“Many are the plans in the mind of a man,
but it is the purpose of the LORD that will stand…
this is God, our God forever and ever.
He will guide us forever.”
Proverbs 19:21, Psalm 48:14
Recently my wife and I went to an Astros game in Houston, TX. We both were nervous about our 9-month old daughter being with us. Yes, we have become those “crazy” parents that tote our child around everywhere. There were all sorts of unknowns and “what-if’s” about the day game: what if she gets too hot? What if the retractable stadium roof is open? Or closed? What if the screaming fans are too loud? What if someone spills their popcorn or beer on her? What if she disrupts someone’s ball game experience? The list was endless!
After arriving at the stadium, we began shuffling through the large crowds of people to find our seats. We were sitting in Section 327, Row 1. As we approached our section, we passed by an interesting side-room to our left that read Mother’s Room. My wife paused for a moment to read about this Mother’s Room. Turns out, it was for nursing mothers at the stadium. The rules were simple: check in, walk through the lobby-like entrance and head into a smaller room that contained a couch and chairs for mothers who needed to nurse or take care of any other baby-related matters during the game.
It was a relief to have the option, but we figured there wouldn’t be a need to visit the room until close to the end of the game. We got some “healthy” ball-park food, found our seats, STOOD for the National Anthem and were off to a great day at Minute Maid Park! Our daughter was enjoying the game, the retractable roof was closed, the temperature was enjoyable, everything was purring right along UNTIL – the 4th inning: the Astros hit a single-home run barely over the back wall (good news). From where we were sitting, we thought it was a double (bad news). All the sudden, BOOM! The Astros homerun cannon erupted and the entire stadium shook from the enormous explosion! The fans burst into cheers, while our daughter immediately burst into tears, screaming for her life!
My wife and I panicked – How would we calm her down? Then, we both looked at each other and said, “The Mother’s Room!” My wife quickly scurried away with our daughter while understanding and sympathetic fans let her pass by. Two innings later, she returned with our daughter grinning from ear to ear. She then told me something that immediately made us give thanks to God: there was only ONE Mother’s Room in the entire stadium and it“just so happened” to be in the exact same section I had picked tickets for almost two months earlier. I had no idea the Mother’s Room even existed. But you know who did? GOD. God knew that we as “newbie” parents wouldn’t know anything about the Astros home-run cannon and how we would need the Mother’s Room we both took for granted as we passed by only four innings ago!
God is the Master Planner. The words “chance, coincidence, random, or luck” shouldn’t exist in your vocabulary, because they surely DO NOT exist in God’s. Never take for granted how things pan out for you this month, whether it goes the way you expected or not. God has a plan for your life and He’s asking that you trust Him to lead you in all things. He’s the only one who knows when you’ll need the next Mother’s Room in your own life – and if you allow Him to lead you, the results are far greater than you could ever imagine (Romans 8:37-39).
"For creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it,
in hope that the creation itself would be set free from its bondage to corruption and
obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God." Romans 8:20-21
The challenge was easy - or so I thought. My youth group students had been begging for the last three months to go camping. After finding a campsite for us, we set a date, held a fundraiser, and were all set to have a great weekend back in the fall of 2015.
Ironically, the day of the trip, all the boys scheduled to come backed out. I found myself in a situation I never saw coming: a camping trip with FOUR teenage girls, my wife, and me. To say I needed prayer was an understatement! As the girls arrived at the church before we hit the road, all they did was play on their cellphones, their eyes silently fixated on the screen, their thumbs lazily scrolling up and down. After packing up the last bit of luggage, I gathered the girls together and presented them with a simple challenge: if the girls agreed to leave their cellphones in the van ALL WEEKEND (a whopping 48 hours), Roberta and I would give them an ancient piece of technology known as a disposable camera that could take 24 pictures of our trip (we even had to show them what the wheel did on the top to wind the next picture). If they accepted the challenge, at the end of the trip, they could turn in their cameras and I would develop their pictures for FREE!
Once the terms of the challenge were declared, there was a long pause of hesitation and silence. Finally, one of the girls chipped in, "I'll do it!" Her response led to the other three girls following suit. I took their phones, turned them off, and locked them up for the weekend (after letting their parents know they could contact me). We started driving, and listening to their conversations was amusing at first: "This is so cool... I've never done anything like this!" "What are we supposed to do all weekend?" "I guess my boyfriend will be worried about me..." and so forth. However, by the end of the first night, the youth girls began to plot mutiny.
