Martin Luther Sparks a Reformation!

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“On a crisp October night in 1517, the thirty-first to be exact, a black-garbed Augustinian monk made his way undetected to the castle church.  The place was an insignificant medieval German town named Wittenberg.  With swift, determined strokes he nailed one the most inflammatory documents of the age to the church door, which served as the village bulletin board.  Within a fortnight all Europe was echoing the sound of that inauspicious hammer.  A month later the hardly-audible taps had become sledge hammer blows assailing the very citadel of the Roman Catholic Church.” (Roland H. Bainton, Here I Stand)

The Augustinian monk was named Martin Luther.  Certainly, Luther did not understand the eternal significance of his document, yet the Reformation was launched.  There had been numerous attempts to reform the Roman Catholic Church (The only church at that time), but they had all been squelched by the Inquisition.

God appointed the 16th century as the time to reform and purify His church.  Religious, economic, and political factors, too much to discuss in this blog, had been brewing for centuries and set the stage for the Reformation.

State of the Church in 1500

What was the state of the Roman Catholic Church at the beginning of the 16th century.  Simply put, it was corrupt.  Indulgences, excessive papal and church wealth, clerical violations of church and biblical rules of behavior, and corrupt doctrine are just some of the corruption, dishonestly, unethical, and unscrupulous activity of the church at that time.

Let me briefly discuss indulgences and the state of preaching during corporate worship at the beginning of the 16th century.

Indulgences

Although reformers had many complaints about the Catholic Church of the 16th century, the practice of selling “indulgences” raised the most opposition. An indulgence was a payment to the Catholic Church that purchased an exemption from punishment (penance) for some types of sins. You could not get an indulgence to excuse a murder, but you could get one to excuse many lesser sins, such as thinking lustful thoughts about someone who was not your spouse. The customers for indulgences were Catholic believers who feared that if one of their sins went unnoticed or unconfessed, they would spend extra time in purgatory before reaching heaven or worse, wind up in hell for failing to repent.  As bad as that is, it gets worse.

In later years, the sale of indulgences spread to include forgiveness for the sins of people who were already dead. That is evident in this passage from a sermon by John Tetzel, the monk who sold indulgences in Germany and inspired Martin Luther’s protest in 1517.

“Don’t you hear the voices of your dead parents and other relatives crying out, “Have mercy on us, for we suffer great punishment and pain. From this, you could release us with a few alms . . . We have created you, fed you, cared for you and left you our temporal goods. Why do you treat us so cruelly and leave us to suffer in the flames, when it takes only a little to save us?”

I hope you are speechless.  A payment was made for a dead relative to relieve them of their suffering in Purgatory.   The result of indulgences was a financial bonanza for the organized church.  The church was wickedly deceiving people and robbing them of their hard-earned money.

Wrong and wicked behavior emerges from wrong and wicked doctrine.  Let’s answer the question what was the state of preaching in corporate worship.

In the centuries preceding the Reformation, preaching had been in steady decline. Eclipsed by the Mass and rendered non-essential by the theology of medieval Roman Catholicism, preaching had lost the primacy it had once enjoyed in the days of the early post-apostolic church. By the 15th century, only a small percentage of people could expect to hear their priest preach to them regularly in their local parish church. The English reformer Hugh Latimer spoke of “strawberry parsons” who, like strawberries, appeared but once a year. Even then, the homily would often be in a Latin unintelligible to the people (and, perhaps, to the priest).

As for the content of these rare delicacies, they were highly unlikely to go anywhere near Scripture. The vast majority of the clergy simply didn’t have the Scriptural knowledge to make the attempt. Instead, wrote John Calvin, pre-Reformation sermons were usually divided according to this basic pattern:

The first half was devoted to those misty questions of the schools which might astonish the rude populace, while the second contained sweet stories, or not unamusing speculations, by which the hearers might be kept on the alert. Only a few expressions were thrown in from the Word of God, that by their majesty they might procure credit for these frivolities.  (The Real Engine Room of the Reformation, Michael Reeves)

As a result, ignorance of the Word and the gospel was profound and widespread.  The people were Biblically illiterate, worship was void of the power of the Holy Spirit, and the Word of God was not preached.  The result was a dead church.

