Celebrating a Reformation

I am not a big fan of Halloween, but I am a big fan of history, so I have to say I am looking forward to next Tuesday. It will be a special celebration of Reformation Day, the term some Christians prefer to call October 31, as we commemorate the 500th anniversary of Martin Luther nailing his 95 Theses to the door of the Wittenberg Castle Church on that date in 1517.

 

It’s not often you get to celebrate a 500th anniversary of anything, especially such a monumental event as the beginning of the Protestant Reformation. In so many ways, Luther’s act changed the world, though it was hardly his intent. As one writer said it, “He thought he was starting a theological debate. Instead, he ignited a revolution.”
Luther sought to spark a discussion about certain religious teachings and practices of the Roman Church, of which he was a part and from which he never intended to break. When he nailed his thoughts and complaints on the church door it was probably akin to posting an article on social media today. He expected some arguments from his opposition and perhaps some lively debate, but he had no idea the fire it would ignite.
I am surprised how few people these days really know much about Luther, and his contribution to Christian thought and to western civilization as we know it. He wasn’t just a guy with a denomination named after him, or a hymn writer who penned the famous hymn “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God.” He was also a monk, and priest, and Bible translator and theologian. And, in time, a revolutionary.
Luther first joined an Augustinian monastery when he was 21 years old, disappointing his father who wanted him to study to be a lawyer. His days as a monk were long, and filled with prayer and singing, meditation and study, and religious activity on every side. As one biographer wrote, he joined the monastery to save his soul. But even with all the religious duty and daily sacraments, he still struggled to find forgiveness for his sins and to fill his sense of emptiness inside.
That’s when, in studying the Scriptures, he came to understand that he was striving in all the wrong directions and had been missing the basic tenet of New Testament Christianity; namely that salvation comes by grace through faith alone. He had been trying to work his way to God and find justification by keeping the law, but came to understand that the gospel rested not on what he did, but what Christ had done for him.
Having come to personal faith in Jesus, Luther began to also see many of the other questionable doctrines he had been taught in the church, and soon began to follow his Master’s steps by turning over a few tables, at least figuratively speaking. His “protests,” and the theological arguments that they produced over the next several years, almost cost him his life. It also led to a revolution of religious thought, a reformation of the church that had barely survived the Dark Ages, and a liberation of those in bondage to religion.
The reality is, most of the truths that Luther taught–and many of those 95 theses he posted that fateful All Hallow’s Eve–are almost old hat to us today. We assume things like faith and grace and the authority of Scripture and the centrality of Christ, and well we should, since they are grounded in the word of God. But we must not forget the importance of the simple gospel and those who stood with great courage, refusing to allow it to be compromised.
Next week, we’ll begin a five-week sermon and Life Group study of the “Solas” of the Reformation, the foundational truths on which Luther’s revolution was built. I  hope you can be with us for every week of this important study. I also hope you enjoy celebrating the revolution of the reformation this week. Happy Reformation Day!

Seeing Far Enough Ahead

As I prepare for this Sunday’s message at Shelby Crossings, I am reminded that God’s ways are not like our ways, and His timing is surely not like our timing. As the Scripture reminds us, “with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day.” (2 Peter 3:8)
That reminds me of a story I told in another sermon not too long ago, about the guy who goes to God and asks, “Is it true that in your riches a million dollars is like a penny to you, and in your timing a million years is like a second?” God answers, “Yes it is my son.” “Okay, God,” the man says, “Can I have a million dollars?” God replies, “Sure…just a second.”
I don’t know about you but the hardest part of my life of faith is waiting. Ultimately, the frustration at waiting if we get down to it, is a frustration at God’s timing. Simply put, we don’t always trust Him, when it comes to His working things out on our schedule.
Which reminds me of another story I heard about a little 8-year old boy named Frank. Frank had a date with his father to go fishing on Saturday. They were going to fish the whole day. On Friday night he had everything laid out. He was ready to go.
But on Saturday morning he awoke to discover that it was raining cats and dogs, and they couldn’t go fishing. So, little Frank grumbled and griped and complained all morning long. He kicked the furniture, the dog, the cat. His father tried to explain to him that the farmers needed the rain, but that didn’t satisfy Frank. “Why does it have to rain today?” he asked.
About noon the clouds broke and the sun came out. His dad said, “Well, we can’t go fishing all day, but at least we can fish this afternoon. Let’s go.” So they jumped into the truck, went to the lake and fished all afternoon, and caught more fish than they had ever caught before. Their baskets were full, and they had the time of their lives.
They came home and mom cooked some of the fish for supper. As they were sitting down to eat, Frank’s dad called on him to ask the blessing. Eight-year old Frank prayed this prayer: “God, if I sounded a little grumpy earlier, it was because I couldn’t see far enough ahead.”
That’s usually the issue for all of us. We just can’t see far enough ahead, and we don’t have the vantage point, outside of the boundaries of time, that God has. He has a purpose and a plan, He can see “far enough ahead,” and His timing is perfect, even if we don’t always understand.

