Archive for the ‘Martin Luther’ Category

A perpetual communion with God

Do you love God?  Do you know God’s son, Jesus Christ?  Do you spend time with him daily? Revelation 22:4-5 shows us a picture of the saints in heaven enjoying a “perpetual communion” with God, “They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. And night will be no more. They will need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign for ever and ever.”  While this passage in Revelation paints a picture of the future, the perpetual communion it describes is available to Christ followers today. But how do we get there?

In the hustle and bustle of today’s busy, fast-moving life it can be easy to pass an entire day without having even a single thought of God. At least this is true for me and I suspect many others will recognize it as true.  So how does one achieve perpetual communion with God today?  Here’s a clue.  One of the things I admire about Muslims is their commitment to the daily prayers. Practicing Muslims pause to pray five times a day. The pause for prayer is a chance to center one’s self and refocus on their god.  The prayers go like this:  

  • First: This prayer starts off the day with the recognition of God; it takes place before sunrise.
  • Second: After the day’s work has begun, one breaks shortly after noon to again remember God and seek His guidance.
  • Third: In the late afternoon, the faithful take a few minutes to remember God and the greater meaning of their lives.
  • Fourth: Just after the sun goes down, one remembers God again as the day begins to come to a close.
  • Fifth: Before retiring for the night, the Muslim faithful pause to remember God’s presence, guidance, mercy, and forgiveness.

Whether or not you’re a Muslim, such a daily prayer schedule that keeps one focused on God is a wonderful idea. Abraham was the father of both Islam and Judaism.  In Genesis 17, God appeared to Abraham and “spoke with him,” announcing the Covenant of Circumcision. Genesis chapter 5 list Adam’s descendants down to Noah. Speaking of one descendant who was named Enoch, verse 24 says, “Enoch walked with God, and he was not for God took him.”  

The meaning of this cryptic passage has been heavily debated by Bible scholars. Did Enoch physically walk with God?  Was he taken up to heaven without dying?  The New Testament holds a clue. Hebrews 11:5 says, “By faith Enoch was taken up so that he should not see death, and he was not found, because God had taken him. Now before he was taken, he was commended as having pleased God.” 

It appears that both Abraham and Enoch literally met God—stood in His presence while they lived on this Earth—pretty special to say the least.  Even so, they could not have seen him face to face. Moses too had a literal meeting with God. God spoke to him in Exodus 33:20, saying, “…you cannot see my face, for man shall not see me and live.”  Exodus 33:23 goes on to recount how God physically passed by Moses, showing him his back.

Like Adam and Eve before them, Abraham, Enoch and Moses were blessed to have physically communed with God.  I can’t help but think how easy it would be for me to live in perpetual communion with God if I could physically meet him. God doesn’t make it that easy, however.  As Jesus tells the Apostle Thomas in John 20:29, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”

What moves someone to believe without seeing. From Jesus’ own words spoken to “doubting Thomas,” we can extrapolate that developing a perpetual communion with God requires faith. The renowned Scottish theologian Oswald Chambers said, “The mystery of God is not in what is going to be, it is now…Realize that the Lord is here now, and the freedom you receive is immediate.”  Communion with God leads to liberation—being set free from the cares and worries of the day. How can one achieve this liberation? As Chambers suggests, we must first recognize that God is here now! 

How is such a close communion developed?  Unlike justification, which Luther explained is achieved “through faith alone” (sole fide), developing a perpetual communion with God requires more than faith.  It requires hard work. This work takes two forms: studying the Scriptures and praying without ceasing, as Paul describes in 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18. We cannot truly come to know and understand God without committing ourselves to studying the scriptures, for they are the revealed word of God. Prayer is also essential.  Psalm 143 suggests we should begin each day with prayer: “Let me hear of your loving-kindness in the morning, for I put my trust in you.”

With respect to praying, one often overlooked aspect of prayer is extremely important to developing a perpetual communion with God—praying requires listening!  We need to take time to be silent and listen for the voice of God. God is with us.  His name is Emmanuel. Start getting to know Him today and begin the hard work of developing a perpetual communion with Him.  

