Celebrating Saint Valentine’s Day

The Truth

We don’t know very much for certain about Valentine (Latin Valentinus) other than it seems his death was on February 14. His name comes from the Latin valens which means strong. Pope Gelasius established a feast in his name in AD 496 but admitted lacking details about his life. There may be more than one martyr named Valentine but similar accounts of their lives lead us to think they refer to one man.

One account reports that Valentine served as a priest in Rome and was condemned by Emperor Claudius II who had forbidden marriage in order to strengthen his military. Valentine performed marriages anyway, was taken prisoner, and though initially liked by Claudius was eventually beaten with clubs and stones and beheaded around 270 after sharing the gospel with the Emperor. Other stories have him refusing to sacrifice to pagan gods, effectively praying for healing for his jailer’s blind daughter, and leaving a note signed “Your Valentine” for her on the day of his execution. Continue reading

Assurance Isn’t In Your Bellybutton

The Hesychasts were a group of mystic monks that originated in the 14th century at Mt. Athos in Greece. They took on a practice that while laughable is an all too common approach to spirituality and assurance. They discovered that by holding their breath and staring at their bellybuttons, they could receive revelation from God, or rather what they thought was revelation. This is where the phrase navel-gazing comes from. Just stare at yourself, focus on your sins, or your virtues for that matter, and do this in a meditative frame of mind and God will surely show Himself to you.

The Bible teaches us the almost the exact opposite of this. If we want to understand ourselves and experience our Maker, we have to look away from ourselves: “let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus”, we’re told (Heb. 12:1-2). To understand ourselves, James says to look at the perfect law of liberty and then do what it says (1:25)—and it doesn’t direct us to our bellybuttons, but rather to do justice, show mercy, walk humbly, to love our God with everything we have and our neighbors as ourselves.

I said almost the exact opposite because Scripture does tell us to know ourselves. Paul says to “Test yourselves to see if you are in the faith; examine yourselves! Or do you not recognize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you—unless indeed you fail the test?” (2 Cor. 13:5). It’s good to see if God has converted you—do you believe in his Son’s death and resurrection for your sins? Do you have godly sorrow that leads to repentance? God wants us to call on his name for salvation, and once we’ve done so He wants assure our hearts. But we’re not assured by constantly looking to our hearts much less our navels. C.S. Lewis noted if you ever met a humble man, you wouldn’t notice him being humble. You’d notice his interest in you, asking questions, taking care. God frees us from ourselves—all of our cares, concerns, burdens and sins–and calls us to look to Him and be overwhelmed by His grace and love. There we find everything.

Watch with a Clean Conscience & Clear Head

Imagine people preparing days in advance for a worship service. Throughout the week, last Sunday’s meeting is hashed out in every detail, all analyzed and understood, enjoyed and reflected upon. It builds to the next one. What will happen? What will we sing and pray? What will the preacher say about the text?

The roads can be crammed on the way to church so people plan: when they will leave, where they will park—no one wants to sit in the nosebleeds. They pay attention to how they dress because they’re meeting the king of the universe—it’s not about dressing for yourself as a selfish individual, but for God and his people, all cheering for him. Some guys have their shirts off and chests painted with their favorite psalms.

The event begins with much anticipation, people on their feet, heads clear, throats ready to shout amen and sing.  If only we were as excited about our god as America is about the Super Bowl! We’d be having a lot more fun and be a lot more blessed.

The Super Bowl is as close to religiously and culturally united our culture gets. Continue reading

Death Defeated But Still Opposed

“Of all men, we hope most of death; yet nothing will reconcile us to–well, its unnaturalness. We know that we were not made for it; we know how it crept into our destiny as an intruder; and we know Who has defeated it. Because our Lord is risen we know that on one level it is an enemy already disarmed; but because we know that the natural level also is God’s creation we cannot cease to fight against the death which mars it, as against all those other blemishes upon it, against pain and poverty, barbarism and ignorance. Because we love something else more than this world we love even this world better than those who know no other.”  –C.S. Lewis God in the Dock

You Can Only Give What You Have

“No generation can bequeath to its successor what it has not got. You may frame the syllabus as you please. But when you have planned and reported ad nauseam, if we are sceptical we shall teach only scepticism to our pupils, if fools only folly, if vulgar only vulgarity, if saints sanctity, if heroes heroism. Education is only the most fully conscious of the channels whereby each generation influences the next. It is not a closed system. Nothing which was not in the in the teachers can flow from them into the pupils. We shall all admit that man who knows no Greek himself cannot teach Greek to his form: but it is equally certain that a man whose mind was formed in a period of cynicism and disillusion, cannot teach hope or fortitude.”

C.S. Lewis, from “On the Transmission of Christianity” in God in the Dock


The Issue of Our Generation

January 19th marks the 30th anniversary of Sanctity of Human Life Sunday, which President Reagan designated on January 22, 1984, 11 years after Roe v. Wade overturned laws in every state opposing abortion. Since Roe v Wade, 41 years ago, we’ve had over 54 million abortions, the entire population of the Great Lakes region, including Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and New York, and the province of Ontario, over 17 percent of the current U.S. population.

This is the single most important issue of our generation. If a church in the segregated south didn’t insist that the image of God given to mankind of every race ensures equal rights, what would God say to that church?If a church in Rwanda in 1994 didn’t take a stand against the genocide of the Tutsis by the Hutus, what good would that church be? And in our day if a church doesn’t oppose the infanticide that happens in doctors’ offices for tens of millions of dollars of profit off those in desperate circumstances, that church has lost its saltiness. Our shepherds are cowards and the sheep are devoured. “My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge” (Hos. 4:6).

