Monday, January 27, 2014

This is for "Me", "Us"

Here’s the passage I get to teach this coming Sunday and a story from the trip I took this summer:

Romans 8:31-39
31  What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us?
32  He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?
33  Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies.
34  Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us.
35  Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword?
36  As it is written, “For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.”
37  No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.
38  For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers,
39  nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Two great men stood side by side in the early Reformation movement. One was, of course, Martin Luther, the activist. The other was Philipp Melanchthon, the scholar. 

Luther once said of their relationship:
“I am rough, boisterous, stormy, and altogether warlike, fighting against innumerable monsters and devils. I am born for the removing of stumps and stones, cutting away thistles and thorns, and clearing the wild forests; but master Philip comes along softly and gently, sowing and watering with joy, according to the gifts which God has abundantly bestowed upon him.”

What Luther said of Melanchthon was so true.  Melanchthon's friend Camerarius wrote of him that as a boy he was gentle, winsome, unassuming, and scholarly, with an abiding look of innocence.

Melanchthon liked people, and people liked him. He was born in a tiny village named Bretten, on the Rhine river. His birth name was Philip Schwartzerdt.  By all accounts as he grew people recognized his scholary brilliance. In the year 1516, when Melanchthon was only nineteen years old, the great European humanist, Erasmus wrote of him, "What purity and elegance of style! What rare learning! What comprehensive reading! What tenderness and refinement in his extraordinary genius!"

Melanchthon's family name of Schwartzert but it was changed to its Greek equivalent "Melanchthon” because of his mastery of the Greek and Roman classics that helped spark a new enthusiasm for those languages.
The great church historian Philip Schaff gives Melanchthon more credit than anyone, even Erasmus, for reviving the study of Greek literature. And the study of Greek opened the way for the triumph of the Reformation. (Melanchthon often said that the ancient languages were the swaddling clothes of the Christ Child.)

Melanchthon was also a gifted preacher. At the age of twenty-one he became a professor at the University of Wittenberg, where Luther taught. Melanchthon's specialty was preaching in Latin to the students who did not know German, and his Sunday sermons drew crowds of 1,500 to 2,000.

Luther and Melanchthon made a great pair. Luther knew that Melanchthon was all gold, and he never attempted to disguise his appreciation. Nor could Luther ever forget the day when his friend showed him that the word which had always been translated "penance" really meant "repentance," a change of heart. Melanchthon likewise loved Luther. Luther was his hero. He wrote simply, "If there is anyone whom I dearly love, and whom I embrace with my whole heart, it is Martin Luther." They were a perfect match. 

J. W. Richard wrote about Melanchthon:
In matters of intellect he had a quick perception, an acute penetration, a retentive memory, an ardent thirst for knowledge, and the ability to express his thoughts with accuracy and precision.

They stood together to the end. When Luther died, Melanchthon gave the funeral oration over his grave. And when Melanchthon died a few years later, his body was lowered into the same grave, where they now sleep side by side in the Castle Church of Wittenberg.

Where did Melanchthon get his strength? What made this gentle, retiring man stand with Luther against the world? The heart of his strength was in his God-secured belief:  "If God is for us, who can be against us?". In his lectures and correspondence that verse is quoted more than any other Scripture. It still hangs on his study wall in Wittenberg where visitors can see it.

As the record has it, when Melanchthon sensed he was dying he asked to be placed on the traveling bed in his study because that is where he was happiest. When the pastor read Romans 8:31, Melanchthon exclaimed, "Read those words again!" The pastor read, "If God is for us, who can be against us?" Melanchthon murmured in a kind of ecstasy, "That's it! That's it!" This text had always been the greatest comfort to him. In the darkest hours of his life when death was near, he comforted himself again by reciting, "If God is for us, who can be against us?"

That is for us also our security…our hope…God’s promise to us. 

Stop, realize this…even as “Immanuel” means “God with us”…the US, is ME, YOU… God is with me…God is with you.
It is not an impersonal or vague generalization that we see, but a reality of life that is intimate, loved, secure and eternal. 
God is for me… God is for you…  We are secure in this grand eternal love.

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Pascal's Heart

Blaise Pascal lived in the 17th century - in France.  He was a brillant man - a mathematician, physicist, inventor, writer and philosopher...but, most of all, he became a Christian and that became his passion.
He wrote the famous work "Pensees" - literally "thoughts" - which became his greatest work and demonstrated his love and commitment to Jesus Christ as his Savior and Lord.

