The Creepy, Mysterious, & Interesting History of Valentine’s Day

The Creepy, Mysterious, & Interesting History of Valentine’s Day

Love it or hate it, Valentine’s Day is a major staple of American culture. Few know much about its history, however.

Some dismiss Valentine’s Day as a “Hallmark Holiday” created to indulge the consumerist habits of wealthy Americans; others disdain the holiday as overly romantic and serving little purpose. Yet, for the majority of Americans, Valentine’s Day is a significant holiday to celebrate love and romance.

For instance, in 2012 the average American spent just over $126 on Valentine’s Day. In total, Americans spent $4.1 billion on jewelry and $3.5 billion on dates out for the holiday in 2012. Not forgetting their dogs and cats, consumers also spend $367 million on their pets each year at Valentine’s Day. There are 220,000 wedding proposals every Valentine’s Day, which is 10 percent of the annual total. It is estimated that 15 percent of women send themselves flowers for the holiday.

Love it or hate it, Valentine’s Day is a major staple of American culture. Few know much about its history, however.

The Mysterious History

No one is quite sure where Valentine’s Day comes from. While any specific theory of its origins must be held at arm’s length, most people do agree that the holiday, as we know it today, contains a blend of practices inherited from a pagan Roman festival, fifth-century Christianity, and the Middle Ages.

Lupercalia: A Pagan Roman Fertility Festival

The earliest origins of Valentine’s Day can be traced to the ancient Roman fertility festival called Lupercalia, dedicated to Faunus, the Roman god of agriculture, and the founders of Rome, Romulus and Remus. This festival, Ted Olson explains, was a sort of “sexual lottery” in which people would “pull names out of a box at random and couple with a young member of the opposite sex.” During the festival, men would sacrifice a goat and a dog, and women would line up to be “lashed” with shaggy strips of hide from the sacrificed animals, believing that such a ritual would increase their fertility. The holiday was characterized by lots of nakedness, drunkenness, and carousing, and had little to do with love, romance, and affection.

Saint Valentine: Several Legendary Christians

Somewhere along the line the church began to celebrate a feast in February commemorating the death of Saint Valentine, a Christian martyr. However, one of the difficulties with pinpointing the patron saint of the holiday is that there were legends of three men named Valentine being executed in the first few centuries of Christianity.

Legend has it that Roman Emperor Claudius II executed two men named Valentine on February 14 in the third century A.D. One story says that Valentine was a priest who continued to perform marriages even when the emperor had issued an edict against marriage in order to make sure that his soldiers had no family ties.

Another legend says that Valentine was a Christian who had been put in jail because of his faith. After healing the jailer’s daughter of blindness, he reportedly sent the young girl a goodbye message the day before his execution, February 14—the letter was supposedly signed “From your Valentine.”

Still another story says that Valentine’s Day gets its name from the Christian martyr Valentine of Terni, who was the bishop of Interamna in A.D. 197. Legend says that Valentine of Terni was martyred shortly after he became bishop on February 14th under the reign of Aurelian.

In the fifth century, Pope Gelasius I declared February 14 a day to honor St. Valentine—which one he meant, however, is unknown. Gelasius was unhappy with the pagan rituals that accompanied Lupercalia, so he combined a religious commemorative feast with the pagan holiday. In an attempt to Christianize the holiday, Gelasius kept the idea of drawing a name out of a box; however, instead of a sex partner, one would draw the name of a famous Christian to emulate for the entire year.

According to historian Noel Lenksi, by the fifth century the sexualized pagan fertility festival had turned into a drunken revel. “But,” he says, “the Christians put clothes back on it.” At this point St. Valentine’s Day was hardly a Christian holiday and still had little to do with romance, but that would change during the Middle Ages.

Chaucer, Shakespeare, and the Middle Ages

During the Middle Ages, the pagan-festival-turned-religious-holiday gradually lost both its pagan and religious characteristics, and developed into a day to celebrate love and romance.

Poet Geoffrey Chaucer wrote a poem celebrating the engagement of Richard II of England and Anne of Bohemia. In the poem, he said that Valentine’s Day marked the beginning of the birds’ mating season. The first Valentine’s Day card—still on display in the British Museum—was sent by Charles of Orleans to his wife in 1415 when he was a prisoner in the Tower of London. Furthermore, in Shakespeare’s Hamlet, Ophelia speaks of St. Valentine’s Day and being someone’s Valentine.

After the Middle Ages

Ted Olson describes the shift that took place in the holiday in the 500 years following the Middle Ages: “By 1450, a valentine was the name of one’s sweetheart. In 1533, it was a folded piece of paper. In 1610 ‘valentines’ were gifts given to sweethearts. In the 1800s it again meant messages exchanged by couples.” In the 1840s, a woman named Esther A. Howland sold the first mass-produced Valentine’s Day cards in the U.S., and by 1913, the Hallmark company in Kansas City, MO, added Valentine’s Day cards to their production list.

