How Should The Church Respond to Violence?

Another school shooting took place last week. 17 dead in Parkland, Florida as a former student entered campus to take the lives of his classmates and teachers. It seems like this type of violent event keeps happening so frequently we’re becoming numb.

Where so many in positions of legal authority respond with “Thoughts and Prayers” but with little action, the nonChristian world has come to despise the phrase “thoughts and prayers” because it has come to mean, “I’m really sad this happened. Let’s be sad together for a week or two until we all move on… until this happens again.” In this way, “thoughts and prayers” aren’t enough.

So what should Christians and the Church do?

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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).

Theology isn’t the goal of faith, Love is

Evangelical Christians have a habit of being known more for what we believe theologically/ideologically than for how we live. And when those outside our camp think about how we live, “hypocrite” is the frequent accusation. I’m not here to debate whether or not that’s a fair accusation, but I’ve been challenged twice just today to remember the centrality of love for God in the Christian life.

I was rereading Revelation 2-3’s letters to the churches and was struck again by the Letter to the Ephesian Church. Here’s what immediately jumped out at me:

“I know that you cannot tolerate wicked people, that you have tested those who claim to be apostles but are not, and have found them false. You have persevered and have endured hardships for my name, and have not grown weary. Yet I hold this against you: You have forsaken the love you had at first.” (vv.2b-4)

What Caught My Attention
As someone who named his blog “Living Theologically” I doubt I need to tell you that theological faithfulness is important to me. The name of this blog isn’t just an idea that I came up with, it really is a description of how I think, make decisions, observe what’s around me, even how I make jokes (or attempt to, at least). Accordingly, I naturally filter what I hear and read through a biblical and theological lens.

The Ephesian Church did the same thing, and yet they were rebuked because the did this at the expense of love. How often do I, and how often do we as thoughtful Evangelicals, think theologically in a way that separates doctrine from love?

No Division Necessary
Theological faithfulness and passionate love for God belong together. One without the other either leads to sterile faith or rootless faith. Scripture consistently affirms God’s passionate love for humanity. Why, then, do we who desire to know him thoroughly fail to show the kind of love towards him that we are trying to understand?!

As I/we continue to grow in our understanding of who God is and what He’s done and what He’s calling us towards, let us do so with our eyes firmly fixed on God Himself, not on our theology books or creeds. When we desire theological clarity more than we desire intimacy with Christ then we are in danger of forsaking our “first love.” As the A.W. Tozer quote above reminds us, “The Devil is a better theologian than any of us and is a devil still.”

The Heart of the Christian Faith is Love
The heart of Christianity is love: God’s love for us, our love for Him, and our love for each other. As the Apostle Paul concludes in the famous “love chapter,”

If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.” (vv.1-3)

Theological precision is good, it’s something I am committed to – but love is better. I know from experience the coldness of theological faithfulness when one’s heart begins to harden towards God. I want a soft heart that is filled with wonder that God would love me. I want a discerning heart that would give someone a word of comfort and hope before I jump to correct their theology.

I don’t think I’m alone. I think there are many who hear the words to the Church in Ephesus and are convicted about forsaking their love for God in exchange for theological accuracy. Let’s not throw theology in the dumpster or say it’s not essential (it is, just read the words to the Church in Thyatira!), but let’s remember that Love is primary.

  • Do not let God’s love for you grow boring or theoretical
  • God is more than “a good idea” …  ask yourself whether or not you have affection for God
  • When God’s love for you (or your love for Him) begins to grow cold, you can assume that your love for other people has already iced over. You cannot love God without loving other people (1 John 4:20), so if you want to recover your love for God then send some “Thank You” cards, give to those in need (out of genuine love, not pity), and listen carefully to those around you (and refrain from being the “answer guy” who knows the solution to all their problems… just listen).

Note: I heard John Piper talk on the relationship between the heart and the head last year at a Gospel Coalition: New England conference. I haven’t read his book Think, but I know it dives into this topic more fully… if you hear nuances of what Piper writes about in this post it’s probably coming from the talks I heard last year. 

I’d love to hear from those of you out there who share this struggle with me, please add your insights in the comment section regarding the relationship between theological faithfulness and all-out love for God. I know I’m not alone… 

 

Love Your Children Well

A friend of mine lost his three year old son this week. He went to sleep and simply never woke up. It is a tragedy beyond my understanding, and one I pray that I would never fully comprehend. As I pray for God’s comfort and peace and hope to surround my friend and his family, it’s only natural to feel a new layer of love for my children grow. 

I want my son and daughter not only to know that I love them. I want them to feel loved. While we should not live by our “feelings,” God gave them to us, and feelings are not inherently bad or shallow or trite. 

This is something I struggle with, because I’m not much of a “feeler.” Most people who know me know I’m not a particularly emotional person and that I tend to be fairly matter-of-fact. But with my family, it is one of my greatest prayers that they would not simply know that I love them… I pray that they would feel how much I love them. 

The greatest thing a parent can do for his/her children is to love them well.  
If my kids are well-behaved but don’t feel loved by me, then I have failed them. If my kids are ridiculously smart but they believe my love for them is conditional, depending on how well they are “performing,” then I have failed them. I could almost picture the Apostle Paul including this type of scenario into 1 Corinthians 13:1-3.

In the midst of discipline, does love reign?
As a Christian dad I do not have the “luxury” of neglecting to discipline my kids because it’s easier (in the short-term). Loving your kids doesn’t mean there is no “law” or that rules are absent. But it does mean that love is freely given despite my kids’ worthiness or unworthiness. Instead, I love my children unconditionally because I know I am loved by my Heavenly Father. Personally, I think I learn more about love when I’m in the throes of discipline than when I’m laughing with my kids – because that’s when I need to remember how uniquely God loves me. 

Questions I’ve been wrestling with over the past few days:

  • Do I discipline out of love and desire to see my children desire faithfulness to God, or out of a heavy-handed authority that demands law-abiding, rule-keeping children?
  • What if God treated me the way I sometimes treat my children? 
    That thought should terrify me…
  • What if I loved my children the way God loves me? 
    That thought should bring joy to my children…