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Ministry Theology

Three Brief Reflections on Reformation Day

Today is an important day. It’s Reformation Day, the day that sparked the Protestant Reformation in Europe. In fact, it’s the 500th anniversary of the day, October 31, 1517, when Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses to the door of the Wittenburg church, challenging several unbiblical doctrines and practices of the established Roman Catholic church in Europe.

The core issue of the Reformation, of course, was justification: how are people declared righteous before a perfect God? Luther argued it was by faith in Christ, as the Scriptures reveal, not our own works. The church needed this correction. We need to remember and embrace this today.

The Reformation has much to commend to it. But it also left much to be desired—at least from where I sit as a white, Western Christian man in a Protestant tradition. A few years ago, I probably wouldn’t have said something like this. But my journey as a pastor of a Protestant community-type church who has transitioned into a missionary role has brought me, I think, more balance in my approach to church history, theology, and where we stand today as a movement. Not perfect. Just more balanced.

With that said, here are three reflections on the Reformation. These deserve a post all on their own. However, at the very least, I hope they serve as great conversation starters at your Halloween party tonight.

Justification is Not Everything
Justification is central to biblical Christianity, but it is not the whole of salvation. An unhealthy obsession with justification as the marquee doctrine can lead to a transactional faith where we simply see God as a judge who declares us righteous. He is that and he does that. But biblical salvation doesn’t end there. Perhaps a greater biblical theme (in both Old and New Testaments) than the need for justification is that we are alienated and orphaned because of sin. Therefore, what we need is not just for the Judge to declare us innocent, but for the Judge to become our Father and welcome us home. This is the biblical teaching of adoption which is a God-given grace that goes beyond justification.

We must remember that the Reformation happened in a Western, European, white, and heavily institutional context that dealt with a single doctrinal issue: justification. Furthermore, Luther’s context tended to emphasize the transactional nature of relationships (e.g. judge to defendant) rather than the familial nature of relationships (e.g. father to son). A Native American friend, speaking about a different topic, said something that applies here: “Most white people’s relationships are transactional [as opposed to familial].” Unfortunately, most of our Protestant traditions here in the States see our relationship with God, and others, this way, too. What’s more, our churches in 2017 look more like the church of Luther’s day than the church in the beginning of Acts.

Another Sola?
The “Five Solas” of the Reformation attempted to summarize the biblical teaching on salvation: that we are justified by God’s grace alone, on the basis of Christ alone, received through faith alone, as revealed in the Scriptures alone, to the glory of God alone. This is glorious! However, is it enough? A friend once asked me, “I wonder what would have happened had the Reformers emphasized another sola: sola amare, love alone?” That is, we are justified so that we might do something: love God and love people.

The Reformation did not emphasize much about our post-conversion life. Of course, the Reformation dealt with a single issue (a doctrinal one at that). But the Bible isn’t an academic, theological textbook (or glossary) where one doctrine stands in isolation to others. The Bible is revelation. The Bible reveals a God who calls a people to himself, saves that people through his Son Jesus, and commissions that people to a life of love and service to a dark world. If justification by faith is true—and it is—then a necessary outflow is that we are enabled, by grace, to obey the Great Commandment. Now, we love God with everything we have and love our neighbor as ourselves. Be thankful for Luther’s course correction regarding justification. But we must remember, with deep sorrow, that he also despised the book of James, a love-in-action letter that takes justification to its practical outworking.

Always Be Reforming
There is a saying among the Reformed that goes something like this: “Reformed and always reforming.” I believe in that motto so long as we reform not to a certain theological camp’s standards but according to the word of God itself. And reform to the word of God does not simply mean assenting to theological platitudes. Sound doctrine, certainly according to Paul, always leads to a life life of worship and obedience to Jesus. So yes, let’s keep reforming and becoming more holistically biblical. But let’s not be reductionistic nor “reform” to the mindset or methodology of the church of the 16th century.

Today, remember Reformation Day and be thankful for what it was. A hearty “amen” to that! But let’s also keep in mind that it was not everything, nor was it ever meant to be.

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Life

Rescuing Little Ones with Jesus-like Love

I’m preparing to lead a discussion later this month on abortion as part of our summer Culture & Theology series at Grace Chapel. In my research, I ran across this article on Biblical Ethics in the ESV Study Bible. Here’s a snippet of that article discussing abortion in early Christian literature.