Reflections on Valentine’s Day

Christians have always had to struggle with the tension between accommodating, resisting, or transforming the practices of the culture around them. Whereas a holiday like Halloween is still quite contentious among some Christians because of its history and the pagan symbolism tied up with its contemporary practice, Valentine’s Day today is almost completely disconnected from its pagan origins and has evolved into a completely different holiday. Few Christians would argue that participating in Valentine’s Day in 2013 means immersing oneself in pagan practices, yet the question still remains: How can Christians celebrate the holiday in a way that does justice to the deep Christian concept of love and doesn’t turn into a trite piece of consumerist memorabilia?

Love, True Love

Christians can celebrate Valentine’s Day in a way that honors what is good, true, and beautiful. Rather than treating love as a meaningless sexual encounter (as in Lupercalia), as a transient emotion, or as something magical and beyond comprehension, Christians can honor love as a reflection of the enduring covenant love of God. In God’s faithfulness to his people in the Old Testament and in Christ’s love for his bride, the church, in the New Testament, covenant love is revealed as a type of enduring love that cannot be broken. For married couples this means celebrating the glory of marital love and the faithfulness and commitment of each one to the other. For single people it means taking seriously romantic relationships and not flippantly giving away one’s body, mind, and heart.

Couples can remember that, as you celebrate your love for each other, you also celebrate an original, deeper love: God’s love, which is the fabric of creation. Being formed by the loving delight of another is an experience that makes the most sense when we see that we are the recipients of the loving delight of God. And God’s love for us has no boundaries.

Love Never Gives Up

In God’s grace there are no boundaries, because grace goes everywhere in pursuit of the beloved. This boundary-less character of grace is expressed in the divine love of Psalm 139:7–12:

Where shall I go from your Spirit? Or where shall I flee from your presence? If I ascend to heaven, you are there! If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there!
If I take the wings of the morning and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea,
even there your hand shall lead me, and your right hand shall hold me.
If I say, “Surely the darkness shall cover me, and the light about me be night,”
even the darkness is not dark to you; the night is bright as the day, for darkness is as light with you.

The message of the Bible is that God did not leave us in our darkness and pain. There is no boundary too great to repel the grace of God. In light of God’s love, your relationship is the creation of a context in which grace can abound even more.

During Valentine’s Day, remember you are not celebrating a sentimental fantasy that you conjured up. Rather, you celebrate because in each of you and in your love for each other is a reflection of and participation in God’s love that is the fabric of creation. As you love one another through serving, sacrificing, remaining faithful, and delighting in each other, you are imaging the God whose love is the foundation for all true love.

Is The Bible Trustworthy?

Is The Bible Trustworthy?

There have been many challenges brought by critics who doubt the reliability and trustworthiness of the accounts of Jesus’ life in the Bible. How can we be sure that the Bible we read can be trusted as accurate?

It is common to see the argument that the Scriptures we have today are not the same as what was written by the apostles in the first century. Arguments like this attempt to portray the Bible as unreliable and therefore irrelevant. As we will see, however, these challenges do not stand up to scrutiny.

What About All The New Testament Textual Variants?

The Gospels—Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John—were probably written during the second half of the first century. Unfortunately, we do not actually have any of the original documents (called autographs) in our possession today. Instead, what we have are copies, often hand-written by scribes to preserve and circulate the words of the apostles so they could be passed around and used in worship services. The fact that the original manuscripts were copied shows how important these writings were to local church congregations. However, in the process of copying the manuscripts, the scribes often made small changes, some of them unintentional and others intentional.

For example, early copies of the Greek New Testament were written in an ancient style in which words were written in all capital letters with no spaces, punctuation, or paragraph divisions. A classic illustration of this style is the phrase “GODISNOWHERE.” A copyist would have to decide whether the phrase meant “God is now here” or “God is nowhere.” Context would have to determine the meaning of the phrase, so it is not unsurprising that a scribe could occasionally get things wrong. Furthermore, scribes sometimes wrote the same word twice when it should have been written once (or once when it should have been written twice), skipped over sections of text because the same words occurred later down the page, or misspelled words. These are all examples of unintentional changes.

Other times, however, the scribes changed the texts they were copying on purpose, for a variety of reasons. They might make grammatical improvements or liturgical changes (such as adding a doxology), or they might eliminate apparent discrepancies, harmonize passages, or even make doctrinal changes. However, even Bart Ehrman, a New Testament scholar who argues that the Bible is not reliable, recognizes that “most of the changes found in our early Christian manuscripts have nothing to do with theology or ideology. Far and away the most changes are the result of mistakes, pure and simple—slips of the pen, accidental omissions, inadvertent additions, misspelled words, blunders of one sort or another.”

