Christianity Without Repentance?

Imagine a man who gets married but continues to live with bachelor-priorities. He may be in love, but he’s not ready to become a husband. Marriage requires a change in priorities and in lifestyle for both husband and wife. Decisions will be made differently, money will be shared, and each person’s actions affects the other.

In the same way, no one becomes a Christian without repentance. It is not enough to hear the gospel and intellectually believe it. Faith in Christ leads to confession of sin and repentance. Sin must be confessed and repented of, or Christ will merely be viewed as the safety net to protect us from hell.

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Who Was St. Valentine?

red-love-heart-valentinesLast year (2016), Americans spent just below $20 million to celebrate Valentine’s Day. It is a day to celebrate love and relationships, which apparently requires brand-name cards, chocolates, gifts, and expensive dinners. But where did these traditions come from, why are they linked to a Christian saint, and how can we benefit from knowing any of this?

Who Was St. Valentine?
Unfortunately, very little is known about the real life of Valentine. What we do know is Emperor Claudius II beheaded two Christian priests, both named Valentine (one of them in in 270). Details of these men’s lives remain murky, but it seems historically reliable to say both of these men lived (and it’s not just one man named Valentine and there are different accounts of his death) and they were both decapitated because of their resistance against the Emperor’s restrictions against Christianity.

It is historically proven that Christians endured extreme persecution at the hands of Roman Emperors in the early years of the Church and Valentine was not unique in his refusal to deny Christ and bow to the Empire. Accordingly, it is very possible that the myths are true about Valentine officiating marriages for Christians. Emperor Claudius II banned weddings because he believed it would be easier to recruit young men for military service if they were not able to wed. Valentine, however, refused to follow this ban and continued to give aid to fellow Christians who were suffering, and continued to evangelize and seek new converts to Christianity. He was then arrested and eventually executed.

There are legends about specific marriages and miracles he performed, but their records are from centuries after Valentine’s death (many Roman historical records were destroyed in the 6th century when Rome was sacked). There is also an account where Valentine restored the sight of a jailer’s daughter and sent her a note before his execution and signed it, “your Valentine.” It’s a sweet story, but we have shaky historical grounds for its reliability.

How Valentine Got His Own Day
NPR has an interesting article (The Dark Origins of Valentine’s Day) which gives more details about the Roman festival Lupercalia, but it’s enough to say it was celebrated yearly from February 13-15th and was a time marked for debauchery and lust. Since legends mark Valentine as the patron saint of the engaged and the young, and since he was martyred on February 14th, the inevitable link took place and “redeemed” the pagan holiday.

As “courtly love” gained steam during the Middle Ages and, later on, as the theater sought to portray romantic love, Valentine’s Day grew in prevalence and sentimentality. Young people would exchange handmade notes until finally Hallmark Cards began to mass-produced Valentine’s Day cards in 1918. Much to the chagrin of the single (and reluctant participants) the popularity of the day has only increased since.

What Can Christians Pull from the Origins of Valentine’s Day?

  1. Total commitment to Christ. Both Valentines were willing to give their lives to Christ while they lived and through the way they accepted their death. They lived for Christ in a way that put them in danger and would not renounce their faith even when threatened by death.
  2. Marriage is a mirror of Christ and the Church (Ephesians 5:31-32). Ironically today, we hear that marriage is both unimportant (because you can just live together anyway, so many see it as an unnecessary formality) while simultaneously seeing marriage as the most obvious battlefield for LGBTQ+ rights. Because of what marriage represents, Valentine could not disregard its significance.
  3. Maybe we’re celebrating Valentine’s legacy wrong? This is pretty obvious, but I doubt someone like Valentine would feel honored by us exchanging expensive flowers and chocolates while using the day to sleep with our boyfriend or girlfriend. In this sense, the way many people celebrate Valentine’s Day actually undercuts the very foundation Valentine is credited to uphold: the value of marriage.

