Monday, October 28, 2013

The Reformation – then and now - what’s it all about?

           When October 31 approaches, most people's thoughts turn to pumpkins and goblins and all sorts of costumes. Soon will come that knock on the door and the familiar cry of "Trick or Treat?" October 31, however, is important for another reason. It marks the celebration of an event that set the religious world on its ear.
You see, on October 31, 1517, the church was in terrible shape. Precious few people owned or had ever laid eyes on a Bible. Even if they had, it would have done little good since most Bibles were written in Latin at the time. The study of Scriptures was not encouraged. The laity were told to listen to the church. Unfortunately it was a time of spiritual ignorance. Superstition abounded and many problems existed in the church.
It was at this time a troubled young monk, named Martin Luther, was trying to find peace with God. He was also troubled by many of the abuses that abounded in the church. The one that bothered him the most was the sale of indulgences.
Indulgences were slips of paper which granted forgiveness of sins and escape from temporal punishment in this life and in purgatory. The result was that the common man thought that as long as he had an indulgence he need not worry about being punished for his sins.
On October 31, 1517, the pot started to boil. Martin Luther posted a list of 95 theses (statements). They were posted on the church door of Wittenburg. There were many things he wanted to discuss with church leaders. This event marked the beginning of what is now known as the Reformation.
It is celebrated, not because it caused a split in the church. It is celebrated because this event resulted in a return to the Bible and its message of full and free forgiveness of sins through faith in Christ. Luther stated that man does not need a paper indulgence to receive forgiveness or to be free from the punishment - temporal or eternal. The Bible says that God has forgiven our sins through his Son, Jesus Christ. Our sins were paid for by Jesus' suffering and death on the cross. Our punishment, temporal and eternal, were taken away by Jesus. In Romans, Paul writes that "...there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus." (Roman 8:1)
Martin Luther's desire was not to split the church but to bring the church back to the Bible and to the glorious gospel message. That gospel proclaims that we are saved, not by works but by the free and faithful grace of God. Salvation is God’s gift to all the world. God declared the world righteous for Jesus’ sake. Forgiveness and salvation is not something we deserve nor can it be earned. It is God's gift. "Believe in Jesus Christ and thou shalt be saved." Jesus is our only hope! Simply put, that is what the Reformation was about. 
Here we must add that the work of reform never ends. We need to daily return to God's Word and hear again of God's wonderful message of salvation. We must take it to heart lest we fall once again into ignorance, superstition and unbelief.

God’s forgiveness of our sins moves us to forgive others.

            One day a little boy had a fight with his older brother. The boy refused to speak to his brother all day. His brother had hurt him and he wasn’t going to forget it! His mother said, “Son, don’t you think you should forgive your brother before you go to sleep? The Bible says that we should not let the sun go down on our wrath.” After thinking it over for a moment, the boy replied, “But, how can I keep the sun from going down?” That little boy’s attitude is found in all of us. It is part of our sinful nature. It’s hard, and may seem impossible at times, to forgive those who have hurt us by something they have said or done.
Forgiving others is not something that we come by naturally. There is a lot of truth in the saying, “To err is human; to forgive divine.” The Psalmist does a good job of describing this forgiveness, “God does not treat us as our sins deserve or repay us according to our iniquities. For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his love for those who fear him” (Psalm 103:10-12).
Forgiveness is something that is found at the heart and core of God’s relationship to us and ours to God. By extension it travels through us to everyone around us. The key to understanding this subject is found in God’s willingness to forgive our sins. In Matthew 18: 21-35, when Peter asked, ‘How many times shall I forgive my brother when he sins against me? Up to seven times,” Jesus told him it should be seventy times seven or 490 times. Jesus’ point is not that there is a limit to the number of times we are to forgive. Quite the contrary. We are to forgive others as often as necessary.
Then Jesus told the Parable of the Unmerciful Servant (Matthew 18:21-25). It is a story that gives us insight into how God things and deals with mankind. It is clear that the master in the parable is God and the servant with a debt represents each one of us. The servants debt is so large that he could not pay it off in a thousand life times. When told he must go to debtors prison, he pleaded for mercy. He received it. The master forgave him the entire debt.
That’s the way that our loving and merciful God has done for us. He has taken our sins, sins we commit hundreds of times each day, day in and day out, year in and year out, and wipes the slate clean. “While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). Instead of sending us to heaven as we deserve, he forgave us. He punished Jesus in our place.
As Jesus’ parable clearly teaches, God wants us, who have come to know God’s forgiveness first hand, to show it to those who sin against us. We are to forgive, not just those we love, not just our children, siblings, spouse, and parents, but even our enemies. We are to forgive them with no limits, full and free. No grudges, no getting even, no hard will, just mercy and love. Sounds impossible?! It is because we are not God. We have a sinful nature. Yet, with God’s help, we can do what we would never be able to do on our own. Let them see God’s love in you and through you by your forgiveness.

What does God need to do to get your attention?

