Reformation Day + Free Goodies!

Not everyone may know this, but today is Reformation Day. So instead of celebrating a pagan holiday that has basically no redeeming value whatsoever, here is an alternative. Reformation Day is the celebration of the day (Oct. 31, 1517) Martin Luther nailed his 95 thesis to the church door in Wittenburg.  This action led to the Protestant Reformation, and the spread of the gospel in places that had long since been in darkness.

Luther

In celebration of this great day, my good friends at Ligonier Ministries are offering a free download of their 10 message teaching series called ‘Luther and the Reformation’.  This is a great series, and will help you learn not only about the Reformation, but about the man who was instrumental in bringing it about – and the God who worked through him to do so!

Also – the Gospel Coalition have posted ‘9 things you should know about Halloween and Reformation Day’.  Check it out!

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Why Read the Old Testament?

In the coming days, a group of people in my church and friends from around the country will be starting to read through the Old Testament together again, and it’s sure to be a very interesting and encouraging experience.

But why would you want to do this?  Why take all that time to listen to, or read through the OT texts? Isn’t it good enough to be reading the New Testament in our devotions? The short answer is, as you might guess, “No!”  This isn’t about meeting a quota, or doing what is “good enough”, that’s certainly NOT the point. But what IS the point? Here are a few good reasons why you should consider reading the Old Testament devotionally every day…

First, the OT gives us the context for the New Testament (NT). We can understand the redemptive nature of NT history better if we know the history leading up to Christ’s incarnation and earthly ministry. As we get a sense for the context in which Christ came, we grow to appreciate God’s control over history even more.  Unlike most eastern thought, Christians believe that history is linear – God is driving toward a point.

David Murray puts it this way, “Many history books simply relate the what, when, where, and how of each event. Not many attempt to answer the “Why?” question, and those that do usually prove laughably unreliable. In contrast, biblical history has a clear purpose: it is a progressive revelation of the mind and heart of God for the benefit of needy sinners. God is the subject and the hero of the Bible.”

Second, once we become familiar with the OT, we begin to see how Christ is the fulfillment of types and shadows, and the epicenter of redemptive history and the story of humanity. Our story is really HIS story.  Seeing typology fulfilled in Christ only comes when you have studied and read the OT.

Sam Storms says, “In most cases the Old Testament type finds a deeper realization or expression in some aspect of the life of Jesus, his redemptive work, his judgments, or in his future return and reign. The correspondence is based on the premise that god controls history.”

Finally, but not by any means “lastly”, as Christians we believe that ALL Scripture is profitable for renewing our minds. Paul reminds Timothy of this, “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16-17).

This means that as we read the Old Testament, the words of God are literally renewing our minds, and changing our hearts.  They are equipping us to serve and enjoy God better, because we can help others understand the Scriptures more clearly, and we can appreciate and love God for all that He is and has done as our context is widened.

In conclusion, there are so many reasons to read the whole Bible, and I’ve just scratched the surface here, but needless to say, it is a very profitable exercise, and if you’d like to join a reading group and get to know the OT a little better, feel free to send me a message!

Stand and Suffer like Bonhoeffer

Last week I finished Eric Metaxas’ highly acclaimed biography on Dietrich Bonhoeffer. It has been a long time since I’ve committed to reading a biography, and perhaps I wasn’t ready for the book to shape my thinking as powerfully as this one has.

In light of that, I wanted to share a paragraph from the book that I found worth some reflection. The passage comes from one of the chapters on his imprisonment near the end of the book (pg. 463). The excerpt is from a letter to his best friend Eberhard Bethge from Tegel prison; here is what Bonhoeffer says:

When all possibility of cooperating in anything is suddenly cut off, then behind any anxiety about him there is the consciousness that his life has now been placed wholly in better and stronger hands. For you, and for us, the greatest task during the coming weeks and perhaps months, may be to entrust each other to those hands…Whatever weaknesses, miscalculations, and guilt there is in what precedes the facts, God is in the facts themselves. If we survive during these coming weeks and months, we shall be able to see quite clearly that all has turned out for the best. The idea that we could have avoided many of life’s difficulties if we had taken things more cautiously is too foolish to be entertained for a moment. As I look back on your past I am so convinced that what has happened hitherto has been right, that I feel that what is happening now is right too. To renounce a full life and its real joys in order to avoid pain is neither Christian nor human.

