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We have just been joined by Serbia! Jerry and I were in Serbia in 2014 during a Viking cruise from the North Sea to the Black Sea (almost). You can see we were impressed by the country and its people–I wrote four posts about our 1-2 day visit in my series European Sojourn on this blog!
On my part it was an accident. On God’s part I think it was intentional.
I was checking the stats on another blog I manage (phoenixofhiroshima.org) and found myself reading the stats for this one.
Unbeknownst to me, this blog has readers! That’s surprise #1.
Surprise #2: you come from countries ALL OVER THE WORLD! I want to tell each one of you WELCOME! and GOD LOVES YOU (and so do I)!
You may be as pleased as I am to know you are connected to people, maybe even other Christians, in:
United States Egypt United Kingdom South Korea Germany Philippines Turkey India Indonesia Canada France Singapore Nigeria Ukraine Malaysia Thailand Netherlands New Zealand Vietnam South Africa Honduras Ireland Saudi Arabia Italy Hungary Switzerland Australia Finland Uganda Japan Kuwait Denmark Ghana Austria Norway Russia European Union Jamaica Sri Lanka Armenia United Arab Emirates Rwanda Portugal Bahrain Namibia Taiwan El Salvador Hong Kong SAR China Myanmar Mexico Chile Estonia American Samoa Kenya Costa Rica British Virgin Islands Bulgaria Czech Republic Sweden Bahamas Nepal Brazil Poland Fiji Romania Israel Belgium Tanzania Liechtenstein Georgia Northern Mariana Islands Macau SAR China Paraguay Argentina Spain Pakistan Guatemala Belize Lebanon Serbia –and counting!
No matter what country you are from, I have prayed for you. Do you know how I know? Because every day (for years now) I have prayed for the people in one of the countries of the world. It may be a huge nation like Russia or a tiny island in the Pacific or the Caribbean, but every day I pray for people in some country.
Which means I have prayed for YOU.
If you want me to pray for a specific request or just want to say “hi” you can reach me at email@example.com
Wishing you each God’s very best,
This year marks the 500th anniversary of the beginning of the movement that we know as “The Reformation”. It all started when Martin Luther developed his Ninety-Five Theses which were written to confront the corrupt practices and doctrines in the church that had ventured away from the biblical Gospel. This bold confrontation resulted in a movement to clarify and proclaim the essential and foundational truths of the Christian faith and Gospel of Jesus Christ. It was out of this period that the “Five Solas” of the Protestant Church were developed to demonstrate the central Biblical truths of the doctrine of salvation and the Gospel. These solas are not lofty doctrinal statements that are outdated for our times but are foundational Biblical pillars of timeless truth that should inform our beliefs and practices today. The five solas can be of tremendous help for us in our efforts to share the Gospel as they define our motivation and message when sharing Christ with others. Our mission at The League is to mobilize and equip Christians to Read, Carry, and Share the Word. By knowing the solas of The Reformation, we can be motivated to share a clear and biblical message of salvation with those who God has called us to reach with the good news of Jesus Christ.
The Motivation for Our Message: Soli Deo Gloria
The main motivation for sharing the Gospel with others lies within this sola which means “glory to God alone”. Everything we do in the Christian life, including sharing the Gospel, has one magnificent motive – to glorify God. The Apostle Paul wrote in I Corinthians 10:31, “So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.” God is first and foremost in all that He does motivated to bring glory to Himself. As His people bringing glory to God should also be our ultimate motive in all we do. When we share the Gospel with people we glorify God by telling them about His attributes of holiness, justice, and wrath along with His grace, mercy, and love. When we share the Gospel with others we bring glory to God because we declare His excellencies to a lost world. Therefore, whenever we share the Gospel with others, we can rejoice regardless of the response we receive because our mission to glorify God by declaring His character has been accomplished. May all we do in the Christian life, including sharing the Gospel, be motivated by desiring to see the lost come to salvation in Christ but ultimately to glorify our God. So, whether someone accepts or rejects Christ remember that your faithfulness to declare the greatness of God brings glory to Him which is what you were created to do. Let’s live for God’s glory alone.
