In Protestant churches around the world, the Reformation is usually observed on the last Sunday of October. For those who are still tracking with time in 2020, that’s this Sunday. The day is usually filled with reminders of reformers like John Calvin and Martin Luther clarifying and crystalizing the gospel message that God’s salvation is by grace alone through faith alone rooted in scripture alone which is all about Christ alone.
And while the spiritual outcomes of the Reformation are certainly foundational to who we are Jesus followers, I think the Reformation might mean something more for us - especially this year. It’s so easy to forget that the Reformation wasn’t just a spiritual renewal, but also one of political, economic, and social change and how Jesus is the only solution that can get us there.
For a moment, let’s think about the Reformation as a period of time between 1517 and 1648 (instead of a one-time event). LutheranReformation.org helps frame out its significance. Here are some highlights:
We could sum it all up like this: in a world of blurred religion and politics, questioning science and discovery, increasing social disparity and inequity, rumors of revolution, and fractured relationships, the words of Jesus Culture’s song, One Thing Remains echoes in my mind:
[Jesus’] love never fails, it never gives up, never runs out on me.
That’s great news because the world of the Reformation sounds a lot like today. And perhaps the words of Martin Luther are just as true today as they were in the middle of the chaos of 1529:
That Word above all earthly powers, no thanks to them abideth;
The Spirit and the gifts are ours, through him who with us sideth.
Let goods and kindred go, this mortal life also;
The body they may kill: God's truth abideth still;
His kingdom is forever!
Indeed, all else can fail. We cannot fully change the world - but we know the One who has already changed the world. Jesus has closed our casket of sin and death and opened the way back to God. Everything else can fall apart and be taken from us - the gospel isn’t that we get more life, liberty, and happiness. The gospel is that we get God and that a new heaven and new earth is coming. That’s it. Nothing more. Nothing less. Through Jesus, we get God. And that’s really good news in this world that seems to be constantly swirling with change.
This last week of October, we might be able to escape from our chaotic experience of the year 2020 by watching Disney’s Coco and swinging our hips to Salsa music on Dia de los Muertos. Or, we might put on our costumes and light candles on Halloween and All Saints' Day. Or, we might find ourselves eating our favorite party foods while watching football with a few friends and family. Enjoy and have fun!
And, if our celebrations might be different than usual, our days continue to be disrupted from our idea of normal, and our lives seem to be perpetually disoriented, let’s remember what songwriters Keith Getty and Stuart Townend write:
In Christ alone my hope is found,
He is my light, my strength, my song
This Cornerstone, this solid Ground
Firm through the fiercest drought and storm.
What heights of love, what depths of peace
When fears are stilled, when strivings cease
My Comforter, my All in All
Here in the love of Christ I stand.
Dread is real. And it takes a toll on our mental wellness.
On March 12, 2020, New York Times Opinion Columnist, David Brooks said, “Some disasters, like hurricanes and earthquakes, can bring people together, but if history is any judge, pandemics generally drive them apart. These are crises in which social distancing is a virtue. Dread overwhelms the normal bonds of human affection”. And to think, Brooks wrote these words before the economic uncertainty, social disharmony, and the national election really heated up.
Dread is a specific kind of fear that expects the worst. Even the most positive person experiences a sense of dread over something. Dread is real.
The good news is that Jesus finds himself in a world of dread - and He does something about it. Think about it:
I can only imagine how dread-filled people living in a dreadful moment received Jesus’ words.
“That is why I tell you not to worry about everyday life… Look at the birds. They don’t plant or harvest or store food in barns, for your heavenly Father feeds them. And aren’t you far more valuable to him than they are? Can all your worries add a single moment to your life… your heavenly Father already knows all your needs” (selections from Matthew 6:25-32).
But, Jesus - don’t you see that we are in dreadful times? I sometimes feel like I’m losing my mind. We seem to be moments from chaos. There are rumors of food shortages. Families are divided by ideologies and opinions. It seems as if the world is falling apart. Protests and riots have become the norm. Injustice and discrimination is rampant. I’m not sure about taxes, but morale seems really low right now - and there is a whole lot of debt out there. Dishonesty, disloyalty, and dis-everything seems to be more of a character trait among leaders than integrity. And when it seems like the world needs leadership, we find ourselves in a vacuum.
