Friday, October 31, 2014

Reformation Day

I posted this two years ago today. But because of its significance in the history of Christianity, I decided to post it again.
    "For in the gospel a righteousness from God is revealed, a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: 'The righteous will live by faith'"  (Romans 1:17 NIV).
Most Lutheran and some other Protestant denominations observe "Reformation Day" on October 31. It commemorates Dr. Martin Luther's posting of his Ninety-five Theses on the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg, Germany on October 31st, 1517. This act triggered the movement in world history known as the Reformation. While the historical date for the beginning of Reformation is October 31st, it is often celebrated by churches on the last Sunday in October. The Reformation was the great rediscovery of the good news of salvation by grace through faith in Jesus Christ.
For centuries, the Roman Catholic Church had been plagued by false doctrines, superstition, ignorance, and corruption. Since most ordinary Christians were illiterate and had little knowledge of the Bible, they relied on their clergy for religious instruction and guidance. Tragically however, monks, priests, bishops, and even the popes in Rome taught unbiblical doctrines like purgatory and salvation through good works. Spiritually earnest people tried to justify themselves by charitable works, pilgrimages, and all kinds of religious performances and devotions, but they were left wondering if they had done enough to escape God's anger and punishment.
The truth of the gospel -- the good news that God is loving and merciful, that He offers each and every one of us forgiveness and salvation not because of what we do, but because of what Christ has already done for us -- was largely forgotten by both clergy and laity. The Holy Spirit used an Augustinian monk and university professor named Martin Luther to restore the gospel to its rightful place as the cornerstone doctrine of Christianity.
Our passage was a major factor in convincing Martin Luther that salvation is by grace through faith, not by works, and that any righteousness a Christian has comes from God as a result of his/her faith in Jesus Christ. The quote within the passage: "The righteous will live by faith" is from Habakkuk 2:4.
Luther drafted a series of ninety-five statements in Latin discussing indulgences, good works, repentance, and other topics, and invited interested scholars to debate with him. The publication of the Ninety-five Theses brought Luther international attention and into direct conflict with the Roman Catholic hierarchy and the Holy Roman Emperor. A little over three years later, he was excommunicated by the pope and declared a heretic and outlaw. This was the beginning of the Reformation, the culmination of which was the writing of the Augsburg Confession of 1530, the first official Lutheran statement of faith.
Martin Luther and his colleagues came to understand that if we sinners had to earn salvation by our own merits and good works, we would be lost and completely without hope. But through the working of the Holy Spirit, the reformers rediscovered the gospel -- the wonderful news that Jesus Christ lived, died, and rose again to redeem and justify us. As Luther wrote in his explanation of the Second Article of the Apostle’s Creed.
    “I believe that Jesus Christ, true God, begotten of the Father from eternity, and also true man, born of the Virgin Mary, is my Lord, who has redeemed me, a lost and condemned creature, purchased and won me from all sins, from death, and from the power of the devil; not with gold or silver, but with His holy, precious blood and with His innocent suffering and death, that I may be His own and live under Him in His kingdom, and serve Him in everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness, even as He is risen from the dead, lives and reigns to all eternity. This is most certainly true."
On Reformation Day, we glorify God for what He accomplished in 16th century Germany through His servant, Dr. Martin Luther -- the recovery of the gospel of salvation by grace through faith in Jesus Christ. We also earnestly pray that God will keep all of us faithful to the true gospel and help us to joyfully declare it to the world. This verse from a beautiful captures the theme of the Reformation celebration:
By grace God's Son, our only Savior,
Came down to earth to bear our sin.
Was it because of your own merit
That Jesus died your soul to win?
No, it was grace, and grace alone,
That brought Him from His heav'nly throne.
I hope this brief summary on the Reformation will stimulate you do study further this most important movement in the history of Christendom. Have a wonderful day as you celebrate God's love, grace, mercy, and forgiveness!