Two things really stood out to me. First, there is a difference between godly repentance for real sin, and wallowing in self-pity over possible “mistakes” that led to uncomfortable circumstances. In God’s grace we are able to live courageously and know that when we do run astray of the narrow path He is there to gently usher us back into His forgiving arms. But there is a distinct difference between mourning over a real sin harbored in the heart, and mourning over present circumstances brought on by a difficult decision to stand up (perhaps forcefully) for what is right (especially the Gospel).

What happens in the latter circumstance is that Satan whispers lies to our weary hearts saying, “See, you never would be in this wretched situation if you had just not said that. You should have left well enough alone. Just look at your circumstances! Surely God is punishing you for your actions!”

While the truth is that sometimes doing the right thing can be painful, and that leads me to the second point I see from the letter above: As Christians we are called to some amount of suffering in this life. Indeed Bonhoeffer says that its not even human not to suffer! Not suffering would be either living in a false reality (mentally), or not being human at all. Humans are frail; we are weak. In our comfortable American lives we often forget that we are mortal. Oh sure, we see death all around us, but it doesn’t phase us until it hits close to home…then we become unglued from our iPad or television and the raw and fallen nature of life strikes at our souls with devastating effect. We are tossed in the wind of our stormy circumstances (James 1).

Conclusion…

Bonhoeffer is calling us not to be uncertain of our calling, or the decisions we make to stand up for what is right. You can see him encourage his friend Eberhard not to question the past, and dwell on mistakes made. He is sure that at the end of the day God will resolve all things at His judgment seat. He says “God is in the facts.” The reason he can be so confident about this is because he knows that even if he was not perfect in his stand for right, he knows that God is the great and just judge of all things. He knows that he did what he did out of obedience and love for Christ – not because he expected the consequences to be a wonderful rosy blessing to him during his time here on earth.

This was tremendously encouraging to me. I can rest and work knowing that ultimately Christ’s righteousness is going to be mine, and that if I mess up I’m still covered. Furthermore, I’m not going to sit idly by and allow evil to run rampant all around me without standing up for the truth. Even though I will surely make mistakes, I will not listen to Satan’s lies, but will prayerfully and humbly do my best to speak the truth with the love of Christ. This is my calling as a Christian. And it takes courage, not only to speak in the moment, but to not look back with sinful remorse at what was said because it brought painful life circumstances. My suffering only reminds me that I am His (Heb. 12), and I am happy for the discipline, and for the honor of identifying with the Suffering Servant in this way.

If you have been obedient and spoken up for the gospel, and for Christ and all that is right and good, then do not look with regret at the consequences of your actions. Rather rejoice knowing that you are receiving a small dose of what Christ received during His life on earth, and know that you’ll receive all of what He has in store for you (namely Himself) when you and He meet on that happy day.

Significant Events in Christian History

The Gospel Coalition online has published the first of a new series on “big questions” and I found it interesting and enjoyable. What follows is a short discussion on some of the biggest moments in church history. Enjoy!

For the inaugural article in our new series “Big Questions,” The Gospel Coalition asked four Christian historians, “After AD 70, what day most changed the course of Christian history?”

Robert Louis Wilken is William R. Kenan professor emeritus of the history of Christianity at the University of Virginia. His most recent book is The First Thousand Years: A Global History of Christianity.


A good case can be made for the Muslim invasion of the Middle East in mid-seventh century, let us say AD 650.

No event during the first millennium was more unexpected, more calamitous, and more consequential for Christianity than the rise of Islam. Few irruptions in history have transformed societies so completely and irrevocably as did the conquest and expansion of the Arabs in the seventh century. And none came with greater swiftness. Within a decade three major cities in the Byzantine Christian Empire—Damascus in 635, Jerusalem in 638, and Alexandria in 641—fell to the invaders. Most of the territories that were Christian in the year 700 are now Muslim. Nothing similar has happened to Islam. Christianity seems like a rain shower that soaks the earth and then moves on, whereas Islam appears more like a great lake that constantly overflows its banks to inundate new territory.