To say the weekend was emotionally painful is being polite. The complaining was endless. All they could think about was getting their phones back. They even began counting down the hours to when that would be. On the way back home, I found myself frustrated. The girls had missed the entire point of the challenge and the campout: LOOK PAST YOURSELF! They had missed all the exciting things to see at Rodney, the Windsor Ruins, Emerald Mound, Natchez, and more. When we returned to the church and unpacked, they were like salivating dogs waiting for their photos developed was eclipsed by the love of their phones.
Do they remember this camping trip years later? Maybe, maybe not. Did anything good come from it? I believe so, but at times, it's challenging to see what good exactly. My former youth students were casualties of a new phobia coined by scientists by Iowa State University known as nomophobia, meaning "no mobile phone phobia". It's the fear of not having your cellphone. Scientists have also discovered that we remember significant life events more without our phones.
The challenge, I think, is easy for you this month: put your phone down and spend time with God, the family and friends He has given you, and so on. Get outside (even when it's 90 degrees by 11:00 am) and spend time in His creation. Look past your Facebook wall, Instagram, and Twitter accounts, because at the end of the day, you're not as important as you think. God is important as you think. God is important, and He longs to have a meaningful, genuine, more than one hour a week relationship with YOU. Let Him. We are called to be so much more and give so much more to Him than our culture tell us. God calls us His "ambassadors of Christ" (2 Corinthians 5:20). Does your life mirror that title and the challenge to serve? Are you the latest victim in denial of nomophobia? How many times did you pick up your phone while attempting to read this? Look beyond yourself this month and serve the Lord in all things (1 Corinthians 10:31).
“But someone will say, “You have faith and I have works.”
Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works.
You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe – and shudder!” James 2:18-19
Most of the large boxes were unpacked, furniture and beds all set up – we looked at each other with joy, elated that we had moved into our first house in Madison, MS. Sound asleep, around 3:30am in the morning, suddenly both of us were awakened to a slight rattling of the bedroom windows. There was a large humming noise coming from outside. “What is that?” we asked each other. Seconds later, an ominous horn emitted sounds of eerie terror! It was a train blowing its horn as it rushed through the neighborhood, keeping us awake for the next half-hour. “Surely the train is running late, I bet it won’t happen again” I said to my wife, assuring her that our sleep schedules wouldn’t be further disturbed.
Little did we know that this train zoomed through the neighborhood the same time every night, blaring the same horn for a good 10-15 seconds, causing everyone to toss in their beds with aggravation, waiting for silence to return. I couldn’t begin to imagine what the neighbors thought who lived directly behind the railroad – what a blessing it was we were two blocks away! How in the world were we going to get used to this train disturbing our sleep?
About a month later (if that long), I was working out in the yard when a train came by around 4:00pm. As I continued cutting the grass, I thought, “I haven’t heard the train in the middle of the night for a while…I guess it stopped.” To my chagrin, that night I was awakened by the same train at it’s usual 3:30am pass-through time. I realized that I had only grown accustomed to the noise, so much so, that I could completely block it out without even trying. Give or take a week, blocking out the train horn only took a month!
For the next 3 years before moving to Natchez, the train didn’t bother us any longer. Sure, every once in a while it would wake us up, reminding us it was still there, but 99 times out of 100, we slept peacefully through the noise. Why share this story with you? So you can feel sorry for me and all the sleep I “lost” while living in Madison? Not at all. I share this because whether we want to admit this openly or not, we are exactly like this when it comes to hearing the gospel of Jesus Christ preached in the South. We have grown accustomed to the “noise” our teachers and preachers of God’s Word make multiple times a week. The reason is that yearly, dare I say, daily – our attention spans are getting shorter and shorter. The more you and I drift away from active listening and learning, the more you and I become living examples of 2 Timothy 4: “The time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths.”
Are you still listening to God’s Word? And not only that, RESPONDING to God’s Word? Let me ask you this: What’s the difference between your faith and the faith of a demon? As James taught us, “even the demons believe,” and there is a RESPONSE to their beliefs – FEAR. Do you believe? And if so, does it cause genuine, God-fearing, God-serving, God-loving responses? Or have you and I grown numb? Have we blocked out the “noise” of God’s Word altogether and moved on to other non-substantial things where we simply shift positions in our beds at night, continuing to sleep? Pray for your hearts to be moved, pierced, fired up, and RESPONSIVE to the Gospel this week! The train horn continues to blow for Christ’s everlasting kingdom. Are you heeding its call? “The sheep hear His voice, and He calls His own sheep by name and leads them out,” John 10:3.
"Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us.
We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.” 2 Corinthians 5:20
“The Cannibals! You will be eaten by the Cannibals!” said the old man, arguing why this new, young missionary from Scotland shouldn’t travel the South Seas. The 32-year old missionary, John G. Paton, replied, “Sir, you are advanced in years now, soon to be laid in the grave, there to be eaten by worms; I confess to you, that if I can but live and die serving and honoring the Lord Jesus, it will make no difference to me whether I am eaten by Cannibals or worms – and in the Great Day of Jesus’ return, my resurrection body will arise as fair as yours in the likeness of our Redeemer.” With this one witty retort, a missionary was born who faithfully served God during his time on the New Hebrides islands in the South Pacific from 1858-1881.
As John and his pregnant wife, Mary, arrived on the island of Tanna in the South Pacific in 1858, they were greeted by painted “savages”, curious why the white man had come to their island to help them and point them to a new god, a new Lord – Jesus Christ. Three months after they arrived, Mary gave birth to their first son, Peter – but, tragically, Mary died almost three weeks later, followed by Peter at only 36 days old. John buried them together and spent many nights sleeping on their graves to protect their bodies from being eaten. Despite all the animosity from the natives, “supporters” back home, other missionaries criticizing his work, and merchant traders – his love for Jesus and spreading the gospel continued against all odds. Paton’s courage and trust in God’s sovereignty couldn’t be shaken. His faith was unbreakable. As Isaiah the prophet reminds us, “if you are not firm in faith, you will not be firm at all,” Isaiah 7:9.
Paton went on to do many wonderful things as a missionary for the Lord in his life. He is still regarded as one of the greatest missionaries the world has ever known. The irony is that many times in his life, he stated he felt miserable, abandoned, doubtful, and powerless. So why in the world continue? Isn’t the Christian life supposed to be easy? Why should we continue when we might feel exactly the same way as Paton? While Jesus was on the road to Jerusalem from Galilee with his disciples in John 6, he began to teach the crowds how he was the Bread of Life and whoever came to him would never hunger or thirst ever again. Sadly, in John 6:60-71, many of Jesus’ followers didn’t like this simple fact, so they turned back, never following him again. They convinced themselves that THEY could EARN eternity alone. That’s not how the Gospel works. Jesus teaches clearly that by faith in Him, even if we’ve messed up 1,000 times today already – if we still have an unshakeable FAITH in Christ and believe He is the ONLY WAY to everlasting life – we will hear the words one day, “Well done, my good and faithful servant.”
John G. Paton knew this and still pressed on to teach the GOSPEL, because the Gospel was and still is the only way to ETERNITY. As the familiar hymn says, “Nothing in my hands I bring, simply to thy cross I cling.” The hope is that we aren’t alone and we never have been. Whatever trial or obstacle that stands in your way this month, thank God that through faith in Him, we have the greatest gift of all coming: eternal life with Jesus Christ! “Be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain,” 1 Corinthians 15:58!
‘And he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”
And He said to him, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with Me in Paradise.”’ Luke 23:42-43
We don’t know his name. We’re never told how old he was, what his favorite food was, where he grew up, how many siblings he had, what he did for a living – all we know is that he was bad. He was possibly coined a bad seed or the black sheep of his family. His rebellious and careless lifestyle had led him to one destination: a cross. Crucifixion was saved for the worst of the worst and he, along with one other, “happened” to be crucified by Christ on the same day of His earthly death.
Originally, he mocked and scorned Jesus like the other criminal, told to us by Matthew and Mark. The Greek word blasphemo is used, showing how strong and condescending their words were against Jesus. Somewhere along the way, one of them had a change of heart. Was it because of something he did? Absolutely not. Was there any way for this man to save himself? Of course not, because his hands and feet were nailed to a cross, as were Jesus’ and the other man. In the final moments of his life, once destined for hell, the unknown man connected the dots and acknowledged that the punishment he received was worthy and just. Because of this, he asked Jesus to remember him. He didn’t ask for money, for a way out, for an entire new life void of all the mistakes he had made getting him here – no, all he asked for was to be remembered, because in that moment he knew Jesus represented something greater. Jesus represented an eternal kingdom that far surpassed and outweighed everything else man does to distract himself. He knew that Jesus was the only “way, truth, and life.” Jesus calmly tells him, “Today, you will be with me in Paradise.” Jesus speaks the most reassuring words anyone could ever ask for – Jesus was mindful of him and his eternal whereabouts (Psalm 8).