Jesus responds, “Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need” (Matthew 6:33).
You mean, you will give me everything I need to get through this dreadful day?
Jesus gently speaks, “So don’t worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring its own worries. Today’s trouble is enough for today” (Matthew 6:34).
Perhaps surprisingly, Jesus doesn’t eliminate dread. Instead, Jesus gives us a better alternative than to fixate on our dread.
When our minds are consumed with dread, Jesus gives us everything we need to live with dread. Jesus lived through one of the most dreadful human experiences - not just abuse, being bullied, and humiliated - but crucified on a cross. Jesus experienced the worst: death. Jesus also comes back to life to tell us about it.
Indeed, we can find respite for our tired minds in Jesus’ words, “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 of heart; and you will find rest. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light” (Matthew 11:28-30).
Here are some fantastic resources to help you get started!
If you or somebody you know needs crisis assistance, please use one of the following resources:
One of the more influential people in my life is Dr. Dale Meyer, Emeritus President of Concordia Seminary, St. Louis. While sitting in my “Holy Time Out” waiting for my CT scan, I read what “Dr. Dale” wrote on March 2, 2020 about the coronavirus:
“The virus can scare us because we don’t have control over it. Lack of control can lead to fear, and fear can lead to anger. Some blame China; others blame our government. In the blame-game anger is present. Anger comes when something we hold dear is threatened, in this case our lives and the lives of those close to us may be threatened. When we follow the news with spiritual eyes, we see human nature as it really is, as we really are apart from grace” (The Meyer Minute, March 2, 2020). You can read his entire devotion here.
On Monday, my idea of life has indeed been threatened - this time not by COVID-19, but by a small and painful calcified stone lodged in my cecum. How did it get there? Why is it there? What is its composition? Do I have “the c-word”? Everything at that moment (and still today as I write this), I couldn’t control.
As I waited for my name to be called, I reflected on some other life aspects that I couldn’t control.
These are a few things that scrambled through my mind.
And as I sat there in the middle of a swirling world with a racing mind and broken heart, I started laughing to myself.
I was in God’s Holy Time Out. Just like a coach calls a time out to re-focus their team, a Holy Time Out is a way God huddles us together to bring focus to what He wants to do in us so that He can do something through us.
What did I do in my time out? I just sat there.
What did I see?
What did I learn in my Holy Time Out? It’s all out of my control.
I think about how the Hebrew people must have felt out of control in 586 BC. Babylon had conquered Jerusalem and taken everybody into a whole new world. And in the chaos, noise, and clutter of life, God calls a Holy Time Out. He sends Isaiah to get the attention of the Hebrew people saying, “But now, this is what the LORD says— he who created you, Jacob, he who formed you, Israel: “Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine” (Isaiah 43:1).
Those words are true in my time out today as they were around 586 BC. And, they’re true for you today, too.
When everything seems out of control, we’re in “time out”: God is in control. We have nothing to fear because God has redeemed us through Jesus' life, death, and resurrection. God has called us by name. We are God’s.
Which means even when our life and world is spinning out of control, we continue to love and serve the people around us.
I don't share this to brag, but to share that perhaps God's Time Out was not just for me.
After all, I'm not in control.
Here’s some good news: Jesus lives in you. He is using you for His good in the world. God has placed you with your family and friends, neighbors and co-workers, in-laws and outlaws, frenemies and enemies, EGR’s (extra grace required), and your church family for a specific purpose: to love them as Jesus loves them.
With Election Day about a month away, I feel like it’s a good time to remind ourselves as Jesus followers not to trade big things for little things.
That’s what happened with the little boy, Narcissus. He started to look into a pool of water and fell in love with his reflection so much that he stared at it until the day he died. That is a real danger of falling in love with oneself. Or an issue. Or a policy. Or a candidate. Or anything other than Jesus.
Oh, how easy it is to trade big things for little things.
