Tortured for Christ

When I was a teenager, my dad had me read a book called "Tortured for Christ" by Richard Wurmbrand. Wurmbrand was a pastor in communist Romania and eventually spent a total of fourteen years in solitary confinement for his beliefs. Beyond that he was tortured on many occasions.

When I read this as a young believer, I don't think I fully appreciated or understood the ramifications of this book. Recently, I received another copy in the mail from a friend and began reading through it. This time around, I have not been able to read more than a few pages at a time. Almost every time I've sat down to read it, I've been reduced to tears. It is absolutely unbelievable what our brothers and sisters across the world have been through (and continue to go through in countries that are hostile to Christianity). What I want to do here is share with you a few stories that have blessed me in recent days.

Once the Communists convened a congress of all the christian leaders in their country. One by one minister after minister and pastor after pastor began professing their allegiance to Joseph Stalin (who by that time had already become a mass murderer of Christians). Richard Wurmbrand and his wife Sabina were present. Sabina turned to her husband and said "Richard, stand up and wash away this shame from the face of Christ! They are spitting in his face." Richard said, "If I do so, you lose your husband." She replied, "I don't wish to have a coward as a husband."

Wow. Sabina put her love for the name of Christ above her love for her husband. It's not like they were being asked to deny Christ or to profane his name. All they had to do was sit in silence. But they could not sit in silence while the name of their Savior was being disgraced. Sabina was willing to lose her husband for the sake of honoring the name of Christ. I don't think I know many people like that, and that is unfortunate.

One more:

A pastor by the name of Florescu was tortured with red-hot iron pokers and with knives. He was beaten very badly. Then starving rats were driven into his cell through a large pipe. He could not sleep because he had to defend himself all the time. If he rested for a moment, the rats would attack him.
He was forced to stand for two weeks, day and night. The Communists wished to compel him to betray his brethren, but he resisted steadfastly. Eventually, they brought his fourteen-year-old son to the prison and began to whip the boy in front of his father, saying that they would continue to beat him until the pastor said what they wished him to say. The poor man was half mad. He bore it as long as he could, then he cried to his son, "Alexander, I must say what they want! I can't bear your beating anymore!" The son answered, "Father, don't do me the injustice of having a traitor as a parent. Withstand! If they kill me, I will die with the words, 'Jesus and my fatherland.'" The Communists, enraged, fell upon the child and beat him to death, with blood splattered over the walls of the cell. He died praising God. our dear brother Florescu was never the same after seeing this.

This might sound sadistic, but it is not intended that way. I hope to one day suffer real persecution for the sake of my Savior. It would be an honor.

Book Review: Vintage Jesus

I just finished reading Vintage Jesus, by Mark Driscoll and Gary Breshears. This is a great book about who Jesus is and what he is all about. If you are familiar with theology and historical proofs regarding Jesus, then there really isn't ever a moment in the book where you will go, "Whoa, I never knew that!" There will be moments, however, where you say "Whoa, I've never heard it put quite like that before!"

This book is good for both new believers and so-called "seasoned" believers who think they know everything (like me). This one is a "buy" book. Don't borrow it. Don't check it out from the Library. Buy it, unless you're poor like me. I borrowed it!

Book Review: Devotions of Jonathan Edwards

This book is an "oldie but a goodie." Printed in 1959 by Baker Book House, these devotions of Jonathan Edwards compiled by Ralph G. Turnbull, are sometimes "hit or miss." Nevertheless, most of the devotions are good, and some are "make you crap your pants" good! This small book contains 104 one page devotions. I read one or two a day for the past 100 days (or so). An example of one that was a "miss" is a devotional about angels. I don't really get the point. I believe angels exist and that they worship God around the throne. Other than that, I don't really care that much about angels. I certainly didn't feel that I had drawn closer to God through reading it! An example of a "hit" is the devotion entitled "God's Sovereignty." When talking about portions of Scripture where God hardens someone's heart, Edwards writes:

When God is here spoken of as hardening some of the children of men, it is not to be understood that God by any positive efficiency hardens any man's heart. There is no positive act in God, as though he put forth any power to harden the heart. To suppose any such thing would be to make God the immediate author of sin.
God is said to harden men in two ways: by withholding the powerful influences of his Spirit, without which their hearts will remain hardened, and grow harder and harder; in this sense he hardens them, as he leaves them to hardness. And again, by ordering those things in his providence which, through the abuse of their corruption, become the occasion of their hardening.

If you're like me, you may have to read that twice to get it. That's a solid explanation which I had not heard before. And that's a solid thought that stayed with me throughout that day.

This book is a hard one to find. But if you are looking for a daily devotion that's a little bit deeper than "Our Daily Bread" (don't give me any negative comments, I'm not knockin' it) to add to what you are already doing (it's not really a good stand-alone devotional) and you can get your hands on it, this book is worth your time.

Book Review: Kiss

I just finished reading Kiss by Ted Dekker and Erin Healy. Pretty much every Dekker book that I've ever read I've finished in a maximum of three days. This one I've been working on for about two weeks. It's not that it wasn't a good story; it was. It just wasn't a captivating story. I don't read many novels (comparatively), and when I do I want it to be one of those type of stories that I obsess over to the point of neglecting other necessary things in life (i.e. sleeping). 

