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Two Birthdays, Two Symbols of Courage

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Today is November 10th, and a significant day if you enjoy freedom and appreciate courage. There are two birthdays worth remembering today. The United States Marine Corps, long admired as a symbol of elite military strength. And the man who ignited the Protestant Reformation, the 500th anniversary of which was just recently celebrated -- Martin Luther.

The United States Marine Corps was formed by Captain Samuel Nicholas by a resolution of the Second Continental Congress, on November 10, 1775. For almost 250 years, the Marines have stood ready to fight for our country. Honor, courage, and commitment are their tenets. Amphibious assault, air-ground, expeditionary -- they do it all -- and do it as the smallest of the armed forces under the Department of Defense. As of June, 2011, there were less than 150,000 active duty Marines. As a branch of the armed forces in America, they symbolize protection from tyranny, freedom for the oppressed, and courage in the face of adversity. The Marine Corps slogan is semper fidelis, which is Latin for “always faithful.” But there is another birthday today that produced for us a man who pointed to the One who defines "always faithful."

Martin Luther was also born on this day in 1483. His mining father wanted more for his son, and enrolled Martin in school to become a lawyer. But in a moment of desperation, Martin made a vow to God that he would become a monk if his life was spared. So entering an Augustinian monastery, Martin Luther was put on a path that would ultimately revolutionize the Christian faith and the history of Europe and the Catholic Church.

As time went on, Luther became increasingly convinced of the abuses of the church and the Pope. That, coupled with his own wrestling with assurance of salvation, led him back to the doctrine of justification by grace through faith as he studied through the book of Romans. With his famous 95 Theses posted to the Castle Church door on October 31, 1517, Luther’s honor, courage, and commitment to stand up to the Pope and the Catholic Church unintentionally ignited the Protestant Reformation. During this period of the church’s history, the Bible was recovered as the sole authority for life and faith, as the “Five Solas” came to represent the Reformers' commitments: Solus ChristusSola GratiaSola FideSoli Deo Gloria, and Sola Scriptura. In that order these Latin phrases mean “Christ Alone,” “Grace Alone,” “Faith Alone,” “The Glory of God Alone,” and “Scripture Alone.”

While Luther was fighting a different kind of oppression and abuse than the Marines have, they both stood/stand for freedom -- one national and the other religious. Today, be proud of your country and those who’ve served. Thank the Lord that he -- in his grace -- has placed you under the protection of a strong armed force such as the United States Marines (and all other branches of the military) to protect your right to freely worship.

But most importantly, also be thankful that God has had men and women throughout the ages -- like Martin Luther -- willing to fight for truth in Scripture, willing to stand up to tyranny and abuse, and willing to seek the Lord for reform, freedom, and purity in the church.

Happy St. Nicholas Day!

December 6th. St. Nicholas Day. The day that people all over the world are remembering the death and celebrating the life of Saint Nicholas.

Getting to the root of questions like “Who is Santa” and “Was he a real person” lead us back in time to the village of Patara, on the southern coast of modern-day Turkey. Nicholas was born around 270 AD to wealthy, yet devoutly Christian parents who taught him to revere and obey the teachings of Jesus. While still young, Nicholas lost his parents to an epidemic and received his inheritance -- an inheritance that he spent living out Jesus’s command to “sell what you have and give to the poor” (Matt. 19.21).

Nicholas was appointed Bishop of Myra (also located in modern-day Turkey), and his reputation for being generous spread. He became known for his concern and generosity toward the needy, and also for his love of children. Then under Diocletian, one of the most ruthless of the Roman emperors, Nicholas was exiled and imprisoned for his faith. However, after his release he attended the Council of Nicaea in 325, where he vehemently argued for the doctrine of the Trinity -- so vehemently that he slapped (some people say punched) Arius for denying the divinity of the Son! Almost twenty years later in 343 AD, Bishop Nicholas died. Now the day of his death, December 6th, is celebrated around the world as St. Nicholas Day -- a day of remembering the generous saint by giving gifts and feasting.

There are many extraordinary stories of the bishop helping the needy, including one about a poor father of three daughters who had no dowry (payment for marriage) to offer potential husbands. With nothing to offer, the daughters would likely be sold into slavery. But three different times a bag of gold appeared at the home. Tossed through the window, legend has the bags of gold landing in shoes set before the fire to dry. And unknowingly today, we still practice a custom born out of this legend -- hanging stockings on the fireplace for Saint Nicholas to fill.

St. Nicholas Day is celebrated all over the world in different ways -- in many places, its the primary gift-giving day, not Christmas. Parents, don’t waste this opportunity to start a new tradition in your family. Tell your children about the real Saint Nicholas. Let his example help you teach about Jesus’s commands to care for the poor and needy. Be creative! It doesn’t have to replace Christmas, but do something special to remember Nicholas and his generosity. (Parents, its also a great way to remind ourselves a few things about the Christmas season and the Christian message of hope, sacrifice, and generosity.)

A is for Augustine

You don't need a Master's degree in church history to appreciate this one. Here's a new-ish book that alphabetically highlights 26 heroes in the history of the Church - aptly titled The Church History ABC's. The authors have taken a different person for each letter of the alphabet and written a very short biography about that person and their contribution to the Church. This book is colorful and bright, and the artwork is great. Naturally, it's aimed at helping children learn their ABC's, while simultaneously exposing them to some godly men and women whose names they'll be well-served to know. (But if you're knowledge of church history is a little spotty, don't worry - you don't have to tell anyone you bought it for yourself.) Click the picture below to take a look inside.