"Our hearts are Restless until they rest in Thee, O Lord" -Augustine of Hippo-
May 2016
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Being People of “The Way”

The first time the term Christian was used in describing the followers of Jesus Christ was in the city of Antioch in Syria (Acts 11:26). Prior to this time the followers of Jesus Christ were known as “people of the Way”. Take for instance the many references found in the book of (Acts 9:219:919:2322:424:1424:22) which was in reference to their lifestyle. “People of the Way” was the name given to members of the movement around Jesus in the earliest Christians. The term “the Way” denoted a pattern of living which consisted of instruction and training required for discipleship.

In other words, it was their lifestyle that identified them as being followers of Jesus Christ, not their words. Christians were associated with a particular and discernible way of living and relating that both grew out of their faith and gave testimony to that faith.

“I beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Eph. 4:1-2).

It is when Christianity is understood primarily as a “way” of life not just a doctrinal system or promise of eternal life it begins to change the spiritual climate of its culture. Reading Diana Butler Bass’ book “A People’s History of Christianity: The Other Side of the Story” the author makes note how through the history of the church Christianity has succeeded because it transformed the lives of people in a chaotic world. Christians are more than just individuals who had a changed religious position, they were now a new people, a new community embarking on a new “way” of life — a life worthy of their calling. Their proclamation that in Jesus Christ the reconciling and transforming reign of God had become an historical reality was more than an intriguing idea, it had become visible in a people whose life together was the first fruit of the new social order intended by God for the whole of creation.

Rodney Stark an American sociologist of religion, who is co-director of the Institute for Studies of Religion at Baylor University, in his study of the growth of Christianity in the ancient world suggest that:

The power of Christianity lay not in its promise of other worldly compensations for suffering in this life, as has so often been prop0sed. No, the crucial change that took place in the third century was the rapidly spreading awareness of a faith that delivered potent antidotes to life’s miseries here and now! The truly revolutionary aspect of Christianity lay in moral imperatives such as “Love one’s neighbor as oneself,” “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you,” “it is more blessed to give than to receive,” and “When you did it to the least of my brethren, you did it unto me.” These were not just slogans. Members did nurse the sick, even during epidemics; they did support orphans, widows, the elderly, and the poor; they did concern themselves with the lot of slaves. In short Christians created “a miniature welfare state in a empire which for the most part lacked social services.” It was these responses to the long-standing misery of life in antiquity, not the onset of worse conditions, that were the ‘material’ changes that inspired Christian growth. But these material benefits were entirely spiritual in origin. Support for this view comes from the continuing inability of pagan groups to meet this challenge.

Practicing hospitality and ministering to the sick, they offered simple practical solutions to deal with the miseries of life. Early Christians shared their resources and were known for their hospitality towards the stranger and those in need. More than that, Christians found their lives changed by the new values they upheld. Justin Martyr, who lived in the second century, spoke of the impact of Christianity: “We who formerly… valued above all things the acquisition of wealth and possession, now bring what we have into a common stock, and communicate to everyone in need; we who hated and destroyed one another, and on account of their different manners would not live with men of a different tribe, now since the coming of Christ, live familiarly with them, and pray for our enemies.” This radical spirituality that dealt with social realities and injustices won new and unlikely admirers.

In his Apology, Aristede, a second century Greek philosopher describes the early Christians as follows: “They appeal to those who injure them, and try to win them as friends; they are eager to do good to their enemies; they are gentle and easy to be entreated; they abstain from all unlawful conversation and from all impurity; they despise not the widow, nor oppress the orphan; and he that has, gives ungrudgingly for the maintenance of him who has not. And when they see a stranger, they take him in to their homes and rejoice over him as a very brother; for they do not call them brethren after the flesh, but brethren after the spirit and in God.” The concern also extended to families of the dead, those who were persecuted or imprisoned and of course, the poor. “And whenever one of their poor passes from the world, each one of them according to his ability gives heed to him and carefully sees to his burial.

By followers enacting Jesus teachings, Christianity changed and improved the lives of its adherents and served as a practical theology and bettered the existence for countless ancient believers. Christians were practicing a Way that was inclusive, breaking down social barriers by bringing people of diverse backgrounds together. The love of God fleshed out in there love for people being more than a new religion transformed people like woman, peasants, and slaves by giving them the ability to change their lives.

1 Rodney Stark, Cities of God: The Real Story of How Christianity Became an Urban Movement and Conquered Rome. pg. 30

Stop Asking Jesus Into Your Heart – Book Review

At first the author provides a gentle but theological critique of the methodology of getting people saved through the use of “The Sinner’s Prayer’. He shares his own experience recounting the multiple times he asked Jesus into his heart and getting baptized a number of times also.new book “Stop Asking Jesus Into Your Heart” we have author J.D. Grear, who is the Lead Pastor at the Summit Church of Raleigh-Durham, North Carolina, provides for the reader a look at assurance of salvation.

Which leads to his premise which is “assurance is not found in remembering a prayer that you prayed, however but by continuing in the posture of repentance and faith that you began at your conversion.” In turn Grear explores and explains what the bible says is true belief, faith and repentance. He explains how everyone’s conversion experience is many times quite different but the truths of faith and repentance are the same. He further show how the “sinner’s prayer” is not some sort of magic incantation that saves. Our assurance is only in the finished work of Christ. Grear writes:

The Bible depicts the moment of salvation differently. Instead of asking Jesus for a “certificate” of salvation, you start believing what God’s Word says about His Lordship and His completed work at the cross. You understand that you have lived in rebellion against the rule of God and have no hope of escaping God’s wrath on your own. You “kneel” in submission to His claim on your life, and rest your hope of heaven upon Him. Picture this as hopping up into His arms, submitting to go wherever He takes you, and trusting in Him to carry into heaven.

Grear writing from a moderate Calvinist perspective assures readers they cannot lose their salvation as he goes through texts of Scripture showing three primary bases for assurance which are; a present posture of faith and repentance; perseverance in the faith; and evidences of eternal life in our heart—a love for God and a love for others. He states these three combine to provide us with a great sense of assurance that we belong to God.

I found this book delightful to read and a great resource. It would be quite helpful both to Christians concerned with if they are saved or not or the unsaved who have been propped up with false assurance that they are. It is a quick and easy read written with biblical truth and sprinkled with good humor.

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.”