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I often get flak from people being a seminary student.  People are concerned that I might lose my faith while at school while others are concerned that I might become a fundamentalist.  Fuller Seminary is too liberal for some and too conservative for others!  As for me, I view it as being just right.

I enjoy the ecumenical dialogue that I encounter at school, talking about matters of our common Christian faith with Lutherans, Presbyterians, Anglicans and other Protestant denominations.  For the most part, I have found that my faith has deepened dramatically as I begin to understand the beautiful depth of Christianity.  Of course it is a very simple faith, anybody can become a follower of Christ.  However, it is often the depth within discipleship that will be the pivotal deal breaker.  As Dietrich Bonhoeffer once astutely observed, “When Christ calls a man, He bids him come and die.”  This is a hard saying of Christ, something that can be a deal breaker.  I think that this is why some people would rather hide in the arrogance of the “Ivory Tower” and not fully become a disciple of Christ with incredible depth.  Of course others might want to hide in being an uneducated Christian, not wanting to wade into the depths of our faith, preferring to stay in the shallow end of Christianity.  I say to both sides, come and revel in the joys of being a disciple and take Christ at His word!  As John Calvin would encourage, cultivate a knowledge of the heart where our faith can be robust and authentic.  Let us drink in deeply our Christian heritage and learn to sit at the feet of Jesus.

CS Lewis’ The Great Divorce presents a very unique tale about the afterlife. It is one that is told in a refreshingly new way, dispelling the preconceptions that 21st Century humanity often bring to the table. Harps, clouds, flames, and pitchforks aside, Lewis brings something different to the theological subject. He highlights and personifies the things that so often hinder people from capturing the purpose of human existence. The plight of humanity can be addressed and remedied, and Lewis offers this hope within his writings. The personifications within this book can hopefully free you and I from the pitfalls of life (and I hope you read this short, hard-hitting story). Wherever you find yourself on the journey of life, know that there is hope for better days.

Lewis has an especially interesting character that speaks to me. As someone who enjoys philosophy and ideological debates, I can say with certainty that arguing can be fun. Debating ideas and jousting ideologies can be very stimulating, but ideas are also very dangerous. Ideas change the world and can inspire good or evil. The character in chapter five of The Great Divorce is a man who falls into this philosophical category. A solid person (read: a citizen of the bright, solid world) meets a friend from his former life who is nothing but a shadowy ghost (read: a citizen of the gray lands). The ghost came to this idyllic Eden on a trip and meets his friend and begins to converse. Towards the end of the conversation came an interesting exchange:

‘Listen!’ said the White Spirit (The solid person). ‘Once you were a child. Once you knew what inquiry was for. There was a time when you asked questions because you wanted answers, and were glad when you had found them. Become that child again: even now.’

‘Ah, but when I became a man I put away childish things.’ (replied the ghost)

‘You have gone far wrong. Thirst was made for water; inquiry for truth. What you now call the free play of inquiry has neither more nor less to do with the ends for which intelligence was given you than masturbation has to do with marriage.’

Inquiry was made for truth. What a stunning statement to be made in a rootless, postmodern world! There is truth in the world and there is a necessity to find that truth. Not truths or a devout, honest opinion that this ghost would propose in The Great Divorce. Philosophy and theology has an ultimate goal. Philosophizing for the sake of philosophizing should not occur. Philosophizing for the pursuit of truth and clarity, that is the proper vehicle. (The ghost, funny enough, was an Episcopalian minister. He boldly denied the Resurrection and even organized a theological paper presentation!) Philosophy is a great subject and vehicle of pursuit. But that search must always be towards truth and clarity. And yes, that is my devout, honest opinion.

Over the past couple of years, I have tried to start digging into the classics of the Western World. Reading through a few of the great authors of Europe, I have realized certain themes and ideas that permeate our modern society. However, I do not want to bore you with those concepts here (at least for today’s post). Instead, I want to challenge you with a picture from the great political thinker Niccolò Machiavelli‘s life. Machiavelli (the author of The Prince) loved Florence and the political scene within its walls. However, he was forced out of that beloved atmosphere and he chose a life of exile at his family’s farm. The farm, within view of the dome of the cathedral, was the place that he spent a portion of his life, taking up chores and tasks around the property. In the mundane nature of manual labor (I’m not blasting manual labor, I love Mike Rowe and Dirty Jobs!), this political thinker used that time to his advantage. Machiavelli mused on the political atmosphere during the day and studied his books in the evening. He wrote, thought, and immersed himself in the political realities of the day even though his situation was less than ideal for him.

