The Bells of Notre Dame Will Be Silent This Easter

The bells of Notre Dame will be silent this Easter. The iconic gothic cathedral burned on Monday. The cathedral’s stone architecture trapped heat like an oven as the spires of Notre Dame collapsed on themselves.

This conflagration interrupted a recent effort to restore the eroding cathedral. Lacking major renovation for two centuries, nearly all areas were affected including, “the flying buttresses, the spire, the choir, the nave, the transept, the towers and the sacristy,” according to Michal Picaud. Picaud presides over ‘The Friends of Notre Dame,’ a society formed to seek out patrons of art and architecture willing to fund the restoration. Michal Picaud branded Notre Dame “the Cathedral of the French People,” appealing to French history and culture. In the end the restoration effort received only “bare minimum” funding.

Long before flames engulfed Notre Dame, the congregation inside the church and in greater France had succumbed to secularization. In 1905, the French passed a separation of church and state law, leading to the closure of most religious schools. In a recent survey, 41% of French nationals self-identified as Christian; of those, 80% described themselves as Catholic. Two years ago, most French people who described themselves as Catholic considered themselves to be Catholic-Atheists. Catholic-Atheism may enjoy the heritage, art, and architecture of a Christian past, but apparently remains unwilling to give substantially to Cathedral renovations. Catholic-Atheism not only struggles with renovation, it fails to capture the hearts of people.

It is a historical loss and people are grieving appropriately. But the Cathedral itself is not the loss that should grieve us most.

Secularism celebrates the West’s rapture from Christianity, lauding the new post-Christian culture. Yet, still it questions, “How can it be gone?”

The restoration France needs is not that which she craves; it needs a resurrection of the soul, not a gothic Cathedral. Like a cathedral in ruins, Catholic-atheism offers a fading glimpse into what was, but offers nothing of substance today. So let us not take pride in the heritage of our buildings or the beauty of our steeples. In the end New Jerusalem will have no need for Notre Dame, Westminster, the Washington National Cathedral, or any temple.

Christians know that the true temple of God is founded upon Christ and built up by the living stones of his people (1 Pet 2:5). “Behold,” God’s Word proclaims, “I am laying in Zion a stone a cornerstone chosen and precious, and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame” (1 Pet 2:6). No conflagration can reduce God’s Church to smoldering ash.

So let us pray that this Easter, when the bells of Notre Dame are silent, the sweet melody of the Gospel rings all the more clear.

“The grass withers and the flowers fall,
but the word of our God endures forever.”
Isaiah 40:8

Are You Consuming Food Porn?

One October at Oklahoma State University, proud I made it to class early, I walked up to the professor smiling and some students and asked what they were discussing.

Food porn.

Immediately, I knew I had walked into the wrong conversation. I awkwardly excused myself.

At the end of October the situation happened again. I overheard some of my fellow students discussing the Saw movie series as a new genera—torture porn. At this point, I no longer knew the proper use of the term porn.

I thought porn described “adult” content and movies only. I was wrong. A commercial for an enticing pizza, leisurely spinning around until its full reveal, with a hand grasping for a slice and disembodied baritone exclaiming, “oh, yeah!” That’s food porn (think every Reese’s commercial during Halloween).

The term porn no longer denotates or connotes anything sexuality explicit; porn now describes the superlative of enjoyment.This new definition of porn changes the connotation of porn from a deviant behavior to a norm. Originally, the term porn was transliterated from the Greek, pornéros. Pornéros means evil. The Greek term carries with it a connotation of malicious behavior.

Until recently, the connotation of porn has followed its literal meaning—deviant behavior. This is no longer the case. Even Christians are using the term with a positive meaning. The shift in definition rides upon the wings of the relatively new access to pornography. The old anecdote of sneaking into a (sinful) father’s sock drawer for a secretive glance at his Playboy magazine is now antiquated. What had once been spoken of in hushed tones is now played for laughs in family television programs.

The United States is currently debating the positives and negatives of porn and pornography. Some states (Utah, Virginia, South Dakota, Tennessee, Arkansas) have begun to treat the excessive viewing of pornography as an addiction. While modern psychology does not yet agree on whether porn is addictive, Zitzman and Butler (2009) concluded, “the detached, objectifying, exploitive sexuality of pornography directly impacts attachment trust, eroding any safe expectation of one’s partner being faithfully for the other.”

