Happy (almost) Reformation Day!

Martin_Luther_posting_Ninety-_Five_thesesOn October 31, 1517 an Augustinian monk named Martin Luther nailed a document to the door at the Wittenburg Church. His document, known as Ninety-Five Theses, was an invitation to discuss and debate Roman Catholic practices that he found questionable — particularly the sale of indulgences. Separation was never his intention and what happened next surely must have taken the him by surprise.  Rather than engage papal authorities, he enraged them and in a short while the young monk was excommunicated. After bravely refusing to recant his writings at the Diet of Worms, Luther was deemed a heretic and forced into hiding. But it was too late!  The Word of God had already been set loose.  What started as a tiny spark spread like wildfire across Germany, Europe, and eventually the entire western world. Reformation influence could not be contained. How did such dramatic and world-wide transition come about in such a short while? I will let the man himself answer: “I simply taught, preached, wrote God’s Word; otherwise I did nothing. And then, while I slept, or drank Wittenberg beer with my Philip and my Amsdorf, the Word so greatly weakened the papacy that never a prince or emperor did such damage to it. I did nothing. The Word did it all.”

On this special day, it was my noble intention to post a 3-part series on the woman whose life and labor freed Luther to accomplish all that he did.  But my Katie is not ready.  She is still in “Draft” form and the current temptation to hit “Publish” before the Morningstar of Wittenberg is ready must be resisted!  Let us “not awaken love until the time is right.”  Not to despair though, I will make it up to you!  :)  I’ve compiled a list of links I think you will enjoy!

  • If you like Christian Performing Artist, Max McLean as much as I do, you will want to listen to “Here I Stand.” It is a riveting narration of the events leading up to the Diet of Worms; his prayer the night before, his stirring defense, Eck’s rebuttal and, Luther’s final and most famous response.

  • Dan Philips, in one of his earlier Reformation Day Roundup’s, offers a contrast between Luther and the “Christian” leaders of our day — and it’s not pretty!

What a point of contrast Luther serves to the namby-pamby lightweights of our day. Clearly Luther did not oppose Rome happily. Clearly he was aware that his life was in danger. Clearly, if another way could have been found that would have preserved his conscience and his church affiliation, he would have taken it. Yet at the real risk of the cost of everything, of “goods and kindred” and “this mortal life,” Luther stood forth and declaimed. By stark and shameful contrast, how many of today’s “leaders” won’t risk — not even life nor limb, but merely — their reputations as thoughtful, broad-minded moderates and academics; their connections to the similarly tepid; their Q Score; their associations; in short, their friendship with the world? There were giants in the land, in Luther’s day. In our day? Not so much.

  • Here is another quote from the same post:

Luther was a man who accomplished great things heartily, and failed heartily. As free, Biblical Christians, we are right to learn and draw back from his errors and misstatements. But we also, in our timid and pallid day, stand in awe of such a man, gripped as he was with such passion for the Word and glory of God.

women-of-the-reformation

  • This is a blog series that is near and dear to my heart. Most of us are familiar with the great figures of the Protestant Reformation. Names like Martin Luther, John Calvin, Ulrich Zwingli are a few that come to mind. Yet, the story of the Reformation cannot be told without including the accounts of countless women who, alongside their male counterparts, played a vital role in the early formation of the Protestant Church.  In 2012, Heavenly Springs hosted  “Women of the Reformation,” a special series in which 12 women collaborated to present brief biographical sketches of women of the Reformation.

Here is a quote from the Prelude:

In the spirit of the Reformation, these women defied human tradition to lay hold of eternal life. For most, a stand for the Gospel would cost them all they had. It meant enduring evil and hurtful slander from the religious establishment. Many were suddenly catapulted into a world of isolation and treated harshly by those who thought they were doing God a service. Some were called to lay down their lives and make the ultimate sacrifice. Yet, all of these women inherited something better and they stand with the throng of witnesses described in Hebrews 12 as an encouragement for us today.

