A brief congregational meeting will be held right after the worship service to vote on the proposed 2018 budget that was presented to the congregation on Jan. 28th.
When God Comes Near
Recently I was reading a devotional that talked about God coming near. It led to my own thoughts on this subject as well. We all know that God is omnipresent which means that He is always near to all of us, all the time, and at the same time. However, there is a sense in which He is present in special ways. Sometimes they are in joy and blessing. More often they come in times of difficulty and even sorrow. I have known people who have lost loved ones, experienced great disappointment, have gone through great sorrow, or have experienced betrayal. Most of the times in those situations they have experienced the same thing; God came near. They experienced the nearness of God in a special way even though He was always near to begin with. As Max Lucado writes in his book “Experiencing the heart of Jesus”, “Faith begins when you see God on the mountain and you are in the valley and you know that you’re too weak to make the climb. You see what you need..you see what you have… and what you have isn’t enough to accomplish anything.” It’s in these moments that God comes near.
Christmas is all about God coming near. He left the perks of paradise to enter into the human race the same way we all did-except for the first Adam. Jesus is referred to in Holy Scriptures as the second Adam. The first Adam and his wife were the only humans not born of a woman. (Or as the little boy learned in Sunday school; Adam and Eve were the only people who did not have a belly button.) Jesus came into the human race to provide redemption for all who will believe who have been affected by the fall involving the first Adam. But his coming was both natural and supernatural. Yes, Jesus had a belly button. He was born of a woman in space and time. God came near in a special way unique to any other way He has ever come near to the human race. Jesus also came near to our world in a supernatural way. He was conceived of the Holy Spirit. He had a belly button, but He did not have a biological father as we all did. His Father was the Holy Spirit thus making Him the God Man. God really did come near. Christmas is a celebration of the natural and supernatural way that God came near.
Christmas is about God coming near to shepherds announcing that He was coming near to the world. Christmas is about God coming near to Joseph and Mary and allowing them to be near to Him as the parents of the Son of God. Christmas is about God Through the Christ child coming near to Simion in the temple so he could die in peace and come near to God the father. It’s also about how He can continue to be near to us because of the message of Christmas. That message of Christmas is radical. It’s about the Gospel or good news that God through Christ came near to us because we could not come near to Him. We could not save ourselves so He came near to us to make it possible through faith in Him to be saved and have fellowship with Him. Sin separates us from God. Jesus, the God Man, comes near and removes the estrangement.
In a message I gave on the first Sunday in December, I challenged the church to take advantage of the climate of Christmas by focusing on the message of Christmas. We are not comfortable with the secularism of Christmas. But we do recognize that people are in a mostly festive mood at this time of year. They are caught up with the trimmings of Christmas but without the Christ of Christmas-the One who came near. We can complain about this and retreat to our churches and families and seek the true meaning of Christmas, or we can use this time of year to reach out to those who don’t know the message of Christmas. That message is that God came near. It’s a message of hope in a hopeless world. It’s a message of salvation to the lost. It’s a message that God not only came near but is near through faith in Him. This message is for those who are far away from God. But that can change!
Carol Lee and I are nearing forty years of marriage. Our older son Derek and his wife Mariel are expecting their first child (a girl) in March. Our younger son Devin and his wife Amy already have three boys and a girl. Mabel our granddaughter is thrilled that she will at least have a girl cousin. When I am around my grandkids, God comes near. My Christmas prayer for you and our whole church is that God will come near this season in a special way. We look forward to what he will do in your life personally and in the church collectively. We look forward to watching God come near during our expansion project as well as the outside advice we will receive to help us as a church to do a better job. We pray God will come near to all the ministries of our church-those that are struggling and those that are also thriving-that people will grow in their faith and that our church will grow both spiritually and numerically. We pray that God will come near to all the leaders in our church. We pray that as God comes near to us we will come near to one another as He loved us. May the message of Christmas be understood better this year than ever before and may we share it with those who need to know it.
