A Christian Holiday to Celebrate — Oct 31

Luther & 95 Theses492 years ago this Saturday (October 31) was a day that changed the course of the church for all time. On that day Martin Luther nailed his 95 theses to the door of the Wittenburg Chapel. His desire was to begin a debate about abuses that he saw by the Papacy and the church. He had no intention on beginning a new church or even a movement. He simply wanted to see the church “reformed” that is re-formed by God’s word and in the image of Christ.

While the abuses may not be the same as they were in Luther’s day, the church today has departed from the pure Gospel message in many ways. There are many abuses where the church has watered down, distorted, and simply denied the Gospel. We have been content to let “little” errors enter without challenge thinking that a little error won’t do much harm. But it has and today the church is in as great a need of re-forming as it was in Luther’s day. What if you received a letter from your drinking water provider that said, “we have had a little problem with our water filtration system and some of the sewage from the treatment plant has gotten into the water supply. But the good news is that it is only 10% and 90% of your water is still pure.” You would be outraged. Yet, every day we allow the “sewage” of false teaching to enter into the church and think that it won’t hurt anything. How wrong we are.

Out of the Reformation came five “battle” cries. These expressed the basics of the Gospel for their day. They have not changed over the past 491 years . . . indeed over the past 2000 years . . . though we sometimes forget them or we let little errors push them aside. In 1998 as we dedicated a new campus of the church I pastored back then, we used these five “alones” (or Solas) for a dedication Bible Conference. Today we need to remember their importance as we remember the Reformation.

Sola Scripture — By Scripture Alone

It is through the Scriptures, the Bible, that God speaks today. The Bible is not just a book that somehow contains God’s word, but rather it is God’s Word! It is in His word, with the enlightenment and guidance of the Holy Spirit, that we find God’s will, His purposes and His requirements for our lives.

While we believe that denominational traditions and church history are important and should be known and studied, it is God’s Word, the Scriptures, where we find our ultimate and absolute authority.

2 Tim 3:16 -17 — All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work.

Psalm 19:7 — The Lord of the Lord is perfect, restoring the soul; the testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple.

Solo Christo — By Christ Alone

We live in a day which cries for diversity and tolerance. Thus, when people hear a church or group claiming that there is “only one way” to a relationship with God they appear to be horrified. However, the Word of God is quite clear on this matter. Jesus Christ himself left very little doubt as to where salvation is to be found.

John 14:6 — Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father, but through Me.

Acts 4:12 — “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.”

We believe and proclaim that there is no salvation, no relationship with God, apart from the person and work of Jesus Christ. His death was as a substitute and sacrifice taking away our sin and giving us His righteousness. In reality, He did for us what we could not do for ourselves. He died in our place the death that we deserved.

Sola Gratia — By Grace Alone

Man is notorious for wanting to “do it for themselves” – no matter what the “it” is. The Gospel teaches us that in the matter of salvation and being right with God, there is absolutely nothing that man or woman can do for themselves. Man is in rebellion toward God and will never seek God according to Romans 3:

Romans 3:11 — THERE IS NONE WHO UNDERSTANDS, THERE IS NONE WHO SEEKS FOR GOD;

If it were left up to man to “get saved” it would simply never happen. The good news is that God has determined to save a people for His glory. The Holy Spirit, in drawing men and women to Christ, demonstrates that salvation is totally of grace. It is only because of this grace that anyone will ever be saved.

John 6:44 — “No one can come to Me, unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up on the last day.

John 6:37 — “All that the Father gives Me shall come to Me, and the one who comes to Me I will certainly not cast out.

Sola Fide — By Faith Alone

The core, or fundamental truth, of the Gospel is that justification, being made right with God, is not on the basis of works, that is, anything we have done, but rather by faith in Christ alone.

Eph 2:5-8 — even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), (6)and raised us up with Him, and seated us with Him in the heavenly places, in Christ Jesus, (7) in order that in the ages to come He might show the surpassing riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. (8) For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God;

Salvation does not involve being as good as you can be . . . obeying all the 10 Commandments . . . or living by the Golden Rule. Salvation comes by faith in Jesus Christ alone.

We acknowledge that when true faith is exercised in Christ there will be a change in life. New attitudes and actions follow faith in Christ. But this is the work of Christ in us, not our work for Him.

Soli Deo Gloria — To God Alone belongs the Glory

What does a person say when they have come to faith in Christ? The only proper response is “Thank you God!!” Too often men try and claim the glory, the credit, that belongs only to God. However, the Word of God clearly declares that God alone is worthy of worship, praise, and adoration.

Who should receive the glory for what we gain in this life? God should, because it is only by His grace that we have anything at all.

1 Corinthians 6:20 — For you have been bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body.

1 Peter 4:16 — but if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not feel ashamed, but in that name let him glorify God.

Job 1:21 — And he said, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, And naked I shall return there. The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away. Blessed be the name of the LORD.”

This is indeed a day of celebration . . . and also a day to call for a new reformation in the 21st century. It is time to see that these 5 solas are the foundation for the church to be formed in the image of Christ.  For too long now the church has taken on the “look” of the culture around it.  It is time to be counter cultural . . . to focus again on what God’s word says about salvation and proclaim it boldly.  Fads come and go . . . but the Truth of God abides forever!!

