"Our hearts are Restless until they rest in Thee, O Lord" -Augustine of Hippo-
February 2015
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A Father’s Grief Turned to Glory

The death of Magdalena

The death of Magdalena

Reading on the problem of pain within the pages of “Be Still My Soul: Embracing God’s Purpose & Provision in Suffering” a book edited by Nancy Guthrie. It consist of 25 classic & contemporary readings on the problem of pain. I was reading the chapter titled “Dying Well” contributed by Dr. D. A. Carson and I found the story of Marin Luther’s experience with the problem of pain and suffering offered its readers a unique look into the great reformers own struggles with personal loss.

It concerns the heartfelt loss of a child particularly his 13 year old daughter Magdalena who died in Wittenberg in her father’s arms after a prolonged illness in September of 1542. According to his writings this was a difficult and trying time for him.

Luther’s resolve and devotion to biblical truth is evident even in the midst of this time of personal suffering. It during these seasons that are spent in the valley that one must cling on the hope found in God’s word and one’s faith in its promises ring true for people to see.

We read below in his writings his grief that is turned into glory for those who have trusted in Christ. As Paul states in I Corinthians 15:55-57: “O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?” Luther writes:

The beloved child, Magdalena, is sick. Her portrait, painted by Cranach, is seen still in the room where she was lying, a lovely child, with large eyes, clear and deep. Near the bed is now Luther, he prays: “I love her a lot, but good God, if your will is to take her, I will give her to you with great pleasure. Then, addressing her: My little Magdalena, my little girl, soon you will not be with me, will you be happy without your father? The tired child tenderly and softly answered: Yes, dear father, as God wants. Soon, we put her in the coffin. Luther looked Ah! Sweet Lenchen, he says, you will rise again and you will shine like a star, yes, like the sun! I am happy in the spirit, but my earthly form is very sad. You have learned, he wrote to Justus Jonas: I believe the report has reached you that my dearest daughter Magdalena has been reborn into Christ’s eternal kingdom. I and my wife should joyfully give thanks for such a felicitous departure and blessed end by which Magdalena escaped the power of the flesh, the world, the Turk and the devil; yet the force of our natural love is so great that we are unable to do this without crying and grieving in our hearts, or even without experiencing death ourselves. The features, the words and the movements of the living and dying daughter remain deeply engraved in our hearts. Even the death of Christ… is unable to take this all away as it should. You, therefore, give thanks to God in our stead. For indeed God did a great work of grace when he glorified our flesh in this way. Magdalena had (as you know) a mild and lovely disposition and was loved by all… God grant me and all my loved ones and all my friends such a death – or rather such a life. [1]

[1] Hendrix, Scott H. Martin Luther: a very short introduction. pg. 76.

Pride…The First Sin

Pride has a very long history and if one looks deep and long enough in the pages of Scripture and history you will find that it was the very first sin. You ask, “Where does it say that?” I am glad that you asked. Let us look at the text of Isaiah 14 which speaks of the downfall of a king, but not just a mortal earthly ruler.

The language in this chapter references the rebellious fall of Lucifer the fallen angel known also as Satan. If we zero in on the words of Isaiah 14:13-14 we see the five “I wills”  manifesting the pride behind Satan’s motivation behind his rebellion. The “I wills” statements in the text bellow ring true to the old saying that the center of Pride and Sin is I.

You said in your heart, “I will ascend to the heavens; I will raise my throne above the stars of God; I will sit enthroned on the mount of assembly, on the utmost heights of Mount Zaphon. I will ascend above the tops of the clouds; I will make myself like the Most High.”

John Stott states, “Pride is more than the first sin; it is itself the essence of all sin.”1 This makes pride one of the greatest enemies in every aspect of the Christians discipleship. C. J. Mahaney put it best when he says, “The real issue here is not if pride exists in your heart; it’s where pride exists and how pride is being expressed in your life.”2 The Bible is full of biblical warnings to harness the sin of pride. Especially in the Book of Proverbs 16:16 – “Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before the fall.” Scripture is clear is not God in opposition to the proud (James 4:6; I Peter 5:5)? In my reading of the book Humility: True Greatness the author poses the question to his readers, “Why does God hate pride so passionately?”