Pastor Lee and Carol Lee
Our annual congregational. meeting will be held right after the worship service. Dr. Dave Marks, Associate Director of the “The Center” http://www.centerconsulting.org/ , a church consultant non-profit organization will be with us to share how they plan to partner with us and help us plan for the future here at Grace.
October 31, 2017 marks the 500th anniversary when historical scholars attribute the official beginning of The Great Reformation. Those who wish to fly to the areas in Eastern Germany to mark this great anniversary will find it hard to finds flights and hotels to stay in while anywhere near the cities and towns associated with this great time in history. The key events that mark this time will be discussed in this blog and then I will discuss the aftermath of this great time in history, including its effect today.
The Key Events:
1. Luther’s conversion: Years before the beginning of the reformation came Luther’s conversion to Christ. He struggled greatly concerning his salvation. He was an Augustinian monk in Wittenberg (which is in Eastern Germany). He read the Scriptures and compared them to the teaching of the Church and could not reconcile them. In addition to that, he was moved by the famous verse, “The just shall live by faith,” which actually appears in the Old Testament in the little book of Habakuk but is quoted in the books of Galatians, Romans, and Hebrews. It’s important to note that while Luther had a conversion experience that was very real and included his feelings, the basis of his conversion was on facts and ideas which he studied from the Holy Bible. Most people in Germany and the surrounding area of what was called the “Holy Roman Empire” (which included France, Italy, and Switzerland today) did not speak Latin, and the Bible was not in their language. Because Luther was an educated monk, he could read the Scriptures and understand them and Luther becoming a true biblical Christian was the first obvious step.
2. Luther’s trip to Rome: Every pious priest longed to visit Rome and the Vatican in particular. Some years after his conversion and before the nailing of the theses, Luther finally took the journey. In the providence of God Luther’s experience there was “the straw that broke the camel’s back”. Luther was shocked to see the decadence of priests and the low morals of the pope himself. While in Rome a man named Tetzel was pushing indulgences. The church believed that you could get your loved ones out of purgatory by giving money to the church as ransom for their release. People would come by outside the church before they went in to give their regular offerings and place in the casket or collection plate (as we would call it today) and the church would give them a certificate indicating that their loved ones were no longer in purgatory. Tetzel would state, “As soon as the gold in the casket rings, the rescued soul to heaven springs”. Luther was understandably outraged as well as disillusioned. He returned to the monastery in Wittenberg and wrote his Thesis.
3. The nailing of the 95 Theses on the wall in Wittenberg Germany: Don’t be misled by the term thesis. My doctoral thesis was 300 pages. Luther’s was just a couple of pages because each of the 95 items were succinct simple statements articulating his differences with Rome. While his original copy was in Latin, it did not take long for it to be translated in the German language of the people and as a result spread like wild fire. Thanks to the new invention called the printing press, copies were duplicated and ended up all over including what would be France and Italy as well. The Vatican ignored this document at first. Pope Leo X dismissed it as the writings of an overzealous 34-year old monk that would not make any difference. How wrong he was! Once the attacks against the indulgences were made, the money began to decline, and that is what eventually caught the attention and concern of the Vatican. By then however, “the cat was out of the bag”. The peasants loved Luther’s theses as well as many priests and theologians, and the movement was uncontainable.
4. The excommunication of Luther: A few years after the 95 Theses Luther was excommunicated from the established church. When Luther received notice of his removal from the church (which was a written communiqué signed by the Pope and called a “bull”) he was unconcerned with what the church thought. In defiance he organized a ceremony and with many witnesses present burned the bull. This event angered Rome so much that they convened a counsel to attempt to get Luther to recant his writings and all that he believed.