We have looked at the causes of the Reformation, now let’s spend a moment on the results of the Reformation.  Ultimately, Protestantism was born!  A renewed and reformed church began.  There were five basic “Solas” of the Reformation.  These represent the doctrinal unity of the Reformers:

Sola Scriptura-Scripture alone

Sola Fide-Faith alone

Sola Gratia-Grace alone

Solo Christo-Christ alone

Soli Deo Gloria-To the glory of God alone

These heavyweight, durable, trustworthy, Biblical truths, adhered to by the early church, recovered by the Reformers, are certainly the marks of an orthodox, God-glorifying, gospel-centered, Christ-honoring, Holy Spirit-saturated church today.  May we herald these same gospel-saturated truths as we proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ!

 

 

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Is God a Spiritual ATM Machine?

ATM machines.  They exist for one purpose.  People drive up to an ATM, put in their debit card, punch in the magic password, and transact banking business.  I use my ATM machine exclusively to deposit checks and receive money.  I can say with complete honesty; I have no relationship with my ATM. Zero. Nada. None. I go to it when I need something.  I don’t talk to it (that would be weird), think about it after I leave, or spend time lavishing praise on it. I use it to meet my needs.

I wonder if sometimes I treat God like that.  I simply show up when I want something.  I seek his hand more than I seek his face.  I pursue God because He can benefit me.   If we are honest, we all have treated God like this.

Yet, the Bible gives a very different picture of God.  He is a Father who longs for His children to spend time with Him.  The New Testament introduces us to an Aramaic word, Abba.  This term is used three times to describe God:

  • Mark 14:36, And he said, “Abba, Father, all things are possible for you.  Remove this cup from me.  Yet not what I will, but what you will.”
  • Romans 8:14-15, “For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God.  For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, Abba! Father!”
  • Galatians 4:4-6, “But when the fullness of time has come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.  And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!”

A little language history will help.  The Jewish people spoke Hebrew early in their history.  The Northern Kingdom, Israel, was conquered in 722 BC and assimilated into the Assyrian culture.  The Southern Kingdom, Judah, was conquered by Babylon, and the Jewish people exiled into Babylon began to speak the language of the Babylonians, Aramaic.  By the 1st century, the three primary languages spoken in Palestine were Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek, and a few Romans spoke Latin.  Many of the Jewish lay people would have spoken Aramaic.

The term “Abba,” used only connected with “Father,” was an Aramaic expression used by children to address their fathers.  It is equivalent to the English, “papa,” or “daddy.”

Jesus uses the term in Mark 14 to address his Father in the Garden of Gethsemane.  It would seem appropriate for Jesus to utilized this intimate term for God, yet in Romans and Galatians, we are given the privilege of referring to God as “daddy.”  Speechless.  What are we to say to this?  Because of the depth, profundity, and beauty of the gospel message, as sinful rebels we are adopted into the family of God and can cry out through the Holy Spirit, “Abba! Father!”  We can call God, “Abba!”

My relationship with God is not like a spiritual ATM! This intimate, close, dear, beloved, cherished, relationship with my heavenly “Papa” is not because God is a 24/7 dispenser of “blessings” or a celestial masseur.

“As a Father shows compassion to his children, so the Lord shows compassion to those who fear him.”

His name is Abba Father because he is God and there is no other!  He is the King of the universe!  As his children, our lives are hidden in Christ.  Not a hair will fall from our heads, not a breath will be expelled from our lungs, and not a rhythmic beat from our hearts will happen apart from His sovereign purpose and pleasure.  Our loving Father will accomplish his purpose in our lives and in that we rest.

