Knowing God: A Pastor’s Thoughts!

On January 7, 1855, Charles H. Spurgeon, the minister of New Park Street Chapel, Southwark, England, opened his morning sermon as follows:

It has been said by someone that “the proper study of mankind is man.” I will not oppose the idea, but I believe it is equally true that the proper study of God’s elect is God; the proper study of a Christian is the Godhead. The highest science, the loftiest speculation, the mightiest philosophy, which can ever engage the attention of a child of God, is the name, the nature, the person, the work, the doings, and the existence of the great God whom he calls his Father.

Spurgeon continued by stating the following observations.

“There is something exceedingly improving to the mind in a contemplation of the Divinity. It is a subject so vast, that all our thoughts are lost in its immensity; so deep, that our pride is drowned in its infinity. Other subjects we can compass and grapple with; in them we feel a kind of self-content, and go our way with the thought, “Behold I am wise.” But when we come to this master science, finding that our plumb line cannot sound its depth, and that our eagle eye cannot see its height, we turn away with the thought that vain man would be wise, but he is like a wild ass’s colt; and with solemn exclamation, “I am but of yesterday, and know nothing.” No subject of contemplation will tend more to humble the mind, than thoughts of God….

“But while the subject humbles the mind, it also expands it. He who often thinks of God, will have a larger mind than the man who simply plods around this narrow globe…. The most excellent study for expanding the soul, is the science of Christ, and Him crucified, and the knowledge of the Godhead in the glorious Trinity. Nothing will so enlarge the intellect, nothing so magnify the whole soul of man, as a devout, earnest, continued investigation of the great subject of the Deity.”

“And, whilst humbling and expanding, this subject is eminently consolatory. Oh, there is, in contemplating Christ, a balm for every wound; in musing on the Father, there is a quietus for every grief; and in the influence of the Holy Ghost, there is a balsam for every sore. Would you lose your sorrow? Would you drown your cares? Then go, plunge yourself in the Godhead’s deepest sea; be lost in his immensity; and you shall come forth as from a couch of rest, refreshed and invigorated. I know nothing which can so comfort the soul; so calm the swelling billows of sorrow and grief; so speak peace to the winds of trial, as a devout musing upon the subject of the Godhead. It is to that subject that I invite you this morning.”

These words, spoken over a century ago by Pastor Spurgeon (at that time, incredibly, only twenty years old) were true then, and they are true now. They make a fitting preface to a series of studies on the nature and character of God; the God we seek to know.

Soli deo Gloria!

 

Knowing God!

As we prepare for Easter or Resurrection Sunday this year, which is a little over a month away, I would like for us to consider what it means to know God. We should understand that knowing about God is different than actually knowing Him.

Several years ago, I preached a series of messages on the topic of Knowing God. What does the title “knowing God” mean? How does this ongoing discipline of knowing God occur? Who is responsible for knowing God? What particular people are to passionately pursue the discipline of knowing God?

To “know” biblically means to understand, to be familiar with, and to possess information. The object believers in Christ are to understand, to be familiar with and to possess information is the One, True God of the Scriptures.

Please notice that the word “knowing” is a present active participle. I am using that word deliberately. Believers never arrive at a complete knowledge of God prior to heaven. We are always on an active, progressive, and passionate journey of continuously knowing, and understanding God.

This journey of knowing God is not only about who He is, but also about what He does. What is God like? What are His attributes and is there any one attribute greater than others? What does God hate? Does God hate? What are the many things which God has chosen to do?

In what or who does He delight? Is there any way that believer can make God love them more? Is there any way believers can make God love them less?

Is knowledge about God’s existence sufficient enough to save an individual from God’s wrath? If not, what can or does save a sinner from the wrath of God. Is God a God of wrath?

As you can see, there are many questions surrounding the subject of knowing God. Our goal is to acquire biblical answers. Let’s begin.

Soli deo Gloria!

 

 

 

Rock of Ages!

4 “As you come to him, a living stone rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious, you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ” (I Peter 2:4-5).

