Uncategorized

Thank God for the Protestant Reformation

498 years ago yesterday, a German monk walked to the door of a church in mid-size town and nailed a paper to the door. Today, we know that paper as Luther’s 95 Theses. He didn’t know or even suspect the firestorm that his 95 propositions would make, but God used that paper, distributed in the German language to spark the Protestant Reformation. Other men like John Wycliffe had come before, and men like John Calvin and Ulrich Zwingli would light the torch elsewhere.

As you observe and participate in our worship today, you will hear the Word of God read in the language of the people. You will receive the preached Word of God in light of a clear doctrine of justification by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone. The Roman Catholic church teaches grace, faith, and Christ, yet does not teach grace alone, faith alone, Christ alone, under the authority of the Word of God alone. You will hear the congregation corporately confess sins directly to God, not to me or some human priest. You will lift your voice with the voice of the people around you, as with one accord we sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs to God. That, my friends is the heritage of the Protestant Reformation. As we read, sing, pray, and preach this morning let’s do it with a heart of gratitude to God for the Reformers who courageously risked their lives so that we can worship to the glory of God alone.

The Scripture Cannot Be Broken

Introduction

This may make purists cringe a little bit, but I have an affinity for inspiring sports movies: Hoosiers, Rudy, The Rookie, etc. What some find cheesy, I find inspiring. In almost every one of these stories, there’s a moment when the protagonist gives a huge speech with inspiring music. The music makes you forget about the fact that the words may not be all that inspiring in themselves. This isn’t unique to sports movies though.

There are epic moments in many films where the hero stands and inspires the hearts of those around him to stand against overwhelming odds. And those moments are made all the more spine tingling by grand, sweeping soundtracks. One of my favorite speeches is given by one of my all-time favorite characters, Aragorn, at end of the Lord of the Rings trilogy:

Sons of Gondor! Of Rohan! My brothers! I see in your eyes the same fear that would take the heart of me! A day may come when the courage of men fails, when we forsake our friends and break all bonds of fellowship. But it is not this day. An hour of wolves and shattered shields when the age of Men comes crashing down! But it is not this day! This day we fight! By all that you hold dear on this good Earth, I bid you stand!

Storyline of Scripture

Scripture has its own sweep and drama and grand storyline. There are plot lines in the epic story of Scripture that are more momentous than others. The entire story is true, but there is background information, rising action, and initial climax in the redemptive work of Christ. The Bible points forward to the great final climax, the consummation of the age when Jesus returns as Christus Victor and sets all things right again.

Another thing I love about the Word of God is its ordinariness. It’s an ordinary means of God’s grace to us. There are moments I would set apart with fanfare, sweeping landscape shots, and inspiring music. But they happen in the midst of ordinary life. I’d like to introduce our series on the Word of God by looking at one of those ordinary moments. There are classic passages on the Word of God: Psalm 19, Psalm 119, 2 Timothy 3, 2 Peter 1. But one of the most remarkable statements about the nature of the Word of God comes in the middle of a conversation between Jesus and the Jews in John 10.

In one of many conflicts between Jesus and the proud religious leaders of his day, Jesus makes a statement—almost a parenthetical statement—and says, “Scripture cannot be broken” (John 10:35). God’s Word cannot be broken, cannot fail, because God cannot be broken; God can never fail.

From the very beginning, the testimony of God’s Word has stood faithful, unbreakable and true. And it is the Word of God itself that the enemies of God attack, because there is an integral link between God’s Word and God himself.

This is the nature of human interaction as well. We build relationships with our words and accept or reject one another on the basis of our words. Imagine going through one of the most difficult experiences of your life. You share the burden or hurt of that experience with your closest friend—someone you love and trust. And that person looks at you skeptically, maybe even questions what you’ve said. At the end of the day, it’s not merely your words that the person is questioning. No; you know they’re questioning you. They’re rejecting you. The same is true, but infinitely more so, of the relationship between God and God’s Word. To reject God’s Word is to reject God himself.

The very first interaction of God with his creation is his Word in Genesis 1—”God said, ‘Let there be light,’ and there was light.” And the same is true for God’s relationship to humanity. Genesis 1:28 And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.”

