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Posts Tagged ‘Grace’

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Blue Ridge Parkway Milestone

I enjoy the occasional foray into the realm of etymology. Word origin provides insight into the many and varied meanings and connotations of words and metaphors. There is a humorous twist on the origin of the terms mile and milestone. I assumed that since mile is a thoroughly English measurement of distance that the word, though perhaps not the concept, came from bloody ole England. Afterall, the U.S. is the only major country in the world to still be using the English system. But no, when traced back, mile comes from the Latin mil, or one thousand, which is quite base ten, or metric. Milestones then were stone markers called mille passus, meaning one thousand paces (1), along Roman roads. They were first placed every one thousand steps along the Apian Way out of Rome. Even then they would not have actually paced off the distance, but would have used a standard chain or rope length, the stade (eight stades to a mile). (2)

Etymology was only a small part of why I’m writing this blog entry, but it is fascinating. Metaphorically, milestones are visual, emotional, mental, or group markers for significant events or changes. Milestones typically include salvation, graduations from educational institutions, marriage, arrival of children, job changes or promotions, retirement, lifestyle changes, or significant personal goals reached like weight loss or the first marathon. The term can be overused, particularly in the business and education worlds it seems to me, and there is definitely a difference in significance levels from eternal to trivial. Nonetheless, the idea is solid and shows up in Scripture, even promoted by God (Joshua 4:1-7), and used by prophets (I Kings 18:31, I Samuel 7:10-12).

I have been privileged to have many profitable and enjoyable  milestones in my life, and a few significant ones of late. All five of my children are now married and I have just recently retired.

I passed a small milestone in blogging, which I only inadvertently realized while rereading a few blog entries. This very entry is my 500th blog entry. Having written in this blog since July of 2007, it is quite an accomplishment for me to have continued with only a few months in all of that time of not publishing at least one entry. In fact, the average number of blog entries per month over the that period of 13 years has been just over three entries. It causes me to muse upon why I would be so consistent for so long. The obvious answer is a love and a need of the this forum. I need an outlet for my thoughts and love this particular one that is potentially interactive (3). It gives me a voice, an influence, if ever so small, and a sense of not forgetting what experiences and insights God has so graciously given to me, that is, an online journal. It may hopefully be part of my intellectual inheritance to my children and grandchildren.

But a question arose in my mind: Would a milestone be a milestone if we were unaware of it? I don’t think that this is the existentialist argument about a tree falling in the forest (4), because we are talking about a metaphor for the perception rather than a physical mile marker. When I consider this idea, it reveals to me how dull and fickle our perceptions are. They are dull because we do not perceive significant events that have eternal consequences for good or for ill (John 3:7-8), and they are fickle in that we may see them as significant in one situation and for one group or person but not for another or not at another time. What revealing of missed opportunities and privileges may be ours when our lives are reviewed in eternity. I am thankful for God’s grace to test all things by fire and reveal those works which were by and for Him (I Corinthians 3:10-15, 21-13), for I will come forth as gold (Job 23:10).

So, I conclude this 500th mille passus of sorts with one further testimony to God’s goodness in my life. He has been and will be at work in my life to bring it to a good and completed conclusion (Philippians 1:6), not because I am deserving or always willing or cooperative or able, but because He is good and powerful and has attached me to His riches by His grace. To Him be all praise.

 

1) How our mile got to be such an odd number, 5280 feet, is more complicated, though the origin of the whole measurement seems to have been the Roman’s copying of the distance around a Greek stadium track for running events, and thus the unit stade.

2) I wonder if they had workers who held signs for travelers to avoid collisions in construction zones?

3) Oh, that it were more so, that I had to moderate multiple comments, questions, reprimands, and encouragements on each entry. Alas, life is busy.

4) If a tree falls in the forest and no one is there to hear it does it make a sound? Being a Christian and a student of Science but not an Existentialist, I would retort that of course it makes a sound. It vibrates air particles, following God’s physical laws.

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Some of my friends have already seen this or were there, but others might benefit from what this video has to say. I had the privilege of preaching at my church this past Sunday. I felt led and carried along, so that I believe it is a message that God gave me. I give Him the glory for anything of profit therein. It is a message for the church of America. I hope that you will take the time to listen to it:

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During prayer time this morning I was convicted about the extent of my failure in relationships over the years. Rather than mope I asked God to heal relationships and continue to change me. After a short season my prayer was interrupted by the words of the first verse of the following poem. Over the next hour, as I began planning for my students, I came back to the poem until two more verses appeared.

I am not who I will become
Or who I should be

But I am not who I once was
Jesus changes me

Each day I choose for right or wrong
Reaping what you see
By His grace I can do what’s right
Jesus sets me free

Today I’m here, tomorrow there
God knows where I’ll be
Best not fret or scheme or worry
Jesus directs me

 

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On the drive to church this morning,
I wrote the first verse of the following poem.
Hands free communication (as with a cellphone) disallowed me
to write it down, so the beginning of the second verse was lost
to me before I could write it down. But the direction in which
I was thinking remained for the rest of the poem to come this afternoon. God’s grace and goodness are so great, especially in contrast to our inability to comply to His commands and wishes.

