Re-Forming

re·form

rəˈfôrm/

verb

  1. make changes in (something, typically a social, political, or economic institution or practice) in order to improve it.

500 years ago today, October 31, 1517, a German monk nailed 95 theses to a church door in Wittenberg, Germany. Martin Luther’s 95 grievances were against the Catholic Church and specifically against the Pope. He did this, not with the intent of breaking away from the church, rather, he wished to call the church to refocus and recommit to a more biblical way of doing church and life.

From the Reformation came what is known as the Five Solas. These statements all work together in order to summarize the Gospel, salvation, and how a believer ought to live.

Sola Scriptura (Scripture Alone) –The Bible is the source of authority for Christians. Scripture is efficient. 2 Peter 1:20-21 & 1 Timothy 3:16-17

Sola Fide (Faith Alone) –Salvation is a free gift; it is never based on human efforts or deeds. Christians must have faith in God alone. Ephesians 2:9

Sola Gratia (Grace Alone) –Salvation is by grace alone. It is a result of what Jesus has done, not what we do. Ephesians 2:8-9

Sola Christo (Christ Alone) –Salvation is through Christ alone. Jesus alone is our great High Priest and mediator. Hebrews 4:15

Soli Deo Gloria (Glory to God Alone) –The goal in life for every believer should be to bring glory to God. 1 Corinthians 10:31

Martin Luther usually gets a lot of credit for his reform work, and rightly so. However, I want to shed some light on a few other great and godly men who were unafraid to reform. This is not a comprehensive list by any means, but just simply a few snapshots.

John Wycliffe in the 1380s worked to translate the Bible into English from Latin.    Wycliffe also fervently opposed unbiblical teachings of the Catholic Church and was eventually declared a heretic. Wycliffe’s writings and work inspired other future reformers.

Jan Hus was a Czech priest who was committed to the idea that people deserved and needed to hear the truth of the Bible in their own language. He began performing services in the local Czech language rather than Latin, and adamantly opposed the same teachings that Luther would also later condemn.  Hus was eventually arrested and burned at the stake for his “heresy.”

At the same time that Luther led reform in Germany, Huldrych Zwingli led the Reformation in Switzerland. Although Zwingli and Luther did not always see eye to eye it should be said that Zwingli had a profound impact.

In 1536 William Tyndale was burned at the stake for his stances against unbiblical teachings of the Catholic Church. Tyndale was the first to translate the Bible into English from the original Greek and Hebrew.

So here we are, 500 years removed, what does all of this mean for us today?

The sad reality is that many people today are ignorant of what the Bible has to say. Even sadder is that Biblical illiteracy does not just apply to those outside churches, but to many sitting in pews as well.

The Bible (whole) is available in 636 languages and the New Testament is available in 1442 languages! There are currently six Bible apps on my phone and I would bet there is at least one on your phone as well. In fact, most of those apps have an audio option so that God’s Word can be listened to at any time.

We are running out of excuses.

Clearly, the Reformation was about much more than just reading or listening to the Bible. But studying and understanding God’s Word was certainly at its core. Luther and the other Reformers all knew and loved God’s Word dearly. We would do well to follow their example.

Here are 5 “theses” for us to be challenged with on this 500-year anniversary:

  1. Let us continually reform our commitment to God.
  2. Let us continually reform our love for Jesus.
  3. Let us reform to a higher view of Scripture.
  4. Let us reform our obedience to the Spirit.
  5. Let us allow God to continually reform us.

 

A Lesson From Notre Dame

“Even when we do not feel Him, He is right there. He never ever will leave or forsake His children.”

This summer Ashley and I had the opportunity to travel a bit. It was an awesome blessing and as always, a fun adventure discovering new places. I must take this opportunity to recommend Groupon to anyone looking to see some awesome sights but also not looking to break the bank. Groupon is the way to go for awesome deals.

Anyway, one of the historic sights that we had the pleasure of seeing this summer was the famed Notre Dame. To say that the historic cathedral was awesome seems a bit cliché, but it truly was. I remember standing in front of it and reflecting on all the history and attention to detail and feeling overwhelmed by the grandness of it all. Quasimodo’s home was beautiful on the outside and incredibly interesting on the inside.

–Quick note- Ladies, be sure to wear something that covers your shoulders otherwise you will be turned away at the door, even if your dress is more modest than most…So after we bought Ashley an overpriced scarf from the souvenir shop next door we were back in line waiting to get in.