Augustus Montague Toplady, the author of “Rock of Ages,” was born at Farnham, Surrey, November 4, 1740. His father was an officer in the British army. His mother was a devoted woman to Christ.

He prepared for the university at Westminster School, and subsequently graduated from Trinity College, Dublin. While on a visit in Ireland when he was sixteen he was converted by the gospel at a worship service held in a barn. The text was Ephesians 2:13: “But now, in Christ Jesus, ye who sometimes were far off are made nigh by the blood of Christ.”

The text of the hymn Rock of Ages, reflects the text of I Peter 2:4-5.

Rock of Ages, cleft for me,
Let me hide myself in Thee;
Let the water and the blood,
From Thy riven side which flowed,
Be of sin the double cure,
Save me from its guilt and power.

 

Not the labors of my hands
Can fulfill thy law’s demands
Could my zeal no respite know
Could my tears forever flow
All for sin could not atone
Thou must save and thou alone

Nothing in my hand I bring
Simply to the cross I cling
Naked come to thee for dress
Helpless look to thee for grace
Foul I to the fountain fly
Wash me Savior or I die

While I draw this fleeting breath
When mine eyes shall close in death
When I soar to worlds unknown
See thee on thy judgment throne
Rock of Ages cleft for me
Let me hide myself in thee

CCLI Song # 40588

Thank you Lord for being the rock, the living stone, of my salvation.

 

Soli deo Gloria!

 

 

Reformation Day, 2017

Happy Reformation Day. It was five hundred years ago today that Martin Luther nailed his Ninety-Five Thesis on the Castle Church Door in Wittenberg, Germany, thus beginning the Protestant Reformation. We have spent close to a month examining this significant moment in history, along with the individual God used to bring it about: Martin Luther. I trust you have been as blessed as I have.

The impasse which occurred between the Reformers of the 16th Century and the Roman Catholic Church remain in full force today. These issues are as critical now as they were then. What key takeaways from the Reformation would we be wise to apply to the context of Christianity in the 21st Century?

The first would be that the sole authority for the Christian is to be the Scriptures: Sola Scriptura. Then, and now, the Roman Catholic Church views Scripture as deferring to the church’s authority and traditions. This was not the view of Luther Calvin, or the other Reformers. This was the foundational issue in the Protestant Reformation.

However, I am concerned that there are those within Evangelical Protestant churches who do not have the viewpoint that the Scriptures alone are our sole and primary authority in matters of faith and practice. I am concerned that believers opt for their own opinions and attitudes to shape their decisions, rather than obeying God’s Word. It is when these attitudes and opinions run contrary to the Scriptures, the Scriptures are often set aside. This is not becoming the exception, but rather the norm.

 

For example, when a Christian is unhappy in their marriage, they may feel free to pursue and engage in an extra-marital affair. It doesn’t matter to them what the Bible says about adultery. They want to be happy and woe to the pastor who confronts them about their sin in accordance to Matthew 18:15-20 and Galatians 6:1-2.

Secondly, the commitment to objective truth instead of subjective experience is another lasting benefit from the Reformation. Martin Luther went from one religious experience to another; not only as a child, but also as a young adult. He constantly sought relief from his guilt over his sin by pursuing a religious experience. Whether it was promising to become a monk during a violent thunderstorm, constantly confessing his sins in the monastery, or traveling to Rome and climbing so-called sacred stairs on his knees while reciting the rosary, his life prior to conversion was a search for the right experience where he would find peace with God. However, his peace with God eventually came not from an emotional experience, but rather through the truth of the God’s Word specifically contained in Romans 1:16-17. On the basis of biblical truth, God credited Martin Luther with Christ’s righteousness, which resulted in Martin’s positional, personal and emotional peace with God.

Today, many seek a subjective, religious experience for the sake of a subjective religious experience alone. Their desire for a religious “high” becomes the goal they pursue, rather than the pursuit of objective truth. This is not only true at youth conferences, but also at women’s and men’s conferences. It is also seen in regularly in churches. Few are the worship leaders, pastors and conference speakers who resist this pandering to the crowd for an emotional response. They’re out there, but they’re few and are far between.

