Die Before You Die: Meditations on the Death of a Friend

Die Before You Die: Meditations on the Death of a Friend

It was the always precise C.S. Lewis who urged in Till We Have Faces to “Die before you die, there is no chance after.” This briefest of Lewisian homilies reminds me of our Lord’s words in Luke 9: “For whoever tries to save his own life will destroy it, but whoever destroys his life on my account will save it.” This biblical and glorious paradox certainly underlined Lewis’ statement. Lewis had experienced the death of his mother at an early age. He saw the vast wrath of war as he lost close friends. When he wrote of death it was not merely a result of research but from a deep experiential pain. His book A Grief Observed is an apologetic for dealing with pain when those closest to you die. When his wife, Joy, died, he wrote: “Her absence is like the sky, spread over everything.”

My family, and especially my wife, who knew Melanie Branch so well, grieve today. We grieve because someone whose life shone so brightly the Gospel of Jesus was removed from this earth. She no longer grieves, but we grieve in her absence.

Today I stood outside the chapel with many others because there was no more room in the chapel. Many had come to bid farewell to a life well lived. My dear brother and pastor Rusty Branch stood bravely and broken to eulogize his bride before the cloud of witnesses. He offered a parallel between the three virtues of classical Christianity, namely, truth, goodness, and beauty and their manifestations in the life of his bride. His bride of 15 years, offered in her 38 years of life, a Christian manifesto of truth in her search and determined hope to see others embrace a biblical vision for the education of their children. She left an astounding legacy. My family is a recipient of this investment she made in her life. In the name of truth, she died before she died. She sought truth not for self-aggrandizement, but self-giving.

This dear sister not only breathed truth into the life of others, but she also embraced goodness. She was good in the sense that she embodied the good. Anyone who knew Melanie–even from a few encounters–understood her lucid view of the good life. It was not replete with “work harder” banners, but with a sincere “God has been good to us” theology. It was rich, simple, and unfading. Melanie died before she died by showing that goodness is the art of bestowing a glorious image of our Lord to others in the midst of pain.

Most powerful were her husband’s point about her beauty. Though she was overwhelmed by the choking power of cancer, yet her love of the Triune God provided a life-filled, hope-saturated example of beauty. While her body slowly died, she sought after the beautiful. God’s image becomes even more sobering and precious as his saints begin to see the life to come through the eyes of faith. The beatific vision becomes clearer and the eternal glass that separates life and death become less distinguished. She embodied beauty in life and God robed her with his beauty in her death.

I did not know Melanie as well as many, but the multitudes who came to witness this lovely saint speaks more than words. They all shared similar stories of a woman who endured the unspeakable pain of seeing a disease overtake her little by little, but who died for others before she died.

May the God of all peace comfort her husband, Rusty, and her children, Emma Rae, Elizabeth, and Allen. Your wife and mother died well. She died before death. She was a faithful servant. Her job is done. She will die no more.

Who was Valentine?

Saint Valentine's DayIt is not uncommon to celebrate days without the slightest clue of their origin. Such a day is the traditional Valentine’s Day, or The Feast of Saint Valentine. “Valentine” derives from valens, which means strong, worthy, or powerful. These are apt descriptions for this little appreciated martyr.

Tradition and legends abound. The truth is we do not know much about the life of St. Valentine.  What we do know is that around 278 AD, Valentine, a holy priest in the days of Emperor Claudius II, was executed. The precise day is well acknowledged as February 14th.

Claudius was known for his cruelty. His unpopular and bloody campaigns required a strong army. To Claudius’ vexation, he was not able to draw many Roman soldiers to his cause. Valentine believed that the soldiers were strongly attached to their wives and families. As a result, Claudius banished marriages and engagements in Rome.[1] Valentine believed this to be a great injustice and continued to perform marriages.

Another factor that made Valentine unpopular with Claudius was his commitment to help persecuted Christians. Valentine was faithful to the Christ he served.

Valentine’s high disregard for the laws of Claudius the Cruel and his strong faith were cause for arresting the 3rd century priest. “He was apprehended, and sent by the emperor to the prefect of Rome, who, on finding all his promises to make him renounce his faith ineffectual, commanded him to be beaten with clubs, and afterwards, to be beheaded.”[2]

On this day, we celebrate this faithful saints who died for love; love of truth, and love for Christ; the Christ who gave His life that His Bride might live abundantly.

Ten Reasons Why I am Thankful for Mark Driscoll!

Ten Reasons Why I am Thankful for Mark Driscoll!

