Thursday, October 31, 2013

Happy "All-Hallows' Eve" Day

Today is Oct. 31st and therefore in the U.S. it's Halloween.  The word Halloween is derived from the words "all hallows' eve" - which for centuries was a prelude to Nov. 1st and the celebration of "All Saints Day".
For centuries the church celebrated Nov. 1 as a day to honor the historical "saints" of the church.  Now, as a Christian, we're all "Saints".  Scripture says so:
  • Romans 1:7  To all in Rome who are loved by God and called to be saints: Grace and peace to you from God our Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ. 
  • 1 Corinthians 1:2  To the church of God that is in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints together with all those who in every place call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, both their Lord and ours: 
  • Ephesians 1:1  Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, To the saints in Ephesus, the faithful in Christ Jesus:
Look at Paul's greetings in most of his letters and he continues to say that the members of the church in each place he wrote to were "saints".
"Saints" comes from the Greek word, "hagios", which means "holy ones"..."set apart ones"...
It simply is the acknowledgement that God calls us holy and we are set apart for God's purposes, for the fulfillment of  his Kingdom.

Now, the fact that Halloween emerged as a celebration of darkness, death and Satan's forces demonstrates how far we've drifted from the original purpose of "All Hallows' Eve" and "All Saints Day" tomorrow.

If you are a believer in Jesus Christ this day as significance in history.  It was on Oct. 31, 1517, that a Parish priest, University lecturer - Martin Luther - nailed a series of disputations on the door of Castle Church in Wittenberg, Germany to protest the sale of indulgences and the authority of the Pope to do so.
Leading up to this event was a series of incidents, and Luther's study of the Psalms and Romans which led to his "Protest" against the hierarchy of the Church.  The incidents were around the sale of Indulgences - payments made by members of the church to the Pope in false belief that their loved ones would get out purgatory earlier because of the payment of this "merit money".   Indulgences were simply the culmination of several centuries of drifting from the message of grace to create a system of merits - works that increased the right of salvation.

Martin Luther was a Parish Priest and Lecturer at the University of Wittenberg when he wrote the 95 Theses as a series of disputations to challenge the correctness of the Church's practice in light of the theology of the scripture.  His own journey had evolved from believing in the wrath of God personally against himself to the point where he began to study and lecture from the Psalms and Romans.

In the Psalms Luther could not understand why God would say to his Son what the Psalmist declares in Psalm 22:1,
 My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, from the words of my groaning?

Luther could not comprehend God without thinking of wrath and judgement - his own life had been shaped by the belief that he would never be able to earn salvation.  Then he began to lecture from the book of Romans and everything changed as he discovered Romans 3:21-25 
21  But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it— 
22  the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction:
23  for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,
24  and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus,
25  whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins

In Luther, the light went on and the Spirit of God etched in his mind and heart that Salvation was not earned, it was a gift - a gift of Grace from God through the redemption that Jesus accomplished on the cross. 

In Luther, the idea of "merits" to earn salvation were not only incorrect - they were an insult to God.  God sent his Son into the world to accomplish what could not be accomplished through any actions on our own part - no matter how right, or correct, or good, they seem to be.  

It is Jesus that "saves" us.  
It is Jesus that "calls us holy".
It is Jesus that "separates us and declares us His saints".

We are Saints...drink that in.  
We are Christ's and He is Ours.

Happy "All Hallow's Eve" Day my fellow Saints.


Monday, October 28, 2013

"No Reserves, No Retreat, No Regrets

A recent auction, coupled with a book, and a lesson from Church History is how I'm prompted to right about what it means to live on purpose.
First let me start with a bit of nostalgia.

I grew up with Borden's Milk delivered to our house.  As a kid we looked for the milk man's stop.  I don't remember how long home deliveries took place, but I've visited England several times and the tradition is still alive and well there.

When the deliveries stopped we bought our Borden's milk at the local grocery store.

A nostalgic memory that was revived at a recent
auction where old bottles were up for sale.
Recently a young friend sent me a book and a story
that caught my attention was about William Borden.