Thirdly, there is the commitment to the doctrine of sola fide or faith alone. This is a short-handed slogan which summarizes the doctrines of grace alone and Christ alone within the specific context of the biblical gospel of salvation. For more churches than I would care to estimate, the gospel has become a self-help movement focused on personal peace and financial affluence. Your best life now, so to speak. It may be summarized by one church which has as its slogan, “Join us! Where it’s okay to not be okay.”

The Reformation is far from over. It continues on and is as critical today as it was in Martin Luther’s day when biblical truth was at stake regarding how a sinner becomes righteous before God.

There are those who teach and believe that Scripture plus the church is the believer’s authority. That grace plus human merit saves. That faith plus works is necessary to be made righteous. That Christ’s righteousness along with one’s own is indispensable for salvation. That the glory of salvation is to be shared between God and man.

Today’s children of the Protestant Reformation hold that salvation is by grace alone, through faith alone, in the person and work of Jesus Christ alone, to the glory of God alone based upon the teachings and truth of the Scriptures alone.

May we continue to hold to these truths as tenaciously as did Martin Luther. It won’t be easy, but “Here we stand; we can do none other. God help us!”

Soli deo Gloria!

Is the Reformation Over?

Is the Protestant Reformation over? Some would say that it is. Recent overtures resulting in theological agreements between Evangelical Protestants and Roman Catholics would seem to support this idea that little is left of the theological disagreements which occurred in the 16th century.

On October 31, 2016, Pope Francis said that after five hundred years, Protestants and Catholics “have the opportunity to mend a critical moment of our history by moving beyond the controversies and disagreements that have often prevented us from understanding one another.” In light of the pope’s statement, one evangelical professor of theology commented, “From that, it sounds as if the Reformation was an unfortunate and unnecessary squabble over trifles, a childish outburst that we can all put behind us now that we have grown up.”

Tell that to John Wycliffe who the Catholic Church persecuted for translating the Bible into English. Tell that to Jon Huss who was burned at the stake for speaking against the abuses of the Roman Catholic Church. Tell that to Martin Luther, Huldrych Zwingli, John Calvin and others who were hounded, hunted and hurt by the Catholic Church who refused, and continues to refuse, to acknowledge its errors. People have asked me is the Protestant Reformation over? I say no!

The Latin phrase Semper Reformanda applies here. Rather than mean that churches should always be changing in order to conform to the ever-changing culture, instead it means “always being reformed” or “The church reformed and always being reformed according to the Word of God.” God’s Word should always be reforming God’s people, and for that matter God’s churches. Each and every generation must return to God’s Word each and every day so that the Scriptures would continue reforming our lives, and keeping us from heresy.

Pastor Burk Parson explains, “The Reformation isn’t over, nor will it ever be over, because reformation –God’s Word and God’s Spirit reforming His church—will never end.”

Soli deo Gloria!

Husband and Father

What impact did the Protestant Reformation have upon Martin Luther personally? Did he ever marry? Did he have children? Did he die a natural death, or like many other Reformers, did his enemies eventually execute him?

Martin never expected to marry. As a monk, he took a vow of celibacy. However, upon his excommunication by the Roman Catholic Church because of his writings and teachings against the church, his vow of celibacy was no longer in force.

Yet, Martin was still hesitant to marry. He was a fugitive from the church and expected to be arrested and executed at a moment’s notice. He believed it would be unfair for a woman to commit to a marriage under those conditions. But true love has a way of changing a man’s mind.

Martin wasn’t the only monk, or nun for that matter, to leave the Catholic Church and to eventually commit to marriage. Many men and women, who respectively left the monasteries and cloisters, were getting married and establishing their own homes. So Martin became involved in helping former nuns find husbands or homes. One such woman was Katherine von Bora.

