Finding Meaning

Last January, after a trip “back home” to the east coast my mind was wrestling with a lot of “what ifs”. The trip had taken me back to the area where, at one time, I had envisioned spending most of my life and my career. The trip had reminded me of the friends I have who are doing what I thought I was going to do with my life. Eventually the spider webs cleared, the pity party was called off and I was reminded that the Lord has a specific plan for me–even if it is not what at one time I thought it would be. I would love to say I have conquered that particular weakness, but I have not. The reality is, in my heart I wanted something bigger, better, more impressive, more meaningful that what I am doing now. That sentence in and of itself should reveal that I sometimes feel like I am not doing much where I am–something I hate to admit. I suspect, though, that you may have similar thoughts at times–wishing for more. I do not know what your more might be–it could be money, influence, possessions, recognition or any number of other things–but I know I am not the only one who sometimes wants more.

Recently similar thoughts have crept into my mind again. As the start of a new school year rolled around and the enrollment was not what I wanted it to be, it did not take long for the “I could be at a bigger school” thoughts to pop up. Again, I was really asking myself if I am doing something that matters, or at least something that matters as much as I want it to matter.

Thankfully, I recognized pretty quickly this time that my mind was going in the wrong direction and I began to think, pray and read things that would hopefully get me back on track. In some cases it was not even intentional!

The truth is that what matters in God’s eyes is often the same thing that seems to matter in the world’s eyes, and what matters is God’s eyes is often not glamorous. There is a great line in the not-so-great movie Pearl Harbor. In it, we see the story of two friends, Rafe and Danny, who survive Pearl Harbor and enter WWII as fighter pilots. Rafe is one of the top fighter pilots in America, and when America holds back on joining in the fight against the Germans, he volunteers to go help the British. When he arrives in Britain, he is being shown around the airfield by the British commander when he sees airmen shot up in the previous day’s battle. While they are walking, a messenger informs the commander that two more British planes have been shot down.
The commander turns to Rafe and asks, “Are all Yanks as anxious as you to get themselves killed?” Rafe quickly responds, “I’m not anxious to die, sir. I’m anxious to matter.”

Stephen Cole, a pastor, wrote in Leadership Journal about reading a biography of Charles Spurgeon and praying that God would bless his ministry to become like Spurgeon’s. Which, being translated, can also mean fame and accolades. One day, during the time period he was reading the book, he was jogging when he had the thought, “What about John Spurgeon?” He was Charles Spurgeon’s father. He was a pastor, and the son of a pastor, but if it were not for the world-famous ministry of his son,we never would have heard of him. Cole wrote, “As I jogged, I thought, ‘Would I be willing to serve God faithfully and raise up my children to serve him, even if I never achieved any recognition? Even if no one but my own small congregation knew my name?’”

Then I was driving down the road listening to a CD by Christian artist Rebecca Friedlander. She has a song entitled “Driving” which talks about the desire for more prominence and greater influence. It is written as someone speaking to the Lord, and the chorus is the Lord answering. After telling the Lord of her desire for a more prominent ministry, and how she might even do it “better” than those whose ministries she cites as an example, the Lord answers her and He says, “What is that to you? You’re doing what I told you to / and as long as you are pleasing me, you just leave the driving up to Me.”

Jon Bloom, in May, wrote an article that appeared on the Desiring God web site, an article entitled “You Are God’s Workmanship”. In it, he writes, “No, there is nothing boring about you and there is nothing boring about what God has given you to do today. If you are bored, remember what Chesterton said: “We are perishing for want of wonder, not want of wonders.” Wonder at this: God has prepared just for you what he’s given you to do (Ephesians 2:10). Nothing you do today is unimportant. God is keenly interested in the smallest detail. You don’t need a more wonderful calling; you may just need more strength to comprehend the wonder of his loving ways toward you (Ephesians 3:17–19).”

