on, but rather feel the need to shovel more in so that there isn’t a break between bites where we’re  left without that taste we desire. This form of gluttony could also call out the person who is constantly snacking. Again, I know I can relate to this one when I go and pick through the fellowship meal food just to “get a taste” because I can’t wait five minutes until the meal officially begins, or when we know a meal is coming up, but we need a snack because we just can’t wait that long to satiate our desires. This glutton just can’t stand to wait until the appropriate time to receive the pleasure that food and drink can give.

       I love DeYoung’s comment on these three forms of gluttony. She writes, “There is something sad and a little pathetic about these last three forms of gluttony. It’s a bit undignified to find the type of creature God created as the crown of creation—able to perform piano concertos, invent spacecraft that take us to the moon and back, and have spiritual fellowship with God himself—sitting hunched over a plate of food, mouth overstuffed, shoveling more in as if he can never get enough.” How true this is! God has given us food and drink to for us to enjoy and find pleasure in, but what an insult it must be when we forsake food and drink as a way to help us love God more deeply for all that he has given us, and instead make it into a means to try and supply all of our own needs and wants as we seek pleasure. They fit into a category Paul described to the Philippians when he wrote, “Their end is destruction, their god is their belly, and they glory in their shame, with minds set on earthly things” (3:19).

       Gluttony is a much bigger issue than we may have ever really imagined, especially given that we Americans live in such a huge consumer culture. We are taught to believe through advertisements and other venues that bigger is always better, that the more you have the better your life will be, that there is always something else that can make our lives just a bit more satisfying. The food economy is no different. Just start paying attention to the food advertisements you see, whether it’s the “Endless _____________” at a restaurant, promising you that you can fill your stomach and then some for a low price! Maybe it’s the picture of a perfectly pulled slice of pizza, or the divine looking hamburger, literally created by a food artist to make you feel like you need that food at that moment and won’t be satisfied until you get it. Perhaps those snack foods that promise you that you can eat them whenever you want and feel full without worrying about calories. Perhaps it’s the motto of “have it your way” or “we love to see you smile,” that promises that every meal will be exactly how you want it to be. Many of us are probably on the verge of gluttony without even realizing, if we haven’t already given in. The question is then, “What is the solution?” This will be what we explore in the final post.


A F.R.E.S.H. Look at Gluttony (Part 2)

       In the last post, we looked at a basic understanding of what gluttony is and how it may not be as easy to identify as possible. We also mentioned five different ways to eat food that could be a sign of or lead to the vice in question. In this post we’re going to look at the concept of eating fastidiously, as well as sumptuously. These are both of which are forms of gluttony that revolve around what we eat instead of how we eat. Certainly God wants eating and drinking to be a pleasurable thing, and we should enjoy the food before us, but when the vice of gluttony begins to rule our lives, eating becomes less about being able to enjoy that which God has blessed us with to nourish our bodies, and more about allowing ourselves to become pleasure seekers for our own sake and glory.

       In his book ‘The Screwtape Letters,’ C.S. Lewis pens a discussion between two demons. It revolves around how the younger one can better tempt his “patient” away from God, and part of this is through gluttony, though perhaps not as we typically understand it. Lewis writes about fastidious eating like this:

“She is a positive terror to hostesses and servants. She is always turning from what has been offered to her to say with a demure little sigh and a smile, ‘Oh please, please… all I want is a cup of tea, weak but not too weak, and the teeniest weeniest bit of really crisp toast.’ You see? Because what she wants is smaller and less costly than what has been set before her, she never recognizes as gluttony her determination to get what she wants, however troublesome it may be to others… The real value of the quiet, unobtrusive work which [the devil] has been doing for years on this old woman can be gauged by the way in which her belly now dominates her whole life. The woman is what may be called the ‘All-I-want’ state of mind.”

       In her book, DeYoung describes a guest for whom nothing you make is ever right. These people send food back to the kitchen until it is perfect. They may have good manners, and may not eat too much, but in the end, their pleasure is the whole focus of their experience. Fastidious eating is eating only with your pleasure in mind. If your eating experiences are constant let downs because your food isn’t exactly what you wanted or expected it to be, you might be struggling with this form of gluttony.

