500 Years Ago Today…

A couple of questions…

Question 1: What kinds of images do we typically associate with Halloween?

Ghosts, goblins, witches, black cats, spiders, bats and the like, right? Well, these images have long been associated with Halloween. In fact, people used to have some pretty interesting beliefs about some of these things. For example…

  • If a candle flame suddenly turns blue, there’s a ghost nearby.
  • If you see a spider on Halloween, it could be the spirit of a dead loved one who is watching you.
  • If a black cat crosses your path it means you will have bad luck. (But that’s only in North America. In England and Ireland it means you will have good luck).
  • If a bat flies around your house three times it is a death omen.

Question 2: What do we typically call these kinds of beliefs?

Superstitions.

Definition of “Superstition” — a belief or notion, not based on reason or knowledge.

I’m going to share a story with you about a very famous monk who fought against superstitions — and one of the most famous things he did was on October 31…

Our story begins some 500 years ago in Medieval Europe with its knights, castles and kings. It is a time when the religious and political worlds are both dominated by the same institution — the Roman Catholic Church. The head of the Roman Catholic Church, the pope, was so powerful that he basically ruled all of Europe.

Enter a young man named Martin Luther. In 1505 Martin Luther was a law student in Germany. One evening he was thrown from his horse during a violent thunderstorm. He became so frightened at the storm that he began bargaining with God. He promised God that if God would not kill him he would become a monk. Well, Martin Luther didn’t die. And, being true to his word, Luther began training to become a monk in the Augustinian Order.

In 1507 he became a priest. In 1508 he moved to the town of Wittenburg to serve as a monk, priest and professor. And, in the midst of all of his religious training an interesting thing happened to Luther. He became more and more unsettled about the condition of his soul.

He was doing all the things the world would consider to be “super” religious. He had given up everything for the sake of service in the Roman Catholic Church. The attitude of the day would have been this: If anyone has a sure-fired ticket into heaven it is an Augustinian monk who is also a priest and professor.

Martin Luther should have been a shoe-in.

But he had no peace. And, he drove his superiors almost crazy with questions. They kept trying to assure him that he was right before God. Luther wasn’t so sure. They finally got so fed up with him that they sent him on an errand to Rome — the “holy” city. They thought if Luther could just go to Rome and see the “Capital of Christendom” he would be more at ease.

They were wrong.

When Luther got to Rome, instead of seeing a “holy” city, he saw a city rife with superstition…

The city was filled with relics. There were pieces of wood or nail that people claimed were from the actual cross of Christ. There were skulls and bones of the apostles (or so the owners of the skulls and bones would have you believe). It was believed that if you viewed the relics (after paying a fee, of course) that you could shave a few years off of your time in purgatory.

Um, maybe we should detour here for a sec and review the Roman Catholic doctrine of “purgatory.”

According to the Roman Catholic Church, Jesus Christ’s sacrifice on the Cross may or may not be sufficient. It may be necessary for Christians to pay for some of their sins themselves — kind of a purification process, if you will — in purgatory, a place that is regarded as hell “light.” We’re talking about perhaps millions of years of suffering before being deemed worthy to enter heaven. So, you can see, the prospect of getting out of some of that time in purgatory was very attractive to many people — a fact the Roman Catholic Church exploited for both political and financial gain (as we will soon see). Back to the story…

In Rome Luther discovered…

  • You could purchase medallions of saints to protect you against… well… pretty much anything.
  • You could pray your way up “Pilate’s staircase” and earn a few years of reprieve from purgatory — just don’t forget to pay your fee.
  • You could buy indulgences.

Maybe we should detour again and learn about “indulgences.”

According to the Roman Catholic Church, some people were so good that they actually earned more merit than they needed in order to get into heaven — people like the apostle Paul. The excess merit is then stored in what is called a “treasury of merit” and may be dispensed at the Pope’s discretion.

They believed, even though Christ died as a substitute for sinful man, we still need to contribute our works to the mix in order to be saved. Most of us don’t do a good enough job of this, so most of us can look forward to purgatory — unless we buy our way out.

At that time a person could borrow from the “treasury of merit” and have the good works of others applied to their account. Give some money to the Catholic Church and receive in exchange a piece of paper confirming your transaction. A piece of paper called an indulgence. Okay, now back to our story…

When Martin Luther returned from Rome he was more disillusioned than ever. He had more questions and more anxiety than ever before. He continued to irritate his superiors. So, they allowed him to study theology. In 1512 he earned a doctor of theology degree and, for the very first time in his life, began reading the Bible for himself.

Over the next few years Luther devoured Scripture. Then, in 1515 Luther read Romans — and it changed his life.

