Saturday, December 23, 2017

The Complete Christmas Story




   The lovely Kaitlyn from The SoCal Gal invited me to do a guest post for her blog series: 12 Days of Christmas. I was more than happy to oblige. Hope you enjoy!

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   The little girl slowly opened her eyes. The sun had yet to peep over the horizon. She was about to snuggle back into the covers when the faint smell of bacon caused her to sit up.
Why is Dad making breakfast so early? We don’t have to do school… oh!”
Suddenly remembering the significance of the day, she leapt out of bed and ran to her siblings’ rooms.
“It’s Christmas guys, get up!”
Three pairs of feet tumbled down the stairs and breathlessly wished their parents a “Merry Christmas!” before carefully examining the presents beside the tree.
“Eat your breakfast first kids,” their mother said, smiling at their eager faces.
Breakfast was dutifully consumed, but there was yet one thing left to do before tearing into the colorfully wrapped presents. Picking up a Bible, their father led them to the family room where they all sat next to the fire and listened as he read the Christmas story.

   This scene is one which replays every year at our house, as it undoubtedly does in numerous other Christian households. While we no longer exchange gifts, one tradition still remains: reading the opening chapters of Matthew or Luke. I heard the Christmas story so many times growing up, that I knew it by heart.


   At least I thought I did.

   Several years ago, I decided to read through the Matthew account on my own. To my surprise, Matthew doesn’t start with the familiar words, “Now the birth of Jesus Christ was on this wise:” No, the opening verses of Matthew are, “The book of the generation of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham. Abraham begat Isaac; and Isaac begat Jacob; and Jacob begat Judas and his brethren; and Judas begat Phares and Zara of Thamar;…”


   The Christmas story starts with a genealogy!




Tuesday, October 31, 2017

The 5 Sola Heartbeat of Luther's Message




   In this second post of a three-part series celebrating the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, my sister Victoria explains the heart of Luther's message and what the Reformation is really about.   


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     The heart of Martin Luther’s message is dynamically portrayed in the five Solas of the Protestant Reformation: Sola Scriptura, Solus Christus, Sola Fide, Sola Gracia, and Soli Deo Gloria. They identify our final authority on spiritual matters, especially in determining how man is justified (made righteous before God). Written during the Renaissance period, these Solas countered the Church’s mandate for universal submission to Roman Catholicism’s three-fold authority: church leadership (consisting of the Pope, cardinals, bishops, and priests), tradition, plus the Scriptures—in Latin. When tradition contradicted the Bible, tradition overruled. Of course, the Reformers strongly disagreed and wrote Biblical rebuttals, resulting in the five Solas. These succinct doctrines express what we Protestants believe, give discernment between truth and error, and help us defend our faith.

Scripture Alone
     “Sola Scriptura,” Latin for “Scripture alone,” was the Reformer’s counter to the wider Roman Catholic view of many authorities. At the famous Diet of Worms, Martin Luther declared his authority when told to recant his books. He declared, "Unless I am convinced by the testimony of the Holy Scriptures or by evident reason...I consider myself convicted by the testimony of Holy Scripture, which is my basis; my conscience is captive to the Word of God. Thus I cannot and
will not recant, because acting against one's conscience is neither safe nor sound. God help me. Amen.”1  Luther taught that Scripture alone is our final, supreme authority. 2 Timothy 3:16-17 says, “All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: that the man of God may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works.” Scripture alone provides everything needed for any Christian’s perfection, and is thus our final authority, as Luther rightly contended.

Christ Alone
     “Solus Christus” (“Christ alone”) is in direct opposition to the Roman Catholic teaching of salvation through Christ plus works. According to Catholicism, works (particularly penance, or self-punishment for sin) are needed to enter heaven. Supposed “venial” sinners go to Purgatory, which cleanses their remaining sin and releases them to heaven. In other words, Christ’s atonement is insufficient. 1Peter3:18teaches,“For Christ also hath once suffered for sins, the Just for the unjust, that He might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh, but quickened by the Spirit.” Furthermore, Catholics promote Mary as co- redemptrix with Christ, working with Him for our salvation. But the Bible says in 1 Timothy 2:5-6, “For there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the Man Christ Jesus; who gave Himself a ransom for all, to be testified in due time.” Luther rightly insisted on one mediator between God and men: Christ Jesus, not Mary. 

