Episode 2 – Pastor Brian Carlson

Hello! This week I spoke with my current pastor, Brian Carlson. It was a great conversation and in it Brian recommended the book, The Longest Bridge Across Water, which is about developing friendship with Jesus. Check it out at: https://www.amazon.com/Longest-Bridge-Across-Water-Encounters-ebook/dp/B00HKN18HO

Enjoy the show and subscribe to my podcast on Itunes or Stitcher:

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The Discipline of God

 

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.” (Heb. 12:1-2)

The opening verse of Hebrews chapter 12 give a vision and a context for the writer’s discussion of God’s discipline. First, we must see that sin is the weight that keeps us from running the race to the fullest of our ability. Sin here is not addressed as shame to be hidden or fearful of. You can hear the heart of the writing: “put away your sin, it’s weighing you down, it’s holding you back from what God has for you.” Our call against sin is only Godly and effective if it is an invitation into God’s best and not a condemnation into God’s worst. This is mandated because, “There is now, therefore, no condemnation in Christ Jesus.” (Rom. 8:1)

The second highlight in the verses above is the communal aspect of our life in Christ. We are never alone, but are “surround by so great a cloud of witnesses” and “looking to Jesus” we are able to run this race. Not only are we called to be a part of the body of Christ on earth which practices the gifts of the spirit for the building up of the faithful, but we are also surrounded by a heavenly witness. I am reminded of the powerful story in the Old Testament when Elisha and his servant are surround by a great army who has come out against them. Elisha is as calm as Jesus sleeping in the bottom of the storm tossed boat, but his servant cries out, “What’re we gonna do?” with the echo of the same desperation from Jesus’ disciple, “Don’t you care that we are gonna die?” Elisha simply prays that God will open the servants eyes to see that, “those who are with us are more than those who are with them.” (1 Kings 2:16) Do we really live our lives like this? Do we confront our personal mountains with confidence and faith that we are surrounded by a powerful heavenly host?

It’s in this context that God’s discipline is addressed. It is not addressed in a spirit of condemnation and it is in no way addressed as God punishing a lone individual who is expected to overcome sin on their own. The last major point I want to address in this verse is the image of Christ going to the cross “for the joy that was set before him.” Now here I find it necessary to make one very important distinction that will help us to understand God’s discipline in our own lives. I do not believe that the cross was God’s divine will in the sense that God orchestrated and caused the cross to occur so that we might be saved and Jesus might, “learn obedience through the things he suffered.” Rather, I believe that it was God’s divine will to allow our free choice of the rejection and crucifixion of his son. God sent Jesus to preach the way of peace, knowing full well that we would reject him and his teaching and crucify him by our own sin. “He took on him the sins of us all,” is more literal in this image as our sin literally condemned him to the cross. So we see the distinction here is that God can use our sin and the results of that sin to save the world and teach obedience in Christ. Now, Christ was perfect, and yet he was learning obedience. This is the mystery of incarnation and it is so good for us because we do not have a high priest who does not know our suffering and temptations. Jesus can teach us obedience in suffering because he learned the same way. The important point to remember throughout is that Jesus did all these things for the “joy that was set before him.” The key to growth through God’s discipline is to remember that it is for the joy that God has set before us. Discipline’s purpose is to remove that which keeps us from joy and fulfillment in Christ.

One last note on this seeming paradox about enduring suffering and giving up sin in exchange for joy… There is a parable Jesus tells that seems to sum up what is meant by these things: “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up. Then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.” (Matthew 13:44) This is what the discipline of God calls us into: joyful surrender of all that we have. “And have you forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as sons?
‘My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord,
nor be weary when reproved by him.
For the Lord disciplines the one he loves,
and chastises every son whom he receives.’” (Heb. 12:5-6)
This is so powerful. God is using the trials and tribulations in our life to train us in the way we should go as a father would for his children.

So what does this Godly discipline look like? It looks like bringing everything that we experience before God in humble submission to him. Are you experiencing financial difficulties? Bring it before God, get counsel from a wise brother in Christ. Maybe God desires to teach you to trust him, to steward your finances well, to rejoice in all things. Are you experiencing relational difficulties with your spouse? Bring it before God, get counsel from a wise father in the church. Maybe God is teaching you how to prefer others before yourself, maybe God is teaching you to build your house on the Rock instead of on your own ability to maintain yourself. Are you struggling with a sin pattern in your life? Bring it to the Lord, submit yourself to a leader in your church. Maybe God desires to teach you grace and humility and the life-saving power of the Holy Spirit.