Just last Friday, a Stephen Altrogge article appeared on Desiring God entitled, “When God Messes With Your Life Plan”. That title got my attention, because frankly, that is exactly what I sometimes feel! In this article, Altrogge wrote this: “Are you in a place you never expected to be? Has God taken you on a path you never would have willfully chosen? Take heart. God hasn’t deserted you. He hasn’t forgotten you. He hasn’t made a mistake. He knows exactly what he’s doing. He knows exactly what you need and where you need to be.”

A couple of Sundays ago I was listening to RC Sproul lecture on Ecclesiastes. The emphasis of Sproul’s lectures was on the meaning of life, the only way in which we can find significance, and the importance of what we do and how we live right now. Sproul referenced his column in Tabletalk, the one that is entitled “Right Now Counts Forever”, and he explained that there are two historical, secular views of the importance of our actions: right now counts not at all, or right now counts only for right now. Ultimately, he said, those are really the same thing—-because if right now only counts right now, it doesn’t really count. However, we know that our actions, our behaviors, our influences will have lasting meaning.

“We are all concerned with the lasting significance of life,” Sproul said. “Any hope of finding significance in your life that is limited to this world is an exercise in vanity (futility).” But, “We live in time and for eternity.”

What we do-—regardless of what position we may hold—-what each of us does this year, and every year, will count forever. One way or the other, it will make an impact. A lasting impact. My prayer is that I will continue to surrender my own selfish goals and schemes and be content allowing the Lord to use me where I am, or wherever He would have me be. May that be your prayer, as well.

Reformation Day

Today is Reformation Day. On October 31, 1517–495 years ago today–Martin Luther posted his famous 95 Theses on the door of the castle church in Wittenburg, Germany. Just to provide some additional context, that was just 25 years after “Columbus sailed the ocean blue.”

Robert Rothwell has written, “At the time, few would have suspected that the sound of a hammer striking the castle church door in Wittenberg, Germany, would soon be heard around the world and lead ultimately to the greatest transformation of Western society since the apostles first preached the Gospel throughout the Roman empire. … Initially protesting the pope’s attempt to sell salvation, Luther’s study of Scripture soon led him to oppose the church of Rome on issues including the primacy of the Bible over church tradition and the means by which we are found righteous in the sight of God.”

Regarding Reformation Sunday–the Sunday before October 31, when many churches celebrate the Reformation–R. Bruce Douglass, Director of the Reformed Institute of Metropolitan Washington, has written this: “What is the point of celebrating Reformation Sunday? The simplest answer is this: to give thanks to God for the precious gifts we owe to the Reformation—gifts that include the very existence of the churches of which we are a part. And those gifts also include, of course, the availability of the Bible in translations that make it accessible to the ordinary person. That fact alone is sufficient reason, surely, to pause annually and remind ourselves of what we owe to the efforts of those who have gone before us. Reformation Sunday also provides an opportunity to educate the members of our churches about broader themes that help to explain why we practice our faith as we do. To be a Protestant is to follow Jesus Christ in a particular way, but that way is not always well understood, even by people who exemplify it. Most Protestants take for granted that our churches are fallible and always in need of the reforming work of the Holy Spirit, for example. Or that it is right for lay people to participate in the governance of our churches, even on doctrinal matters. Or that it is legitimate for our clergy to be married and have children of their own. But even when we embrace such practices, we often lack a good understanding of why they exist, much less why they are not shared by the members of other churches. This is not something that can be overcome in a single day, to be sure, but an annual celebration of the Reformation is an excellent way to begin the conversation.”

The key figure of the Reformation, of course, is Martin Luther. Who was he? How did he spark what has been called “the most far-reaching, world-changing display of God’s grace since the birth and early expansion of the church”? The short answer is, the long way. Stephen Lawson has included a chapter on Martin Luther in his “Long Line of Godly Men” books, and this is an easily-readable overview for anyone who wants to know more about Luther. But here is a brief synopsis.

After he was knocked to the ground by a nearby lightning strike at the age of 21 Luther called out to St. Anna, the Catholic saint of miners, and promised to become a monk if he survived the storm. He did survive, and he did become a monk, greatly angering his father in doing so (his father thought he was wasting his education).