Love, Jerry & Dotse

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Love's Dimensions

Chuckle: A reporter said to a 99 year-old fisherman, "I hope I can come back next year for your 100th." "Can't see why not, young man," the old fisherman said. "You look healthy enough to me."
Quote: "There is a net of love by which you can catch souls." --Mother Teresa
    "Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance" (1 Corinthians 13:7 NLT).
I like our passage in The Living Bible: "If you love someone, you will be loyal to him (or her) no matter what the cost. You will always believe in him (or her), always expect the best of him (or her), and always stand your ground in defending him (or her)." Genuine unconditional love is totally unselfish and always wants the best for the one who is the object of that love. Let's dissect this verse and think about each dimension of love it contains.
If you love someone, you will never give up on him or her. Aren't you thankful that Jesus never gave up on you? If we truly love someone, we will be completely loyal to that person regardless of the disappointments and heartaches we may experience. We will encourage rather than condemn -- build up, never tear down.
If you love someone, you will never lose faith in him or her. Jesus proved that He believes in you and values you so much that He was willing to sacrifice Himself for you. You are worth all it cost Him on the cross. He has faith in you that His sacrifice will not be in vain, and that you will be faithful in sharing His love and message of salvation with others. Your expressions of faith in someone is a major source of encouragement.
If you love someone, you will always expect the best from him or her. This loving expectation always sees the best in others. It looks beyond the rough surface and sees the great potential in that person you love. This expectation includes the hope that a loved person will live up to the potential given them by our Lord. It looks past the faults and frailties and sees the good in a person.
If you love someone, you will always defend him or her. Love always defends others being subjected to unfair treatment and unwarranted criticism and insults. We will never abandon someone we love, even when their actions are less than lovable. Our defense of them may not be for their actions, but for their priceless value to us as the object of our unconditional love.
These dimensions of love remind us of the love God has for us, and of our inability to love unconditionally without the help of God's Spirit within us. This kind of love goes against our natural inclinations. It manifests itself in our ability to put aside our natural selfish desires and love others without expecting their love in return. The closer we walk with our Lord and the more like Him we become, the greater our ability to show His self-sacrificing love to others.

Love, Jerry & Dotse

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Jesus Christ: Who Is He?

Chuckle: TEACHER: "Winnie, name one important thing we have today that we didn't have ten years ago." WINNIE: "Me!"
Quote: "Apart from Christ we know neither what our life nor our death is; we do not know what God is nor what we ourselves are." --Blaise Pascal
    "But what about you?" he (Jesus) asked. "Who do you say I am?" Simon Peter answered, "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God" (Matthew 16:15-16 NIV).
You may be wondering why I would raise this question to my readers, most of whom are born again believers who have answered, to their own satisfaction, the question about the identity of Jesus Christ. Not only have they settled the issue of who Jesus is, but they are so sure of their conclusion that they have committed their lives to Him and placed their eternal souls in His hands -- trusting Him to fulfill His promise that they will spend eternity with Him in a place the Bible calls heaven.
While Jesus was here on earth, there was much confusion about who He really was. Jesus asked his disciples what people were saying about His identity. "Well" they replied, "some say John the Baptist, some say Elijah, and others say Jeremiah or one of the other prophets" (vs. 14). It took Peter's enlightened answer for Jesus to say, "Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by man, but by my Father in heaven" (vs. 17). It is faith like Peter's that forms the very foundation of God's kingdom.
Even today, the identity of Jesus Christ is a matter of much disagreement. Some discount Him all together, while others acknowledge His importance in history because of His wise teachings. Many deny that He is God incarnate who lived on earth as a man and died to redeem mankind from enslavement to sin. What would your answer be if Jesus were to ask you, "Who do you say I am?"
Do you believe He was conceived by the Holy Spirit and born to the virgin Mary? "The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel! -- which means 'God with us'" (Matthew 1:23).
Do you believe He, as God, came to earth as a human being to "save his people from their sins?" (Matthew 1:21). 
Do you believe He suffered and died to pay the penalty for your sins and mine? "While we were still sinners, Christ died for us" (Romans 5:8).
Do you believe He rose again on the third day victorious over sin, death and the grave? "He is not here; he has risen, just as he said" (Matthew 28:6). 
Do you believe He is coming again someday to claim His church -- all believers? "So you also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him" (Matthew 24:44).
Do you believe that "Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved?" (Acts 4:12).
If you believe these truths and have a personal testimony concerning your own relationship with Jesus Christ, you should have no trouble answering Jesus' question, "Who do you say I am?"