God’s discipline is not an act of punishment that seeks to cause pain, rather, it is the transformation of the tribulations in this life into the life changing lessons of how to be like Jesus. God takes our earthly suffering and uses it like fire to forge us into people who can enjoy perfect freedom and communion with him. Simplest definition of the discipline of God is this: God’s miraculous ability to transform the suffering resultant in the effects of sin (our own sin and that of others) into the lessons that shape us into who he has called us to be. Even the effects of sin and a broken world are used by God to meet us and heal us and change us. Does this mean that you must look for sin whenever you experience tribulation? No, instead look for God and what he has provided you in this time for your benefit and sustenance. The ultimate result is the kingdom of God in your heart, a kingdom that cannot be shaken. The result of God’s discipline is “the removal of things that are shaken… in order that the things that cannot be shaken may remain. Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire.” (Heb. 12:27-29) What then remains? “So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.” (1 Cor. 13:13)

The Problem of Evil

To conclude my series of blog posts with an apologetic theme, this post will wrestle with one of the classic objections to the Christian faith, the Problem of Evil. It can be stated as follows:

If God is all-powerful and all-good, there would not be evil and suffering in the world.

There is evil and suffering in the world; therefore, God is either not all-powerful, not all-good, or non-existent.

This argument is probably the most compelling argument I have heard and most people I have engaged with seem to find their biggest issues with Christianity here. I think this is because we are hurting and something in us knows that the world is not how it ought to be. Even if you believe in Christianity, you must answer this objection. First, I will layout the philosophical answer to the problem of evil and then I will give the uniquely Christian answer to this problem.

Imagine a perfect world where no-one ever does anything wrong… Did you come up with an image? If you did, it was probably grey, sterile or even boring and oddly futuristic. Maybe that’s not what you thought of, but because of our over-saturation of dystopian films and literature, we are often given a view of the issue that occurs when someone in power tries to eliminate all evil and suffering from the world. Equilibrium, Divergent, 1984, and even Avengers: Age of Ultron or Captain America: Winter Soldier are wrestling with the trade off between eliminating suffering and eliminating freedom. The focus of the debate on the problem of evil has always been whether God could, in His infinite power, create a world where evil did not exist but freedom of choice did exist. It truly seems impossible for such a world to exist. It seems that in order for human beings to have the ability to choose to live by love, they have to have the ability to reject the same. If God were to have created the world without that freedom, then we would be robots following our programming and functioning well, but we would not be humans loving well and creating community. While this is a much-repeated response, it seems to solve the philosophical dilemma. God is all-powerful and all-good. In his goodness and power, he created humans with an ability to choose freely (thus choosing to limit his power by his goodness) and God is constantly drawing humanity towards himself and towards love. This may seem like a sterile philosophical answer that does not go into the depths of suffering, but the next section of the blog will explore the uniquely Christian response that does not shy away from this tension.

Every worldview wrestles with the problem of evil. Some Buddhists claim that suffering is illusion, Hinduism claims that suffering is the result of Kharma, Muslims claim that God is ineffable and unquestionable in his absolute power but also balances his own scales of justice, Secular Humanists claim that innovation and progress will free us from incorrect thinking or the imbalance of power, Naturalists really have no grounding for what evil is but tend to cry out against injustice all the same. Amidst thousands of answers, Christianity tells the most compelling story in response to evil in the world.

