Blog Tidbits on The 500th Anniversary of the Protestant Reformation

On October 31, 2017, the Protestant Reformation turns 500 years old, commemorating the posting of the 95 Theses that Martin Luther nailed to the door of the Wittenberg Castle church.  (To read the entire blog posts, click on the titles below)

The Reformation and the Glory of God (John Piper)

"The Reformers believed that only grace could raise us from the dead, and only Christ could become our punishment and our perfection. These two miracles—of life from the dead and wrath removed—could only be received as a gift through faith. They could never be merited or earned, all so that the entire transaction would culminate soli Deo Gloria—to the glory of God alone."

Did the Reformation Secularize the West? (Kevin Flatt)

"Once, in the Middle Ages, Western Christendom was united in a shared faith under a single Roman Catholic church. All areas of life were suffused with religious influence and significance, and it was almost impossible to disbelieve in God or live one’s life as if he were unimportant. But the Protestant Reformation came along and shattered this unity, creating deep, irresolvable disagreements about fundamental questions of authority, doctrine, worship, and morality—even among Protestants themselves. The resulting conflicts could and did turn violent, as the various groups persecuted each other and doctrinal disputes provided pretexts for religious wars.
These events had two unintended long-term consequences: the privatization of religion and the rise of religious individualism. Privatization said, in effect, if we can’t agree about religion, let’s keep religion out of the things we do together as a society—science, philosophy, commerce, government, education. Individualism said, since we can’t agree, let every man be his own judge in religious matters. While privatization led to the stripping of religion from the public square, individualism led to a breakdown in religious authority in the church and at home, ending in full-blown relativism: what’s true for you isn’t true for me, and you have no right to tell me what to do. Thus, in the long run, the Reformation removed religion from most areas of life and undercut the viability of local church communities rooted in shared beliefs. Or, in Clue terms, “The Reformation did it with religious divisions in the sixteenth century!"

Martin Luther: The Man who Rediscovered God and Changed the World (Eric Metaxas)

I'm currently reading Martin Luther's new biography by Eric Metaxas who also wrote a thoughtful and engaging biography of Dietrich Bonhoeffer entitled "Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy".  The Metaxas biography of Luther is a good way to celebrate the 500th anniversary of our Protestant tradition.  Tolle lege -- "Take up and read!"

Slow is Beautiful

Spiritually-speaking, I want to grow. Growing implies movement. Movement implies progress. Progress can be measured. Progress means success.

If only the spiritual life were so easy.

The spiritual life is slow. I don’t do slow well. In fact, I hate slow.

The spiritual life is like mile 23 of a marathon: you can’t see the finish line, two people just passed you, and you begin to wonder “now…what am I doing this for”? (Take my word on it if you haven’t had the “privilege” of running a marathon.)

I’ve been struck lately about the slowness of the spiritual life. The never-arriving-part of the spiritual life. The I-wish-I-was-more _____ (wise, faithful, prayerful, generous…) part of the spiritual life. The-I-know-that-I-should-focus-on-Christ but it’s-so-easy-to-focus-on-self part of the spiritual life.

I want spiritual jumper-cables at hand at a moment’s notice to automatically put a spark in my life whenever the spark (seems) to fade away. I want to grow. And I want to do it yesterday. And I want to have learned that lesson already. And I want to have read those books three years ago. And I want to have said my prayers more intensely, more contemplatively, more faithfully, more articulately, more meaningfully.

I want to grow.

Yet, what if, in addition to using the word grow, we used words like rest and abide, celebrate and dance, commune and soak, serve and listen? What if the spiritual life isn’t about how high the tree grows but how strong the roots are? What if the spiritual life isn’t about how fast the tree grows but how many years it endures? What if the spiritual life isn’t about how beautiful the tree is but how many birds can find rest in its branches? (And maybe just 1-2 birds finding rest there is enough.)

Rest, abide, celebrate, dance, commune, soak, serve, and listen.

Maybe I’m thinking about growth all wrong.

Blog Tidbits

From time to time, I'll share some interesting tidbits from the blogosophere.  (Click on the titles below to read the entire blog post.) 

  "Do you Actually Want to Be Our Pastor?"