Amazingly, the Creator and Ruler of the universe wants to spend time with you so that you can know Him better. It’s as if He is saying, “I want you all to Myself for a little while.” Take Him up on the invitation to get away to a quiet place and learn about Him.  –Dr. Charles Stanley

Too much to pray for!

Prayer

Renowned Scottish theologian Oswald Chambers said, ‘Prayer does not equip us for greater works— prayer is the greater work. Yet we think of prayer as some commonsense exercise of our higher powers that simply prepares us for God’s work. In the teachings of Jesus Christ, prayer is the working of the miracle of redemption in me, which produces the miracle of redemption in others, through the power of God.’

The older I grow, the more it seems like I have more to pray for than I can handle.  Is this is a common dilemma for Christians as they grow older?  I’d like to hear from readers who share the same or a similar problem.  

My prayer list is getting too long to manage.  It includes numerous categories including family (spouse, children, grandchildren, siblings, cousins, aunts, uncles, in-laws and extended family members); friends; colleagues at work; clergy; those persecuted for their Christian faith; my church; my former churches; local leaders; state leaders; national leaders; military service members; and even the abused and missing children on the evening TV network news.  Where should I begin praying on a prayer like this?

 I’ve tried ‘checklist’ praying–simply going down the list and asking God’s blessing for each category, but that feels very hollow. I’ve tried lifting up specific prayers for everyone and everything on the list, but my ability to concentrate usually fails after five or 10 minutes into the prayers.  I’ve segmented my prayers to pray for one category at a time on my prayer list.

When Jesus’ disciples asked him to teach them to pray, he gave them (and us) the ‘Lord’s Prayer’. It’s a beautiful model for praying, but should not be the only prayer we pray; one of the purposes of prayer is simply for us to be with God and to listen and experience the glory of his presence. Our Lord’s prayer goes like this:

Our Father who are in heaven (recognition of God’s supreme authority in all creation),

Hallowed be thy name (affirmation of God’s perfect nature),

Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done on Earth as it is in heaven (a petition for God to restore the perfect order on Earth that he has intended since creation),

Give us this day our daily bread (recognition that God sustains us),

And forgive us our trespasses (a plea for God’s forgiveness through Jesus Christ),

As we forgive those who trespass against us (an acknowledgement that we have all sinned and fall short of the glory of God and a reminder to forgive others),

And lead us not into temptation (a plea to God to spare us from testing, as Job, Jesus and so many Christian martyrs have been tested),

But deliver us from evil (protect us from Satanic forces),

For Thine is the kingdom, and the power, and glory forever, amen (a final acknowledgement of God’s supreme authority in all creation).

The Lord’s Prayer is a beautiful way to begin or end any prayer! 

St. Paul’s epistle to the Romans (8:26-27) tells us, ‘…We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans. And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God (NIV).’  I try to apply this wisdom when I’m feeling overwhelmed.  Sometimes my daily prayer is simply, “Holy Spirit, please pray for me and my family.”  I also pray this prayer for individuals, when I feel troubled about/for them, but I don’t know how to pray for them.

One thing I’ve learned is not to pray too much for myself.  When I do pray for myself, it usually entails asking God for forgiveness.  Psalm 51 and the Lord’s Prayer are my ‘go to’ prayers when I pray for myself. They are more than sufficient!

So how should we pray?  I would love to hear your comments and ideas on prayer. Please consider leaving a comment. 

To Be a Christian without prayer is no more possible than to be alive without breathing.    —Martin Luther

What do you believe?

Martin Luther by Ferdinand Pauwels

Martin Luther by Ferdinand Pauwels

Tomorrow much of the world will commemorate the 500th anniversary of the 95 Theses, when a brave Roman Catholic monk named Martin Luther nailed a revolutionary document to the church door in Wittenburg, Germany (see http://www.luther.de/en/95thesen.html).   The document, consisting of 95 parts, denounced his church’s practice of selling “indulgences” to absolve sin, which ran contrary to Luther’s Bible-based belief that that salvation could be attained through faith and by God’s grace alone.  I call him brave, because Luther’s act put him at risk of excommunication and possibly even death.