The “Thief on the Cross” as we often call him needs a new nickname: Calvary’s Convert. Let’s focus more on what Jesus did (conversion) instead of what the man did in his life. Despite all his past mistakes, the grace of God was ENOUGH for this man. This is not a “last chance” story. This is not a “I’ll say I believe in Christ eventually to avoid Hell” story. No, this is a story about how despite all our mistakes and sin that is trying to kill us (Romans 6:23), God’s everlasting grace is sufficient enough for you, if you allow it to be. We often search for “greater” things, only to feel “less” than we did when we started searching. This man didn’t deserve salvation at all, but in his final moments, he realized that he couldn’t come to God on his own terms – he needed to come to God on God’s terms. The other man, the scoffer on the opposite side, claimed that Jesus was the Christ but only wanted a temporary fix! He didn’t want FAITH, only a cure to his 9-1-1 emergency.
God’s Word tells us that if we are genuinely saved believers and have faith in Christ, our thoughts, words, and deeds prove that. People “read” us and look at us a lot more than they do their Bibles – so be a walking, talking Bible for Christ in Natchez, MS. We are what we are because of God’s grace and nothing more. There are 168 hours in a week. We’re wonderful at making excuses, almost professionals, but I challenge you to give at least, dare I say, 2 of those 168 hours to God, your Creator and only source of salvation this week! Because of His Son’s death and resurrection, we long for the days of Paradise with Jesus. That’s all we will forever need: the presence of Jesus in Paradise.
“I therefore, prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” Ephesians 4:1-3
Back in January when I left for Air Force training, I decided to stop at a burger place on the road. This wasn’t your ordinary burger place; in fact, it was one of my favorites: “Five Guys”. I claimed to be starving, so nothing could stop me from getting a nice, juicy, delicious Five Guys hamburger. If you’ve ever been to Five Guys, you wait in line, place your order, get your drink, then wait for your number to be called. On this particular day, the saying, “God has a sense of humor,” was about to be illustrated.
There were two people directly in front of me, silent and looking at their phones. There was also an older man at the counter who had no idea how to order anything off the menu. It had been over 5 minutes already. “Of course, this is happening Lord when I am desperately hungry,” I said to myself, wondering how much longer it would be. The older man finally finished and the worker behind the counter shouted, “NEXT! NEXT!” The couple in front of me didn’t even respond. Frazzled and hungry, I tapped one of them on the shoulder and said, “It’s your turn.” They smiled and walked up to the counter. I couldn’t believe they didn’t acknowledge the worker, “What’s wrong with them?” I wondered.
Then the Lord slapped me in the face. The couple that was standing in front of me turned out to be a mother and son who were both deaf. They were busy writing down their orders on their phone so that when they got to the counter, they could simply show the worker what they wanted. My heart immediately sank. I felt terrible. I felt like I needed to be banished from civilization because of my rude impatience. I continued to watch them in amazement, both as happy as could be. I finally placed my order, got my drink, and sat down at a table to wait for my meal. One of the workers called out the number “67! 67!” She was baffled when no one approached the counter. The deaf mother and son were also sitting at a table, gleefully eating peanuts as they waited for their food. I walked up, grabbed the bag, told the girl this wasn’t my order yet, and took them their food. They smiled and thanked me in sign-language over and over. After leaving the restaurant with my food, for about the next hour or so in the truck, I couldn’t stop thinking about what had just happened. I couldn’t even enjoy my hamburger! How could I be so impatient and get irritated so quickly?
Whatever life throws at you this week, be PATIENT in everything. Be patient with your responses, your facial expressions, the text or phone call you’re thinking about making, whatever it is – BE PATIENT. Imagine Paul as he’s sitting in prison from Ephesians 4. I’m sure he was impatient, irritated that he was in prison for PREACHING THE GOSPEL. There are all sorts of emotions he could have had, yet, he encourages us to be humble, gentle, patient, and loving – eager to maintain unity with love and peace. Jonah was patient in the belly of a fish for 3 days. Jesus was patient when he was relentlessly tempted by Satan in the wilderness for 40 days and nights. We live in a world that easily teaches IMPATIENCE as an acceptable behavior. The Bible calls us to be loving, genuine, God-fearing and God-serving Christians, not impatient ones. The next time you feel yourself getting flustered over how long your order is taking, be patient and trust in God. Whatever the case may be, He’s teaching you something about yourself. It’s such a blessing that God puts up with us! He shapes and molds us into something better each and every day (if we let Him) because of His Son, Jesus Christ. “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control,” Galatians 5:22-23. Don’t let a hamburger order and a half-empty stomach cause you to forget these wonderful promises!
