You are currently browsing the monthly archive for October 2018.

The Lionhearted Listener

The Habit That Set Luther on Fire

Article by Marshall Segal

“See how much he has been able to accomplish through me, though I did no more than pray and preach. The Word did it all” (Here I Stand, 212). On this date, now more than five hundred years ago, the word of God waged a serious war against threats to the gospel emerging from the Roman Catholic Church, when Martin Luther posted his Ninety-Five Theses to the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg, Germany.

The Ninety-Five Theses may not have been nailed to the door, as the scene has been famously painted. They were probably pasted with glue. Pieces like these were often posted to the door, which served as a bulletin board for the university. Luther likely did not even post the theses himself. But his ninety-five nails drove deeper than any metal might have, because they were forged for this emerging war in the fire of divine revelation.

His Ears Led the Way

Timothy George writes,

What Luther did do, what he was called to do, was to listen to the Word. “The nature of the Word is to be heard,” he remarked. . . . He listened to the Word because it was his job to do so and because he had come to believe his soul’s salvation depended upon it. Luther did not become a reformer because he attacked indulgences. He attacked indulgences because the Word had already taken deep root in his heart. (Theology of the Reformers, 55–56)

George goes on to quote Luther: “If you were to ask a Christian what his task is and by what he is worthy of the name of Christian, there could be no other response than hearing the Word of God, that is, faith. Ears are the only organs of the Christian” (56). We often remember Luther for his extraordinary mouth, but it was first and foremost his ears that led to his challenging the Roman Church. He launched a revival of faithful and valiant listening — to God.

Long before he composed “A Mighty Fortress,” before he was driven into exile, before he stood fast at the Diet of Worms, before he courageously debated Eck at Leipzig, before he posted his ninety-five theses at the Castle Church, Martin Luther listened. And while he listened to God, he gave birth to centuries of lionhearted listeners.

How Luther Listened

The listening began for Luther long before the reforming, while he still lived and served as a devoted monk in the cloister at Erfurt. Herman Selderhuis writes,

While in the monastery, Luther learned that Bible reading is actually ‘listening to the Bible’: a text had to be read but also heard, again and again, as frequently as necessary until one gained an understanding of what the text said. . . . The goal was to read and listen until one heard God’s voice in the Word. (Luther: Spiritual Biography, 59)

Luther himself explains the importance of good listening: “If you want to become a Christian, you must take the word of Christ, realizing that you will never be finished learning, and then with me, you will recognize that you still do not even know the ABCs. If one was to boast, then I could certainly do that about myself, because day and night I was busy studying the Bible, and yet I have remained a student. Every day I begin like someone in the primary school” (Spiritual Biography, 59).

Behind the brilliant rhetoric and revolutionary leadership was a tenacious humility to hear from God. Luther did not pretend to have mastered Scripture, even as one of the greatest theologians in history, but considered himself always a student, and an elementary school student at that. And by opening the Bible as if he had not seen anything yet, he saw far more than most — certainly far more than the respected priests and scholars of his day.

Selderhuis continues, “Luther searched in the Bible, he ‘knocked’ on the texts, he shook them like the branch of a fruit tree, and then he listened to find words of comfort and reassurance to drive away his fears” (59). Good listeners search and knock and shake the word of God until they hear God speak — until he gives the long-awaited answer, or whispers their fears away, or leads them with clear direction, or breathes fresh inspiration and strength into their life and ministry, or reassures them with his promises. Listening to the very words of God in the Scriptures is not only the quiet key to the Protestant Reformation, but to the faithful, fruitful, and happy Christian life.

For the rest of the post…

Advertisements
On the Jewish Sabbath this week, a white nationalist terrorist murdered eleven worshippers within Pittsburgh’s Tree of Life Synagogue, in what is being called the deadliest attack on Jewish people in American history. Sadly, in a time when it seems that every week brings more bloodshed and terror in this country, we should not let the news cycle move on without a sober reflection of what this attack means for us as Christians.

