Wednesday, October 31, 2012

October 31, 1517: A New Beginning

In the early 1500's, a young German monk named Martin Luther underwent a deep crisis of faith. He came out of this dark time after reading Romans 1:17 and understanding its implications: No longer would he be plagued with doubts about his right-standing before a wrathful God. The righteousness he so desperately sought was not a result of his striving but God's declaring righteous those who believed in Christ. This changed Martin Luther's life. This changed the world.

In 1517, a man named Johann Tetzel came to Wittenberg to sell indulgences. At this time, the Church taught that the souls of dead Christians must spend time in a place called Purgatory, doing penance for sins, until they were worthy to enter heaven. This totally unbiblical teaching in effect trampled the atoning blood of Christ underfoot.

Someone had come up with the idea that indulgences might be sold not just for the living, but to release those souls trapped in Purgatory. Tetzel even had a catchy jingle to illustrate this: “When the coin in the coffer rings, the soul from Purgatory springs.” Some within the Church had felt that this was similar to the Pharisee’s burdening of the people that Jesus had condemned in Matthew 23:4.

Luther was angered and saddened at this exploitation of the people’s fears and superstitions, fears and superstitions which had been taught to them by the very Church which Christ had entrusted with the care of their souls (Matthew 28:19-20).

On October 31, 1517, Luther posted 95 theses (or points) in public (the story goes that he posted them on the chapel door of Wittenberg castle), challenging anyone who disagreed to debate him publicly. The theses attacked the selling of indulgences. Luther stopped short of blaming the pope, but instead blamed the advisors who surrounded him.

As we have seen, God works, in the fullness of time, to accomplish His ends. So between the time when Wycliffe distributed hand-written copies of his Bible translation and the time Luther posted his 95 Theses, something wonderful had happened.

In about 1440, a man named Johannes Gutenberg invented the movable type printing press, making possible the mass production of printed matter. The result of this was that Luther’s 95 Theses were spread across Germany in a few weeks, and across Europe in a matter of months.

Of course the Church got wind of this and was very displeased. The pope himself compared Luther to a wild hog in a vineyard. In days gone by, Luther might have been very quickly burned at the stake. Here we see another working of God’s providence.

The ruler of Saxony was a devout man known as Frederick the Wise. Though he had never met Luther, Luther had a reputation across Germany as a learned man and a skilled preacher and teacher. Frederick was quite proud to have this man as head of the theology department at Wittenberg’s university. He blocked all attempts to have Luther brought before the Church authorities.

The Church’s efforts to silence Luther reached their climax at the Diet of Worms (a council of the German princes) in 1521. This was a meeting called by the Holy Roman Emperor to discuss mostly civil matters. It must be noted that the pope tried to use this council for his own purpose: to stop Luther.

When asked point-blank by the council to recant (take back) his words, he refused. He stood by all that he had preached or written. “My conscience is bound to the Word of God,” he said. He stood before the Holy Roman Emperor and refused , on the authority of Holy Scripture and his own conscience, to back down.

Finally, the Diet ordered Luther to return to Wittenberg and not to preach. The Church had lost in its efforts to have the state silence him. It is a testimony to man’s fallen nature that, instead of ceasing to persecute Luther, Church officials set a plan in motion to kidnap and arrest him. Frederick beat them to the punch and had his own men grab Luther and place him out of harm’s way in Wartburg Castle, in a remote part of Frederick’s realm.

For the next ten months, Luther remained at Wartburg and spent most of his time writing. He finished his German translation of the Bible during this period. Meanwhile, across Germany, his works had ignited the flames of the Reformation.

Across the rest of Europe, as well, the news spread and men began to read and preach the Word of God again.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

What About Evil?

Could be the heaviest theological question ever. There are as many ideas on the origin of evil as there are people pondering the question. The general consensus: We don't know!

It is said that "Fools rush in where angels (or wise men) fear to tread." That being said, I hope at least to be a "fool for Christ."

Please bear with me while I define my terms. I'll get to the point, I promise. Will you agree with my point? No promises.

We are created in God's image. We model some of his character traits: creativity, ability to express love, desire for relationships, self-knowledge or awareness. There are others, but you get the idea.

This self-awareness (God's covenant name is I AM) in humanity is something that has been on my mind.

Here in the Reformed neck of the woods, we hold to God's sovereignty. God is autonomous; self-existent.

In man's case, it would seem that self-realization ("I think, therefore I am"), carries with it a drive toward autonomy ("you will be like God"-Gen 3:5b).