“And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap,
if we do not give up.” Galatians 6:9
I wasn’t sure if I would make it there. Day after day, I waited for an email. I was told things would work out, but I was getting nervous. Two days before departure, the orders finally came in: I was headed back to Maxwell AFB in Montgomery, AL, for six weeks on January 7! It was hard to leave but I knew this was the next chapter in my journey being an Air Force Chaplain. The six-hour drive wasn’t too bad; neither were the first few days of class. I’ve met some great people. There are 23 other Chaplains here training with me. It is amazing to see how God has called these men and women to serve the everlasting kingdom of Christ in such a unique capacity.
On Wednesday during my first week, we were dismissed for the day around 3:30 pm. With a few hours of daylight left, I decided to go for a run. At Maxwell, there is a 1.5-mile track known as “The Paperclip” because it looks like a gigantic outline of a paperclip. I was familiar with how to get to the Paperclip—where I am staying for the Basic Chaplain Course is directly across the street from where I was initiated into the Air Force almost two years ago.
As I was walking to the track, I heard, “Get your [rear] (PG-rated version) in line! Shape up! What do you think you’re doing? What are you looking at? Do you think this is funny?” The questions and insults just kept firing away, one after the other. To my right I saw a group of 12-15 trainees in marching formation with one MTI (military training instructor) getting all up in their personal space, letting them have it! She was “cordially inviting them to the military” as I call it. That’s when it hit me—I was exactly where they were two years ago, being yelled at by the same MTI, but now I was on the other side. Did I expect to see something like that again? Not that soon to returning to Maxwell!
I continued walking by (rather quickly now) and made it to the Paperclip. As I ran, memories flashed through my mind. I couldn’t believe I was on the same track as two years ago, except this time I was running in peace and not being yelled at! I began to tear up…and all I could do was one thing: Give God the praise and glory He endlessly deserves from me for bringing me to this point in my life. There are times and seasons in our lives that are difficult. There are many days and months when we often ask, “Why, Lord? Why is this happening? What are you trying to teach me?” How easy is it for us to become bitter about the trials and difficulties we face? How quickly do we want to give up when things are a little too inconvenient for us?
I encourage you this month to give God praise for the PRESENT season you’re experiencing. Give Him thanks that you have not gotten to this point in your life by chance or coincidence, but according to His divine, holy, and infallible plan that will never fail. Why? Because He loves you, past, present and future. He has wonderful things in store for you (Jeremiah 29:11-13). It may not feel like it at that time, like it did for me two years ago on the Paperclip, but I am glad I didn’t call it quits. Jesus didn’t quit on you and considers you to be His prize that He has bought in His life, death, and resurrection. There is always a calm after the storm—let Jesus be that for you yesterday, today, and forever (Hebrews 13:8). He is the Rock on which we stand. Lean on His everlasting arms to get you to that next dot in your life, because He is right there with you, every step of the way.
“O LORD, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth! You have set your glory above the heavens. Out of the mouth of babies and infants, you have established strength because of your foes, to still the enemy and avenger.” Psalm 8:1-2.
As we drove along the interstate, the roads were eerily silent and vacant of traffic. The town was still sleeping, except for us. We made it to the parking lot, unloaded the suitcase, and locked the car. About 20 yards away was the four-story building with a glowing sign that read, “Baptist For Women”. Today was the day.
By 5:35am, we were checked into the labor and delivery room. They told her to put on a gown and sit on the bed. They hooked up the IV and machines, making sure she was fully monitored. The doctor came in with excitement and by 7:00am, broke her water. Not much happened after that: Roberta was watching TV, I was finishing up my Sunday lesson. All that changed around 9:30am. My wife began letting out terrible groans of agony. By 10:30am, the doctor came in and calmly said, “It’s baby time!” Before I knew it, the room was full of nurses. A large robotic arm with a circular light came out of the ceiling. Seconds later, our doctor was telling Roberta it was time to push! We had decided to wait to know the gender until the child was born. Ten pushes later, our doctor held up the child with its back to us and said, “It’s a…” LONG PAUSE. “It’s a girl!” Of course, I immediately burst into tears and was crying more than my newborn daughter. Vivian Rachel was born on November 16 at 11:16am! They quickly gave her to Roberta, introducing her to her momma. After that, they cleaned her all up and for the next two days, we were blessed with many visitors and family welcoming Vivian into the world.