Contrary to the world Luther lived in, this quote reflects his high regard for the value of women:

The home, cities, economic life, and government would virtually disappear. Men can’t do without women. Even if it were possible for men to beget children and bear children, they still couldn’t do without women.” – Martin Luther

  • The Council of Biblical Manhood and Womanhood has published a chapter from Stephen Nichols’s, A Monk and  Mallet called, “Women in Black Too:  The Untold Story of the Women and The Reformation.”  This chapter is, in part, the inspiration for “The Women of the Reformation” Series at Heavenly Springs. You can read it here.
  • Did you know that if it weren’t for Katie Luther, we might not have “The Bondage of the Will”?  True story.  You can read about it here.
  • And speaking of women and the Reformation, Diane at Theology for Girls has written a feature presentation on Katherine Parr who, despite being married to the most difficult and dangerous man in the world, is one of the most influential women of the Reformation. Diane is also giving away 2 excellent Reformation books.  You can enter here. The giveaway ends Friday so hurry on over.
  • As a Polican-Jew — if you need a definition of that word, it means someone of Polish, Puerto Rican and Jewish descent — some of Luther’s writings regarding Jews can be very disconcerting.  How do we, as Reformation loving Christians, process all of this?  I found this article at Reformation 21 to be helpful.  James Swan at Beggars All has also written on this topic.

And finally, I leave you with a quote from none other than the Prince of Preachers on the most pressing need of the hour.

The Spread of the Protestant Reformation by Franz von Wagner
The Spread of the Protestant Reformation by Franz von Wagner

“We need, again, Luthers, Calvins, Bunyans, Whitfields—men fit to mark eras—whose names breathe terror in our enemies’ ears. We have dire need of such! Where are they? From where will they come to us? We cannot tell in what farmhouse or village smithy, or schoolhouse such men may be, but our Lord has them in store. They are the gifts of Jesus Christ to the Church and will come in due time.

He has power to give us back, again, a golden age of preachers, a time as fertile of great Divines and mighty ministers as was the Puritan age which many of us account to have been the golden age of theology! He can send, again, the men of studious heart to search the Word and bring forth its treasures! The men of wisdom and experience rightly to divide it! The golden-mouthed speakers who, either as sons of thunder or sons of consolation, shall deliver the message of the Lord which the Holy Spirit sent down from Heaven. When the Redeemer ascended on high He received gifts for men and those gifts were men fit to accomplish the edification of the Church, such as evangelists, pastors and teachers. These He is still able to bestow upon His people! It is their duty to pray for them, and when they come, to receive them with gratitude.

Let us believe in the power of Jesus to give us valiant men, and men of renown, and we little know how soon He will supply them!” - Charles Spurgeon

All Things Working For Good: My Testimony at “Joy in the Journey”

Today our church, North Shore Baptist in Bay Side, Queens wrapped up its “Fall Ladies Conference.” This year the theme was “Joy in the Journey” and the women of North Shore, as citizens of a better country (Philippians 3:20), received instruction from the Word regarding our journey homeward.  I think it’s safe to say that we all walked away with a fresh understanding of what it means to “rejoice in the Lord” (Philippians 4:4) in this earthly pilgrimage.  I was asked to share a brief testimony at Saturday morning’s segment which was entitled, “Potholes, Turbulence & Swells.”  I mulled over whether or not to post it here due to the personal nature of what I shared, but ultimately decided to do so in the hopes that it will encourage someone.