Faith Alone
     “Sola Fide” (“faith alone”) declares a sinner righteous before God by faith alone. Martin Luther strongly advocated this doctrine, since God used it to save him. He penned in his book, By Faith Alone“It is faith—without good works and prior to good worksthat takes us to heaven. We come to God through faith alone.”2  This fact is anchored in Scripture. Romans 3:28 says, “Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law.” Galatians 2:16 adds, “Knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law, but by the faith of Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Jesus Christ, that we might be justified by the faith of Christ, and not by the works of the law: for by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified.” This point is the premier sola in Protestant doctrine.

Grace Alone
     “Sola Gracia” (“grace alone”) is amply explained in a sermon Luther gave: “So he [Paul in Titus 3:5-7] discards all boasted free will, all human virtue, righteousness, and good works. He concludes that they are all nothing and are wholly perverted, however brilliant and worthy they may appear, and teaches that we must be saved solely by the grace of God, which is effective for all believers who desire it from a correct conception of their own ruin and nothingness.”3 He added, “Truly, then, we are saved by grace alone, without works or other merit.”4  It is God’s grace, His unmerited favor, which sent Jesus Christ to suffer on our behalf, imputing (or reckoning) to all believers a full and complete righteousness which only He can bestow. It is an alien righteousness, whose source is the God- man, not the godless. We are justified freely by His grace alone.

Glory to God Alone
     “Soli Deo Gloria” (“glory to God alone”) is the main reason for the other four Solas. With our final authority being Scripture alone, and justification by Christ, faith, and grace alone, God alone gets all the glory! Man is incapable of meriting God’s glory or praise because he did absolutely nothing to deserve it. Jesus Christ is glorified because He solely obtained eternal life for His people. 1 Corinthians 1:30-31 says, “But of Him are ye in Christ Jesus, who of God is made unto us wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption: That, according as it is written, He that glorieth, let him glory in the Lord.” Glory to God alone for who He is and what He has done!
These five Solas embody Luther’s message. His message was God’s pure, inerrant, and preserved Word as our final authority, and salvation by His work. Many churches in America must reinstitute these basic doctrines found in the Reformation Solas. The Protestant Reformation, which occurred 500 years ago, needs to happen again. With easy access to the Bible, we have no excuse. May all who name the name of Christ proclaim with Luther and the other reformers, “Sola Scriptura, Solus Christus, Sola Fide, Sola Gracia, and Soli Deo Gloria!”



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1 Coffman, Elesha. “What Luther Said.” Christianity Today, 8 Aug. 2008, www.christianitytoday.com/history/2008/august/what-luther-said.html , Accessed 24 May 2017.
2 “By Faith Alone Quotes.” Goodreads, www.goodreads.com/work/quotes/536291-by-faith-alone , Accessed 25 May 2017.
3 Shane Lems, “Luther on Grace Alone (Sola Gratia),” The Reformed Reader, 15 March 2011, www.reformedreader.wordpress.com/2011/03/15/luther-on-grace-alone-sola-gratia/ . Accessed 25 May 2017.
4 Same as above source. 


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This post is the last in a three-part series on the Reformation. If you enjoyed this series, let me know in the comments! 
To read the previous posts, click the links below:
God's Man in God's Time
The Stroke Heard 'Round the World



Wednesday, October 25, 2017

God's Man in God's Time - Reformation 500





   In this second post of a three-part series celebrating the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, my brother Gabriel shares some interesting information about the man behind the Reformation.  


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     Martin Luther was a man that had a profound influence on the Reformation. Martin Luther was born in Germany to Hans and Margarethe Luther on November 10, 1483. His father, Hans, worked diligently at a copper mine. Mr. Luther had plans for his oldest son, Martin. He sent him to Latin school for a time and then to the University of Erfurt at the age of thirteen. Martin’s father wanted him to be well educated in order to become a lawyer. Martin, however, wanted none of this. Though Mr. Luther knew that his son did not like training for a lawyer, he still enrolled him in law school.