I can’t even begin to fully explain witnessing the birth of my daughter. It is one of the most amazing things I've seen in my life. The way that God providentially and miraculously brought this small, yet very vocal, bundle of joy into the world in a matter of minutes is incomprehensible to me, and always will be. Science can’t explain the wonders I saw that day or the development of Vivian in the womb - only God can. Psalm 139 reminds us that “God formed my inward parts, you knitted me together in my mother’s womb…my frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth.”
Although it has only been two weeks, I can’t imagine giving my daughter away. I can’t imagine not having her in my life. All of it is so surreal – how quickly your life can change forever in a matter of minutes. If we believe that God is the most loving, wonderful, merciful God there is (as the Bible teaches), try and imagine what God has done for you and me: given away his Son. Now imagine all the things that God already knew would happen to him – the Incarnation, his early years, his teenage years, his young adult years – leaving his Nazarene home for the last time, going out into the world to preach a message that would change everything. To be rejected, slandered, accused of being a messenger of Satan, homeless, forgotten. To be betrayed for 30 pieces of silver, brutally flogged and mocked, crowned with thorns, nailed to a humiliating Cross, breathing his last. With all hope lost, three days later he would rise from the grave and FOREVER be exalted above every name, king, tribesman, ruler, president, and empire! ALL OF THIS God did for us – so that you and I may live if we believe in Jesus. Listen to John the Apostle from his Gospel and one of his Epistle, 1 John: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life…And this is the testimony, that God gave us eternal life, and this life is in his Son.” John 3:16, 1 John 5:11.
Friends, this is why we can confidently say, “Jesus is the reason for the season” this Christmas. He always will be – not only for Christmas or one day out of the year, but for all days, seasons, and years God has granted us to live in this lifetime! Friends, this is the greatest gift of Christmas. Rejoice this Christmas with Jesus being our Prophet, Priest, and King – the Name above all Names, “Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” Merry Christmas!
For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written,“The righteous shall live by faith.”
Tuesday, October 31, 2017, marked the 500-year anniversary of the Protestant Reformation. Reformed churches around the globe are celebrating, including New Covenant. But what exactly is the “Reformation”? Why is it important for you and me? Should we be interested at all, since there are so many who are not in our culture today? If someone were to ask you what the Reformation was, and they only allowed you ten seconds to answer, here’s what you could say: “The Reformation was a reclaiming of the centrality of truth found in the gospel of grace and justification in Jesus Christ.” A man in the 1500s realized that the church had severely strayed from these truths, and something needed to be done. Standing on the foundation of John Huss and John Wycliff (forerunners to the Reformation), Martin Luther declared that “the church stands on justification and if this article collapses, the church collapses.” What does justification mean for you and me? Justification is an act of God’s free grace, by which He pardons all our sins and accepts us as righteous in His sight, only for the righteousness that Christ has imputed to us, which we have received by faith in Christ alone.
Read Romans 3 sometime today and try to convince me, yourself, your family—whoever it may be—that we can save ourselves due to our sinful, fallen hearts. Yes, the gospel is offensive because we’ve fooled ourselves into thinking we either don’t need it, or that we can personally do something to save our souls. The churches of Europe in Martin Luther’s day had convinced the common people that they could “buy their way out of damnation” with the practice of indulgences. An indulgence was a monetary pass on the eternal consequences of sin. Pay a price, receive redemption. This has never been the case for the gospel. The case for Christ is much greater: His atoning and redeeming work on the cross and His resurrection.
Let’s talk about Martin Luther for a moment, remembering that he was a sinner, just like you and me. Luther was born on November 10, 1483, to a peasant family in Saxony, Germany. His father was Hans Luther and his mother, Gretha Luther. He lived a normal life under strict parents and at age 18, he entered the University of Erfurt. It was at university where he first came across a copy of the Bible, allowing him to read scripture for the first time. There were many stories that captivated Luther, but above all, the calling of Samuel into ministry spoke to him. By age 22, he had completed his course of study and sought out admission to an Augustinian monastery. Luther was accepted and became an exemplary monk. Luther struggled to do everything he could to be perfect, stating that “to gain salvation, I sacrificed everything.” But even with his lifestyle, he couldn’t find peace. He wrestled with numerous passages in the Bible regarding the salvation of his soul from sin. Through much Biblical study, he realized that it was only by faith alone that one could be saved, and not by his own good works: “the just shall live by faith” (Romans 1:17, Habakkuk 2:4).