       Along with fastidious eating comes the problem of sumptuous eating. This habitual diet revolves around feeling full. DeYoung notes that the American diet, “heavy on beef, butter, and cream sauces—is built on the same pleasure principle. These foods taste rich and are filling.” Now that doesn’t mean that it is inherently sinful to enjoy a filling meal, but when our purpose of eating revolves around the pleasure of feeling stuffed, and continually pick what we eat based off it being food that gives maximal satisfaction, there could be a problem.

       To show these two forms of gluttony at once, DeYoung provides a quote from Gwen Shamblin who founded Weigh Down Workshop, a program for “Christian dieting.” Though one may avoid overeating, the description of eating that Shamblin provides unfortunately reveals a picture of these two forms of gluttony. She wrote:

“After inviting God into this wonderful eating occasion, I survey all the food choices available at the buffet. I carefully make my selections based on what flavors and foods I am craving at the time. I take very small amounts of the items I most want to try, and once I sit down, I begin to rate the items. That means that I taste a tiny bit of each item and decide which are my favorites. Then I take only the best, most sumptuous bites of each item, making sure I am filling up with only the tastiest parts, since I already know it won’t take much to fill me up! (No more saving the best for last—you know you will fill up soon, and it is much easier to leave the drier, less attractive bites on the plate!)… Sometimes I like to enjoy a good old-fashioned cheeseburger, French fries, and a milk shake from a local fast food restaurant. I make sure the burger is fixed just the way I like it, and then before I begin, I cut it in half, or even fourths. This way, I can get to the best, juiciest bites. I add the perfect amount of salt to my fries, and I pick through them to find the ones that look best.”

       While this type of eating may not produce a larger waistline, it still produces a habit of gluttonous eating. In the end, the meal centers on one’s own pleasure. There is no desire to eat unless the food is just the way you like it, and then there is the seeking only the food or the bites that will give you that feeling of maximum fullness. It’s in this that we lose the ability to look at someone’s physical appearance, their table manners, or how much food is on their plate, and recognize that even the underweight individual who keeps only minimal food on his plate can be just as guilty of gluttony. Why we eat matters just as much as how we eat, but it is the “how” that we will explore in the next post.


A F.R.E.S.H. Look at Gluttony (Part 1)

       What do we consider gluttony? Many people base whether an individual is gluttonous based on their waistline. I have been guilty of that myself. We figure that one is gluttonous because their weight is higher than we think it should be, or because they don’t have the diet we think they should have, or they eat more than we think they should eat. In her book “Glittering Vices: A New Look at the Seven Deadly Sins and Their Remedies,” Andrea DeYoung explores the historical understanding of gluttony, and how these things mentioned above might not have as much to do with gluttony as we think.

       Gluttony is in the list of the seven deadly vices which are sinful habits, a way of life. We typically recognize that gluttony has something to do with eating and drinking, but we should be careful in applying too much certainty outside of this in regards to whether or not someone is a glutton. It’s just not something as simple as looking at numbers on a scale.

       Gluttony is a vice that focuses on one’s own excessive and immediate pleasure. Eating is meant to be pleasurable. We can understand this simply because of the fact that we have taste buds and such a wide variety of tastes in food and drink. Rather than how much one eats, the bigger question in regards to gluttony is about why we are eating. What is our goal in eating? While in our eating and drinking we might rightfully find pleasure in the food and the sense of fullness, the habit of gluttony is one where seeking pleasure dominates everything else. In our gluttony, we forsake food and drink as a means to enjoy and find pleasure in God’s good creation, and rather use it as a means to feel as though we are able to supply ourselves with our needs all on our own. Gluttony turns us into pleasure seekers, and that is the true danger with this vice. As DeYoung notes, “the main question we should be asking is not, ‘How much is too much?’ but rather, ‘How dominated by the desire for this pleasure am I? How difficult would it be to have to give it up or do without it?’ The trouble with gluttony is that it reduces eating to an exercise in gratifying my own desires for physical pleasures, consuming whatever I think will make me full and satisfied.”