Here’s why Pride is when sinful human beings aspire to the status and position of God and refuse to acknowledge their dependence upon him.”3

I found the author’s answer to be concisely accurate as I believe it sheds light on the heart of the problem. Pride is when one lifts up his own heart against God and contends for supremacy with Him as we see in the example in Isaiah 14. John Calvin wrote, “God cannot bear with seeing his glory appropriated by the creature in even the smallest degree, so intolerable to him is the sacrilegious arrogance of those who, by praising themselves, obscure his glory as far as they can.”4 Lastly I would want to share the authors comments which expand on why God opposes the proud who attempt to be contenders to God’s supremacy. C. J. Mahaney states:

Pride takes innumerable forms but has only one end: self- glorification. That’s the motive and ultimate purpose of pride-to rob God of legitimate glory and to pursue self-glorification, contending for supremacy with Him. The proud person seeks to glorify himself and not God, thereby attempting in effect to deprive God of something only he is worthy to receive.5

1 C. J. Mahaney, Humility: True Greatness, pg. 30

2 Ibid. pg.29

3 Ibid. pg. 31

4 John Calvin, Commentary on the book of psalms.

5 Ibid. pg. 32

Drawing The Gaze of God

Humility even though at times attracts the world’s notice the more astonishing thing is that it gets God’s attention. We see this clearly in the text of scripture. Let us read the words of Isaiah from the Lord in chapter 66 verse 2: “But this is the one to whom I will look: he who is humble and contrite in spirit and trembles at my word.”

This text gives great motivation that is rooted in the amazing truth that humilty draws the gaze of our God. This brings to mind the familiar words of 2 Chronicles 16:9: “For the eyes of the Lord run to and fro throughout the whole earth, to give strong support to those whose heart is blameless towards him.” Our God is searching for something particular that captures his attention. Plainly stated the one who is humble is the one who draws God’s attention.  Then the question to ask is what is humility? A definition that I found concise and accurate was one given by C. J. Mahaney in his book Humility: True Greatness.

Humility is honestly assessing ourselves in light of God’s holiness and our sinfulness. – C. J. Mahaney (Humility: True Greatness)

A sincere awareness of these two truths God’s holiness and our sinfulness will give us an honest self evaluation. Otherwise our view will be marred and skewed preventing us from practicing true humility. This definition I find has much biblical merit as it originates with God. The Swiss reformer John Calvin wrote, “It is evident that man never attains to a true self-knowledge until he has previously contemplated the face of God, and come down after such contemplation to look into himself.” To grow in humility what we most need are not thoughts of self or more innovative church programs but loftier thoughts of God. That we would draw His gaze as we strike to walk humbly. This is the promise of humility.

Vitor Belfort, Jesus and MMA

Vitor Belfort

Vitor Belfort

As an avid fan of the martial arts and a practitioner of couple of martial arts in my spare time at a local gym, I have always been a devout fan of mixed martial arts and the various organizations that have put on these events. One of my favorite fights has always been the Ultimate Fighting Championship‘s Vitor “The Phenom” Belfort. I have enjoyed him not only for his skill and intensity that he brings to the ring but for his outspoken faith and proclamation of the name of Jesus.

This Brazilian brawler believes that regardless of wins or loses he’s always earned victory through Jesus Christ. Belfort has shared his testimony of his conversion with I AM Second which is available online at their website. Belfort talks about how he came to faith in Jesus through the devastating experience of the loss of his sister who apparently was kidnapped and killed in Brazil. “My heart is so peaceful,” Belfort said in the video of the time after his conversion. “I can see that through the tribulation, I’m a new man, I’m a strong man and I’m mature.”

In his latest appearance recently Vitor appeared with his Pastor Steven Futrick as he goes head-to-head with this former UFC light heavyweight champion to talk about faith.  As we all experience moments of doubt and defeat in our relationship with God. Why am I not growing? How does the Enemy keep backing me into a corner? Where is the victory over my flesh? As it turns out, it has a lot to do with our approach. To introduce part three of the New Rules of Resolution, Pastor Steven sat down with his friend, and former UFC champion, Vitor Belfort, as they discussed the parallels between MMA training and the Christian life Christ called us to live.

You can check out this video at the link here Vitor Belfort, MMA, and Your Relationship with God from Elevation Media on Vimeo.

Is There a God Who Cares? Yes. Here’s Proof

Dinesh D’Souza who is known as an Indian American conservative political commentator, apologist and author who was formerly the President of The King’s College in New York City has done it again here with his new book “Godforsaken: Bad Things Happen. Is there a God who cares? Yes. Here’s proof”.  In this book D’Souza responds with a resounding “Yes” to the question can an omniscient all powerful God be good if evil still happens.  The author having a long history and track record debating atheists believes that this question is at the roots of atheism’s disbelief.