So much wickedness in my heart
Made in God’s image, tarnished art
Frequent failings, falling away
To often straying from the way

Desire to follow ever grows
Distracted by pleasures and woes
Many small failings of the heart
Who will give me a brand new start?

Jesus only, beginning, end
Power to enable, transcend
All my failings and weakness
Distracted thoughts and selfishness

All by grace He has given me
From Him any good that you see
This fragile glass His strengths reveal
Demonstrates His goodness is real

One day my faulty service gone
Perfect obedience will dawn
In good time I will be steadfast
Then I will see God at long last

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The Lie that was promulgated in the garden is persistent and pernicious. The enemy knows it is the most subtle way to destroy us, and it is persistent because it is part of our nature. “You will be like God” (Genesis 3:5) is a Lie with many iterations. It is the basis of all works salvation whether it be the religions of the world, the self-assured atheist, or the nominal, legalist Christian. Such an ominous enemy to our soul must be regularly and rigorously opposed. The remedy for me is focusing on the grace of God brought to us in the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

To that end, I asked my pastor recently if he had a book that would refresh my focus on grace. He loaned me the little book, “All of Grace” by C. H. Spurgeon. He leaves no stone unturned in his pursuit of convincing the reader that God “justifieth the ungodly” (Romans 4:5).

The persistence of the Lie most frequently resides here: “We stubbornly believe that there must be something in us in order to win the notice of God” (p.14) But “God, who sees through all deceptions, knows that there is no goodness whatsoever in us.” (p.14) Our pride rises up against this thought, but salvation is for those who realize “He makes those just who are unjust. He forgives those who deserve no favor.” (p.14) Those who are closest by training to what is right and good can sometimes be the fartherest from salvation because they have become self-deceived into thinking that the rightness and goodness resides, even if only partially, in them. On the other hand, some who reject the very existence of God are equally self-deceived about their own goodness. For this reason, what Spurgeon says is profoundly true: “The law is for the self-righteous, to humble their pride. The Gospel is for the lost, to remove their despair.” (p.21) To those already broken by their sin, we preach the good news of God’s grace. To those self-assured of their own goodness, we convey the law so that they will come to a point of despair over their sin and grow in desire for a solution only found in the Gospel. Though the witness is a messenger of these things, the Holy Spirit through the Word of God is the means of this grace. “When He [the Holy Spirit] comes, will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment” (John 16:8) and ” the Law has become our tutor to lead us to Christ, so that we may be justified by faith” (Galations 3:24).

So why must I, who have long been in the grace of God, refocus on that grace? As I have already said, the Lie is persistent and pernicious. My old nature would have me believe that afterall there is some measure of works I must provide to be satisfactory to God. No, I must continue in “simple reliance upon Jesus” (p.89), cling to Him, turn constantly for a view of His goodness, love, and power, all given to me by His grace. Herein is joy and peace; hence is purpose and hope. The quicker and more deeply I can become totally convinced of the grace of God, the more readily I can love others and point them to that all sufficient grace.

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Grace Enough

I was forced to stand in silence for an hour and a half today, so I occupied my mind with thoughts of God’s grace. I was trying to decide if I should use the pronoun me, you, or us in the poem I wrote. I began with a mixture of me and you. That didn’t seem right to me. Me would be more personal, but you would be more inclusive. I decided on us, even though I was concerned that it might imply to readers that everyone has access to this grace. Believers in Jesus have been gifted with faith by God’s grace and now have access to that grace. But I wanted to use us in order to group together the body of Christ as we struggle and celebrate together. Here is the result:

 

 

Grace for us in every trial
In every hurt, for every mile
Grace enough for each new day
Through the flood and the fray

When days are up or days are down
Skies are bright or grey and brown
Days of hope or dread and fire
Grace enough for the smooth and mire

Grace enough to rescue from hell
To raise us up when we fell
Joy where we would think there is none
Rest now and when life is done

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On October 31, 1517, the Protestant Reformation began when Martin Luther nailed his 95 theses on to the Wittenburg Castle Church door. The Protestant Reformation was a movement in the 16th and 17th centuries in Europe, which tried to reform the Roman Catholic Church, because of perceived doctrinal and moral corruption that undermined the Christian gospel. The result was excommunication and the Protestant movement. These Latin phrases; sola scriptura (Scripture Alone), sola gratia (Grace Alone), sola fide (Faith Alone), sola Christus (Christ Alone), Soli Deo Gloria (for the glory of God Alone), were the fundamental principles of the protestant reformers. They were developed over time, to summarize the theological conviction of the reformers and are central to the doctrine of salvation. -John Piper

In April of 1518, the head of the Augustinian Order called for a formal disputation of the ideas that Martin Luther had put forth. This gave Luther an opportunity to expand upon his concerns. At the meeting, Luther put forward a “theology of the cross” as opposed to a “theology of glory.” -Editors Introduction to the Book of Concord

A theology of glory expects total success, finding all the answers, winning all the battles, and living happily ever after. The theology of glory is all about my strength, my power, and my works. A theologian of glory expects his church to be perfect and always to grow. If a theologian of glory gets sick, he expects God to heal him. And if he experiences failure and weakness, if his church has problems and if he is not healed, then he is often utterly confused, questioning the sufficiency of his faith and sometimes questioning the very existence of God. -Gene Edward Veith

To better understand the theology of glory, one need only look at the adjective included in the five Latin phrases. Alone. The use of this simple term suggests that the theology of glory, understood God’s work of Scripture, Grace, Faith and Christ were insufficient.