“But it didn’t take me long to figure out that lots of churches don’t actually want a pastor. They want a leadership coach or a fundraising executive or a consultant to mastermind a strategic takeover (often performed under the moniker of evangelism or missional engagement). In this scheme, there’s little room for praying and gospel storytelling, for conversations requiring the slow space needed if we’re to listen to love.
People criticize the church today as being consumeristic. And to some extent, churches cater to consumerism—often to our detriment. I agree that consumerism is a problem for Christianity.

But ironically, much of the dialogue about why people are done with church pushes people deeper into Christian consumerism than it pushes them into deeper discipleship: Here I am, all alone, worshipping God on my schedule when it’s convenient for me.

Listening to a podcast of your favourite preacher while you’re at the gym or on the back deck and pushing three of your favourite worship songs through your ear buds does not make you a more passionate Christ follower.

It usually makes you a less effective one.
Institutions are not a problem. But institutionalization is. An institution can enrich life, but institutionalization takes that good thing and turns it into death. How? The structure, the mechanism, the means, becomes the end. The institution itself takes on its own inherent purpose.

Hurricane Irma and the Groaning of Creation

“For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.” – Romans 8:20-23

This is not the way it’s supposed to be.  I take this adage as a colloquial expression of the doctrine of sin which affects even creation itself.  During Hurricane Irma, I often thought about this language of groaning found in Romans 8 -- the whole creation is groaning as if in the pains of childbirth.  It seems to me that hurricanes, earthquakes, and tornadoes all represent the groans of creation longing for full redemption. The picture Paul paints of creation is that of a mother in childbirth who simply cannot wait any longer to see her beloved son or daughter. Yet for now, all of creation lives in the “already/not yet” tension – already tasting redemption but not yet receiving the fullness of the New Creation.

How should Christians and the church react to these groans of creation?

N.T. Wright pens these words: “Where should the church be at such a time? Sitting smugly on the sidelines, knowing it’s got the answers?  No, says Paul: we ourselves groan too, because we too long for renewal, for final liberation. And where is God in all this?  Sitting up in heaven wishing we could get our act together? No, says Paul (8:26-27): God is groaning too, present within the church at the place where the world is in pain. God the Spirit groans within us, calling us in prayer to God the Father.

The Christian vocation is to be in prayer, in the Spirit, at the place where the world is in pain, and as we embrace that vocation, we discover it to be the way of following Christ, shaped according to his messianic vocation to the cross, with arms outstretched, holding on simultaneously to the pain of the world and the love of God.” (The Challenge of Jesus, 189-90)

This seems to me very wise counsel for us to remember when we see (or experience first-hand!) the pain and suffering in our world.  We hold on tightly to both the pain of the world and the love of God. We do not look away from the pain and suffering of the world as if taking “the happy pill” of escapism. That is the not the way of the cross.  Yet neither do we doubt the love of God in the midst of the storm. The surprising truth of the cross is that it reveals the love of God like never before. 

For it is only when we hold the pain of the world close to our hearts and at the same time reach out for the love of God in the midst of our suffering are we following the narrow way of the cross.

This was my first rodeo riding out a Hurricane here in Florida.  (I feel duly welcomed now!)  Many people in our state and our community are hurting; many more have spent a very long week without power or water. 

Each situation is distinct, and each person experienced the storm in different ways.  Yet, what I personally found most encouraging is that I often found myself thinking: If I have to experience Hurricane Irma, I’m glad that I get to do it with the people of Trinity Wellsprings Church. I saw (and heard about) so many of our Covenant Partners helping widows and elderly folks put up hurricane shutters. I saw the encouraging words spoken back and forth on Facebook. I know many prayers were being lifted up to the throne of grace for protection for our world, our state, our communities, and our church buildings.

Whatever your experience of Hurricane Irma, I hope we can all say with the hymn writer Thomas Chisholm (1866-1960) these words:

Great is Thy faithfulness!
Great is Thy faithfulness!
Morning by morning new mercies I see
All I have needed Thy hand hath provided
Great is Thy faithfulness, Lord unto me!

Grateful to have ridden the hurricane out with an amazing community of faith,

Pastor Jason Carter