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Two Birthdays, Two Symbols of Courage

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Today is November 10th, and a significant day if you enjoy freedom and appreciate courage. There are two birthdays worth remembering today. The United States Marine Corps, long admired as a symbol of elite military strength. And the man who ignited the Protestant Reformation, the 500th anniversary of which was just recently celebrated -- Martin Luther.

The United States Marine Corps was formed by Captain Samuel Nicholas by a resolution of the Second Continental Congress, on November 10, 1775. For almost 250 years, the Marines have stood ready to fight for our country. Honor, courage, and commitment are their tenets. Amphibious assault, air-ground, expeditionary -- they do it all -- and do it as the smallest of the armed forces under the Department of Defense. As of June, 2011, there were less than 150,000 active duty Marines. As a branch of the armed forces in America, they symbolize protection from tyranny, freedom for the oppressed, and courage in the face of adversity. The Marine Corps slogan is semper fidelis, which is Latin for “always faithful.” But there is another birthday today that produced for us a man who pointed to the One who defines "always faithful."

Martin Luther was also born on this day in 1483. His mining father wanted more for his son, and enrolled Martin in school to become a lawyer. But in a moment of desperation, Martin made a vow to God that he would become a monk if his life was spared. So entering an Augustinian monastery, Martin Luther was put on a path that would ultimately revolutionize the Christian faith and the history of Europe and the Catholic Church.

As time went on, Luther became increasingly convinced of the abuses of the church and the Pope. That, coupled with his own wrestling with assurance of salvation, led him back to the doctrine of justification by grace through faith as he studied through the book of Romans. With his famous 95 Theses posted to the Castle Church door on October 31, 1517, Luther’s honor, courage, and commitment to stand up to the Pope and the Catholic Church unintentionally ignited the Protestant Reformation. During this period of the church’s history, the Bible was recovered as the sole authority for life and faith, as the “Five Solas” came to represent the Reformers' commitments: Solus ChristusSola GratiaSola FideSoli Deo Gloria, and Sola Scriptura. In that order these Latin phrases mean “Christ Alone,” “Grace Alone,” “Faith Alone,” “The Glory of God Alone,” and “Scripture Alone.”

While Luther was fighting a different kind of oppression and abuse than the Marines have, they both stood/stand for freedom -- one national and the other religious. Today, be proud of your country and those who’ve served. Thank the Lord that he -- in his grace -- has placed you under the protection of a strong armed force such as the United States Marines (and all other branches of the military) to protect your right to freely worship.

But most importantly, also be thankful that God has had men and women throughout the ages -- like Martin Luther -- willing to fight for truth in Scripture, willing to stand up to tyranny and abuse, and willing to seek the Lord for reform, freedom, and purity in the church.

Why Did God Rest? How Do We Honor Him In Ours?

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Come to me and I will give you rest. -Jesus

Summer is almost over, and many of us are done vacationing (or trying to squeeze in one more before fall hits). So while “vacation season” is winding down, many people are gearing up for the grind of fall. Kids or no, the “new school year” changes the way we feel about the change of season from summer to fall. In the air there’s a sense of time-to-get-back-to-it and okay-the-fun’s-over. We feel like we’re moving out of a season of fun and rest, back to a season of work — even if our work schedule didn't change over the summer!

Enough has been written about work, why we work, and even work as worship. Since we spend so much of our time working, it’s not surprising that we want to know our work counts for something bigger — but what about our rest? What about when we’re not working; does our down-time glorify God, when we’re on vacation, when we’re doing nothing? Is rest worship?

Work and rest do not simply have a rhythm — they are the rhythm. They are the ebb and flow of life, and we find them demonstrated routinely in our days, weeks, and years. We go to work, then come home and rest. We work five or six days, then take a day off. We work for six months, then take a week off for vacation. Work. Rest. Some work more than others; some rest more than others. Some are in more of a routine; some rhythms are more like a scratched record, erratic and unpredictable. But we all work and rest.

God rested because he earned it; his rest was an expression of satisfaction in his work.

We all work and rest because we are created in the image of God. And that’s what God does. In Genesis 2:2-3, God’s activity in creation is referred to as “work” three times. Then he rested. In creating the cosmos, God demonstrated the work-rest rhythm. (“Work-rest rhythm” — say that three times fast!) God worked for six days, then rested on the seventh. Why?

It’s important to understand that God did not rest on the seventh day because his work exhausted him. Our work may make us tired, and we need to rest out of necessity. But this was not God’s reason. Instead, we’re told that God rested because he was finished (Genesis 2:2). He had completed his work, and he saw that it was good. God rested because he earned it; his rest was an expression of satisfaction in his work.

In a similar way, we glorify God when our rest is rooted in a job well done. Our rest is satisfying when it stems from routinely completing the work God has given us to do in our jobs, our families, and our lives. And, rest—which is a physical need for us as we exhaust our bodies—serves as a great reminder that God is in control; everything around us doesn’t depend on us! God will not only govern the universe in a way that satisfies him, but he will also govern our lives in a way that instills confidence in his invitation to find our true rest in him.