The period of Machiavelli’s life reminded me about the necessity to live wholly during the seasons of your life, even if they are tough. I once heard a sermon about the nature of humanity to perpetually want the next best thing in life. As a child you will want to go to high school, then you will want to attend college, then you will want to date someone, then you will want to be married, then you will want to have kids, then you will want the kids to move out, then you will want grandkids, then you will want retirement. Unfortunately, by the time you have retired, you will then realize that you want to be a kid again! Besides the fact that this is entirely exhausting, this lifestyle misses the entire point of life. Even during the season of want and plenty, we ought to enjoy those times and take advantage of the unique opportunities that they afford. Even in the darkest storm, there could be a small sliver of opportunity for your growth. Perhaps this current season of your life has provided you a chance to perform that goal. Even though Machiavelli wanted to be in the bustle of Florence, he took advantage of the quiet evenings to expand his knowledge. Even though you look forward to the next step in life, you should take advantage of life right now. All we have is this season, who can ever tell what next month will bring?

In the wise words of Ferris Bueller, “Life moves pretty fast. You don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.” Seasons of our lives provide times to grow and it is incredibly easy to miss it. Keep your eyes open and enjoy each season of your life.

“We are not our own; let not our reason nor our will, therefore, sway our plans and deeds.  We are not our own; let us therefore not set it as our goal to seek what is expedient for us according to the flesh.  We are not our own; in so far as we can, let us therefore forget ourselves and all that is ours.

Conversely, we are God’s: let us therefore live for him and die for him.  We are God’: let his wisdom and will therefore rule all our actions.  We are God’s: let all the parts of our life accordingly strive toward him as our only lawful goal.

– John Calvin

I am not my own.

If I trust in Jesus, that He has justified me before a holy God, then I am included in the family of faith.  This declaration does not just stop there, instead I am being sanctified (made into the image of Christ) and will be glorified on resurrection day.  In other words, I am a work in progress.

Since I am not my own, I am included in the Body of Christ.  Paul used this metaphor to demonstrate that I am found in a community of other Christ-followers.  We make up the global Church and are from different ages, ethnic groups and eras.  We have different gifts and all can benefit from their sharing.  Yes, we have different views on matters like what communion means (is it the spiritual body of Christ or just a symbol?), how we should baptize people (to dunk adults or sprinkle infants?), and how we read Revelation (past, present or future reality?).  In all of these things, I am convinced that we need each other, for we are not our own.  We belong to Christ.

I am certain that remarkable things could occur if people who call themselves Christians held onto this truth and fully grasped the dramatic nature of this reality.  Imagine what would occur if those who are Arminian and those who are Reformed understood that they are united in Christ and learned to truly love each other.  Indeed, those who are Roman Catholic are united with Eastern Orthodox and they too considered that they are siblings.  To go further, those who wear nice clothing to worship services are united to those in board shorts.  Those who prefer hymns and those who prefer loud worship music are joined together.  We are one body in Christ, a testimony to reconciliation between Jew and Gentile, male and female, worker and employer.  Call me a dreamer, but I believe that all can be united in Christ– I am convinced of this reality.

Only, let us just begin to live that life in love.  In Christ.

O Sacred Head, Now Wounded
Bernard of Clairvaux

O sacred Head, now wounded, with grief and shame weighed down,
Now scornfully surrounded with thorns Your only crown,
O sacred Head, no glory now from Your face does shine;
Yet, though despised and gory, I joy to call You mine.

Men mock and taunt and jeer You. They smite Your countenance.
Though mighty worlds shall fear You, and flee before Your glance.
How pale You are with anguish, with sore abuse and scorn!
Your eyes with pain now languish that once were bright as morn!

My burden in Your passion, Lord, You have borne for me,
For it was my transgression, my shame, on Calvary.

I cast me down before you; wrath is my rightful lot.
Have mercy, I implore You; Redeemer, spurn me not!

What language shall I borrow to thank You, dearest Friend,

For this, Your dying sorrow, Your pity without end?
Oh, make me Yours forever, and keep me strong and true;
Lord, let me never, never outlive my love for You.

“Behold, God is my salvation; I will trust, and will not be afraid; for the LORD GOD is my strength and my song, and he has become my salvation.”

Isaiah 12:2

This verse hit me hard this week and I felt that it was appropriate that I mentioned it on Maundy Thursday.  The thing that struck me was that the verse was loaded with Messianic expectation, and I just had to write about it.  Looking back with a New Testament perspective, one can see that this passage looked forward to the revealing of the Messiah Jesus.  Isaiah anticipated that the LORD, the covenant keeping God, would pronounce salvation to His people.  Even in times of trouble, the LORD protected His people.  He brought them out of Egypt and would bring them back from exile.  Indeed He would not stop there with these physical acts, but would take salvation to an even grander scale.

In Genesis, God promised to bless the world through Abraham’s descendents.  He would deliver on His promise to Abraham of blessing the entire world and provide the pathway to reconciliation among Jew and Gentile.  This reconciliation and uniting of Jew and Gentile came through Jesus.  Jesus, the second person of the Trinity, would literally become our salvation.  He would clothe Himself with flesh and live on this planet.  He was crucified under Pontius Pilate and made to be shameful in order to bring us life.  He removed our guilt and shame through the scandal of the cross.  The Messiah also provided us a Way to eternal life through His death and resurrection.  He became our salvation in His life.