       Historically there have been five different ways that we can participate in gluttony. DeYoung presents the acronym F.R.E.S.H. as a means to help us remember these ways. It represents eating fastidiously, ravenously, excessively, sumptuously, and hastily. Each of these represent a way that we can be mastered by food, rather than keeping food in its proper place. This falls into the categories of why we eat food and how we eat food. Over the next three posts, we will look deeper into what gluttony is and how we can combat it.

Taking the Long Way Around (Thoughts on 8 Years of Marriage)

       So today is my anniversary. I’ve been married to my wife for eight years. I’ll go ahead and say that not all been good days or years, and I’m guessing that my wife might say the same. Sometimes marriage is a blast, and you simply have the best time of your life, other times you may wonder why you were so foolish to buy into such a long term thing, such a permanent thing. I don’t say this as some sort of commentary on my marriage, or as a means to vent about any issues in my own marriage because personally speaking, as far as I’m concerned, everything is going really well at the moment. Rather I simply speak of the ups and downs of marriage, and the good and the bad that comes with it.

       Yesterday in two different Bible studies I came across the same theme that fits within the brief thoughts on marriage above. In a weekly online study with a few other ministers we’ve been going through 1 Corinthians, and discussed some things from chapter 10 concerning the Israelites in the desert. That ended up being coupled with a class I teach every other week as we finished up the story of Joseph being sold into slavery by his brothers only to rise to power in Egypt and end up saving them in the middle of a famine. The idea here is about taking the long way around.

       In Exodus 13:17, the Israeli people leave Egypt and we read, “When Pharaoh let the people go, God did not lead them by way of the land of the Philistines, although that was near. For God said, ‘Lest the people change their minds when they see war and return to Egypt.’” Of course this turned into a bit of a longer route once the people lost confidence in God to take them into the Promised Land, but the point is that God led them on a much longer route for the purpose of protecting them and their faith. In the story of Joseph, once he’s in Egypt and begins to “settle into” his life there, I get the feeling that Joseph began to build a wall around his heart to shut out his old life. When his brothers arrive we see him testing them in some ways that may be less than kind. It seems he was still angry and took that anger out on him. Yet the more he interacts with them, we see that barrier being to fall bit by bit until something finally clicks! Certainly they did wrong to him, but he finally comes to realize that “God sent [him] before [them] to preserve for [them] a remnant on earth, and to keep alive for [them] many survivors” (Gen. 45:7). Joseph’s journey was a long path that had many ups and downs. Much good and much bad. Blessings as well as heartbreak. A life of must loyalty, but also much betrayal, but as he looks back on it, it finally all clicks and he sees how God has been at work for these past few decades. Like the Israelites coming out of Egypt, Joseph just had to take the long way around.

       We live in a culture based on speed. We want instant results. Our cell phones get us answers as soon as we want them, and if the connection is slow, or we’re out of the range of our service the frustrations quickly come. Sometimes even having to put something in the oven instead of being able to quickly microwave it can frustrate us! We don’t have time for this! And yet this attitude can easily slip into all aspects of our lives, including our marriages. We want quick fixes to our problems. Want proof? Even in the marriage books based on religion you can find tons of books that promise quick fixes. We want to be able to read a book and quickly “spice up our marriage” or get through whatever issue we’re dealing with. We want to go to counseling for a few sessions and become disappointed if that doesn’t fix things. We go through a rough patch that lasts maybe more than a year or two and figure that if it’s going on this long then perhaps the marriage isn’t for me.

       We’re a culture that has forgotten to appreciate what comes with taking “the long way around.” No, marriage isn’t always fun. It doesn’t always feel like a blessing. You have two people with their own faults and flaws that try to live with one another in the most intimate relationship you can have and have to figure out how to do that. This is what is in my mind as I think about the last 8 years of marriage. It hasn’t always been easy. It hasn’t always been fun. Kristen and I have both been through a lot. A lot of rejoicing. A lot of fun. A lot of struggles. I’m beyond blessed to have someone committed to “taking the long way around” with me, and as I look back and I can see some many things that finally click as a testimony of what God has done in our lives and who we’ve been able to become because of it, and I’d gladly choose to take the long way around with her again, and again, and again.