It is what happened in line to get in that stuck with me more than anything else that day. We were waiting in this incredibly long and twisting line when all of a sudden I heard crying. Actually, it wasn’t crying, it was more of a guttural, panicked weeping. I looked around and saw the source, a terrified little boy no older than 10. He was frantic as he ran in circles. Tears and snot dripped from his face as he desperately looked for his parents. Immediately, Ashley and I were looking for some sort of police officer that we could connect this lost boy with. There was nothing we could think to do, we didn’t speak French, but it was clear this boy was lost and clear that he was petrified.

But in an instant, all my concern drifted away because I saw his dad. Of course, I didn’t know the boy or the family or anything about them, but I knew it was his dad. The look on the man’s face said it all. A mix of concern, compassion, patience, and love. The father patiently waited, no more than 20 feet away for his son to finally see him. Not more than a few seconds later the son did see his dad and ran as fast as he could to him. The boy disappeared into his dad’s arms and the dad spoke softly to his son. Then after a few moments, the father stood his son up began to reprimand him. Again, I don’t speak French, but as a son who has earned his fair share of reprimands, I know one when I hear it, no matter what the language.

Watching the whole experience rocked me. This boy was absolutely terrified to be away from his father, unable to hear or see him. I remembered times in my life as a believer where I drifted in my relationship with God. This must be a picture of how believers should react when they walk out of step with the heavenly father. I emphasize must, because unfortunately, far too often we as believers ignorantly wander away from our loving heavenly father and don’t panic when we realize just how far we’ve gone.

Let’s be clear on two things. First, we should not wander from the love, care, kindness, and mercy of our God. Never, ever. However, the reality is that we are still human and need Jesus on a daily basis. Without constant dependence on Him, we are prone to listen to the lies of the enemy.

Second, once we have trusted in Jesus Christ for our salvation nothing can separate us from His love, not even ourselves. Romans 8:38-39 reminds us of that truth. We have an assurance of our salvation. We have God’s promise that “He who began a good work in [us] will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.” (Philippians 1:6) He guards us for salvation and guarantees our faith. (1 Peter 1:3-9)

Even in the midst of that, we are still capable of quenching the Holy Spirit’s work in our lives. When we quench the Spirit, before we realize it, we have wandered to a spot where it is hard to see and hear our heavenly father. And that spot should be the scariest place of all.

When we do find ourselves lost in the crowd and being of the world not just simply in it, we need to be terrified. The scariest place on earth is the place where we cannot hear, feel, or see the presence of God.

However, there is hope! Those very promises shared above should be a constant reminder for us of the assurance that we have in our God. Even when we do not feel Him, He is right there. He never ever will leave or forsake His children. Just like that father in front of Notre Dame, God is patient, compassionate, and loving towards us. Even when we act like terrified children.

The Overlooked Testament

“The unfortunate reality is that many believers willfully ignore the Scriptures that Jesus Himself would have read and studied.”

I have talked with quite a few Christians who find themselves either confused or bored by the Old Testament. There seems to be a fog surrounding the first 39 books of the Christian Bible for many modern day believers. The unfortunate reality is that many believers willfully ignore the Scriptures that Jesus Himself would have read and studied.

Part of the reason why many believers might run from the Old Testament is because of a lack of understanding of how to read and interpret it. Many believers find portions like Leviticus 17:10-14 and struggle to see how it impacts them at all today. So, while we don’t have time today to dissect all of the O.T. we will take a brief look at this one passage. Hopefully, understanding one passage will lead to a desire to understand the rest.

The first place to begin is context. What is the context of Leviticus 17:10-14? Well, in short, it is part of the Law given by God through Moses to the people of Israel. The best way to understand the Mosaic Law is to understand it as a covenant between God and His people at a specific time for a specific reason.

When interpreting the Law in its proper context it is shown to have a more clear and deeper meaning. This was not simply a list of do’s and don’ts set up by an impersonal God, this literally was a personal agreement between a loving God and His people. God was teaching them how to live holy with a holy God in their midst. Like the rest of Scripture, when doing hermeneutics, we must first always start with the original meaning to the original audience. Context is always the key.