As a monk, Luther spent years striving to find acceptance with God through works. Luther wrote, “I tortured myself with prayer, fasting, vigils and freezing; the frost alone might have killed me…. What else did I seek by doing this but God, who was supposed to note my strict observance of the monastic order and my austere life? I constantly walked in a dream and lived in real idolatry, for I did not believe in Christ: I regarded Him only as a severe and terrible Judge portrayed as seated on a rainbow.” He also wrote, “When I was a monk, I wearied myself greatly for almost fifteen years with the daily sacrifice, tortured myself with fastings, vigils, prayers and other very rigorous works. I earnestly thought to acquire righteousness by my works.”

What prompted Luther to nail his 95 Theses to the church door was the sale of indulgences by the Catholic church. A practice first begun during the Crusades as a way to raise money for the church, indulgences were a way by which people could buy a letter from the church that supposedly freed their dead loved one from purgatory. Now, it is easy to imagine that if people truly believed they could buy the deliverance of a lost loved one, they would do so, and the church made a tremendous amount of money through this practice. In 1517 an itinerant Dominican priest named John Tetzel began to sell indulgences near Wittenburg so Pope Leo X could pay for a new St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. Tetzel was fond of saying, “As soon as the coin in the coffer rings, the soul from purgatory springs.” Luther was incensed, and he wanted the issue to be debated—so he posted his Theses on the Castle Church, a practice that was common among scholars at the time who wanted to generate academic discussion. Only Luther’s list was obtained by a printer, printed and spread throughout Europe.

When Luther came to truly understand salvation it was as a result of studying Romans 1:17: “For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, ‘The righteous shall live by faith.'”

The movement that began with Luther’s 95 Theses came to be known as the Protestant Reformation. And the key biblical truths of that movement have been summarized as “the five solas.” (Sola is Latin for “only” or “alone”).

The Solas of the Protestant Reformation

Sola Scriptura

The Bible alone is God’s revealed word (Matt. 4:4; 2 Tim. 3:16).

Sola Fide

Justification is by faith alone. Only through faith in Christ’s atoning sacrifice on the cross can our sins be forgiven (Rom. 5:1; Gal 2:16).

Solus Christus

Only through the death, burial and resurrection of Christ can our sins be forgiven; He is the One and Only mediator between God and man (John 14:6; John 3:16).

Sola Gratia

Our salvation is a result solely on the work of God’s grace for us (Rom. 2:4; Eph. 2:8-10).

Soli Deo Gloria

All glory for salvation belong to God, and to God alone (Isa. 42:8; Col. 3:17).

The main point of the Reformation? We cannot earn salvation, nor can we buy it. It comes as a free gift from God, which we accept through faith in Christ.

R.C. Sproul has written this: “If we want reformation, we have to start with ourselves. We have to start bringing the gospel itself out of darkness, so that the motto of every reformation becomes post tenebras lux — ‘after darkness, light.’ Luther declared that every generation must declare freshly the gospel of the New Testament. He also said that anytime the gospel is clearly and boldly proclaimed, it will bring about conflict, and those of us who are inherently adverse to conflict will find it tempting to submerge the gospel, dilute the gospel, or obscure the gospel in order to avoid conflict. We, of course, are able to add offense to the gospel by our own ill-mannered attempts to proclaim it. But there is no way to remove the offense that is inherent to the gospel message, because it is a stumbling block, a scandal to a fallen world. It will inevitably bring conflict. If we want reformation, we must be prepared to endure such conflict to the glory of God.”

The gospel message is still a stumbling block, and it will still offend the world. Yet we must not back away from it. We must stand boldly on the Truth of Scripture, “insist[ing] on these things,” as Paul wrote to Titus. Faced with death if he would not recant, Luther refused to budge from his convictions unless he could be shown through Scripture that He was wrong. That did not happen, of course, because he was not wrong. May we be willing to say, like Luther, “Here I stand, and I can do no other, so help me God.”