God created the world and it was beautiful and good. He created humans and they were very good. Humans, in their freedom, chose pride and control over relationship with God. Since that point, God has been pursuing humanity throughout the ages. First he spoke to a small backwards tribe, the Hebrews, and constantly met them in their evolving understanding of God and the world. His message was communicated in poetry and power, in beauty and story and it was always an invitation to return to God. Instead, they chose to kill the prophets he sent and worship other gods (gods of power, money, and debauchery). The Hebrews were a microcosm of the problem with humanity in the entire world. We all needed healing from the cultural, systemic sin that demanded sacrifice and violence. Rene Girard spoke of the mimetic desire that describes human tribe’s need to find a scapegoat for their own guilt and difficulties in life. There is a famine, sacrifice a virgin. There is a murder, kill the murderer. A woman will not have you, take her anyways. There is a land dispute, go to war. Always moving towards violence instead of relationship with the Creator and the Created. Throughout all of this, God kept calling the Hebrews towards the beautiful and the good. He still saw the beauty that humanity could be and create. The world was broken but good and man would occasionally respond to challenges with singular acts of love and beauty. Yet still the cycle of violence and hatred remained.

Finally, at the time when his message could be heard and spread, Jesus came and entered into our suffering. God, the God of the universe, did not shun the world that was marked by suffering and evil. He dined with sinners and healed lepers. He lost loved ones to death and he experienced betrayal. God-as-man was tempted in every way as we are, but Jesus resisted and learned obedience through what he suffered. The uniquely Christian answer, and the one answer that truly gets to the core of the problem, is that God took upon himself the pain and suffering of us all. We demanded sacrifice, He provided the Lamb. All of our brokenness and systemic sin took Love personified and nailed him to the cross. God did not demand Jesus’ death, we did. God did not fear our darkness, he entered into it and the light overcame that darkness. Jesus entered into the depths of Hades and returned victorious over death.

He then returned to the close friends he had invested in (because it’s always a relational transformation) and empowered them with the knowledge and peace of the risen Christ. God’s answer to evil was submission to the effects of evil and victory through that submission. He then began with a small group of Hebrew fisherman and transformed the world by their lived message. Many of them were persecuted and killed, again conquering evil by giving themselves up in love. “Greater love has no man then he that lays down his life for his friends.” So when we consider the philosophical problem of evil and are faced with the reality of evil and suffering in our lives, God has an answer and it is Jesus. Because of Him we can be transformed into people who are free from systemic sin and healed from brokenness. A people transformed conquering the world through love and not violence. A people who do not have to fear injustice or even death, but can embrace all men through the power of the resurrection. The problem of evil has been answered, the challenge for Christians is to be a part of the solution.

The Historicity of the New Testament

The next step in the series on the evidences for the existence of a God will finally bring us to the arguments for a Judeo-Christian God. If you look at my previous post you will see an argument for the existence of a being who is outside of space and time who can begin material existence. Then the argument in the next post claims that from the complex and amazingly functional nature of the universe in general and life specifically it seems that we need an Intelligent Designer. The last post argues that without a God we are left with no adequate support for morality. This post will attempt to briefly address some of the chief evidences for the historicity of the New Testament.

First, when we are discussing historicity, we are merely trying to establish that the New Testament was written by first century Jewish individuals who believed that what they wrote actually happpened and that what we have today is extremely close to the texts that were originally written. So then, if we find that the writers were faithfully communicating their experiences and that our texts today match what was communicated originally we can move towards the questions of whether we should trust the testimony of these writers.

So, is the New Testament historically reliable? For this question, I will attempt to outline some of the main arguments without getting bogged down in citations and specific studies. I will humbly refer the reader to books like Evidence That Demands a Verdict and Evidence Revisited by Josh McDowell which are extensive works of historical investigation that engage this topic comprehensively. There are many questions that can help a historian determine whether a text is reliable. How many original manuscripts are there? If there are copies of these manuscripts, how similar are they to each other and how close are they to the original? Are the sources bridging to other sources or are they eyewitnesses? Are the events recorded independently corroborated? Is the setting accurate (the timeframe, who was in political power, reflective of the culture at that time)? What was the purpose of the text? Was it meant to be a historical document, a report to a governing body, or propaganda for a political figure? Would the author have gained from the distortion of truth?