‘Go Set A Watchman’ – The Tale of Two Atticus’s

       I’m not sure if my punctuation in the title of this post is correct, but I suppose that that’s okay. I recently finished Harper Lee’s newest book, ‘Go Set A Watchman,’ which is publicized as a sequel to her first and only other book, ‘To Kill A Mockingbird.’ This post will be discussing the book so if you aren’t interested in spoilers, you might want to come back after you’ve read it. If you’ve read it and are still having a hard time loving Atticus, or just want to read it because you’ve seen the news, well do what you want to do.

In the time before it was officially released, this book created quite a stir. The reason being is that because in this book Atticus is portrayed as someone who is highly in favor of maintaining segregation, making him seem to be a racist character. This of course seems to be in pure opposition to the moral beacon that was Atticus Finch in “Mockingbird’ who defends the black man Tom Robinson and gets the trial acquitted. How is it that a man such as Atticus, a man who stood for equal justice between all people, a man who stood up against the accepted culture of that time to do what was right regardless of how it might affect his reputation in small town Maycomb suddenly be a man who willingly sits in and supports a meeting in which the “n-word” is repeatedly dropped in the midst of highly racist statements and stereotypes? How can Atticus be one to support the idea that blacks and whites shouldn’t mix culturally, and that the black community is “inferior” and “in their childhood as a race?” When Jean Louise (our beloved Scout) learns this about her father, her reaction is about the same as the modern day public. “The only human being she had ever fully and wholeheartedly trusted had failed her…” (113).

The more I’ve thought about this issue though, I think it’s a perfect need for a follow-up to ‘Mockingbird.’ Atticus Finch in ‘Watchman’ is not the Atticus we want, but the Atticus we need. Yes, Atticus is a fantastic man, but we as readers have done the same thing through ‘Mockingbird’ that Scout did. She made her father into a man with no flaws. She put him a pedestal that no man could ever actually stand on. ‘Mockingbird’ is told through the eyes of a young girl looking up to her father, while ‘Watchman’ is a story told from a young woman who now sees eye to eye, and the changing view doesn’t always reveal what we thought we’d seen before. If we’re honest though, we’ve probably all been there before. As you continue reading you hope and you pray that Jean Louise has misinterpreted something. You wait for the twist that this is not really how things are…but it never comes. This hero has a dark side, and though, in typical Atticus fashion it might be well thought out by him, it still makes you cringe knowing that it’s coming out of the mouth of THE Atticus Finch.

This is true for all of us. We think about that moment when we realized our parents (or someone we looked up to) were actual human, with flaws, and with a side to them that we just couldn’t comprehend given what we thought we knew. It hurt. It ripped us to shreds. This person that had been such an inspiration to us is suddenly not that person anymore, and so what does that mean about myself? You see, for those of us who have loved ‘Mockingbird’ so dearly, have, like Scout, lived our lives thinking, “What Would Atticus Do?” Like Scout, we’ve all made Atticus into a god. We now though,  like Jean Louise, find ourselves in the midst of it all, and it rightfully makes us feel sick, but the sickness isn’t as much because of the fault of Atticus, but simply because of how innocently we’ve been looking at things. It’s as Uncle Jack explains at the end. Scout had made Atticus’ conscience her own, but she can’t do that. Each person is their own, and sooner or later, Jean Louise and Atticus would clash on something.

Why are people uncomfortable with this book? The same reason Scout was uncomfortable with learning some unsettling truths about her father. Everything she saw, and thus everything we’ve made out original thoughts concerning Atticus, are only based on how she looked up to her father when she was a child, knowing him as the man who could do no wrong. Because of this, we are forced to live out this shocking revelation just as Jean Louise must. But there truly is a lesson here, and it is the same one Jean Louise must learn. While she just wants to run away from it all and not face the realities of life, her Uncle Jack reminds her that “the time your friends need you is when they’re wrong…They don’t need you when they’re right.” Certainly we’re going to be faced with many “Atticus Situations” in our life, and the reaction just might be to abandon ship. Yet Uncle Jack is willing to admit that Atticus is wrong in the position he holds, yet he understands that if simply refuse to be around, and live in a way to influence those that are wrong, what will ever change? Just as much as ‘Mockingbird’ remains a much needed book for even this society, so does ‘Watchman’ prove to have the same power. As we grow more and more separated, refusing to deal with those who are different from us, leaving them to their own devices, will we remain rigid bigots who will have nothing to do with those we disagree with, or will we choose to serve and help them despite our wrong we believe them to be?