Because there are a large number of variations in the New Testament manuscripts, some argue that the words of the New Testament are unreliable. But the vast number of New Testament manuscripts actually enables us to figure out what the originals said with a great deal of certainty. As Mark Roberts puts it, “having many manuscripts actually increases the likelihood of our getting back to the original text.” Scholars are able to compare the various manuscripts containing the same passages of Scripture and determine, on the basis of internal and external evidence, which of the manuscripts most likely gets the original wording right.

How Do New Testament Manuscripts Compare To Other Ancient Documents?

The earliest manuscripts of the works of first-century historians such as Josephus, Tacitus, and Suetonius are dated from the 9th–11th centuries, which is over 800 years after the originals were written. In terms of the number of manuscripts that have survived, there are 200 manuscripts of Suetonius, 133 of Josephus, and 75 of Herodotus.

By comparison, when we compare these ancient works to the New Testament, the difference is astonishing. For instance, the earliest New Testament manuscript is from around 125 A.D., while significant portions of the Gospels are represented in manuscripts from the late second- and early third centuries. So, whereas the best ancient historical works have a period of 500–800 years between the actual date the work was written and the date of the earliest surviving manuscript, there is less than a 100-year gap between the writing of the Gospels and the manuscripts we possess.

In addition, the number of manuscripts of the Gospels is staggering in comparison to other ancient works. As Roberts notes, “The number of Gospel manuscripts in existence is about 20 times larger than the average number of extant manuscripts of comparable writings.” This figure does not even represent the hundreds of thousands of quotes from the Gospels in the writings of the early church fathers. We have nearly 2,000 manuscripts of the Gospels alone. This means that to doubt the reliability of the Gospels is to doubt the reliability of nearly every ancient text that we have.

Scripture Is Trustworthy And Reliable

Because of who God is, and because of what God has done to preserve his word, we can have confidence that the events described in Scripture are accurate and historical. This is important because Christianity, unique among world religions, is not primarily founded on principles but on the historical events of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection. As John Gresham Machen writes, “Christianity is based upon an account of something that happened, and the Christian worker is primarily a witness.” Scripture reveals the central climax of history: God’s gracious act of bringing salvation through Jesus Christ.

Why is Sex Trafficking at the Super Bowl?

Why is Sex Trafficking at the Super Bowl?

We are approaching what is the largest sports event and the most-watched program on U.S. TV every year: the Super Bowl.

As I’ve written before, the Super Bowl and other large sporting events like the Olympics and the World Cup are increasingly being recognized as magnets for sex trafficking and child prostitution. The 2010 Super Bowl saw an estimated 10,000 sex workers brought in to Miami, while the 2011 event resulted in 133 prostitution-related arrests in Dallas.

In the past, attempted crackdowns by law enforcement have misfired by treating prostitutes as criminals to be locked up rather than victims to be rescued, but awareness efforts have been working, and government agencies have begun to pay more attention to the problem. As Indiana Attorney General Greg Zoeller explained, “There are enormous economic benefits of hosting large sporting events such as the Super Bowl, but the disturbing reality is that such gatherings in other states have drawn criminal rings that traffic young women and children into the commercial sex trade.” Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott acknowledged the Super Bowl as “the single largest human trafficking incident in the United States.”

The Demand for Exploitation

What is driving this horrible exploitation, and why are such seemingly innocuous gatherings as sports events attracting the abuse of women and girls? The key is that demand increases as men flood into a city for a weekend of fun. Without an eager market willing to pay to enjoy the exploitation of women, sex trafficking and child prostitution would have no reason to exist. Yes, organized crime takes advantage of the disadvantaged and the vulnerable. And yes, our hyper-sexualized culture makes it seem normal and acceptable for sex to be treated as a commodity to be bought and sold. Yes, porn fuels the sex trade by teaching its consumers that women exist for the pleasure of men and that their purpose is to be degraded and dehumanized for men’s excitement.

But below the surface, these problems are all symptoms of a patriarchal world system that preys on women and children, keeping them subservient to and fearful of men so that they can be controlled and used. As human trafficking researcher Andrea Bertone writes, “The patriarchal world system hungers for and sustains the international subculture of docile women.” This oppressive system reveals and perpetuates itself in innumerable expressions of violence against women and children around the world every day.