All of these questions and more can be taken to our study of the Biblical texts. Beginning with the question of manuscripts, the New Testament has over 27,000 partial manuscripts to compare and study. While none of them are the original penned manuscripts, their remarkable similarity and consistency is a huge mark in favor of the NT’s reliability. To put these numbers in perspective, the closest other text from the ancient world is the Illiad which has around 500 surviving partial manuscripts. The New Testament, particularly the Gospels, are also written based largely on eyewitness testimony. This is not a story that has grown in the telling, the writers are writing about their own personal experiences. They are also writing to an audience of fellow eyewitnesses. When most of the texts in the NT began to be circulated, the people who lived and experienced the events recorded were still living. If these texts were deceiptful, the hundreds of people who were present at the sermon on the mount or the feeding of the 5000 or the crucifixion could have denounced the writings as false. Now maybe there were dissenting voices that have not survived 2000 years because they were not part of a text that quickly obtained sacred status in the original Christian community, but the movement grew in the midst of people who could have easily denounced many of its claims and would have had no reason to join if they thought the disciples were teaching falsehoods.

The events in the NT are also extremely consistent with other sources of that time and what we know of the timeframe politically, culturally, and historically. We have sources from the ancient world that confirm Jesus’ crucifixion, the census at the time of Jesus’ birth, all of the political figures and the timing of their reign/influence, and that confirm the growth of a small sect of Judaism in the midst of persecution from their fellow Jews and eventually the Romans as well. The Gospel of Luke is extremely helpful in this regard as Luke is careful to note the historical and political context and timing of his texts. Luke is helpful for another reason as he states the purpose of his texts at the beginning of his Gospel: “Inasmuch as many have undertaken to compile a narrative of the things that have been accomplished among us, just as those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word have delivered them to us, it seemed good to me also, having followed all things closely for some time past, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, that you may have certainty concerning the things you have been taught.” Here we see a classic introduction to a historical text that were often addressed to an individual in ancient times. We see that the purpose of the writer here and the writers throughout the NT were attempting to tell true stories that reflected their experiences.

If we look at these evidences and are able to accept that the NT was communicating what the authors believed to be the historical truth and was faithfully communicating their experiences, then we have to ask if we should trust these sources. I am fully aware that I am not addressing many of the nuances and fullnesses of the arguments summarized above, but this is merely a brief sketch of the main arguments. So why should we trust these people? First of all, none of the Gospels would have benefitted the authors. In fact, the authors and disciples of Jesus are often portrayed as stubborn and dense. If these authors were looking to invent a religion with themselves at the head, then why would they portray themselves as slow to understand, stubborn, and even deniers of Jesus throughout the stories? Also, and I believe this is the most powerful argument for the reliability of their testimonies, the disciples were imprisoned, beaten, and killed for what they preached. Unless you truly believe what you are saying, it does not seem possible that a man would die for a lie. What is gained if a man is killed for something that he knows never even happened? We have to remember here that the disciples were eyewitnesses to the events they spoke of. They were not convinced of the truth of these things second-hand. I think that we must accept that the disciples believed that what they were saying was true.

In following posts I will address the question of miracles and whether we can take the Bible seriously even though it makes claims that may seem impossible.

How to Respond to Profound Evil

There are some things that we encounter in the world that are profoundly evil. Friday night, the world witnessed that evil in the attack on locations in Paris that resulted in 129 dead, 352 injured, and heartbreak beyond count. The slaughter of innocents in the name of fear is profoundly evil. Events like this leave us reeling, no response seems good enough and, for those who attempt to comfort the mourning, words ring hollow. How then do we respond to these acts of depravity and brokenness? How do we shine the light of Christ into such immense darkness?

Silence.

First, we are silent. Words ring hollow and there is a reason we observe moments of silence in the wake of tragedy. There is a power in shared silence, in a space created for the chasm of grief. It is not an inactive or passive silence, this is an empathetic connection that speaks loudly, “we are here for you.” This silence is modeled with Job’s friends after he has lost his sons and daughters. These friends lose their power of comfort as soon as they begin to speak. The power of silence cannot be overestimated. We use words to calm our own hearts, to ease our conscience, to quantify the unquantifiable, but there is an engagement with reality in silence that goes farther than any verbal formulation. That is why we are told to, “Be still and know that I am God.”