Attacks Come on the Word of God

“And God said …” The Word of God is the foundation upon which the revelation of God’s character is revealed to us. Yes, we have the revelation of creation, as Psalm 19 so beautifully says: “The heavens declare the glory of God.” But it’s the specific revelation of the Bible that shapes our understanding of general revelation. Without the Bible, we cannot know God. It’s for this reason that the very first attack on the relationship between God and man comes as a subtle attack on the Word of God.

Genesis 3:1 Now the serpent was more crafty than any other beast of the field that the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God actually say …” On the one hand, you have the enemies of God attempting to question, to tear down the Word of God. On the other, you have Jesus declaring, “The Scripture cannot be broken.”

Satan can question God’s words. He can even deceive us into believing a lie. Not only did Satan question God’s Word, he changed it: “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden?’” God had actually said almost the opposite: “You may eat of any tree, except one.” The Word of God can be questioned; we can be deceived, but the Word cannot be broken.

Conclusion

Everything that God had declared to be came true. Satan couldn’t undo the Word of God in the Garden. The prophets of Baal couldn’t break the Word of God at Mount Carmel. The proud religious leaders couldn’t break the Word of God in Jesus’ day. The mighty Roman Empire couldn’t destroy the Word in the days of the early church. The corrupt popes of the Middle Ages and Reformation couldn’t undo what God had declared. Neither could Hitler, Stalin, Mao Tse-tung, or the higher academic critics of the 20th and 21st centuries. In a Western world that increasingly prizes the fallible thoughts of men over the infallible Word of God, the Scripture cannot be broken.

It might not be set to music. It may not have grand sweeping shots of landscape, but it is magnificently, gloriously true: God’s Word will stand forever; the Bible will prevail. It can never, never fail. The Scripture cannot be broken. God has declared that this is true, so it is true.

To a world that says, “Did God actually say …,” we reply, “The Scripture cannot be broken.”

Reflections after Ten Years

imageThe post below is more personal than a typical post, but it seems appropriate on a day like today. I apologize in advance for its length.

Some days mark our lives more than others. Ten years ago today, July 29, 2005, was one of the most terribly memorable days of my life. My dad died suddenly while playing basketball. I and other family members were in the room and saw it happen. He was literally there one moment and gone the next. There have been many moments in the past 3652 days that I’ve had occasion to question God’s wisdom in taking my dad when He did. At the same time, there have been many times when I’ve been moved to prayer, worship, and faith in God’s sovereignty as I’ve reflected on all that God has done (in spite of still not knowing the answers to all of my questions).

There are times when that crystal-clear moment seems like it was yesterday, and there are other days when that instant feels like it was 100 years ago. Grief is a weird cycle of intense/dull/intense/dull/etc. Thankfully the immediately intense grief of that day has lessened, but that’s a pain in and of itself, as it reminds me that he’s been gone long enough for the pain to lessen somewhat—or at least morph into a different kind of pain. Sometimes the cycle is related to important dates (e.g., Father’s Day, birthday, holidays, etc.). But it’s often completely random—driving alone in the car when a memory comes to mind unbidden and unexpected.

Life has been marked with further losses since the passing of my dad, and we’ve grieved with others who have lost loved ones. Sadly, this world will leave all of us carrying burdens of grief and loss. The burdens look different for each person, but they’re real for us all. It’s times like these that teach the children of God what it means for God to be our Shepherd (Psalm 23), our Father (Psalm 103), and our Peace (Ephesians 2).

Even those who experience the same loss feel that loss differently. My mom lost a faithful husband of three decades. My youngest siblings lost a dad for their childhood and formative years. My middle siblings lost a father-figure guide for their terribly difficult adolescent and young adult years. And we older siblings lost a rock, guide, mentor, friend. We all miss him, but we all miss him through the grid of our relationship. Recognizing this allows us to empathize with each other yet also recognize that there are parts of the grief of others that we can never fully understand. The only one who can fully understand is Jesus the Priest who experienced life as we experienced it, who endured much greater grief than we’ll ever experience as he bore the wrath of God in our place. And I thank God for that; I thank God that Jesus is a friend for sinners.

This post is part reflection and part gratitude. And I’d like to thank God here for the dad He gave me:

1. I’m thankful that my dad had a unique combination of high expectations and full acceptance.

There was probably no one in the world harder on me than my dad, yet I also felt fully loved and accepted by him. I’m thankful for the way he pushed me in my work, in my play, and in my walk with Christ. I’m also thankful that I don’t ever remember feeling like failing would change his love for me one bit. My dad knew the worst things about me and still fully accepted me. In this way, he beautifully modeled the love of God for me.