Five Stones -- Five Solas

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An Old Confession of Faith — Lancelot Andrewes 1555-1626

Lancelot AndrewesLast week a friend of mine, Karl Minor, mentioned a volume from someone in the late 1500s, which he said had the richness of the Puritan prayers of The Valley of Vision.  I did a little research and ordered a copy of Lancelot Andrewes and His Private Devotions, by Alexander Whyte.

To this point I have only done a cursory overview of the book, but I did find the following very refreshing and clear.  It is Andrewes’ own Confession of Faith.  I believe it is a worthy read and meditation, and so I commend it to you.  I maintained the language as it was published.  A few words may not be immediately obvious in their meaning, but it is worthwhile to look them up.

4. CONFESSION OF FAITH.

I believe, O Lord, in Thee,
Father, Word, Spirit, One God;
that by Thy fatherly love and power
all things were created;
that by Thy goodness and love to man
all things have been gathered together into one
in Thy Word,
Who, for us men and for our salvation,
became flesh, was conceived, was born,
suffered, was crucified,
died, was buried,
descended, rose again,
ascended, sat down,
will return, will repay;
that by the forth-shining and operation
of Thy Holy Spirit
hath been called out of the whole world
a peculiar people, into a commonwealth
of faith in the truth
and holiness of life,
in which we are partakers
of the communion of saints
and forgiveness of sins in this world,
and in which we look for
the resurrection of the flesh
and the life everlasting
in the world to come.

This most holy faith once delivered to the saints
I believe, O Lord;
help Thou mine unbelief,
increase Thou my little faith.
And vouchsafe* to me
to love the Father for His love,
to reverence the Almighty for His power,
to Him, as unto a faithful Creator, to commit my soul in well doing.
Vouchsafe to me to partake
from Jesus of salvation,
from Christ of anointing,
from the only begotten Son of adoption;
to serve the Lord
for His conception, in faith,
for His birth, in humility,
for His sufferings, in patience and in impatience of sin;
for His cross, to crucify occasions of sin,
for His death, to mortify the flesh,
for His burial, to bury evil thoughts in good works,
for His descent, to meditate upon hell,
for His resurrection, upon newness of life,
for His ascension, to set my mind on things above,
for His sitting on high, to set my mind on the
better things on His right hand,
for His return, to fear His second appearing,
for His judgment, to judge myself ere I be judged.
From the Spirit
vouchsafe to met o receive the breath of saving grace,
in the holy catholic (universal) Church
to have my own calling, sanctification, and portion,
and fellowship of her holy things,
prayers, fastings, groanings,
watchings, tears, sufferings,
for assurance of the remission of sins,
for hope of resurrection and translation
to eternal life.

*”vouchsafe”to grant or furnish often in a gracious manner

I am looking forward to further reading in this very old, but rich book.

A Favorite Prayer

AugustineI love reading prayers written by great saints of years gone by.  This is one of my favorites by St. Augustine.  May we learn to pray it and trust it to be so in our lives:

Great are You, O God, and greatly to be praised;

great is Your power, and Your wisdom infinite.

We who are but a particle of Your creation, praise You.

You awaken us to delight in Your praise;

for You made us for Yourself, and our hearts are restless until they rest in You.

What are You then, my God?

Most high, most good, most omnipotent;

most merciful, yet most just;

most hidden, yet most present;

most beautiful, yet most strong;

stable, yet incomprehensible;

unchangeable, yet all-changing;

ever old, ever new;

supporting, filling, and overspreading;

creating, flourishing, and maturing;

seeking, yet having all things.

You, O God, are my life, my joy, my health.

Great Is Thy Faithfulness

rainbow018The hymn Great Is Thy Faithfulness has long been one of my favorites.  So I was interested today when Bob Kauflin of Worship Matters sent out an email dealing with the story behind the hymn.  I believe it is worth a read:

The story behind Great is Thy Faithfulness should encourage every Christian who thinks of their life as ordinary. There’s no tragic story (think “It Is Well” by Horatio Spafford) associated with this hymn. It’s just the fruit of a faithful man with a simple faith in a faithful God.

Thomas Chisholm, who sometimes described himself as “just an old shoe,”  was born in a Kentucky log cabin in 1866. He was converted when he was 27, became a pastor at 36, but had to retire one year later due to poor health. He spent the majority of the rest of his life as a life insurance agent in New Jersey. He died in 1960 at the age of 93. During his life he wrote over 1200 poems, most of which no one will ever hear.

But back in 1923, at the “beyond his prime” age of 57, Thomas Chisholm sent a few of his poems to William Runyan at the Hope Publishing Company. One of them was Great is Thy Faithfulness, based on Lamentations 3:22-23.

Lam. 3:22    The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; 23 they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.

Runyan was particularly moved by Great is Thy Faithfulness and sought to set it to a melody that would reflect the response of wonder and gratefulness to God’s faithfulness conveyed in the lyrics. Apparently, he succeeded.