After silence, we should weep with those who weep. The Biblical practice of lamentation is an all too unfamiliar spiritual expression among Western Christians. “How long O Lord!” is the chief refrain of the lament. How long will you be silent, how long will you allow the wicked to flourish, how long until we are saved out the depths of the pit? We should cry out against injustice, we should join our voices to the mourning in our cries for healing and restoration. The Psalms are full of prayers prayed from the depth of despair and anger. We should not shy away from our feelings and we should not throw our feelings into accusation. Encounter God in those places through lament. There are probably many people who feel forsaken in the wake of tragedy: Jesus’s own lament began, “My God, My God why have you forsaken me?” The miracle of lament is found in the power of putting our everything before God; through that process we often find the strength to praise Him in the midst of our doubt and suffering.

As we lament and call out against the wickedness of these acts, we are called to a place that can only be reached by God’s grace. We are called to pray for those who persecute us. In the midst of the lament against injustice, we call out for the redemption of the attackers and not just the victims. We call out blessings on those who would curse us. Martin Luther King phrases it beautifully, “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” We must love our enemies, we must pray for them. This is not an abstract love with the support of forced prayers through gritted teeth. This is a love that would, and did, die for those who persecuted Him. This is not an easy thing (the praying for our enemies often precedes the loving of them), but through the power of the Holy Spirit we can change our vengeful hearts. The journey to Christ is long, but it ends in love’s embrace of us and our loving embrace of all men.

Finally, the love that is shown through the sharing of suffering in silence, the lamentation against injustice, and the prayers for our enemies and brethren alike will cast out fear. The attack on Paris was a “terror” attack and the purpose was to sew fear. The true enemy (i.e. the principalities and powers of this world) strives daily to cause fear and fear causes the most evil in our world. Fear of “other,” fear of insignificance, fear of weakness, fear of pain are all apart of the motivation for terrible evil. My uncle, Fr. Kenneth Tanner, writes, “The Christian is one who embraces suffering and is at war with fear.” Through our silence, lamentation, and prayer we embrace suffering and wage war with fear. The power of the image above is that people came together and in their love for their city, countrymen, fellow man, they rose up to defy terror in unity. It should never be easy to respond to profound evil, but we must respond. I hope these thoughts above can help you to respond to this terrible tragedy.

Moment of Surrender


There once was a man who flew to Rome to meet Jesus. He had been told my a close friend that Jesus wanted to meet him there. When he got there he skipped the tourist sites and went to a basement chapel in one of those storied cathedrals. As he walked towards the altar he saw a man kneeling in the dust in unremarkable clothing. Jesus knelt before him and despite his promises not to ask anything stupid, the man asked, “What are you doing?” “Praying,” Jesus replied. “For what?” the man asked. “I gave man free will and I will never take that away, but I pray always that the hearts of man would be surrendered to my will.”

The most powerful moments in the Bible are characterized by the weakness of surrender. Abraham who surrendered his comfortable life to become a nomad with a promise. Moses who left his dessert home to return to certain death in Egypt as a prophet declaring freedom without hope of success. David who was so surrendered to God’s will that he would not kill Saul even as Saul hunted him. Mary who said let it be, disregarding the scandal and death that might await her if she was found to be pregnant. The ultimate moment of surrender as Jesus prayed, “Father not my will but thine,” in a garden; the very opposite of the first sin in the Garden.

The first sin of man was to reject God’s will, not to surrender. Ever since then, the battle for men’s hearts has been fought with the goal of surrender. The mystery of Christianity is that our surrender does not lead to the abolishment of identity or efficacy, in fact it leads to the very opposite. We surrender to God and become more truly ourselves. We surrender to God’s will and find ourselves more in control of ourselves than ever before.

Nevertheless, we continue to seek control in our lives. We are an anxious and striving people. We find the illusion of control in many ways. We try to get money which symbolizes the power to control our lives. We buy shiny things to distract ourselves from the lie. We build ourselves little kingdoms which are characterized by addictions, escapes from reality, self-loathing, or a false sense of holiness. The call of Jesus denies all these things. Our plans for our lives, our guarantees of success, our dependence on substance abuse, our media-insulated isolation… all of these things are obstacles in the way of surrender. Bonhoeffer writes that the call of Jesus can be summarized, “Come and die.” Everything in our fallen outlook screams at us to run from this invitation and clean to our false sense of control.