A Review of “Ruth From Start2Finish”

       Since I was a guest blogger on the Start2Finish network today for a post about reading (Here ya go), I figured I’d read a book, and it just so happened to be one from Start2Finish. I guess technically it isn’t a book like you might immediately think of, but rather one of their new products, a guide for a Bible class. As you can probably guess from the title of this post, it is their new class book for Ruth (here).

       This class book is only six chapters long, not that the book of Ruth is much longer, but it certainly packs a punch. Quite often when I hear people talk about Ruth they talk about the love story that is in there between Ruth and Boaz. This guide certainly focuses on a love story, but not the typical one. Rather the focus is on God’s love for and involvement with Naomi through what was probably the hardest part of her life. Not only does Naomi have to endure the loss of her husband, but also the loss of her two sons, and is forced to travel back to her homeland destitute with only one of her daughter-in-laws. It is in this tragedy though that God’s working truly begins to shine, and this guide does a fantastic job of not only leading you through Naomi’s suffering, but also in bringing you along to “weep with those that weep” as well as finding hope in the tragedies of life.

       Each chapter ends with questions for reflection, but also questions for discussion, and should this study be used in a community setting as it is intended, the questions will do a great job at helping the congregation to not only find solace in God during their toughest times, but also in one another. The questions do a great job at prompting others to open up in a way that allows the church to do what it was intended to do, support others so they don’t have to endure hardships alone.

      So should you get this study for a group? I say yes. It might do better in a small group outside of the Sunday morning or Wednesday night class simply because it would allow more comfort in opening up about somethings, and would give more time for discussion that is not limited by the end of the service. That being said, I still think it could be great for a typical Bible class as well.

Note: I was not paid for this review or even asked to do it. I did it completely of my freewill. I received a “free” copy of the book as part of my membership in the books4life club (here) which is currently accepting new members at the time this post was written.


Earth Day as a Christian Celebration

       Today is Earth Day. I’ve thought about Earth Day over the last few years, and how I should approach it as a Christian. I’ve seen some embrace it as a holiday that reflects important parts of Christianity, as well as it being rejected as worship of the Earth, or close enough to it anyway. Usually along with the later is the belief that the Earth is going to be burnt up and destroyed along with the second coming of Jesus, and so while we should be good stewards, we need to be careful about becoming too attached to this world. In the last few years, I’ve leaned more towards the former though, and do think that Earth Day is something that Christians can and should be using as a means to reflect some very important scriptures.

       Usually when I hear “The Great Commission,” I think of the end of the book of Matthew where Jesus sends out his disciples into the world to carry on with the task that he began. In this context, the word “commission” would mean “a process or service provided to validate the completeness and accuracy of a project or venture.” I’d say that’s a perfect description of what the disciples were doing. The Kingdom of God had arrived, the strong man had been bound, Jesus was victorious over death, and now God was reconciling all things to himself through Jesus. They were to take out the message that validated this claim, to show that it was complete.

        Recently I read an interesting thought though. One author suggested that the Great Commission is actually the second great commission, with the first being within Genesis 1:28-30 where we read:

And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” And God said, “Behold, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is on the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit. You shall have them for food. And to every beast of the earth and to every bird of the heavens and to everything that creeps on the earth, everything that has the breath of life, I have given every green plant for food.” And it was so.”

    This fits well within the context of a “commission.” In response to the fact that creation was complete, and accurate (described as “good” within the creation account), Adam and Eve were to provide a service of filling the earth, subduing it, and having dominion over it. The word “subdue” is a military term meaning “to bring into bondage.” This would give the understanding that even before the Fall, the Earth was something that needed to be taken care of and controlled in both the plant and animal kingdom. Man was to be responsible for creation. Why? Because doing so would validate the fact that God had created it, and that he created it with a purpose.