2. I’m thankful that my dad consistently worked to make time for each of his nine kids.

Our house was. full. of. kids. We loved it, and I still love it. At the same time, being a father myself now, I recognize the sacrifice of time and love it took for him to get down on the floor and play “Candyland” with my youngest sister, then get up and hear the relational heartaches of his older children.

3. I’m thankful for the example of my dad and mom in their faithful perseverance in marriage.

A friend once told me, “Marriage is the best and the hardest thing that’s ever happened to me.” And he’s right. It’s awesome, and it’s hard. I’m thankful for my dad’s example of leadership and my mom’s example of commitment that led them to persevere in a loving relationship in good times and bad. I never thought their relationship was perfect (I lived with them, after all—like my kids do with me), but it was awesome to experience a double date with my parents the night before my dad died and see their fresh love in the 30th year of their marriage.

4. I’m thankful for my dad’s work ethic.

I’ve never known anyone who worked harder than my dad. “Work hard; play hard,” he said.  And we did. I’m thankful that he passed that legacy to his kids and urged us to fight through and repent of childish laziness.

5. I’m thankful for my dad’s foresight.

My dad worked at a church my entire life and managed a household of nine children. Yet he planned ahead for provision for his family, in case he were ever absent. He didn’t expect to be gone, but he had prepared for that day. When I was twelve or thirteen, my dad had me sit down and write out how many hours I’d need to work at a given wage to pay my way through college. He expected all of us to pay our way, but he helped prepare us for that reality. I graduated college with a car, a computer, and some cash in the bank—thanks to my dad.

6. I’m thankful that my dad loved people.

It was shocking to see some 3000 people show up to my dad’s visitation and to hear story after story of people he had blessed or encouraged. I had no idea. He was just my dad. Yet he somehow made time for us and also managed to touch the lives of thousands of other people. It was an overwhelming moment and is still a legacy I treasure.

7. I’m thankful that my dad loved telling people about Jesus.

He was a faithful, persistent witness who spoke the gospel and lived the gospel. He shared the gospel with two non-Christian men the day he died. His lifestyle of evangelism is convicting and motivating.

8. I’m thankful that my dad loved his local church.

My dad was a businessman with a pastor’s heart. He spent his life serving the church vocationally as a financial administrator, and he made sure his family loved and served the church too. If the doors were open, we were there. And we loved it. He helped me process the flaws of church and of people without turning my back on the church and the people in it. That’s a legacy that is a huge gift to me, a deeply flawed pastor of a congregation of flawed people.

9. I’m thankful that my dad (and mostly my mom, I’ll admit…) gave me eight siblings/friends.

It was awesome growing up, and it’s awesome having a family/team of people that love each other, are pulling the same direction, and think about life roughly through the same grid. I loved working with them and playing with them growing up, and I love talking to them and hearing about their lives now.

10. I’m thankful that my dad was a man of conviction and courage.

I saw my dad take courageous stands in great and small ways. Sometimes it was the courage of relationship—being willing to say a difficult thing—and other times it was courage of integrity. I will never forget the eighteen months he spent graciously pointing out the proud and selfish way I was treating others as I proudly and selfishly ignored him … until one day God’s Spirit opened my eyes and moved me to tearful repentance through my dad’s courageous persistence.

11. I’m thankful I had 24 years with my dad and that I get to see him again.

Some have much less. I’m so thankful. And I’m grateful that my dad knew Jesus and led me to know Him too. It was my dad that led me to Jesus 30 years ago, and because of that we’ll get to sing “Jesus, Thank You” together one day.

Daddy, I (we) miss you, love you, and can’t wait to see you again.

“Homesick” by MercyMe

You’re in a better place, I’ve heard a thousand times,
And at least a thousand times I’ve rejoiced for you.
But the reason why I’m broken, the reason why I cry
Is how long must I wait to be with you?

Help me, Lord, cause I don’t understand your ways.
The reason why, I wonder if I’ll ever know.
But, even if you showed me, the hurt would be the same,
Cause I’m still here so far away from home.

In Christ, there are no goodbyes,
And in Christ, there is no end!
So I’ll hold onto Jesus with all that I have,
To see you again,
To see you again.

