Monday, October 31, 2011

Here I stand. I can do no other. So help me God.

While everyone else is running around in Halloween costumes trick-or-treating, or being scared out of their wits at haunted houses, I am reminded of a truly world-changing event that took place on October 31 in 1517.  It started with a young monk, a hammer, and an idea that would change the face of Christianity forever.

Martin Luther was born into a wealthy family in Germany.  His parents expected him to follow in their footsteps of pursuing wealth and prestige, but God had a different plan for his life.  When caught in a terrifying electrical storm, Luther pleaded with God to save his life promising to give his life to God if he were to survive.  That's a pretty bold thing to do, bargaining with God and all, but the Lord honored his vow, and shortly thereafter Luther entered a monastery.

For much of Luther's life as a Catholic monk he struggled with the realization that the corrupt church could not offer him salvation.  He had witnessed the degradation of the church, especially in the selling of indulgences to the poor.  The people were told that indulgences would save them from the torment of hell, or would save a deceased loved-one from purgatory.  After coming face to face with this kind of evil corruption, Luther lost hope in the church and turned to the pages of scripture for guidance.  It was in Paul's letter to the Romans that he found hope of redemption.  Romans 1:16-17 says, "I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile.  For in the gospel a righteousness from God is revealed, a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: 'The righteous will live by faith.'"  These words resonated with Martin Luther, and his eyes were open to the beauty and grace of God.  By faith alone are we saved, not through legalistic moralism or corrupt rituals.

Having been renewed in God's love and grace, the actions of the clergy were that much more appalling, and something had to be done.  Reform was the only answer.  Luther set about writing his grievances against the church, and thus was born his 95 Theses.  He nailed the pages to the cathedral door in the small German town of Wittenberg, a moment that would alter the path of the church forever.

The corrupt Catholic officials were not about to take Luther's defiance lightly, and he was brought before the clergy at the Diet of Worms during which he was asked to recant his writing.  It was during this hearing that Luther spoke his famous words,

“Unless I can be instructed and convinced with evidence from the Holy Scriptures or with open, clear and distinct grounds and reasoning—and my conscience is captive to the Word of God—then I cannot and will not recant, because it is neither safe nor wise to act against conscience. Here I stand. I can do no other.  So help me God.”

Luther's reliance on the grace of God brought on a reformation whose effects have lasted for centuries.  Not only did Luther spur on the reformation, but he also translated the Bible from Latin into German, the common language of the people.  For the first time, the Word of God was in the hands of people who were desperate to hear the story of redemption.  

Though the work Luther did was revolutionary, the church is far from being completely aligned with God's will.  There is still false teaching in the church, and there are still people who are led astray by false doctrine; people who sit in pews week after week thinking they are saved.  In some churches, reform is still needed, and it will be the Christians who hold fast to the Word of God who will make it happen. 

Friday, October 28, 2011

Heavier Things

In a book I read recently by John Piper titled Spectacular Sins and Their Global Purpose for the Glory of Christ, Piper discusses how coddled Americans are, especially Christian Americans.  Many people sit in pews Sunday after Sunday, but they still don't truly understand the implications of their own faith.  They like to think that God is pocket-sized; someone they can turn to when times are tough.  But they don't believe that God really is or that he will actually call us to account for how we live our lives.  Many pastors are afraid to preach about the difficult truths of the Bible, because they want to maintain a healthy-sized congregation and a full offering plate.  No one wants to hear a sermon on hell fire and brimstone.  But maybe it's time we think about the heavier things.  As Piper said, "Wimpy worldviews make wimpy Christians."

I recently listened to a talk given by David Platt at the Desiring God conference (which Patrick was fortunate enough to attend.)  His talk was titled "The Glory of God, the Lostness of Man, and the Gospel of Christ."  It was a stirring talk that I've listened to several times now.  I have included a link to the video at the end of this post, and I encourage you to listen to it.  Though he's not exactly preaching hellfire and brimstone, Platt reveals the depth of scripture that points to the sinfulness of man and our utter need for a savior.  The Bible paints a vivid picture of the reality of hell, one that we would be wise not to ignore.