As KC alerted, “the Acts 29 Network announced its decision to remove Mark Driscoll and Mars Hill Church from membership in the network.” From my humble perspective, I pray this transition takes place without any problems and that Mark and his congregation takes this difficult news well. So, instead of offering the usual disclaimer that I disagree with Driscoll on these areas, here are a few reasons for why I am thankful to Driscoll:

First, Pastor Driscoll did something very few people could do. He began a work in a part of the country where people view the Gospel of Jesus as decisively not hip enough. Driscoll offered a persuasive message and a compelling rhetoric to the young, restless, and un-reformed folk in Seattle.

Second, Driscoll made manliness cool again. And then he told his people that manliness means loving others, and especially your wife.

Third, Mark Driscoll made lots of mistakes–some of them will haunt him forever–but in the end he repented and humbly submitted to godlier men. I expect him to act with grace in light of this news.

Fourth, he is unhesitatingly complementarian.

Fifth, he is optimistic about the future of the Church. When you plant so many churches, you need to have a healthy view of the progress of the gospel.

Sixth, he is pastoral. The sour and un-pastoral approach of so many classic Reformed-like pastors in the past is not what this generation needs. Driscoll cared for people. His pastoral care is ultimately what attracted so many to his work.

Seventh, Driscoll made Reformed theology accessible. He introduced many to what I call “Reformed theology light.” Many of these folks are now robustly Reformed in soteriology and ecclesiology.

Eighth, he reached across the aisle. In an age where ecclesiastical segregation is common, Driscoll reached the popular and the unpopular. Further, he did it without compromise. The Gospel is too rich, he argued, for the prosperity gospel.

Ninth, Driscoll taught the Bible. Agree or disagree with his applications, he taught his people the B-I-B-L-E.

Finally, Mark Driscoll encouraged an entirely new movement of young converts to read good literature. And then he quickly bashed bad modern literature.

Blessings on you, Mark!

Dr. Robert L. Reymond is with Christ

Dr. Robert L. Reymond is with Christ

The very meticulous systematician, Robert L. Reymond, is now with the Lord. I had the opportunity to meet Dr. Reymond briefly during a lunch break at a Ligonier Conference in Orlando, Fl. He was best known for his New Systematic Theology of the Christian Faith (1998).  I have used it continually over the years for my studies. His detailed references a

Reymond was an ordained minister in Orthodox Presbyterian Church. Find a list of available resources by Dr. Reymond at The Gospel Coalition. Also, check out his Sermon Audio page for .mp3s of his sermons and lectures. has a list of several of his books.

  1. His Clarkian styled logic was evident in every page of his labors. ((See  (back)

Why I am proud to be an American

In the best sense of the term, this has been a very patriotic weekend for me. It began on Thursday evening at the Banquet for Life hosted by Safe Harbor. Safe Harbor is a ministry the saints of Providence have invested in for quite a few years. It is more than just another pro-life ministry, it is a labor that saw 162 women this past year choose life rather than live with the blood of the innocent in their hands for the rest of their lives. They provide counseling, medical help, and the environment to best guide confused young women out of their present chaos.

At their annual fundraising banquet they invited Senator Rick Santorum. Santorum was still living off the energy of last year’s election. The Senator from Pennsylvania shocked the nation by losing to Mitt Romney by only eight votes in Iowa and going on to win several other primaries. Though Santorum was no match for the prosperous GOP establishment candidate, the Senator was still able to leave a lasting impression in the GOP Primary.

Santorum observed in his speech that though he had opined continuously on the state of the economy and on other pertinent matters, the media chose not to pursue the Senator’s opinion on these issues, but rather focus on some of his more “extreme” ideas. Ideas like opposition to abortion, which according to the general American public are far from extreme. Yet, we are at such a stage in the civil discourse that when anyone speaks passionately about any moral issue, he is already termed a radical. To hell with logic!

The Santorum event renewed my commitment to the life issue and my support for organizations like Safe Harbor in Pensacola, Fl. May they prosper!

Friday morning then was a continuation to this patriotic weekend. After 17 years in these United States, I have finally made official what many thought had been official for a long time. The reality is, I waited this long because I understood what this meant. In one sense, it meant that my allegiance to my birth country of Brazil would move to the passenger’s seat. Practically it has been that way, but a liturgy was needed to confirm this commitment. Though I love my country’s beauty and culture, I am and will be an American at heart. My commitment to the well-being of this nation is a deep part of who I am. Though my skepticism about our government’s actions will always prevail, I am deep inside an American by choice. I didn’t have to be, but I chose to be.

The naturalization ceremony flowed with all its pomp and persistent commentary by the Judge. Her American pride was gallantly streaming. But in some ways the ceremony had to be slow for I had been waiting for a long time for this moment to come to pass, and the slow and tedious ceremony was just an symbol of how long this entire process took; thousands of dollars, the patience of a loving wife, and the trips…so many trips. So here I am: an American at last.

