Hannah’s Prayer and The Power of God

In today’s Bible Reading, I came upon the prayer of Hannah in 1 Samuel 2. I will let the whole prayer speak for itself. It’s a handcuff. It makes you stay in your corner, tapes your mouth and forces you to think.

1 Samuel 2:1 And Hannah prayed and said, “My heart exults in the LORD; my strength is exalted in the LORD. My mouth derides my enemies, because I rejoice in your salvation.
2 “There is none holy like the LORD; there is none besides you; there is no rock like our God.
3 Talk no more so very proudly, let not arrogance come from your mouth; for the LORD is a God of knowledge, and by him actions are weighed.
4 The bows of the mighty are broken, but the feeble bind on strength.
5 Those who were full have hired themselves out for bread, but those who were hungry have ceased to hunger. The barren has borne seven, but she who has many children is forlorn.
6 The LORD kills and brings to life; he brings down to Sheol and raises up.
7 The LORD makes poor and makes rich; he brings low and he exalts.
8 He raises up the poor from the dust; he lifts the needy from the ash heap to make them sit with princes and inherit a seat of honor. For the pillars of the earth are the LORD’s, and on them he has set the world.
9 “He will guard the feet of his faithful ones, but the wicked shall be cut off in darkness, for not by might shall a man prevail.
10 The adversaries of the LORD shall be broken to pieces; against them he will thunder in heaven. The LORD will judge the ends of the earth; he will give strength to his king and exalt the power of his anointed.”

(1Sa 2:1-10 ESV)

Reflect, my friend. More on this tomorrow.

On Writing

I was browsing thru my library and then I saw an old copy of Stephen King’s On Writing: 10th Anniversary Edition: A Memoir of the Craft.

The flap of the book says this:

“If you don’t have the time to read, you don’t have the time or the tools to write.”
 
In 1999, Stephen King began to write about his craft–and his life. By midyear, a widely reported accident jeopardized the survival of both. And in his months of recovery, the link between writing and living became more crucial than ever.

Rarely has a book on writing been so clear, so useful, and so revealing. On Writing begins with a mesmerizing account of King’s childhood and his uncannily early focus on writing to tell a story. A series of vivid memories from adolescence, college, and the struggling years that led up to his first novel,Carrie, will afford readers a fresh and often very funny perspective on the formation of a writer. King next turns to the basic tools of his trade–how to sharpen and multiply them through use, and how the writer must always have them close at hand. He takes the reader through crucial aspects of the writer’s art and life, offering practical and inspiring advice on everything from plot and character development to work habits and rejection.

Serialized in the New Yorker to vivid acclaim, On Writing culminates with a profoundly moving account of how King’s overwhelming need to write spurred him toward recovery, and brought him back to his life.

Brilliantly structured, friendly and inspiring, On Writing will empower–and entertain–everyone who reads it.

I decided to read it. Fiction can sometimes be salvation. In a recent blog by Russell Moore, he says:

I think fiction is good, necessary, and God-glorifying. I teach my theology students to read good fiction for the sake of their preaching, if for no other reason. Those without the imagination to read fiction usually lack the imagination to hear the rhythm and contours of Scripture, much less to peer into the mysteries of the human heart.

I heartfully agree. There is something in fiction that is liberating. Also, as an ever-failing aspiring writer that I am, creative writing is closest to creation. Sort of being a god of sorts. The only problem when you write is that, you later realize that you are as ruined as the characters you set.

And so goes the little theology to it.

God’s People in the Furnace

On commenting on “I have chosen thee in the furnace of affliction.” Isaiah 48:10, Charles Spurgeon shares comfort to those who have been elected.