“For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, “The righteous shall live by faith.” — Romans 1:16-17

“For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin. But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it—the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, 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.” — Romans 3:20-25

“For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” — Romans 6:23

For the very first time in his life Martin Luther was introduced to the Gospel. He learned that all of us stand condemned before a holy God, that all of us deserve God’s wrath and judgment, and that God’s own Son, Jesus Christ, took our place as the perfect substitute. God the Father poured out His wrath on His own Son, treating Him as if He were a sinner, so that He might treat us as if we had never sinned.

Christ satisfied God’s wrath.

There is NOTHING we can contribute to that.

This is what Martin Luther was learning.

In the meantime, Pope Leo X wanted to renovate St. Peter’s Cathedral in Rome. But, he needed money to do it. So he used one of the most powerful superstitions available to him to raise money — he sold indulgences.

But this was to be a special indulgence. Leo wanted to make sure he raised the money so he authorized an indulgence that would do more than just shave off some time in purgatory. THIS indulgence would get you out of purgatory all together.

A German monk named John Tetzel was especially good at selling these indulgences. His sales pitch was, “When the coin in the coffer rings, the soul from purgatory springs.”

The people lined up.

However, the Church manipulating people through superstitions in order to get their money, coupled with what Martin Luther had learned from Scripture, made him furious. And so…

On October 31, 1517, Martin Luther wrote down a list of 95 things wrong with indulgences — what he called the 95 Theses — and nailed it to the door of the Castle Church in Wittenburg.

People read it. Then they stopped buying indulgences. This did not sit well with the Pope, so he tried a few things to “fix” the Luther Problem:

  • He sent Catholic theologians to debate Luther in public in hopes of making him look foolish. Luther always won.
  • The Pope arranged a special debate with a really smart guy named John Eck. Luther won that debate.
  • In 1520 the Pope sent an official decree, called a Papal Bull, threatening to kick Martin Luther out of the Church. The Bull said Luther had 60 days to recant (basically the Pope said, “Take it back”) or he’d be excommunicated. Luther didn’t care. He kept on preaching and teaching. The people kept on believing.

So, in 1521 the Pope sent a second Papal Bull that officially kicked Luther out of the Roman Catholic Church and summoned him to a political assembly — The Diet of Worms. Luther went.

At the assembly, Luther was shown a table full of his writings and asked only two questions:

  1. Are these your writings?
  2. Will you recant?

Luther answered “yes” to the first question. To the second question he said, “My conscience is captive to the Word of God. Unless I am shown from Scripture that I am in error I cannot and will not recant. Here I stand. I can do no other. God help me.”

Here Martin Luther confronted all the superstitions of the Church — remember, a superstition is a belief or notion, not based on reason or knowledge — with the infallible, authoritative Word of God. He demonstrated where their superstitions were in conflict with God’s Word and told them God’s Word was right and they were wrong. Do you know what they did?

They declared Luther an outlaw.

Now, Luther had been promised a safe passage to and from the assembly, but the political powers had already decided that if he did not recant they would kill him on his way back to Wittenburg. But, some of Luther’s friends knew about the plan and they staged a kidnapping and took him back to a secret castle in the Black Forest.

He escaped the Catholics and continued to preach and teach until he died in 1546. His actions were a part of the beginning of the Protestant Reformation, a remarkable time when the Church actually started abandoning many of the superstitions that had dominated it for hundreds of years in order to return to the teachings of Scripture.

It’s fun for us to look back into history and admire the courage of a man like Luther.  We see the things he stood against and wonder how anyone could have been fooled by such silliness. After all, those superstitions they were believing were NOT in the Bible. How could they believe such nonsense?

We like to imagine that had we been in Luther’s place we would have done the same thing. But the thing is, when you are living in the midst of powerful superstitions you are susceptible to them, too. You are influenced by them.

Luther had people all around him, people he respected and trusted, who tried to convince him that he was wrong and the superstitions they had all believed in  for so long were right.

Do you think you would have had the courage to stand up against such superstition? When everyone around you is telling you that the superstitions are correct — but you see no support for them in the Bible — do you think you would have had the courage of Luther to stand solely on the authority of Scripture?

Do you want to find out?

There are powerful, deeply-held, superstitions in the Church today.

I’ll mention one to you. Take note of your initial response. Here goes…

How is someone saved?

In the evangelical Church today the most predominate answer to that question is something like this…

  • You just have to “ask Jesus into your heart.”
  • You just have to “pray the sinner’s prayer.”

Those concepts are nowhere in Scripture. They are gross superstitions.

I know. Our initial reaction to this is to recoil a bit. But search the Scriptures — find, “ask Jesus into your heart” or the “sinner’s prayer.” They just aren’t there. Here’s what the Bible says about being saved…

“Now after John was arrested, Jesus came into Galilee, proclaiming the gospel of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.” — Mark 1: 14-15

“…if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God has raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” — Romans 10:9

Repent. Believe. Confess.