The Borden family began their milk business in the latter part of the 19th century.  William Borden was the son of William Borden, the founder of Borden Milk.  The elder William married Mary Whiting and William Jr. was born Nov. 1, 1882 (so happy 131st birthday this next Friday).  It's safe to say that William was raised in an affluent household; but also a Christ-centered one.  His mother took him to the old Chicago Avenue Church - which eventually became Moody Church - and he grew up listening to the amazing preaching and teaching of R.A. Torrey.  (By the way, I once was asked in a class room who I thought was the greatest teacher/preacher of the church - a daunting question to say to least - but I had to admit that one of the greatest had to be R.A. Torrey, so if you're not familiar with him, take a look at some of his writings/exposition, and you'll see why I said that).
William Borden grew up in both affluence and faith...which is not an easy tension to live out.  When he graduated from high school in 1904, his parents sent him on a trip around the world - not a bad present!  It was on this trip that he saw the poverty of a world that looked much different than his wealthy Chicago life.  It placed a heavy burden on his heart, and he found himself wondering and praying - what should/can I do?  He made a decision to become a Missionary.  He wrote home explaining to his parents his decision and they asked him to finish his University training before making the decision final.

When he returned home he entered Yale University - it was 1905 and he was 22 years old.  He was an excellent student and applied himself to both his studies and his faith.  He started prayer groups and a Mission to reach out to the poor of lower Boston, seeking to lead people to Christ in all his work.  He graduated with honors in 1909 and went on to Princeton Seminary to become prepared in Biblical and theological studies where again he excelled again.
Finally with his university and seminary training behind he faced some pressure to stay home.  His family's wealth and influence opened many doors to take any number of high paying offers in business - he declined them all.
He sailed to Egypt in order to learn Arabic - his goal to be a missionary to Muslim's in Western China.
He never got there.
While in Egypt, at the age of 25, he came down with Spinal Menigitis.  A highly infectious disease - at that time it was usually fatal.  William Borden died at the age of 25.
The family, his friends, the world was shocked.  How could a 25 year old committed to serving Christ see his life cut short like that?  There are no answers to those questions.

Amazingly, when his affects were returned they discovered his bible, filled with notes and resolves.  At each point in his life he kept turning things over to Christ seeking God's will.
When he decided to become a missionary he wrote -  "No Reserves"
When he rejected the high paying job offers after graduation - "No retreats"
When he knew that death was at his door, he scratched the words - "No Regrets"

William Borden died "way to young" in our estimation - but he lived with those words in his purposed filled short life, and in that way he lived with more affect than many a person lives when they live to be 80!
One of things he wrote summed up his purposes well:

A man in Christ
He arose and forsook all and followed Him,
Kindly affectioned with brotherly love,
Fervent in spirit serving the Lord,
Rejoicing in hope,
Patient in tribulation,
Instant in prayer,
Communicating to the necessity of saints,
In honour preferring others,
Apart from faith in Christ,
There is no explanation for such a life.

This is life to the fullest...this is life filled with meaning...this is life that can be truly said to be lived with no regrets.


Monday, October 21, 2013

Let's Say The "NAME"

Acts 4:5-13 5  On the next day their rulers and elders and scribes gathered together in Jerusalem,
6  with Annas the high priest and Caiaphas and John and Alexander, and all who were of the high-priestly family.
7  And when they had set them in the midst, they inquired, “By what power or by what name did you do this?”
8  Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them, “Rulers of the people and elders,
9  if we are being examined today concerning a good deed done to a crippled man, by what means this man has been healed,
10  let it be known to all of you and to all the people of Israel that by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead—by him this man is standing before you well.
11  This Jesus is the stone that was rejected by you, the builders, which has become the cornerstone.
12  And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.”
13  Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were uneducated, common men, they were astonished. And they recognized that they had been with Jesus.

The older I get, the less clutter I can put up with.  I like things to be simple, clear, and to the point.  I had a really frustrating set of phone calls with a credit card company - a little used card - when they incorrectly failed to post credit to my account.  (The problem turned out to be a switch of two numbers by whoever entered the information).  I was on the phone with the company several times over the two weeks before it was all resolved.  I can understand human error, but what is really frustrating is the "computerized multiple steps" to get to a real live person (let all who have had this happen raise their hand and give me an Amen!).  Ughh!  

While sitting at my desk going through a series of "press this number" I began to think about how this relates to we Christians and the way we take people through unnecessary hoops to get them to think about the Gospel.

The Gospel is very simple - Jesus Christ has redeemed us by his death on the cross, paying the penalty for our sin.  We, by faith, receive God's grace and are given forgiveness, freedom, and a confident future.  It's simple, and there's no reason for any unnecessary steps, no matter what the person may present as their objection.

In fact, in reading the passage above, I'd say it's even simpler.  The next time you get in a conversation with a person about matters of faith, just keep saying the name "Jesus".  Peter and John are summoned before the religious leaders to give an account for their actions and in a rather simple way, they go to the heart of the Gospel - it's about Jesus, who he is, what he has done, and what he is still doing.