When called before the Catholic Council (Reichstag) in the city of Worms and ordered to renounce the document, Luther refused, saying  the famous words, “Hier stehe ich. Ich kann kein anders.” (Here I stand.  I cannot do otherwise).   Rather than renouncing his 95 Theses,  Luther eventually renounced his monastic vows and married a former nun. His act of faith rocked the Catholic church and ultimately spawned what today is known as the Protestant Reformation.

What would you do if your Christian faith were challenged?  What if someone asked you about your Christian beliefs?  How would you reply? I’d like to think I’d be as brave as Luther, but in reality I probably wouldn’t. How many people are willing to risk everything for Christ? Recently, we’ve heard stories of Christians in Iraq and Syria identifying themselves to ISIS terrorists and being executed, rather than hide their Christian faith. How would you respond?

Have you ever really thought about what your Christian faith means to you?  Sure, you might recite the Apostle’s Creed or Nicene Creed at church every week, but did you ever really stop to think what those words mean?   I’m an Anglican.  My denomination, the Anglican Church in North America (ACNA), subscribes to three creeds:  the Nicene, Apostle’s, and Athanasian.  Unless you’re a relatively new Christian, you’re probably familiar with the first two, which are worded very similarly.  The Athanasian Creed is a bit harder to digest, as it  clearly discuss the three persons comprising the Holy Trinity, one of the most controversial tenets of the Christian faith.  It is accepted by many Western churches and often read at Trinity Sunday worship services in lieu of the Apostle’s or Nicene Creed.

I challenge you to set aside some quiet time and seriously consider the question, “What do I believe?” I can assure you that of the three great world religions, Christianity, Judaism, and Islam, the average Christians is the least well-equipped to answer this question.  Islam and Judaism emphasize reading and memorizing scriptures much more than does Christianity.

Here are a few things to consider if you accept the challenge.

  • The Holy Trinity (Matthew 28:19) – Do the words of the Bible or the Athanasian Creed’s take on the Trinity cause you to question your own beliefs?
  • Your Body (1 Corinthians 6:19-20) – Do you treat your body as if it is the Temple of the Holy Spirit? (Think about what you put into it).
  • Divorce (Matthew 19) – Do you accept Jesus teaching on divorce? He opposes it.
  • Abortion (Psalm 139:13-16; Jeremiah 1:5) – What are your beliefs about the early stages of life?
  • Gay Marriage (Romans 1) – What are your beliefs on gay marriage?
  • Love the Lord your God with all your heart (Mark 12:28-34) – Do you love God above everything else, or is something (addiction, idolatry) getting in the way?
  • Love your neighbor as yourself (Mark 12:28-34) – Are you at peace with your neighbor?
  • Sin (Romans 7:14-25) – What is sin? Are you a sinner?                   

This is a tough challenge—not something you can think through in a few minutes. Matthew 9 tells the story of a man who is imploring Jesus to heal his young son, who has an unclean spirit (demon) plaguing him.  Jesus says to the man (ESV), “If you can’! All things are possible for one who believes.”  Immediately the father of the child cried out and said, “I believe; help my unbelief!” I submit that most Christians who take the challenge will find themselves crying, “Help my unbelief!”

 “Today, many churches are taking God’s laws and saying, ‘These no longer are in effect.’ In Luther’s time the Church said, ‘You need to buy indulgences to be forgiven of your sin.’ Today, more than one church says, ‘Sin? What is sin?’” 

                                                                  Ken Klaus, Pastor Emeritus, The Lutheran Hour 

Back to Scripture: The Protestant Reformation and the Five Solas   https://www.christianheadlines.com/slideshows/back-to-scripture-the-protestant-reformation-and-the-five-solas.html

 

Stretch Yourself

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“It is perilously possible to make our conceptions of God like molten lead poured into a specially designed mould, and when it is cold and hard we fling it at the heads of the religious people who don’t agree with us.”  —Oswald Chambers

Alison J. Head and Michael B. Eisenberg are the co-principal investigators and co-directors of Project Information Literacy at the University of Washington Information School in Seattle. One of the areas they study is information overload and multi-tasking.