The Patriarchal World System

Acknowledging a patriarchal world system is not to imply that all men are abusive toward women, or that all violence against women is carried out only by men. That is because patriarchy not just something some individuals do. It is a set of expectations and relationships, a social system. A society can be oppressive without most of the people in it actively being oppressive, but simply following the rules and expectations of the society. Allan Johnson explains, “If a society is oppressive, then people who grow up and live in it will tend to accept, identify with, and participate in it as ‘normal’ and unremarkable life. . . . When oppression is woven into the fabric of everyday life, we don’t need to go out of our way to be overtly oppressive in order for an oppressive system to produce oppressive consequences. As the saying goes, what evil requires is simply that ordinary people do nothing.” In this system, the same world that is quite satisfying to some of us is utterly devastating to many others, especially vulnerable women and children trapped in sexual slavery in the United States and around the world.

The Kingdom of God

I’ve written other posts to raise awareness of human trafficking and sexual assault, but our hope is in more than just awareness and government initiatives; what we look forward to is the opposite of the patriarchal world system: the kingdom of God.

This kingdom is the rule and reign of God, the sphere in which God’s intentions for the world are carried out. Sinclair Ferguson defines the kingdom of God this way: “The kingdom is the rule and reign of God, the expression of his gracious sovereign will. To belong to the kingdom of God is to belong to the people among whom the reign of God has already begun.”

In Luke 17, the Pharisees asked Jesus when the kingdom of God would come, and he replied, “The kingdom of God is not coming in ways that can be observed, nor will they say, ‘Look, here it is!’ or ‘There!’ for behold, the kingdom of God is in the midst of you” (Luke 17:20–21). (Darrell Bock explains that a better translation is “among you” or “in your midst.”)

The point is that Jesus is the king and the sign that God’s kingdom has come. Bock writes, “The Pharisees confront the kingdom in Jesus. They do not need to look all around for it [the kingdom] because its central figure is in front of their eyes . . . to see the kingdom, look to Jesus and what he offers. . . . The way to God’s kingdom is through Jesus. He controls the kingdom’s benefits and represents its power and presence.” The kingdom has come—it has come in Jesus Christ, and those who are united to him through faith have entered the kingdom.

In God’s vision for the world, captives are set free, and women and children have no need to fear violence, abuse, or exploitation. Male domination over and exploitation of women, in any form, should be resisted because it is evil. God calls his people to stand with the vulnerable and powerless and to resist those who use their power to oppress and harm others. When Jesus declared that he had come “to set at liberty those who are oppressed” (Luke 4:18), he showed that bringing freedom for captives and relief to the poor and oppressed is at the very center of his mission. His ultimate act of liberation was his sinless life, substitutionary death, and victorious resurrection, which set his people free from slavery to sin and death. Now his people, the church, can join in his mission to work against evil and oppression and proclaim liberty.

Our hope is in Jesus as king, not primarily in politics, though we do believe that God can work through political systems to do good (Rom. 13:1–7). As Scot McKnight puts it, “The Christian’s primary ‘politic’ is a church that follows Jesus as King, that votes its conscience not on the basis of a political ideology but on the basis of the gospel, and that strives to influence society through the church. That is, its politic is not the eschatological hope of the federal government but in the one who is King over all.”

If you are moved to take action against modern-day slavery, the answer is not to boycott the Super Bowl. Instead, here are 14 things you can do to fight human trafficking and help victims. Specifically, please pray for the perpetrators on sexual exploitation. You can also read about how churches can work toward ending trafficking in their city.

How People Change (Book Highlights)

How People Change (Book Highlights)

How People Change

by Timothy S. Lane & Paul David Tripp

New Growth Press, 2006


The central theme of How People Change is that much of the time, Christians live with a “gospel gap.” We believe the gospel intellectually, but we don’t live out its implications practically. This gospel gap “subverts our identity as Christians and our understanding of the present work of God” as it “undermines every relationship in our lives, every decision we make, and every attempt to minister to others” (p. 2).

The Gospel Gap

The gospel gap produces three kinds of blindness: “blindness of identity,” when we underestimate the power of indwelling sin and misunderstand our identity in Christ Jesus; “blindness of God’s provision,” when we do not understand that God has provided “everything we need for life and godliness” (2 Pet. 1:3); and “blindness to God’s process,” when we forget that the Christian life is one of “constant work, constant growth, and constant confession and repentance” (p. 6).

Many external things can wrongly fill the gap of the gospel for us:

  • Formalism reduces the gospel to church attendance and spiritual disciplines.
  • Legalism adds to the gospel law-keeping and rule-keeping.
  • Mysticism reduces the gospel to personal experience.
  • Activism reduces the gospel to doing social justice.
  • Biblicism reduces the gospel to loving theology more than Jesus.
  • Psychology-ism reduces the gospel to therapy.
  • Socialism reduces the gospel to being accepted by a particular Christian community.