Such is especially true as we look out a world surging with resurgent “blood-and-soil” ethno-nationalism, much of it anti-Semitic in nature. As Christians, we should have a clear message of rejection of every kind of bigotry and hatred, but we should especially note what anti-Semitism means for people who are followers of Jesus Christ. We should say clearly to anyone who would claim the name “Christian” the following truth: If you hate Jews, you hate Jesus.

Anti-Semitism is, by definition, a repudiation of Christianity as well as of Judaism. This ought to be obvious, but world history, even church history, shows us this is not the case. Christians reject anti-Semitism because we love Jesus.

I will often hear Christians say, “Remember that Jesus was Jewish.” That’s true enough, but the past tense makes it sound as though Jesus’ Jewishness were something he sloughed off at the resurrection. Jesus is alive now, enthroned in heaven. He is transfigured and glorified, yes, but he is still Jesus. This means he is still, and always will be, human. He is still, and always will be, the son of Mary. He is, and always will be, a Galilean. When Jesus appeared before Saul of Tarsus on the Road to Damascus, the resurrected Christ introduced himself as “Jesus of Nazareth” (Acts 22:8). Jesus is Jewish, present tense.

Indeed, much of the New Testament is about precisely that point. Jesus is a son of Abraham. He is of the tribe of Judah. He is of the House of David. Jesus’ kingship is valid because he descends from the royal line. His priesthood, though not of the tribe of Levi, is proven valid because of Melchizedek the priest’s relation to Abraham. Those of us who are joint-heirs with Christ are such only because Jesus is himself the offspring and heir of Abraham (Gal. 3:29).

As Christians, we are, all of us, adopted into a Jewish family, into an Israelite story. We who were once not a people have been grafted on, in Jesus, to the branch that is Israel (Rom. 11:17-18). That’s why the New Testament can speak even to Gentile Christians as though the story of their own forefathers were that of the Old Testament Scriptures. We have been brought into an Israelite story, a story that started not in first-century Bethlehem but, millennia before, in the promise that Abraham would be the father of many nations. Whatever our ethnic background, if we are in Christ, we are joined to him. That means the Jewish people are, in a very real sense, our people too. An attack on the Jewish people is an attack on all of us.

The reason this is critically important to reassert is because the blood-and-soil movements often want to claim the word “Christian.” The way they define this, you will notice is in opposition to some other group. They are “Christian” instead of Jewish, or “Christian” instead of Muslim or some other religious identity. What they usually mean is “European white identity” defined in terms of “Christendom.” This murderer had posted social media rants not only against Jewish people, but also against Jewish people’s efforts to help refugees and migrants fleeing Latin American persecution.

Such types have long been with us. Notice the way the “German Christian” movement wanted to maintain “the church” and “the Bible,” just whitewashing them of their Jewishness. A Bible with its Jewishness wrung out of it is no Bible. And a Christ with his Jewishness obscured is no Christ at all. We cannot even say his name, “Jesus,” or “Yahweh saves” without immediately confronted with our Lord’s Jewishness.

We groan anytime an innocent human life is taken.

For the rest of the post…

What Makes Sundays More Satisfying

Article by David Mathis

Executive Editor, desiringGod.org

Not every Sunday is a mountaintop. Our hearts often feel sluggish when we come to worship. Distractions around us may abound. Shame over sin can make us feel like hypocrites. Our lives in this fallen world are endlessly up and down. Even in corporate worship. Perhaps especially.

This is what makes our weekly gathering so important. We lift our voices together and turn from that week’s “fleeting pleasures of sin” (Hebrews 11:25) to the superior pleasures to be had in Christ. We help each other move higher up the mountain. And in that process of being renewed, and gaining strength for the daily and weekly demands of life, we find our coming together in worship to be the single most important means of deep and enduring joy in God, even as coming to enjoy him can be an extended process.