With this revelation, Luther longed to preach on justification by faith in an ever-darkening and convoluted theological world. By the early 1500s, St. Peter’s Cathedral of Rome had begun to seriously err in its practice of selling indulgences, led by a monk named John Tetzel of Leipzig. Tetzel would do anything necessary to make a “sale’ for the day, notoriously saying that if a sinner bought an indulgence, it would make them “cleaner than Adam before the Fall.” Luther was outraged at how much influence Tetzel had through his false teaching. Luther was adamant about the sale of indulgences to save one’s soul was nowhere in Scripture, so in response, he wrote 95 theses, commenting on the evil practices of the church. On October 31, 1517, Luther nailed them to the door of Castle Church in Wittenberg. This single event was the spark that started the Reformation! The following day, multitudes of people were drawn to see the 95 theses. The theses were read, copied, printed, and distributed all over Germany and Europe. The Pope, Leo X, demanded that Luther recant his words and sent Cardinal Cajetan to Germany so that Luther would deny his writings. The Cardinal demanded that Luther correct his “errors” by saying one word: “recant.” Luther could not and would not do this. As months passed by, Luther was declared a “stubborn and dangerous heretic” by Rome, and ultimately, the Pope excommunicated him from the Roman Catholic Church. An order was decreed to burn all his writings in the entirety of Europe. On April 17, 1521, Luther was summoned to recant all his beliefs at the Diet of Worms. Here’s what Luther said in response: “Unless I am convinced by testimonies of the Scriptures or by clear arguments that I am in error – for popes and councils have often erred and contradicted themselves – I cannot withdraw, for I am subject to the Scriptures; my conscience is captive to the Word of God. It is unsafe and dangerous to do anything against one’s conscience. Here I stand; I cannot do otherwise. So help me God.”
After the Diet of Worms, Luther was allowed to go back home. He was officially banned from the “Empire of Rome” and declared an outlaw. Anyone who hosted Luther from this point on could turn him in for treason if they so desired. With the help of his friends, Luther went into hiding during which time he translated the entire New Testament into German – the only translations at the time being the Latin Gutenberg Bible and the German Mentel Bible, which wasn’t translated from the original languages and some of it, incomprehensible. He wrote his first German translation of the New Testament in only 11 weeks – a remarkable pace, even today. In 1525, he married a former nun, Catherin von Bora. They faithfully loved one another and the Lord, Luther even nicknaming her “dear rib”, an allusion to Genesis 2:21. They enjoyed a blissful marriage together and had six children.
During his lifetime, Luther wrote over 30 hymns, and over 70 theological works and Biblical commentaries before his death on February 18, 1546. He was buried at Wittenberg Chapel, the same church that he nailed his 95 theses just 29 years before. After Luther’s death, the Reformation continued to spread across Germany and Europe, eventually finding its way to America through Francis Mackamie in 1706. So why does the work of Martin Luther and the Reformation matter to us today?
Sometime this week, open your Bible and read 2 Timothy, Chapter 4. In 1 and 2 Timothy, the Apostle Paul is writing to his apprentice, Timothy, who was the first pastor of the church in Ephesus. He was extremely young for a pastor, most likely in his early 20’s (some scholars even say 19), and useful for ministry in many ways. His task was to be a solo pastor in a world quickly losing sight of Jesus - and this was less than 30 years after Jesus had ascended into heaven! Now, almost 2,000 years later from the times of 2 Timothy, listen to these words from Chapter 4 to see if they relate to us today (and yes, they do relate): “Preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths.”
When Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses to the door of Castle Church in Wittenberg, he was addressing the same issues that Paul addressed to Timothy. These same issues have come full circle today in 2017: certain denominations denying the existence and validity of the Trinity, praying to foreign gods and calling them “one in the same”, teaching that mankind can obtain perfection while in this lifetime, unrepentant sinners practicing ungodly lifestyles allowed to be teachers of the Word – the list goes on and on, and not for the better. In honor of celebrating 500 years of being reformed and staying true to the teachings of the Bible and the gospel of grace found in Jesus, we pay homage to Martin Luther and many other Reformers this month by remembering two key verses of the Reformation: Romans 1:16-17 and Ephesians 2:8-10.