     One day, as Martin was going to the University, he was overtaken by a mighty thunderstorm. Before he reached his destination, a lightning bolt struck near. In his distress, he cried, “Help! Saint Anna, I will become a monk.” The thunderstorm subsided, and he was able to make it to safety. True to his word, Martin stopped school and put everything away to become a monk. His father was enraged. He complained that he spent money on his education, and Martin wasted it. However, Martin Luther did not listen to his father’s words. He focused on living the religious life of a monk.

     The lifestyle of a monk was not pleasant. Martin Luther was constantly beating himself, fasting, staying awake all night, and in continual confession of sins. When Luther was not physically torturing himself, he studied the Bible. One day, he came across Romans 1:17, “For therein is the righteousness of God revealed from faith to faith: as it is written, The just shall live by faith.” Initially, Martin Luther hated this statement, “The just shall live by faith.” All Luther could understand was that he was not just, and would be judged by a righteous God. This made his blood turn cold. He was terrified of being judged by Jesus Christ. He did not understand that by grace we are saved through faith and not by our good works. Still, he did all the vain rituals to save himself. He later commented, “If anyone could have earned heaven by the life of a monk, it was I.”

     As he began to study more of Romans, he had a spiritual breakthrough. He said, “At last meditating day and night, by the mercy of God, I began to understand that the righteousness of God is that through which the righteous live by a gift of God, namely by faith. Here I felt as if I were entirely born again and had entered paradise itself through the gates that had been flung open.” With his newfound faith, he began to spread his convictions. As he searched the Scriptures, he discovered that what the Roman Catholic leaders taught was contrary to what God’s Word teaches. Luther commented that if the Pope could reduce time in purgatory (a place where Catholics say you go after you die), why wouldn’t the Pope empty purgatory for the sake of holy love and the dire need of the souls that are there? Questions like these stumped many people. Luther decided to oppose in writing all such false teachings of the Roman Catholic Church in what is now called, The Ninety-Five Theses. He nailed his writing on the outside of All Saint’s Cathedral in Wittenberg, which was the bulletin board of the city. It was a strategic move on Luther’s part to place it there because the next day was All Saints Day. People would be going in and out of the church to get ready for this event and many people would see his posting. Martin Luther’s Ninety-Five Theses spread like wild fire. Within two weeks, it was all over Germany thanks to the help of Gutenberg’s printing press. However, the leaders of the Roman Catholic Church despised his writing. It exposed all of their secrets! The Catholic leaders kept confidential the teachings of the Bible that condemned their actions. But at last, Martin Luther, a monk, exposed to the common people the corruptness of their doctrine. A series of debates then transpired between Luther and various Catholic leaders who challenged him to defend his new beliefs. Because Luther would not stop spreading the truth, the Pope excommunicated him. Excommunicated or not, Luther persevered in igniting the Reformation in Germany.

     In his lifetime, Martin’s accomplishments were many and notable. He was the first to translate the Bible into German so that the commoners could read it. Even William Tyndale used it to help write the precursor to the King James Bible. Among the many books he wrote, three of his most famous are, To the Christian Nobility, On The Babylonian Captivity of the Church, and The Freedom of a Christian. In addition, he penned many hymns for the church. Luther inspired (and still inspires) many with the hymn, A Mighty Fortress is Our God. Luther’s bold stance against the Roman Catholic Church encouraged others like John Calvin, Myles Coverdale, and Thomas Cranmer to do the same. With his empowering life, others were emboldened to continue the Reformation throughout Europe. Martin Luther has a legacy that will never be forgotten because he was God’s man in God’s time. 


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This post is the second in a three-part series on the Reformation. To read the previous post about the impact of the Reformation, click here



Thursday, October 19, 2017

The Stroke Heard 'Round the World - Reformation 500




   In honor of the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, I'm temporarily breaking my blogging fast to share a series of posts over the next two weeks on the impact of the Reformation, who was behind it, and what the Reformation's main message is. 
Hope you enjoy!

