Seizing the opportunity

One of the provisions of the ridiculously misnamed “Affordable Care Act” (commonly known as “Obamacare”) forces employers to pay for the abortion services of employees. The owner of the craft store chain Hobby Lobby is a professing Christian and has a serious moral and religious aversion to abortion. Yet, the federal government of the United States is trying to force him and his company to finance it. This is exactly what I was talking about in September when I characterized this sort of situation as a “Golden Opportunity.”

ThidBugleHobby Lobby’s leaders have seized the opportunity and are standing up against a government that has overstepped its authority. They are refusing to pay for something they regard as morally reprehensible and, more importantly, openly sinful. Their actions could potently cost them more than $1 million a day in fines. And yet they stand firm. I commend them.

May the Lord be glorified in their courageous stand.

Peace on Earth (a repost)

Note: This post originally ran on December 24, 2011.

Something remarkable happened in December 1914. On a battlefield in France — the “Western Front” of World War I — the armies of Great Britain and France were facing the army of Germany. They had been killing one another for weeks. And yet, one night, as Christmas approached, compassion held sway.

German soldiers helped French soldiers carry their wounded back to their lines. The English and the French helped the Germans bury and honor their dead. Then, rather than return to their lines and aim their guns again, the soldiers shared chocolate and cigarettes with one another. They shared stories of home. Showed one another photos of their wives, their children. They met one another for the first time, not as nameless, faceless uniforms they’d been ordered to kill, but as people.

You can read the entire account of this World War I Christmas truce here. It has been commemorated in a movie entitled Joyeux Noel. It is a remarkable story.

There is an interesting aspect to this story — the chain of command from the respective armies had issued standing orders against this sort of thing. It was a court marshal offense. You see, if a soldier “fraternizes with the enemy” he might discover what these men discovered — your enemies are people, too. The soldiers on all sides were disobeying direct orders, risking courts marshal and even being shot, in order to show compassion to fellow human beings.

Now, let’s take this a step further…

All of these men came from cultural backgrounds that claimed to be Christian. Now, I know not everyone who claims to be Christian is actually Christian (Scripture makes this abundantly clear) but, for the sake of argument, we will assume these men at least had a basic knowledge of Scripture and some measure of respect for it’s teachings — if only because it was their cultural background.

What they did in their direct disobedience to their respective chains of command was exhibit obedience to the very words of Christ, Himself…

A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” — John 13:34-35

Jesus commanded believers to love one another. In fact, it would be a sign that they really are His disciples. Their commanding officers, in effect, had ordered them to kill their brothers in Christ. On this night, they decided to obey Christ, instead.

Now, before you send me e-mails directing me to Romans chapter 13 and arguing that God has told us to obey those in authority over us allow me to point out this…

These soldiers called a truce during a time of year when we commemorate the birth of Christ. Consider the biblical account of this…

And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with great fear. And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. — Luke 2:8-11

Who was born?

Christ the what?

The LORD.

HE IS LORD! His commands come first. He is Lord over everything, even the laws of men and their institutions. I recommend you read Lord of the Law (particularly Part 4, Higher Law) for a better understanding of this concept.

He commanded we show love one for another. Who does the Bible say we should obey — God or men?

Now, you may object and say, “Okay, fine. These three armies came from Christian cultures. Maybe they ought not to have been fighting. But what about armies from non-Christian cultures? To fight such an army would not be killing a brother in Christ, is that okay?”

Let me answer with an account from Scripture…

And behold, a lawyer stood up to put him to the test, saying, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” He [Jesus] said to him, “What is written in the Law? How do you read it?” And he answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.” And he said to him, “You have answered correctly; do this, and you will live.”

But he, desiring to justify himself, said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” — Luke 10:25-29

This lawyer is offering a similar objection. Christ answers him with the parable of the Good Samaritan. The point being to show love to everyone — even those our culture tells us we should despise.

Never forget: the Kingdom of God is comprised of the elect from every tribe and language. Look forward to that day…

Then I saw in the right hand of him who was seated on the throne a scroll written within and on the back, sealed with seven seals. And I saw a mighty angel proclaiming with a loud voice, “Who is worthy to open the scroll and break its seals?” And no one in heaven or on earth or under the earth was able to open the scroll or to look into it, and I began to weep loudly because no one was found worthy to open the scroll or to look into it. And one of the elders said to me, “Weep no more; behold, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has conquered, so that he can open the scroll and its seven seals.”