I recently read John 2. Jesus is heartbroken over people trading big things for little things. Like Narcissus, the temple people had fallen in love with themselves and everything that made them great. They traded Jesus’ big things - His grace, His love, His mercy, His life, for all the little things. It’s why they reacted with anger when Jesus said he would tear down the temple and rebuild it in three days. John makes it clear that Jesus is not talking about the building, but His body (v. 21). I once heard that if a crucified man comes back to life and lives forever to tell about it - then the game is over. At least, on this side of heaven.
Jesus is the rebuilt temple. Jesus places the stones back together as his body rises from the dead on Easter morning. So what happens today - a vaccination, an election, racial justice, world peace is not all that impressive or hope-filled - at least compared to Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection.
So, if the world is torn apart by senseless violence, riots, terror, a virus, or an election gone mad - Jesus is still living in you and will use you to be His active presence and voice in this incredibly broken world. If America goes nuts over these next 32 days - there is no need to worry. You cannot compare anything that might happen on this side of heaven to Jesus’ death and resurrection - or yours. Never trade big things for little things.
You might be let down, betrayed, hurt, or ignored by those you love most over seemingly small, silly things. You can trust that Jesus has given you His Spirit to continue loving them well like Jesus already loves both you and them. Never trade big things for little things.
Jesus says in Luke 21:5-38, even if the sun, moon, and stars fall out of the sky: enjoy God’s light show because you know what comes next. It’s your resurrection. The Apostle Paul writes to Christians in Corinth, “Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit (like Jesus’ body was). He is now in you, whom you have received from God. You are not your own; you were bought at a price” (1 Corinthians 6:19). So, if you and I are temples (like Jesus), He will rebuild us. He will resurrect us, too.
Mud-slinging, in-fighting, and more tearing down than building up will most likely fill these next 32 days. That’s the nature of humanity when we look into the pool at ourselves. Remember that Jesus has chosen you. He loves you. He lives in you. God gives us life’s biggest thing: Jesus’ life, Himself. You and I no longer live, but Christ lives in us; who loves us and gave Himself for us (Galatians 2:20).
May your words reflect your Savior. May your thoughts reflect the temple of all temples, Jesus. And may you never trade Jesus’ big things for little things.
This week, I find myself tired, sad, and exhausted.
Maybe you are, too.
I’m tired of a divided world. I’m saddened how easily humanity dehumanizes each other. I’m exhausted by the competition for a kind of human power that seeks to bend people to another’s will.
The great news is that Jesus is always more.
Jesus is more than our tiredness, sadness, and exhaustion. He’s more than division, dehumanization, and competition for human power. Jesus is more.
I’m continuing to read through the Gospels personally, and on Wednesday, I stepped into Matthew 14. The political power struggle is palatable. The world is divided. Herod dehumanizes John the Baptist to the point that he wants him dead. And then, Herod gives away John the Baptist’s head as a door prize at his birthday party.
Then, as the word spread about what happened, we find Jesus and his disciples tired, sad, and exhausted that they all withdrew (v. 13). The crowds of people who are unloved by their leaders, heartbroken and crushed by the broken world around them - they follow Jesus with everything they had: literally on their own two feet (v. 13). And, because Jesus is always more, Jesus continues to have compassion on the crowds of people who gather around him who are unloved by so many (v. 14).
What follows is a fascinating chain of events.
With Jesus, there is always more.
Jesus’ love meets us in the middle of our divided world and heals us on His cross, with the proof being our promised empty grave. Why? So that God can use us to heal people divided by human power that seeks to bend people to another’s will.
Jesus’ compassion empathizes with our sadness and walks with us the extra mile. Why? So that God can use us to walk alongside each person, He places around us to be “good news,” not “fake news.”
Jesus’ grace interrupts our exhaustion and encourages us to keep going with His power. Why? So that God can use us to encourage us that His love is the only love that satisfies an unloved spirit.
For each of us, Jesus is always more. And, that's more than enough for today.
Love you more than you know.
“Make it stop”. Have you said those words lately? Though we may disagree on the causes, I think we would agree that life keeps on spinning – sometimes seemingly out of control. Make it stop!
Recently, I’ve been reading through the Gospels over and over again in my personal devotion time. In Matthew 16, Peter knows a little about a “make it stop” world.