The Catholic Church adhered to what Martin Luther called the “theology of glory” (in opposition to the “theology of the cross”), in which the glory for a sinner’s salvation could be attributed partly to Christ, partly to Mary and the saints, and partly to the sinner himself. The reformers responded, “No, the only true gospel is that which gives all glory to God alone, as is taught in the scriptures.” -Monergism.com

This true and Biblical gospel, proclaimed by the reformers, was about how man can be justified before a holy God. Not by any merited favor, but by grace alone. Not any works a man can do such as the confession, penance or indulgences, but by faith alone. Not by any other sacrifice, such as mass, but only in Christ alone. Not found in the church, papacy or tradition, but in Scripture alone. And not for the veneration, worship or glory of Mary, Saints or Angels, but to the Glory of God Alone.

For Luther, the bottom line was the bondage of the will, or the deadness of the human soul. The Bible tells us that we are totally helpless. Ephesians 2:1-3, “And you were dead in your trespasses and sins, in which you formerly walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience. Among them we too all formerly lived in the lusts of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest.” We were dead in our trespasses and sin and by nature children of wrath. Only grace can raise us from the dead and only Christ could be our punishment. Those two miracles, life from death and wrath removed, can only be received as a gift. Thus, it is to the glory of God alone. -John Piper

When reflecting on today’s subject of God receiving all glory, you may have thought, “I am a Baptist. I know that we do not glorify Mary, Saints or Angels.” This, I’m sure, is true for many of us here. However, these two verses may shed some light on our weakness and who we do glorify instead of God alone.

Proverbs 14:12, “There is a way which seems right to a man, But its end is the way of death.”     2 Timothy 3:2, “For men will be lovers of self, lovers of money, boastful, arrogant, revilers, disobedient to parents, ungrateful, unholy…”                            

The Bible tells us:

  • Scripture is from God. 2 Timothy 3:16, “All Scripture is inspired by God…”
  • Grace is from God. Ephesians 2:8, “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves…”
  • Faith comes from God. Hebrews 12:2, “looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith”
  • Christ was sent by God. John 3:17, “For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through Him.”
  • Genesis 1:1, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.”
  • Proverbs 16:9, “The mind of man plans his way, but the Lord directs his steps”
  • Psalm 103: 19, “The Lord has established His throne in the heavens, And His sovereignty rules over all.”
  • Psalm 19:1, “The heavens are telling of the glory of God; And their expanse is declaring the work of His hands.”
  • Romans 13:1, “Every person is to be in subjection to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God.”
  • Ephesians 1:11-12, “also we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to His purpose who works all things after the counsel of His will, to the end that we who were the first to hope in Christ would be to the praise of His glory.”
  • Colossians 1:16-17, “For by Him all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things have been created through Him and for Him. He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together.”
  • Hebrews 1:3, “And He is the radiance of His glory and the exact representation of His nature, and upholds all things by the word of His power. When He had made purification of sins, He sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high…”
  • Hebrews 11:10, “for he was looking for the city which has foundations, whose architect and builder is God.”
  • John 3:16, “For God so loved the world, that He sent His one and only son, that everyone believing in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.”
  • 1 John 1:9, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”
  • Philippians 1:6, “For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus.”
  • Revelation 4:11, “Worthy are You, our Lord and our God, to receive glory and honor and power; for You created all things, and because of Your will they existed, and were created.”

Soli Deo Gloria

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Our pastor has encouraged us to look at the 5 solas of the Protestant Reformation. The first Sunday was Scripture alone. The second Sunday was Grace alone. Today we look at faith alone.

When Paul explains the gospel in Romans, he says that in that gospel “is the righteousness of God revealed…as it is written, The just shall live by faith.” (Romans 1:17)

I want to begin by looking at how the Catholic church obscured the gospel, then move to how the Reformation recovered the gospel, and finally give an implication of this gospel for us today.

The Catholic church obscured the gospel of faith alone by tangling up regeneration with justification like a really bad game of twister. Biblically, Regeneration is being born again—having eternal life infused into our souls. Justification is God the judge declaring us to be legally righteous in his sight (instead of guilty). The mixing up of regeneration and justification resulted in the Catholic church teaching that in baptism a man receives an infusion of righteousness into his soul. And this infusion of righteousness is what makes a man inherently righteous before God. Consequently, the Catholic church went on to teach that the fruit of righteousness flows from divine life experienced in baptism so that a man may merit by his gracious works justification. So, the foundation of a right standing before God is what a man becomes at his baptism and what a man does after his baptism. That baptism often being an infant baptism.

This was the thinking that Martin Luther was plagued by. If there was ever a monk who could have been saved by his monkery, it would have been Martin Luther. Vigils, prayers, reading, spending much time confessing, and fasting were performed by Luther. But all of this work failed to give him the peace with God that he was desperate for. And that’s because Galatians 2:16 says “a man is not justified by the works of the law.” So, the Catholic church obscured the gospel of faith alone by tangling up regeneration and justification and in this way tortured Martin Luther.