I found this book intellectually stimulating as I went from one chapter to the next. He would open each chapter with a review of the atheist’s opponent’s strongest arguments and then he would systematically tackle each of them head on with rigorous scholarship providing a comprehensive evangelical response. He would refute the arguments of the likes of Nietzsche and Hawkins while commenting and providing the key thoughts of other Christian thinkers who have spoken on the topic.

The author had three audiences in mind when writing this book. First was to answer the atheist argument that evil and suffering in the world somehow contradict the idea of a God who is both omnipotent and good and secondly to convince both unbelievers and believers that there is reason and purpose for evil and suffering. Then thirdly to address those Christians who are suffering. Reading the book I found insightful his thoughts on Darwin and other atheists and why many become atheist due to the problem of evil.

One of the basic premises he gives in the beginning of the book is the concept that it would be impossible to have an existing perfect creation without the capacity for evil that would also love God. D’Souza says it is illogical like God created a three sided square. Henceforth it would longer be square is the same way love would no longer be love if evil were not imminently present. Overall, I found Godforsaken to be a great page turner and well written with a mix of science and reason. I believe D’Souza offers up a fresh study of theodicy and brings some up to date material to the table for discussion. I would highly recommend this book to anyone who wants to delve in to a volume that gives a sound explanation of evil and suffering.

Disclaimer: In exchange for this review, I received a free copy of Godforsaken from Tyndale House Publishers through the Tyndale Blog Network.

New Documentary Shows That Many Turn a Blind Eye to Realities of Abortion

For over 30 years, Dr. Kermit Gosnell ran the Women’s Medical Society in Philadelphia. Presumably this was considered a women’s health clinic where abortions were performed and also where women could get medical checkups and also get prescriptions. Recently a new documentary film has shed some spotlight on Dr. Kermit Gosnell, the Philadelphia Women’s Medical Society disaster and the cover-up by the state and local oversight agencies.

The documentary reveals some of the horrific acts of an abortion clinic that serviced primarily minority women, that went far beyond the typical boundaries of protocol, law and even logical reason. It is reported that Gosnell and his employees repeatedly performed illegal third trimester abortions and silenced breathing infants with a clip of the spinal column and then stored the remains like a modern day Jeffrey Dahmer.

The greater atrocity is the government agencies who are called to supervise such clinics gave a blind eye and deaf ear to the reported horrors going on within the walls of this center. As this Sunday for many congregations it is Sanctity of Life Sunday you can view the entire 21 minute online documentary, 3801 Lancaster at their website. As this clinic primarily offered abortion services to women of minority by an African american doctor a few interesting facts provided by the CDC are informative. According to the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention abortion is the number one killer of African Americans. Abortion takes more lives yearly than all other causes of death. In 2007, the numbers break down as follows (2) Diabetes: 12,459 deaths (3) Homicide: 8,870 deaths (4) Heart Disease: 71,209 deaths (5) HIV: 6,470 deaths and number one is (1) Abortion: 164,537 deaths. Additionally, in 2007, for every 1,000 live births in the black community, there were 468 abortions. 31.8% of African American pregnancies end in abortion.

Planned Parenthood Report Reveals Record Number of Abortions

Planned Parenthoo has just released their fiscal report for the year of 2011-2012 to reveal some startling numbers concerning the abortion services they provide in America. The nation’s largest abortion provider maintained its infamous title performing roughly one out of every four abortions in America. Planned Parenthood has ridden the waves of taxpayer funding to reaching a record high of abortions 333,964 according to its latest annual report for fiscal year 2011 to 2012. A snippet of the article from the Washington Examiner

In its latest annual report for fiscal year 2011 to 2012, Planned Parenthood reveals that it performed 333,964 abortions in 2011 – a record year for the organization. According to annual reports, the organization performed 332,278 abortions in 2009, 329,445 in 2010, making the total number of abortions in three years to 995,687. Planned Parenthood reported receiving a record $542 million in taxpayer funding, according to a Susan B. Anthony List analysis of the report, in the form of government grants, contracts, and Medicaid reimbursements. The amount is 45 percent of Planned Parenthood’s annual revenue. 

This high number of abortions pales in comparison to the organizations 2,300 adoption referrals which shows where its emphasis is truly located. Last year, like many before it, Planned Parenthood saw a very comfortable income, reporting excess revenues exceeding $87 million and net assets of more than $1.2 billion. A snippet of the reports reads” I concur with with SBA List’s Presidents words quoted from the news report below: 

Susan B. Anthony List’s President Marjorie Dannenfelser said in a statement. “Destroying nearly one million children in three years is not health care and does not reflect a concern for vulnerable women and girls.”  