Jesus also said if you trust in God; trust also in Him (Jn 14:1).  It is truly wonderful that Jesus not only took away our sin but He also then offered us life.  It is only in our trusting in Him can we sing the hymn Paul quoted in Colossians about the cosmic Lord.  For it is in Christ that we have life and can live as humans were meant to live, in right relationship with our God.

He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.

Colossians 1:15-20

“Christ died for the ungodly”

These words pierced through my heart this past week, especially when it is connected with the metaphor Paul used in II Corinthians 4:7-18 of treasure being placed in jars of clay.  Let me explain this connection.  Paul writes in verse 7,

But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us.

The metaphor reminds me that I am a mere pot, a jar that is used to contain just about anything.  A pot could contain oil, garbage, the remains of a person, or something worse.  God instead chose to fill the vessel with treasure.  For those that are in Christ, Paul gives us the assurance that God placed treasure inside of an individual, and that is reason enough to be happy.  Indeed all those who call upon the name of the Lord and put their faith in Christ will obtain this treasure.

Paul told us about the treasure earlier in the chapter.  He found that the treasure is…

…the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake. For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.

2 Cor 4:4-6

This treasure should not cause anyone to boast in their own worth, for again those who are in Christ are a jar of clay.  These jars have been redeemed out of mire for service to the King.  As I wrote above, Christ died for the ungodly.  He took the punishment that I rightly deserved.  He took it for me that I might be justified before God.  This is reason enough to be excited, but He doesn’t stop there!  He then gives us every spiritual blessing and draws us into what it means to be human again.  Those who are in Christ are given new life with a promise.  We are given the promise that,

Since we have the same spirit of faith according to what has been written, “I believed, and so I spoke,” we also believe, and so we also speak, knowing that he who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus and bring us with you into his presence.

(2 Cor 4:13-14)

Being united with God again and transformed into the image of Christ.  Indeed, He who raised Jesus from the grave will also raise us up through the power of the Spirit.  How can these incredible things be?  We are assured that we will not be put to shame, for the resurrection of Christ is the firstfruits of new life.  He will be faithful to His word, for that is His very character.  Indeed how fortunate are those who can call themselves the ungodly and jars of clay?  And the great thing is, is that you can call upon Christ and He will make you a jar of clay—an ordinary pot that contains the treasure of God!  How great is that?

The importance of remembering is mentioned quite a bit in the Bible.  One of the great portions of Scripture though is Deuteronomy.  In the Book of Deuteronomy, Moses needed to give the new generations of Israelites the history of their people, why they were in the suburbs of the Promised Land.  While the original generation that left Egypt died off during the wilderness period as a punishment, the children did not fully understand the miraculous act that happened decades before their time.  They were raised in the desert and the wandering nomad life was all that they knew.

The Lord of Israel was made to known to the new generations of Israel as Moses recounted their story again in Deuteronomy.  He told them that the LORD alone is God and that there is no other.  Why?  Because He brought them out of Egypt.  That is the basis of the claim, because God brought them out of a strong land with powerful acts.  Throughout the OT this is the basis of so many claims to being and remaining faithful to God.  Israel ought to love God alone because He brought them out. Therefore, the people should “keep his statutes and commandments.” (Deut 4:40)

The people were also told to bind them on their heart and make it a sign in their house (6:7-9)  It was important to do this because they (and indeed we) are so quick to forget.  We must always be mindful of the fact that it is God who provided.  He provided bounty for Israel and a cultivated land for their heritage.  It is in this faithfulness He made with His people (a covenantal faithfulness) that they were called to hold onto every day.

So we should give God honor and praise for his magnanimous nature.  In this praise, we should also remember what He has done, namely redeeming us through Jesus. He was faithful, even when we were faithless.

The great Christian message of Jesus is not perfect happiness as we usually consider it.  It is not about the personal acquisition of wealth or land.  Instead, the main thread that runs through Christianity is to “give up yourself and you will find your real self.”  CS Lewis wrote this and went on to explore the paradox of submitting oneself to this type of death presently in the hope of life eternally.  This death (not literally “you have died of dysentery” death…), in a manner of speaking, will ultimately bring about the arrival of life, both now and forever.  The new life that we experience, this “real self” as Lewis suggested, will be manifested in this life.  The Spirit brings new life for those who are in Christ.  Paul reminds us,

You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him. But if Christ is in you, although the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness. If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you.

Romans 8:9-11

The perceived loss of one’s present life is really the gaining of a greater life.

The Christian narrative is truly one wrought with seemingly paradoxical statements.  Our life is marked by crucifomity, being made into the image of the crucified Christ which often means suffering.  How painful it is to realize this!  I would much rather be comfortable in my faith and ignore this, but that is simply not so.  My hope and prayer is that those in Christ might realize that we are truly at home when we learn this act of obedience.  As Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote in The Cost of Discipleship, “When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die.”  Indeed this is a tough thing, but where else can we go?  For it is only in Christ that the words of eternal life are offered.

Let us believe and hold fast to them throughout the Lenten season and beyond.

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