            When my alarm clock goes off early in the morning in certainly gets my attention, as well as that of my wife. Referees get the attention of basketball players with a whistle.  Babies get the attention of their parents with the piercing screams.  Parents get the attention of their children by threatening to cut off their allowance if they don't clean up their room.
            You can't believe how much money is spent today getting peoples' attention.  What young person wouldn't want to buy the latest video game or phone after seeing it advertised for four months on TV? How can you resist buying a lottery ticket with all the advertising done to help you dream about what it would be like to be a millionaire?
Getting peoples' attention is not something new.  God's done it many times. I'm sure the dark clouds, thunder and lightning that surrounded Mt. Sinai at the giving of the Ten Commandments got the attention of the Israelites.  Don't you think that he got people's attention with the flood, the fall of Jericho, and with the mighty feats of Sampson?
One might wonder how God gets our attention today. Since he doesn't openly reveal himself in the same way now that he did with the nation of Israel, what does he do?
I can't help but think that God has caught the attention of many a new parent as they witnessed the miracle of birth and the precious gift of a child. Doesn't God get our attention when we look up into the heavens and see the marvels of the world which he made? How can we look at a rainbow and not recall that God placed it in the sky to remind us of his promise not to again destroy the world until judgment day arrives.
Doesn't God also get our attention when we find ourselves flat on our back in the hospital awaiting surgery or as we await the results of lab test? What about when we lose our job? When a loved one dies? When tragedy strikes? God can use all these things too to get our attention. When these things take place, what do we do? We often look to God. We look to God for help, for strength and for answers.
What God has done to capture more attention than anything else was the gift of his own Son, Jesus Christ. Look at how much fuss goes on at Christmas time. The resurrection of Christ has done the same thing. It was God’s proclamation to the world that the victory over sin, death and the grave was won for us by Christ. Has he gotten your attention? I pray he has!

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

VICTORY IS OURS THROUGH THE LORD

         One of the best known and favorite Bible stories has to be that of David and Goliath.  Who of us is not  familiar with it?  We get the details in I Samuel 17.  David, a mere boy, takes on a warrior, almost twice his size.  Goliath's armor weighed about as much as David.  The tip of his spear weighed as much as a bowling ball.
Instead of a battle, army versus army, Goliath challenged any one from Israel to come forward ‘one on one,’ winner take all. For forty days, Goliath came out and made his challenge.  When David finally took on that challenge and went out to meet Goliath armed only with a sling, Goliath was quite amused.  Goliath said, "Am I a dog, that you come at me with sticks?"  "And the Philistine cursed David by his gods.  "Come here, he said, and I'll give your flesh to the birds of the air and the beasts of the field."
Israel's army was afraid to fight Goliath but not David.  David said to Goliath, "You come against me with sword and spear and javelin, but I come against you in the name of the Lord Almighty, the God of the armies of Israel, who you have defied.  This day the Lord will hand you over to me, and I'll strike you down and cut off your head."  We all know how it ends.  The battle was over quickly.  When the dust cleared, God gave the victory to David.
Every day you are faced with challenges like David.  Those who defy God and challenge your faith are all around you.  It may be your university professor who has made it clear that he thinks your belief in God shows your ignorance.  You will be challenged by those around you who use foul language, read obscene books, use drugs and alcohol and tempt you to do the same.  You will see pre-marital and extra-marital sex defended by your friends.  You will see immoral behavior permitted and promoted on TV, the movies, in music and magazines.
Will you remain silent or speak up?  Will you go along with the crowd when you know it's wrong?  Will you compromise your beliefs so that you don't stand out or make waves?
David stood up to Goliath.  His courage was not based on his marksmanship with a sling.  He trusted in the Lord.  He knew that God would give him the victory.
What will you do?  Why not live for the Lord?  Put your trust in Him.  Live your faith.  Resist temptation.  Fight evil.  Re-focus your priorities.  Commit yourself to the Lord.  He won't let you down!

True contentment comes only from God.

            A wealthy businessman was vacationing at the beach. As he walked along the beach, he noticed a fisherman sitting lazily next to his boat. The rich man asked, “Why aren’t you out there fishing?” “I’ve caught enough for today,” the fisherman replied. “You could catch more than you need, you know,” the rich man urged. “But what would I do with them?” “Well, you could earn more money! You could buy a bigger boat, get better nets, catch more fish, and make more money. Someday, if you work hard enough and long enough, you will become rich. The fisherman asked, “Then what would I do?” “You can sit back, take it easy, and enjoy life.” he said. “That’s what I’m doing now,” said the fisherman.
Our society is focused on money and the things that money can by. ‘Give me more!’ is its cry. We hear it from our children when they visit a store. “Mom, I want one of those.” “Can we buy that?” We see it when a young couple, starting out in life, decides to buy everything on credit rather than wait until they can afford it. We are happy with our car. It gets us to work. It runs fine. It’s paid for. Then we go for a ride in a friend’s car. It has a built in navigation center, satellite TVs, heated leather seats. It helps you park, tells you when you are too close to the car next to you, and gets great mileage. Suddenly, you’re not so happy with your old beater at home.
What we are talking about, “to lack a better word. is greed, good old fashioned greed.” Greed, one of the deadly sins, is a danger for us all. None of us are exempt. It leads us to be unhappy, dissatisfied with what we have. We want more.
The opposite of greed is contentment. Contentment means being satisfied with what we have. It has nothing to do with hard work or trying to get a better job, or planning for the future. It’s about being content, happy if you will, with where we are, with what we have.
The contentment comes, in a god-pleasing way, through Christ. When we know Jesus as our Savior, when we know that our sins have been washed away by his blood, we have nothing to worry about. When we know that the Lord is with us, watching over us, giving us all that we need, we can be content. We may not be rich or famous. We may not have the fastest computer, nicest car, or biggest home. Yet, if we are content with what the Lord has given us, we will be happy.
When Jesus lives in our heart, our heart will not be so focused on what we have here and now but what we will have for all eternity. We will know that the riches and blessings of this life are nothing compared to what is waiting for us in heaven. How can we not be content with that? Such contentment can only come from one place – from God.