The Source of Our Message: Sola Scriptura
The next sola of The Reformation means “by Scripture alone”. Our source for sharing The Gospel does not come from popular opinions or from within ourselves. The Reformers preached that the only reliable source of truth was God’s inspired, authoritative, and sufficient Word. If you are ever wondering where your message should come from, go to God’s Word. II Timothy 3:16-17 says, “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.” The Reformers got it right! God’s Word is all we need to know God, to know truth, and to share the Gospel message accurately. It should be God’s Word that we share with others when we share the Gospel. It is so comforting to know that we are fully equipped to do God’s Work in evangelism because God has given us His Word. Opinions of the day or even truth conceived from within ourselves are not sufficient to save. We don’t need to reinvent or reform the Gospel message to suit our times. We simply must share the truth of the Gospel that is found in God’s Word alone.
The Content of Our Message: Sola Christo, Gratia, Fide
We must accept our motive to glorify God in all we do and find the source of our message in Scripture alone. But what is the message that we are to share? The remaining solas will help us to share a clear, concise, and accurate Gospel message rooted in Scripture for the glory of God.
First off, salvation is found in Christ alone. No other person or thing can save anyone. There is no other religious figure no matter how popular or powerful that can grant eternal life. Jesus said in John 14:6 that HE HIMSELF ALONE is the only way to heaven. The Reformers made it clear that all roads do not lead to heaven. Only Christ does. The world we live in says that everyone must find their own way but that philosophy will not save anyone unless someone finds their way to heaven in Jesus! Any religion that claims that Jesus is “a way” instead of “the way” to heaven disregards the exact teaching of Jesus. As God’s people we have the great privilege and responsibility to reform people’s thinking and point them to salvation in Christ alone.
Second, salvation is by grace alone. Another lie of false religions is that somehow we can earn salvation by good works. Scripture makes it clear that we are all sinners and that as sinners we can do nothing good enough to impress a pure and holy God. Salvation is a gift of God’s grace that cannot be earned by human effort. The Reformers rejected the notion that participation in church activates, good deeds, giving money, and righteous acts could save anyone. Instead they proclaimed the Biblical truth that salvation is by God’s grace as a gift to undeserving sinners. What is grace? It is unmerited favor. In our pride, we often want to take credit for the things we do, so we work hard in order to achieve great things. But this won’t work for salvation. Those who are saved are saved only by the grace and kindness of God. As God’s people, we have the great privilege and responsibility to reform people’s thinking and point them to recognize that salvation is by grace alone.
Last, salvation is through faith alone. What is faith? It is trust. But trust in who or what? The Scripture says that salvation is by God’s grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone. When the Philippian jailer asked Paul, “What must I do to be saved?”, Paul responded, “Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ.” When someone exercises faith in Jesus they are trusting in Jesus alone to be their only way to heaven and trusting that His work on the cross is the only sufficient provision of their salvation. When one trusts in Jesus to save they no longer trust in themselves, their works, or anyone, or anything else to save them. Only Jesus.
We share the good news that salvation is by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone. This is the message that the world needs to hear. Is this the Gospel you have been sharing? If so, then praise God! If not, then perhaps you can spend some time reflecting on the truth of the Gospel and these solas so your mind and message can be reformed to align more with Scripture.
Reforming God’s World with God’s Word for God’s Glory
Our mission at The League is to mobilize and equip Christians to Read, Carry, and Share the Word. We can learn a lot from The Reformers and their 5 solas in our attempts to share God’s Word with God’s World. Our ultimate motivation should be for the glory of God alone. Our truth is to be found in Scripture alone. And our message must contain the good news that undeserving sinners can be saved by God’s grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone. Reformation still must happen today. Not a reformation of the truth of the Gospel but a reformation of people’s perception or understanding of truth. May it be your prayer that God would use you to be part of reforming people’s minds who don’t know Christ so that they will be saved by God’s grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone living for God’s glory alone and believing Scripture alone.
Soli Deo Gloria!