Have you ever thought about the reality of hell?  I mean really pondered it in your heart?  If you are a Christ follower who has put your whole trust in Jesus for the redemption of your sins, the thought of what you have been saved from should bring you crashing to your knees in humble gratitude every day.  Like it or not, hell is a reality, and one that thousands of people face anew every day.  This idea isn't popular; the idea of suffering for all eternity for the choices one has made on this earth.  Most people are much more comfortable saying that everyone will go to heaven, they just have to find their own way to God.  The Truth of God and His Word contradicts this view point.  If God created man in His image and wants us to choose to love and obey Him above all else, why would he allow someone who hates Him into heaven?  If someone chooses a life apart from God now, they will experience eternal separation from God.  That's what hell really is; the total abandonment of the presence of God.  In a weird way, God is giving that person exactly what they want: no God.

As Isaiah says in Isaiah 6:5 after coming face to face with God, "Woe to me!  I am ruined!  For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips."  We are a sinful people who desperately need the grace of God to save us from the eternal suffering of hell.  It's clear from scripture as well as a look around us that we are lost.  What does it mean to be "lost?"  It means that we are cut off from God and cast away from his presence.  Romans 3:11 says, "There is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands, no one who seeks God."  Romans 1:21 says, "For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God no gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened."  In John 8:34 Jesus says, "I tell you the truth, everyone who sins is a slave to sin."  John 3:20 says, "Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that his deeds will be exposed."  The scriptures go on and on regarding the sinfulness of man and our need for a savior.

I think it's all too easy to focus only on the aspects of God that make us feel good.  God is love.  God forgives.  God reconciles all things to Himself.  This is all very true, and I'm thankful that I serve this God, but there is another side to Him that we often forget.  While we might not like to think about it, God displays wrath as well as love.  In a talk I watched recently by David Platt, he discusses the fact that God hates sinners.  Psalm 5:5 says, "The arrogant cannot stand in your presence; you hate all who do wrong."  God also loves sinners.  We can look to the cross of Christ as proof of this holy hatred and holy love.  The torture, pain, death, and separation from God that Christ endured was meant for us.  We deserve it because in our sin, we chose to ignore God's commands.  There is a hatred of sin and sinners that cannot be denied.  We like to think that our sin is something outside of ourselves, when really, we are sinful to the very core of our nature.  Our pride, lust, greed, etc. is part of who we are, and God will judge that sin.  The flip side of this is God's incredible love for sinners.  Again, look to the cross.  While we deserved God's wrath, Jesus Christ endured it for us.  God poured out his wrath on his only Son, not us, so we could be made righteous.  Romans 5:8 says, " But God demonstrates his love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us."  That's the purest kind of love there is!  Not only are we forgiven of our sins against God, but Hebrews 8:17 tells us, "For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more."  Psalm 103:11-12 we read, "For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his love for those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us."  That is pretty incredible news! 

While the reality of hell is terrifying, as a Christian I have great peace and joy in knowing that God loves me so much that He would step down from His throne in heaven to save me from an eternity apart from Him.  My sins have been atoned for and have been replaced with the righteousness of Christ.  So while God's wrath toward sinners is great, His love is just as far reaching!

David Platt's talk titled "The Glory of God, the Lostness of Man, and the Gospel of Christ

Monday, October 24, 2011

Book Review: The Missionary Call by David Sills

Patrick brought home a huge stack of books from the Finish the Mission conference, and I'm slowly making my way through them.  This week I read "The Missionary Call" by David Sills.  Sills is currently a missions professor at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville.  I appreciated Sills' academic approach to missions because he does so in such a way that developing the idea of a missionary call remains personal and Christ-centered.

The big question of the book was "what is the missionary call?".  This can be a gray area for many missionary candidates who feel that God is leading them in a specific direction but haven't had a vision or lightning bolt from heaven.  God's calling isn't always as dramatic as we might think, and actually often comes in the still small voice.  A call to missions might begin with an interest in a specific people group, language, or country.  Psalm 37:4 tells us, "Delight yourself in the Lord and he will give you the desires of your heart."  God places in us certain interests and desires, which he will ultimately use for his glory.  In the case of the missions-minded Christian, these interests often lead to spreading the gospel among the unreached people of the world.

One quote from the book that does a good job of summing up the idea of what exactly a missionary call is says, "The missionary calls includes the profound sense of a God-stirred ought, a burden for lost souls in a dying world, a burning desire to see every people group in the world prostrate in worship before the throne of God.  It is a recognition of the gifts and abilities that God has given you mixed with the desire to go where your life can be best spent "to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of you (Philippians 3:12.)"  We must remember that every tongue, tribe, and nation will be represented around the throne of God, and we have been given the Great Commission which calls us to go to them and bring them to Christ!

