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.

I stumbled upon this question on a website and was stunned by the findings:

Q. What is the ultimate origin of moral value?

Final Results
200 user(s) polled.

1. God 17.5%

2. Nature 23%

3. Culture 38%

4. Other 21.5%

The reason that I found this astounding is because the implications of this are so profound. The ultimate origin of moral value was seen by 38% of those polled to be culture. All cultures, regardless of their values, are equal. The cultures promoting peace are the same as those promoting imperialism. Slavery and abolition are theoretically of the same basic essence, since after all, moral value (albeit separate moral values and separate ends) were derived from their culture. Who am I to say that one is right and one is wrong? Who am I to say that a totalitarian form of government is inferior to a republican form of government? Both derived their own moral value from their respective cultures.

Secondly, all moral value could come from nature. That means the natural order of things (read, Darwinian evolutionary theory) comes from "progress" and domination. I look around and nature says that the strongest survive. Social Darwinism and Eugenics surely follow closely behind on the heels of this theory.

Thirdly, other is the origin of all moral value. What could ‘other’ mean? Perhaps it means from extraterrestrials? It could mean it is derived from the automobile? Seriously though, what other possibilities could there be? Other is just an out for people who are too timid to say what’s on their mind.

Finally, the ultimate origin of moral value could come from God. One of the reasons from my Top 10 list "Why I believe in God" would have to be that if there is no God, then there are no rights. Where would our rights to liberty come from? If they came from culture, then culture can change those original assumptions. As a theist, I firmly fall in this camp. There are absolutes in this world (besides, to say that there is no absolute laws in the world is itself absolute…). There is Truth in this world. There is a reason for living in this world. This came in the form of the Word becoming incarnate. Quite honestly, I don’t know how else moral values can come into this world except through that pathway.

I am still in complete shock by the winner of the poll. We are talking about the ultimate origin of all moral value coming from cultures, regardless of their stance.  Even though it is humanity that creates culture, so in all reality moral value is of our own creation. 

Yet, why should this outcome surprise me?  I would rather make up my own rules than play by someone else’s rules. 

The great political philosopher Machiavelli once reveled in the time he spent during his free evenings as a farmer.  He said that he would stay in his room and surround himself with his books.  While reading it would be as if he was conversing with departed intellectual giants.  The same can be applied to working through the writings of the wise men and women who have gone before us in Church History (I would not just limit this principle to theology, but to all disciplines.  It is absurd to discount the wisdom of thinkers from Socrates to Pope John Paul II).  These brothers and sisters (departed saints, of course) can provide clarifications in the Biblical text.  Of course they should never supersede the Bible, but they can also warn you if your interpretation is approaching dangerous grounds theologically.  If I view Jesus as someone who was made, since He is the Son of God, and had a beginning, then Athanasius’ On The Incarnation will help correct this error.  He will force you to go back to the text and reexamine it.  If he says something that is false though then you will have to analyze it deeper.  CS Lewis believed that old books were important to read because, while they might contain errors, those errors have been vetted through history and can be spotted quicker since they are from a different time.  New books have errors in them that we are still steeped in and are more difficult to spot.

The heritage of the Reformation was that all people could read the Bible for themselves.  Indeed while I entirely endorse this idea, we cannot simply be by ourselves.  We must engage with other people in a time-transcending Bible study.  That is why I endorse the reading of Scripture with other solid Christians, both in present and past (read: books) conversations.  Doing so will correct our errors and potentially dangerous, heretical mistakes while also sharpening our minds and deepening our relationships with God who has revealed Himself in Scripture.

I was asked recently by a family member why they should read other writers than the biblical ones.  After all, if I truly affirmed the Reformational idea of Sola Scriptura, what profit would it be to me to also consult with the likes of John Calvin, Augustine or Thomas Aquinas?  Why can’t I sit in the comfort of my own home office and read the Bible by myself?  Why can’t I just interpret it myself?  After all, I am a Protestant who believes in the “Priesthood of all Believers!”  While I certainly do believe in the necessity for every Christian to read the Bible, to do so completely by oneself is potentially hazardous to the individual.

GK Chesterton once noted that tradition was the democracy of the dead.  Chesterton said this about the Nineteen Hundred years of the Church Triumphant (those who have died).  While we have the ability to ask a theologian, pastor or lay-scholar a question in our various congregations and communities, this ability does not stop there.  We have the capability to ask the host of brilliant Christians from the past about their opinions on Biblical concepts and passages.  Influence does not stop at the grave.

We ask other people for help in interpreting passages, so why wouldn’t we ask the brilliant people of the past?  It is helpful to read them because modern day people often read themselves into the text.  Many American Evangelicals (of the more Dispensationalist types in this example) will view the Bible through the prism of current events or political philosophy.*  All events point to the Antichrist and people bring proof-texts to serve their purpose.  Exploring the thoughts of past Church Fathers and Mothers will help root us in our faith with clarity.  While it might not alter a position, at the very least it will challenge the individual to think deeper about their faith.  So those who believe in freewill, get into an argument with Calvin or Charles Hodge.  For those who are Reformed, get into a sparring match with Wesley.  So in short, read widely and broadly in order to read Scripture more deeply.

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* Of course there will be issues with Reformed, Roman Catholic, Lutheran and other denominations.  I use Dispensationalists because the example is very clear.