       Our stewardship of the Earth is not something we are called to do simply because the Earth is a gift from God. Our stewardship of the Earth is important because of the consequences of not doing so. As we mentioned, the word “subdue” was a military word. It’s only translated as “subdue” when there is an actual danger or death that threatens the life of those called to subdue. God called them to subdue the creation, because life was at risk if they chose not to. If they refused to subdue, death was sure to come. Isn’t this what we see in Genesis 3? They chose to step outside of the realm of their call to subdue the Earth as a means to validate what God had done, and chose to serve their own purposes and desires, manifested in eating the fruit of the knowledge of good and evil. The result? Death. Not only on them as they were separated from the tree of life, but also for creation that was from hence forth under bondage (Romans 8:21).

       God and his people are called to be people who bring life back to places where death has been ruling. Adam and Eve failed to subdue the Earth, to hold back and fight against the evil forces and temptations that sought to steal and kill that which God has created, but where they failed, Jesus succeeded as seen in his wilderness temptation in overcoming Satan, and in the crucifixion and resurrection in overcoming and subduing death.

       So what does all of this have to do with Earth Day? Certainly our call to stewardship and subduing of this creation should be something we are mindful of and do every day, yet we also have a special opportunity to focus more on this call. Through the Christ, the creation will ultimately be liberated from the bondage it is under it, and Jesus calls us back to the first Great Commission through his giving of the second Great Commission. Because Jesus has come, and because through him God is taking back the world and liberating it from the evil forces that have invaded it, we carry the task to be mindful of the world in which we live in, and to join Christ in the task of moving towards freeing creation from the bondage it is in.

       So take some time today to appreciate the creation around you. Go outside and enjoy what God has given to us. But also on this Earth Day, take some time outside to reflect on the fact that  this creation we have now is under bondage. That because of The Fall, this creation is still not what it was intended to be, that this glorious and beautiful creation is destined to return to being something much greater than we can imagine. Reflect on the fact that God calls us through Christ help his kingdom invade this world, not only through telling people about the freedom from sin we personally experience through the victory of Christ, but also in how we care for, and prepare this world for the liberation it will on day experience. Because of sin, our purpose as humans to subdue this world and have dominion over it becomes more important than ever!


1 Timothy 5:8 and Self Defense

       My last post dealt with a passage that is often used to advocate the Christian’s right to defend oneself to the point of taking another’s life. The point of that post, as well as this one, was not to try and “convert” anyone to a position that denies the right of a Christian to defend their self of others in a way that willingly takes human life, but rather to evaluate the text in it’s context and see if it does or does not say anything about Christians and self-defense. My conclusion was that it says nothing either way about the issue. This post is in the same vein, in that it will focus on a particular verse (I Timothy 5:8) that is often used in the discussion of defending one’s self or loved ones through taking the life of someone trying to do you harm.

But if anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for members of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever. (I Timothy 5:8)

       Above is the passage in question. I looked around at a lot of explanations of this verse, especially concerning defense of self or those in danger. Many that were writing just a general commentary had nothing to say about the issue of taking one’s life through defense in relation to this passage. Those that were writing to prove that a Christian can take a life if it is in defense of always referenced this verse, but almost always comment on the issue as being something that is more implied, or assumed through the text. I have yet to read a commentary that states that the passage explicitly authorizes the Christian to take a life in defense, and this leads to my first concern about how this text is often used. Interestingly enough I can’t really find any who would be labeled as pacifists commenting on this verse. Does this mean that it is the chink in their armor? That this verse is clear enough to the point that they can’t even address it? I’m not convinced that that is the case at all.

       Let’s look at the context of 1 Timothy 5. The context of the passage where we find this verse (I Timothy 5:3-8) deals with the church’s approach to taking care of widows. In that time, most widowed women would not be able to take care of themselves financially without a husband to bring in income. They would have been homemakers, and while some may have had some source of income, it would not be enough to provide for their needs, especially as they got older, and in the context of this passage, we’re talking about widows who have not only children, but grandchildren. Verses 9-16 of this chapter give more explicit commands in how the church should deal with widows that are in need, but before Paul addresses how the church should respond to widows, he addresses their family, and that is the context of 1 Timothy 5:8. The scripture speaks often of caring for the widowed and orphaned, and Paul’s argument here is that before the church should get involved as a whole in providing for the widows, that the family should learn this practice through caring for their own relatives that are in this position if possible.