E. The Diet of Worms: Before you get sick thinking that they ate worms, it’s important to note that a “diet” is a counsel and the the city was pronounced Vorms. So you might call it the counsel of Vorms. This was now less than four years after Luther’s famous thesis and several months after he burned the document in connection with his removal from the Church. Its important to understand that when Luther went to Worms he had every reason to believe that if he did not recant he would be burned at the stake. The state and established Church were so close that there was virtualy no difference. The Church and state would jointly carry out executions of people who were deemed heretics and Luther (to them) fit that category. Luther’s detractors falsely assumed that Luther would recant all he said and wrote because they knew that he figured he would be executed if he didn’t. They never anticipated his convictions, nor did they anticipate the amazing support he had-including many who showed up at the counsel or diet. The Vatican sent top ranked officials as did the government. It’s at this event that Luther was asked to recant, and he refused. Part of what he stated was, “Unless I am convinced by the testimony of the Scriptures or by clear reason (For I do not trust either in the pope or in councils alone, since it is well known that they have often erred and contradicted themselves), I am bound by the Scriptures I have quoted and my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and will not recant anything, since it is neither safe nor right to go against conscience. May God help me. Amen.” At the end of this speech, Luther raised his arm “in the traditional salute of a knight winning a bout.” Michael Mullett considers this speech as a “world classic of epoch-making oratory.” Four hundred years later a pastor named Martin Luther King Sr. changed his first two names that he was given at birth to honor Luther for his non-violent belief that moral, religious, and social change (all of which Luther advocated) should be promoted in a non-violent way. His son who also was a minister, became the famous civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr. It was his famous “I had a dream” speech that was epic-making as well. He joined Luther, Jesus, Reagan, Margret Thatcher, Winston Churchill, and many others whose ideas and speeches changed the course of history. No disrespect to these men and women and many others unmentioned, but I believe that other than Jesus and his apostles, the writings, ideas, and the speech at Worms by Luther had the greatest impact, certainly since 1517. With that in mind I would like to mention the main ideas that came from the Reformation and Luther in particular that positively affects us today.
1. The Pillars of the reformation:
A. Scripture alone. Luther promoted this truth that God’s Word is the sole authority and the only authority upon which we base anything that we call truth. This radically challenged the church but also changed church history. It it the core value that I hold to as a pastor. I have others, but without this one I have no authority. Without it I have no basis for preaching, teaching, counseling, and guiding the church that God has entrusted to me.
B. Grace Alone: The second pillar is that we cannot earn our salvation. We don’t deserve it. It comes by God’s grace not human merit or achievement. You can see how this biblical truth clashed with the established church and how this truth radically changed history and the promotion of the Gospel.
C. Faith Alone: The third pillar is that we must come to God through faith not works or anything else. Luther realized this truth in his conversion, and he would never be the same again nor would he recant.
D. Christ Alone: The fourth pillar that came out of the Reformation with Luther’s fingerprints all over it was that only Christ can save us, mediate for us, and help us. This conflicted with the dogma of the church that promoted Mary, the saints, the apostles, and penance as ways to touch God’s heart.
E. God’s Glory alone: This is at the heart of reformed theology and practices. In the world of selfies and self promotion and pride, the Reformation can bring reform to our world in this area. Too much of church life was centered around man not God. Luther and those who embraced his teachings promoted this great idea. All of these pillars (the first being obvious) are rooted in Scripture.
2. The Effects of the Reformation:
A. A radical change in church life. From Luther’s teaching the church returned to the great biblical truth of the priesthood of all believers. We are all part of the body of Christ. Luther appealed to the common person with statements like, “God milks cows”, meaning that a common person who milks cows is doing the work of the Lord. This movement spread like wild fire.
B. Music Luther had a great impact upon music. He promoted vigorously congregational singing which of course meant returning to the first century church. Because congregational singing in church had not taken place for many many years, Luther had to write hymns and others followed as well. All 38 hymns he wrote were new, including his famous “A Mighty Fortress is our God”.
C. The Teaching of Children: Today’s modern Sunday School and other Christian education of children finds its roots in the Reformation. When you see little children making their way to Jr. church on Sunday you can thank Luther. He saw no reason for little children to sit and listen to a sermon that was way over their heads.