So...the next time you're in a conversation with someone about matters of faith, the church, God, truth, etc... just get back to the simplest of things - say the name, the name JESUS.



Monday, October 14, 2013

Celebrating Columbus' Faith

Hebrews 11:8  By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to a place that he was to receive as an inheritance. And he went out, not knowing where he was going. 

Hebrews 11:13-16 13  These all died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth.
14  For people who speak thus make it clear that they are seeking a homeland.
15  If they had been thinking of that land from which they had gone out, they would have had opportunity to return.
16  But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared for them a city.

People do interesting, and sometimes (to others) strange things by faith.  Abraham left his family and home to journey to a new land God had promised him as an inheritance.  To us in the 21st century it doesn't seem to be that big of a deal to move a few hundred miles, but a journey of that magnitude in Abraham's time meant a forever "leaving" of all that is known.  

Why do people do things like that?  How can we understand the movements of faith inside of a  human being who is responding to God?  I know a little of this personally having made the move from family some 40+ years ago in response to God's call to enter into training for full time ministry.  My family was certainly confused by that, and the response I got at the time varied between "that's foolish" to "IF you think that's what you're suppose to do, well then go for it, BUT..."  
Now that my kids have grown up I've seen that same spirit of understanding faith's risks in my children.  My son, his wife and kids moved to California this last summer to follow a similar path of preparing for vocational ministry.  Years before, my daughter moved to England to marry and has now begun her family, living 1000's of miles away.   I think if you were to ask them they both would say it was a "faith" initiated move.

BUT today, I'm focusing on another historical figure - Christopher Columbus.  It's Columbus day in the states - a holiday that is not celebrated except by the government which shuts down most operations - we've been on an extended pre-Columbus and perhaps post-Columbus holiday for this month!
Who was this man? Why did he sail "the ocean blue"?

Cristoforo Colombo (as he was known in his hometown of Genoa, Italy) was taller than most men; so tall, in fact, he couldn't stand inside his cabin on the Santa María
Columbus, as we know his name today, was an experienced mariner. He had sailed the Mediterranean and traveled to parts of Africa, to Ireland, and probably even to Iceland. He boasted later in life, “I have gone to every place that has heretofore been navigated. ” He knew the Atlantic as well or better than anyone, and he probably knew more about how to read currents, winds, and surfaces of the sea than do sailors today. 

“He [our Lord] has bestowed the marine arts upon me in abundance, ” Columbus said.

For nearly seven years, the “socially ambitious, socially awkward ” Italian had become a fixture at the Spanish court, ceaselessly lobbying for his crazy “enterprise of the Indies. ” A royal commission in 1490 had judged “that the claims and promises of Captain Colón are vain and worthy of rejection. . . . The Western Sea is infinite and unnavigable.” 
Yet Columbus had pressed on, proving, as he said, “If it strikes often enough, a drop of water can wear a hole in a stone.”

The textbook answer, as taught in most schools today, is that Columbus wanted to find a trade route to the Orient. 
One writer, Robert Hughes expressed the conventional wisdom: “Sometime between 1478 and 1484, the full plan of self-aggrandizement and discovery took shape in his mind. He would win glory, riches, and a title of nobility by opening a trade route to the untapped wealth of the Orient. No reward could be too great for the man who did that.”  In otherwords, Columbus was after fame and fortune.

There might be some truth in that - many a person is driven to invent or discover because of the money to be made.  But it is an incomplete answer—so incomplete it’s misleading. 

In reflecting on his voyage later, Columbus saw it in much greater terms: 

“Who can doubt that this fire was not merely mine, but also the Holy Spirit who encouraged me with a radiance of marvelous illumination from his sacred Scriptures, . . . urging me to press forward?”

Columbus felt that Almighty God had directly brought about his journey: 

“With a hand that could be felt, the Lord opened my mind to the fact that it would be possible . . . and he opened my will to desire to accomplish that project. . . . The Lord purposed that there should be something miraculous in this matter of the voyage to the Indies.”

There may be many things we don't know about history’s most famous mariner. 
We don't know exactly what Columbus looked like. We don't know the precise design of his three ships. And most bizarre of all, we don't know—and will probably never know—the spot where he came ashore.

But we know beyond doubt that Columbus sailed, in part, to fulfill a faith quest. 
Columbus’s voyages were as much faith missions, as anything else. 
He saw them as the fulfillment of a divine plan for his life—and for the soon-coming end of the world. As he put it in 1500, “God made me the messenger of the new heaven and the new earth of which he spoke in the Apocalypse of St. John [Rev. 21:1] after having spoken of it through the mouth of Isaiah; and he showed me the spot where to find it.”