       So what is Paul talking about providing for the widows? Ultimately that is the question that must be answered before we can decide if this passage has anything to inherently do with the authority to take a life in the means of defense. Paul, in the context of the passage, is talking about financial support, and historically food and clothing at times too. That really seems to be it. Perhaps we could assume that it means the widowed mother/grandmother would move in with the family, but there isn’t anything that explicitly states that. All that seems to be being discussed here is financial support.

       So when Paul gets to writing verse 8, what is he talking about? Contextually it seems to be the money, food, and clothing. We could probably insert housing into it as well, but I would be hesitant to read too much into it. And so what does this passage have to do with defense to the point of taking life? Nothing really, at least not without reading your own bias into the text, which is what I continually see over and over. Like with Luke 22, this passage does not speak to either side. It neither authorizes, nor condemns taking a life for the purpose of defense.

       Every time I see a discussion about self defense come up, this passage seems to be a foundation text for authorization, but in all reality, it is a stretch to make it say that. Certainly one could argue that if you aren’t willing to take a life (if it comes to that) to defend your family, then are you really providing for them? The problem with that though is that it is trying to answer a question from the text outside of the text’s context. That question is certainly a valid question to ask, but with what Paul is discussing in this particular passage, it has nothing to do with the issue at hand. That is why we can only find commentators inserting an assumption into the text to use this passage in the discussion.

       One more issue to discuss before we finish up here, and that is just some last questions or thoughts that come to mind in dealing with this passage. First, can one defend their family without taking life? Certainly so. I am of the personal belief that I can use force to restrain an attacker, but that is a far cry from using violence to take their life. There are many things a Christian can do to defend others without taking the life of someone else, so we must make sure we’re willing to differentiate between the two. Even if we do believe we can insert defense into the text, we need to be careful before inserting the right to kill along with it.

       Second, I often wonder how things might change depending on who was holding the gun? What I mean is, what if it was one from your family that was going to attack and kill someone that was innocent? How quickly would you be to justify taking their life in that situation if you had the ability to? My guess would be (and so it might be entirely wrong) that the majority of people would be much more hesitant to take the life of their own family member in this situation, and if that is the case then it only helps us lean more towards the understanding that discussion about taking life in defense from this passage is more of an emotional issue than a contexual authorization.

       So what do we do with this passage? Does it have any value to the discussion of taking a life in defense of self or others? I actually think it does. It certainly leads us to some thought provoking questions and discussions about what it means to provide for your family, but we also have to remember that we can only provide for our families in the way that Jesus authorizes us to. This helps explain why there is a lot of bias that comes out when interpreting the text. Depending on which way you already lean can easily play a role in how much you’re willing to read into the text. The problem comes when we use this text as a main argument and authorization for the issue. It simply isn’t there any more than a condemnation of violence is. I am convinced that this text may certainly have a place in discussing the issue, but in no way can it be used as authority for the Christian to practice taking a life in defense of self or others unless we choose to first do violence to the text itself.


Luke 22:35-38 and Self Defense

       Self-defense is rightfully a very controversial and serious issue for Christians. There are many passages that say not to seek revenge, not to repay evil for evil, and to let God deal with vengeance. That being noted, what about self-defense? Can a Christian defend himself or others against someone that is actively taking trying to do them harm, even if it means taking the life of the other person? There are a lot of good arguments from both sides of the issue, as well as a lot of bad arguments from both sides of the issue. I know where I currently stand on the issue, but my purpose with this blog post is not to try and “make” anyone a pacifist. Rather, I want to address a passage that I often see used (by both sides) that I am simply not convinced makes an explicit argument on this issue (for either side), though I do believe it helps move towards a balanced principle. The passage in question is Luke 22:35-38, and reading from the ESV it says:

And he said to them, “When I sent you out with no moneybag or knapsack or sandals, did you lack anything?” They said, “Nothing.” He said to them, “But now let the one who has a moneybag take it, and likewise a knapsack. And let the one who has no sword sell his cloak and buy one. For I tell you that this Scripture must be fulfilled in me: ‘And he was numbered with the transgressors.’ For what is written about me has its fulfillment.” And they said, “Look, Lord, here are two swords.” And he said to them, “It is enough.”