Today people convince themselves they are saved because one day they prayed a prayer. In Martin Luther’s day people thought they were saved because they were given a piece of paper by some monk or priest.

Neither of these is biblical. The Bible says…

“Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Or do you not realize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you? — unless indeed you fail to meet the test!” — 2 Corinthians 13:5

During October many people in the Church like to confront the superstitions associated with Halloween. This year join them.

Just add one more superstition to the list.

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Seeing with Kingdom Eyes

It would appear the things that seem most troubling in our world (when we look at them with political or nationalistic eyes) are actually the things that are most praise worthy (when we look at them with kingdom eyes). Consider the the mass immigration of Muslim refugees into Europe. Politically speaking, that situation was very, very troublesome for the indigenous peoples of Europe. But, when we look at the situation with kingdom eyes, we have great reason to rejoice…

Waves of Muslims are coming to Christ.

Muslims are coming to Christ at an historic rate.

Muslim refugees are converting to Christianity.

Muslim converts are even breathing new life into Europe’s struggling Churches.

Now, I am not a prophet nor the son of a prophet, but a few years ago I speculated about this very thing. Drawing from the example of how the early church spread, I sought to speculate about a few “what ifs.” What if God really was using the disturbing things in our contemporary world to orchestrate His perfect will for His kingdom. This is what I wrote on February 4, 2013…

When Alexander the Great conquered portions of Europe, the Middle East, Africa and Asia, he was trying to make a name for himself. He was extremely selfishly motivated. He was convinced Greek culture was the superior culture in the world and everyone should adopt it — whether they wanted to or not. As you can well imagine, many of the people conquered by Alexander resented his rule, — including a small, insignificant population in a tiny place called Judea.

Empire11Alexander died quite young, however, and his empire was left to four of his top generals. Their reigns resulted in an ongoing power struggle against one another, which, in turn, opened an opportunity for another group of conquerors known as the Romans.

When the Romans conquered portions of the British Isles, Europe, the Middle East and North Africa, they were out to make a name for themselves. They were extremely selfishly motivated. They wanted to built a vast and mighty empire and they thought it entirely proper to confiscate the wealth and resources of any country they could conquer in order to accomplish their goals. Of course, the people they conquered resented Roman rule — including a small, insignificant population in a tiny place called Judea.

This small, insignificant population in Judea was particularly ill at ease over the continued occupation of their land. You see, they were God’s people, chosen from among all the nations of the earth. They were the ones to whom God had sent His prophets. They were the ones to whom God had given His law. Through them God had promised to send a King — a Messiah — who would be their deliverance.

And now, under the heavy yoke of Roman oppression, they waited for Messiah to come. There was just one problem…

The viewed the world with political eyes.

Roman rule over them was unjust. It was oppressive. They just knew when Messiah came He would throw off the Roman oppressors and restore Judea and Jerusalem to it’s former glory — like in the days of King Solomon. When Messiah came, God would be at work again. They just failed to realize God had always been at work.

“But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.” — Galatians 4:4-5

When Jesus Christ, the Messiah, was born it was at the perfect point in history — so orchestrated by God.

It’s true Alexander the Great had no notion of paving the way for Jesus to come. Yet in his conquests he had spread a common language to three continents and the crossroads between them. Whatever else people spoke, they also spoke Koine Greek, the “common” language of the people.

Empire9It’s also true the Romans did not care one whit about the God of the Jews. But in their conquests they had built an incredible road system in between cities so that their army could move with strategic speed in the defense of their empire. They ruled with an iron fist so as to quell any dissent among the conquered people. Therefore criminals were dealt with quickly and harshly. It brought about a relative peace throughout the empire known as the Pax Romana, the “Roman Peace.”

Interesting turn of events — Those safe Roman roads made it quite easy for the average Joe to travel the empire, including traders, merchants…

… and apostles.

When the Gospel of Jesus Christ was planted in Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria, new converts, with a zeal for sharing this wonderful news, had ease of travel to take this message to people who’d never heard. And guess what? When they got to where they were going they encountered people who spoke the same language.

Amazing.

Things that for centuries had been viewed as political and military defeats — even regarded as national disasters of indescribable proportions — were nothing more than the minuscule manipulations of a sovereign God in His construction of His Kingdom. Alexander the Great and all the Caesars of Rome were nothing more than tools in the hand of Almighty God, accomplishing His perfect will.

And, while the Jews in Judea saw the world through political eyes, God opened the eyes of His apostles so that they might see the world with Kingdom eyes. This message of Jesus Christ is for all nations. Borders and cultures are all to be breeched with the Gospel. It is by this means God intends to save His people.

Which brings us to our point in history.