But what the Reformation did was untangle regeneration and justification. And this resulted in clarifying what justification means: Justification is not progressive, but the instantaneous declaration of God that a sinner is righteous instead of guilty. And the instrument by which a man is justified is not man’s work, but faith alone in Christ and his work at Calvary.

Romans 4:5 says “ But to him that worketh not, but believeth on him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness.” Worketh “not”. Justifieth the “ungodly”.

But how can God declare an ungodly man righteous? He does not do this by infusing righteousness into a man’s soul (as the Catholic church taught), but by imputing the righteousness of Christ to a believing sinner. In other words, when a man believes on Christ, God considers the righteousness of Christ as belonging to the sinner.

Think of it this way—when a poor woman marries a rich man, that woman enters into a union with him so that she shares in his wealth. The poor woman becomes rich. Similarly, when a sinful man believes in Christ, that man enters into a union with Him so that he shares in His righteousness. And in this manner God considers Christ’s righteousness as belonging to the sinner and thus declares the sinner to be righteous. This is the only way that a sinful man may have peace with God.

We have seen how the Catholic church obscured the gospel of faith alone and how the Reformation recovered that gospel. Now, an implication for the church today is this: we had better get justification by faith alone right before we do any work. Another way to say it would be to say, the church had better get the gospel right before she gets to work.

When Paul reveals what the gospel means in Romans, he talks about justification by faith alone.

When the Catholic church obscured that gospel, it gave rise to an unhealthy religiosity. Germany was not being taken over by secularism—it was very religious, but it was an unhealthy religiosity that arose from the burial of justification by faith alone. Contrastingly, we here in America do see secularism taking over. And what a temptation it would be for us in our day to say “We need to get back to being religious!” But if that religiosity does not arise from justification by faith alone, then we are not standing on the gospel.

What revolutionized Europe was not increasing religious activity. It was the recovery of justification by faith alone. May it be so in our day.

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In this third installation of the 5 solae, we come to what another brother had to say about grace alone:

I want to begin with a personal testimony from January of this year…

After a brief explanation from the Lutheran pastor, I followed the funeral procession into the church—deeply moved. Why? For sure I was going to miss my wife’s aunt, who had been a dear family member to us.

But more importantly, what impacted me was the symbol on her casket that illustrated a truth most dear to me. You see, the casket was covered in a white cloth, symbolizing righteousness, which would be the only thing God would accept from her as she would be presented to Him for judgment. But…whose righteousness?

The symbolism goes further—on the cover was the shape of a cross, and the Greek symbols for Christ. Whose righteous works is God accepting?   Would He see ANY of my aunt’s works?

No, for He would not accept them!

She was being presented to God, covered by the righteousness of our blessed Christ! And THIS was our family’s comfort in our loss.

Eph 2:8-10: “For by grace are you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God; not of works, lest anyone may boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.”

In this short statement is the sum of the Biblical teaching of the work of grace. It begins with God-working in us faith which justifies us (giving us Christ’s righteousness), which results in good works which please Him—according to His working in us.

Over time, as the Church of the Middle Ages abandoned the supreme authority of Scripture—“Sola Scriptura” in favor of traditions, other doctrines began to emerge—not only those absent from the Bible, but also changes to the understanding of grace itself.

The Medieval Church’s teaching gradually drifted to the assertion that God’s grace would help us produce the works that He would accept for justification, rather than the grace of Christ’s finished work of cross and resurrection for us.

It is in this world that Martin Luther sought to be right with a Holy God.

In keeping with church traditions, he followed the rules of the monastery, and did penance–all to a radical extreme (and even the annoyance of his fellow clergy)—all the time being under condemnation in his heart because of the majesty of God’s holiness and perfection overwhelming him.

At this point, as he studied the Bible, he discovered that it is not his righteousness that God will accept, but Christ’s, and that he should by faith abide in Him! Luther received God’s gracious gift of eternal life.

Luther and the other reformers returned to the Biblical, apostolic understanding that good works and a changed life flow from Christ’s righteousness given to us, instead of leading to it. God will not have his glorious gospel assisted by human works.

Our Christ, as God in human flesh, takes on Himself ALL of our sin and sinfulness on the cross, and gives us ALL of the righteous obedience of His perfect life.   We call this teaching Sola Gratia, or “grace alone.”

In short, God’s grace justifies us completely in Christ’s work, and gives us a heart of repentance, rather than demanding we “do penance.”

Church Historian Stephen Nichols tells us that Ulrich Zwingli, the Swiss reformer, is portrayed in a portrait with an open Bible.

In an illustration of this grace to us, the Bible was opened to Matt 11:27-30:

“All things have been handed over to Me by My Father; and no one knows the Son except the Father; nor does anyone know the Father except the Son, and anyone to whom the Son wills to reveal Him.

Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.”

This is Christ’s gracious invitation to us—then, and now.