By contrast, the authors offer five gospel perspectives that fill the gospel gap:

  1. Awareness of “the extent and gravity of our sin” because we cannot be properly cured without a correct diagnosis.
  2. A focus on “the centrality of the heart” which emphasizes that sin corrupts not only our behaviors but our motivations.
  3. Attention to “the present benefits of Christ” because the gospel is the root not only of our justification but also our sanctification.
  4. A reminder of “God’s call to growth and change” because Christian growth requires self-conscious attention.
  5. A call to “a lifestyle of repentance and faith” because the grace of God is not merely the experience of forgiveness but also the enabling power of change.

According to Tripp and Lane, there are five common “deceitful” teachings that Christians sometime believe which cause us to lose gospel perspective and falsely attribute the root of our problems to our 1) circumstances, 2) behavior, 3) negative thinking, 4) low self-concept, or 5) the idea that we “just need to trust Jesus more.” Understanding the gospel helps us see that none of these can be the ultimate root of our sin or lack of Christian growth.

How God Changes Us

Christian “change is a community product” (p. 73). We can’t change ourselves or fix our problems alone. God intends that we change with others and that others change with us. Community has been ordained by God because God himself lives in community. Although relationships are always messy, personal change happens in community because God gives a diversity of gifts to individuals in the community. No one has the same gift, and everyone needs a diversity of gifts to grow.

Contrary to popular belief, the Bible is not primarily a set of ways to live but a “big picture book.” The big picture of the Bible is the story of redemption. It is panoramic as it “introduces us to God, defines our identity, lays out the meaning and purpose of life, and shows us where to find help for the one disease that infects us all—sin” (p. 92). This picture tells us what life in a fallen world is like, who we are as fallen human beings, who Jesus is as Savior and Lord of all things, and how he progressively transforms us by grace.

You can respond to the heat of life with fruit.

Jeremiah 17:5–10 provides four images which create a model for appropriating the big picture of the Bible for our own lives:

  1. Heat represents “life in a fallen world,” and in the authors’ model it stands for a person’s situation in daily life, with difficulties, blessings, and temptations (pp. 95–96). It asks the question: “What is your situation?” (p. 105) An honest assessment of your experience is important to personal change.
  2. Thorns represent “the ungodly person who turns away from God” and in their model it stands for a person’s “ungodly response to the situation. [This] includes behavior, the heart driving the behavior, and the consequences that result” (pp. 95–96) It asks the questions: “How do you react? What do you want and believe?” (p. 106) Life doesn’t just happen to you. You react to it, and you are not forced to react the way you do. Your heart determines your reactions.
  3. The Cross is not explicitly found in the text but shows God as the Redeemer who “comforts, cleanses, and empowers those who trust him.” In the authors’ model it stands for “the presence of God in his redemptive glory and love. Through Christ, he brings comfort, cleansing, and the power to change” (p. 96). It asks the question: “Who is God and what does he say and do in Christ?” (p. 106) God is with you now and there is grace to change. Jesus is remaking and renewing you.
  4. Fruit in the text represents “the godly person who trusts the Lord,” and in their model it stands for the person’s “new godly response to the situation resulting from God’s power at work in the heart [including] behavior, the heart renewed by grace, and the harvest of consequences that follow” (p. 96). It asks the question: “How is God calling me to seek him in repentance and faith?” (p. 107) Because of God’s grace in your life, you can change. You can respond to the heat of life without thorns but with fruit.

The Ten Commandments illustrate that our sinful actions towards others (commandments 6–10) are the result of our tendency to worship something other than God (commandments 1–4). A grace-centered life of pursuing change is being honest about our sin, and being overwhelmed by God’s great love for us and promise to redeem us fully from sin.

Finally, Lane and Tripp offer five realities to remember as God changes our hearts:

  1. You are already a fruit tree because of what Christ has done for you.
  2. The Christian life is about living by faith in Christ, with the possibilities and privileges he brings.
  3. Because Christ has made you a new creation, good things are possible even in difficulty.
  4. Because you are united with Christ and his Spirit lives in you, trials and temptations are opportunities to experience the power of God at work.

God calls you to a new identity in Christ (“This is who I am”) and therefore a new way of living (“This is what I can be”) (pp. 220–221).

 

 

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What Is Grace?

What Is Grace?

“The very center and core of the whole Bible is the doctrine of the grace of God.”

J. Gresham Machen

 

“Grace” is the most important concept in the Bible, Christianity, and the world. It is most clearly expressed in the promises of God revealed in Scripture and embodied in Jesus Christ.

Grace is the love of God shown to the unlovely; the peace of God given to the restless; the unmerited favor of God.

What are some ways people have defined grace?