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     Flickering candles cast irregular shadows on the room’s walls. A mouse cautiously emerged from a hole in the corner and scanned the floor for crumbs. All was silent except for the soft scratching of a quill pen being applied to parchment. A stout monk sat hunched over his writing desk laboriously working out the details of his document. His face was twisted in concentration. Years of studying the Scriptures had brought him to this point. He could no longer stay silent. With a final stroke, Martin Luther laid aside his writing instrument. Tomorrow morning, he would nail his treatise to the church door.

     It can be arguably stated that Luther never anticipated the tremendous influence his Ninety- Five Theses would have on Christendom. They ignited a flame of controversy fueling the Reformation in Europe, the impacts of which were felt across the globe. Not only did it affect religion, but nearly all other aspects of life, including culture, economics, education, science, and politics. The two, perhaps, most significant areas are the religious and political influences of the Reformation.


Catholicism’s Choking Hold on Religion
     The era prior to the Reformation, commonly called the Medieval Times, Middle, or Dark Ages, was heavily controlled by the Roman Catholic Church. And in the area of religion, they reigned supreme. Tormented by the fear of hell, which priests portrayed using numerous graphic banners, the common people were driven to strict obedience of the church’s creeds and doctrines. Desperate to avoid eternal damnation, paupers and princes alike paid large tithes, donated land and food, worked without pay in the building of cathedrals, or bought indulgences, all in exchange for a priest’s assurance of their soul’s admission into heaven. If any dared question the authority of the Pope, the threat of excommunication (expulsion from the church and supposed exclusion from heaven) was enough to silence critics.

     So how was the Catholic Church able to twist the Scriptures to suit their own purposes and maintain such tight religious control over the people? Quite simply, it was because the common man couldn’t read the Word of God for himself. Besides the fact that few were literate, the Bible was written in Latin, a language only the clergy and well educated understood. Hence, if anyone wanted to know what the Scriptures said, they had to rely on the Roman Catholic Church for guidance. Christendom was truly in the Dark Ages.


Breaking Catholicism’s Hold
     The Reformation changed nearly everything. Luther’s Ninety-Five Theses resonated with nearly all branches of society on a central issue of concern, but none dared question: salvation being granted through the sale of an indulgence. Using Scripture and plain logic, Luther argued, “It is vain to trust in salvation by indulgence letters, even though the indulgence commissary, or even the pope, were to offer his soul as security."1 With the help of the Gutenberg printing press, his Theses were copied and disseminated throughout Europe. Those who were literate read them aloud to large groups of captivated townsfolk. The talk at every table and over every fish stand was about Luther and his Ninety-Five Theses. People began to wonder where else the Catholic Church erred in doctrine. The demand for Bibles translated into the common tongue increased sharply, as did interest in literacy. The populace no longer felt enslaved into blindly following the Pope’s creeds. They wanted to read the Scriptures for themselves.


     Alarmed by the rising tide of the Reformation and anxious to maintain their position of power, the church excommunicated Martin Luther and declared it lawful for anyone to murder him. But a powerful duke secreted Luther away into his castle at Wartburg. Isolated from the world and with little else to do but write, Luther once again applied pen to parchment. Germany needed the Bible in her own language and he was determined to satisfy her longing. In 1534, his translation, called the Luther Bible, was made available to the public. It became immensely popular and was sought after by both religious and non-religious. The Luther Bible was also read by William Tyndale, whose subsequent English Bible reflected some of Luther’s work (most notably his chronology of the New Testament books). Ordinary individuals could now read the Word of God in their native language. Light was finally penetrating the Dark Ages.


Taking Sides
     It must be remembered that during the Middle Ages, and for a great time afterwards, there was no concept of separation between church and state. Religion and politics were closely intertwined. With the Reformation’s tremendous impact on religion, it was inevitable that politics would be significantly affected as well, if not more so. As those in positions of political power began to read the Bible for themselves, their reaction to the Catholic Church was similar to that of their subjects. Disturbed by the Pope’s misinterpretations of Scripture and blatant abuses of power, some monarchs aligned themselves with the Protestant cause. Conversely, other monarchs, particularly those in the Holy Roman Empire, felt threatened by the Reformers and their attacks on Catholicism. Thus, they aligned themselves against the Protestant cause. Tensions ran high. War was on the horizon.


