We Are Truly Marvels to Behold

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“Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were uneducated, common men, they were astonished. And they recognized that they had been with Jesus.”

Acts 4:13

“God created the world out of nothing, and so long as we are nothing, He can make something out of us.”  

Martin Luther

Consider this: the jawbone of a donkey, a sling shot. and barley loaves, a woman’s tears, a young boy’s lunch, a young colt, and a talking donkey, they all suggest that God touches the common and the insignificant. He uses what we consider of minor importance. We often turn to the talented and gifted far too readily.

Peter and John are being seen by the Sanhedrin (the Jewish “Supreme Court”). They are to give account of themselves before the highest court of the land. There had been a healing, and there was the matter of preaching as well. Both Peter and John exude a confidence that these religious leaders couldn’t deny. Their perception was that they were ignorant men. Uneducated and common. But. They also knew they had been with Jesus.

In the minds of the leadership, they were nothing more than religious “white-trash.”

God loves to use what we consider common. His revealed history has been to take anything at His disposal and utilize it to redeem lost souls. A staff or a sling-shot are used with an adroitness that seems extraordinary among men. The things we think are simple and common are used to further God’s work among mankind.

But the message always returns back to the preachers. The Sanhedrin knew of the disciples preaching. They had absorbed the fact of a miracle; a crippled man had just been healed. (This they couldn’t deny.) But they were troubled. And they didn’t really know what to do.

What more could this be, but a direct intervention of God? And yet, God is working through “common people.” Then look…

“…if we are being examined today concerning a good deed done to a crippled man, by what means this man has been healed,”

Acts 4:9

Within this preaching was woven this healing. The Holy Spirit was ‘rocking their  world.’ The people who came in contact with these disciples would never be the same. Paul tells the Corinthian church that:

“Instead, God chose things the world considers foolish in order to shame those who think they are wise. And he chose things that are powerless to shame those who are powerful.”

1 Corinthians 1:27, NLT

If God has a specialty it would be this. He desires all the glory. He goes out of the way to use the broken and weak. He shows His strength through insignificant and minor things and people.

“We are all wounded. But wounds are necessary for his healing light to enter into our beings. Without wounds and failure and frustrations and defeats, there will be no opening for his brilliance to trickle in and invade our lives. Failures in life are courses with very high tuition fees, so I don’t cut classes and miss my lessons: on humility, on patience, on hope, on asking others for help, on listening to God, on trying again and again and again.”

Bo Sanchez

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Luther and His Salvation

Martin Luther, 1483-1546

“If ever a monk could get to heaven through monastic discipline, I was that monk. And yet my conscience would not give me certainty, but I always doubted and said, ‘You didn’t do that right. You weren’t contrite enough. You left that out of your confession.’ The more I tried to remedy an uncertain, weak, and troubled conscience with human traditions, the more I daily found it more uncertain, weaker, and more troubled.”

“Is it not wonderful news to believe that salvation lies outside ourselves?”

 –Martin Luther

“But we believe that we will be saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, just as they will.”

Acts 15:11, ESV

 

 

 

 

 

Living Tethered to the Cross

We live in this place.
We live in this place.

St. Francis of  Assisi once wrote, “The devil never rejoices more than when he robs a servant of God of the peace of God.” Sometimes I think I’ve made the devil dance far too many times.

I confess that peace has never been real high on my list. Love, joy, kindness and even goodness are clear priorities. Peace–well… not so much. Until it’s not there. And then I get frantic by its absence, and look for it with manic bewilderment.

I’m panting for some sign that God still loves me. Anxiety eats at me. I beat myself up by my last failure. The guilt of my latest sin grows until it looms larger than the blood that saved me. Sometimes religious people have the most neurosis.

I’m afraid that we are taking “the present tense’ out of the Gospel. The past tense is far preferable to us as we manage the Christian life. We like to make check marks on our list. Repentance– check. Baptism– check. Bible study– check. I think it gives me a definite feeling of ‘maturity.’

But truth has a way of punching through. I haven’t arrived, and it seems I’m still the hideous sinner I always was. I cannot pretend otherwise, even with a truck load of cosmetics at my disposal. I know, I’ve tried. And I’m still ‘ugly.’ I do know forgiveness, and I do walk in its wonderful light (by grace.)