“Grace is free sovereign favor to the ill-deserving.” (B.B. Warfield)

“Grace is love that cares and stoops and rescues.” (John Stott)

“[Grace] is God reaching downward to people who are in rebellion against Him.” (Jerry Bridges)

“Grace is unconditional love toward a person who does not deserve it.” (Paul Zahl)

Grace is most needed and best understood in the midst of sin, suffering, and brokenness. We live in a world of earning, deserving, and merit, and these result in judgment. That is why everyone wants and needs grace. Judgment kills. Only grace makes alive.

A shorthand for grace is “mercy, not merit.” Grace is the opposite of karma, which is all about getting what you deserve. Grace is getting what you don’t deserve, and not getting what you do deserve. Christianity teaches that what we deserve is death with no hope of resurrection.

While everyone desperately needs it, grace is not about us. Grace is fundamentally a word about God: his uncoerced initiative and pervasive, extravagant demonstrations of care and favor. Michael Horton writes, “In grace, God gives nothing less than Himself. Grace, then, is not a third thing or substance mediating between God and sinners, but is Jesus Christ in redeeming action.”

Christians live every day by the grace of God. We receive forgiveness according to the riches of God’s grace, and grace drives our sanctification. Paul tells us, “the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives” (Titus 2:11–12). Spiritual growth doesn’t happen overnight; we “grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Pet. 3:18). Grace transforms our desires, motivations, and behavior.

In fact, God’s grace grounds and empowers everything in the Christian life. Grace is the basis for:

  • Our Christian identity: “By the grace of God I am what I am.” (1 Cor. 15:10)
  • Our standing before God: “this grace in which we stand.” (Rom. 5:2)
  • Our behavior: “We behaved in the world … by the grace of God.” (2 Cor. 1:12)
  • Our living: those who receive “the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ,” (Rom. 5:17) by the “grace of life.” (1 Pet. 3:7)
  • Our holiness: God “called us to a holy calling … because of his own purpose and grace.” (2 Tim. 1:9)
  • Our strength for living: “Be strengthened by the grace that is in Jesus Christ” (2 Tim. 2:1) for “it is good for the heart to be strengthened by grace.” (Heb. 13:9)
  • Our way of speaking: “Let your speech always be gracious.” (Col. 4:6)
  • Our serving: “serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace.” (1 Pet. 4:10)
  • Our sufficiency: “My grace is sufficient for you.” (2 Cor. 12:9) “God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work.” (2 Cor. 9:8)
  • Our response to difficulty and suffering: We get “grace to help in time of need,” (Heb. 4:16) and when “you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace…will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you.” (1 Pet. 5:10)
  • Our participation in God’s mission: As recipients of grace we are privileged to serve as agents of grace. Believers receive grace (Acts 11:23), are encouraged to continue in grace (Acts 13:43), and are called to testify to the grace of God (Acts 20:24). Jesus says, “As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you” (John 20:21). God’s mission is to the entire world.
  • Our future: God, and his grace, is everlasting. “Set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ.” (1 Pet. 1:13)
  • Our hope beyond death: “grace [reigns] through righteousness leading to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” (Rom. 5:21)

The gospel is all about God’s grace through Jesus Christ. That’s why Paul calls it “the gospel of the grace of God” (Acts 20:24) and “the word of his grace” (Acts 14:3).

The gospel of the grace of God is the message everyone needs. The word of grace is proclaimed from every page of the Bible and ultimately revealed in Jesus Christ. The last verse of the Bible summarizes the message from Genesis to Revelation: “The grace of the Lord Jesus be with all” (Rev. 22:21). Through Jesus “we have all received grace upon grace” (John 1:16)—the gratuitous and undomesticated grace of God.

Protect Your Children

Protect Your Children

Great Advice On Protecting Your Children

Recommended Reading On Training Your Children

Recommended Reading On Caring For Your Child If They Have Been Abused

Interview about Sexual Assault on the White Horse Inn

Interview about Sexual Assault on the White Horse Inn

Lindsey and I  were recently interviewed by Michael Horton on the White Horse Inn about sexual assault and how we can best apply the gospel of Christ to victims and the perpetrators. Here is a highlight from the interview.

Michael Horton: How do you talk about the fatherhood of God, when the [earthly] father is about the worst person in their life?

Justin Holcomb: Most victims have a voice screaming lies to them, and so our job is to do everything possible to proclaim the truth that undermines, annihilates, and shuts that voice up. And so going after the fatherhood of God is a great place to go because you get to say amazing things about the Father who loves them appropriately.

They have a foil. They hear things like, “When you have faith in Christ there is nothing you can ever do that will make him not want you and reject you.” Because of their horrible experience, it makes certain dimensions of the gospel presentation glimmer ever brighter for them. So we go straight to that and say, “He’s strong and powerful, but he never uses it against you because you are his child. You don’t have to earn anything, because you have an inheritance.” And so we pull out all of these great connections to the fatherhood of God. He is loving and powerful always accepts you. All of the “no” goes to Jesus, and all of the “yes” goes to you.