“Sin” in Greek (hamartia) is an archery term. It means “missing the mark.” It doesn’t primarily mean you’re bad or guilty, just that your effort fell short. In that sense, you failed.
“Sin” in the Bible refers to the fact that we all fall short of God’s moral standard. For that, we are guilty and need God’s forgiveness, which He abundantly supplies. In fact He does more. He grants us life in Him, a relationship of dependence and trust on our part and salvation, provision and protection on His.
Anything that prevents or gets in the way of this closeness of mutual love and trust is sin because it falls short of what we were created to enjoy. It creates a disconnect between us and God–in fact, the Bible says we were born disconnected from God. Outwardly this can present as rebellion, indifference, self-indulgence, but inside it may feel like inadequacy, fear, depression, despair–
I want to share some of what sin feels like from the inside–to me:
–Not knowing where I am going–or how to get there.
–Feeling lost and wishing someone cared enough to come find me.
–Trying to hide so I won’t be known.
–Pretending I’m fine.
–Wanting to hurt someone else because I hurt.
–Having everything and feeling it isn’t enough.
–Wandering in a wilderness/ wondering what I am supposed to be doing.
–Wishing I could reboot my life.
–Having faith that is too small and FEAR THAT IS TOO LARGE.
–Wondering what the rules are.
–Plotting how to trip someone up–or bring them down.
–Longing to belong.
–Hating someone and hating myself for hating
–Wanting to stamp out the world–by hurting the person closest to me.
–Not wanting to hear any voice of authority–especially God’s.
–Wanting it all my way and wishing everyone else would cooperate.
–Being all alone when I am surrounded with people.
–Knowing something is missing but not being able to look for it because I don’t know what it looks like.
–Being disconnected–or wired wrong.
–Being afraid of all the dark shadows, especially mine.
–Wanting the person I envy to lose it all.
–Wanting everyone else to be poorer, uglier, more miserable than I am.
–Blaming him/her even when I know better.
–Wishing I could die so then they’d be sorry.
–Taking just a little taste of the forbidden.
–Telling myself it doesn’t matter–if no one saw me.
–Filling my emptiness with everything but God.
–Hurting myself for being bad.
–Punishing my body by making myself feel worse.
–Pretending I don’t care.
–Needing no one but me.
–Being the sacrificial lamb.
–Blowing it out of proportion–to distract others from what I’ve done or who I am.
–letting fear/worry/pride/anger/jealousy/meanness/hatred win.
While I was at Multnomah Bible College (now University) our Dean of Women Pamela Reeve wrote and self-published a little rainbow-colored book titled Faith Is... that later became a best-seller.
In telling us students why she wrote it, Miss Reeve said someone had told her faith is a warm, fuzzy feeling. She told us primly (although she had a great sense of humor), “I thought, that is not what faith is to me!”
With her inimitable calligraphics (which sometimes include dips and spacing I can’t reproduce here) Miss Reeve designed a page for each of her definitions, some of which are:
…the conviction of realities I can not see or feel.
…remembering I am indispensable to GOD when I feel I only clutter up the landscape.
…not a vague hope of a happy hereafter, but an assurance of heaven based on my trust in Christ’s death as payment for my sins.
When “Jim” said my stumbling through the darkness of a midnight mountain forest filled with unseen bears was an illustration of willfully defying God I felt judged unfairly. He was looking at the outside. Inside I was trying hard to stay calm, sit on my imagination, and make it back to my car uneaten. I thought, “That is not what sin is to me!”
I want to jot down some of my definitions in my next post, a look from the inside at what Sin Is…
Note: Romance of a Protestant Nun: One Woman Surprised by Love, a biography of Pam Reeve, is due out anytime from Wipf and Stock Publishers. I’ll be reviewing it when it’s available.
Jerry and I joined a Bible study a few years ago, taught by a very nice man we’ll call Jim, who was earnest about keeping us aware of our tendency to sin.