Here is the August 12 Reading excerpt from the book, 365 Days with C H Spurgeon, Volume 1: A Unique Collection of 365 Daily Readings from Sermons Preached by Charles Haddon Spurgeon from His New Park Street Pulpit

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God’s People in the Furnace

“I have chosen thee in the furnace of affliction.”
Isaiah 48:10
suggested further reading: Isaiah 43:1–7

Beloved, the first thing I will give you is the comfort of the text itself—election. Comfort yourself with this thought: God says, “I have chosen thee in the furnace of affliction.” “The fire is hot, but he has chosen me; the furnace burns, but he has chosen me; these coals are hot, I do not love the place, but he has chosen me.” Ah! It comes like a soft gale assuaging the fury of the flame. It is like some gentle wind fanning the cheeks; yes, this one thought arrays us in fireproof armour, against which the heat has no power. “Let affliction come—God has chosen me. Poverty, you may come in at the door—God is in the house already, and he has chosen me. Sickness, you may come, but I will have this by my side for a balsam—God has chosen me. Whatever it is, I know that he has chosen me.” The next comfort is that you have the Son of man with you in the furnace. In that silent bedchamber of yours, there sits by your side one whom you have not seen, but whom you love; and often when you know it not, he makes your bed in your affliction, and smooths your pillow for you. You are in poverty; but in that lonely house of yours that has nothing to cover its bare walls, where you sleep on a miserable straw mattress, you know that the Lord of life and glory is a frequent visitor; he often treads those bare floors, and putting his hands upon those walls he consecrates them! If you were in a palace he might not come there. He loves to come into these desolate places that he may visit you. The Son of man is with you, Christian.

CCP, Obscenity, and Modern Idolatry

The cross with an exposed sex organ? Obscene, isn’t it? But if we would rely on historical sources, the truth of crucifixion was more obscene that those pictures. Have you ever pictured Jesus naked on the cross, with exposed genitals and all?

Perhaps we can accept a gross depiction of a big wound near the lower ribs but can we accept a Jesus naked? If not it is probably because we have been used to pictures of Jesus Christ on a cross with some underclothes.

But historical sources would even indicate to us that the Roman crucifixion was done to publicly humiliate the one crucified, thus there are sources that depict the actual historical Christ exposed. Michaelangelo for one, made a sculpture of such a naked crucified man he depicted as Jesus.

Crucifix, sculpture by Michelangelo, Santo Spirito Church, Florence, Italy (ca. 1494), a depiction of naked crucifixion with the genitals of the condemned exposed

Michaelangelo is truly an artist par excellence. In fact many of his sculptures and images are naked. Nakedness as he might believe, is a sign of innocence.  And truly understandably, that is why his sculpture of David is also naked.

Why then is there such a fuss when an artist puts forth installation arts on CCP?  It has torn the whole Philippine nation in a debating mode once again. The Catholic Church has spoken, then the Senate, then the President of the Phlippines.

So, am I endorsing Mideo Cruz? Make no mistake, I do not condone any such depictions. I would even consider the art of Cruz as rubbish and cowardly. Rubbish because art should highlight beauty and truth. I sound like Imelda Marcos but in the rare times, I think she is correct with this one.

But you counter, there is such a thing as ‘ugly truth.’ Yes I agree. But you don’t publicly exhibit those most of the time. If Mideo Cruz publicly exposes his sex organ on the street, you would not call that ‘art.’ You call that indecency. Artists can call that freedom of expression but my golly, if your freedoms offend me as well as tens and thousands of people, that’s not art, that’s perversion.

I also think it’s cowardly. Why? Because Mideo Cruz only insulted the Catholic side of the equation. I haven’t heard of his installation containing the Muslim Allah or Quran, or any other faith. His was just an expression of polytheism using Catholic images and sacred pieces. If this is really ‘polytheism’ why did he not include images of other faiths? I tell you what, it’s because people like Mideo Cruz are afraid of offending the Muslims. His neck would surely be on the line if he does. There is a line as far as his artistic expression is concerned. It’s what you call the fear of death. Isn’t this true, Mideo Cruz?

But for Catholics, he will have his heyday. He knows those who make vigils to the Black Nazarene are supposed to be kind. If you slap them on the left cheek, they would give their right. So never mind if you put an image of a penis on a venerated picture of what some believe as a picture of Jesus Christ. They would be kind, they might become angry, but injure the artist? “No!” Artists like Mideo Cruz would probably answer. Christians are Mickey Mouse kind.