      Here we have an explicit command from Jesus for his disciples to buy swords. He makes a reference to the time that he sent them out, but this time he commands them to buy swords. The question is why though? Is this for self-defense? If so, why did Jesus not command them to take swords the first time they were going out? Is there something that has changed? Perhaps because Jesus knew he was about to be arrested he knew that his apostles’ lives were in more danger than usual, and that does actually seem to be the case. It could make sense that because Jesus would need the apostles to take out his message, that he would ask them to buy swords to make sure they survived until his resurrection..

       There is a problem with this though in that it deals directly with being persecuted for religious beliefs, and not the self-defense that we usually talk about concerning something like a robber breaking into one’s home. If Jesus is telling his apostles to buy swords here for self-defense, then he is commanding them to practice violence against those who would persecute him, which contradicts what Jesus has said multiple times throughout his ministry. So why would Jesus tell them to buy swords? Thankfully Jesus tells them exactly why they need to buy swords.

       Jesus, following his command, quotes Isaiah 53:12. Jesus explicitly states that they need to buy swords so that scripture will be “fulfilled in me: ‘And he was numbered with the transgressors.’” The apostles then explain that they already have two swords, and Jesus says that two swords is enough to “number them with transgressors.” Rome crucified those that were threats to the empire. Due to the swords, Jesus now can be numbered among those who appear to be revolutionaries against Rome, and certainly he was! He did not revolt against Rome in the typical violent way that most expected (remember his discussion with Pilate about how his kingdom was not of this world, and thus were not fighting to save him?), but certainly he bringing a revolution against Rome.

       There is one more passage that helps us to understand that this passage has nothing inherently to do with the issue of self-defense. In verses 47-53 of Luke 22, we have Jesus’ arrest. When Jesus is about to be arrested, his apostles ask if they should strike out, and Peter (as revealed in other Gospel accounts) does just that, and cuts off the ear of one of the Romans. Jesus’ response is “No more of this!” But why? If we are looking at this to try and argue self-defense, then it was exactly the place that it should be used in. They were being persecuted for the message they preached, but Jesus never intended it to be used for self-defense in the first place.

       We do have one more passage to look at for this event, but it is found in Matthew 26:52. Here, after Peter cuts off the ear of the Roman, Jesus says, “Put your sword back into its place. For all who take the sword will perish by the sword.” There are actually a number of early Christian writers who argue that in saying this, that Jesus called all Christians to non-violence. That the “sword” was permanently sheathed. I would hesitate to go this far, but hopefully we can all agree that it calls us to be very careful about the use of violence, and our motivations behind it. Jesus doesn’t call us to the “peace through strength” motto that is so often heard in our politics. Rather he calls us to “peace through God.” This event may not call us to defend with the sword, or to sheathe the sword forever, but certainly it calls us to be very aware of how we approach and view violence. We can easily fall into the trap of “living by the sword” and not even be aware of it.

       So what do we do with this passage? Is this a passage that gives us the justification to take the life of someone who breaks into our home in the middle of the night, or is actively trying to do harm to us or our loved ones?  I cannot find anything in the context that would lead us to that conclusion. Jesus explicitly states why they need the sword, and it has nothing to do with self defense, and even if it did, it would seem to contradict his past teachings about responding to persecution based on your religious beliefs.

       But neither can I argue that this verse argues in favor of pacifism. Jesus tells them to buy swords, and regardless of what purpose they had, if it were a sin to own a weapon, then Jesus would not have called them to have them in the first place. Also, as we noted above, this verse has nothing to do with whether or not one can defend themselves outside of the context of religious persecution. To claim that this verse alone forbids me from taking the life of a home invader or someone who is trying to hurt my family for reasons outside of persecution would be just as much of a disservice to the text as if I argued that the passage gave me the right to.

       To wrap this up, this event with the swords and Jesus’ arrest certainly can teach us a few things about violence and how easy it can be to misuse and abuse force. It reminds us that those wrapped up in violence, those that “live by the sword” are only going to bring destruction to their own lives through it.  When it comes to the issue of Christians and self-defense though, this passage simply has nothing to do with it.