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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.

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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.

“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.

And Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness for forty days, being tempted by the devil.

Luke 4:1-2a

It is very interesting to me that when Jesus was baptized with the Holy Spirit (which offers an interesting place to ask some Trinitarian questions, but that is for another day) that the Spirit drove Jesus into the wilderness fasting for forty days.  Immediately after this profoundly Trinitarian interplay, Jesus was prompted to withdraw into the wilderness.  He went into battle, in a sense, full of the Holy Spirit.

This battle was not all glory though.  Instead He faced tremendous hurdles and temptations that I would never even dream of facing.  Jesus encountered temptation of pride and desire.  How can I ever think for a second that Jesus does not know what it means to be human?  Jesus (read: God) is our High Priest, as the author of Hebrews reminds us.  This High Priest understands hunger, the oppressive powers, loneliness and despair.  He knows intimately what is needed to get through and how horrible life can be sometimes.  He bore the brunt of it.  Indeed, it was more than what was deserving of Him.

The God of this universe and the essence of beauty descended onto this planet in order to reconcile the world back to Him.  As we are reminded of the promise made to Christ-followers in Col 1:22, “He has now reconciled in his body of flesh by His death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before Him…”  The entire passage is so incredible because it goes from this brilliant God of the cosmos to His intricate action to bring about reconciliation with fallen, rebellious humanity.  He moved from grandeur to self-emptying humility (see Phil 2).

This is the God of Abraham.  The One who makes a covenant and then keeps it despite the failures of those in Abraham’s line.  He acted in order to redeem us.  He kept the covenant and then allowed us to be reconciled through justification by faith in Christ.  That is why we can trust in Christ; we are both heirs of salvation and promise.  The faithful one of Israel (Jesus) has brought us into an abundant life and it’s time to live in that reality.

Soli Deo Gloria!

Lent is a season where many people make promises to do things for a variety of reasons, both secular and sacred. While some abstain for disciplinary purposes in their faith, some abstain for reasons more practical, like getting off of sugar. The latter group would try to link spiritual fitness with their own physical or emotional well-being. Some feel the pressure (as I have at one point in my life) that if other people are doing it then so should I! Good old fashioned Lent peer-pressure! Sad to say, but this point is something that not even well-meaning evangelicals get entirely right.

I do not mean to be overly critical of people who observe Lent. While it is not a biblical mandate or event (then again, neither are summer camps), I view it generally as helpful to one’s faith. The season should be a time used for preparation and spiritual discipline. It is a time of personal reflection between the individual and God. The individual can also come to the sides of other believers and persevere in the time of discipline, as the whole Church anticipates the Passion Week of Christ and his subsequent death on Good Friday. The time should make the triumphant resurrection of Christ on Easter all the sweeter.

While people often give up things, they should also consider adding something on as a discipline. Whatever they choose it should be done with the expressed purpose of conforming their will (through the power of the Holy Spirit) to the will of the Father. This is quite often done in the act of  self denial and taking ones cross to follow in the footsteps of Christ who leads us to the Father. It is also a time of exercising spiritually, training ourselves as an athlete preparing for the Olympics. We should learn discipline and rely upon Christ for strength.

I wholeheartedly endorse Lent as a spiritual practice as long as it is personal, reflective and deeply Christ-centered. This video might help you along this 40 day journey of faith.

The writer of Ecclesiastes deduced that the entire world was nothing but filled with vanity.  Sadly, when we are not in Christ, life is indeed full of vanity.  Life is meaningless when we attempt to do it our own, making plans and enjoying the fruit of our labor when our days are numbered.  For those who are in Christ, we can rest with remarkable assurance that our lives are not meaningless.  We live in the light of God’s beautiful face, and He works through our actions.  If there is no transcendent God, then all we do is wander in this land before we are placed in the grave.

Living life with the perspective of Coram Deo (Before the face of God) in mind allows to walk with ease.  The transcendent (and immanent!) God provides a context of meaning for each one of us, if we place ourselves within His ongoing story of redemption.  A Tabletalk devotional once wrote that “life lived with reference to Him—under heaven—is never an exercise in futility.”  Life lived in Christ is a non-negotiable.

Those who are in Christ are called to live in the reality of knowing that they are “under heaven.”  This reality ought to stiffen the spine of the Christian, prompting them to become more serious about not only learning the will of the Father but then also performing that will.  According to God’s abundant grace, we do not have to grow fearful of missing the mark.  We do not have to fear being wrathfully tossed aside when we fail, instead we can rest assured that God embraces us when we fall.  His Spirit is there to help us to walk and be conformed into the image of Christ.  We must not take this grace for granted, instead we must live our lives in devoted service to our King.

The LORD said to Cain, ‘Why are you angry, and why has your face fallen?  If you do well, will you not be accepted?  And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door.  Its desire is for you, but you must rule over it.’

(Gen 4:6-7 ESV)

As I have begun my quest to read through the Bible, I was struck by this passage.  It came right after Cain and Abel presented their sacrifices to God and He favored Abel’s over Cain.  However, when God saw the dejected spirit of Cain He offered Him a chance of stepping off of his dangerous path.  He told Cain to do well like Abel (offering even when it is difficult) and receive acceptance.  Cain simply did not like this advice.

The picture of sin crouching at the door is particularly vivid to me.  While Abel offered a more acceptable gift and received faith (Heb 11:4), Cain was about to receive punishment for where his mind was leading him.  He did not stop and consider that the valley he was descending on was deadly.

Cain did not comprehend that sin desired his very life.  He did realize that it wanted to master him.  While we are all enslaved to our passions, it is important to root ourselves in Christ where the passions are altered.  James reminds us that we are lured away, enticed by our own desires and ultimately give birth to the very death of us.  That is why we are told about the necessity to take every thought into captivity and bring it to God.  He must fundamentally change our way of seeing and being.

Take heed, for sin’s desire is to enslave and destroy us.

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