While it was not love at first sight, they became increasingly committed to each other. Luther’s parents encouraged him to marry Katie. They became betrothed, or engaged, on June 13, 1525. On June 27, fourteen days later, they had a public ceremony. Martin and Katie believed that their marriage and family would provide a model for other couples in ministry. Theirs was a union of mutual respect and blessing. They were together for twenty-one years.

While Martin served the Lord in preaching and teaching, Katie ran the home. She took care of the family finances along with looking after her husband and his frequent bouts with gout, insomnia, hemorrhoids, constipation, dizziness and ringing in the ears. She brewed her own beer, which she gave to Martin to help him sleep.

The Luther’s home was open to university students and friends who would stop by for dinner and a drink. Conversations would eventually turn to theology. The records of these discussions are available today as Table Talk, or The Table Talk of Martin Luther, among other similar titles.

The Luther’s were blessed with six children. These included eldest son, Hans, along with Elizabeth, Magdalena, Martin, Paul, and Margaretha. Two of their daughters died in infancy. They also raised four orphaned children along with providing shelter for numerous others. It was Magdalena’s death, at the age of fourteen that resulted in one of Martin’s greatest sorrows. She died in his arms. His grief over her death was more than compensated by the knowledge she was with Jesus Christ, her Savior.

Martin Luther would preach his last sermon in his hometown of Eisleben on February 15, 1546. His text was Matthew 11:25-26, “25 At that time Jesus declared, “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children; 26 yes, Father, for such was your gracious will.”

Following his thirty-five minute sermon, Martin remarked that he was too weak to continue. He walked across the street to his room, where he became sick and died three days later.

His funeral in Wittenberg was held with crowds lining the streets along the funeral procession. He was buried in the Castle Church, the same church where he had nailed his Ninety-Five Thesis twenty-nine years earlier. Luther’s tombstone reads as follows: “Here is buried the body of the Doctor of Sacred Theology, Martin Luther, who died in the year of Christ 1546, on February 18th, in his hometown Eisleben.” Katie would die four years later in 1550.

Pastor Erwin Lutzer writes, “Martin and Katie taught us not only how to live and love but also how to die. In the end, both humbly bowed to accept God’s will in all things, including the inevitability of death. Even today their example of love and hard-won partnership is an inspiration to us all.”

Soli deo Gloria!

Brothers in Christ

Was Martin Luther the only leader of the Protestant Reformation? Who were some others who were actively involved in the initial days of God’s great movement? I direct your attention all too briefly to two: Huldrych Zwingli and John Calvin.

Zwingli was born seven weeks after Luther in early 1484. He lived in Switzerland and was converted to the gospel. He was called to the priesthood but when he became the pastor of a church in Zurich on January 1, 1519, he abandoned the traditional methods of worship, preached from the Gospel of Matthew and began to teach the Word of God systematically.

While he encouraged his congregation to read Luther’s books, he refused to be called a Lutheran. He looked to the Scriptures for his understanding of the gospel, and not to Luther.

The primary difference between Luther and Zwingli was over the Lord’ Supper. Luther initially believed the elements became the actual body and blood of Christ, but adjusted to eventually say the body and blood were present, while Zwingli, like Calvin, believed the bread and wine only represented the body and blood of Christ.

The two actually met, in Marburg, Germany just north of Frankfort. They never did come to an agreement over the Lord’s Supper. In fact, Luther did not shake Zwingli’s hand upon leaving their meeting because he did not believe Zwingli to be a Christian because of not only his view on Communion, but also because Zwingli taught to take up arms against Catholics.

John Calvin was born in northern France in 1509. He was 26 years younger than his two peers. Calvin and Luther never met. Calvin was converted to the gospel, perhaps in some measure through the influence of Luther’s writings on the gospel. Calvin would call Luther his “most respected father.” Calvin’s lasting importance would undoubtedly be his Institutes of the Christian Religion and his Five Doctrines of Grace.

Like Luther, Zwingli denounced papal authority and preached justification by faith alone. He denied the merits of the saints and indulgences. He, like John Calvin, believed in predestination and urged there be only two church sacraments: baptism and the Lord’s Supper. Zwingli would eventually publish Sixty-Seven Articles against the Roman Catholic Church.