And so here is my two-cents as far as those images are concerned: I think this is not art. It’s what you call the act of insult. Insult is not art, though I have to admit, some people can do it artistically. But outright insult is not art. It’s offensive. Insult can be done artistically but not this way. At least not in Mideo Cruz’s way.

But you know after the fire has died down, perhaps there is some good on all this indecency. It can make us think and ponder things beside the pictures.

What if it’s true that God went to such indecency to accomplish a purpose? What if He did that for you. I don’t mean him, or her. I mean you. You who are reading this. 

looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame….

(Hebrews 12:2 ESV)

But you’d probably would not believe that. That is something art cannot really portray. Only truth can, and only if you are made to believe it.

Suddenly, I am reminded of the commandment in Exodus 20. What if, even the best of our sculptures are an abomination to the Lord? As far as the Bible is concerned, every picture venerated has an X-rated thing to it. Yes, including the ones you put in those altars.

“You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I the LORD your God am a jealous God…

(Exodus 20:4-5 ESV)

If the above is true, every venerated image is obscene, no different from Mideo Cruz’s art. Maybe Mideo Cruz’s art is Mickey Mouse if that is true.

If the Bible is true, here’s what its New Testament part says.

Being then God’s offspring, we ought not to think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone, an image formed by the art and imagination of man. The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent, because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed…”

(Acts 17:29-31 ESV)

And that Man, by implication, is an enemy of idols.

The World Food Expo and the Grace of God

The Philippine World Food Expo ended today. There was food in every corner, in every size and shape, and taste. There were also various food machineries. And as usual, where there is food, there are people.  As I accompanied my wife in this sort of trips, I found myself contemplating on some spots I saw, especially the freebies. They made me think of grace.

It became apparent as I observed it that where there is a pack of people, there is free food. Of course, it is a World Food Expo and you would expect food. Not just food, but good food. After all, you pay a 100 peso entrance fee for it. Not that free food tastes are required for every booth, but you would expect that some would have free pageantry of their wares, mostly food.

And then I thought: I wish this is the same reaction to grace! Because grace is free! Take it!

I mean grace of the sort spoken by the Bible as saving grace. The sort of what the Reformers like Martin Luther called as the Sola Fide component of what they believe as the Five Solas.

The Bible says this:

For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.
(Eph 2:8-9 ESV)

Salvation is a gift. It’s free. So why doesn’t this freebie sell so well?

Perhaps for the most of us, we don’t feel too hungry for something that claims that saves us. In a world filled with many gospel substitutes, there is so little place for the gospel that really satisfies the soul. We have a hunger but not for that. Our quest for our portions of money, fame, and fortune can really give us fillers for that hunger that we feel and yet deny. And yes, as I think about it, even food can be a filler for that hunger – that gnawing hunger of the soul.

We are all hungry. We are just trying to satisfy that hunger differently. The Reformers called the process of being made aware of that hunger as regeneration. And yet we all have that hunger, and as long as we are not regenerated as to what the hunger is all about, there would be fillers, because we are truly hungry.

Ah yes among the fillers, finally there is religion. Religion is satisfying because it makes us believe we can please God with our own abilities. Our prayers, our Bible-reading, our good works, our charity, our gifts to the church, our lending money to friends, our taking care of our children, our being good models and citizens, our contribution to the education and advancement of people, our good works:  all are going to be used by God as the grounds whether we would be saved. God would balance all those against our sins, and in the end, if the good outweighs the bad, you’re saved! You earned it!

You earned it! Wrong! Remember, the verse about it being a gift? A gift is not a gift if you earned it.

Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it. (Eph 2:9 NLT)

But now, as I’m writing this, perhaps the reason why so many flock to this Free Taste stalls is that the goodie doesn’t really cost anything.