George Marsden is professor emeritus in history at the University of Notre Dame and the author of Jonathan Edwards: A Life.

I think it has to be the day that Constantine was converted to Christianity. That had huge effects both for good and for ill ever after.

Philip Jenkins is the distinguished professor of history and co-director for the program on historical studies of religion for the Institute for Studies of Religion at Baylor University. He is the author of of The Lost History of Christianity: The Thousand-Year Golden Age of the Church in the Middle East, Africa, and Asia—and How It Died.

I would choose May 29, 1453, known throughout the Eastern churches as “the day the world ended.” Although the Byzantine Empire by that point was a pale shadow of its former self, it was still a ghostly shadow of the Roman Empire, and the seat of the Orthodox Church that once dwarfed the Catholics in power and prestige. On that day, though, the Roman capital of Constantinople fell to the Ottoman Turks, beginning a period of long centuries when most Eastern Christians would survive under the grudging tolerance of Islamic rule. The event may be symbolic, but it still marks a decisive turning point in Christian history.

Thomas S. Kidd is professor of history at Baylor University. He is writing a biography of George Whitefield and previously published The Great Awakening: The Roots of Evangelical Christianity in Colonial America.

On October 19, 1740, the First Great Awakening’s most compelling preacher, George Whitefield, spoke at the church of the Great Awakening’s most compelling theologian, Jonathan Edwards. This moment signaled the beginning of evangelicalism, the most dynamic movement in modern Christian history. Although Edwards and Whitefield did not always see eye-to-eye, they represented two aspects of evangelicalism at its best.

Edwards was the brilliant pastor of Northampton, Massachusetts, whose writings on doctrine and revival are some of the most rigorous the church has ever seen. Whitefield took the gospel to the ends of the earth (which, for this English itinerant, meant America), generating unprecedented excitement through impassioned oratory and skillful use of media. While Edwards represented the evangelical mind, and Whitefield embodied evangelical action, both still appreciated the other’s strength. Edwards itinerated, too, and oversaw two major revivals at his church, while Whitefield strongly promoted Calvinist doctrine and risked permanent schism with his Methodist ally John Wesley because of it.

Whitefield and Edwards seemed to sense the significance of the moment: the normally stoic Edwards wept through much of Whitefield’s sermon. Edwards thought the Whitefield’s revivals might herald “the dawning of a day of God’s might, power, and glorious grace.”

Artorius and Lucius

In the telling of the destruction of Jerusalem (70 AD), in ‘the Jewish Wars’, renown Jewish historian Flavius Jospehus recounts a situation in which several Roman soldiers, having already made their way into certain breaches within the outer wall of the temple complex became surrounded by fire and by the Jews to the point where the only escape would be to jump off the precipice to safety.

One solider, named Longus, while thinking of jumping, was urged by his brother Cornellius (also a solider) not to do such a thing and thereby bring disgrace upon himself and his army. The young solider agrees, and instead of surrendering or jumping slays himself rather than give into the Jews.

Meanwhile, another soldier named Artorius, facing a similar predicament, called to a fellow soldier, Lucius, a close friend of his, promising that if he could catch him from the jump Artorius would give Lucius his entire inheritance and land etc. So Lucius rushed over to catch him, and upon doing so hit the ground so hard that he ends up dying while Artorius walks away unharmed.

Now this horrific story awoke within me a great many thoughts about the nature of friendship and rescue. Sometimes we rush to help people who are jumping off cliffs and simply want to use us to break their fall. Sometimes we are the ones who call upon friends to help us out of a jam, only to use them for a time and forget all they did for us. We are selfish people by nature. We want to preserve our own lives and use others to our own benefit but rarely think to repay them for their kindness.

But no matter how we treat others or how good or self-sacrificing our friends are, they can never really solve our deepest needs. In fact, some of our needs are so profound that we’d only crush them under their weight.