Love, Jerry & Dotse

Thursday, October 23, 2014

God's Never Ending Grace

Chuckle: A kind woman watched a small boy as he tried to reach the doorbell of a house. Thinking she should help, she walked up and rang it for him. “Okay, what now?” the woman asked the boy. “Run like crazy,” he answered. “That’s what I’m gonna do!”
Ponder This:  “Costly grace is the treasure hidden in the field; for the sake of it a man will gladly go and sell all that he has. It is costly because it costs a man his life, and it is grace because it gives a man the only true life.” –Dietrich Bonhoeffer
    "The Word (Jesus) became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father , full of grace and truth . . . From the fullness of his grace we have all received (one) blessing (grace) after another(John 1:14, 16 NIV).
God's grace is an amazing attribute of his character. Literally, "grace" is getting what we do not deserve -- or more than we deserve. Grace should not be confused with "mercy," which is not getting what we deserve, or "justice," which is getting what we deserve. Initially, it is God's grace whereby we are saved: "For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith -- and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God -- not by works, so that no one can boast" (Ephesians 2:8-9 NIV).
As important as God's grace is for our salvation, there is much more of his grace available to us every single day. Remember, God wants each of us to experience a life full of joy and peace. He wants us to have the absolute best and fullest life that only he can give us. See John 10:10.
In our basic passage, we are told that Jesus came full of grace and truth. God's "grace" springs from his never ending boundless love and generosity. "Truth," on the other hand, stresses God's determination to be consistent, reliable, predictable, and trustworthy in his dealings with us. You can trust all the promises of God recorded in his Word. You can take them to the bank, so to speak. Grace without truth would make it meaningless. In declaring the character of God, Jesus combined an infinite tenderness toward us, as sinful people, with an unswerving fidelity and faithfulness.
Also, notice that God gives us his grace followed by even more grace -- one portion of grace after another. The flow of God's grace is like the waves of the ocean. One wave of grace is followed by another wave of grace over and over again. God's grace is never ending. Once the gift of God's grace is received, it never stops flowing and growing. God wants us to be conscious of his grace and draw upon it daily for strength, peace, and comfort. And, as the God of truth, he wants us to trust him implicitly and rely upon his promises. Promises like: "Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you" (Hebrews 13:5b NIV), or "I am with you always, to the very end of the age" (Matthew 28:20b NIV).  

Love, Jerry & Dotse 

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Rest In Jesus

Chuckle:  A wife invited some people to dinner. At the table, she turned to their six-year-old daughter and said, "Would you like to say the blessing?" "I wouldn't know what to say," the girl replied. "Just say what you hear Mommy say," the wife answered. The daughter bowed her head and said, "Lord, why on earth did I invite all these people to dinner?"
Quote:  "No soul can have rest until it finds created things are empty. When the soul gives up all for love, so that it can have Him that is all, then it finds true rest." --Julian of Norwich
Jesus said, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light” (Matthew 11-28-30 NIV).
"The Message" translates these verses this way. "Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you'll recover your life. I'll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won't lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you'll learn to live freely and lightly" (vs. 28-30 MSG). I suppose I like this translation because it best describes my own personal interpretation of what Jesus was actually saying to His disciples and to us.
A yoke is a heavy wooden harness made to fit over the shoulders of oxen, which is attached to a plow or some other piece of tilling equipment for the oxen to pull. Jesus used this analogy to help us understand that He never intends to burden us down or wear us out in service for His kingdom. Regardless of what He asks us to do, He promises to give us rest and peace in Him and to restore our strength.
The rest that Jesus promises does not imply the absence of hard work, but spiritual rest and renewal by His love, healing, and peace. The concept reminds me of the question: "what's the difference between work and play?" We may exert even more energy at play than at our work, but the difference rests in our attitude toward what we are doing.
If we enjoy what we are doing, we are refreshed and exhilarated by it. Regardless of the amount of effort required or energy expended, we call it "play." Our relationship and fellowship with Jesus transforms meaningless and burdensome labor into joyous and refreshing spiritual purpose and productivity.
"You have made us for yourself, and our hearts are restless till they find their rest in you." --St Augustine of Hippo
Love, Jerry & Dotse