Monthly Archives: March 2013

“Adam, Jesus Christ”

Blaise Pascal in Pensees has some wise words for us on the futility in finding truth and goodness apart from God. This quote mirrors the theme of several of my other posts on the topic so I will not elaborate too much here. To understand the quote below you’ll need to know that “concupiscence” is a “strong desire,” particularly bodily in nature.

“Men, it is vain that you seek within yourselves the cure for your miseries. All your intelligence can only bring you to realize that it is not within yourselves that you will find either truth or good.

“The philosophers made such promises and they failed to keep them.

“They do not know what your true good is, nor what your true state is.

“How could they provide cures for ills which they did not even know? Your chief maladies are the pride that withdraws you from God, and the concupiscence that binds you to earth; all they have done is keep one of these maladies going. If they you God for object it was only to exercise your pride; they made you think that you were like him and of a similar nature. And those who saw the vanity of such pretension cast you into the other abyss, by giving you to understand that your nature was like that of the beasts, and they induced you to seek your own good in concupiscence, which is the lot of the animals.”

If the cure from our miseries does not lie within ourselves, where does it lie? Spoken from the perspective of the Wisdom of God:

“Only I can make you understand what you are.

“I do not demand of you blind faith.

“Adam, Jesus Christ.

“If you are united to God, it is by grace, and not by nature.

“If you are humbled, it is by penitence, not by nature.”

Truth and goodness is not found in the first man, Adam, but in the second man, Jesus Christ, the man of grace, goodness, and truth. In his life, death, and resurrection we are humbled, united with God, and brought to new life. Since only God knows us, only God can accurately diagnose and fix our problems.

Looking for equality, love, and freedom?

Are you looking for equality, love, and freedom?

Find it in Jesus, at the cross.

We are equal in our humanity. We have all been formed in the image of God and are all, therefore, worthy of honor, love, and respect. God knit us together, loves us, and pursues us as a Father.

We are equal in our rebellion. We have all turned away. We all fall short. We all stand convicted before a holy God. We’re all sick and in need of healing, in slavery to sin and in need of someone to free us, guilty and in need of forgiveness.

We are equal before the cross. We can all find forgiveness, healing, and freedom if we come to Jesus at the cross. Here our rebellion is paid for in full. At the cross we see love, real love, not any cheap imitation.

At the cross we see love that

…… deals directly with sin. Jesus’ love displayed on the cross does not hide our sin or pretend it does not exist. In the cross we see the horrifying reality of our rebellion and its true offensive to our Creator.

…… goes to extreme and sacrificial lengths to bring us salvation. Our rebellion is dealt with once for all through Jesus’ sacrificial death.

…… takes us as we are. No one comes to the cross as a “good” person. We all come in our rebellion as enemies of God, but we walk away his friend, reconciled to our Father.

… demands our radical life change and sacrificial obedience. We are all called to take up our own cross and live a life of love and obedience. This call is an act of love because when we lose our life (living by our own terms) we find it in abundance in God.

… brings freedom.

The cross brings freedom from the slavery of sin. When we come to faith we share in Jesus’ death. We no longer have to live at the whims of our rebellious desires. We are free to live a life of love and obedience.

The cross brings freedom from the fear of death. On the cross Jesus conquered the one who holds the power of death by taking away the sting of death, sin. For the one who comes to Jesus in faith, death is an enemy that’s been beaten and we can live in that glorious freedom.

The true nature of our equality, the true nature of love, and the true nature of freedom are revealed, and offered freely to us, in Jesus on the cross. Go to the cross.

Can you articulate what you believe?

One of the findings from the authors of Soul Searching: Religious and Spiritual Lives of American Teenagers is that the vast majority of American teenagers are extremely inarticulate about their faith. They simply couldn’t answer basic questions about their core religious beliefs.

Perhaps they lacked knowledge, or didn’t believe much at all. Perhaps a bigger reason was that they were never asked by anyone to articulate their faith. As someone who works with youth, this was eye opening. It made me realize the importance of giving teenagers (and adults for the matter) opportunities to verbalize what they believe and why.

Another interpretation for the data not posited by the authors is that some kids simply have a lot of scattered knowledge and religious information that they simply don’t know where to begin when asked the incredibly broad question, “What are your religious beliefs?” I mean, would you know how to answer that question?

In this regard, it might be worthwhile not just to have knowledge, but an overall framework to put that knowledge in, or at least have an organized way of expressing it.

Sometime next week I’ll propose one way of expressing your faith in a (relatively) brief and organized manner but I’m curious, how would you, dear reader, answer the question “what are your religious beliefs?” I don’t just mean the content of your faith but how you would organize it.

On Faith: In Victory and Defeat

Hebrews 11 sprints to a finish with a list of characters and accomplishments of faith.

First, the characters:

Gideon, Barak, Samson, and Jephthah were all judges in Israel together had a list of impressive military accomplishments. In each case, their victory came, not from military might, but from the strength of God. David, Samuel, and the prophets have their own impressive resume of faith.

Second, the accomplishments:

The list of accomplishments is impressive and each item refers back to a great story. Thematically, there are two kinds of “accomplishments” in faith. One list (33-35a) is obviously positive. The second list (33b-37) is not, at first glance, so great. The first list shows how faith leads to victory. The second shows how faith gives us strength, even in defeat.

The accomplishments of faith in 33-35a include military victories, preservation of life and limb (“escaped the edge of the sword”) and receiving back their dead. These are obviously feats of miraculous victory. Sometimes, God gives us victory against all odds when we are faithful to Him. Daniel, whose story is referenced in this list, is the perfect example. He boldly prayed, in view of everyone, despite the king’s command, but was ultimately saved from the mouths of the lions.