But up or down, high or low, with what frame of mind and heart do we come to worship together?

Our God is the all-satisfying fountain of living waters (Jeremiah 2:13). When we seek to quench our deep soul-thirst in him, corporate worship becomes the stunning opportunity to gather together not just with fellow believers, but with fellow enjoyers of God.

Come to the Fountain

The prophet Isaiah raised his voice to summon God’s people not simply as believers but enjoyers:

“Come, everyone who thirsts,
come to the waters;
and he who has no money,
come, buy and eat!
Come, buy wine and milk
without money and without price.
Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread,
and your labor for that which does not satisfy?
Listen diligently to me, and eat what is good,
and delight yourselves in rich food.” (Isaiah 55:1–2)

In worship, we enjoy Jesus together as water for our thirsty souls, as milk to nourish our spirits, and as wine to gladden our hearts. God offers a banquet to the human soul — not mainly for individual snacking but for corporate feasting.

We do find encouragement in gathering consciously with fellow believers. In a world that suppresses the truth in unrighteousness (Romans 1:18) — and lies to us subtly and overtly at every turn that self, not God, is in control — finding ourselves in the assembly, in the congregation, of believers can have a powerful effect on reinforcing our faith. God exists. He made our world. He rules over its every detail, even our sin. And he sent his own Son to rescue us from our sins, and the punishment we justly deserve, by faith in him.

And yet, when we gather in corporate worship, we are more deeply knit together than simply the truths we affirm. A stronger tie that binds us is whom we enjoy. We share in a common joy with uncommon worth: the greatest treasure in the universe.

Come to the Faith

Is it assuming too much to think of your fellow worshipers as fellow enjoyers of Jesus? Not at all. Saving faith is not indifferent to its Savior.

“I am the bread of life,” Jesus says, “whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst” (John 6:35). Note the parallels in what Jesus says. Not hungering pairs with never thirsting. And coming to Jesus pairs with believing in him. What, then, according to John 6:35, is Christian faith? It is “coming to Jesus” — not bodily or geographically but in the soul — to have our soul-hunger satisfied and our soul-thirst quenched.

There is an irreducible aspect of enjoyment in such faith, whether the believer is conscious of it yet or not. There is a kind of “joy” that is not only the fruit of faith (Galatians 5:22) but an essential aspect of faith (Philippians 1:252 Corinthians 1:24). Fellow believers in Jesus are fellow enjoyers, with us, of him. Our corporate worship truly is an enjoying Jesus together.

Come to the Father

Whether or not we come in worship as enjoyers, not just believers, may reflect how deeply we see God as our Father — a true Father who we know fundamentally as a giver, not taker.

For the rest of the post…

Image may contain: 2 people, text

October 24, 2018

As I reflect today on the death of the writer/pastor Eugene Peterson, I can’t help but think about many of the things he taught me. One of the most important, though, was a lesson in anatomy, on the difference between the skeleton of a beetle and a kitten. Believe it or not, that lesson has proven to be one of the most important for my life.

For years, I had written and spoken about the importance of bones in the Bible—from Joseph’s brothers promising to carry his bones from Egypt into the Land of Promise to the fulfilled prophecy that not one of Jesus’ bones would be broken. I had never thought through, though, just how different human bones are from that of some of other of God’s creatures—and why.

In his 2017 collection of sermons, When Kingfishers Catch Fire, Peterson recounted what he had learned about endoskeletons and exoskeletons. “In the early stages of development, creatures with exoskeletons (that is, skeletons on the outside, like crabs and beetles) have all the advantages, as they are protected from disaster,” Peterson wrote. This advantage ends, though, because though the creatures molt into different forms, “there is no development because there is no memory.”

“Creature with endoskeletons (that is, skeletons on the inside, like kittens and humans) are much more disadvantaged at first, being highly vulnerable to outside danger” he wrote. “But if they survive through the tender care and protection of others, they can develop higher forms of consciousness.”