Go to The White Horse Inn for the entire interview or subscribe and listen to it from their podcast.

 


 

Are you uncertain how to respond with to sexual assault? Learn more about Respond’s free one-day conference.

Rape, Sexual Assault, and Consent

Rape, Sexual Assault, and Consent

Sexual assault is one of the most under-reported crimes, and less than 40 percent of all sexual assaults are reported to law enforcement.

This is because of the unique shame, fear, and embarrassment that sexual assault victims experience. All of this is then compounded by cultures of victim-blaming in which rape and assault victims are often said to be “asking for it” by dressing too provocatively, going out alone too late at night, or drinking too much. The victim-blaming impulse shows up every time stories of sexual assault appear in the news.

Defining assault and consent

With the prevalence of sexual violence, it is important to have a clear definition of sexual assault and consent. Many victims are not sure if what happened to them was assault, and the shame and pressure to remain silent lead to a recurring cycle of traumatization.

“Sexual assault” is the current legal term that replaced the narrow definition of rape, though some states use the terms interchangeably. In Rid of My Disgrace, a book I wrote with my wife, our definition of sexual assault is: any type of sexual behavior or contact where consent is not freely given or obtained and is accomplished through force, intimidation, violence, coercion, manipulation, threat, deception, or abuse of authority.

A key concept in all of these cases of sexual assault is that the victim did not consent to the sexual contact.

What is consent?

Consent is when an individual is freely able to make a choice based upon respect and equal power, and with the understanding that there is the freedom to change her or his mind at any time. To judge whether a sexual act is assault, we ask: (1) Are both people old enough to consent? (2) Do both people have the capacity to consent? (3) Did both agree to the sexual contact? If any of these are answered “no,” it is likely that sexual assault has occurred.

Consent requires communicating “yes” to engaging in a particular act. Consent is not given when one person says “no,” says nothing, is coerced, is physically forced, is mentally or physically helpless, is intoxicated, is under the influence of drugs, or is unconscious. Having given consent on a previous occasion does not mean that a person has consented for any future encounter. The law generally assumes that a person does not consent to sexual conduct if he or she is forced, threatened or is unconscious, drugged, a minor, developmentally disabled, chronically mentally ill, or believe they are undergoing a medical procedure.

Prevalence

Sexual assault affects millions of women, men, and children worldwide. Though its prevalence is difficult to determine exactly (because of under-reporting), the statistics are still overwhelmingly high: One in four women and one in six men will be sexually assaulted at some point in their lifetimes.

According to the Bureau of Justice, women 16 to 19 years old have the highest rate of sexual victimization of any age group. Statistics show that 15 percent of sexual assault victims are under age 12 years old, 29 percent are ages 12 to 17, and 80 percent are under age 30. The highest risk years are ages 12 to 34, and girls ages 16 to 19 are four times more likely than the general population to be victims of sexual assault.

Shedding light on the truth

For victims, acknowledging and naming what happened to you is an important step in the healing process. For everyone else, greater awareness of the culture of violence and exploitation of women and children is essential so we can work to fight this evil and care for those around us who have been victimized.

The Temple & The Church’s Mission (Book Highlights)

The Temple & The Church’s Mission (Book Highlights)

The Temple and the Church’s Mission

by G. K. Beale

Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2004.


 

In The Temple and the Church’s Mission, biblical theologian Gregory Beale answers two major questions. First, why does “a new heaven and a new earth” in Revelation 21:1 appear as a garden-like temple (Rev. 21:2–3, Rev. 10–22:3)? Second, how does this vision relate “to Christians and their role in fulfilling the mission of the church” (23–25)?

Beale’s thesis is “that the Old Testament tabernacle and temples were symbolically designed to point to the cosmic eschatological reality that God’s tabernacling presence, formerly limited to the holy of holies, was to be extended throughout the whole earth” (26).

The Symbolism of a Temple

In the first portion of the book, Beale examines the cosmic symbolism found in Old Testament and ancient Near Eastern temples. He argues that “the Garden of Eden was the first archetypal temple, and that it was the model for all subsequent temples . . . the Old Testament tabernacle and temples were symbolical microcosms of the whole creation. As microcosmic symbolic structures they were designed to point to a worldwide eschatological temple that perfectly reflects God’s glory. It is this universally expanded eschatological temple that is pictured in Revelation’s last vision” (26).

As Beale shows, “Ezekiel 28 explicitly calls Eden the first sanctuary, which substantiates that Eden is described as a temple because it is the first temple, albeit a ‘garden-temple.’ Early Judaism confirms this identification. Indeed, it is probable that even the similar ancient Near Eastern temples can trace their roots back to the original primeval garden” (79–80).