I read Luther 30 years ago. (And Bonhoeffer would say something similar.)  “When our Lord and Master Jesus Christ said, ‘Repent,’ he willed the entire life of believers to be one of repentance.” – Martin Luther (this is the first of his 95 Theses.) There is a present tense here we can’t ignore. I don’t just repent over smoking, or fornication, or of hypocrisy, once and done. But my entire way of living is to be one of repenting.

Repentance is a ‘moment-by-moment’ grace.

As I read the Beatitudes I cannot evade the sense that they are present tense. Read them, they’re obviously not a spiritual checklist. Each verse seems to speak of the time being, the present moment. No list here, guys. It will never be ‘one-and-done.’

“God blesses those who are poor and realize their need for him,
    for the Kingdom of Heaven is theirs.
4 God blesses those who mourn,
    for they will be comforted.
5 God blesses those who are humble,
    for they will inherit the whole earth.
6 God blesses those who hunger and thirst for justice,
    for they will be satisfied.
7 God blesses those who are merciful,
    for they will be shown mercy.
8 God blesses those whose hearts are pure,
    for they will see God.
9 God blesses those who work for peace,
    for they will be called the children of God.
10 God blesses those who are persecuted for doing right,
    for the Kingdom of Heaven is theirs.

Matthew 5:3-10, NLT

All of the Christian life is repentance. Turning from sin and trusting in the good news that Jesus saves sinners aren’t merely a one-time inaugural experience but the daily substance of Christianity. The gospel is for every day and every moment. Repentance is to be the Christian’s continual posture.”

–John Piper

Luther’s last words, on his deathbed wrote on a scrap of paper these words, “We are beggars! This is true.” Thirty years before, he was only echoing his first thesis. It seems dear ones, we are to live at the foot of the cross. Everyday. Because we desperately need to.

And perhaps the biggest reason is this: Jesus only comes for ‘sinners.’

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Always Like Little Children [Always]

 

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 “About that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, “Who is greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven?” Jesus called a little child to him and put the child among them. Then he said, “I tell you the truth, unless you turn from your sins and become like little children, you will never get into the Kingdom of Heaven.”

Matthew 18:1-3, NLT

I used to think that maturity meant sophistication, something to out-grow. Applying it to spiritual matters was a natural fit. I tried hard to accelerate things and attempt to move beyond simple basics of the faith. Jesus’ cadre of disciples needed this lesson. They were given very specific and pointed instruction:

One day some parents brought their little children to Jesus so he could touch and bless them. But when the disciples saw this, they scolded the parents for bothering him.Then Jesus called for the children and said to the disciples, “Let the children come to me. Don’t stop them! For the Kingdom of God belongs to those who are like these children. 17 I tell you the truth, anyone who doesn’t receive the Kingdom of God like a child will never enter it.”

Luke 18:15-17

“Children are the hands by which we take hold of heaven. ”  

Henry Ward Beecher

Jesus makes a special effort to get his followers to see their need. He voices the dictate that they must become children again; that they must learn that the basics are the core. Real faith remains childlike even as it gets old.  As we see the children that are in our midst, we should see in them the pattern for us as we connect with the Lord, and with each other. It’s a paradox, but we mature as children, and this doesn’t ever change. Jesus told us that the Kingdom belongs to those whose faith is childlike.

Childlike faith seems to have three focuses:

  1. Areas of intimacy, in the presence of the Lord as sons and daughters,
  2. Areas of relationships, between each other as brothers and sisters
  3. Issues of spiritual warfare,  facing the daily battle with sin and darkness.

Holding a child’s faith works its way into us in deep ways. At its essence is a humility (mixed with brokenness) that shapes how we move through our lives. There would be many embarrassed people if they were suddenly clothed in nothing but their humility. (I think we should make more of it then we do.)

Becoming a person of childlike faith will take a lifetime, that is why we should start now.

“God created the world out of nothing, and so long as we are nothing, He can make something out of us.”  

Martin Luther

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Dismayed by My Own Fallenness

“As the Scriptures say,

“No one is righteous—
    not even one.
11 No one is truly wise;
    no one is seeking God.
12 All have turned away;
    all have become useless.
No one does good,
    not a single one.”