The song quickly became a favorite Moody Bible Institute, and later George Beverly Shea sang it at Billy Graham crusades. Now it’s known all over the world and has been used to encourage millions of Christians to trust in a faithful God.

Pretty impressive spiritual fruit from a life insurance agent.

When Chisholm was 75, he wrote in a letter:

“My income has not been large at any time due to impaired health in the earlier years which has followed me on until now. Although I must not fail to record here the unfailing faithfulness of a covenant-keeping God and that He has given me many wonderful displays of His providing care, for which I am filled with astonishing gratefulness.”

The hymn has three verses and a chorus. Verse 1 speaks of God’s faithfulness revealed  in his Word, and is adapted from James 1:17: Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.

Verse 2 tells us of God’s faithfulness revealed in creation. The seasons,the sun, moon, and stars all continue on their courses perfectly, orderly, quietly – guided by God’s faithful hand, without any help from us.

Verse 3 reminds us of God’s faithfulness revealed in our lives. He pardons all our sins, fills us with his peace, assures of his presence, gives us strength, hope, and blessings to numerous to count!

Whatever challenges, trials, or disappointments you might be facing right now, this hymn reminds us that God’s promises are true, that he never changes, that his compassions never fail, and that his faithfulness to us in Christ Jesus is more than good—it’s GREAT!

God doesn’t need incredibly gifted or wildly famous people to proclaim those truths from his Word.

Just faithful ones.

Happy Birthday, John Calvin

Calvin's B'day CakeToday marks the 500th Birthday of one of the most influential theologians in the life of the church of Jesus Christ.

There has probably never been one so misrepresented and slandered than Calvin.  But for those who take time to read his work there is an exaltation of Jesus Christ and a worship of God that is unsurpassed.

So I gladly join the hosts in saying Happy Birthday!!

My favorite quote ABOUT Calvin comes from the pen of one of my favorite contemporary theologians, J. I. Packer.  Packer writes in Honoring the People of God, page 19:

“The amount of misrepresentation to which Calvin’s theology has been subjected is enough to prove his doctrine of total depravity several times over.”

Happy Independence Day!! Give Thanks to our Great God for His Gift

Declaration of Independence On July 4, 1776 our nation was born with the signing of the Declaration of Independence from Great Britain.  I wonder, how long it has been since you read this document?  Have you ever read it?  I understand from talking to some high schoolers that it is mentioned in class, and the opening words are sometimes read, but that there is no requirement in their history classes to read the document.  This is sad! Is it any wonder that patriotism is waning in our great nation?

Tomorrow when we gather to worship we will not have a “patriotic service”, for we gather not to worship America but rather to worship the Living God who gave us the gift of America.  We will have a prayer to that Great and Sovereign God for protection for this country.  Peggy Noonan, in today’s Wall Street Journal, tells of asking historian David McCullough, “. . . how he accounted in his imagination for the amazing fact of the genius cluster that founded our nation. How did so many gifted men, true geniuses, walk into history at the same time, in the same place, and come together to pursue so brilliantly a common endeavor?” His answer was simply, “I think it was providential.”

Today, as a church family, we will gather for a cookout in celebration of our nation’s birth.  The Declaration of Independence will be read and we will probably sing a patriotic song or two.  We will thank God for this great gift that He, and He in His mercy alone, has given us.  We must remember the truth of Scripture, as stated in Daniel 2:21 — “It is He who changes the times and the epochs; He removes kings and establishes kings; He gives wisdom to wise men. And knowledge to men of understanding.” You can replace “kings” with “nations” or “presidents.”   So even as we celebrate the birth of our nation, may be remember that is is because of the benevolence of, as the Declaration states, “nature’s God.”

Here’s a novel idea:  While you are eating those bar-b-que ribs, or hamburgers and hot dogs today with your family and friends, why not take about 10 minutes and read aloud the Declaration of Independence?  You can find a text version HERE.

A Simple Way to Pray

Does the name Peter Beskendorf ring a bell?  Probably not!  He lived about 500 years ago and wasn’t a theologian or scholar.  In fact his line of work was that of a barber . . . he was known around town as Peter the Master Barber.  (For you younger readers, think hairstylist).   But he did have a rather famous customer that you might recognize — Martin Luther.  Can you imagine having the great reformer sitting in your chair while you cut his hair?  Surely there was some pretty significant conversation that took place during those sessions.

a-simple-way-to-pray2-lutherAnyway, it appears that on one occassion, Peter the Barber asked Dr. Luther if he could instruct him in a simple way to pray that an ordinary barber could use.  In response to that Martin Luther wrote a small booklet and gave it to Peter.  In it he gave warm pastoral counsel to Peter on prayer . . . using the Lord’s Prayer, the Ten Commandments and the Apostles’ Creed.

I highly commend Luther’s little work if you are looking for something “simple” and yet profound to guide you in your prayer life.  You can find text editons on the internet or you can purchase a copy in book form at Amazon.  Or Archie Parrish has an edition with an essay on the life of Luther that you can get from Ligonier Ministries.  I have read many books on prayer over the years, but none has had any bigger impact on me than has Luther’s A Simple Way to Pray.