In past years Planned Parenthood has stressed that it provides healthcare and preventative services to indigent women. But Mallory Quigley with SBA List tells OneNewsNow that this latest annual report is telling a different story. 

“Contraception services dropped by 12 percent since 2009, and cancer-screening and prevention services dropped by 29 percent,” she points out. “So Planned Parenthood spent much of the last couple of years making the case for why they should receive taxpayer funding and really relying on taxpayers to fill up their coffers — and they’re not providing the healthcare services that they claim.” According to Quigley, that “absolutely” means more of the federal money going to Planned Parenthood is freed up to perform abortions. 

Pesecution of The Early Church Outside of Rome

Shāpūr II

Shāpūr II

When we think of the persecution of early Christians in the timeline of history we always think of the christian persecution under Roman rule. Much attention though has not been shed on the persecution of Christians outside of the Roman Empire. Most Christians have never heard of the Persian massacres. In 341 A.D. under the rule of the Persian Sassanid Empire during the reign of Zoroastrian Shapur II (Reigned 309-379). In religion sociologist Rodney Stark’s new book The Triumph of Christianity suggest that the number of Assyrian Christians who died in these massacres might have exceeded the vast numbers of all who died in all the persecutions during the Roman Empire entirely.  

Let me set the stage. In 337 Shāpūr sent his army across the Tigris River in order to recover Armenia and Mesopotamia, which his predecessors had lost to the Romans. Until 350 conflicts raged between the two powers in northern Mesopotamia ending in a stalemate with no side a dominant victor.  

Subsequently after 337, Shāpūr made an important policy decision.While even though the state religion of the Sāsānian Empire was Mazdaism (Zoroastrianism) the Christian faith flourished within its boundaries. The Roman emperor Constantine the Great had granted toleration to Christians in 313. With the subsequent Christianization of the empire, Shāpūr, mistrustful of a potential force at home while he was engaged abroad, ordered the persecution and forcible conversion of the Christians; this policy was in force throughout his reign. These period of persecution is a bit ignored. Let me quote Rodney Stark from his book The Triumph of Christianity:  

Oddly, although the number who died in these massacres probably greatly exceeded the number who died in all the persecutions by the Romans put together, this aspect of Christian history has been almost totally ignored. Encyclopedia Britannica covers the Persian massacres in one sentence in its biography of the Persian ruler Shāpūr II and in two sentences in its history of Iran. In his magisterial Martyrdom and Persecution in the early church, W. H. C. Frend gave the Persian martyrs no mention at all. John Fox (1517-1587) devoted half a page of his Book of Martyrs to “Persecutions of the Christians in Persia,” but told nothing of the events involved and is content to fill most of his space with a letter supposedly sent to the King of Persia by Constantine, urging him to embrace his local Christians. If the letter is authentic, it was odd of Constantine to have written it since Rome and Persia had been bitter enemies for centuries. In any event, Constantine’s embrace of Christianity was the primary factor prompting the Persians to massacre Christians. It happened like this.  

The creation of a rich, powerful, and intolerant Christian church was the primary legacy of the conversion of Constantine. Far better that he had remained a pagan who opposed religious persecution, while allowing Christian diversity to flourish. (pgs. 180-182)  

“Shāpūr II was proclaimed as King of Persia at his birth in 309, and after a period of regency, he took command and ruled until his death in 379. In 337, the year that Constantine died, Shāpūr sent his forces across the Tigris River to attempt to reconquer Armenia and Mesopotamia from the Romans. Shāpūr was fully aware of the special status Constantine had conferred upon Christianity, and consequently he feared that the Persian Christians were potential traitors in conflicts with Rome. These fears were exploited by Zoroastrian priests who whispered to Shāpūr ‘that there is no secret’ that the Christian bishops do not reveal to the Romans.  

As a response, the king imposed a double tax on Christians, but it did not cause the flood of defections he had anticipated. So, on Good Friday 344, Shāpūr had five bishops and one hundred Christian priests beheaded outside the walls of the city of Susa, and the massacres began. For the next several decades ‘Christians were tracked down and hunted from one end of the empire to the other.’ Before it ended, soon after Shāpūr died, tens of thousands had been killed—one source estimated that thirty-five thousand were martyred, and another that ‘as many as 190,000 Persian Christians died.’ Nevertheless, substantial numbers of Persian Christians survived and the faith soon reestablished itself as a major presence.”  