Psalm 103:13, “As a Father shows compassion to his children, so the Lord shows compassion to those who fear him.”

Application:  When you pray today, because of Jesus’ finished work for you, you can call your heavenly Father, Abba!  Father!

Sin is Cosmic Treason against God

The Bible tells us that not just Adam and Eve are guilty of sin. We all are. The gospel of Jesus is full of stumbling stones, and this is one of the largest. To people who obstinately see themselves as basically good, the idea that we are essentially sinful and rebellious is scandalous and revolting.

Many Christians talk about sin as if it were merely a relational quarrel between God and man, and what is needed is for us simply to say we are sorry and receive God’s forgiveness. You may think that. Let’s go deeper. The image of sin as a quarrel between God and man distorts the seriousness of sin, the depravity of man and the holiness of God. It communicates that there is no broken law, no violated justice, no righteous wrath, no holy judgment, and therefore no need for a substitute to bear that judgment.

The Bible’s teaching is that sin is indeed a breaking of a relationship with God, but that the broken relationship consists in a rejection of his kingly majesty. It’s not just adultery; it is also rebellion. It is not just betrayal; it is also treason.

“If we reduce sin to a mere breaking of relationship, rather than understanding it as the traitorous rebellion of a beloved subject against his good and righteous King, we will never understand why the death of God’s Son was required to address it.” (Greg Gilbert, What is the Gospel?)

There is a massive distinction between understanding yourself to be guilty of sins and knowing yourself to be guilty of sin. Most people will acknowledge they have committed sins, small isolated mistakes. The question we must ask though, is there a difference between sins and sin? The answer is a resounding, yes! Sins are isolated transgressions we commit. Sin runs to the very depths of our hearts.

Greg Gilbert says, “Sin is the deep-running deposits of filth and corruption that we never knew existed in us and that we ourselves could never expunge. That’s how the Bible talks about the depth and darkness of our sin-it is in us and of us, not just on us.”

Slow down and read that last paragraph again.
The sinful words we speak, the sinful actions we do are not just isolated sins. They rise out of the evil in our hearts. Read the following verses.

There is a massive distinction between understanding yourself to be guilty of sins and knowing yourself to be guilty of sin.

Genesis 6:5, “The LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.”

Jeremiah 17:9, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?

Matthew 15:19, “For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander.”

Romans 1:18, “For the wrath of God is revealed against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth.”

These verses reveal the wickedness of our hearts and God’s just wrath against us. Romans 1 reveals man’s willful blindness(19-21), wrong belief(22-23), and wicked behavior(24-26).

The Bible paints a dark picture of man’s sinful condition. Yet, we are not left in our sinful condition. Hope is offered. Light has shone. Jesus has come. The amazing truth is that though we were enemies of God, hostile toward Him; God decided to place his love and affection on us and save us through the person and work of Jesus Christ! This is a great salvation! This is what makes the gospel so stunning and beautiful!

1 Peter 3:18, “For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God…” This verse is unfathomable! There was no reason for God to save you, save one; God chose to save you out of the greatness of his mercy, grace, and love. We can say today, we have a great salvation!

Let me apply this. Today, beloved of God, live not as a prisoner of sin held captive by the power of the devil, but live as one who has been set free from the power of sin and one day will be set free from the presence of sin! You have been filled with the Holy Spirit of God who empowers you to live obediently and victoriously in Christ! Someone once said, “Life is what you are alive to.” Live as if you have been raised to life, liberated to live for the glory of God!

What are Spiritual Sacrifices?

The inspired text of 1 Peter 2:4-5 says, “As you come to him, a living stone rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious, you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.”  I want to zero in on one arresting thought in this passage.  Peter speaks of believer’s offering “spiritual sacrifices.”