Romans 3:10-12

Scripture never, ever flatters the human ego.  It acts on us directly, “dividing the spirit from the soul.”  I find no glowing review of our “noble” humanity. The opposite is true.

At our deepest core, the Bible teaches that we are depraved—separated from truth and goodness.  In theology this is called, “original sin.”  (I don’t think there is really anything original about it.) There is also a concept called “contrition.”   It means, “having sorrow or sadness over sin involving making steps to amend your ways.”  Notice the definition instills a sense of action.  Perhaps the idea of penitence need a new emphasis?

Does your discipleship include the reality of you?

There are broad, generalized teachings that are woven into the Word— the iniquity and fallenness of men.  It consistently talks a seemless truth, without fail. ( That’s one of the reasons why I know the Bible is true.)  Yet the Father has made provision for our falseness and weakness, he sweeps nothing under a cosmic rug.  You might say the Scripture completely understands us, as us.  Our illusions and deceptions, blatant or subtle, do not confuse or mislead him.

Our discipleship must be “walked out” in brokenness. That is the only way it will work.

We have absolutely nothing to boast about.  I cannot point to this blog— or having been a missionary, a teacher and a pastor as my “good things.”  Today, I sat and became very aware of my inner wickedness. But because He directly intervenes in my life, I will not die in my sins like I deserve.

I am sad.  You see, I am fallen, a complete failure.  It’s easier to find water in the Sahara Desert than to find goodness in my heart.  As a matter of fact, I’ve taken evil to a new level.  I excel, and then I keep practicing it trying to squeeze out more and more power— pride— pleasure.

Those who mourn their contagiously evil hearts (Matthew 5:3-4) are the ones who God can comfort.  Our sadness over our sin (and the sin of the world)—is evidence of the Spirit’s action over our depravity. Look for it, and rest in the Spirit’s work.

“Original sin is in us, like the beard. We are shaved today and look clean, and have a smooth chin; tomorrow our beard has grown again, nor does it cease growing while we remain on earth. In like manner original sin cannot be extirpated [completely destroyed]  from us; it springs up in us as long as we live. Nevertheless we are bound to resist it to our utmost strength, and to cut it down unceasingly.” 

 ~Martin Luther

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Are You Too Righteous?

“Do not be excessively righteous and do not be overly wise. Why should you ruin yourself?”

Ecclesiastes 7:16

I’m thinking out loud about something, so I should alert everyone.  Anyway, I’m thinking about “scruples”.  The dictionary defines scruples as an uneasy feeling arising from conscience or principle that tends to hinder action.”

The malady developed in the middle ages.  Among the saints who were not yet labeled saints, there developed a particular syndrome of hypersensitivity toward sin and holiness.  You might say that they got stuck in the proverbial “hamster wheel” and couldn’t get off.  Run, run, run and they developed an irrational fear of somehow missing God.  Many a zealous saint has turned obsessive and superstitious. Suicide would happen.

Wikipedia says this about “scruples”– –an obsessive concern with one’s own sins and compulsive performance of religious devotion.”   It is essentially the doubt and fear that you will do or say something that is not right.  It locks you up inside to the point you can’t do anything.  Scruples can be one of the occupational hazards of the devout believer.

Ecclesiastes postulates the idea of being overly devout.  “Do not be excessively righteous and do not be overly wise. Why should you ruin yourself?” (Eccl. 7:16) This verse, suggests that one can be excessive, or, too good.  That might rankle some, as it did me.  How can you be too righteous?

Luther once said, “Be a sinner and sin strongly, but more strongly have faith and rejoice in Christ.” That intrigues me. I once heard a sermon entitled, “Does Your Christianity Include You?” (I can remember the title, but not the message.)

I guess we sometimes develop a sense of wanting to please God to the extent of denying our humanity. 

At least that’s where my own battles with scrupulosity originate.  I am thinking that “Pharaseeism” is kind of like its cousin; they are closely related. I think we start to have issues when we start to become obsessive about our holiness and our discipleship.  If a little is really good, then a lot is even better; this is our rationale, but it doesn’t work that way.