On this 500th anniversary of the Reformation, we celebrate our salvation in Christ, Sola Gratia, by grace alone—in the words of the Apostle Paul: “…to the praise of the glory of His grace, which He freely bestowed on us in the Beloved…”

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Several weeks ago my brother in Christ shared this about the sufficiency of Scripture:

“Sola Scriptura is a reminder that God has always worked and will always work on this side of eternity through His word the Bible. Sola Scriptura deals primarily with the issue of authority. It is not a base claim that says that nothing except Scripture is helpful. It is not a claim to Scripture only in all cases. That would not be Biblical. Recognizing this is to distinguish between Sola Scriptura and Scriptura Nuda. Sola Scriptura does not argue that there is no value in anything except for Scripture standing on its own. It is an argument that Scripture is the only basis of authority.

I think a couple of verses would help us frame this discussion. Psalm 138:2 captures the sentiment of Sola Scriptura in a poetic way, but it also stresses a note of praise and worship which seems very appropriate when we are remembering God’s faithfulness over the 500 years since the Reformation. The psalmist here says:

“I bow down toward your holy temple and give thanks to your name for your                       steadfast love and your faithfulness, for you have exalted above all things your                   name and your word.”

Several translations say this slightly differently, but the idea is clear: God exalts his Word. And God exalts those who exalted his word, and God will be exalted when his word is exalted.

The Reformation, which was a great turning from the time when doctrinal error was pervasive in the church, to a time when the church was based much more on the truth of Scripture follows clearly a line or trajectory of a return to Scripture. Every individual who had a hand in the Reformation of the church was a person who had first learned to see the Scriptures as their sole authority. You can back up to 200 years earlier and look at the life of John Wycliffe in England, who was persecuted for his position on the authority and importance of Scripture. You can look in the 1400s at John Huss, who was also persecuted for a similar stand. He was martyred for his belief in Scripture. But he is the one who famously said, “you may cook this goose.” His name Huss meaning goose, “but in its stead God will raise the Swan who will sing his praises.” That Swan came 100 years later, just a few miles away, in the person of Martin Luther. Martin Luther, was ironically induced into the priesthood in the same church that the bishop who condemned Huss was buried in. And so we see consistently through history, God superintending to bring about his own glory and the reform of his church through the honoring of Scripture. Each of those men engaged in the great task of putting the Scriptures into the language of the common man of their day. Each one of them understood that one of the great tasks of their life was to put Scripture into the language of the common man, so that the English plough boy could read Scripture in English, and the German peasant could read Scripture in German.

Simply put, Sola Scriptura is the cause of the Reformation. The other principles, or rally cries of the Reformation; the other solas, whether it is Sola Gratia, Solus Christus, Sola Fide, or Soli Deo Gloria. We could not and would not have any of these were it not for return to Scripture only. Scripture is the foundation; it is the foundation upon which God’s work will always be built.

Peter reminds us in II Peter 1:16. In this passage Peter reminds us of a pivotal time during the life of Christ. A time where Peter and two other disciples are alone with Christ on a mountaintop, and there in that Transfiguration moment they see the Lord in His glory. But Peter tells us in verse 19:

“And we have the prophetic word more fully confirmed, to which you will do well to          pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the                    morning star rises in your hearts.”

The King James translation express this as “we have a more sure word of prophecy”. One of the things Peter is reminding us of here, is the fact that even if God were to reveal himself physically to us, as Christ was revealed to the disciples on that mountain Transfiguration, that appearance would not and should not be as authoritative or as significant to us as the physical pages of the word of God that we have in our hands. Peter says that what we have is a more sure word; it is a word more fully confirmed, which we do well to pay attention to. Sola Scriptura thus speaks to the authority and sufficiency of the word of God.

The threat to Scripture in the time leading up to the Reformation, came from an approach to Scripture which claimed that we could not know for sure what Scripture was saying. The scholars and some church authorities the time said that we could look to tradition and Scripture, we could look to reason and Scripture, we could look to the great leading voices of the church and Scripture, and we can look to experience and use that to temper our understanding of Scripture. And out of that mixture of endless qualifications and piles of meaningless footnotes maybe we can come up with something that in some way we could call true. Martin Luther said that that approach to truth, and approach to truth that is merely tentative, an approach to truth that denies the absolute authority of God’s word, an approach that says truth is only possible, is an approach to truth that paves the road to hell. Martin Luther said we do not need possible truth. We need therefore truths; truths that are absolute and unequivocal. We need truths that come to us with the thunderous certainty of Romans 5, “therefore there is now no condemnation for those that are in Christ Jesus.” We need truths that are absolute! And our only hope, our only source for that kind of truth comes in the revealed Word of God, Sola Scriptura.

Sola Scriptura is thus the basis of our confident joy. Every commemoration, every anniversary, every celebration, should ultimately be characterized by gratitude. A gratitude that shows that we are thankful to God. God is the only reason why good things live long. On the 500th anniversary of the Reformation our heart should be hearts that are filled with gratitude that God has kept his word. We can say with the hymn writer:

         “How firm a foundation the Saints of the Lord

          Is laid for your faith in His excellent Word

         What more can He say than to you He has said

         To you who to Jesus for refuge have fled.”

Let us be thankful for Sola Scriptura.”