The context speaks of believers as a “holy priesthood.”  The primary function of the Old Testament priest, as they ministered in the tabernacle and later in the temple, was to offer animal sacrifices.  These sacrifices were for atonement for the sins of the Old Testament people.  When Jesus inaugurated the new covenant, animal sacrifices were no longer necessary.  The only sacrifices remaining for the believer to offer up were spiritual sacrifices.  That begs the question, what are spiritual sacrifices?

Spiritual sacrifices are “offerings” or “sacrifices” a follower of Jesus offers to the Lord.  Let me share with you six acceptable spiritual sacrifices found in the New Testament.

Your Bodies-Romans 12:1-2.  We are to present our bodies as a living and holy sacrifice, which is acceptable to God.  We are to crawl up on the altar and offer to our Father our complete body.  As someone once said, the only problem with live sacrifices is they can crawl off the altar.  Every day offer yourself to the Lord.

Your Praise-Hebrews 13:15. We are to “continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God.”  Our verbal praise from a grace-filled heart is a spiritual offering unto God.

Your good works and possessions-Hebrews 13:16. Let me quote this verse, “Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God.”  The believer’s good works and generous desire to share what God has given to Him is a sacrifice offered to God.

People you have led to Christ-Romans 15:15-16.  This invigorating and encouraging passage speaks of Paul’s offering of Gentile believers to the Lord as an acceptable offering.  People you lead to the Lord are a spiritual sacrifice to our rescuing and saving Father.

Your financial giving to the Lord’s work-Paul refers to monetary gifts that the church at Philippi sent him through Epaphroditus.  These gifts are described as a “fragrant offering and a sacrifice acceptable and pleasing to God.”

Your prayers-Revelation 8:3-4.  In these verses the prayers of the saints are seen rising unto God.  The unbelievable thought in these verses is that the incense cloud of the saints’ prayers rises into the presence of God. Your prayers, child of God, are a spiritual sacrifice offered to the Lord.

Today, my encouragement to you is to offer spiritual sacrifices to your loving, faithful, redeeming, and gracious Heavenly Father.

God Moves in a Mysterious Way

God moves in a mysterious way
His wonders to perform;
He plants His footsteps in the sea,
And rides upon the storm.

Ye fearful saints, fresh courage take;
The clouds you so much dread
Are big with mercy and shall break
In blessings on your head.

Judge not the Lord by feeble sense,
But trust Him for His grace;
Behind a frowning providence
He hides a smiling face.

William Cowper, 1774

Please Help Me Understand The Bible!

2 Peter 1:20-21-“…Knowing this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone’s own interpretation. For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.”

2 Timothy 3:16-“All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness…”
The Bible is the inspired Word of God! In the series Awakening, I preached two sermons on the primacy of the Bible. In one sermon, I asked the question, “Can I believe the Bible?” I mentioned external evidence, internal evidence, and Jesus believes the Bible, as three reasons why every Christian can trust the authority and accuracy of Scripture. The verses above remind us of the uniqueness, veracity, infallibility and inerrancy of the Bible.

2 Timothy 2:15-“Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth.” This verse speaks not so much to the authority of Scripture but to our need to present ourselves “to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed.” You and I are called to diligently study the Word of God! A growing Christian immerses themselves in the Word. They are not spoon fed by a preacher on Sunday and burped on their way out the church door! They are actively spending time in the Word.

Let me give you three steps to assist you in “righty handling the word of truth.” These basis steps to accurately understand the Bible were popularized by Kay Arthur and termed the “Inductive Bible study method.” Robbie Gallaty, Senior Pastor of Long Hollow Baptist Church, has a great chapter in his Book Growing Up that gives great information on these three steps.
The three steps are: Observation, Interpretation, and application. Let’s briefly look at each step.

Observation-What does the text say?
This initial step involves observing. You need to become familiar with the passage. I suggest reading the passage three or four times.
Below are some questions that Gallaty lists in his book that will help you with observing the text:

  • Who is the author?
  • Who are the recipients?
  • Who are the main characters involved in the text?
  • What is happening in the text?
  • What the author intending to communicate?
  • What are key words in the text?
  • What is the context of this verse?
  • What important comparisons or contrasts to you see?
  • When do the events take place?
  • Where do these events take place?
  • Why do the events take place?