Therein, Peterson noted, lies a parable. “The man who asked the question of Jesus had lived his life with an exoskeleton,” he wrote. “His material goods and moral achievements were all on the outside like a crust, and they separated him from both his neighbor and his God.” The change he needed for eternal life was one that he resisted because it would leave him vulnerable, feeling exposed before the world.

I can relate to that. It seems that one of the primary spiritual obstacles for me is to abandon an exoskeleton of self-protection, to trust the one who counts all my bones and sees to it that however much I may suffer, I will not be finally broken. I also find myself often seeking refuge in a kind of steely Stoic resignation, rather than in the kind of Christ-life that can be hurt, that can weep. This is, of course, the only kind of life that can truly love and be loved.

This means learning to be served by others. In another book, Peterson writes about a time when he came close to ministry burnout. He told his church elders that he had no time for study, no time for prayer, no time for close personal relationships. Again, I can relate. His elders decided, when they learned that a primary trouble for him was the endless blur of administrative meetings,  that except for the monthly session meeting, the pastor would not attend any more meetings.

This seemed like a Godsend, until one Tuesday night, when Peterson was restless, and, knowing there was an elders’ meeting going on, meandered over to the church, and sat in the back of the room. One of the elders stopped and asked him what he was doing there. Peterson replied that he was free and wanted to be present to offer moral support. The elder said, “What’s the matter? Don’t you trust us?”

Peterson reflected: “Defensive phrases assembled themselves in my mind, but I never spoke them. The abrupt challenge was accurate and found its target. ‘I guess I don’t,’ I said. ‘But I’ll try.’ And I left. I haven’t been back.”

The issue was a matter of exoskeletons versus endoskeletons. The hard shell of self-protection would rather not need others. We don’t wish to be in their debt. We trust our own activity, our own sense of control, more than the vulnerability that comes with being ministered to by others. And yet, only the crucifiable self is, ultimately, glorifiable.

The shell of protection—of our own doing and being and winning and displaying—can convince us that we don’t need others, or even, though we won’t admit it, that we don’t need God. But, deep within, we know that structure we build on the outside is protecting us only from what we need the most: the love of God, the communion of saints, the carrying of the cross. We are, in the end, protecting ourselves from blessing.

This kind of blessing is what Peterson meant when he spoke of the Beatitudes, words for which familiarity often becomes our exoskeleton, protecting us from how shocking they really are.

For the rest of the post…

STRENGTH FOR TODAYDr. Harold J. Sala (The Philippine Star) – October 21, 2018

“If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me.” – Luke 9:23, nasb

It was Scotch-taped to the cash register, a light green check with a happy face smiling at you. On the check in bold letters was the catchy slogan, “Smile, God Loves You!” But in much larger red letters was the rubber-stamped message that had come from the local bank, marked, “Insufficient Funds.” It was one of a half-dozen bad checks taped to the register in a Christian bookstore, and what struck me as being so incongruous was that all bore Christian motifs – slogans, Icthus or fish symbols and catchy phrases.

How deep does Christian commitment go, anyway? According to the latest statistics, most people believe in God. Large numbers of them claim to have had a born-again experience. Yet families are in deep trouble today. In the past generation we have had a paradigm shift when it comes to cultural values. What was forbidden a generation ago is now tolerated, if not embraced. Sociologists are sitting with their stopwatches recording the disintegration of the family unit.

Lacking today is the clarion call to discipleship, to follow Christ no matter where He directs. “When Christ calls a man,” wrote Dietrich Bonhoeffer a generation ago, “he calls him to come and die.” By contrast, largely the call heard today is to overcome your fears, conquer your guilt, become successful and enjoy life. The theme of putting self to the stake has never been popular, but never has it been more needed.