As the great author Charles Dickens (p. 1) wrote, “It was the best of times. It was the worst of times”. At one moment, Jesus is telling Peter that his confession that “Jesus is the Messiah” will carry the church forward. And the next moment, Peter is listening to Jesus explain how he is going to die. Can you imagine? Make it stop.
And then, on top of everything, Peter is told by Jesus to “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns” (Matthew 16:23). Ouch. Make it stop.
The good news is that Jesus does make the world stop. The world stops as He dies on the cross and says, “it is finished”. The world stops as he places his life into the hands of God, our Father. The world stops as angels stand in awe on Easter morning when the dead Jesus is made alive.
Jesus doesn’t make anything stop in power, fear, force, or volume. Jesus doesn’t make anything stop in the destruction of people’s reputations, bending words, or burning bridges. Jesus makes it all stop when - as the song, O Praise the Name - Anastasis puts it: “I cast my mind to Calvary; where Jesus bled and died for me; I see His wounds, His hands, His feet; my Savior on that cursed tree” (Ussher, Sampson & Hastings, v. 1).
What to do in a “Make It Stop” Moment and World
Remember that You’re in God’s Hands.
Call it what it is. Admit reality. You’re in a “make it stop” moment. Embrace it. Admit that you’re also in God’s hands. Nothing can separate you from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus, our Lord (Romans 8:31-39).
Remember that we cannot make it stop. Only Jesus can do that.
Peter heard Jesus talk about how he has to die and rise again. Peter is not OK with what Jesus is saying or the idea of what Jesus has to do. Peter sees Jesus’ death and resurrection as failure. In other words, Jesus’ death and resurrection cannot make his swirling life and world in that moment, stop. Yet, Jesus’ death and resurrection does make everything stop. Sacrifice, grace, and love is the cure for evil. It’s the solution to hate. It’s the antidote for the sickness of sin and brokenness. It’s boldness to the insecure. It’s wealth to the poor. We cannot make all the wrongs around us stop - only Jesus can do that. And, He does.
Remember it’s not about me... it's about God.
Jesus doesn’t seek more. Jesus doesn’t seek a greater understanding. Jesus doesn’t acquire anything. Instead, Jesus says that it isn’t about him… it’s about His Father (I’ll be talking more about tis in this weekend’s message!). Or, in the words of the song, Be Thou My Vision: “Riches I heed not, nor man's empty praise; Be Thou mine inheritance, now and always; Be Thou and Thou only the first in my heart, O high King of heaven, my Treasure Thou art” (Forgaill, v. 4).
Did you notice what all three of these involve? Remembering. Jesus has already made the world stop once. He does it again and again when you’re reminded of who God has made you to be and what you are called to do in this moment as you love God, love people, and live like Jesus.
Love you more than you know. - pt
I have a lot on my mind these days.
OK… while those are very real things that I ask myself everyday, I have more serious things on my mind, too. Things like:
Real things. Real life. It might be easy for your mind to become overloaded, too.
Have you ever wondered what is on Jesus’ mind? Philippians 2:5-8 (NCV) gives us a good picture of what Jesus is thinking. It begins: “In your lives you must think and act like Christ Jesus…”.
We discover that Jesus is not thinking about his own contributions or glory. He’s not thinking about how best to prove his point. He’s not even thinking about his own life, comfort, or pleasure.
What is Jesus thinking about? Jesus is thinking about the glory of God the Father. He’s thinking about serving others. He’s thinking about being obedient to God the Father - even to death.
As we move into the fall, I wonder how each of us can think more like Jesus. More about God’s glory - not our own. More about serving others - not ourselves. Less about our life, comfort, and pleasure - more about what God is asking us to do with Him, each day.
After all, following Jesus is about a relationship. Maybe the only thing on his mind is being with me… which means the biggest thing that needs to be on my mind is being with him every moment of every day.
Many years ago, a friend of mine made some poor decisions and lived with the consequences. But, this fall will be the first time he will be able to vote. Earlier this week, he applied for his first passport. His life is more than just turning lemons into lemonade – it is a living story of grace and transformation.