 

I hope you’ll trust Him today, and that you will allow Him to grow your faith and patience and perseverance through the process of waiting.

Moments of Grace

What would happen if a world-class musician performed elegant classical music on a priceless instrument in a busy train station in an American city?
A little more than ten years ago, The Washington Post did a little experiment in their own city to find out for themselves. The musician was Joshua Bell, who can earn upwards of $50,000 for an evening’s performance. The instrument was a three hundred year-old Stradivarius violin valued at $3.5 million. The music included the works of Bach and other masters.
The experiment was captured on hidden camera. How did people respond?
During Mr. Bell’s 45 minute performance, 1,097 people passed by. Twenty-seven people dropped spare change into his open violin case, for a total of $35. Seven of them stopped what they were doing to listen for at least one minute. The other 1,070 people hurried past, oblivious, uninterested, unmoved.
It made me wonder how I might have responded had I been among the busy people in that Metro station that day. I probably would have missed it too, and I suspect you might have as well. The sad reality is, we miss such moments of wonder and grace every day.
How many times do we encounter truth, beauty, and excellence, without giving it a second look?  How many messages of hope do we ignore?  How many demonstrations of grace do we disregard?  How many divine appointments do we overlook? What are we missing, trying to make our next train?
What would happen if, as a habit, we all started noticing a little more? I have made it a goal this past week to try to look beyond the surface-level, to not miss how the Lord is working, to see His fingerprints on every circumstance, to hear Him in every conversation. It is amazing what you see and hear and notice when you just pay attention.
May I suggest you give it a try as well. Open your eyes in the midst of your busy-ness and recognize those brief opportunities for wonder that God sends your way each day. And make yourself available for how He wants to use you to deliver some “moments of grace” in this midst of our crazy stressed-out world.

When a Society Goes Godless

Every morning when I come to work I get to drive by the largest American flag in the state of Alabama, next door to our church campus at Camping World. That flag is usually a point of great pride for me, and I feel the patriotism well up in me every time I see it. It also happens to be a good landmark when I invite people to church and need to tell them where we are located, “next to the huge flag.” Most people know where it is.
However, this week that flag, flying at half mast, has been a daily reminder of Sunday night’s tragedy in Las Vegas and the seeming hopelessness and despair that has gripped our land.
Whether it’s the never-ending national anthem controversy, or another senseless shooting, it’s hard to believe that we are really “one nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all” any more.
The saddest part is that it is hardly even a surprise any more when we hear of another act of terror, when someone takes out their hatred of the world on innocent people. This event was just multiplied in its effect because of the more than 600 people who were victims of the rampage. But the reality is, every night in America there are senseless acts of violence taken out by hateful, hopeless people.
I was at a pastor’s breakfast on Thursday morning in Birmingham, and the speaker was everybody’s favorite weatherman (and children’s worship teacher) James Spann. In the midst of his words of encouragement to pastors, he brought up this week’s shooting in Las Vegas and how everyone is trying to wrap their minds around this latest event and make sense of it all.
“Everybody’s asking, ‘What is wrong with our country?’ he said. “We know what is wrong. This is what it’s like when a society goes godless.”
I have to agree with him. I don’t want to be trite and over-simplistic (and I don’t think James was either), but these events are the cumulative effect of many years of our country turning its back on God. Now I know there are so many other things at play, including complicated public policy issues and a divided political landscape like few times in our nation’s history. But there is no denying that we are in a culture war, and civility and respect for each other–and even for life itself–seem to have been discarded like yesterday’s trash. We are rapidly spiraling downward and something has to give. We are desperately in need of a gospel-infused spiritual awakening in our land.
Scroll through your social media feed for a few minutes and it doesn’t take long to figure out that everybody’s got an opinion, and a diagnosis for our nation’s ills. I have noticed that usually the problem involves someone else, and usually that someone else is from “the other side.” But it does none of us any good to point fingers and place blame for what’s wrong with our country until we are ready to look ourselves in the mirror and see if we are doing all that we can do, and being all that we can be, to make a difference.

 

In other words, it is easy to say that our society has “gone godless,” without recognizing that our own lives may be all but godless most days of the week. Surely it is easy to see the cause and effect of sin and rebellion in our nation; we do reap what we sow, after all. But we would all do well to concern ourselves first with our own lives and make sure we get our own houses in order before we worry about anyone else.

 

I hope you will join me in praying for revival: in our world, in our nation, in our state and local communities, and in our church. And let us be the salt and light of gospel influence wherever the Lord places us. We mustn’t forget in these despairing times that we as the church have something to offer: hope for our hopeless world, Light for the darkness, love amidst hate, truth in a time of great confusion. In Jesus Christ, who loves the world so much He gave Himself up for it, we have what the world needs so desperately.