D. The Bible translated into German: Luther got the Bible in the language of the people and inspired other countries to do the same. This opened the door for people to study the Bible for themselves and not have to rely on the clergy or those who could read Latin, Greek, or Hebrew.
E. Relating to Luther as a person: While my list could continue I would like to touch on this last aspect of Luther and his personal life. Let me list some things that might help you relate to this great man. Everyone should be able to relate to at least one or more of these.
Things about Luther:
1. Luther experienced lots of grief: He had one son die at just a few months old, and a daughter die at the age of 12. For those who have had or are going through grief of a lost one (even as close as a child or spouse), it’s important to note that this man who is regarded as among the top five most influential men in all of history, suffered loss and remained faithful.
2. Luther experienced bad health. While this may have been more common than today, Luther had a multiplicity of illnesses, probably due to stress. Most of the remaining years of his life he suffered from these illnesses. Before Luther died at the age of 62 he witness the tragic effects of the black plague. Twenty-five percent of all children died before two year old, and whole families and towns were wiped out. In this terrible time Luther wrote his famous hymn “A mighty fortress is our God” to bring comfort and hope in God during the middle of all their grief.
3. Luther experienced lots of criticism and hatred: You can imagine how Luther was hated by the established church. He was taken out of context, lied about, and criticized greatly for his views, his actions, and his position as the leader of what would be known as the Protestant Reformation. When people attack you, misquote you, and even hate you, remember Luther as well; you’re in good company. Trust God as he did.
4. Luther made mistakes: As a pastor, I can relate to criticism and hatred and being taken out of context (though on an almost infinite lesser level). But Luther brings hope to church leaders (myself included) who have said things and maybe even done things that in hind-sight we would later regret. Luther lived under great depression for both the unfair and legitimate criticism he experienced. He said and did some things that we cannot defend. Statements about the Jews and the Peasants War are among the things he could have done better. The lesson for us all is that God takes imperfect men and women and uses them anyway.
5. Luther had a prodigal Son: While Luther would not live to see this, His son Martin Luther, Jr. died at the age of 34 as a drunk. This was the same age his father was when he nailed the 95 theses. Luther Jr. rejected the Gospel and all the things he was taught. For people who have had sons and daughters including those who have not yet returned like the biblical story, Luther’s experience can help them to see that they are in good company even though it is not a pleasant thing. It also sends the message that each generation must make their own choice, and many times they unfortunately chose the wrong path.
6. Luther made many other reforms: When we think of Luther and The Reformation we naturally think of the ecclesiastical and theological reforms he influenced. While this is true and rightly so, we also see that his influence offering the Reformation as his offspring, brought many positive changes to Western civilization. Besides those mentioned above let me just list some without comment. The respect for women, the rights of children, the foundation for the abolition of slavery, education for men, women, and the lower class, the respect for all people including peasants, and the separation of church and state and many more.
As we think back at this monumental event in history and this imperfect, but great, man that God mightily used, let’s not forget the fifth pillar that I mentioned; The Glory of God alone. Luther would turn over in his grave if he knew the fuss we are making over him. He would give God all the glory so let’s do the same. I hope these things I shared with you will help you to better appreciate the great heritage we have. Protestant churches (especially main-line liberal denominations) need more than reform. They need transformation. But so do we as Evangelical Bible churches. We get into ruts and need to change. Reform can’t come without repentance change. Let’s look at our personal lives not just our churches and ask God to show us the reforms we need to make and the changes needed to bring that about. It might be spending more time with the Lord in prayer or Bible study. It might mean getting to church more often or becoming more involved in the church. Look in the mirror and ask God what you should do. Long before Luther wrote his famous thesis he spent many agonizing years soul-searching. Before he could bring reform to the church and change history, his personal life needed change first. The same is true for us. To God Be The Glory or as Luther put it in Latin “Sola Deo Gloria” which means “To Glorify God Alone”
“I’m Tired of the Victim Excuse”
Christians author and psychologist Larry Crabb tells us that we are sinners, and we are the victims of sin. In that statement (which I totally agree with), Dr. Crabb is acknowledging that there are times, perhaps many, when people are the victims of other people’s sins. A marriage often fails when at least one person or two are to blame affects the children. The father who abandons his family to solicit an affair has left his wife and kids as victims of his sinful choice. When a child is abused, a woman attacked, a person murdered, we are looking at examples of true victims of sin. I want to focus on the first part of Dr. Crabb’s statement, namely we are sinners. We live in a society today where everyone wants to be a victim or make someone a victim when they are not.