After Pascal's death in 1662, they found something strange - on the inside of his coat, sewn into the fabric of the coat, and therefore laying on his heart was a piece of paper - neatly folded and obviously not taken out before.  
On it he recorded these words (and I'll add, there are different variations of these words)

Monday, 23 November…From about Half past Ten until about Half past Midnight.
"God of Abraham, God of Isaac, God of Jacob, not of the philosophers and scholars... 
Certainty, Certainty,  
Emotion, Joy, Peace,
God of Jesus Christ.'  My God and Your God.
Your God will be My God. 
Forgetfulness of the world and of everything, except God….
He is to be found only by the ways found in the Gospel. 
Grandeur of the Soul. 
Righteous Father, the world has not known you, but I have known you.
Joy, Joy, Joy, tears of joy.
This is eternal life, that they know you, the one true God, and the one
that you sent, Jesus Christ.     Jesus Christ.     Jesus Christ.
I left him; I fled him, renounced, crucified.     Let me never be separated from him.   He is only kept securely by the ways taught in the Gospel:
 Renunciation, total and sweet.     Complete submission to Jesus Christ and to my [Director] Teacher... 
Not to forget your words. Amen.


Friday, January 3, 2014

Wisdom from an early Church Father - Humility

But now, Job, listen to my words; pay attention to everything I say. . . .I am the same as you in God’s sight; I too am a piece of clay. (Job 33:1, 6)

Arrogant teachers have this characteristic: they do not know how to teach humbly, and they cannot properly convey the things they understand. Their way of speaking betrays their teaching— they act as if they live on lofty heights, looking down disdainfully on their students. They regard their subjects as inferiors, to whom they do not condescend to listen; in fact, they barely talk with them at all — they simply lay down the law.

On the contrary true doctrine eliminates arrogance through reflection, because right teaching attacks arrogance in the teacher’s heart. It ensures that the humility it aims to instill in the listeners’ hearts is actually preached by a humble man. For humility, the mother of virtues, teaches by word and demonstrates by example. 

The goal of true doctrine is to express humility among disciples more by deeds than by words. When Paul tells his disciples, “These things command and teach with all power” (1 Tim. 4:11), he means the credibility that comes with good behavior rather than the domineering exercise of power. When one practices first and preaches afterward, one is really teaching with power. 

One’s doctrine loses credibility if one’s conscience condemns his heart. So Paul is not speaking of the power of fancy rhetoric but of the confidence gained by good deeds. It is said of the Lord, “He taught with authority unlike the scribes and the Pharisees” (Matt. 7:29). In a unique and sovereign way, he spoke with the power of his own goodness since he had no sin. His sinless human nature wielded the authority given to it by his divine nature. 

~Gregory the Great

Gregory was considered a Pope by the Catholic Church.  He was the Bishop of Rome from 590 a.d. until his death in 604 a.d.  He was a scholar and a musician who strongly believed in worship.  It's from him that Roman worship begins to include "Gregorian chants" as part of their worship.


Wednesday, January 1, 2014

A New Year Promise

Romans 8:1  There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. 

I am beginning to teach from Romans 8 this week, and I love this passage as much as any in scripture.  As I began to write on the opening verses of this chapter on Monday I found myself musing on this theme of "No Condemnation".  It's two very powerful words to hang on to.
Anyone who decides to follow Jesus is going to find themselves struggling at times.  Sin is our perpetual struggle and it's much easier to see that sin when we are earnestly seeking to be a disciple of Jesus.  But, we are not called to rules and following a recipe for goodness.  No, we are called to a relationship, and like all relationships there are ups and downs.  Try as we may we will never be perfect.

So, at the beginning of 2014, let's not make resolutions of grandeur that are destined for failure.  Instead, let's rest in a gracious, loving relationship with God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

On Sunday I'll share much more on this, but late in the message I'm going to take our fellowship back to this story Jesus tells that we call the "Prodigal Son"...but might be better called "the Great Father".  This is the picture I'd like you to hang on to when you discover your own brokenness and failures...This is a New Year Promise I want to keep before me.  This is worth a New Year Day's Celebration.

Luke 15:11-24,  
11 And he said, “There was a man who had two sons.
12  And the younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the share of property that is coming to me.’ And he divided his property between them.
13  Not many days later, the younger son gathered all he had and took a journey into a far country, and there he squandered his property in reckless living.
14  And when he had spent everything, a severe famine arose in that country, and he began to be in need.
15  So he went and hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him into his fields to feed pigs.
16  And he was longing to be fed with the pods that the pigs ate, and no one gave him anything.

17  “But when he came to himself, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have more than enough bread, but I perish here with hunger!
18  I will arise and go to my father, and I will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you.
19  I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Treat me as one of your hired servants.”’
20  And he arose and came to his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him.
21  And the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’
22  But the father said to his servants, ‘Bring quickly the best robe, and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet.
23  And bring the fattened calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate.
24  For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.’ And they began to celebrate.