Free bread? Why not? Follow the man! Perhaps too, this is the common concept of grace today. What Dietrich Bonhoeffer callled cheap grace.

Jesus answered them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, you are seeking me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves. (Joh 6:26 ESV)

Salvation is free yes, but it’s not cheap. It was bought with a price. It would yield evidences, it would yield fruit.

Following Jesus isn’t cheap. It would cost you your life. It’s not a freebie thing without effects. It’s a kiss and at the same time it’s a kick that makes you move. It is never a dead meat.

Salvation is a freebie food. But it’s a food that would make you kick fences of sin in your backyard. It’s so potent because its ingredients are the flesh and blood of someone who said He is the Son of God. It’s beneficial effects are guaranteed.

It’s either that or the claim of any stall offering it as a freebie without its life-changing effects are fake. This is freebie food to change us – Food from Heaven that satisfies.

Jesus answered them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, you are seeking me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves.
Do not labor for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you.
(Joh 6:26-27 ESV)

Well, just to serve you a food for thought. Take it.

Are Adversities in Life Punishments from God?

On commenting on Romans 8:35, John Calvin meditates whether adversities are God’s punishments on us.

Here is the August 5 Reading excerpt from the book 365 Days with Calvin: A Unique Collection of 365 Readings from the Writings of John Calvin (356 Days with)

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Shining in Affliction

Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? Romans 8:35

Those who are persuaded of God’s kindness toward them are able to stand firm in the heaviest afflictions. But people are also harassed by afflictions in no small degree for various reasons; some interpret afflictions as tokens of God’s wrath, while some think afflictions prove they are forsaken by God. Some see no end to trials and neglect to meditate on a better life. When the mind is purged from such mistakes, it becomes calm and quietly rests.

The meaning of this text is that, whatever happens, we ought to stand firm in believing that God, who having once embraced us in love, never ceases to care for us. The apostle does not simply say that nothing can tear God away from loving us, but that the knowledge and lively sense of God’s love is so vigorous in our hearts that it shines in the darkness of afflictions. For as clouds may obscure the clear brightness of the sun, yet do not yet wholly deprive us of its light, so God sends forth through the darkness of adversities the rays of his favor lest temptations should overwhelm us with despair. Indeed, our faith, supported by God’s promises, as if by wings, makes its way upward to heaven through all intervening obstacles.

It is true that adversities are tokens of God’s wrath when viewed in themselves, but when pardon and reconciliation precede them, we may be assured that though God chastises us, he never forgets his mercy. Adversity reminds us of what we have deserved, yet it also testifies that our salvation is the object of God’s care, which he extends to us while he leads us to repentance.

Calvin, J., & Beeke, J. R. (2008). 365 Days with Calvin: A Unique Collection of 365 Readings from the Writings of John Calvin (356 Days with)(page 236). Leominster; Grand Rapids, MI: Day One Publications; Reformation Heritage Books.

Why Is This Happening to Me?

I was looking at the books in my library and in a random pick, I came across the lines,

When things seem to be going wrong in our lives, our enemy likes to plant a second joy-killing question: Why is this happening to me? It may be a health issue, a family problem, or some other disappointment, but the struggle makes you wonder why God would allow such a thing to happen to you.

God wants you to know that your suffering is not meaningless. It will produce perseverance, character, and hope. God will use the hardest things in your life to achieve something of infinite value. God can make the points of greatest pain in your life the place in which He creates a remarkable resemblance of Jesus Christ in you.

If you have understood that the whole of this life is a preparation for eternity, this will not be disappointing to you. God’s purpose is not just that you will be in glory, but that glory will be in you.

If you can see that, then you will be able to rejoice in God even through the hardest days of your life. You may look up to God through your tears, but you will be able to say, “Thank You that this is not the end, but only a painful passage on the way to all You are preparing for me.”

Smith, C. S. (2002). Unlocking the Bible Story Vol.4 Chicago, IL: Moody Press. page 50

He was actually commenting on Romans 5.

Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. (vv. 3–4)

A great and wonderful read in the middle of a rough day.