Dec 23 2010

One Gospel — it’s what Christmas is all about

From a Reformation Day sermon, as posted by Paul McCain:

The different ways people read God’s Word are not merely variations on a theme but radically different Gospels.  The Reformation of Luther is not about competing interpretations but about the one Gospel which is true and others which are false.  If you read St. Paul’s letters, you hear him warn the people against departing from the truth that He delivered to them.  He was not offering one version of the truth but the only truth that saves — the truth of Jesus Christ. We face exactly the same challenge today.

Christianity is not the domain of differing but equally true ideas about God.  Christianity is not some umbrella religion of many different truths that all claim to be right.  Christianity is about the one, true Gospel that has the power to forgive, save, and give eternal life.  The other gospels are false gospels that are powerless to do anything for you.  Luther’s battle was not with a pope or a council but with a false gospel which had robbed the Church of the Word that does what it says, delivers what it promises, and bestows what it speaks.

Merry Christmas!


Oct 2 2010

New at The Gospel Uncensored

Gospel Certainty

I’ve had the following quotation by Martin Luther open on my desktop for the past couple of weeks, thanks to my friend Steve:

“Let us thank God, therefore, that we have been delivered from this monster of uncertainty and that now we can believe for a certainty that the Holy Spirit is crying and issuing that sigh too deep for words in our hearts.

And this is our foundation:

The gospel commands us to look, not at our own good deeds or perfection, but at God as he promises, and at Christ himself, the Mediator…

Read more here.


Aug 28 2010

Even in the Darkest Moments

For children, as you may recall, the world is a very unsettling place. Parents often take the place of God for children, which is one of the reasons I believe God invented them. Parents model God to their children. Parents, though, are all too human (I’m a parent, so I am painfully aware of this fact); sometimes they let us down. However, I understood early on that while parents and other people can and will fail us, God never fails. He is perfectly trustworthy, always, even when it seems He isn’t listening.

Of course, the reality about trusting God is that you don’t need to do it — or at least it’s quite easy — when everything is going well. When we really need to trust God, it’s typically because we’re in some kind of crisis. Either we are fearful of the future, or we are fearful of the present. We find ourselves in some situation where we know we lack control, and distrust our own ability and the abilities of those around us.

The rest of the time, we probably don’t even think about trusting in God; we can take God for granted. Even when we think we are trusting God, often we are merely trusting in something we can see, and imagine that God is standing behind the scenes, pulling strings like some invisible Geppetto. For example, I can trust God for my finances because I happen to have money in the bank. If that were not the case, I’m sure I’d look at life a bit differently.

I do hate when my ability to trust in God is really tested. The first time I can recall really having my faith challenged was the day before my fourteenth birthday. We were having a terrible rainstorm, and I was in our entryway trying to keep rain from pouring under the door, when my aunt came bursting in. Within a few moments we understood that my uncle had been in a terrible car accident at an intersection about a half-mile from my house. Had it not been storming so hard, we probably could have heard the impact and could have seen the crash site (I lived on a country gravel road). Of course, had it not been raining so hard, my uncle may have seen the other car coming.

I recall sitting in our car outside the hospital emergency room, praying harder than I had ever prayed in my life that my uncle would be okay. Eventually, my parents came out to tell me he had been dead at the scene.

At that moment, I was confused. Could we or could we not trust God? Why were my prayers completely ignored? I don’t recall how I eventually worked through the issues, but I do know that my faith in God remained, even if I never understood why God didn’t save my favorite uncle.

Trust is like grace; you aren’t aware of how much you need it until you need it. The whole concept of trusting God would be moot if we didn’t have the need to trust in God. Because we live in an imperfect “world, with devils filled” that “should threaten to undo us,” as Martin Luther wrote (A Mighty Fortress), our ability to trust will be tested. This is not to say that God “tests” our faith to see whether He’ll save us or not. Rather, I think it’s like testing a parachute — you only really know it works after you’ve jumped out of the plane.