For Luther, the primary doctrine to defend was justification by faith. It was the article, he said, by which the church stands of falls. Luther stressed the wonder of redemption while Calvin stressed the sovereignty of God in salvation.

Luther believed all methods of worship could be employed, unless strictly forbidden by Scripture. Calvin and Zwingli worshipped according to only that which was expressly taught in Scripture. Luther used instruments in worship, Zwingli and Calvin did not.

Luther still held, interestingly enough, that infant baptism was the entry point into the Christian Life. Lutheran churches hold to this doctrine today. Zwingli and Calvin believed that infant baptism was a sign of “future faith” and that God was making a covenant with the parents for their child’s eventual salvation.

They all agreed on the five solas of the Reformation.

There is no way we can with great depth and detail chronicle the lives of Zwingli and Calvin in this brief blog. Let me say that all three Reformers were human beings just like you and me. They possessed great spiritual strength from God, but they were also men who possessed feet of clay; they weren’t perfect. Their greatest legacy I think would be their perspective that people should seek to follow God and His Word, and no human beings such as themselves.

While we respect these men, we do not follow these men. We follow Christ, as they most certainly did.

Soli deo Gloria!

 

Under Attack!

Have you ever sensed the Devil is attacking you? Have you ever had an awareness of the Devil’s presence in your home, bedroom or even in school or at work?

I recall one occasion when I was a student at Detroit Bible College. I was taking an evening theology class on the Doctrine of Angels. Obviously, the content of the class would not only include the subject of angels, but also the Devil and demons.

One evening, our prof played a cassette tape (lets you know how long ago this was) by an evangelical minister performing an actual exorcism. As you may know, an exorcism is the casting out of a demon from an individual who this demon(s) has possessed. The recording was pretty intense.

As I listened to the tape, I began to sense in the classroom a heaviness or a spirit of oppression and fear. I thought it was just me. I mean, the original Frankenstein movie still freaks me out. However, I was not the only one sensing this uneasiness.

Our professor stopped the tape and said that he felt the spirit of oppression as well. We began to sing hymns and choruses we knew by heart. Almost immediately the sense of fear and oppression began to leave the room. However, when I left class and went to my car, I checked the back seat before getting in to drive home. Even as I drove home on a major Detroit freeway, I kept singing hymns and choruses and reciting Scripture to keep the sense of fear at bay.

Martin Luther sensed this same spirit of oppression when he was at Wartburg Castle for ten months. While in his room, which served not only as his office and study but also as his bedroom, he often struggled with doubt and conflicts within his soul. Don’t we all?

Tradition says that Luther once threw an inkwell at the wall where he sensed the Devil was standing. While this story is probably not true, what is true is what Luther wrote about his battle with the Devil. He said, “I fought the devil with ink!” This probably refers to not only Luther’s books and pamphlets, but also his translation of the New Testament into German. Luther would use God’s Word to defeat his adversary.

Luther once wrote, “When I awoke last night, the Devil came and wanted to debate with me; he rebuked and reproached me, arguing that I was a sinner. To this I replied: Tell me something new, Devil! I already know that perfectly well; I have committed many a solid and real sin… [Christ] took all my sins upon Him so that now the sins I have committed are no longer mine but belong to Christ. This wonderful gift of God I am not prepared to deny, but want to acknowledge and confess.”  

I recall verse three from Luther’s hymn A Mighty Fortress is our God. Perhaps you can identify with it as I can.

And though this world, with devils filled,
Should threaten to undo us,
We will not fear, for God hath willed
His truth to triumph through us:
The Prince of Darkness grim,
We tremble not for him;
His rage we can endure,
For lo! His doom is sure,
One little word shall fell him.

The Apostle Paul writes, “For though we walk in the flesh, we are not waging war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds. We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:3-5).

Keep fighting the good fight, beloved!

Soli deo Gloria!

God Help Me!