The lie is shown in the reaction that follows excess, the emptiness that succeeds our attempts at self-fulfillment. “There is a God-shaped hole in the heart of every man.” That moment of emptiness is when the call can be heard. “Pain is God’s megaphone to an unhearing world.” That is why Jesus says, “It is harder for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of heaven…” When we fill ourselves with the shadows of God’s goodness, the earthly things that fade, we cause ourselves to believe in our own control, our own sufficiency apart from God. When that rug is torn out from under us we have two responses before us: we can proclaim all is meaningless and eventually cycle back into the illusion of control (whether through suicide or less extreme sedative) or we can embrace the moment of surrender. The invitation is always there, He stands at the door and knocks. It is an invitation into a “condition of complete simplicity costing not less than everything.”

The most powerful moments in history are when humans give back the gift of free will and find themselves truly free. God is always calling us to give up that thing that we need to be happy, that thing that you cannot live without. That is why it is a call to die, a call to die and experience resurrection. The result is love, joy, and peace if we will only let go. We need the moments of surrender, because it is only in our weakness that Christ can be strong in us.

Hunger and Thirst

Nature_Mountains_Misty_hills_017805_The primary position of the Christian heart is to be hungry and thirsty. We cannot come to the Father except through Jesus Christ, and we cannot come to Jesus Christ except through our hunger. “How hard is it for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven!” (Luke 18:24) When the rich young ruler came to Jesus and asked what he needed to gain eternal life, Jesus told him to go and sell all he had and to come follow Him. Why did he need to sell all he had? Because he needed to hunger for Jesus, not be filled up with his material wealth! “The original sin is not primarily that man had ‘disobeyed’ God; the sin is that he ceased to be hungry for Him, and Him alone, ceased to see his whole life depending on the whole world as a sacrament of communion with God.” (Schmemann, “For the Life of the World”) Man walked with God in the Garden, and yet he allowed Satan to tempt him to hunger for the forbidden fruit, the only fruit that was not a gift from God to man. Man ceased to hunger for God alone.

All of our desires are ultimately an echo of our eternal hunger for the Father. We can blunt this hunger with the things of this world. We can fill ourselves with the bread that perishes and, always, be hungry again. But Jesus came to be the bread that satisfies. He came for the sick, those who lack and have hunger, not for the healthy, who are in need of nothing. People who are full of the world have no need for the “Bread of Life.” All our life is a cultivation of this hunger for the Father. Heaven is presented as banquet. The Lord’s Supper is the center of Christian worship. In the Old Testament, the Passover was salvation through a meal. The Israelites ate their meal as God redeemed them from the hands of their slavers.

“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be filled.” (Matthew 5:6) C.S. Lewis writes about a desire for something throughout his life. Words could not contain this intense longing, but he decided to term it, “Joy.” The experience of longing for something “other” is cited as the means to his conversion. One memory from childhood in particular showed this longing. He looked out from his room through a window on a rainy afternoon–his brother was off in a boarding school and he had no playmates–and saw the distant hills and was struck with this hunger. “I lift my eyes to the hills, from whence comes my help. My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth.” This desire, and even the desire for the desire, repeated throughout Lewis’ life and was better than any other experience he had ever had. When he began to discover the power of Theism to account for this desire and the narratives he found throughout history (of human desire, fulfillment, despair, etc.), he was able to come to God in his mind and his heart. We can only come to God in this hunger. Look at the example of Lucifer: instead of hungering for God, he allowed himself to hunger for glory, the desire to be “like God.” This illustrates the key to our hunger, it must result in complete surrender. When we are hungry, we will give anything to be fed. When we hunger for Christ, and recognize the hunger as our need for him, we will offer up our very lives. Esau sold his birthright for a cup of soup. This is the position of greatest worship and humility: to hunger, to thirst, to seek. The worship is in the receiving and the simultaneous surrender.