- Examples of victimization:
When a person excuses their own sin or the sin of others and tries to turn themselves or others into a victim, they are falling for the myth of victimization. Again, we are not talking about true victims who are caught in the crossfire of sin but who are actually responsible for having made bad choices and are blaming others or claiming that they are a victim. There are many examples of this. Let me list some in society as well as the church so we can expose this and overcome it.
a) One of the more common ways this happens is when we blame bad behavior on our parents. It may be true that we picked up some bad examples and habits from our family upbringing, but that is not a legitimate excuse. It might be a reason we are struggling with a particular issue, but it is not a legitimate excuse; its only an example of victimization.
b) When a person who is capable of working and supporting himself chooses to rely on government, agencies, or the church, and claims they are a victim because they lost their job through no fault of their own. It may be true they lost their job, but if they are capable of working, then being a victim will only keep them from seeking employment.
c) When someone leaves a church or a relationship with another Christian with unsettled conflict. We have the tendency to turn these people into victims. They often have issues that are sin-related. When we see them as victims and try to blame others for their exit we are enabling them in their victimization. The list is almost endless of examples of victimization, but I will provide these three.
- Solutions to overcoming victimization:
a) Take responsibility: When we see ourselves as responsible for our actions (including those that are evil) we can confess and take responsibility.
b. Understand we are free moral agents: God has given us the freedom to make choices. With that freedom comes both responsibility and results. If we make wise choices, we will reap blessing and when we make bad or sinful choices, we will suffer the consequences. When we are suffering the results of bad choices as free moral agents, we cannot claim that we are victims. If we are, then we are the victims of our own choices.
c. Correct your theology: Most of the bad thinking we have in life is because we have wrong theology. Wrong theology is nothing more or less then a wrong view of God and His Word. It’s as simple and as profound as that.
Hold others responsible: When in the course of our lives we are entrusted with the opportunity or privilege of influencing people, we should take advantage of this and teach people that they are not victims. If we care about people, we will tell them what they need to hear and not what they want to hear. They must be told with love that they are not victims. We must encourage others who see themselves wrongly as victims to change their thinking.
Reasons we should not embrace victimization:
a. It excuses sin: Blame shifting is as old as Adam and Eve. It never acknowledges personal responsibilities. It promotes victimization and with that, it undermines sin.
b. It prevents change: If we believe we are products of the past, then there is no hope for change. One of the most positive things about biblical counseling is that people come out of sessions with hope. They can change. Before they came to a biblical counselor they were told by those with a secular world view that they are victims. This meant there was nothing they could do about their problems; they simply must learn to live with them. But when they are given a biblical approach which refuses to turn them into victims, people have hope that things can change.
c. It undermines Scripture: The Bible doesn’t depict people as total victims of sin. While Scriptures recognize victims and even record examples, it clearly teaches that we are free moral agents who make decisions. The Scriptures give us principles for our life choices; when we refuse to employ them, we have nobody but ourselves to blame for the results.
In conclusion, let’s not fall into the temptation of excusing poor behavior or choices on victimhood. Let’s understand that God will not allow any excuses at the Day of Judgment. Let’s run away from victimization and reap the benefits that freedom from it will bring.