Our rest is satisfying when it stems from routinely completing the work God has given us to do in our jobs, our families, and our lives.

REFLECTION

Do you ever feel guilty for resting from work?  Why or why not? (If you do it a lot at work, maybe you should.)

How can you make more time to rest? Or, if you have plenty of time to rest but you never feel refreshed, how can you make better use of your down-time to honor the Lord and let your time do what it was designed to do?

For further reflection, read Matthew 11:28-30.

There Are Only Two Kinds Of People: Good Theologians And Bad Ones

“No Christian can avoid theology. Every Christian is a theologian.” -R.C. Sproul

Have you ever thought of yourself that way? As a theologian? For many, the word theologian will conjure up images of old men wearing robes, studying the Bible for hours or days on end, gathering for debates and using words the rest of us can’t even pronounce. But is that an appropriate mental image; should we only associate theologians with the academic or scholarly? 

Properly defined, the word theology means “the study of God.” The prefix, theo- comes from the Greek word theos, which means “god.” The suffix, -ology, comes from the word logos, which means “idea” or “word.” It’s also where we get our English word logic. Since it means the “logic” of something, we use it to designate the idea of—or the study of—particular things; biology is the study of life (from the Greek word bios), anthropology is the study of humans (from the Greek word anthropos). Theology is the idea of—or the study of—God.

You are a theologian!

And since every person has ideas about God, every person has a theology. Every person formulates ideas and what they think God is like—or not like—based on things they’ve read or heard or experienced. In short, everyone is a theologian. You are a theologian!

But what about the old men in the robes? Although they don't have to be old, and they don't have to wear robes, there are (what we’ll call) “professional” theologians — people who make a career out of studying the Bible, writing books about God, lecturing at the academic level, et cetera. Maybe they are also in the pastorate, but through their writing and teaching they exert a great deal of influence over others and what they believe about God. Most people—most Christians—will never become a theologian of that sort. But does that lessen any Christian’s responsibility to be a good theologian?

Being a good theologian is about applying ourselves to an active study of God, and letting the Bible—God’s own revelation—shape our beliefs about him.

While it’s true that we are all theologians (since we all have beliefs about God), not everyone has correct (biblical) beliefs; not everyone is a good theologian! Sometimes we have incorrect beliefs about God because we’ve been misled by false teaching, sometimes we’ve just been lazy, or maybe other times we’ve simply failed to think deeply about something we heard or read, and compare it to the Bible's teaching. But being a good theologian is about applying ourselves to an active study of God, and letting the Bible—God’s own revelation—shape our beliefs about him. 

Being a good theologian can be hard work sometimes. But so is anything that’s worthwhile. Marriage can be hard. For that matter, all relationships can be hard. Getting a promotion, earning a Ph.D., making sacrifices to serve others — all hard things, but they’re all worth it. And it’s worth it to be a good theologian, because it means knowing God as he’s revealed in Jesus, and in the Bible.

That’s our aim, to know him as much as we are able. And that’s what happens as you study him — you get to know him better. You gain a greater understanding, appreciation, and awe for who God is and what he’s done. You learn how to spot false teaching, and you grow in your knowledge of his words. And who knows when, but it will come in handy one day when you get asked the question, "How can I [understand], unless someone guides me" (Acts 8:31)!

REFLECTION

Would you agree with the statement, “There are only two kinds of people in the world: good theologians and bad theologians”? Why or why not?

Have you ever considered yourself a theologian? Have you ever considered where most of your beliefs about God came from? Passed down from family? Friends at work? Popular books or television? The Bible?

How does it benefit those around you as you learn and grow and become a better theologian?

For further reflection, read Acts 8:26-35.

God Communicates With Us -- And He Does It Through A Book

If you don’t like reading, fake it till you make it.

When I was in middle school and high school, I didn't read anything. To Kill A Mockingbird. The Scarlet Letter. Beowulf. Nothing. We were assigned all these classic novels that (now) I wish I had read. Somehow I got by, but not only was my laziness sinful, it was practically unhelpful as I got to college and had to read something. Winging it wasn't going to work anymore. So I forced myself and I did it — but I didn't enjoy it. I got bored. It made me tired. I knew I was being coerced into reading so I could get a decent grade. Whatever the excuse, I still hated reading.

Then sometime between undergrad and graduate school, I discovered a joy for reading. It was like someone flipped a switch. Reading was no longer a chore, but it was becoming a hobby. Maybe I was growing up. Maybe it was because I got to pick the books. Maybe it was friends who challenged me. In truth, it was probably a combination of all those. Or maybe the Holy Spirit simply worked a seismic miracle!

I’m grateful that God changed my feelings about reading; how else would I commune with him?