These questions will help you practically observe what is occurring in the passage. In this first step think of yourself as a detective! When I was young the game Clue was very popular. As a detective, you were trying to determine who committed the crime. The first step for every good detective is to gather the facts. You are observing and gathering all the facts about the passage.

Interpretation-What does the text mean?
This second step is not what does the text say, but what does the text mean? The reader is studying the facts that were gathered in step one.
A list of questions from Gallaty to ask:

  • What do the key terms mean?
  • How do the verses or phrases relate to each other?
  • How this passage fit into the larger story of the book it is in?
  • How does the passage relate to the story of the Bible as a whole?
  • How does this passage point to or speak of Jesus?
  • What are the differences between the biblical audience and me?

These questions will help the reader study the facts that were collected in step one. A scriptural truth/theological principle will emerge from the text. This next statement is important! Listen carefully! This truth/principle is the same truth the author meant for the original audience.

Remember, we haven’t reached application yet. At this point you are not asking what does this text demand of me? We are focusing on the original intent of the author. Let’s take a closer look at some of the questions we should ask in this step:

  • How does the passage fit into the verses around it and the book as a whole? This is important because it will keep us from taking the verse out of context.
  • How does this passage fit into the narrative of Scripture? The narrative of Scripture is that God, through the gospel of Jesus, is redeeming for Himself a people and He will one day restore all things as they were before the fall.
  • How does this passage point to or speak of Jesus? Luke 24:27 is a gamechanger when it comes to understanding the Old Testament. “And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.” Jesus clearly says the OT speaks of Him. We must look for the gospel when we read the Bible!

Application-How does the text apply to me?
“The Bible is not merely a book to be learned, but a book to be lived.” (Growing up, 93) Here are some questions to help you discover the application of a passage.

  • Is there an application already in the text?
  • Is there a command or exhortation for how we should live?
  • What does the biblical principle mean today?
  • What would the application of this verse look like in my life?
  • How can this biblical principle how me in my walk with God?
  • What does this text demand of me?

As the Christian daily looks to the finished work of Christ and understands the sufficiency of Jesus’ imputed righteousness for their right standing with God, out of the overflow of His grace the Christian seeks to frame his/her life within the boundary of God’s Word. The genuine Christian after he/she has observed and interpreted God’s Word now ruthlessly asks, “What does the text demand of me?” This step is crucial so that we are actively obeying God’s Word.

Let me close with Psalm 119:1-8:

1 Blessed are those whose way is blameless,
who walk in the law of the Lord!
2 Blessed are those who keep his testimonies,
who seek him with their whole heart,
3 who also do no wrong,
but walk in his ways!
4 You have commanded your precepts
to be kept diligently.
5 Oh that my ways may be steadfast
in keeping your statutes!
6 Then I shall not be put to shame,
having my eyes fixed on all your commandments.
7 I will praise you with an upright heart,
when I learn your righteous rules.[b]
8 I will keep your statutes;
do not utterly forsake me!

O Jesus, King Most Wonderful

O Jesus, King most wonderful,
Thou Conqueror renowned,
Thou Sweetness most ineffable,
In Whom all joys are found!

When once Thou visitest the heart,
Then truth begins to shine,
Then earthly vanities depart,
Then kindles love divine.

O Jesus, Light of all below,
Thou Fount of life and fire,
Surpassing all the joys we know,
And all we can desire!

Thy wondrous mercies are untold,
Through each returning day;
Thy love exceeds a thousand fold,
Whatever we can say.

May every heart confess Thy Name;
And ever Thee adore;
And seeking Thee, itself inflame,
To seek Thee more and more.

Thee may our tongues forever bless;
Thee may we love alone;
And ever in our lives express
The image of Thine own.

-Bernard of Clairvaux, 1090-1153