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My son and his wife hosted a Reformation 500th Anniversary Conference back in April. The website for the conference has history of the various states in Europe that were effected by the Reformation. They wrote and edited summaries of these histories. The website also has links to all of the conference speakers’ talks. Soon the site will have legible pictures of the 40 story boards (trifold boards) he and his wife made for the conference. All of these resources may be accessed at www.reformation500pa.com

Happy 500th and happy researching!

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Some anniversaries are celebrated with much pomp. Perhaps in limited or hidden circles or isolated from one another, the 500th anniversary of the Reformation is being celebrated. But from my limited view, I am not seeing it. Perhaps this history changing event is obscured by the willful ignoring of the main purveyors of information. It is my hope that the quiet remembrance and thanksgiving of the saints for this God directed change in direction of the church and at that time will result in godly resolution to renew repentance and reformation in our time.

My church is committing some small focus to this great event and how it effects the church today. For 5 weeks leading up to the 500th anniversary, we are presenting a 5-10 minute “Reformation Moment” on the 5 solae of the Reformation. Then this coming Sunday night we have a speaker who will give us an overview of Reformation history. One of the solae for which I have a transcript is “Solus Christus”:

In these 5 weeks we are giving consideration to the 5 solae that summarize the Reformation ideas about God bringing salvation to man. As has been said, the Latin word sola means “alone” or “only”: only Scripture, only grace, only faith, only Christ, only God’s glory. There is, however, one sense in which they are not alone. The solae must be taken together to give a full picture of what God has done and evermore will do to secure our salvation. All of these solae grew out of the reformers’ realizations that the Roman Catholic Church had strayed from the true Gospel message by adding requirements and layers to what God had done, much as the Pharisees had done by the time Jesus was on Earth.

Today we focus on Solus Christus, Christ alone. That this idea is Scriptural is abundantly clear from numerous references. Jesus, Himself, proclaimed His exclusive role in salvation when He said in John 14, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me.” (v. 6) Peter amplifies the idea when he and John are brought before the rulers and elders of the people in Acts 4:  And there is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men by which we must be saved”. (v. 12) No priest, no deacon, no pastor, no pope, no mentor or prophet or holy man or saint or angel can in any way help us in salvation other than to point us to Christ because, as I Timothy 2:5-6 says, “there is one God, and one mediator also between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave Himself as a ransom for all, the testimony given at the proper time.”

Furthermore, Christ is only and once sacrificed. For the celebration of the mass is said to be the true body and blood of Christ sacrificed for sins. Scripture says: “And inasmuch as it is appointed for men to die once and after this comes judgment, so Christ also, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time for salvation without reference to sin, to those who eagerly await Him.” (Hebrews 9:27-28)” Salvation comes through trusting in Christ alone for his once and final sacrifice on the cross. We do not need the priest as mediator or the mass as a means of applying saving grace.

Luther understood our tendencies all too well when he said, “we humans are weak and stubbornly perverse and are more likely to become attached to saints than to Christ…that it is easier for us humans to believe and trust in everything else than in the name of Christ, who alone is all in all, and more difficult for us to rely on him in whom and through whom we possess all things.”

As Huldrych [Ulrich] Zwingli proclaimed, “Christ is the only way of salvation of all who were, are now, or shall be.” In Article 54 of his Sixty-Seven Articles (1523), Zwingli explicitly contrasts the Roman sacramentalist view with solus Christus: “Christ has borne all our pain and travail. Hence, whoever attributes to works of penance what is Christ’s alone, errs and blasphemes God.”1

Joel Beeke in writing about the Solus Christus says, “The centrality of Christ is the foundation of the Protestant faith. Martin Luther said that Jesus Christ is the “center and circumference of the Bible”—meaning that who He is and what He did in His death and resurrection is the fundamental content of Scripture. Salvation is only in Jesus Christ because there are two conditions that, no matter how hard we try, we can never meet. Yet, they must be done if we are to be saved. The first is to satisfy the justice of God through obedience to the law. The second is to pay the price of our sins. We cannot do either, but Christ did both perfectly”2

In his “Institutes of the Christian Religion”, John Calvin wrote, “Christ stepped in, took the punishment upon himself and bore the judgment due to sinners. With his own blood he expiated the sins which made them enemies of God and thereby satisfied him…we look to Christ alone for divine favour and fatherly love!…Hence Christ is called “King of peace” (Is. 9:6) and “our peace” (Eph 2:14) because he quiets all agitations of conscience. If we ask the means, we must come to the sacrifice by which God has been appeased. For anyone unconvinced that God is appeased by that one atonement, in which Christ endured his wrath, will never cease to tremble. In short, we must seek peace for ourselves solely in the anguish of Christ our Redeemer.”3

Solus Christus, Christ alone. As one blogger said, “Since Rome has not changed, and since our own hearts constantly look elsewhere for salvation, the issue is still before us today.  So it is still the duty of the church to clear away all helpers and assistants in salvation and preach Christ and him alone. He is all we have for salvation, but he is all that we’ll ever need.”4 Martin Luther gives us a simple summary, quote, “I must listen to the gospel. It tells me not what I must do, but what Jesus Christ the Son of God has done for me.”