As I pondered this passage this morning, what really struck me was the need we all have to be rescued, and how Christ’s rescue is so much better than that of our best friends, and even our spouses. Through the fire and war Artorius jumped into the arms of his friend, a human savior, promising him everything he could think to promise him. Christ’s rescue is not simply more successful, it is carried out of his own strength and grace and initiative. For he is able to bear the weight of our burdens our sin with perfect poise.

So there are two ways in which Christ perfectly bears my burdens. First, Christ carried the weight of my sin upon Himself on the cross, bearing in His own body the stripes that were due me for my sinfulness. The weights of our sins do not overpower His strength, and that is a wonderful truth – he has “overcome the world” (John 16). He has risen victorious over these burdens and crushed death to death.

But what is more, Christ Himself calls us to cast our daily burdens on Him. He doesn’t simply come when we call, but calls us to Himself and enables us to jump. Such is the gift of faith that He imparts to us (Eph. 2); such is the love of our rescuer. This faith was given us at our salvation point, but is also dispensed to us every day and is free for the asking. He wants us to lay our burdens upon Him.

Samuel Rutherford said, “Lay all your loads and your weights by faith upon Christ. Ease yourself, and let Him bear all. He can, He does, He will bear you.”

This is the image I want to carry with me through troubles and snares and difficulties: My savior standing ready to catch me, calling me to Himself, fully able to break my fall if I will only but resign myself to His arms. I only need look to the millions He’s safely caught; His track record is perfect, and His love beckons me on.

Reformation Day 2012

As some of you may know, this past Wednesday was Reformation Day.  Reformation Day is a celebration of what took place during the 16th and 17th centuries in the church of Christ.  Men of God led the church out of darkness by protesting the shackled gospel and hidden Word that had been all but stolen from the sight of men and women by the church of Rome.

Men like John Calvin, Martin Luther, and many others translated the Bible into their native tongues, and preached verse by verse the clear unvarnished word of God. They led what became the Protestant Reformation, and because of their faithfulness we enjoy gospel preaching today.

Below is a video that Pastor John Piper did on Reformation Day.  He traveled to Geneva where Calvin preached for some 25 or so years.  I hope you find this short video inspiring and enjoyable!

Learning from William Wilberforce as we Battle Abortion

As many of you know, I have supported efforts in the past year or two to pass what has come to be known as the Heartbeat Bill here in Ohio.  The effort aims to make abortion illegal if the heartbeat can be detected (which happens very early in pregnancy).  This would essentially make over 90% of abortions illegal – a huge victory for the pro-life movement.

Because I’m involved deeply in the political process, its very easy to catch flack for standing up for things like this, because most people don’t want to deal with this issue in a way that’s productive (that want to push it to the backbench).  But as a Christian I believe that God created us, and that life is a sacred gift from Him, and its worth speaking out and standing up for the lives of tens of millions of children who never have a chance at life in God’s world.  It’s also worth keeping those of you are don’t follow politics (who can blame you!) informed of what is going on.

So why am I posting about this now?  Because I just read a post by Pastor Challies that points out how we (who support the pro-life movement and cause) can learn a lot from the incremental changes William Wilberforce fought for so long ago in his battle to abolish slavery.  Many people within the establishment (read republican party and old guard right to life groups) are fearful that unless we get abortion abolished 100% in one fell swoop, that we’re undermining ourselves and the opportunity to one day have abortion completely abolished.  However, this is an arrogant position, and a strategically poor position, and history shows us why – which you’ll learn below.

If you’re interested in the pro-life cause, and saving lives, then you’ll want to take a gander at this article…

The Small Increments of Change

A few years ago I read Paul Chamberlain’s Talking About Good and Bad Without Getting Ugly, a book that proposes ways that Christians can talk about difficult issues—issues like abortion, homosexual marriage, euthanasia—in a pluralistic society. The final chapter is a case study that features William Wilberforce as an example of a man who used his Christian convictions to bring about widespread cultural change. Wilberforce was a driving force behind the abolition of slavery within the British Empire. The results of his efforts are seen and celebrated in Western society to this day.