My religious and political propensity demands that I refrain from exalting too much this nation. But it is hard to remain silent about a nation that has done so much for me. It has nourished me in all the human luxuries imaginable. It has provided for me confirmation of my calling. It has romanced me into its beauty and culture, and then asked me to take part in it. It accepted me even when I declared from the mountain tops that this country needs repentance of the II Chronicles kind.

So this has been a patriotic past weekend. I have tasted officially of the American air with a flag pin to prove it. I indulged in corn dogs and French fries (yes, freedom fries), and no, I still do not have an appetite for country music. I entered into the fine company of what the Judge so repetitively described as the “melting pot.” I enter as one, but hope to impact many.

I am proud to be an American, but in a different way than the obnoxious tune. I am proud to be an American because I know that my loyalty is to the King of America, Jesus Christ. And though this blessed nation has deserted our Lord and Maker, I decided to use my mouth and vote to opine passionately and studiously about why this nation needs to pursue this Lord. She is lost without His care. I don’t want to only glory in her past; I want to glory in the future she will have if she turns, and repents, and bows down before the only One who can make her great.

An Exhortation for Mother’s Day

Grace, Mercy, and Peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

We cannot begin to think of mothers without speaking of our first mother, Eve. Eve was given the task of beautifying Eden. Her duty was to make Eden a place where God would dwell forever. The first task of a mother is to consider her actions in light of the future. In other words, in what ways am I preparing my home, my labors, and my offspring to exalt the name of Yahweh? The problem of Genesis 3 can be defined as a problem of a poor eschatology. The first lesson mothers need to understand is that the future matters. This is why mothers are called to live in such a way that influences her children and her children’s children.

On this Mother’s Day, Children must bless their mothers! Husbands must praise their wives! A good queen beautifies the home, and makes the king look respectable and honorable in his kingdom, and at the gates of the city. A good queen makes the name of Yahweh known in her garden. A good queen awakens to hear her children call her blessed!

As mothers get older and gain more and more biblical wisdom, they become wise matriarchs in communities. People begin to say: “Go to her. Seek her counsel.” But this does not come easily. Mothers need to be good theologians. They need the rhythm of resurrection to grow in wisdom. They need to be constantly reminded that God’s grace is strengthening and building them up in their darkest moments; when they are overwhelmed by their duties. Mothers as a New Eve need to embrace the resurrection as a model for life. They need to so cherish the empty tomb that they realize that their perspective on life now and the future is shaped by it.

Christian mothers in one way set the rhythm for the rest of the world. C.S. Lewis put it this way:

“To be a mother is a woman’s greatest vocation in life.  She is a partner with God.  No being has a position of such power and influence.  She holds in her hands the destiny of nations, for to her comes the responsibility and opportunity of molding the nation’s citizens.”

Mothers, do not ever allow someone to say that your role is not valued. You are co-heirs of grace. Your children are arrows that pierce the kingdoms of darkness, because you trained them to be great warriors. For every diaper you change, for every alphabet letter you teach, for every kiss, for every song, for every meal you make, for every joy you instill in your children and others in your community, therein is the testimony of God’s grace in the world. So on this day,

To those who gave birth this year to their first child—we celebrate with you

To those who lost a child this year – we mourn with you

To those who are in the trenches with little ones every day and wear the badge of food stains – we appreciate you

To those who experienced loss this year through miscarriage, failed adoptions, or running away—we mourn with you

To those who walk the hard path of infertility, we walk with you.

To those who are foster moms, mentor moms, and spiritual moms – we need you

To those who have disappointment, heart ache, and distance with your children – we sit with you

To those who lost their mothers this year – we grieve with you

To those who will have emptier nests in the upcoming year – we grieve and rejoice with you

And to those who are pregnant with new life, we anticipate with you.[1]

Moms, you are God’s gift to the Church, and to your families. Be encouraged in your calling. We need your wisdom, and the world needs it also. Happy Mother’s Day! And may the God of all peace sustain and nourish you with His grace now and forever. Amen.

In Honor of Jonathon Sutton

Read the Obituary written by Caleb Sutton

His name was Jonathon Sutton. He was one of the rare ones. His gentle spirit was captivating. His soft smile and joyful disposition were contagious. He loved life and life seemed to return the favor. ALS was harsh and painful to this saint, but God was not. God comforted Jonathon with gentle words and a soft embrace. His soul now enjoys bliss; the type of bliss we read in Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress. Yes, it is the bliss of the discontinuation of pain and the continuation of endless delight in the presence of the God he so cherished.