And I close my eyes, and I see your face.
If home’s where my heart is, then I’m out of place.
Lord, won’t you give me strength to make it through somehow?
I’ve never been more homesick than now.

Looking for Margin

Margin is the space to rest, to recharge, to enjoy life with those we love … space to decompress and breathe.

As I get older, the pace of life seems to pick up more and more. Occasionally, I’ll hear someone (often a teenager) comment, “I’m bored.” I honestly can’t remember being bored—other than perhaps occasionally during a class lecture that was particularly tedious. But as far as looking for something to stimulate my mind when I had some “free” time? I just can’t remember that happening.

Life seems to bring a different problem my way—the need for breathing room. You might call this looking for margin. There was a time in my adult life when it was just me … then just me and my wife … then me and my wife and a kid … and then me and my wife and two kids … But I don’t think that margin is about the number of people involved in my life (though increased relationships and responsibility do affect margin).

Every person has the same number of hours in a day and in a week. My days and hours fill up, whether I fill them up or not. So … I’m learning that the only way to have margin is to create margin intentionally, by making sure that there is time for the most important things in life: my relationship with God and local church, my relationships with my wife and kids, and my relationships with friends and other family.

Life will run away with you if you let it; sometimes it even runs over you! Take intentional steps to create margin in your life—for worship, for rest … and yes, even for fun. God designed us to live life with rhythm and margin, and it takes discipline to create margin for the most important things. If you don’t live life with intentionality, you’ll look at your hectic schedule one day and realize that life is out of control.

My fear in life isn’t that I won’t get anything done. It’s that I’ll spend my life doing things that don’t matter or doing things that don’t matter the most.

Love into Light: The Gospel, the Homosexual, and the Church

Peter Hubbard's book Love into Light: The Gospel, the Homosexual, and the Church is a remarkable gift to the church at a crucial time. As a pastor, I get paid to read and study a fair number of books, and I'd say there are only a couple of books I've read in the last five years that are paradigm-altering. This is one of those books.

Love into Light is easy to read, yet deep. “This book is not a counseling manual or a comprehensive theology of homosexuality. Neither is it a political action plan. I think of it more as a plea, an appeal to the church to rethink the way we talk about SSA (same sex attraction) (p. 15).” Hubbard succeeds in his goal of reshaping the thinking of Christians about homosexuality.

I've written briefly about how to respond to a friend who is openly homosexual, and I've done a fair bit of thinking through the best way of relating to people with SSA. But Hubbard's book challenged my thinking, convicted me of ungodly prejudice, and demonstrated to me how little I understand the struggle with SSA. Love into Light strikes the right balance of truth and love, of comfort and confrontation.

Perhaps the greatest mark of authority in Hubbard's writing is that you can tell he personally knows and has relationships with homosexuals and people that struggle with SSA. We Christians often approach issues like this with clinical words that fail to grasp the emotion and complexity of a person's struggle. We seem to “get” pornography, drug addiction, drunkenness, etc. However, we “weird out” when it comes to SSA. One thing that has slowly reshaped my thinking about SSA for years is that the same New Testament passage condemning homosexuality also condemns disobedience to parents. I'm not equating disobedience and homosexuality on every level, but I believe that we need to rethink how we approach the issues.

Hubbard talks about an encounter that dramatically changed the way he related to homosexuals: “As I began to listen to and speak with homosexual men who explained their convictions and confronted my perspective, my heart was moved. No longer were 'gays' faceless voting blocks who were determined to destroy the country I loved. They are image bearers. Sinners. Part of the 'all we like sheep' who 'have gone astray' (p. 127).”

Hubbard understands compassion. He also understands truth. There are moments when some believers will feel uncomfortable with the level of empathy Hubbard calls us to. There are times when some more “tolerant” believers will feel confronted by the truth that homosexuality is indeed sin. In all of this, though, there is an underlying understanding that SSA is real and must be approached with both truth and compassion. Truth, without compassion, leads to self-righteous condemnation. Compassion, without truth, leads to blind acceptance of sin. We must lovingly confront sin with true compassion.

I highly recommend this book. It has reshaped and is continuing to reshape my thinking about SSA. I believe it will do the same for you.

A couple of final notes:

  • The book is worth buying merely for chapter 6, “Celibacy/Marriage.” It's one of the most helpful resources I've seen on singleness and marriage.
  • The book's website offers a number of additional helpful resources at www.loveintolight.com.