That is an overstatement to say the least; but it reflects his heart, and soul, that what he did was in response to God's movements in his heart, mind, soul and spirit - his inner motivations were by faith, that is clear.

In 1501 Columbus wrote, “I am only a most unworthy sinner, but ever since I have cried out for grace and mercy from the Lord, they have covered me completely. I have found the most delightful comfort in making it my whole aim in life to enjoy his marvelous presence. ” 

Concludes Pulitzer-Prize-winning biographer Samuel Eliot Morison, “There can be no doubt that the faith of Columbus was genuine and sincere, and that his frequent communion with forces unseen was a vital element in his achievement.”

Columbus would need that vital element. The voyage was immediately beset by problems - a broken rudder, leaks so bad they needed immediate repair, and threatened capture by the Portuguese. A week after losing sight of the Canary Islands, the pilots discovered that the compasses no longer worked right. (They varied a full degree at various times of the day, because of the rotation of the North Star, which pilots had thought was fixed in its location.)

On September 23, the ship hit a calm, causing the seamen to complain they'd never be able to get back to Spain. But later, the sea rose without the aid of any wind. This “astonished them,” and Columbus compared it to the miracles that accompanied Moses.

After going a month without seeing land, the men belly-ached about the endless voyage. But on October 11, they began seeing signs of shore: seabirds, bits of green plants, stacks that looked they had been carved, a small plank. At 10 that evening, Columbus saw a faint, flickering light like a candle in the distance. Columbus instructed his men to keep careful lookout. Then the Pinta (“Painted One”), the fastest of the three ships, sailed ahead. At about 2 A.M., a crewman yelled “Tierra! ”—land.

At daylight, the wide-eyed Europeans saw people (he named them Indians because he thought he had sailed to India), and as well, many ponds, fruits, and green trees. 

But what land was this? Where was he? The natives called the island Guanahan. Columbus dubbed it San Salvador, “Holy Savior.” 

In time, the Santa Maria was destroyed, the wood used for the building of a fort; and Columbus sailed the Nina and the Pinta back to Spain.  Columbus finally returned home – months had passed and no one knew what had happened in the voyage until he returned. 

As he sailed into port, Columbus composed and sent on a letter to Ferdinand and Isabella: “Our Redeemer has given this triumph…for all of this Christendom should feel joyful and make great celebrations and give solemn thanks to the Holy Trinity...for the great exaltation which it will have in the salvation of so many peoples to our holy faith and, secondly, for the material benefits which will bring refreshment and profit.”

While most school children will learn of Christopher Columbus, I doubt if many will know that he was driven by his faith in God.  There were other motivations - we all have them - but to ignore Columbus' faith is to fail to understand why he did what he did.

It's Columbus Day - and it's worth our remembering his Christian heritage.


Monday, October 7, 2013

Reflecting on what Grace and Faith are really about

I mentioned in a previous post the story of the 33 Chilean Miners who were rescued three years ago this week.  They had buried 2300 feet under the surface and after two months of drilling a rescue hole, a 13 foot capsule, 19 inches around, was lowered to the trapped miners.  One by one, they got in until they all were saved.
I used that story yesterday in teaching on Romans 4.  I'm teaching the book of Romans in our church fellowship and this story illustrates so well the point of what it means to be saved by Grace Alone, Through Faith alone.
Grace is the vehicle lowered from above...the work is all done on top and the trapped miners could do nothing to help themselves out.
Grace brings us the ability to be is "getting in" the capsule.  Choosing to say "yes, Lord" to Jesus Christ's offer to save us.  All were saved because by faith they "got in".  So also, any of us who say yes to Christ Jesus have received that grace to faith.

Many years ago I read the works of the Scottish preacher, Horatius Bonar.  A preacher from a long line of preachers (some 350+ years of them), he wrote several works, some hymns, and poems.  I ran across this poem in one of my readings, and feel it an appropriate way to end this blog...

Not what these hands have done
Can save this guilty soul;
Not what this toiling flesh has borne
Can make my spirit whole.
Not what I feel or do
Can give me peace with God,
Not all my prayers and sighs and tears
Can bear my awful load.
Thy work alone O Christ,
Can ease this weight of sin;
Thy blood alone, O Lamb of God,
Can give me peace within.
Thy grace alone, O God,
To me can pardon speak,
Thy power alone, O Son of God,
Can this sore bondage break.
I bless the Christ of God;
I rest on love divine;
And, with unfalt'ring lip and heart,
I call this Savior mine.

-      Horatius Bonar, 1861