I appreciated Sills' wisdom in finding the call to missions, especially since in the past few years Patrick and I have felt God calling our hearts to the nations.  This interest began small, but the more we gaze upon the face of God and delve into deeper relationship with Him, the more undeniable his heart is for the nations.  How can we love God without heeding his call to GO?

While this book doesn't give specific stories from the mission field, it gives practical advice for possible hindrances to getting to the field, and living there.  Sills is upfront in the realities and dangers that missionaries face on a daily basis, and he wants his readers to be prepared for life on the mission field.  Whether you are interested in going as a missionary or sending others to the field, I would recommend checking out this book!

Saturday, October 22, 2011

A Heart of Stone

This week I have been reading through the book of Hebrews.  Tucked within this book are some of my favorite passages of scripture.  The writer delves into issues of deep theology that are important for Christians to grapple with and make sense of.  Sometimes the Word of God is difficult to understand, and I'll admit that many times while reading Hebrews I've had to reach for various commentaries to shed light on the topics at hand.  However, one issue that is clearly stated is that of hearing God's voice.

Hebrews 3:15 says, "As it has been said, 'Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as you did in the rebellion.'"  How often do we hear the voice of God speaking, whether audibly or in our hearts, and yet we  turn away?  With every instance of turning from the voice of God, our hearts become a little more numb to his love.  Imagine a lifetime of turning, avoiding, or rejecting God's Word.  Imagine the state of one's heart after such rebellion.  Eventually the hardened heart becomes like stone and is no longer able to glorify God at all.

A Biblical example of turning away from God is the Israelites wandering in the desert for 40 years after the exodus from Egypt.  God had freed them from oppressive slavery and was leading them to the Promised Land.  Even with visible, tangible evidence of His presence and sovereign grace, the people turned away.  They begged Aaron to give them a golden calf to worship even as Moses was atop the mountain receiving God's commandments.  Not surprisingly, God did not allow this generation to enter the Promised Land.  Their hearts were not in tune with God's and were therefore unworthy of His blessings.  Hebrews 3:18-19 says, "And to whom did God swear that they would never enter his rest if not to those who disobeyed?  So we see that they were not able to enter, because of their unbelief."

Likewise, those who call themselves Christians, yet refuse to heed God's voice will not enter God's rest.  Hebrews 4:1-2 warns, "Therefore, since the promise of entering his rest still stands, let us be careful that none of you be found to have fallen short of it.  For we also have had the gospel preached to us, just as they did; but the message they heard was of no value to them, because those who heard did not combine it with faith."  These verses really hit home with me, because I know too many people who sit in church every Sunday but who have no faith in the Living God.  Church attendance doesn't equal admittance into heaven.  Simply hearing the gospel doesn't mean we will spend eternity with God.  One might even read the Bible everyday or do every good deed conceivable to man, but without faith, they are still lost.  Without active faith, our efforts are in vain.

Perhaps it's time you examined your own heart.  Are you simply going through the motions or do you have a real relationship with the Living God?  Are you receptive to the voice of God, or has your heart become calloused and unyielding?  Do you have a passion for the Word of God and for His commands?  Psalm 119:10-11 says, "I seek you with all my heart; do not let me stray from your commands.  I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you."  I pray that you will know God intimately and know Him more fully through reading and obeying His Word.  There is no greater delight that this!  It is only through faith and a relationship with God that we will enter his rest at the end of our lives.  May it be so in your own life!

A Long-Awaited Answer to Prayer

Ever since we moved to Beaufort I've been praying that God would lead us to a group of believers we could fellowship and study God's Word with.  Bible studies and small groups were such a huge part of our lives in Okinawa, and it was difficult to leave such a wonderful group of friends behind.  The verses that have been on my heart lately come from Hebrews 10:23-25 which says, "Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful.  And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds.  Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another-- and all the more as you see the Day approaching."  God intends for us to be in community with other believers; people who can encourage and inspire our faith.  Without this crucial element of fellowship it would be easy to fall away from God altogether.  We were created with a need for community, and I have felt this need keenly, especially during a four-month lull where we knew very few people in South Carolina.

We have joined a new church called Seaside Vineyard Fellowship, and it has been a joy getting to know the people there.  The pastor stresses small groups, but all the ones currently going were made up of people our parents' age.  While there is much wisdom to be gained from studying God's Word with people further along in their faith walk, we wanted to be in community with our peers as well.  This led us to start our own group for married couples without children.