  1. http://www.ligonier.org/blog/top-five-books-five-solas-solus-christus/
  2. http://www.ligonier.org/learn/articles/christ-alone/
  3. John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion 2.16.2
  4. https://reformedreader.wordpress.com/2012/03/24/martin-luther-on-solus-christus/

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Sigh and Faith

One sentence from a comment on my last entry keeps coming back to me:

“A man was meant to be doubtful about himself, but undoubting about the truth; this has been exactly reversed.”        (G.K. Chesterton)

When I came across a small poem that I had written about a year ago and considered my daily struggles, it seemed an example of how I must doubt my sinful self and cling evermore so firmly to the saving truth that brings joy and confidence. This salvation is not a past tense thing, it is a continuous present tense thing:

A deep heavy sigh

To realize I’ve failed again

How can I reply

Other than repent of sin

Only live by faith

Letting God’s grace to shine through

Jesus first of all

In all life that I pursue

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Being observant makes life interesting. Being intentionally observant is more interesting, and being in a group of people who enjoy discussing intentional observation is much more interesting. One evening I was walking out of the tower door of the church, which faces west, with two brothers. The sun was low and directly in our faces, making it hard to see. We were discussing what we intended to do when I pulled up short and said, “What in the world?” They both seemed surprised and said, “What’s wrong?” “How can this be?” I replied more to myself than to them, “The sun is shining in our faces but there are shadows in front of us.” I turned around to see if there were shadows behind us where they should be and discovered the truth of the bright shadows in front. The sun was equally blinding reflecting off of the glass door we had just exited. “I thought the laws of Physics were overthrown for a moment.” One of those two men still gives me a hard time about my observation and utter amazement.

I only hope that I may one day be such a good reflection of my Savior’s glory as to caste bright shadows over the lives of those who are blinded in His presence. And will there even be shadows in heaven where the light of His glory penetrates and purifies all its surroundings, where sin cannot abide, and praise arises uninterrupted before His throne? Even in the shadows of my continued sin nature, the world’s wicked system, and the devil’s devious temptations, I look forward to brighter days of knowing and serving Him through the grace He daily provides. Though shadows fall all around us, His presence brightens even these.

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Following after Jesus has its many rewards and challenges. The challenges all originate from our sin nature, and “seeing that His divine power has granted to us everything pertaining to life and godliness, through the true knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and excellence,” (2 Peter 1:3) we really have no excuse. This enabling power given to us through the agency of the Holy Spirit helps us to “enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is broad that leads to destruction, and there are many who enter through it. For the gate is small and the way is narrow that leads to life, and there are few who find it.” (Matthew 7:13-14)

God is at work in us for our sanctification, but He also commands us to be diligently about increasing our sanctification: “Work out your salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure.” (Philippians 2:12-13) Because of the lie of Satan that induced the original sin of Adam, “you will be like God, knowing good and evil” (Genesis 3:5), we now have a sin nature. As a result “death reigned from Adam until Moses, even over those who had not sinned in the likeness of the offense of Adam” (Romans 5:14), and there is still “nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh; for the willing is present in me, but the doing of the good is not. For the good that I want, I do not do, but I practice the very evil that I do not want.” (Romans 7:18-19) To put it plainly, the lie of Satan was that you can do it on your own, that is, be good enough, be like God. Every religion is a way to work your way to heaven or attempt to please God. True Christianity is not this way, that is, works oriented, but grace oriented, because God has and is accomplishing all that is needed to please Him and secure for us a place in heaven. But we sinners by nature and by practice are hooked on the Lie and must throughout this lifetime be diligent to believe what God has said and done in and for us.

I love analogies and metaphors and thought of this situation today as I was describing a friend’s need to find a church where grace is preached. We should seek a church where truth is preached, the Gospel is preached, and the whole counsel of God is preached, right? Most definitely we should, but we are like an old pick-up truck that has a badly mis-aligned front end that constantly wants to steer us into the left ditch which we must persistently fight by holding the steering wheel to the right so that we may track straight. The mis-alignment is our works oriented sin nature; steering to the right is a constant placing of God’s grace before our eyes and in our thinking; the straight track is the narrow way that God is guiding us along toward Himself.

Or we are setting a course of the narrow way by turning the tiller of grace that has us tacking into the wind of the world, the flesh, and the devil. We are always empowered by God, but He frequently accomplishes that through the effort of faith we put forth. This “steering” or “tack” is not a new level of works, but a clinging to God, the only source of life and godliness, joy and heaven.

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Bright new day
Mockingbird has his say
Lush and green
Rain brings Spring's early sheen

Season's start
Foliage and plumage art
All dainty
Nests and blooms aplenty

All things grow
Matter, energy flow
Life's cycle
Replenish, recycle

Young ones sup
Foal, calf, kitten, and pup
Insects buzz
Peach, leaf, and mildew fuzz

Remember 
God's mercies are tender 
He provides 
Creates, sustains, abides

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Mundane and tedious blights the soul
Clips the wings and dulls life's sheen
Off to the digs, the life of a mole
Outwardly lulled, inwardly lean

Nothing big but challenges galore
Wanting to rise to the top
But daily life pins you to the floor
While pleading that troubles would stop

Why do difficulties continue?
Why do my troubles persist?
Where's a fresh start and a new venue?
Does purpose in problems exist?