Since then, I’ve amassed a library of almost 1,000 books; many I’ve read, and many I still need to. So I am definitely not the me of fifteen years ago, the me that hated to read. And I’m unspeakably grateful that God changed my feelings about reading — because how else would I commune with him; how else would I know what he’s done and what he’s like?

God wants us to read; he has not left us to ourselves to figure him out. As with many of the world’s religions and philosophies, we’re not left to feel and guess and grope at notions of why the universe exists, or what part we play in it. God communicates with us — and he does it through a book. History’s meta-narrative, the grand overarching story of creation-fall-redemption, including the good news of God’s own son coming into the world, comes to us in a book.

Written down and compiled over nearly two millennia, by around forty authors from three continents, the Bible is the most unique book the world has ever and will ever see. And we as 21st-century American Christians have more access to it than any other people in the world, or in the history of the world. The Bible reveals God’s plan, his character and nature; it is full of history and poetry and wisdom. But what if I don't like reading? Do it anyway! A general disdain for reading will not set itself aside for the Bible. So fake it till you make it. Force yourself to sit down and read. God will take that time and use it; he’ll teach you and you’ll grow in your knowledge of him. He’s big enough to meet you there in spite of your reluctance.

While the Bible is the only book without error, God has blessed the church with so many other resources that can be a tremendous aid to our growth.

As you begin to enjoy (or at least tolerate) reading, you’ll see that, while the Bible is the only book without error, God has still blessed the church with so many other resources that can be a tremendous aid to our growth. Again, because of the internet especially, Christians today have access to articles, books, e-books, blogs, and sermon manuscripts that they couldn't have imagined even twenty years ago — and many of them at no cost to the reader! 

With so many good resources at our fingertips, all it takes to learn and grow is a commitment to read. After all, Jesus said, “Everyone to whom much was given, of him much will be required” (Luke 12:48). And if we apply that to the amount of information we have available to us, we have a huge responsibility to fight through the excuses and take advantage of it!
 

REFLECTION

What stops you from reading more? Time? Interest? Something else?

Reading from a variety of sources is not bad, but why should we be careful about what we take in, other than the Bible?

Think about your typical day. Where could you make a little extra time for a habit of reading? And don’t say you don't have any!

For further reflection, read Psalm 119:9-24.

God Rules Everything -- Even The Climate

People are getting a kick out of comments Rep. Tim Walberg (R.-Mich.) made at a recent town hall. Because he’s a Christian, his faith is in the Lord — not science. “I believe there’s been climate change since the beginning of time. I believe there are cycles. Do I think man has some impact? Yeah, of course. Can man change the entire universe? No.”

So what’s going on here, aside from non-Christians still being surprised and repulsed by Christians for giving Christian answers?

With President Trump recently withdrawing the United States from the Paris Agreement, it’s a great time for left-leaning “news” outlets to get a few extra clicks by turning the congressman’s comments into a story. Huffington Post wants you to know “you can rest easy now,” mocking Walberg. MSNBC thinks the congressman’s remarks are “problematic” because we could apply his logic when he says, “if there’s a real problem, [God] can take of it,” to everything from national defense to healthcare.

So what’s going on here, aside from non-Christians still being surprised and repulsed by Christians for giving Christian answers? Is the congressman correct? He said he believes “there is a creator in God who is much bigger than us. And [he’s] confident that, if there’s a real problem, [God] can take care of it.” Is he wrong?

God is the creator and the sustainer of the universe. And if that’s true, people—with all our pollution and carbon emissions and plastic water bottles—will not be able to render ourselves extinct by changing the world’s atmospheric makeup.

Sounds like Walberg is expressing one of the most basic beliefs of Christianity: “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth" (Genesis 1:1). God is the creator and the sustainer of the universe. And if that’s true, people—with all our pollution and carbon emissions and plastic water bottles—will not be able to render ourselves extinct by changing the world’s atmospheric makeup. The simplest of Christian beliefs is that God is the ruler of everything, including time and history. It sounds like the congressman is only expressing a belief that since God created the world, God will rule it in such a way that if a changing climate is not God’s ordained means of ending the world, then we’ll be fine.

What Walberg didn’t say is that we should be irresponsible or not take any steps to steward God’s creation well. Because along with the basic belief that God created the world and knows how to keep it going until the end, is another basic Christian belief that people were given dominion over the creation and the responsibility to care for and steward it. “And God blessed them. And God said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth’” (Genesis 1:28).

Should we, as Christians, care about the world? More than anyone else! Is it important; should we be conscious of the impact we make on the environment? Absolutely. If we can take reasonable steps to guard our negative effect on the climate, we should. The trick is finding agreement on “reasonable steps.”

But should we, as Christians, place all our eggs in the science basket and abandon our trust in God’s providence? By no means. God’s promises are truer than all our climate data. Should we denigrate those who disagree with us — either for or against climate change? Not if we are followers of Jesus.

And should we maybe not read so much into a couple of insignificant passing remarks made by a congressman at a local town hall meeting? Now that’s an answer everyone should be able to agree on!