We are now hosting a group of four couples each week, and so far it has been a great experience.  We have started The Truth Project, and this will be our third time leading this study.  It's always amazing to see how God works in people's lives through this in-depth study of Biblical Truth.  The series is a Christian Worldview Studies course, and it really gets you thinking about what you believe, and if you believe that it's really real.  How different the world would be if Christians really believed that what they believed was real.  Each time I've gone through this study God has shown me different aspects of who He is, and I grown deeper in my relationship with Him.  I'm excited to see what kind of transformations will take place this time within our group.

God has been so good to provide other believers here for us to share life with.  It can be really lonely when you don't know anyone around who shares your faith and passion for Jesus Christ.  I praise God everyday for his faithfulness in answering this prayer!

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Pumpkins, Pirates, and Parrots

Pumpkin loot
Patrick and I have had a wonderful weekend exploring more of what Beaufort has to offer.  We started out on Saturday heading out to a pumpkin patch.  The literacy specialist for my first graders owns a farm and invited us out.  In our four years overseas I missed the fall season so much, so I was really looking forward to picking some pumpkins.  We got a hay ride out to the patch, and found four fabulous pumpkins to bring home.

Super friendly parrot
I'd been wanting to check out the town of Port Royal for awhile now, so on Saturday we did that too.  We happened to go there on the day of the Pirates of Port Royal festival.  Nothing like seeing a bunch of locals dressed up as pirates in the middle of October.  There were numerous booths set up with art work for sale, and they even had a small menagerie of animals where you could hold birds, hedgehogs, hamsters, and even pet a couple of baby goats.  One parrot was hanging out on a park bench nearby and let me hold him. When I set him down he started bobbing his head back and forth like he was dancing.  Quite amusing.  We walked along the boardwalk and up a lookout where we could see across the water to Parris Island.  It was a beautiful day, and I got some great pictures.

View of the marsh
I'm always thankful when we have a whole Saturday to spend together.  Usually Patrick has to work until the afternoon, but this past weekend he was home by 9:30.  It's not often that we actually get out to explore Beaufort, so this weekend was a lot of fun!

Monday, October 10, 2011

Book Review: Reckless Abandon by David Sitton

David Sitton entered the mission field as a 21 year old surfer from California who was head over heels in love with Jesus.  He started out in Papua New Guinea, and through this book he details much of the work he did there with indigenous tribes.  By completely abandoning The American Dream, and giving his life fully to the work of God in the nations, he was able to bring the Gospel to thousands of people who would have otherwise never heard the name of Jesus.

Christians have to have a mindset of reckless abandon for Christ if we are to overcome the typical fear of reaching out in the name of God.  We need an eternal perspective in order to see the lostness of man, and our desperate need for a savior.  Following Jesus is not without suffering and persecution, and David illustrates many instances where he and his teammates were beaten, and threatened.  But, he says, Jesus is worth it!

The book begins with a challenge to comfortable Christian American.  Sitton writes, "Whey is it presumed that American missionaries have the "right" to require safe living conditions?  By the way, this is almost completely a Western concept.  Believers in the rest of the world assume that following Christ is naturally hazardous to their health!  They live as lambs among wolves, expecting to be mistreated, because wolves eat lambs!  Why do we think we should be exempt from what Jesus said would be the normal experience of His followers?"  Wow, talk about a convicting statement!  It's true that Americans tend to have this sense of self-entitlement to comfort and safety, but this isn't the message that Jesus brought.  Philippians 1:20 says, "For it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe on him, but also to suffer for him."  Christ followers are guaranteed suffering, so shouldn't we make the most of it and give everything we have to bring as many unsaved souls to Christ as we can?  When you stop trying to save your own life, but are willing to lose everything you have for Jesus, that is a life lived in reckless abandon for the only one who is worth it!

This book has been a wonderful encouragement to me as Patrick and I plan for our future work in the mission field.  Whether or not you are considering full time missions, I would recommend checking out this book!  

Rebel Without a Cause

 I often write about scriptural truths, and spiritual disciplines, but lest you think I have it all together, I feel I need to include moments where I fall short.  It's one thing to think on and write about the Christian life; it's another thing altogether to live it out.  We meet God in the toughest situations in life, and though my life for the most part is sweet, I've had some bitter moments recently.

I had a challenging week at school last week dealing with unruly students who just didn't want to focus or get their work done. Typical days in 1st grade include plenty of behavior issues with students who would rather sport an attitude than learn anything.  Many students tend to take education for granted, and would rather be at home playing their Playstations and watching TV than at school learning.  For a teacher this can be extremely frustrating and disheartening.  At one point this week I honestly felt like giving up.  There's only so much you can do for students who just don't care.