Valentine’s Day should be a day marked by counter-cultural love for Christ, even in the midst of great persecution. In that way, we honor the memory of both men who give their names to the day.

Where to read more: History of Saint Valentine (Catholic Education Resource Center), Saint Valentine (Catholic Online), Feb 14: This Day in History (History Channel).

What is the Fear of the LORD?

What is the fear of the LORD? This is something many of us have heard about in church or read in the Bible, but it remains an abstract thought that we can’t clearly explain.

If “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge” (Proverbs 1:7), then it’s an important thing for us to understand what that means. Easton’s Bible Dictionary describes the fear of the LORD this way,

It is a fear conjoined with love and hope, and is therefore not a slavish dread,
but rather filial reverence.”
(Easton Bible Dictionary)

So it’s not a fearful dread that creates distance. Instead, it’s a fear build on love and hope that draws near to God in worship, humility, and obedience. These are the three keys to understanding what the Bible means by “the fear of the LORD.”

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How to Overcome Temptation

Temptation is a daily reality for every Christian. For some, it is an overwhelming lure back into sinful habits we seem unable to escape; for others, it is a nagging invitation to participate in “acceptable sins” that subtly and slowly erode one’s integrity and intimacy with God.

Much more can be said than these four simple helps, but these are offered as ways for you to be strengthened in the midst of temptation. You can read another post I’ve written that cover some of this, but mostly focuses on how temptation workschess Continue reading

The Danger of Deceptive Godliness: Learning From Ananias & Sapphira

As other wealthier Christians were selling their land and donating the money to the church, Ananias and Sapphira saw their opportunity. They wanted to be a power couple in the early life of the church, and this would be how to get there. Perhaps their faith in Christ started off with better motives and they lost their way, but it seems their involvement in the church had become about themselves – not about God, and not about serving others. In the end, they were judged and put to death by God for their deceptive godliness.

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I am convinced every church has modern-day Ananias and Sapphiras. Their example reminds us that God cares about motives. It is good to give generously of your time, money, and talents in order to build up the church. However, it is evil to give those things because you want to be seen doing them. The Christian is called to self-forgetfulness, not self-promotion.

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How to Not be a Heretic

What you believe matters. Your beliefs about the world, yourself, and God are always operating in the background of your mind, shaping your decisions and passions. Especially today, where tolerance is often talked about but little practiced, talking about religious belief is difficult and tricky.

Being a Christian means you believe certain theological statements are true while rejecting other claims about God and religion are not true. Of course, that’s not unique to Christianity. Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, and even Atheism have their own “theological walls” that set the boundaries… and if you pass those boundaries then you can no longer be considered a part of that theological camp.

For example,

  • An Atheist cannot believe in intelligent design.
  • A Buddhist cannot believe the Jesus is the only way to heaven.
  • A Christian cannot believe there are multiple paths to heaven.

While some people throw the word “Heretic” at anyone with whom they have a strong disagreement, that doesn’t capture what heresy is. Heresy is a teaching that undercuts and contradicts the essential teachings of a religion. This is why Christians may disagree regarding Baptism or the Lord’s Supper, but Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses are considered cults who are outside the bounds of true Christianity. airplane-wreck Continue reading

God Uses Normal People

God doesn’t need first-round draft picks. He uses completely ordinary, ho-hum, sinful people to accomplish his purposes.

You are not so incredible God thought, “I need him on my team” or “What would I do without her?” You don’t need to be great for God. He is great enough. What we need is faith to trust him.

The incredible thing about God’s kingdom is this: it’s a gift of grace. We are unworthy and undeserving, but we receive it anyway.

Consider Abraham and Moses. Their names probably bring up the idea of great men who had great faith… men who are not like you. But here’s the thing: they were totally normal guys who imperfectly trusted God. The Bible doesn’t tell their stories as if they’re spiritual-superstars. Their failures are listed in black and white because their story isn’t about them… it’s about a sovereign God who works through normal people.

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