ALL THINGS WORKING FOR GOOD 

My name is Christina Langella. I was saved in November 1999. At age 27, I was very much a product of the age we live in: godless and cynical. I’ve always felt that Hosea 2:14 was a picture of my own salvation experience. “I will allure her, and bring her into the wilderness, and speak tenderly to her.” The consequences of my own sin had driven me to such despair and bitterness that when the hour of my salvation came, His grace was all the more precious to me. My turnaround was very radical. There was not one area of my life for which there was not a complete overhaul. I broke off ungodly relationships, stopped drinking, smoking, and cursing. I threw out all my New Age books, changed the way I dressed, stopped flirting, deceiving, and criticizing. These outward changes were only expressions of what was going on in the inside. God gave me a new heart and for the first time I knew what it was to be forgiven. Fear was cast out, and I was free to love God, and people.

I started going to church and in a little over a year I met and married Steven. He, too, was zealous for the Lord and together all we wanted was to live for God. Less than 6 months after we got married, we sold our co-op, moved out of NY, and threw ourselves — our resources, our energies into ministry. But things didn’t go the way we thought they would. In less than 3 years we lost our property, our reputation, and our marriage was hanging by a thread. We went from prosperity and good standing to poverty and humiliation almost overnight. It was like a hurricane barreled through and leveled everything in our world. But sometimes surviving the trauma of a hurricane is easier than living through the aftermath. The years that ensued were long and dark. We were thousands upon thousands of dollars in debt, and each month we found ourselves deeper in the hole. We were plagued by confusion, doubt, fear, anger, regret. Our emotions were frazzled. Our marriage was in shambles. Did God really call us? What about His Promises? What about our hopes; our dreams? Whatever our theology was, it wasn’t working but we didn’t know where else to turn. It wasn’t until we were introduced to Reformed theology, the doctrines of grace, and sound biblical theology, that we started to get our spiritual bearings. Once we got a hold of right doctrine — over the course of time, through the washing of His Word, and in covenant community, we began to heal and emerge from a very long night season of the soul.

I won’t lie and tell you that I would ever want to go through that again. But, I will say that I wouldn’t trade what I went through for the world. Romans 8:28, which, in many ways, is my life’s theme says, “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” Bound up in this verse are beautiful truths that offer comfort and consolation to Christians in trial and hardship. Today, I just want to focus on 3 of those truths.

#1: WHEN YOU CAN’T TRACE HIS HAND, TRUST HIS HEART[1]: The doctrine of the Sovereignty of God teaches that all things are under the jurisdiction of God. The great theologian Abraham Kuyper once said, ‘There is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is Sovereign over all, does not cry, Mine!” There are some who repel against this but the Sovereignty of God means that God not only allowed it, He designed it. And if He designed it, then it’s good and I can trust it. I still don’t know why certain things went down the way they did but I know that, for the Christian, nothing happens by chance and even the bad things are working for our good and His glory. Sometimes we get to see how things get worked out; other times we don’t. But by faith we receive it, and one Day, it will be clear.

#2: TRIALS HAVE A PURIFYING EFFECT ON OUR FAITH: There are depths of His mercy that you & I will never know apart from suffering. For me, I truly had no idea of the depth of my own depravity. Embedded within my theology was the proud and lofty notion that there was something inherently good in me that was worth saving. And after salvation there was this sense that I could maintain His pleasure by my service. Nothing could be farther from the truth. The Bible says, “There is none righteous.” I am convinced that you will never know the amazing grace of God until you understand your own depravity. Understanding this doctrine of total depravity also helped me realize that even if I suffered as an innocent party — before God, I’m not an innocent woman and anything bad on this side of eternity is frankly, nothing compared to the hell that I deserve.

#3: THE WORLD GROWS DIM AND JESUS GROWS BRIGHTER: If someone were to tell me today that everything I lost could be restored if I would just be willing to part with Jesus, I would say, “Keep it!” I don’t want it.” If losing everything means gaining Christ, then be willing to lose it all a thousand times over! This world and everything in it is passing away but Christ is forever. And He is more precious than anything! If you are in the pit, but you have Jesus, then praise God. You have all that matters. You have all that lasts.