The mark of the true church is an expanding witness to the presence of God.

Adam, the kingly gardener, priest, and watchman over Eden, was to subdue the earth as God’s image-bearer (Gen. 1:26–28). Adam and Eve “were to reflect God’s kingship by being his vice-regents on earth” (81). Israel is also depicted as “corporate Adam,” as Beal calls it. “The nation’s task was to do what Adam had first been commissioned to do. Israel failed even as had Adam. And like Adam, Israel was also cast out of their ‘garden land’ into exile” (119–121).

Both Adam and Israel were given the role of expanding God’s temple on the earth: “Eden and the temple signified a divine mandate to enlarge the boundaries of the temple until they formed the borders around the whole earth. Sometimes the thought may be that the entire land of Israel, conceived as a large Garden of Eden, was to be expanded” (123). As Habakkuk writes, “The earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord as the waters cover the sea” (Hab. 2:14).

Christ and His Church: The Ultimate Temple

The role given to Adam and Israel—to expand God’s temple into all the earth—is fulfilled in the ultimate Israelite, Jesus Christ, and his church: “The New Testament pictures Christ and the church as finally having done what Adam, Noah, and Israel had failed to do in extending the temple of God’s presence throughout the world. Luke 2:32 and Acts 26:23 picture Christ as fulfilling this commission to be a ‘light’ to the end of the earth (an allusion to the Servant Israel’s commission in Isa. 49:6)” (169). Jesus’ Great Commission promise to go with his disciples to the ends of the earth (Matt. 28) gives further support to this conclusion.

The coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, with people from a multitude of languages being drawn in, is a reversal of Babel. Moreover, there are hints of the fulfillment of Jesus’ prophecy of the new temple at Pentecost: “The coming of the Spirit indicates a shift in redemptive history whereby forgiveness of sins derives from Jesus instead of Israel’s temple priests” (204).

We will not bear fruit unless we stay out of the shadows.

From the letters to the Corinthians, Ephesians, and Colossians, we see that the church is the temple of God. “Just as God’s glory uniquely dwelt in Israel’s old temple, so the glorious attributes of God are to be manifested in the Corinthians both individually and corporately, since they are the new temple. Similarly, the consummated temple in the new creation will perfectly reflect ‘the glory of God (Rev. 21:11), and ‘nothing unclean . . . shall ever come into it’ (Rev. 21:27)” (252). The temple of God has received its fulfillment not in a literal structure but instead in the church.

In Hebrews, Jesus is portrayed as the veil of the heavenly end-time tabernacle as well as the end-time tabernacle itself. Moreover, “Mount Zion” and the “heavenly Jerusalem” are pictured as equivalent to the end-time temple. Significant to this is the fact that “Hebrews 12:22–28 says that believers have begun to participate in an unshakeable mountain, temple, and kingdom, which are different images for the same one reality of God’s glorious kingship in a new creation” (306).

In Revelation, the Eden-like imagery describing the city-temple (Rev. 22:1–3) shows that the building of the temple that began in Genesis 2 but was abandoned will be commenced again and completed in Christ and his people, and will encompass the whole new creation. In addition, the Revelation imagery of lampstands points to the church’s temple-expanding mission: “The church symbolized as a ‘lampstand’ in Revelation 11 represents God’s temple-presence that is given power by ‘the seven lamps’ . . . a power primarily to witness as a light uncompromisingly to the world so that the gates of hell (Rev. 2:9–11, 13) would not prevail against the building of God’s temple. . . . The lampstands represent the church as the true temple and the totality of the people of God witnessing between the period of Christ’s resurrection and his final coming” (327).

The Temple and the Church’s Mission

Beale’s conclusion is that all Christians are now spiritual priests serving God in his temple, of which we are part. As priests we are called to fulfill the role originally given to Adam, “to keep the order and peace of the spiritual sanctuary by learning and teaching God’s word, by praying always, and by being vigilant in keeping out unclean moral and spiritual things,” and to continually offer our own bodies as living sacrifices (Rom. 12:1), following the example of Jesus” (398–399). Moreover, “Believers are priests in that they serve as mediators between God and the unbelieving world. When unbelievers accept the church’s mediating witness, they not only come into God’s presence, but they begin to participate themselves as mediating priests who witness” (400).

In conclusion, “We as the church will not bear fruit and grow and extend across the earth in the way God intends unless we stay out of the shadows of the world and remain in the light of God’s presence—in his word and prayer and in fellowship with other believers in the church, the temple of God. The mark of the true church is an expanding witness to the presence of God: first to our families, then to others in the church, then to our neighborhood, then to our city, then the country, and ultimately the whole earth” (401).

 

 

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