I didn’t participate in the discussion for the first couple of weeks. Then Jim asked us to share an experience when we really had to trust God and He had come through for us. Hesitantly I started describing a time when I was part of a prayer and deliverance team at the peak of the San Jacinto Mountains near Idyllwild, California–beyond cell phone range. We’d had an amazing weekend watching God free people from all kinds of physical, psychological and spiritual bondage. Everyone we’d prayed for had hugged and thanked us, praised God and driven back down the mountain.
Afterwards, late into the evening, our team met in the log cabin that served as our office, one of a handful of buildings huddled in the center of the 13-acre wood that is the Center for Prayer Mobilization. We debriefed, marveling and exalting the Lord for all He had done, for the lives he had changed over the last 48 hours. I was appointed to write up these things as they talked. After the formal meeting ended, we hung out together until midnight, talking about all kinds of things including the fact that bears had been sighted in the area where we were. I was not finished recording it all when the last of them finally left.
By the time I came outside, it was pitch dark. Pitch. And utterly silent. It was forest for miles around, nothing but towering pines and cedars. No one lived on the property at that time and no lights had yet been installed along the footpaths to the gravel road.
I had come alone and my car was across a parking lot, down the curving road and up an embankment through the trees in a clearing we used for overflow parking. It probably wasn’t over a hundred yards. I knew the way–I could take a shortcut straight up the embankment–but I had to fight panic as I walked. I had to do this totally blind without being able to feel my way along. I had to go slowly though I wanted to run. The stories of bears were all too real to me now and I fought, praying, to keep my head.
I suppose I walked for 20 minutes until I figured I must be at the foot of the embankment. I had my keys in my hand and I stopped, carefully pressed my door release button–and was flooded with relief at hearing the responding click. I still had some clambering to do but I did it rapidly, hoping to outrace anything that might follow me now…
I finished telling my story and waited. Jim immediately commented to the group, “That’s like sin, isn’t it? When we sin, we wander away from God and go our own way into darkness. We all do that, don’t we? Sin is feeling independent and stubborn.”
I was shocked. I just sat there. I didn’t say anything but I thought, I wasn’t feeling independent and stubborn. I was feeling lost and alone and afraid.
For the nine months we continued to attend that Bible study, I often thought about his misinterpretation of my night on “prayer” mountain. I realized when we Christians look at someone and see “bad, evil, disobedient, wilful,” maybe inside that person is feeling something very different.
I want to write about that next.
Martha and Mary had sent a courier to summon Jesus to come heal “the one You love.” The courier had reached him and given Jesus the message. But Jesus hadn’t come.
Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. So, when He heard that he was sick, He stayed two more days in the place where He was.
Lazarus died–and still Jesus didn’t come. Then after this He said to the disciples, “Let us go to Judea again. So when Jesus came, He found that he had already been in the tomb four days…..”
Their brother had been in the tomb four days before murmurings came from the outskirts of the mourners, maybe a kid or two running to the house to say, “We saw Jesus in the distance!” and then, “He’s coming here!”
As soon as Martha heard Jesus was approaching the town, she went to meet him. Mary didn’t. We will see both sisters responding in the same way–going to intercept Jesus and greeting him with the same words, “Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died! ”
But note the difference in timing and attitude. Verse 20 says so much: Now Martha, as soon as she heard that Jesus was coming, went and met Him, but Mary was sitting in the house.
Echoes of Martha busy preparing the meal in contrast to Mary, who was sitting at his feet. Except that this time Martha was doing the thing that took her directly to Jesus, while Mary was doing what kept her at a distance from him. The one who had put other things before Jesus now dropped everything to get to him while the one who had made him her highest priority doesn’t even get up.
Now Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died. But even now I know that whatever You ask of God, God will give You.”
Martha was still the stolid, practical one. She took in truth and processed it and kept her faith in spite of the circumstances. She had learned to trust Jesus. Her words to him were a cautious question: I don’t understand. How does your letting my brother die fit into the whole picture of Your plan and Your love? She adds to it, “Even now I know that whatever You ask of God, God will give you.” In other words, “I know there is higher meaning in this. You have something in mind.” This time she is the one to hear from him the deeper truths she had missed while she was bustling about the kitchen.