War
     The Religious Wars of Europe lasted from 1546 to 1648 and were a series of lengthy blood baths interspersed with temporary peace agreements. There were four major conflicts during this period: the Schmalkaldic War, French Wars of Religion, Spanish Religious Wars, and the 30 Years’ War. Devastation ravaged much of Europe as Catholics and Protestants clashed. Civil wars turned into international wars as neighboring countries aided whichever side they agreed with religiously. Finally, on January 30, 1648, the conflict ceased through another document, the Peace of Westphalia. This treaty established two crucial principles: the validity of Protestantism as a religion and the Principle of Internal Sovereignty, which mandated that other countries could not interfere with another’s internal issues. Despite fierce opposition from the Pope, due mainly to the first dictum, the treaty was signed and ratified in several major European countries. The Peace of Westphalia successfully secured religious freedom for Protestants and dealt a serious blow to the power of the Roman Catholic Church. Europe was changed forever.


Pro’s and Con’s of the Reformation
     In Job 12:23 we read that God, “...increaseth the nations, and destroyeth them: He enlargeth the nations, and straiteneth them again.” As the supreme ruler of all, the Lord directs the paths of nations and raises up faithful believers at pivotal moments. The providence of God can be clearly seen in the Reformation. Martin Luther was sent at a time when people were searching for the truth. It could scarcely be found in the Catholic Church, as she had instead become a way to climb higher on the social ladder and gain power. Common was the practice of “Simony” where church positions were sold to the highest bidder. The rampant corruption of the church was evident to all. Europe was spiritually hungry. It was at this critical moment when God’s Word was released and the truth was finally liberated for the masses.

     Unfortunately, many took their newfound liberty too far. One of the illegitimate children of the Reformation was Humanism. Indeed, the main reason the Catholic Church refused to allow for translations of the Bible into the common tongue was for fear of the rise of heretical doctrines. But as the Westminster Confession clearly states, “...because these original tongues are not known to all the people of God, who have right unto and interest in the scriptures, and are commanded, in the fear of God to read and search them, therefore they are to be translated into the vulgar language of every nation unto which they come, that the word of God dwelling plentifully in all, they may worship him in an acceptable manner, and through patience and comfort of the scriptures, may have hope”2(23-24). Despite the rise of Humanism and the Renaissance Period, the Lord used the Reformation to spread His Word throughout Europe and eventually, throughout the rest of the modern world. Little did Martin Luther realize that the Lord would use his pen in a stroke that would be heard around the world. 



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1 “The 95 Theses.” A Mighty Fortress is Our God, www.luther.de/en/95thesen.html. Accessed 22 May 2017.
2 Westminster Assembly. Westminster Confession Of Faith. Free Presbyterian Publications, 1985. 


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   This post is the first in a three-part series on the Reformation. Check back next week as we look at the man behind the Reformation. 



Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Taking A Break - 3 Reasons Why




     I'll be taking a temporary blogging hiatus over the next school year. But don't worry, I'm not dropping off the blogosphere completely! However, my posts will become more irregular and you may notice some changes on the blog. Why am I taking a break?


1. College

     While I graduated high school a year ago, I decided not to enter college immediately. Instead I took a Gap year. During that time, I grew this blog, helped my dad start creating a website for his teaching ministry (check it out here), and worked on a very special project (more on that later). All the while, we prayed for the Lord's direction in choosing the right major and searched for an online Christian college. The Lord has finally made the path plain for me. Last month I started college with Lumerit Unbound pursuing an Information Technology major. Your prayers would be appreciated as I start the next phase of my education.


2. Taking time to improve this blog

     For years I've tinkered with this blog's layout, design, colors, and content, but have never been able to get it quite how I'd like it. Hopefully with the skills learned from Computer Science, I'll be able to perfect this blog to my liking.


3. A special project

     I can't say much about this yet as it's still in the early stages. The Lord planted an idea in my mind during worship services one Sunday morning. Hopefully within a year or so I'll be able to tell you all about it!


     Please, please, please pray that the Lord would guide me as I seek His will for this project and for my future career. Thank you all so much for your support!



 - Gloria
Soli Deo Gloria