The world is still in conflict. There are still people out there who are extremely selfishly motivated and work diligently for the accomplishment of their own goals. And, when we see them making headway, it is easy to become discouraged. Just a few examples should make the point…

  • Muslims are immigrating to Europe in unprecedented numbers. Islamic families are producing four to five times the number of children than European families. Statisticians speculate that Muslims could outnumber non-Muslims in many European countries by 2025. At which point Muslims, who have tried and failed numerous times in history to invade and conquer Europe, would become the majority demographic. Many Europeans are not happy about this.
  • Many people view Hispanic immigration in the United States as a serious problem — for a variety of reasons.
  • Many citizens of the United States realize the U.S. federal government is becoming more and more oppressive by the day, seeking to micromanage more and more aspects of Americans’ lives. Many people who occupy high offices in the federal government are becoming openly and increasingly hostile to a Christian worldview — and many Americans are unhappy about this.

These kinds of things lead some to ask the question, “When is God going to get to work again?” Please don’t fail to realize God has always been at work. Let’s play a little game of “What if…”

  • What if — God is orchestrating the immigration of Muslims into Europe so that they may be introduced to the Gospel. Many of them come from countries where the Gospel is forbidden. What if He is moving them into an environment where they will become more likely to hear about the Messiah.
  • What if — God is orchestrating the immigration of Hispanics into the United States so that they may be introduced to the Gospel. Many of them come from countries where they are so bound by cultural religious practices that it becomes very different for them to hear the truth of Scripture. What if God brought them to the United States so that they might be saved and then return to their home counties as missionaries.
  • What if — God is orchestrating more and more hostility toward Christianity in the United States in order to purge His church of pretenders and to bring about revival. What if He plans to use persecution to mobilize us in ways we can’t yet see?

Thid-IslamicHatYou might be thinking that the people in a couple of these examples are openly hostile toward God and His Word. The Muslims migrating to Europe have an agenda to spread Islam. Many of the political leaders in the United States are seeking to make as many people dependant upon them, thereby insuring for themselves a sustained grasp on power. To accomplish this they need to destroy any notion that people may have of depending upon anyone else — including God.

Granted. Some of these people are openly hostile toward God.

So was Paul.

Paul (or, at the time, Saul) was on his way to Damascus to arrest Christians and see them in jail or worse. He had an encounter with Christ. He was changed into one of the fiercest allies of the Gospel ever. God still does this sort of thing. The people who now are at odds with God may find themselves transformed after they’ve had an encounter with the very Gospel they seek to destroy. And all of these situations we view as terrible we can know are ultimately nothing more than the miniscule manipulations of a sovereign God who is busy building His kingdom.

“In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will…” — Ephesians 1:11

We can be either greatly discouraged or greatly encouraged by what we see. The question we need to answer is this:

Do we see the world with political eyes or Kingdom eyes?

God Wrote a Book

When Nobody is Watching

Recently the Baltimore Orioles hosted a baseball game at their home ballpark, Camden Yards, in front of no fans. Because of riots in the city, the stadium was closed and the game was played in eerie silence. Dr. David Black, a professor of New Testament and Greek at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, NC, had the very best take on the situation I’ve read. He posted it at his blog, daveblackonline.com. If you haven’t already, you should go visit his blog. In the meantime, take a look at what he had to say about the game with no fans…

My mind went to all of the saints who “play ball” without ever getting any attention or recognition. Many of them housewives. Friend, let me encourage you. Your time, talents, and contributions are known to God. What you do is vastly important to Him. Millions of people exist only for the praise of others. If you and I do not allow God to develop our identity, we will try to find it in people and popularity. Finding your purpose in human praise is like building your life on sand. I know of one young leader who is committed to his little flock not far from our farm. There he ministers, week in and week out, for no pay. He plays piano and leads the singing and teaches the word in what one might call “total obscurity.” The people want to make him their “pastor” and pay him but he refuses. He will never write a best-selling book or be invited to speak in chapel. But I look up to him. I’m just trying to make the point that even godly Christian leaders can turn the church into marketers and people into commodities. Grow where you are planted. Serve in obscurity if that is what the Lord has asked you to do. Be an Andrew. The most famous thing Andrew ever did was to introduce his brother Simon Peter to the Lord. What if the greatest thing you ever did was to cause someone else to be closer to Jesus? No friends on Facebook. No followers on Twitter. But what could be more epic than pointing others to Christ?

Amen, Brother Dave. You hit the mark. arrowsbw

Reflections on the Indiana RFRA

Denny Burk, professor of Biblical Studies at Boyce College in Louisville, KY, has written a wonderful piece about the real conflict in Indiana regarding religious freedom legislation. Here is a fantastic takeaway quote…

“America is a flash in the historical pan. Christianity is not. We will outlast you. Mark it down. And in the final analysis, the “wrong side of history” will be to Jesus’ left, and you don’t want to find yourself there (Mark 25:33).

May I Quote You, Dr. Sproul?

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It Is Finished…

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