I had a long talk with God on the car ride home that afternoon, and I could hear Him speaking clearly to my heart.  They are just children.  They need someone to love them and guide them, and if they have no one who cares enough to teach them, they won't have a chance in the world.  Yes, they can be frustrating, but they are sinners, just like you.  They need a savior the same as you, and until they meet Him, their sin nature is what predominates in their life.  

Seeing children in rebellion is a reminder of the fact that we are sinners and are in rebellion against God.  As a teacher I understand how frustrating it is to watch my students act out, when what I want for them is for their good!  How much more so must God look upon us as we turn our faces away from His goodness?  He wants to give us life, yet we still seek the meaningless pleasures of the world.  We would rather waste our life with things that will not satisfy than experience life as He meant for us to live it.  How this must grieve Him!  James 1:17 says, "Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows."  Let us put aside our rebellion against Him, and turn to the Lord in submission and receive the blessing he intends for us!  I pray that rather than hide our faces from Him, we would freely give our lives to the Lord to use for His glory!

Friday, October 7, 2011

Book Review: Spectacular Sins and Their Global Purpose in the Glory of Christ by John Piper

Don't be fooled by the small size of this book; it packs a powerful punch.  In Spectacular Sins and Their Global Purpose in the Glory of Christ  John Piper tackles some tough questions about why God allows evil to enter the world and how the sins of man do in fact glorify God.  Though we can't always understand why God plans or allows certain things, we do know that God alone is sovereign over everything even that which is evil.  When we see sin at work in the lives of men and women throughout history and today, we know that not only is God in control, but he is able to bring glory to himself through it.  Everything that happens is part of God's plan for His creation.  Too often we try to look through a microscope, zoomed in on one little piece of history, but if we were to zoom out to see the whole picture, we would understand that God orchestrates everything according to his plan.  Everything comes together for the glory of Jesus Christ.

Piper lays the foundation for the need for Christians to have a solid, Biblical worldview.  He says, "Christians in the West are weakened by wimpy worldviews.  And wimpy worldviews make wimpy Christians."  Though we might live in relative peace right now, the tide will eventually turn.  Second Timothy 3:12 says, "All who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted."  Acts 13:22 promises that, "Through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God."  Worldviews that put our comfort and safety as the headline will not sustain us when we face real trials for our faith.  Piper puts it this way, "Coddled people will not be good listeners when their world collapses."

The book goes through six "spectacular sins" from the fall of man to the horrific murder of Christ on the cross.  Piper explains and gives Biblical evidence for the sovereignty of God in each of these examples, and shows how, through sin, God's glory is achieved and his global purposes realized.

Piper is an excellent author and is able to communicate clearly and with wisdom.  The ideas presented in this book are ones that aren't often preached in today's churches, but are Biblical truths that must be studied and understood.  God's people must be prepared to face the great evils of this world and stand ready to defend their faith, because in the end, God alone will be standing in victory over sin!   

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Book Review: Pilgrim's Progress by John Bunyan

I'm a little ashamed that I'm 27 and just now getting around to reading this incredible book.  John Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress is second only to the Bible as a Christian publication as far as how widely published and read it is.  The book is an allegory for the Christian life and follows Christian (the main character) as he embarks on his pilgrimage.  Along the  way he encounters a host of characters, some who encourage him in his walk with the Lord, others who try to distract him from the Way.  Bunyan has a knack for symbolism and uses it abundantly throughout the book.  For example, shortly after setting out along the Way, Christian comes to the Swamp of Despondence, in which he becomes mired and nearly loses hope of ever getting out.  Christians experience this kind of despondency in real life as well when we become too focused on the things of this world and lose sight of Jesus.  The people and problems that Christian encounters along the Way are easy for us to relate to, since we have all had similar experiences.

What I love most about the book was the way it is steeped in scripture.  Bunyan uses over 200 direct quotations from scripture, making this book the most scripturally-based book ever written.  Within the text are footnotes for each reference, which is written out at the end of the chapter.  I often found myself reaching for my Bible as I read the book in order to look up the specific reference.

There have been many editions of Pilgrim's Progress printed since it's original publication in 1678.  I read the version in modern English, since I found the original language a bit tedious.  My version was updated and revised by L.Edward Hazelbaker, and he took great care to preserve the original intent of the language while still making the text readable.  This is an incredible book, and I would highly recommend it to anyone!