Too Much Talking

“Have you considered my servant Job?” Job 1:8

The opening scene of Job provides us with a quick introduction to the wealthiest man in a land called Uz.

The narrator gives us a bird’s eye overview of Job’s character: “This man is noble, righteous; and blessed with more land, livestock, and children than one needs. Job is conscientious about pleasing God in all his actions.”

And then in Shakespearean form the narrator exits stage left; the stage lights brighten inviting us onto the set of heaven’s courts in mid-session, God and Satan entering theatrical discourse.

”Have you considered my servant Job?”

I have certainly considered His servant Job! As have many others with a degree of confusion and apprehension.

The Book of Job raises some of the most uncomfortable theological questions a Christian could ask:

“Does obedience provide me immunity from harm? If God takes from me will He give it back? Do good things come from God and bad things from Satan? Was Job too pious—if I become too religious, am I inviting punishment? Are judgmental friends really Christians?”

These kind of questions are traditionally grouped in a category of existential distress known as: The Problem of Suffering.

In the next six months, I am launching into a 12-part exploration of the Book of Job.

I will, however, let the problem of suffering alone for the most part.

Instead, I will focus on this unique scene of the hosts of heaven gathered in court before the Heavenly King giving account for their actions in the Realm of Earth.

The Book of Job begins with a depiction of Heaven’s interest in Earth.

Before Job suffers any trial or loss, he is considered in heaven.

More than being a book about suffering, Job is a book about spiritual warfare.

The Book of Job encompasses spiritual warfare themes like speaking curses, consulting horoscopes, suicide, principalities, and even the need for an Advocate to intercede on a man’s behalf in the courts of heaven.

Of special interest to me is the theme of spiritual warfare in friendships found in the Book of Job.

Job’s wicked friends weren’t just self-righteous jerks, they were his most challenging temptation to overcome.

He lost everything— his wealth, his health, his wife’s esteem, his reputation— yet he did not blame God. He overcame those temptations!

Yet, a few conversations with his friends led him dangerously close to losing his battle and blaming God for his misfortune.

So, this series is called “Too Much Talking: Spiritual Warfare in the Book of Job.”

Couched within descriptions about the various forms of spiritual warfare present in the Book of Job, we will be looking at idle talk, bad advice, misinformed philosophy, preconceived ideas, presumptuous judgment, destructive compassion, and other ways that our friendly conversations can be the worst thing for us in times of trouble.

Welcome to the series! I hope it will be informative on spiritual principles and challenging to your personal approach to communication.

 

 

 

 

Testimony

Festivities or Fasting. You had Forty Days to Spend this Christmas.

Every year, I promise myself that I will go easy on Christmas this year.

I’ll spend less, I say. I’ll schedule less outings. No caroling this year. We can skip baking cookies; that’s just a mess anyway. We can bow out of one or two charitable activities.

Last year, I used old pictures (gasp!) for our Christmas cards. And this year, though I have bought $80 worth of Christmas stamps already…I am not going to send out Christmas cards. I thought I was compromising by opting for generic store bought holiday cards. One thing led to another, and I’m scrapping ’em altogether this year.

I’ll have seasonal greeting cards on hand for the next 40 years.

Listen, I’m gunna level with y’all here: I am pretty sure the credit cards I just consolidated were by majority “the ghosts of Christmases past.”

For someone with seasonal affective disorder– amongst other brain challenges– a desperate attempt to cheer up the dark days of December seems logical on a surface level.

My large extended family has also always been big time fans of the holidays. Forced Family Fun is an important component of familial culture on my mom’s side.

This means observance with gifts, decorations, and gluttony are vital for maintaining positive internal relations with the clan.

My daughter, mom, and grandmother also are all born on the same day in December!

So come on, we go big or go home. ‘Tis the season.

Here’s what I have noticed about the time between mid-November and New Year’s Eve: things fall through the cracks.

In the past several years, I’ve seen insurance renewals, logical budgeting, personal boundaries, and even people forgotten in the over-scheduling that is inherent to six weeks of celebration.

We can’t realistically expect to quadruple our responsibilities for a month and a half and still attend to our normal routine.

I have a hard time keeping up on a normal day, so if I’m gunna get all festive, you better believe just about everything else falls to the wayside.

I sabotage my New Year by exhausting my finances, family, and body; cluttering my calendar, home, and mind; and diverting my priorities, attention, and spirituality for 6 whole weeks out of 52!

That is 11.5% of my year– more than a tenth of my year– spent in inattention.

I sacrifice peace, calm, purpose, intentionality, and contentment to indulge for nearly a tenth of my year.

There is a lot a person could accomplish in six weeks– 40 days– with the passion, unrestraint, and commitment that we reserve for the holidays.

Like, crossing over into the Promised Land? Preparing for conquer, victory, sanctification, establishment, and blessing?

That’s what the Israelites were on the precipice of in the Book of Numbers. They were standing at the border of all things New.