There are several examples in the Word.  I think of Jephthah and his over-the-top vow to the Lord.  In Judges 11, Jephthah vowed to God that if he were victorious in battle, he would give to God whoever came through the doors of his house upon his return from battle. In verse 34-35  we read that his only child a daughter came out first upon his return from battle. Jephthah was crushed.

This wasn’t necessary, or even required, but if we look at his life it seems that he had an impulse to overcompensate.  He was blown away by his daughter’s appearance when he returned home.  Saul was another, with Jonathan and the honey.  Just something to think about.

“If there be anything that can render the soul calm, dissipate its scruples and dispel its fears, sweeten its sufferings by the anointing of love, impart strength to all its actions, and spread abroad the joy of the Holy Spirit in its countenance and words, it is this simple and childlike repose in the arms of God. “

S.D. Gordon

ybic, Bryan

 

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Sin Boldly, But Believe in God More Boldly Still

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“If you are a preacher of mercy, do not preach an imaginary but the true mercy. If the mercy is true, you must therefore bear the true, not an imaginary sin. God does not save those who are only imaginary sinners. Be a sinner, and let your sins be strong, but let your trust in Christ be stronger, and rejoice in Christ who is the victor over sin, death, and the world. We will commit sins while we are here, for this life is not a place where justice resides.”

Martin Luther, From the Melanchthon Letter no. 99, 1 August 1521

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Luther is essentially communicating the things that are real to us.  He takes it down to bare wood.  We are given an understanding of this World, an a sense of what we can expect from the hearts of all those who surround us.  Sin is the issue, and we need to accept that from our brothers and sisters.  We should not be surprised when someone we love intentionally blindsides us with their disobedience to God.

Dramatic words, ‘sin boldly’.  We instantly see this as a way to sin, without restraint.  And let’s face it, sinning is fun.  At times perhaps, even a whole lot more pleasure than walking out godliness.  Luther recognized the inevitably of sin.  As fallen people we should accept that fallenness.  We sin, it’s what we do, and we do that very well. And the Lord knows that.

“If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.”

1 John 1:8

Our ‘religious’ hearts often go into this ‘deception mode.’  We endeavor not give in to the viciousness of sin.  “We will overcome!” And yet we are so infected with sin, and rebellion that we try to minimize the problem.  If the truth be known, we are sick, infested and condemned.  There are no ‘quick fixes’ for us.  Evil runs rampant.  It is the ultimate epidemic.

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Looking at our salvation

“Let your trust in Christ be more boldly still.’  The Lord Jesus has decisively interrupted our lives.  He has wholesale entered into our darkness and sin.  In a way it’s like a ‘roadside’ bomb, and needs a direct intervention of a specialist to disarm it.  As people who are completely saturated with sin, we need a third party to step-in and to save us from all the embedded darkness.

Often there is a sense of boldness when we completely understand our depravity.  We ‘know’ our sin.  For the most part can grasp its deadliness, and its infectiousness.  The Holy Spirit’s ministry is to bring us to this transparent moment when we can see the darkness and harm we’ve caused.  The fact is, that we are to accept this, it’s all true.  We have been this evil and awful to those around us. Most believers would curiously admit that ‘they have sinned more as a believer’ than before they were first saved.

Luther declares a significant point when he tells us ‘to believe in Christ more boldly still’. Simply, our ‘sin’ awareness must never exceed our Christ awareness.  We must have a stronger sense of Jesus’ victory then our sinfulness.  Our confidence, which has taken a hit on our sinfulness, now shouts ‘hallelujah’ at His victory.

“If we claim we have no sin, we are only fooling ourselves and not living in the truth. But if we confess our sins to him, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all wickedness. 10 If we claim we have not sinned, we are calling God a liar and showing that his word has no place in our hearts.”

1 John 1:8-10, NLT

“You need not fear because sin still plagues you – instead rejoice that by God’s grace you are on a journey toward eternal life and sin will finally fade into the distant past.”

Luther

“May it be the real me, that seeks and finds the real You.”

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Further info, and source:  http://www.scrollpublishing.com/store/Luther-Sin-Boldly.html

http://www.lectionarysermons.com/june_30_02.htm

http://www.internetmonk.com/archive/a-luther-quote-to-wake-up-the-sleepers