The accomplishments in 35b-37 start with this: “others were tortured and refused to be released, so that they might gain a better resurrection.” From there it moves to enduring flogging, jeering, imprisonment, destitution, and death by stoning and the sword. It’s worth noting that by faith some “escaped the edge of the sword” (34, first list) and by faith some “were put to death by the sword” (37, second list). The outcomes were different even though both were acting by faith. One was an obvious victory, the other what appeared, at least to those on the outside, as a defeat.

The accomplishment of faith in the second list is this: by faith the people of God remained faithful to God, even to the point of death, and for it received a better resurrection.

Looking for, and finding, a better home:

The passage concludes by saying “the world was not worthy of them. They wandered in deserts and mountains, and in caves and holes in the ground.” This reaffirms what the writer said earlier about Abraham, that he lived in tents because, “he was looking for a city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God” (10) and again, “people who says such things show that they are looking for a country of their own” (14). Those who were rejected by the world because of their obedience found their home with God.

In the world I live in, I do not face the threat of active persecution. I live in a remarkably free country by historical standards and for that I am extremely grateful. However, the world could turn, and already shows some signs of doing so. The offense of the cross is ever present. Even without the threat of persecution, we American Christians are still called to boldness. To that end, this passage teaches us two things.

First: Defeat for the sake of Christ is really victory.

Second: If you live by faith your reward will come. It might not come in this life, but it will come.

I will conclude with the words of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount:

“Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecute the prophets who were before you.” (Matthew 5:11-12)

On Faith: Increasing Boldness

“On Faith” is a series I have been doing at our church’s after school program for Middle and High School students. This week I covered Hebrews 11:29-31.

I began by asking the students, “What is an action that requires boldness?” My favorite answer was this: “Taking on Chuck Norris.” In fact, most of the answers had to do with combat, which is not surprising considering that our after school program has skewed largely to adolescent boys – a fact I contribute to the general awesomeness of the male leaders.

Then I asked, “What is something we do in following Jesus that requires boldness?” The answers were decidedly less violent this time around but still (for teenagers anyway) require a fair amount of courage: Standing up for God when no one else is. Waiting to have sex before marriage. Standing up for someone who is being picked on. Witnessing. Etc.

Interestingly, the stories related in yesterday’s Talk Time had more to do with the answer to the first question than the second – they were stories about battle. But they were also stories about faith, obedience, and courage.

The three stories in Hebrews 11:29-31 all hold together because of their common theme of Israel’s ultimate conquest of the Promised Land. They are also stories of increasing boldness.

The first story is about Israel crossing the Red Sea. The initial response of the Israelites, when the Egyptians approached, was actually fear, not courage, doubt, not faith. God intervened, however, and ultimately turned their fear into faith. Hebrews says that they passed through “by faith.” Still, it’s kind of hard to characterize running away as boldness.

We see boldness more obviously in the story of the fall of Jericho. Here, it’s a smaller group – just Joshua and the armed men. Their actions, walking around the city of Jericho and raising a shout, certainly required faith because, from a human perspective, that’s just no way to take down a city. The boldness here comes from the sheer strangeness of their actions. It comes from doing something conventional wisdom (or peers) say is weird – trusting God.

The third story is the most obvious picture of boldness in faith. It precedes the Jericho story because it’s about one of the citizens of Jericho – Rahab. Rahab demonstrated boldness when she put her life on the line to protect the Israelite spies. She did this because she knew it was actually more perilous for her to oppose the people of God than to risk her life before the officials of the city. Because she spared the lives of the spies, they spared hers and she went down in history as one of the great examples of faith.

There is an interesting observation to be made here about increasing boldness and decreasing numbers. The “least bold” action came from the largest group (the nation of Israel running away from the Egyptians) and the “most bold” action (at least in my estimation) came from a single individual.

Craig Groeschel in Altar Ego (just reviewed) devotes a full one-third of his book to boldness (bold behavior, bold prayers, bold words, bold obedience) and he regularly draws the connection between faith and boldness. He says, for instance, in the chapter on bold words, “You speak boldly about what you believe deeply.” Faith always leads to boldness. Godly boldness (as opposed to human arrogance or recklessness) always comes from deep faith. If you want to be bold, live by faith.

Book Review: Altar Ego by Craig Groeschel

Altar Ego by Craig Groeschel is a book about becoming who you are in Altar Ego CoverChrist, followed by an exhortation to live out that new identity.

Groeschel is relentlessly positive about our new identity, but not in a worldly boost-your-self-esteem kind of way. He is honest about sin and the need to “put to death the old self” as Paul might say. In your sin, you are not who you are supposed to be, but you can be made new in Christ. And when you are, it’s all about God’s work in you for His glory.

“Once you know who you are,” Groeschel says in a common refrain, “you’ll know what to do.” “What to do” means living a life of counter-cultural virtue (patience, integrity, honor, and gratitude) and uncommon boldness.

I recommend this book especially for younger Christians or young adults in general. There isn’t much that is “new” in this book, per se, but it is a good commentary on, and guide to, Christian living. I also appreciated Groeschel’s candor and transparency. His stories were often amusing, and always self-reflective. His vulnerability will open up the reader to a life of greater self-reflection and honesty about sin.

Finally, I appreciate its corrective to a culture that glorifies who we are in nature (often glorifying our sin), not with a strong negative attack, but by pointing us to who we can be when we are made new in Christ.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the BookSneeze®.com <http://BookSneeze®.com> book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255