I am not claiming any kind of unique ability to trust; in fact, I’ll claim the opposite. I admittedly am a very weak and often undisciplined person. I have never been “religious” simply because I fail at it so miserably. I require loads of grace, even to get through one day. Part of the grace that I have been given is the knowledge that God is there, and that I have to trust Him, no matter what.

I am often unable to put on that strong, “man of faith” persona that some people expect from Christians. I don’t think trust requires us to be brave or strong at all. Trust by definition requires us to be weak, to recognize that we’re completely helpless without God. There are times when I am totally freaking out. I have occasional panic attacks. I have suffered from nearly every stress-related condition you can think of. However, deep down I know without a doubt that God is there, and I have no choice but to trust Him, even — or perhaps especially — in the darkest moments.

Questions:

  1. Think back to your childhood; how did you learn to trust?
  2. When has your ability to trust been really put to the test?


Jul 31 2010

From Luther, With Love

Growing up Lutheran, I was well acquainted with Martin Luther. As I’ll talk about a bit later, he has always been one of my heroes. Luther, like many Roman Catholics of his day (not to mention most contemporary evangelicals), was heavily influenced by St. Augustine, with his doctrines of man’s total depravity, original sin, and inherited guilt.As anyone who has seen the movie Luther knows, Brother Martin struggled with his sin, his guilt, and the need to know that he was forgiven.

The torment of his guilt was such that when he finally saw that God operated by grace and love and not by our ability to live pious lives or follow men’s rules, he was willing to die rather than retract his teaching. At the Diet of Worms in 1521, Luther responded to the demand that he recant with these words:

Unless I am convinced by the testimony of the Scriptures or by clear reason (for I do not trust either in the pope or in councils alone, since it is well known that they have often erred and contradicted themselves), I am bound by the Scriptures I have quoted and my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and will not recant anything, since it is neither safe nor right to go against conscience. May God help me. Amen.

Like Luther, the reformer John Calvin was also greatly influenced by Augustine, and we can see Calvin’s Augustinian influence throughout much of the contemporary evangelical church, even in groups who do not identify themselves as Calvinists. However, Luther discovered what Calvin seemed to miss: The primacy of God’s Love. It was the knowledge that God was motivated by His love for us – rather than the need for God to assert His holiness, vengeance, or glory – that finally set Luther free.

I have no doubt that Luther’s beliefs were firmly founded on his reading of Scripture, as he stated at Worms, though I suspect his own personal experience of grace and God’s love that accompanied his theological breakthrough reinforced his commitment to the Gospel. Luther wrote,

“Thereupon I felt myself to be reborn and to have gone through an open door into paradise. The whole of scripture took on a new meaning, and whereas before the ‘righteousness of God’ had filled me with hate, now it became to me inexpressibly sweet in greater love. This passage of Paul became to me a gate to heaven . . . .”

Having this revelation of God’s love, Luther was able to make such bold statements as, “Love God and do as you please” and the oft-quoted and often misunderstood, “Sin boldly.” Anyone who has read Luther will know that by no means was Luther encouraging licentiousness or sinfulness. Rather, Luther was convinced that we did not need to become holy before we can approach God; furthermore, he knew that we couldn’t if we tried. Being human, we will fail – however, that should not keep us from drawing near to God. As the writer of Hebrews said, “Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need. (Heb. 4:16 KJV)”

How else can we ever hope to boldly and with confidence (Heb. 10:19) enter God’s throne room, unless we are first convinced of God’s love for us? Even if we fully believe in the mechanics and legalities of our salvation, without being confident of God’s love, walking into God’s presence would give us a moment of pause. Is He perhaps just a little angry that we got in? Should I have given a dollar to that homeless man yesterday, or tithed more regularly? Will I be one of those to whom God will say, “I don’t know you?”

The true legacy that Luther gave to the Evangelical movement (which later became known as the Lutheran Church) is this certainty that we are indeed loved by God, the Creator of the universe.

It was, then, this rich heritage into which I was born, and for which I am eternally grateful.

Questions:

  1. Do you have a sense of having received a spiritual legacy, either personally, or in the church group you belong to?
  2. How does this flavor your present spiritual experience?