And between the throne and the four living creatures and among the elders I saw a Lamb standing, as though it had been slain, with seven horns and with seven eyes, which are the seven spirits of God sent out into all the earth. And he went and took the scroll from the right hand of him who was seated on the throne. And when he had taken the scroll, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb, each holding a harp, and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints. And they sang a new song, saying, “Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation, and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they shall reign on the earth.” — Revelation 5:1-10

The word here translated as “nation” is the Greek word ethnos. It is where we get our word “ethnic.” The Kingdom of God is comprised of people from every ethnic group. So it really does not matter who our earthly kingdoms order us to kill. The army we would see through our gun sights is almost certainly populated with God’s elect.

The announcement of Christ’s birth concludes this way…

And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!” — Luke 2:13-14

Those “with whom he is pleased” refers to God’s elect — those he will bring to faith in Christ. The apostle Paul said he “endures all things” for their sake.

Do we?

Remember the words of Daniel…

“Blessed be the name of God forever and ever, to whom belong wisdom and might.

He changes times and seasons; he removes kings and sets up kings…” — Daniel 2:20-21

For Fun: Flashmob, Catalonian Style

Standing against superstitions

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.

Remembering 9/11

This month is the 10-year anniversary of the terrorist attacks on the United States — what has come to be known simply as 9/11.

In 2001 I was serving as the Director of Communications and Public Relations for the State Convention of Baptists in Indiana. On September 11 I was scheduled to fly from Atlanta to Indianapolis after concluding some business at the North American Mission Board in Alpharetta, Georgia.

My plans changed.

I shared my thoughts and experiences of that day in my editorial in the Indiana Baptist, the official news journal of the State Convention of Baptists in Indiana. Ten years later, I share that editorial with you…

Demanding Justice?

I wanted justice.

After denial gave way to belief. When the shock began to subside. When I finally accepted the fact that terrorists had hijacked four American passenger planes and crashed them into various targets along the eastern seaboard I wanted justice.

I was in Alpharetta, Georgia at the North American Mission Board when I heard the news on Sept. 11, 2001. I was scheduled to fly home later that same day, but ended up waiting at a Hertz rental car counter for almost five hours before I was able to get a care for my 9-hour drive to Indianapolis. I had a lot of time to consider the events of the day and ample opportunity to see, first hand, a nation thrown into near chaos. The more I thought and the more I saw, the more I wanted justice.

Images came at me so fast that day I barely had time to process what was happening. There was the prayer time at the North American Mission Board chapel where I saw brothers and sisters coming before God able only to trust in His sovereignty over something we could not understand.

There was the time I spent with the man who drove my shuttle to the airport. A native of South Africa with a great deal of experience with this sort of thing, he told me he was indeed a Christian (seminary trained) but wanted me to understand the only way to deal with terrorists is to “hunt them down and exterminate them.”

There was the news of 1,500 passengers stranded in Atlanta’s airport and of the restaurant owners who fed them for free.

I saw a man come into the Hertz office and get incredibly upset because the lady behind the desk was going to have to run a few things through the computer in order to get him on his way. The delay, she said, would be about 10 minutes. He almost blew his top, as if there were not thousands of people having a much worse day.

I waited in gas lines in Murphreesboro, Tennessee.

Mostly I had time to think, and it occurred to me that every now and then God gives us a glimpse of just how despicable sin really is. The terrorists who attacked America showed the world what full-strength sin looks like. It is easy for us to look at the behavior of those particular sinners and see how God would be justified in pouring out His wrath on them. I was just about the pray for that very thing when something else occurred to me…

I am just as deserving of God’s justice as are these terrorists.

Oh, I’ve never murdered innocent people by the thousands the way they did, but my heart was just as dark and my nature just as depraved as theirs. On my own I stand just as guilty before a Holy God as they do.

There is just one difference.

Rather than subject me to the justice I so richly deserve, God, in His love and mercy, chose to give me grace instead. Had God removed His hand of grace from me and turned me over to my own sinful nature I would have been capable of crimes just as despicable. But He showed me grace.

When I think that God views my sin as something just as heinous as the terrorist attacks of September 11, I realize just how precious is the grace I have received.

So, instead of praying for justice for terrorists, I will pray that God will provide the means for them to hear the gospel of Jesus Christ, be convicted of their sin by the Holy Spirit, and that He will save them.

After the attacks Senator John McCain stood on the floor of the U.S. Senate and said to the terrorists, “We are coming. God may show you mercy. We will not.”

As believers I think our prayer should be, “May God show you mercy.”

I had wanted justice. But, if everyone deserving of justice got it that would include me. I don’t want justice. I want mercy. I want grace.

Those of us who have received grace should want it for others, too. How could we want anything else?

Note: This editorial originally ran in the September 25, 2001 issue of the Indiana Baptist.

The Ultimate Sacrifice (a repost)

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