About to say goodbye to their rock-star leader Moses. About to test their mettle, their resolve– their ability to lean hard on God’s promises.

But it was at this crucial point that they are sabotaged by Balaam and their attention is diverted to feasting, carousing, indulgence.

They put aside what they know is good for living and spend just a little time treating themselves to just a little bad behavior.

Do you know that Christmas Day is the deadliest day of the year?

And nope, sorry, it’s not drunk driving accidents. Nor is it suicide. Oddly, there’s a spike in suicide at Easter.

Christmas Day is the deadliest day of the year due to negligence. It is possible to stack up more deaths nation wide due to neglect!– inattention– than any other way.

Drug overdose doesn’t kill a record number of people on a single day every year. Drunk driving, shootings, smoking. None of those compare.

How does the enemy of our souls harvest as many of us as possible in a single day? Distract us.

And it’s so insidious. The way that people die on Christmas:

Not going to the hospital when he feels tightening in his chest, after all, he doesn’t want to disrupt the holiday dinner. The kids are having fun; don’t bother them.

More people die in house fires at Christmas. There are not more house fires at Christmas; but people are more distracted and therefore more likely to die in the house fires at Christmas.

We just aren’t paying attention.

Every pastor and Christian thought leader encourages us to focus in periods of 40 days.

Fast, pray, diet, give…for 40 days! That’s always the pitch.

And come on, we never do it. Or never finish it. Somehow, I am a perpetual quitter at 33 days. I can be intentional for 33 days but not 40 for some reason.

So, yeah, we can’t wage war in the spirit, we can’t tarry, for 40 days.

But we sure can drink, spend, eat, travel, instigate pointless quibbles, and have sad, lonely, “I’m-the-only-single-cousin” bar hook-ups in the ol’ hometown.

Satan easily steals, kills, and destroys your new year utilizing these 40 days of inattention and compromise.

At the borderland of your year, your promises, your hopes, your expectations for God’s goodness and purpose– His newness. And we let the enemy work us over and set us back and shake us just before we enter in.

That’s the embattlement of this season. Don’t miss it. See it. Attend to it.

 

 

Liturgical Holidays

“Eat whatever is offered to you…” 1Corinthians 10:27

With Thanksgiving two days away, for the sake of family unity, I think we should contemplate deeply the Apostle Paul’s advice to the Corinthians: “Eat whatever is offered to you.”

In Paul’s context this was not a matter of passing on saccharine-sweet candied yams, or appropriating to your plate as few slices of overly dry turkey breast as possible, or debating whether the cranberries should have been stewed or if the ones from the can really are the best.

Paul wasn’t talking about that. Paul was talking about idolatry.

First Corinthians 10 finds Paul giving detailed and sometimes contradictory advice to early Christians on how to behave as dinner guests when the holiday feast was baked on the altar of a pagan god.

“Feasting” in the ancient world– Old Testament, New Testament, Hebrew, or Greek– was always about worship. It was part of the sacrificial worship of Yahweh as detailed in Leviticus 6:18; 29 and Numbers 18:8-11– the meat from the sacrifice was eaten by the priestly families.

The Old Testament Passover lamb, emblematic of Jesus, was roasted– as would happen on an altar– and then shared by native born Israelites as a feast; and left overs were forbidden to the dismay of college students everywhere! (Exodus 12:6-10.)

Sacrificial consumption explains why Jesus would instruct his followers to “feed on me” in John 6:22-63.

Well before He inaugurates the first Holy Communion at the Last Supper, He is preaching about eating his flesh and drinking His blood. Why? Because He is the sacrifice.

Consuming the sacrifice was for priests; it was for the common family at Passover; it was an act of participation in worship and a rite of membership.

So, eating “whatever you’re served” has major implications to the Corinthian Christians. If they go to a pagan holiday dinner, and they are served meat that had been sacrificed to idols, are people going to think that they are still pagans– that they belong in the Pantheon not the Upper Room?

The interweaving of holidays and identity is a concern that pops up periodically throughout church history. Only a handful of Christians today are deeply concerned about pagan pageantry in major Christian holidays.

However, pagan intrusion into Christianity was of concern to the Pilgrims.

We owe our “Thanksgiving” to the Puritans who obviously really liked the idea of a feast commemorating the fall with a spirit of generosity and neighborliness, but couldn’t abide celebrating Martinmas, or St. Martin’s Day.

Puritans derided Catholics, above all, for the kind of idolatry that gives Martin of Tours not only a “sainthood” but a feast day. So, Martin had to go, even if the turkey dinner stayed.

The themes of St. Martin’s Day are generosity to others and gratitude for the harvest. It takes place every year on the 11th of November. And it is celebrated with a feast of roast goose, duck, or hen…or perhaps wild turkey.