“Here I stand, I cannot do otherwise.” Martin Luther

When the day final dawned, Luther was ready to give his answer. However, the delay caused even more people to attend the diet and so a larger assembly hall was used.

Eck, the council’s interrogator once again asked Luther if the books and pamphlets on display before Martin were his. He replied that they were. Eck then said, “I ask you, Martin – answer candidly and without horns – do you or do you not repudiate your books and the errors which they contain?”

Luther’s answer was as follows:

Since then Your Majesty and your lordships desire a simple reply, I will answer without horns and without teeth. Unless I am convinced by Scripture and plain reason—I do not accept the authority of popes and councils, for they have contradicted each other – my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and I will not recant anything, for to go against conscience is neither right nor safe. God help me. Amen.

The following words were added: “Here I stand, I cannot do otherwise.”

The council’s decision was to honor the safe passage they had given Martin, allow him to return to Wittenberg, where he would then be arrested and executed for heresy. As Luther was returning to Wittenberg following the hearing, he was captured by friends who took him, for his own protection, to the Wartburg Castle in Eisenach. He would remain there in seclusion for ten months.

Pastor Erwin Lutzer writes, “It was here in isolation that Luther had one of the most productive periods of his life. Amid his doubts, depression, confusion and insomnia, he feverishly wrote books and pamphlets, and most astoundingly of all, translated the New Testament into German in just eleven weeks.”

Luther’s life parallels those mentioned in Hebrews 11:36-38: “36 Others suffered mocking and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. 37 They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were killed with the sword. They went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, afflicted, mistreated— 38 of whom the world was not worthy—wandering about in deserts and mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth.”

Luther did not recant a single item of what he had written. Because of this, he would spend the rest of his life as a fugitive.

Luther was willing to evaluate and count the cost for his commitment to biblical truth. Are we so willing? We recognize Martin Luther’s legacy. What will be your legacy?

Soli deo Gloria!

Martin’s Prayer

“Here I stand, I cannot do otherwise.” Martin Luther

That night before Martin Luther was to give an answer before the council at the Diet of Worms, he wrote a prayer. The prayer was a window to the soul of this monk who tried so hard to become righteous before God by his own works, but who God declared righteous on the basis of grace alone, through faith alone in Jesus Christ alone. This is Martin’s prayer.

O God, Almighty God everlasting! How dreadful is the world! Behold how its mouth opens to swallow me up, and how small is my faith in Thee… Oh! The weakness of the flesh, and the power of Satan! If I am to depend upon any strength of this world – all is over… The knell is struck… Sentence is gone forth… O God! O God! O thou, my God! Help me against the wisdom of this world. Do this, I beseech thee; thou shouldst do this… by thy own mighty power… The work is not mine, but Thine. I have no business here… I have nothing to contend for with these great men of the world! I would gladly pass my days in happiness and peace. But the cause is Thine… And it is righteous and everlasting! O Lord! Help me! O faithful and unchangeable God! I lean not upon man. It were vain! Whatever is of man is tottering, whatever proceeds from him must fail. My God! My God! Dost thou not hear? My God! Art thou no longer living? Nay, thou canst not die. Thou dost but hide Thyself. Thou hast chosen me for this work. I know it… Therefore, O God, accomplish thine own will! Forsake me not, for the sake of thy well-beloved Son, Jesus Christ, my defense, my buckler, and my stronghold.

Lord – where art thou…? My God, where art thou?… Come! I pray thee, I am ready… Behold me prepared to lay down my life for thy truth… suffering like a lamb. For the cause is holy. It is thine own!… I will not let thee go! No, nor yet for all eternity! And though the world should be thronged with devils – and this body, which is the work of thine hands, should be cast forth, trodden under foot, cut in pieces,… consumed to ashes, my soul is thine. Yes, I have thine own word to assure me of it. My soul belongs to thee, and will abide with thee forever! Amen! O God send help!… Amen!

 

When the day final dawned, Luther was ready to give his answer. Having read Martin’s prayer, are you ready to give your answer? Are you willing to lay down your life for God’s truth?

Soli deo Gloria!