One positive about the book was a solid ending. I have often felt that Dekker is a phenomenal story teller who struggles with finding an ending that is as grandiose as the story itself. The end result is that the ending often feels anti-climatic. The ending of this story was rather obvious, but (in it's defense) it wasn't meant to be a twist ending. The ending was solid and fitting, just not surprising. 

The book is worth your time, but checking it out from the library is probably a better idea than buying at it's current hardback rate, since you probably won't read it more than once. It receives 3 stars from me because my rating system (in the left column) won't allow 2 1/2 stars.

Approaching God. Wow.

Wow. I was blown away this morning. First, I have to admit that I wasn't too excited about my morning readings that started today and will go through the next two weeks or so. I'm about to finish up The Imitation of Christ, and the last section of the book is entitled "Exhortation to Receive Holy Communion." Not too excited about that, especially since a'Kempis was a Catholic monk. I knew that more than any other parts of the book, this section was going to be particularly difficult for me to glean anything from… or so I thought. In the opening chapter he is talking about our invitation to approach God through Communion, but really these words are just as applicable in any other situation where you would approach God: prayer, reading God's word, worship through song, etc. I've slightly edited the section below for length.

Hold on to your panties…

O how sweet and loving in the ears of a sinner are the words by which you, my Lord God, invite the poor and needy…
But who am I, Lord that I should presume to approach you?
"Behold, heaven and the heaven of heavens cannot contain you," and you say, "Come — all of you — to me."

What does this gracious honor and loving invitation mean?
How shall I dare to come, I who know of no good in myself on which to presume?
How shall I bring you into my house, I who have so often offended in your most gracious sight?
Angels and archangels stand in awe of you, holy and righteous people fear you, and you say, "Come to me — all of you."
If you had not said it, O Lord, who would believe it to be true?
And if you had not commanded it, who would attempt to draw near?
Behold, that just man Noah worked a hundred years to build an ark that he and a few others might be saved, and how then can I prepare myself in one hour to commune reverently with the Maker of the world?

Your great servant and special friend, Moses, made an ark of incorruptible wood, which he covered with purest gold to place in it the tablets of your law — shall then I, a creature of corruption, dare so easily to receive you, the Maker of the law and Giver of life?
Solomon, the wisest of the kings of Israel, spent seven years building a magnificent temple in praise of your name. 
He celebrated its dedication with a feast of eight days, sacrificed countless peace offerings in your honor, and solemnly set the Ark of the Covenant with trumpeting and jubilation in the place prepared for it.
And I, the most miserable and poorest of all, how shall I receive you into my house — I who can scarcely spend one-half hour in true devotion?
If only I could spend even that much time in a worthy and proper manner!
Nevertheless, our coldness and neglect is much to be deplored and pitied, that we are not moved with greater affection to receive Christ, in whom is all the hope and merit of those that are to be saved.

Wow. Now, of course, God has said that we can come before him boldly. That is absolutely true, and something that should be taught and we should take note of. But I think in today's modern culture, most of us struggle not with bashfulness but with brazenness in the presence of Almighty God. This was a good reminder for me this morning.

Love God. Hate Sin. and the Social Gospel

Right now, I'm reading the book "The God Who Shows Himself" by Carl F.H. Henry. I hope to be reading quite a bit of his stuff throughout this year, so if you don't know who he is I'll write more about that at a later date. I'm only about a fourth of the way through this book, but I've already found many "gems" which will probably make it into my blog. I not only enjoy most of the subject matter he writes about, even when I don't care about the subject matter, I like the way he writes. So you can probably expect to hear much about him and his writing over the coming year. 

Anyway, on to the point at hand. In the first chapter, I noticed a rather interesting remark that fits in with the "Love God. Hate Sin." revolution. Check it out:

Strong love is impossible without also strong hate. Not to hate evil, therefore, means being a traitor to God and to virtue. It must be indicated, however, that Christianity's context of hate is never ultimately anti-anyone or anything. Whatever hate the Christian religion sanctions simply reflects love for God and man, and consequent disapproval of whatever refuses to be pro-God and pro-neighbor.

What is interesting about this quote is that the context is concerning social responsibility: why and how Christians ought to be concerned with social justice and caring for the less fortunate. Henry reveals that the motivation for social responsibility is neighbor love, agape love. During the day in which he was writing (the 1960's), however, the so-called "social gospel" was rampant. The social gospel focused only on social justice and caring for the less fortunate and tended to neglect the true good news of salvation for sinners. Furthermore, the social gospel also tended to be morally liberal, ignoring areas of Scripture where godly lifestyles are outlined. Writing in this context, his point is that in order for us to properly care for the less fortunate of society as God desires, we must have the proper love: a strong agape love. In order for us to have this strong love, we must also have strong hate: hatred of evil or sin. The social gospel, then, falls short because it does not hate sin. And because it does not hate sin, it does not have the love it needs to carry it over time. 
So there you have it. Even for us to genuinely care for the less fortunate and to be socially responsible, we must love God and hate sin. I'm telling you, it affects every aspect of our lives.
Love God. Hate Sin.