If you’ve ever wondered why only Americans celebrate a Thanksgiving in November; it’s because literally all of Europe is celebrating St. Martin’s Day this time of year. Which also happens to be essentially the same exact holiday.*

The Puritans might have tried to bury the worship component of St. Martin’s Day by taking the idol’s name out of it, renaming it Thanksgiving, and de-spiritualizing it to mere “generosity,” “gratitude,” and “neighborliness,” but the spirituality of feasting is not something any person has the authority to undo– even if their intention is to ferret out idolatrous heresies in the church. In fact, de-spiritualizing feasting has a historical track record of fomenting heresy as we are introduced to in the book of Acts.

In Acts 6:5, we meet a man named Nicolas. He is appointed as a deacon to the church in Jerusalem.

Nicolas appears to have been a lover of ideas. A bit of a spiritual sojourner, he was a pagan Greek who converted to Judaism first and then to Christianity.

He is strongly believed to be the namesake, if not the leader, of the Nicolaitans of Revelation 2.

The Nicolaitans were a group of Christians that held to the heresy that the body mattered so little that what you ate, drank, or engaged in physically had no bearing on your holiness– only what you believed with your mind mattered.

This heresy happens to be the heresy that Paul is addressing in 1 Corinthians chapters 5 through 9 before he directly addresses the question: “Can Christians eat at a holiday party where the meal was sacrificed to idols” in chapter 10.

Before Paul can broach the lawfulness of eating food sacrificed to idols, he has to dismantle this heresy of de-spiritualization. You cannot de-spiritualize physical actions to the point of living out a disembodied faith. 

If you think that “only what you believe” matters, and your physical actions don’t, you become easy prey for a special satanic trap known as “the Doctrine of Balaam,” which the Nicolaitans employed as we are told in Revelation 2:14-16.

The Doctrine of Balaam is a New Testament phrase named for an Old Testament character. The Apostle Peter and the Apostle Jude equate Balaam to the false teachers that plagued the early church by polluting the gospel in various ways.

Balaam was a prophet that was asked to place a curse on the Israelites before they entered into the Promised Land. Balak, the Moabite king who asked for the curse to be placed, was very frustrated by Balaam’s inability to curse Israel. Because God was determined to bless them, (Numbers 22-24) Balaam was entirely unable to curse them.

But Balaam was a crafty man. Though he couldn’t curse Israel while they were under God’s blessing, he instructed Balak to entice the Israelites into sexual immorality and idolatry says Numbers 31:16.

Revelation 2:14 condemns Balaam of “[showing] Balak how to trip up the people of Israel. He taught them to sin by eating food sacrificed to idols and by commiting sexual sin.”

Balaam knew about a covenant  loophole– once the Israelites had engaged in sexual immorality and idolatry, God’s chosen and protected people would be punished by Him for ungodliness.

And they were. They were punished by a plague and the offending Israelites were killed.

What we do in the physical is spiritual. The Israelites partook with their bodies and worshipped with their inner being. And both body and spirit were punished…Jesus has a lot to say about this (see Matthew 10:28; Matthew 5:29).

The Nicolaitans were accused of the same folly as Balaam. They tripped Christians up by teaching them to eat and act in their bodies however they wanted; because after all, only the mind mattered.

Old Testament and New, our faith has never been simply cerebral.

By changing its name, the Puritans must have believed they had elevated St. Martin’s Day from an idolatrous feast day to a cerebral holiday that glorifies, not a man, but, ideas– the ideas of gratitude and community.

But you can’t just change a name, or the verbiage and think that that sanitizes the worship out of a holiday or food or drink or sex or feasting.

In talking about liturgical holidays, and which ones have pagan accoutrements, and which and what the kids can participate in, and where and when and how much…stop with the splitting of hairs over the meat sacrificed to idols! This is what Paul would say.

There is a whole other axe to grind:

That is, are you aware of just how spiritual this time of year is?

Are you aware that from a spiritual perspective a meal is just a meal; and from a spiritual perspective a meal is way more than a meal?

From a spiritual perspective the holidays are just a collection of days a year; and from a spiritual perspective the holidays are a hot-bed of spiritual warfare.

Are you aware that this is a sacred season for people who do quite literally sacrifice to idols? Do they pray to no one or nothing?

Investigate 1 Corinthians 8 & 1 Corinthians 10:19-22.

The worst thing we could do this time of year is to ignore the very present spiritual atmosphere while we worry about the past origins of these traditions. The traditions are a technicality.

They are the kind of technicality that Balaam exploited to distract and sabotage the Israelites.

Whenever we can be convinced to focus on only the physical or only the spiritual, rather than considering them and weighing them together, we fall prey to the Doctrine of Balaam and the heresy of the Nicolaitans.

We will be exploring these final four questions regarding spiritual warfare, the “distract to destroy” tactic of the Doctrine of Balaam, and how these concepts have everything to do with the holidays, in my Christmas post due out right around the Winter Solstice.

 

*Side Note: Canadians celebrate Thanksgiving in October closer to Halloween, which is ironic because Martinmas is also called Old Hallowmas Eve or Old Halloween. In some European countries, children trick or treat and carry jack-o-lanterns during St. Martin’s Day festivities.