Since 2008 the pair has surveyed over 10,000 college students. One of their most significant findings is that, “Information is now as infinite as the universe, but finding the answers needed is harder than ever.”

In today’s complex, often confusing wilderness of digital information, it’s important that people periodically take time to slow down and think!  Scottish theologian Oswald Chambers said, “Always keep in contact with those books and those people that enlarge your horizon and make it possible for you to stretch yourself mentally.”

I have to agree with his advice. I’ve found that a good way to slow down is to turn off the laptop or smartphone.  Instead, try engaging in meaningful conversations and reading.

My most meaningful conversations usually occur with my wife Linda.  She is one of the smartest people I know. Her logic and ability to find clarity in the midst of confusion have always amazed me. If she were the only person I ever talked with, my life would never lack for interesting, meaningful dialogue.

As for books, it’s hard to know where to begin, but I’d like to suggest a few good ones for Christians hoping to stretch their minds a little.  My top five, in no particular order are:

My Utmost for His Highest, by Oswald Chambers

Oswald Chambers, who died in 1917 at age 43, is widely regarded as one of the most influential theologians of the 20th century. He wrote only three books in his lifetime, but there are many bearing his name.  They are the products of his devoted wife Gertrude, a professional stenographer who recorded all of Chambers’ sermons verbatim in shorthand.

My Utmost for His Highest is a book of daily devotions written by Mrs. Chambers. It draws from dozens of her husband’s sermons. First published in 1924, it is the most popular Christian devotional ever written.  The idea of total abandonment, i.e. completely surrendering one’s life to God, is at the center of its message. As the book’s title suggests, we must strive daily to do our utmost for God.

Chambers said, “We have the idea that we can dedicate our gifts to God. However, you cannot dedicate what is not yours. There is actually only one thing you can dedicate to God, and that is your right to yourself (see Romans 12:1). If you will give God your right to yourself, He will make a holy experiment out of you— and His experiments always succeed.”

The language of the original text is somewhat challenging for modern day readers due to its use of Scottish vernacular. Fortunately, there are versions available in modern English.  Personally, I find that working through the original version simply adds to the exercise of stretching my mind. When read as intended—one short devotion per day—this book will help you stretch yourself for an entire year.

Your God is too Small, by J.B. Phillips

J.B. Phillips was a canon of the Anglican Church.  He died in 1982.  His seminal work, Your God is Too Small, was published in 1952. According to Phillips, from childhood we are taught to package God in a tiny box conforming to our personal beliefs and preferences.  Look for all of the answers and you’ll find them by turning God into something simple and understandable. Phillips calls this “God in a box,” which is also the title of the book’s seventh chapter.

Oswald Chambers cautioned us against such shaping God in our own image, saying, “Our danger is to water down God’s word to suit ourselves. God never fits His word to suit me; He fits me to suit His word.” (Not Knowing Whither, 901 R).

David wrote in Psalm 8, “When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is man that you are mindful of him, and the son of man that you care for him?”

Your God it too Small leads its readers through a series of intellectual exercises designed to expand their concept of the God who created the universe. If you find yourself marveling at God’s creation, unable to wrap your mind around it all, this book will help you see God in a totally different way.

The Screwtape Letters, by C.S. Lewis

Clive Staples Lewis (1898-1963) is one of the most popular and prolific Christian authors and apologists who ever lived. He penned over 30 books.  Today he is best known for his classic series The Chronicles of Narnia, which have been transformed into an extremely successful series of films.

Originally published in 1942, The Screwtape Letters is arguably the Lewis’s most unusual book.  It is written in the format of a series of letters from an uncle attempting to mentor his young nephew through an important task. This would be nothing unusual, were it not for the fact that Screwtape is a senior demon and servant of Satan.  The letters are written to his nephew Wormwood, a junior tempter.  Wormwood has been given the task of ensuring the damnation of a British businessman who is referred to only as “the patient.”  Screwtape provides his nephew a clear strategy on how to undermine the patient’s faith and lead him into sin.