Reading Calvin’s Institutes In A Year

I have read a number of books on the Doctrines of Grace, Calvinism, John Calvin and his theology. As I have been advised by professors and I strongly agree with them that we must also be readers of the primary sources. I have read many portions of his work including parts of the Institutes of Christian Religion but I have never read this work in its entirety.

I like many have enjoyed reading small nuggets and quotes from his magnum opus the Institutes of the Christian Religion. I have come across Bliss’ post on joining a group setting the goal to finish reading this book in a year. Here is the reading plan to go through The Institutes in a year that we will be using.

I purchased Battles translation of the Institutes about a year ago then the motivation to finally dive into this ocean of reformed theology came when I read Justin Taylor’s article on “Why and How to Read Calvin’s Institutes” which then lead me to the Stir Up blog to join the reading group. If interested I encourage also to join us for this journey through the pages of the Institutes.

My prayer is that our time would be fruitful and edifying that in our reading it would stir up our affections for Christ and God’s glory. In addition I am praying that this reading would not supplement nor super cede our daily reading of the scriptures but add to it. Kart Barth said concerning the profitability of reading and studying of the works of Calvin:

John Calvin is a cataract, a primeval forest, a demonic power, something directly down from Himalaya, absolutely Chinese, strange, mythological; I lack completely the means, the suction cups, even to assimilate this phenomenon, not to speak of presenting it adequately. What I receive is only a thin little stream and what I can then give out again is only a yet thinner extract of this little stream. I could gladly and profitably set myself down and spend all the rest of my life with just Calvin. 1

1 Karl Barth, Revolutionary Theology in the Making, James D. Smart, trans. (Richmond: John Knox Press, 1964), 101. As quoted by Timothy George,Theology of the Reformers (Nashville: Broadman, 1988), 163.

Christ, Taxes And The Soul

As the New Year begins many start to prepare for Tax Day as it comes and goes every year. What does the Bible say about paying taxes and also one might ask did Jesus pay taxes? In Matthew 17:24-27 we read that Jesus did indeed pay taxes.  Also the Gospels of Matthew, Luke, and Mark each make note of another account when the Pharisees were attempting to trap Jesus in order to find a reason to accuse him. In Matthew 22:15-22 we read:

15 Then the Pharisees went and plotted how to entangle him in his words. 16 And they sent their disciples to him, along with the Herodians, saying, “Teacher, we know that you are true and teach the way of God truthfully, and you do not care about anyone’s opinion, for you are not swayed by appearances. 17 Tell us, then, what you think. Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not?” 18 But Jesus, aware of their malice, said, “Why put me to the test, you hypocrites? 19 Show me the coin for the tax.” And they brought him a denarius.20 And Jesus said to them, “Whose likeness and inscription is this?” 21 They said, “Caesar’s.” Then he said to them, “Therefore render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” 22 When they heard it, they marveled. And they left him and went away.

The historical context is interesting in that the Jews hated paying taxes and despised those of their own race who assisted in the collection of the taxes. The Jewish leaders of the time had queried Jesus if it was correct to pay the tax to Caesar. The trap set was that if Jesus said yes to paying taxes he would then strike a negative chord with the large populace crowds that were following him. On the other hand if he supported the idea of not paying taxes he would then be provoking the Roman government to incarcerate him or kill him. 

Jesus response, “render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s” found in the text is that we must be good citizens which goes hand in hand with being good Christians. We are called to pay our taxes while also giving what we owe to God. On the topic of taxes, John Piper writes of the effect of the heart of rebellion on the soul in his book What Jesus Demands from the World:

It is risky for Jesus to say, “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s.” That puts a high premium on obedience to the demands of Caesar. One of the realities that warrants this risk is that the heart of rebellion is more dangerous in us than the demands of Caesar outside of us. Jesus wants us to see that the danger to our soul from unjust, secular governments is nowhere near as great as the danger to our soul from the pride that kicks against submission. No mistreatment from Caesar or unjust law from Rome has ever sent anyone to hell. But pride and rebellion is what sends everyone to hell who doesn’t have a Savior. Therefore, the subordinate authorities of the world are warranted by God’s will in two senses. On the one hand, he wills that we recognize that these authorities are indeed subordinate and that we glorify him as the only supreme sovereign. On the other hand, he wills that we recognize these authorities as God-ordained and that we not proudly kick against what he has put in place.