There was one aspect of his strategy to abolish slavery that I found both a challenge and encouragement. Wilberforce was a realistic man; he knew that the kind of change he longed for required the British people to adopt a whole new mindset and would therefore take time and patience. They had to be led to see that slavery was an afront to the God-given value of human beings. They had to see that the conditions of slavery were an abomination to a nation that claimed to be Christian. They had a lot to learn and such lessons would take time.

Because of the distance the people had to come, Wilberforce was willing to accept incremental improvements. For example, at one point he supported a bill, passed on a trial basis, that would regulate the number of slaves that were permitted to be transported on a single ship. Slaves had previously been laid in rows on benches, chained on their sides with the front of one pressed against the back of the next. This proposed legislation demanded immediate improvements but implictly and explicitly supported the continuance of slavery. Still, Wilberforce saw it as a step in the right direction and for that reason he was willing to support it. Another time he voted for a bill that required plantation owners to register all of their slaves. While this bill also supported slavery, Wilberforce understood that a slave registry would keep plantation owners from adding to their number of slaves by buying them from illegal smugglers.

Wilberforce saw these incremental changes as accomplishing two goals. First, they improved the living and working conditions of slaves. While slavery continued, at least the slaves were afforded a greater amount of dignity, even if it had to be measured in small increments. Second, he believed that affording slaves greater rights set the Empire on a slippery slope. Having acknowledged the humanness of the slaves, people had to admit that slaves were something more than animals. The British Parliament had given approval to bills that Wilberforce knew would eventually but inevitably lead to nothing short of abolition. And of course his beliefs proved to be correct. The incremental changes he lobbied for proved to be the starting point for the eventual abolition of slavery.

Chamberlain points out that this same strategy has been used by those opposed to the dignity of life. Abortion is a prime example. What was first allowed as a concession to protect the physical health of a woman soon became a measure to protect her mental health. Mental health is far less objective than physical health and soon abortion was widespread. From there it was only a small step to societal acceptance.

As I read about Wilberforce I wondered if, put in the position of a parliamentarian, I could support legislation that supported abortion or euthenasia or homosexual marriage, even if that legislation seemed to be a step in the right direction. Would doing this be merely pragmatic? Or would it be sinful to tacitly support something so wrong, even while believing that it would lead to a more biblical end?

Chamberlain suggests that this principle, which we see in the life of Wilberforce, is the hardest to accept. He writes, “In their zeal to achieve a specific goal, whether banning abortion on demand, eliminating poverty or improving labor laws, some today operate with an ‘all or nothing’ mentality. Anything less than accomplishing one’s full goal all at once is viewed as an unacceptable compromise, as giving tacit approval to an unjust practice.”

But I think Chamberlain also helps uncover the solution. We need to be careful, when pondering this kind of a choice, that we do not make a decision based on two alternatives, only one of which is real. Wilberforce knew that he did not have the opportunity to vote for or against slavery. Instead, he was given the opportunity to decide between the status quo and a slight improvement on it. He voted for the improvement. While we might say that in doing so he also voted for slavery, and there may even be some truth to this, the fact is that this vote was not, in reality, for or against slavery. He kept focused on what was immediately attainable, but with his eyes gazing longingly at a future target of complete abolition.

Might we do the same with abortion, euthenasia and the cheapening of marriage? I know of politicians who have refused to vote for incremental change, stating that nothing but the end result would be worth their support. Is it possible that these people missed a golden opportunity to enact at least some level of change that may have proven beneficial? I can’t say and really only God knows for sure. But it is certainly possible that these people were too fixated on the final goal, not realizing that this was simply not attainable. Not yet.

One lesson Chamberlain wants us to learn from Wilberforce’s life is that change, especially change that effects all of society, comes in increments. This is true whether the change is for good or for ill. Those who promote abortion, euthenasia or homosexual marriage seem to realize this and have been effective in their strategy of bringing about change. Perhaps as Christians we have been too focused on the final result and have not been able to know a good thing when we see it.