“‘Holy’ is the real name of God, of the God ‘not of scholars and philosophers,’ but of the living God of faith. The knowledge about God results in definitions and distinctions. The knowledge of God leads to this one, incomprehensible, yet obvious and inescapable word: holy. And in this word we express both that God is the Absolutely Other, the One about whom we know nothing, and that He is the end of all our hunger, all our desires, the inaccessible One who mobilizes our wills, the mysterious treasure that attracts us, and there is really nothing to know but Him.” (Schmemann, “For the Life of the World”)

We are in the last couple weeks of the season of Lent. This season is in the Church calendar precisely to encourage us to remember our hunger as, ultimately, a desire for Christ. We acknowledge our depravity and His holiness. We empty ourselves in the discipline of fasting so that we can experience a deeper longing for Him. This is especially important in the west where we rarely experience hunger: “One who is full loathes honey, but to one who is hungry everything bitter is sweet.” (Proverbs 27:7) We read in the Psalms, “As a deer pants for water, so my soul pants for You,” but we do not even know what it is to be thirsty! So we throw ourselves on the mercy of Christ and desire the desire for Him. I remember the strangest experience of hearing people who hungered for the Bible and talked about voraciously consuming Scripture in their devotions. I hungered for that hunger! God used even my hunger for hunger and, after years of this desire for a desire, I have been tearing through the Bible. My new found longing is sweeter than the Cinnabon Cinnamon Roll at the airport. As we come into Holy Week, let us renew our desire for Christ; our desire can never outstrip His provision. “Man does not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.” Jesus is the first and last of God’s word, man lives by feasting on Him.

A Brief Look at the Hall of Faith

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First, I need to apologize for not following up my last blog as I had planned to with a list of Kingdom Principles… It proved to be a bigger task than I expected. For now this blog will remain random bursts of impassioned writing attempting to relay whatever facet of Truth happens to have ignited my interests enough to require a blog entry. Hope you are encouraged!

I was reading Hebrews 11 today and was struck by the last verses of the chapter (and the beginning of chapter 12). Some of you may have heard this chapter referred to as the Hall of Faith and it is quite the challenge to get through in one sitting. There is so much here! The writer of Hebrews simultaneously argues for Christianity to the Jews using their most revered ancestors, does some serious exegetical work that refines and nuances the Christian faith we take for granted today, and sets up the link for the Hebrew Christians (and all Christians afterward) between the God-breathed Old Testament and the New Testament. For the sake of this blog however, I am going to just focus in on the last section and what it might imply for us.

In Hebrews 11:32, the author begins the ending of his treatise on the Hall of Faith. In 11:33, He describes the actions accomplished through faith (argued here and elsewhere to be the same faith as our own) by OT figures, “who through faith conquered kingdoms, enforced justice, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, 34 quenched the power of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, were made strong out of weakness, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight. 35 Women received back their dead by resurrection.” Oh yeah! This is the Christianity I am all about! We have access to a faith that can move mountains and do all that other cool stuff with kingdoms and strength and lions! If you get nothing else from this blog please understand that our faith is POWERFUL.

But… there the author is not finished yet. He continues, “Some were tortured, refusing to accept release, so that they might rise again to a better life. 36 Others suffered mocking and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. 37 They were stoned, they were sawn in two,[a] they were killed with the sword. They went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, afflicted, mistreated— 38 of whom the world was not worthy—wandering about in deserts and mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth.” Wait a second… That doesn’t sound like the faith I signed up for. A faith that leads to social, physical, and emotional persecution? A faith that could even lead to death? Well I guess there are things in life worth difficulty, “no pain, no gain” and all that. In the end they lived happily ever after, right? God promises abundant life here right? That doesn’t sound too abundant. Well next He writes something that blows my mind, “39 And all these, though commended through their faith, did not receive what was promised…” This is my favorite pat of the chapter. These men and women of faith experienced the power of God in ways I can hardly imagine and were persecuted in a similarly spectacular fashion, but they did not receive the promise. They continued to persevere in faith (through many bumps on the road) for a promise they never fully received. And yet, without them, we would not have received the promise of God. God used them to further His Kingdom, the promise they were pursuing, so that we could share in its inheritance. The author continues, “40 since God had provided something better for us, that apart from us they should not be made perfect.” We were given the Kingdom as our inheritance. We were given the promise that the whole heritage of our faith was looking towards!

There is more here than I could possibly cover, but two thoughts: what an amazing and unappreciated inheritance we have through Christ! and God fulfills His promises even if you do not see it in the short term (we’re talking thousands of years here) 🙂

Chapter 12 “Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.”

No commentary can surpass the power of these last two verses. Thank you Jesus!