“I don’t understand but I am coming to you, hoping you will explain.” She doesn’t understand but she trusts his heart. And he shares with her one of the most precious promises of the Bible.
Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.”
Martha said to Him, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day…” (This, too, is a question.)
Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live. And whoever lives and believes in Me shall never die. Do you believe this?”
She said to Him, “Yes, Lord, I believe that You are the Christ, the Son of God, who is to come into the world…” (So is this.)
And when she had said these things, she went her way and secretly called Mary her sister, saying, “The Teacher has come and is calling for you.”
Mary is broken-hearted. Her grief makes her pull back from him, stay away. She may even have been sullen.. She had been sold out to him, all in, nothing held back, and Jesus had disappointed her. Big-time. She wasn’t in a hurry to see him again, when there was nothing to be done to keep her brother from dying. It was all over. What was there left to say?
If Martha was the reasoner, Mary was the feeler. She had been at His feet when He came the first time, soaking in the good stories. Now he has deliberately delayed, letting her brother die, and she is not so sure about him any more.
Not until Martha comes back to tell her secretly, The Teacher has come and is calling for you does she get up and go out to meet him.
Between you and me, I don’t think Jesus said any such thing. I think Martha fabricated that to motivate Mary to go to him. It worked. Now Mary does go and goes quickly. But when she finds Jesus, her words, the very same as her sister’s, Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died! are a reproach. She falls at His feet sobbing–the same feet she had sat at, enthralled, a year or two earlier–but when Jesus speaks she doesn’t answer. Others answer for her: “Where have you laid him?” “Come and see.”
“When Mary came where Jesus was, and saw Him, she fell down at His feet, saying to Him, “Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died.”
Very same words, said much differently. She too meant “I don’t understand” but her words were, possibly, resentful. “I don’t understand and I have given up trusting you. My brother’s death is your fault.” She did not get the precious secret whispered to her, “Your brother will rise again.”
Instead she keeps sobbing, aware of nothing but her own grief and anger. Jesus, aware of what he is about to do and in pain for her—perhaps less out of sympathy with her than over the lack of faith which is causing her pain–cries too. His question, whether addressed to her or not, “Where have you laid him?,” is answered by the friends who have come to mourn with her.
… Then Jesus, again groaning in Himself, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone lay against it. Jesus said, “Take away the stone.”
Martha, the sister of him who was dead, said to Him, “Lord, by this time there is a stench, for he has been dead four days.” Practical Martha. Peter’s counterpart. Helping God out by telling him things he might not think of otherwise.
Jesus said to her, “Did I not say to you that if you would believe you would see the glory of God?” Then they took away the stone from the place where the dead man was lying. And Jesus lifted up His eyes and said, “Father, I thank You that You have heard Me. And I know that You always hear Me, but because of the people who are standing by I said this, that they may believe that You sent Me.” Now when He had said these things, He cried with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come forth!” And he who had died came out bound hand and foot with graveclothes, and his face was wrapped with a cloth. Jesus said to them, “Loose him, and let him go.” Gospel of John chapter 11, New King James Version (NKJV)
Mary was so inner-directed all she was conscious of was her loss and the fact that (in her experience) death was permanent Martha was at least open to the possibility of something more, something greater, something up his sleeve. A bigger purpose. Hope.
Yet both sisters were treated to the front row marvel of watching their brother respond to the Creator’s voice, the voice of the One who had given each of them life in the first place, calling him back from the dead: Lazarus, come forth!” (Some scholars point out that if Jesus had just said “Come forth!” every corpse in Bethany might have responded.) They were there for the miracle, the evidence of love of One who is even more than a healer.
One sister said in effect, “I don’t understand. I believed you would heal him. You hurt me and I’m mad at you.” She could have been spared unnecessary pain but her short-sightedness got in the way. The other said, “I don’t understand but I trust you–at least I want to–I (sort of, kind of) believe you for something greater than temporary healing.” Deep down, both women believed in him. Did their different responses matter, in the end? They each got their brother back and with him, a view of God so much, much greater than before.