Against the bleak backdrop of Roman culture, the Hebrew “sanctity of human life” ethic provided the moral framework for early Christian condemnation of abortion and infanticide. For instance, the Didache 2.2 (c. a.d. 85–110) commands, “thou shalt not murder a child by abortion nor kill them when born.” Another noncanonical early Christian text, the Letter of Barnabas 19.5 (c. a.d. 130), said: “You shall not abort a child nor, again, commit infanticide.” There are numerous other examples of Christian condemnation of both infanticide and abortion. In fact, some biblical scholars have argued that the silence of the NT on abortion per se is due to the fact that it was simply assumed to be beyond the pale of early Christian practice. Nevertheless, Luke (a physician) points to fetal personhood when he observes that the unborn John the Baptist “leaped for joy” in his mother’s womb when Elizabeth came into the presence of Mary, who was pregnant with Jesus at the time (Luke 1:44).

More than merely condemning abortion and infanticide, however, early Christians provided alternatives by rescuing and adopting children who were abandoned. For instance, Callistus (d. c. a.d. 223) provided refuge to abandoned children by placing them in Christian homes, and Benignus of Dijon (3rd century) offered nourishment and protection to abandoned children, including some with disabilities caused by unsuccessful abortions.

The second paragraph is particularly intriguing to me (and my wife, I’m sure, though she doesn’t know I’m posting this!). What Christians did in the first century was actively seek to provide a better alternative than killing babies. They fostered and adopted abandoned children. As Carly and I anticipate our third child (a boy!) journeying from the waters of the womb to the air of earth, we are beginning to think and pray about how we can be a 21st century Callistus and Benignus. Christians must keep exposing the works of darkness, like abortion, because we know the true Story. But if we truly want to make an impact, we must live the true story by rescuing the most vulnerable among us.

This is not just an individual Christian endeavor—a James Pruch “thing.”. This is an all of us endeavor—a gospel thing. This is an all of us thing because, after all, this is exactly what God, in his mercy, did for all of his children. If you are a Christian, the Apostle Paul writes, you have been adopted through Jesus (Eph. 1:5). God has rescued you from the darkness and into his family of love (Eph. 2:4). Later in that same letter, Paul calls his readers to “imitate God as beloved children” (Eph. 5:1).

How might we imitate God in our cultural context, as it relates to rescuing babies, the most vulnerable among us? What will we do as local churches and as a global church to praise the glorious grace of God for our adoption (Eph. 1:6)? What will you do? Adopt? Foster? Respite care for other foster parents? Disciple women who go into pro-life pregnancy centers? Donate money to people who adopt (adoption is expensive!)? There are an abundance of possibilities!

When we rescue little ones—in any number of ways—we give ourselves up in Jesus-like love. Make no mistake, this is a call to die. But we are not calling little ones to die. It’s a call to die to ourselves. When Christians live like Callistus or Benignus, we are actually living like Christ. We are not saying, “You for me,” like abortion. We are saying, “Me for you,” like Jesus. We are saying, “I’ll give up my comfort, my convenience, my money, my time, my schedule, my reputation, my everything for you.”

Sounds like a better alternative. Doesn’t it?

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Life

Five Reasons We Want to Be Foster Parents

My wife wrote earlier this week that we are starting the process to become foster parents. She said, “We are both well aware of the children out there who are abused and neglected, and in need of good, loving homes who can teach them about Jesus as well as care for and protect their little hearts and minds.” I love this woman, and I love her passion for Jesus and the “least of these” in our city and world.

Why would a husband and wife in their mid to upper 20s, with a two-and-a-half month old daughter want to be foster parents? Here are five reasons:

  1. The gospel has invaded our life and Jesus reigns over us. We have tasted what God has done for us in Christ and so we cannot help but show that same grace, mercy, kindness, and love to others. Foster care will be a small, but significant way to “point” to what God has done for us: he loved us while we were unlovable, wounded, broken, and alone.
  2. We want to adopt, not just because it’s the hip thing for Christians to do, but because God, in Christ, has adopted us into his family (Hos. 14:3; Eph.1:5). This is the only reason adoption on earth exists. Foster care will serve as a prologue to adoption, but not a “trial run.” It is something we can do now while adoption is not a possible.
  3. We are commanded in Scripture to seek the welfare of widows and orphans (James 1:27; 2:14-26). We aren’t doing this to “get God on our side,” for we are already perfectly accepted by in the gospel based on Jesus’ obedience, death, and resurrection. Rather, the gospel compels us to obedience. We are called to speak on behalf of those who cannot speak for themselves (Isa. 1:17; 58:6). Foster children are some of the most underrepresented people in society. Obviously, we cannot do everything and help every foster child. But we can do something.
  4. Foster care will give us close relationship with non-Christians. We will rub shoulders with biological parents, therapists, case workers, foster care specialists, lawyers, judges, and scores of others, most of whom will not know Jesus. We will be able to share the gospel, and our biblical worldview. Furthermore, we will be able to provide spiritual insight for a child to families and professionals who regularly neglect this aspect of a person’s life, in favor of the behavioral and mental aspects.
  5. I so often preach about doing hard things for the Lord, forsaking middle class comfort in pursuit of true discipleship. This is practicing what I preach. Carly and I want to be an example to other Christians, our church, our family, and our friends of what a gospel-shaped life looks like.
I want to thank my wife, Carly, for pursuing this so gracefully and with passion, determination, and zeal. You are my crown, and beside Christ, you are the treasure of my life. “An excellent wife who can find? She is far more precious than jewels.The heart of her husband trusts in her, and he will have no lack of gain.”

When you think of us, or stop by this blog, would you pray for us on this adventure? We would appreciate it.

Categories
Ministry Theology

Foster Kids, Joseph, and Jesus

Before I was a pastoral intern at my church, I worked for the Department of Health and Human Services in Omaha. Though the work was not always a delight, God grew my heart for abused and neglected children. He grew my heart to help these kids–not to help them overcome past hurts with therapy or rehab–but to help them overcome through the gospel of Jesus Christ.

This is a huge mission field, even in Nebraska. To give you an idea, there are usually well over 6,000 calls a month to the abuse and neglect hotline…in Omaha. Not all of those are “substantiated” abuse/neglect cases, mind you, but it is alarming nonetheless. A foster child battles emotional, psychological, physical, and, above all, spiritual issues (and I would add those spiritual issues are often magnified by demonic influence). A foster child’s road is arduous, burdensome, and confusing.

But there is hope for the foster child (or “orphan” or “fatherless” as the Bible calls them).  The Jesus we see in Scriptures who reveals the perfect heavenly Father  is the only solution for these kids. Despite all the obstacles for one of these precious ones coming to Jesus, God overcomes. I know a foster boy at my church who was baptized this year.  He declared that he has a new life in Jesus: he’s been forgiven of the sin he’s committed against God and that he’s been cleansed of all the sin committed against him. He still has fits of rage and sadness. But God is in the process of changing this boy.

I believe Jesus wants to do this very thing in the lives of thousands of other foster kids in Nebraska, and around the country.

One small way for me to be a part of God’s work with foster kids is that this summer I will be the camp speaker at Teen Reach Adventure Camp for the boys camp.  This camp provides an alternative, Christ-centered setting for foster kids who might not thrive at other summer camps.

I will be speaking on the life of Joseph. What a privilege to preach the gospel through this story! Joseph was a man who was abused and abandoned by his brothers, was falsely convicted and sent to prison, practically saved the region when famine came, and eventually had mercy on his abusive brothers.

Ultimately, this story finds fulfillment in Jesus, the true and better Joseph. Jesus was abused and abandoned by a nation, his family, and closest friends; he was falsely accused, unjustly condemned, and crucified despite being sinless; he saved the world through his death on the cross; and he had mercy and grace on his worst enemies when he made them friends by purchasing their lives with his blood. He came on the ultimate rescue mission, sent by the Father, to bring unworthy orphans into his family by grace through faith. This is the good news, and oh what news it is for foster children who are in desperate need of a true family.

Would you begin to pray with me that God would soften hearts, break down barriers to resistance, and anoint me to preach the gospel so it is truly embraced. O Lord, would you change these young lives by your resurrecting power? Bring into existence the things that do not exist and raise dead hearts up to life. Preach your gospel, make Jesus plain, and draw these boys to yourself. 

Categories
Life

Notable Links

I wanted to drop some links here that I’ve read or listened to lately but haven’t mentioned.  Enjoy.

Sermons

Blogs

Articles