If you would be faithful in little
Later entrusted with much
The trials will test your faith and mettle
Spirit's power revealed as such

Hold on and trust in the daily tasks
Find His help in every trial
Cling to Him, doing all that He asks
Don't doubt, turning to denial

Embracing your God ordained story
Bear up under every test
Then to God will go all the glory
And your soul will find joy and rest

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Lord, You give us all good things
To enjoy and praise Your Name
Thanks for Your benefits rings
Always gracious, always the same

Difficulty You allow
Confusion part of what's planned
Hardship brings sweat to the brow
Some gifts are hard to understand

Trusting Your goodness the plan
Resist confusion and pain
Cling to God, unbelief ban
Let His rule and direction reign

Halt all you're not called to do
Do well what He's given you
Make it first Him to pursue
God will work well to see you through

Then peace will reign in your heart
Problems will not overwhelm
Each new day a brand new start
Your joy when God is at the helm

 

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I was asked, as one of the guests requested by the Eagle Scout candidate, if I would like to speak during the ceremony. I asked if I would be allowed to share Scripture. The response was, “That would be good because the pastor had a conflict and can’t come.” Following is an approximation of what I said then:

Eagle Scout Candidate (ESC- I used his name where this appears), congratulations on your accomplishment. I am here to give you a challenge. Your Scout Oath speaks of duty to God, Family, Country, Others, and Self. Life is about relationships. I add family to the list because, even though it is not included directly in your oath, it is the most fundamental unit of society, even above government, and is surely included in “others”. The Scout Promise and Path is about fulfilling these duties within these relationships.

My challenge today, ESC, pertains to the question, What is our duty to God?

Micah 6:8 says, He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” In the context before and after this verse the prophet points out that this requirement is not being fulfilled. Is it an unreasonable requirement? Paul quotes King David, the prophet (Psalm 36) when he says,There is none righteous, not even one; there is none who understands,there is none who seeks for God; all have turned aside, together they have become useless; there is none who does goodthere is not even one.” (Romans 3:10-12) Paul summarizes the problem just a few verses later: “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” (v.23) Is God being unreasonable to require what we cannot do? What is the solution? The solution is relationship with God. Hear what Ephesians 2:8-9 says: For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast.” The first step in duty to God is to know God through His Son, Jesus.  The next step is to live for God. These two steps cannot be reversed. You cannot simply serve God and be a nice person. You must know God through Jesus first, then He gives power to those who know Him by providing everything they need for life and godliness (2 Peter 1:2-3).

ESC, my challenge to you is this: Know God through Jesus, not know about God. Know God by receiving Jesus as your Savior. Secondly, know God regularly through His Word and through worship. Thirdly, serve family, country, and all people through the power God gives, giving Him the credit. This is your duty to God.

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Last week I was asked to film some running and interviews and be interviewed about exercising. After challenging students to come out for a set of couch to 5K training sessions to be sponsored by the track team, I gave them my challenge: “I have been exercising for over 40 years and here is what I’ve learned: Start now, start small, and start again.” Start now, because if you don’t you probably won’t. Start small and progress slowly or you will probably be overwhelmed and give up. Life is challenging. You get injured or sick or you have responsibilities that prevent you or old habits overtake you and you just sit. Don’t give up; start again. And the next time it happens start again and again until the habit makes it hard to quit.

When I walked away from being interviewed I realized that what I said could readily be applied to many areas of life. The spiritual application is one of perseverance and diligence in the pursuit of relationship with God. Our life with God begins and continues by grace through faith, but we are also urged to “work out your salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure”. (Philippians 2:12-13) God’s work in us results in us working. Our salvation is secure in Him but our sanctification is progressive. If it is reading the Bible regularly or studying it, or praying, or witnessing, or going to church for worship and fellowship: Start now, start small, start again. You’ve given in again to that sinful urge. Your old self wants it and that’s why you did it, but your new life in Christ wants to please Him and wants to break the slavery to sin. It is not just a matter of stop. You need to replace the sinful urge with a godly urge. Practice righteousness. Start now. Start small. Start again. You neglect the best for the alright and easy. Set your priorities in order which includes the best and down time to recuperate from intense activities. Start now. Start small. Start again. Getting in shape spiritually is not so different than getting in shape physically, though really it is because “…discipline yourself for the purpose of godliness;  for bodily discipline is only of little profit, but godliness is profitable for all things, since it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come.” (I Timothy 4:7-8) And furthermore, though you should “work out your salvation with fear and trembling;” simultaneously “…it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure.” (Philippians 2:13-14) And “our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places.” (Ephesians 6:12) Other than that (haha!) they are the same, so start now, start small, and start again. Coupled with the many promises that we “can do all things through Him who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:13) and “No temptation has overtaken you but such as is common to man; and God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, so that you will be able to endure it.” (I Corinthians 10:13) and “if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous” (I John 2:1) and “His divine power has granted to us everything pertaining to life and godliness, through the true knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and excellence,” (2 Peter 1:3), and more, then the least we can do is start now, start small, and start again.

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