How to be a Hero to Your Kids


I just finished reading an oldie but a goodie: How to be a Hero to Your Kids by Josh McDowell and Dick Day. This is one that that I remember on my Dad's book shelf. I probably would have stolen it from him if I had seen it recently, but I picked this one up from Edward McKay for like $3.

This is a great book and an easy read. It's definitely not the best "dad and family" book I've ever read but this one is extremely practical. Almost every chapter left me with some practical ideas on how to be a better dad. Probably the biggest take-away is the books discussion on rules vs. relationship. Your rules are only as good as your relationship. The mistake that many parents (in church life) make is being completely authoritarian: "These are the rules, and you WILL follow the rules, or else." Even at Journey, I recently heard a parent of a teenager say, "I'm not your friend; I'm your dad!" This dad has shifted too far to one side of the scale. Rules will only work as far as your relationship will carry them. Of course, as long as your kids are younger, you can continue to simply enforce rules. But when your kids are older, they will rebel against your authority. Teenagers and young adults want relationship. Those who are open to relationship with them will be the ones they allow to have influence in their lives. 

The other side of that scale is where many other parents fall. It's all about relationship and never about rules or authority. These parents are able to have influence in their kids lives, but no authority. The problem with this is that influence is only passive. The only control you have is through a kind of peer pressure. But peer pressure doesn't always work, especially when your kids are teenagers. Teenagers are developing minds of their own, and they are going to make their own decisions regardless of whatever influence  you are trying to have. Then when you try to enforce a rule, they reject it and still do whatever they want because they don't respect you as an authority figure in their lives. 

The goal, then, is to have the perfect balance between rules and relationship. Rules are necessary and good. But they will only work as far as your relationship will carry them.

It's a good book. At times, it's a little outdated, but still recommended. 

Books This Year

If you frequent my blog, you will have noticed that the column on the left of the screen has become significantly shorter. Here's why: every year my goal is to read 24 books. That's about one book every two weeks or so. In a perfect world I would like to read twice that much but time and money (I like to buy all of my books rather than borrow or check out from the library) do no allow. Additionally, I am on a five year trek through every major work of the early church fathers, which I don't count toward my 24 books. I use the "Books This Year" column to track my reading through the year. You probably won't see this column updated every two weeks, because typically I read multiple books at a time. The list may go a month without being updated, and then suddenly I will add three books to the list. 

I don't say any of this to brag, but only to explain a couple of things: 

First, on occasion I have had people ask me how I know so much about so many topics. Well, first of all, I live by the mantra: "If you don't know it, fake it" (just kidding). But also, it's not because I'm actually that smart, it's simply because I read. Erwin McManus has said that "even a fool can become a source of wisdom if he is willing to be a human sponge." That's me; I'm a human sponge. I read and soak up all I can from people who are much smarter, wiser, and closer to God than I am. The things I write about in my blog are almost always directly related to what I am reading. 

Second, recently I have been asked more and more to recommend books for reading. Last year, my list did not accomplish that. So this year I am making some changes. Rather than just posting the books I've read, my list will include a very short write up and a rating. The rating will be based on 5 stars and will be at the end of the write-up in parenthesis. Three stars means that it is worth your while to read. Four stars means that it is highly recommended, and you definitely need to add it to your reading list. Five stars means that it is a "must read," and you should pick it up as soon as possible. If the book rates at three or more stars, I will try to also do an extended write-up of the book in a post. On the lesser end of the scale, if the book receives no stars, don't waste your time. If it receives 1 star, that means it has some redeeming qualities, but not worth reading to get those few gems. If a book receives two stars, it probably has enough redeeming qualities to read if you have nothing else to do, but I would not spend money on buying it. Borrow it or check it out from the library if you feel so inclined. 

Third, I am always open to suggestions. I love it when people recommend books. So I'm inviting you to make recommendations. You can use the comments on this blog to recommend books, and if I haven't already read them, I may add some of them to my reading list for the year. 

Let the reading begin!

“The Wonderful Effects of Divine Love”

In my devotions this morning, I came across this prayer of Thomas a'Kempis, a 15th century monk. He  was a part of The Brethren of the Common Life, a community that was founded to counter the lukewarmness that had developed in the faith of the Roman Catholic Church. It was in this context that he wrote The Imitation of Christ, a literary masterpiece with wonderful insights into spiritual life and the human condition. The portion from which I am quoting comes from chapter 5 of book 3 entitled "The Wonderful Effects of Divine Love."

Ah, Lord God, holy lover of my soul, when you come into my heart everything within me rejoices.
You are my glory and the exultation of my heart–my hope and refuge in the day of trouble.
But because my love is still weak and my virtue imperfect, I need to be strengthened and comforted by you–visit me often, therefore, and teach me with holy discipline.
Free me from evil passions and cleanse my heart of all improper affections, so that being inwardly healed and thoroughly cleansed, I will be fit to love, courageous to suffer, and steady to persevere.