For the rest of the post…

The leaders of the transgender revolution revile the celebrated declaration, “It’s a boy” or “It’s a girl,” when a baby is born. Transgender activists recognize that their revolution cannot succeed until doctors who deliver babies, or ultrasound technicians at women’s cliques, stop labeling babies as a specific gender. The announcement of a baby’s gender, however, still fills delivery rooms and doctor’s offices with excitement. I predict that this practice will continue.

Recently, an article ran in “The Ethicist” column of the New York Times Magazine. The ethicist in this case is Professor Kwame Anthony Appiah. The headline in the article asked, “Should I Go to a Gender-Reveal Party?” The questioner who wrote in for advice posed to “The Ethicist” the following scenario:

“A close relation is pregnant with her first child and is having a gender-reveal party. She is overjoyed with the addition to our family, as am I. However, I am adamantly opposed to attending the gender-reveal party because it violates my moral code. I have worked in activism for my entire professional life and, though I am cisgender, I have strong feelings about gender politics and equality. Gender-reveal parties, where parents and guests learn a baby’s gender together, violate my values because they reaffirm society’s gender binarism and inadvertently perpetuate the stigma against non-binary genders. I know I will never experience firsthand the challenges of being gender-nonconforming, but when I think about how I might feel, I would be very hurt knowing my parents had a gender-reveal party for me before I was born with my incorrect gender. I know the non-binary community faces much deeper, more urgent problems than this hypothetical situation, but even so, I have a moral aversion to helping affirm society’s gender binarism. Should I attend the party?”

This question represents just one more step towards cultural insanity. The questioner cannot fathom nor allow for a party where people celebrate politically incorrect labels like “boy” and “girl.” Such a party violates the moral code of the transgender movement.

Indeed, the moral unction behind this question is breathtaking. Scenarios like this come, not on the leading edge of a moral revolution. Rather, the moral revolution must have made significant gains before an ethics column in the New York Times Magazine begins to get letters with this kind of moral outrage at a gender-reveal party.

Christians thinking about this moral confusion must first stop at the vocabulary used in this article—particularly the word, “cisgender.” Using that term plays into the entire gender revolution. The term indicates that someone born a male is quite comfortable with being male. Even adopting the vocabulary, therefore, becomes an enormous problem because the vocabulary assumes that you accept the ideology of the transgender revolutionaries—that gender fluidity exists and that the gender assigned at one’s birth may or may not be factual. “Cisgender” signifies that you buy into the idea that all of humanity must be identified on a spectrum, with cisgender at one end and gender-nonconforming, or, transgender at the other end.

Secondly, Christians need to note the kind of moral outrage indicated in the question. The questioner, filled with indignation, lashes out at a set of parents who had the audacity to throw a gender-reveal party—a party that apparently does nothing more than perpetuate binary stereotypes. Indeed, according to this article in the New York Times Magazine, gender-reveal parties could damage relationships between parents and their transgender children who find out that mom and dad threw a party which revealed an “incorrect gender.” This argument asks the reader to make incredible leaps in logic and to possess an imaginative framework which obfuscates all reality.

But here’s the third thing we come to understand about this article: It tells us that the writers, editors, and publishers of the New York Times Magazine believe that these are the kinds of questions we should be concerned about and that we too should experience the confliction, indeed, the outrage present in the question posed to “The Ethicist.”

The question, by itself, poses enormous problems and reveals the erosion of any sane ethic.

For the rest of the post…

Image result for dietrich bonhoeffer

“The Christian, however, must bear the burden of a brother. He must suffer and endure the brother. It is only when he is a burden that another person is really a brother and not merely an object to be manipulated. The burden of men was so heavy for God Himself that He had to endure the Cross. God verily bore the burden of men in the body of Jesus Christ.”

October 2018
S M T W T F S
« Sep   Nov »
 123456
78910111213
14151617181920
21222324252627
28293031  

Archives

Twitter Updates

Error: Twitter did not respond. Please wait a few minutes and refresh this page.

Advertisements