Charles Spurgeon once said “I have learned to kiss the wave that strikes me against the Rock of Ages.” And that’s what I want to leave you with today. If the wind and waves are bearing down on you; if you are in a trial (whether it is public or private) God has not sent it to destroy you. In fact, it’s just the opposite. Trials are gifts, sent it in love, to refine us and prepare us for the Glory that waits.

[1] John MacDuff, The Promised Land, 1859

Why Church?

“To unite with the Church is to take one’s place among the followers of the Master. It is a public act. It is a confession of Christ before men. It is not a profession of superior saintliness. On the other hand, it is a distinct avowal of personal sinfulness and unworthiness. Those who seek admission into the church come as sinners, needing and accepting the mercy of God and depending upon the atonement of Christ for the forgiveness of their sins. They come confessing Christ. They have heard his call, “Follow me,” and have responded.

Uniting with the Church is taking a place among the friends of Christ; it is coming out from the world to be on Christ’s side. There are but two parties among men. “He who is not with me is against me,” said Jesus. The Church consists of those who are with Christ. This suggests one of the reasons why those who love Christ should take their place in the Church. By so doing they declare to all the world where they stand—and cast all the influence of their life and example on Christ’s side.”

J.R. Miller, Uniting with the Church

A Bruised Reed and a Smoldering Wick: J.C. Ryle on Weak and Small Faith

a bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not quench – Matthew 12:20a

What are we to understand by the bruised reed, and smoking flax?  The language of the prophet no doubt is figurative.  What is it that these two expressions mean?  The simplest explanation seems to be, that the Holy Ghost is here describing persons whose grace is at present weak, whose repentance is feeble, and whose faith is small.  Towards such persons the Lord Jesus Christ will be very tender and compassionate   Weak as the broke reed is, it shall not be broken.  Small as the spark of fire may be within the smoking flax, it shall not be quenched.  It is standing truth in the kingdom of grace, that weak grace, weak faith, and weak repentance, are all precious in our Lord’s sight.  Mighty as He is, “He despiseth not any” (Job  36:5).

The doctrine here laid down is full of comfort and consolation.  There are thousands in every church of Christ to whom it ought to speak peace and hope.  There are some in every congregation, that hears the Gospel, who are ready to despair of their own salvation, because their strength seems so small.  They are full of fears and despondency, because their knowledge, and faith, and hope, and love, appear so dwarfish and diminutive.  Let them drink comfort out of this text.  Let them know weak faith gives a man as real and true an interest in Christ as strong faith, though it may not give him the same joy.  There is life in an infant as truly as in a grown up man.  There is fire in a spark as truly as in a burning flame.  The least degree of grace is an everlasting possession.  It comes down from heaven.  It is precious in our Lord’s eyes.  It shall never be overthrown.

Does Satan make light of the beginnings of repentance towards God, and faith towards our Lord Jesus Christ?  No!  Indeed! He does not.  He has great wrath, because he sees his time is short.  Do the angels of God think lightly of the first signs of penitence and feeling after God in Christ?  No!  Indeed! “There is joy” among them, when they behold the sight.  Does the Lord Jesus regard no faith and repentance with interest, unless they are strong and mighty? No!  Indeed!  As soon as that bruised reed, Saul of Tarsus begins to cry to Him, He sends Ananias to him, saying, “Behold he prayeth” (Acts 9:11).  We err greatly if we do not encourage the very first movements of a soul towards Christ.  Let the ignorant world scoff and mock, if it will.  We may be sure that “bruised reeds” and “smoking flax” are very precious in our Lord’s eyes.

May we all lay these things to heart, and use them in time of need, both for ourselves and others.  It should be a standing maxim in our religion, that a spark is better than utter darkness, and little faith better than no faith at all.  “Who hath despised the day of small things?”  (Zechariah 4:10) It is not despised by Christ.  It ought not to be despised by Christians.

J.C. Ryle, Expository Thoughts on the Gospels: Matthew (Michigan: Baker Book House, 2007), 126-128.