Leviticus 17:10-14 is a very interesting passage take the time right now to open your Bible or swipe open your app and read it. At first glance, it looks like God preferred well-done steak to rare and unfortunately I have known some Christians to actually take this stance. However, when we take a closer look at the text we can understand its deeper and special meaning. We must look at the text in light of the narrative of the Israelites as well as the greater redemptive story of the whole Bible.

Verse 11 gets at the heart of the issue when God says, “for it is the blood that makes atonement by the life.” In the context of the ancient Israelites, blood had a very significant role. It symbolized life, of which God had ultimate control over. When we read the Mosaic Law we will find that there are special arrangements to be made for each life that is taken, and how those arrangements must be done in a respectful manner. Death is a serious thing. This is because God as creator is the life-giver. Death had no place in God’s paradise and it still is not to be taken lightly in a fallen world.

The blood more specifically not only represents life in general, but it is also the avenue through which sin can be atoned for. If an Israelite were to eat or touch blood they would be dishonoring the life that God had given, as well as disrespecting the atonement process that God had set up. The blood of a sacrifice was used to purify, and as Hebrews 9:22 lets us know without blood there could be no forgiveness of sins. This system is, as Hebrews says, “but of shadow” of what was to come.” Because although blood was needed, Hebrews 10:4 tells us that the blood of animals is inadequate to take away sins. The only blood sufficient is Jesus’.

This understanding of blood in the Old Testament relates to a New Covenant believer (one who is not bound by the Mosaic Law) in the most significant of ways. Jesus gave Himself (His blood) for the forgiveness of the sins of the world. Today we can look at this passage and see the link between this particular law and the atonement that Christ made for us. To see the relationship between this passage and Jesus, the Lamb of God whose blood was poured out for our sake, is to see our Savior more clearly.

So with all of that said, read your Old Testament. It makes the New Testament even more clear. It’s God’s Word. It’s Worth it.

Till next time,

Josh

 

Faith & Prayer

“We must be willing to have faith even when God does not give us the sign we are looking for.”

Have you ever heard the of  term “Fleece Praying?”

It usually involves asking God for some sort of sign to either confirm or deny God’s will or direction for an individual. This type of praying goes beyond just simply praying for clarity. Fleece praying usually involves an attitude that says, “I need to see it to believe it.”

This thinking comes from an account found in Judges 6:36-40. For context, God had just called Gideon to become a judge, a military and spiritual leader, of Israel. God promises to use Gideon to deliver Israel out of the hands of its enemies. Gideon, however, is unconvinced. He asks God for multiple signs, specifically a wet and then a dry fleece that he laid out at night. God endures Gideon’s requests and provides the signs that Gideon felt as though he needed.

When looking at the account of Gideon and the wet fleece the question that is almost always raised is, “should we pray like that in the church age?” The answer is no, not even Gideon should have prayed like that.

The Bible records the story for us so that we can:

1) know what happened

2) see Gideon’s lack of faith

3) see God’s extended patience with Gideon

4) see God’s willingness to work and use mankind in spite of their continued lack of faith.

Gideon’s actions of demanding a sign from God are hardly the kind of actions that we should be replicating. God is God, who are we to demand anything from Him.

You might say, “but that’s not fair, he needed to be completely sure before he committed fully!” While we certainly can understand this thinking it is not quite in line with how we should approach following God’s will and direction. 2 Corinthians 5:7 says that we are to walk by faith and not by sight, additionally Isaiah 55:8-9 says that God’s ways are not our ways and His thoughts not our thoughts.

The point is this; we cannot always understand God’s reasons, but we must trust Him. And we should trust Him, He has an excellent track record! We must have faith in God when He instructs us to do something through His Word or through the prodding of the Holy Spirit. We must remember and trust His promises.

We must be willing to have faith even when God does not give us the sign we are looking for.

Fleece praying should not be taught.What should be taught is that we should always seek God’s will in our prayers and for Him to guide and direct us in our praying. (James 4:3) There are many people that want to ask God to show them specific signs and symbols so that they can know what to do, or not do. However, we must remember that God has already given us “signs and symbols” He has given us His Word.

Don’t get me wrong, I am not saying that God can’t or won’t answer prayer in this way. However, we must remember that God has already given us “signs and symbols,” He has given us His Word. We should remember what Jesus said to Thomas, a guy who demanded a sign. “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” (John 20:29)

His Word is all we need for life and godliness (2 Peter 1:3) and that, my friends, is far better than a wet fleece.

Till next time,

Josh