I never really considered my friend a religious person. So, you can imagine how surprised I was when he asked me, “would ‘you Christians’ accept someone like me?”
The Rest of the Story
After a pregnant pause to process what I had just heard, I said, "I can't speak on behalf of all Christians, but this Christian - me, accepts you for you."
Silence. I could tell that he was getting emotional from the sniffles over the phone.
What he said next amazed me. "I know you accept me because you're my friend. I guess I just don't know if God accepts me."
If he could see my smile from ear to ear, I'd look like a kid by a sno-cone machine on a 100 degree day. "A friend told me that I did not choose him; He chose me. Do you know who that friend was?"
"Our friend, Jesus. Jesus, God's Son, was rejected and died in every way so that you and I can be accepted by God. He's done it for me. He's done it for you. I accept you because Jesus has accepted me."
I'll spare you the details, but that evening, he said - perhaps for the first time ever (I didn't ask), "I believe this."
When was the last time you had a spiritually-oriented conversation with someone? Whether you have them regularly or have never had one before, will you join me in learning how to have more and better spiritual conversations with others?
Three Ways to Begin a Spiritual Conversation
As we move into September, be encouraged that Jesus has spiritual conversations with you...
Love you more than you know. -pt
You are our king - even when this present moment feels like chaos.
You are good - even when life doesn't feel that good right now.
You are peace - even when anxiety spikes because of uncertainty.
You are able to heal brokenness - even when there is injustice in our relationships.
You are able to unify opposition - even in our political divisions.
You are able to rebuild destroyed cities - even in the wind and waves of hurricanes.
You own all things - even when we fear the loss economic stability.
You promise protection - even in this uncontrollable global pandemic.
You are near - even in these moments of physical distancing in every area of life.
Jesus - remind us that you are king.
May we feel your goodness and peace.
May we experience your healing and unity.
May we advocate for the least, the lonely, and those whose lives and cities have been destroyed.
May we know beyond a shadow of a doubt that all we have is yours.
You are for us.
You are with us.
You love us.
Thank you, Jesus for listening to me.
Thank you for your grace.
Thank you for your mercy.
Thank you for your forgiveness.
Thank you for your love.
May I now be quiet and listen to you speak your grace and truth through silent moments, your spoken and written word, and the voices of the people you have placed in my life.
The writer of Psalm 69 feels like he is drowning in injustice. What he is experiencing is not right. From being falsely accused to being discriminated against; and from being bullied to being shamed because of who he is - all of the "-isms" are seemingly experienced by this one person.
We might be able to in-part, relate. From economic uncertainty to educational instability and from community health to social injustice – these are all realities that are happening to us. Like the psalm writer, life is out of our control.
We discover that we and the psalm writer are after the same thing: grace and justice (judgment).
Grace and justice (judgment) are two sides of the same coin. But, I’ve never thought about it in the way my friend Keith and I unpacked it in this past week’s Monday Morning Preacher Podcast.
Check it out.
"When we try to apply grace legalistically, what happens is that you end getting rid of justice". - B. Keith Haney
Wow. Grace was never meant to be legalized - it is meant to be liberally given, not by a policy or proclamation, but by a person.
"The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth" (John 1:14).
Making laws that govern grace never works to bring peace, freedom, a celebration of the diversity of God's creation, the equity of the gospel, or the inclusion of a mosaic of people with incredible gifts and abilities. If anything, making laws to ensure grace abounds only makes us more keenly aware of the grace that is lacking in our lives and in our world.
"God’s law was given so that all people could see how sinful they were. But as people sinned more and more, God’s wonderful grace became more abundant" (Romans 5:20).
If we want to pursue a more equal, inclusive, diverse, and just community, society, and world, then let's stop trying to legalize grace in a system that was never made to give it. We are the givers of grace. Person-to-person. Face-to-face. Life-on-life.
"All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men's sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation" (2 Corinthians 5:18-19).
Who do you know needs "good news" today? Go and be it... and give it! Because the law isn't working anymore.
The OSLC ministry team is a growing collection of women and men who live as a family on mission, leading the OSLC family in connecting an unchanging God with a changing world by loving God, loving people, and living like Jesus.