My interactions with Jonathon were many, but now I wish I had many more. I first met Jonathon in one of my interviews for my job at Providence Church at a Cracker Barrel. He and Mickey Schneider were part of Providence’s session on a temporary basis before I was hired. This was in 2008. I took the job and got to know Jonathon well. Some months later he was there with other pastors laying hands on me as I was ordained to the pastoral office.

My mentor, Mickey Schneider, spoke of Jonathon often when I first arrived. He admired Jonathon. He spoke of his constant encouragement to his ministry over the years. He spoke of Jonathan with a glow in his eyes; the type of glow that tells you without a shadow of a doubt that this man is worth knowing. I sat in Mickey’s office too many times to count and marveled as he told endless stories about his faithful elder, Jonathon Sutton.

Jonathon loved the Church. He counted his role as an Elder at Trinity Presbyterian as a noble role. It was not hard to detect his love for the people. Among the many blessings he brought to those saints was the gift of music. Luther once wrote:

“Next to the Word of God, the noble art of music is the greatest treasure in the world.

Jonathon loved music, but his love of music was never for self-gain, but always for the sake of others. The saints at Trinity gained immensely from it. His own family gained from it. And as a result they all blessed the world with it.

As Jonathon leaves behind a legacy of humility, love, gentleness, and faithfulness, our community weeps in a minor chord knowing that our hope is in a major chord called the resurrection.

May your body rest in peace until it is raised again incorruptible.

R.I.P Jonathon Sutton (1958-2013)

John Piper’s First Day of Not Being a Pastor Anymore

The well-known Baptist minister, John Piper, has officially stepped down from Bethlehem Baptist Church. His long career, and his plethora of books have been a source of tremendous delight for many in the evangelical world. In this short post, he offers his  thoughts on the first day of not being a pastor anymore. He concludes with these words:

Therefore, as I woke up on this Monday morning for the first time in 33 years without the official mantle of pastor, the only tears that came were tears of thankfulness. And under them was a great joy. It is finished. It has a completeness to it. God started it. God sustained it. God ended it. And I have loved it. And I love looking back on it, complete. Imperfect in a hundred ways, but not because it was too long or too short. Being Bethlehem’s pastor has been my life. But now it is finished. And I am thrilled at what lies ahead — for her and for me. Especially in a thousand years.



Howard Hendricks,1924-2013

.The famed professor of Dallas Theological Seminary, Dr. Howard Hendricks, died after serving at DTS for more than 60 years. You can hear his last sermon entitled the Ultimate Final.

Among his many publications, Wikipedia lists the following:


Journal Articles

  • “Reaping the Rewards of Senior Ministry.” Bibliotheca Sacra vol 157 is 628, 2000. 387-396.
  • “Me, Myself, and My Tomorrows.” Bibliotheca Sacra vol 157 is 627, 2000. 259-270.
  • “Rethinking Retirement.” Bibliotheca Sacra vol 157 is 626, 2000. 131-140.
  • “The Other Side of the Mountain.” Bibliotheca Sacra vol 157 is 625, 2000. 3-14.
  • “Lord, Change My Children’s Father.” Fundamentalist Journal vol 5 is 2, 1986. 51-52.
  • “A Shirt for Timmy : Teaching Children to Pray.” Fundamentalist Journal vol 4 is 11, 1985. 53-54.
  • “The Art of Family Living.” Fundamentalist Journal vol 3 is 9, 1984. 39-41.
  • “Preparing Young People for Christian Marriage.” Bibliotheca Sacra vol 128 is , 1971. 245-262.
  • “Review of ‘Leading a Church School.'” Christianity Today vol 13 is , 1969. 31-32.

Praying for R.C. Sproul Jr. and Family

Eric Owens writes: “It is with great sadness that I inform you that RC’s daughter Shannon died last night. The family would cherish your prayers for them during this difficult time. We, however, rejoice that she, like her mother Denise, is now fully and forever healed.”

R.C. has been an example of faithfulness to me in these last twelve months. Please pray for this dear brother in this time of grief. I am reminded of the words of C.S. Lewis who reminded us that God is not unaware of our grief:

“God has not been trying an experiment on my faith or love in order to find out their quality. He knew it already. It was I who didn’t. In this trial He makes us occupy the dock, the witness box, and the bench all at once. He always knew that my temple was a house of cards. His only way of making me realize the fact was to knock it down.”

I am constantly reminded of the many illustrations R.C. used about his daughter and how after hearing it how convinced I became that the Lord’s Table is a place for “such as these.” May God grant the Sproul’s an extra dose of grace and comfort and may the Spirit hover over them with care.