Let’s talk about Romans 1:16-17 first. “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, “The righteous shall live by faith.”” Luther understood what it meant to “Stand up, stand up for Jesus” as the familiar hymn tune goes. He wasn’t afraid of man. Isaiah the prophet tells us in Isaiah 2 that man is only “wind going through nostrils, of what account is he?” We live in a world that has strayed away from the gospel, chasing after its own desires as 2 Timothy 4 teaches us. Luther knew that the church was chasing after myths, legend, relics, and idols – he knew that the foundation of faith in Jesus Christ alone as our Rock and Savior was gone. Because Luther spoke up and wasn’t ashamed of the gospel 500 years ago, over 200 million people TODAY claim to be “Reformed.” Are you ashamed of the gospel? The gospel is not just the good news found in Jesus Christ for the purchasing and salvation of our souls, but it’s also Jesus’ announcement of victory over the evil one, Satan, and the biggest villain of all that He had to die for: SIN.
The second verse is Ephesians 2:8-10. “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” Luther reprimanded the church for doing everything it could to trick the common man into thinking they had to buy their salvation through indulgences. The hope of the gospel is that Jesus justifies us, making us worthy through FAITH alone in Him alone. If we truly believe, we respond to the gospel and do everything we can to “die to sin and live to righteousness.” We’re only WORTHY because of the atoning work on the Cross of Jesus. The Holy Spirit calls out to us from the darkness and gives us the ability to say, “I believe,” while in return, Jesus says, “follow me” for “we have been crucified with him, it is no longer us who live, but Christ who lives in us, who loved us and gave himself up for us,” Galatians 2:20. We become a new creation – our identity is in Him and we are labeled “children of God” as 1 John in the New Testament tells us, which is the best title you could ever ask for, without ever deserving it.
The Reformation and its continuing work matters to us because the Bible is our ultimate authority. Praise the Lord that our church is built on the firm foundation of the holy, inerrant, infallible, and unchanging Word of God!
Rated: PG-13. Run time: 2 hours, 5 mins Overall Score: 3/10
I have been asked by several church members and people in the Natchez community what my thoughts are over one of the latest “Christian” movies released in March: The Shack, based off William Paul Young’s book of the same name. The Shack focuses on a grieving man who encounters “God” after tragically losing his daughter on a family weekend camp out when she is suddenly abducted and murdered. Tortured by the event, the main character, Mack, receives an untraceable letter in his mailbox from “Papa”. Confused by the letter, he convinces himself that the letter could be a sign from his daughter’s murderer from the shack. Mack steals his neighbors truck and heads up to the mountains, where the shack is located. When he reaches it, instead of seeing the morbid shack, he is transferred to an Eden-like place where he meets a mysterious trio of strangers. The trio of strangers keep their identities concealed at first, but the longer he is there, the more he learns about who they truly are. The trio (in the most un-biblical way I’ve ever seen on film) supposedly represent the Trinity of the Bible. There’s also an entrance of Wisdom itself, presented as a cave-dwelling woman that wears a white dress. What is the purpose of this transcendent experience one might ask? Possibly to help him better understand his life, God’s plan, and to forgive/free himself from the turmoil he has experienced. He longs to have a relationship with God, but is doubtful as to why an all-loving God would do something like this to him. WHAT should be our stance on this movie? What do we take away from it, if anything? Here’s a breakdown of some positive and negatives from the film:
There are WAY TOO MANY for the 2 hours of film that we see in this movie, but to list a few:
As I said, the negative list could go on and on but then this review would become more like a short story. What do we take away from a movie like this? If you’re looking for Godly, Biblical principles – this is NOT the movie for you. DO NOT show this movie at your next Church Movie Night outing! If you saw this movie in theaters, you wasted your money and should be wiser with your movie choices in the future. If we learned anything, we learned how wimpy and completely wrong Hollywood depicts the Almighty Trinity we serve. If anything, this movie made me want to read my Bible more and condemn future films such as this! As Christians, we are called to know God’s Word better than anyone else (Joshua 1:8-9, Psalm 119:105). We are also called to be servants or slaves (douli) of Christ, regardless of these words "Jesus" says in the film: “Religion is too much work, I don’t want slaves, only friends.” This is not true at all friends. Jesus wants obedient, God-fearing, God-loving followers that are never ashamed of the Gospel that live by FAITH based off what his Word teaches about Him to us! (Romans 1:16-17, 2 Timothy 4:1-8).
Write something about yourself. No need to be fancy, just an overview.