Opposing abortion isn’t the only issue of our day, but it is the most important, our calling to stand up for the weakest and most vulnerable among us. Like any enormous injustice, the ways of repentance are many. It begins with fathers having the heavenly Father’s heart, sacrificing themselves for their wives and children, rather than using women and allowing their children to be sacrificed for them. It includes men and women repenting of murder for convenience. It includes the church repenting of her cowardice for not addressing this issue, and failing to disciple its own. Idols always call for blood. So does the true God. We are cleansed by the blood of Christ, and his grace is greater than our sin, including the sin of murder. This is our great strength and hope, the only way of deliverance.

Thick & Clear

C.S. Lewis gave an address titled Christian Apologetics (found in God in the Dock)  to Anglican priests and youth leaders at a church in Wales where he made a distinction between Thick and Clear religions:

By Thick I mean those which have orgies and ecstasies and mysteries and local attachments: Africa is full of Thick religions. By Clear I mean those which are philosophical, ethical and universalizing: Stoicism, Buddhism, and the Ethical Church are Clear religions. Now if there is a true religion it must be both Thick and Clear: for the true God must have made both the child and the man, both the savage and the citizen, both the head and the the belly.

Thick religion accounts for the goodness of our “parts and passions”, as previous writers called them. It’s important to say the goodness of the passions, because most belief systems do something with them, and at least since Plato the West has tended to consider the body something to ultimately escape. To be in heaven, tragically even in many Christian churches, is to be airily disembodied. So ethereal has come to mean “heavenly” and “light, thin, airy.” Thick religion embraces the goodness of beer and baseball, of bed and board.

Clear religion utilizes what the West has identified as fundamental to our species, homo sapiens, thinking man. Man may love bread, but he doesn’t live by it alone. He thinks, studies, compares, classifies, and writes poems about it. Someone said no pleasure is complete until it is remembered. So Thick and Clear go together. Lewis argues that only two religions really combine these, Hinduism and Christianity.

But Hinduism fulfills it imperfectly. The Clear religion of the Brahmin hermit in the jungle and the Thick religion of the neighboring temple go on side by side. The Brahmin hermit doesn’t bother about the temple prostitution nor the worshipper in the temple about the hermit’s metaphysics. but Christianity really breaks down the middle wall of the partition. It takes a convert from central Africa and tells him to obey an enlightened universalistic ethic: it takes a twentieth-century academic prig like me and tells me to go fasting to a Mystery, to drink the blood of the Lord. The savage has to be Clear: I have to be Thick. That is how one knows one has come to the real religion.

The Son of man came eating and drinking. The Word of God took on flesh, and after his bodily resurrection Jesus ate fish and honey. In Him we see a continual adventure, truth and wonder for the mind, and exultant joy in the body; we find the way, the truth, and the life seamlessly woven together.

Salvation vs Its Potential

On the difference between Calvinism and Arminianism, Definite Atonement versus Indefinite Atonement.

“It is the difference between the man who manufactures life vests and the man who pulls drowning people out of the water, between the man who makes a scalpel and the man who uses it to cut out a cancerous tumor to save a patient’s life. Creating a system to do something is a fundamentally different thing from actually doing it. Thus, saying that Jesus creates a salvation system rather than saving us gives us a  fundamentally different perspective on the cross and the empty tomb.”

-Greg Forster, The Joy of Calvinism, p54-55

Merry in Advance: An Advent Primer

Advent means “coming” and consists of the four weeks leading up to Christmas. Many Christians want to celebrate this wonderful season but don’t know where to begin and are weary of some traditions for good reason.

The coming of Jesus Christ is all about hope, nicely summed up by Paul in Romans 15:12: ”And again Isaiah says, “The root of Jesse will come, even he who arises to rule the Gentiles; in him will the Gentiles hope.” May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.”

What the Bible marks as a season of hope–remembering Jesus’ first coming (which Israel anticipated with hope) or looking forward to his second coming–parts of the church mark as a season of repentance. This is not to say that hope isn’t consistent with repentance, but it’s odd when the Old Covenant calendar had one set day of affliction (Yom Kippur, Lev. 16), for the church in the New Covenant to multiply fast days. Continue reading

Beholding His Beauty

King David lived a life on the run, fighting for his life. He killed lions as a shepherd, Goliath as a young warrior, he fled from Saul numerous times in fear of his life, he battled the Amalekites as an exile in Philistia after they took the women and children of Ziklag, and after he was established as king in Israel he fled from his own son Absalom who stole the throne. In the midst of all these troubles, what motivated him? What did he long for most during his hectic life? For what did he consistently desire?

In Ps. 27:4 he says, “One thing have I asked of the LORD, that I will seek after: that I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the LORD and to inquire at his temple.” David wasn’t hoping for an apartment to live at the tabernacle so he could be there 24/7. He wanted to worship there Sabbath to Sabbath with God’s people, and to do this was to dwell with the Lord and behold his beauty all of his days.

We don’t worship once a week and work the other days because we only need to connect occasionally with God or because work is more important. Beholding the beauty of God with his saints is to bring him into every part of life, which is not to say that every part of life is the same kind of worship. David didn’t long for his small group or early morning prayer time in the same way. He longed for the beauty of the Lord in the called and assembled worship, but seeing this beauty filled all of his days, and he prayed for it always to do so. What if we felt the way David did? What if we beheld God’s beauty in the worship service and that beauty captured us so we desiree to do it our whole life? And what if at the end we could say we dwelt in the house of the Lord all the days of our lives? And what if we did this, and had a such a good time doing it, that it was naturally contagious and received by our kids and grandkids? These gifts are not far away but set in our laps, in the very worship services we attend. The question is whether we see Him.