I remember growing up and becoming confused by the term “Christian Music.”  I always assumed that a Christian artist created this music and wrote only about God.  They could only sing about the love of Jesus or something of that nature.  It was often lamented when a formerly “Christian” band crossed over into the secular realm.  Their music no longer explored Christ but talked about something else.  In short, Christian art could only depict Biblical themes.  An artist was either in the camp of Christ or was in the realm of something more sinister.

While this worldview can be applauded for its zeal, it simply is not ideal.  God has provided grace to the world and has fashioned humans to be creative.  He delights in the creative impulse of His children and appreciates the talent of those outside of Christ.  The Holy Spirit has gifted people to create culture regardless of their standing before Him.  We can enjoy their art, whether a painting or concert, and applaud their creation of beauty.

At many points in history, Christians were at the forefront of artistic movements.  I can think of Bach, Handel and Tolkien as people who created excellent things and were also Christians.  The fact that we are people who proclaim that we are redeemed by Christ should be reason enough to do things well.  Additionally, we as Christians should not endorse mediocre art just because the person is a Christian.  We must create culture that is robust and worth sharing with the broader world.  It is not enough to stay in our little bubble and subculture.  We must not produce mediocre art, instead opting to enter into the mainstream to directly engage culture.  This engagement should be done with excellent culture, for in that we bring glory to God.

When people talk about Jesus they often do not correlate the fact that He was not just a man.  The fact that He referred to Himself as the Son of God also lends itself to the confusion.  Jesus must have had a beginning, many people deduce this from the term son. Truly, if Jesus had a beginning and was a son, then He would have been made subordinate to the Father, right?  It was and is asserted by many that Jesus is not equal to the Father, who is eternal, but had a beginning point.

This view above is called Arianism and it is not considered orthodox Christianity.  Jesus was fully God and fully man in one person.  He was two “whats” in one “who.”  Now, why would this be so important to the faith?  It is important because only God could save us and only humanity needed the saving.  He bore our sins and acted as the sacrifice, providing an atonement for our transgressions.  Jesus acted as the bridge between God and humanity.  He became the perfect High Priest as the Book of Hebrews discussed about at great lengths.  I would recommend that you read that book carefully and see what the author argued for in their work.  Jesus was described as “the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power” (Heb 1:3).  Jesus is the great High Priest who intercedes for us before the throne of God, able to save and redeem His people, those people who are eagerly waiting for Him (Heb 9:28).

As a side note– God is not a Christian.  A Christian is a Christ follower, a little Christ.  God revealed Himself to us through the Bible and definitively in the person of Jesus the Messiah.  Those who follow Christ are to be considered Christians (and certainly God does not do that…).  Jesus referred to Himself in the Gospel according to John that He was “I AM.”  He directly equated Himself to the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.   We have to take Jesus at His own word here, for this is a very bold statement.  To echo CS Lewis,  he was either a liar, lunatic or the very person He claimed to be– God.  Quite frankly I see no other option.

There has been a lot of discussion recently about the seemingly illiterate masses when it comes to religious and biblical matters.  These people are not just those who do not call Christianity their own or those people who do call themselves Christian but do not actively engage it (an excellent article on this issue can be found here).  These are the evangelicals, the conservative wing of Protestant Christianity.  Many who would want the 10 Commandments posted in the halls of courts cannot cite them .  A recent Pew poll confirmed this and another poll by The White Horse Inn at a Christian bookseller fair demonstrated this.  Interestingly enough, atheists are very literate when it comes to religious matters.

I want to periodically explore what it means to be a Christian and clearly delineate the belief system.  This series will touch on issues from the Trinity to Eschatology and it is not my intentions to make the series exhaustive or definitive.  It is my belief that many Christians want to “save” people so badly that we forget what we believe and why we even believe it.  If we recover biblical literacy, we can then accurately preach the good news of Christ.  The good news (the gospel) that Jesus is Lord and Savior– who lived, was crucified  and three days later raised from the grave in glory.

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.

“Preach the gospel always, If necessary use words."

-St. Francis of Assisi

It embarrasses me how often I have used the quote from St Francis to mean that we should just live the gospel and not say anything to anybody, ever.  The gospel becomes more like good advice, the gospel is twisted into a self help message, transforming into, Become a Better You: 7 Keys to Improving Your Life Every Day.  If my life’s transformation is the good news then I am afraid that that good news is incredibly lame!  If we consider and accept that our default condition in this world is one of being removed from God’s presence and from even desiring God (such as Total Depravity explores, our inability to reach out to God), then what happens to me is not the good news.  It may be a byproduct of the acceptance of this good news, indeed my life should rightly be transformed through sanctification, but the good news I ought to proclaim is that God became man, lived, died and rose again for my justification.  In this context, good advice would be to accept the good news! 

The Apostle Paul picks up this theme in one of his epistles.  Paul writes to the Galatians in chapter 1,

“I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel—not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ.”             (1:6-7, ESV)

Paul seems to make the point that there is no such thing as an alternative gospel.  The thing that is preached by other people is the Law, not the Gospel.  The Law is about doing something and the Gospel is about something that has been done. The Gospel message is that through faith in Christ, we can be reconciled to God and be justified.  If an angel or another human preaches an alternative message than they should be eternally condemned (see Gal 1:8-9).  The gospel is too great of a message to be about me and my life.

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