Lewis’s book is a dissertation on the human condition—a deep analysis of man’s inner makeup, with all of its strengths, frailties, temptations and struggles. Screwtape, through his keen understanding of human behavior, explains to Wormwood the best methods for ensuring the patient’s ultimate demise. The book paints an in-depth picture of spiritual warfare and the ultimate triumph of God.  It is guaranteed to make you think about your own inner self.

Luther:  Man between God and the Devil, by Heiko A. Oberman 

Originally published in German in 1982, this book is considered by many German scholars to be the most comprehensive biography every written on Martin Luther (1483-1546).  Luther was the central figure of the Protestant Reformation and remains one of the most influential theologians in history.

Even without the discussion of Luther, Oberman’s book would be worth reading just for its political, cultural and religious discussion of the Reformation.  However, it offers much, much more. Unlike many Luther biographers before him, Oberman attempts to describe Luther’s thoughts and deeds as something much more than just a medieval German monk who rebelled against the authority of the Catholic Church.

Oberman contends that Luther was convinced of the reality of the devil and viewed his own life as a continuous struggle against evil. (Not unlike The Screwtape Letters).  Luther viewed the world as an enormous battleground where God clashes with Satan. Approaching him from this angle lends a whole new perspective to Luther’s theology. This book is guaranteed to stretch your mind!

Jesus Under Fire: Modern Scholarship Reinvents the Historical Jesus, edited by Michael J. Wilkins and J.P. Moreland

If you’re a middle-aged Christian like me you might recall hearing about a popular movement in the 80’s and 90’s centered on “the quest for the historical Jesus.” The movement, which still has some momentum today, was epitomized by the Jesus Seminar.  The Jesus Seminar was organized by the Weststar Institute in 1985.

According to the institute’s website, its purpose was to, “to renew the quest of the historical Jesus and to report the results of its research to the general public, rather than just to a handful of gospel specialists. Initially, the goal of the Seminar was to review each of the sayings and deeds attributed to Jesus in the gospels and determine which of them could be considered authentic.

The seminar began with a group of 30 Bible scholars, but eventually grew to around 200. Put simply, this movement was an attempt by Bible scholars, not necessarily Christian scholars, to refute the divinity of Jesus Christ by framing him in history as nothing more than a typical, popular Jewish teacher of his day.

Jesus Under Fire is a compilation of essays by eight prominent Christian apologists written to challenge the methodology and conclusions of the Jesus Seminar.  The book’s introduction describes the furor surrounding Jesus:

“Today some people say that Jesus never said most of what is recorded of him in the Bible.  Some pronounce further that Jesus never did most of what the Bible records he did.  They claim that Jesus of Nazareth was a far different figure than church history and the creeds have believed him to be.  Therefore, if we are to be intelligent people, even intelligent religious people, we must not simply accept what the Bible records Jesus claimed for himself and what the early church claimed him to be.  If we are to be truly modern in our religious quest, we must not simplistically hope that Jesus’ actions as they are recorded in the Bible are factual, or that they have any relevance for us today.  Jesus must be stripped of ancient myths that surround him as to what he said and did, so that the modern person can hear his true message.  Jesus must be brought down to earth from the status to which the early church elevated him, so that we can understand who he was as he walked under Palestinian skies and comprehend what, if any, religious relevance he has for us today.”

The chapter titles of Jesus Under Fire describe the authors’ response to the Jesus Seminar:

  • Where do we start studying Jesus?
  • Who is Jesus? An introduction to Jesus studies.
  • The words of Jesus in the Gospels: Live, Jive or Memorex?
  • What did Jesus do?
  • Did Jesus perform miracles?
  • Did Jesus rise from the dead?
  • Is Jesus the only way?
  • Jesus outside the New Testament: What is the Evidence?

This book is for serious mind stretchers only.  It is probably the most difficult book I have ever read…and reread.  I found each of the essays intellectually stimulating—the sort of stuff that makes me go back and reread each paragraph, underlining sentences as I go.  I spent about six months working my way through it the first time…and it was time well spent. I hope you will find it equally as enjoyable.

Give yourself a special gift this Christmas and start reading one of these wonderful books.  You won’t regret it.