Autonomy is from the Greek (autos self; nomos law). Here is a definition from the redneck dictionary: auto-no-my or "No! My Self!

Were Adam and Eve created "very good?" Yes. Did God foresee the fall? Yes. Is God the author of evil? No.

It would seem that self-awareness carries with it the desire for self-rule (Lucifer, right?). I've seen it described as a vacuum. Or maybe a law of moral physics (every action has an equal and opposite reaction). In other words, the very existence of good (God) may explain the existence of evil.

Like I said, heavy stuff. Here's what I do know: as far as personal evil is concerned, I don't have to look far to place the blame. It would be comforting to say, as Eve and Geraldine did, "The devil made me do it!"

But I am aware of a "desperately wicked and deceitful heart (Jeremiah 17:9) and like David, "my sin is ever before me (Psalm 51:3b).

Where DID evil come from? Here is a better question: "Who will rescue me from this body of death?" (Romans 7:24b) Paul's answer: "Thanks be to God-through Jesus Christ our Lord!" (Romans 7:25)

Monday, October 22, 2012

I, Monster

I love my pastor. He has the most eclectic tastes of anyone I've ever known. Except in his theology.

He loves bluegrass music. He also loves Pink Floyd (?!). He once cited all seven verses of Bob Dylan's "You're Gonna Have to Serve Somebody" in a sermon. Dylan is right of course.

So Billy is reading Mary Shelley's book, "Frankenstein."  In his introduction to yesterday's sermon, he speaks of the passage in the book where the creature sees his own reflection  for the first time. In a pool of water. And discovers that he is a monster: essentially a dead thing, but animated somehow with the spark of life.

We then stand, as always, for the reading of God's Word. First we pray, then Billy reads Romans 3:9-20.

These words leapt off the pages of my Bible at me:

...there is no one who does good,
not even one.
Their throats are open graves;
their tongues practice deceit.
The poison of vipers is on their lips.
Their mouths are full of cursing and bitterness.
Their feet are swift to shed blood;
ruin and misery mark their ways,
and the way of peace they do not know.
There is no fear of God before their eyes.

See what I mean?


Thursday, October 18, 2012

Give Your Heart to Jesus

Saw this on a church sign today. On a whim, I searched the phrase, "give your heart," on Blue Letter Bible's search engine, on every translation of the Bible that they have available (8 or 10 or so).

Nothing there. Hmmm. 3 searches did bring up a partial result-Ezekiel 36:26. The heart offered in this verse is not the one given up to God by the repentant believer. No.

Oddly, God speaks here of giving a new heart to the sinner so he CAN believe. Not the same thing at all.

I decided to try this from a different angle. Everybody knows the old hymn, "I Have Decided to Follow Jesus." I searched for "decided" and "follow" in the same sentence. A little bit better luck this time.

John 1:43 came up 4 times. You know, where Jesus "decided" to go to Galilee and told Phillip, "'follow' me." Hmm. Still not the same thing.

Bro. Billy will be preaching in Romans this Sunday. Chapter 3, verses 9-20. If you're in the neighborhood, come on by. I think the key verse is probably...there is no one who understands, no one who seeks God. -Romans 3:11

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

It's a Gift

A man can only receive what is given him from heaven.-John 3:27b

One of many reminders in scripture that our salvation is a product of God's gracious giving.

But then again, what isn't? I'm sure you've compiled this list in your head: our very lives, our breath, our bodies, our health, loving families, jobs (even if we sometimes hate them), friends, a place to worship with like-minded believers. We praise and thank God for these gifts, as we call out to him daily in our prayers.

There are other gifts. Some of these are so hard to be thankful for:
trials, temptations, conflict within the family and within the Body of Christ, seasons of spiritual dryness. We are to be thankful for these gifts(?) as well.

I am thankful for the gift of the Holy Spirit to enable me to render thanks.

Here is a thing. I struggle with sin and I am reminded: what hatred of sin I have is a gift; what ability I have to resist it is a gift. I heed the call to mortify sin and I grow discouraged. My Enemy is strong and very subtle.

Then I am reminded that the One that is within me is stronger than the one that is in the world. It's as though Christ were saying, "Get over yourself! Victory is mine. I have defeated sin and the devil. Now this righteousness of mine I give to you. I have declared you righteous. It's a gift. Get it?"

Help me, O LORD to remember what I have and where I got it.

For who makes you different from anyone else? What do you have that you did not receive? -1 Corinthians 4:7a