Zitzman and Butler help illuminate my point. Porn indulges in an imaginary world and brings harm to the real one. As we increasingly use porn to describe our food, movies, sports, and general pleasures, we are ultimately approving of overindulging in the realm of imagination—enjoying a detached, objectifying, self-indulgent, and exploitive fiction.

Porn as a superlative of pleasure replaces societies attention to true virtue with an addiction to the fictional. We no longer recognize the boundaries between the real and unreal. Once our minds have had their fill of sensuality, we are left with what we have in reality—nothing.

What porn promises is a superlative. It delivers nothing. At best, the only thing a porn-saturated culture can do is continue to push the boundaries of its own fiction, an attempt to find greater gratification. Food porn presses food beyond the necessity into gluttony. The boundaries press forward, but the fiction remains hollow. Christians, better than anyone, umderstand the fleeting nature of pleasure.

Consider Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ. The Passion of the Christ was incredibly graphic, but few would describe it as torture porn. The allure of porn’s fiction and pleasure died at the cross. Jesus’s death was not imaginary. We receive no sensual gratification from it. The cross exposes the emptiness of earthly pleasure; it reveals man’s pleasures as grotesque. A porn-saturated culture counsels us to feed the hunger of our hearts with imaginary sustenance. Just as PlayMobile food feeds no one, so a porn saturated culture cannot satisfy. “For apart from [God] who can eat and who can find enjoyment?” (Ecc 2:25).

We need to mature beyond our porn culture—a moratorium on our fascination with imaginary and vain pleasures, realizing “mature content” is not mature. Our society must stop using the word porn with positive connotations (food porn, music porn, etc.). For the well-being of our relationships, we need to regard porn as one of the greatest evils to be shunned, not a superlative to be enjoyed. Instead of taking pleasure from the fictional dismemberment of people into the individual parts desired, we ought to enjoy dwelling together, loving holistically. If we would finally uncover our fascination with food porn, then only the hideous nature of gluttony would stand naked before us.

How To Start A Quiet Time

What is a quiet time?

When a friend of mine first became a Christian, his mentor asked him to start having a quiet time. He had no idea what it meant to have a quiet time. Wanting to be faithful, he went to his closet, closed the door, and sat in silence. Afterwards, he wondered, “what was the point of that?” A quiet time is ‘christianese’ for spending time reading God’s Word and listening to God. I wanted to offer some tips to those who may have never tried doing a quiet time.

Start small

Many people begin with grandiose ideas of being incredibly faithful. The problem with starting a quiet time, especially if you’ve never done so, is that it requires consistency. Consistency is always easy in theory. Until an established habit takes root, consistency is difficult. Therefore, it is much easier to be consistent when you start small. If you’ve never done a consistent quiet time,  my recommendation is to get a good devotion book.

My favorite devotion book is My Utmost for His Highest by Oswald Chambers. Avoid devotion books which focus more on the author’s emotions than on Scripture. Devotion books which read like self-inspirational or motivational talks aren’t worth their time. The goal of a quiet time isn’t to build your self-esteem, but instead to listen to God.

While using a devotion book, get out your own Bible and read a slightly larger portion of Scripture than the devotion book lists. The goal of starting with a devotion book is to go deeper in the study of the scriptures.

Be consistent

As life changes, consistency is going to change. Some people like to do their quiet time pre-breakfast. Others, like myself, need to go through a morning routine before doing a quiet time. The people who mentored me were generally up around 4:00-5:00am and did their prayer and quiet time then. I tried that. I failed. When I was reading at 5:00am, I found I was trailing off; if I closed my eyes to pray, my prayers sounded like, “Dear God, I’d like to pray for . . . um . . . And . . . um . . . Amen.”

5am was not a great time for me to listen to God. Find a time and place which works best for you. You don’t have to be legalistic about certain times, but you do want to be consistent.

Nothing helps consistency like an accountability partner. Get someone you trust and ask each other what the Lord is teaching daily. On those days when one of you misses, don’t berate each other. The synonym for Christian accountability is encouragement not inquisition. Generally some sort of crisis has come up (lack of time, unforeseen event, etc.) or sin has crept in (laziness, disregard for God, unethical behavior); in both cases, encouragement and prayer for each other are necessary.

Don’t get stale

I’ve had many different quiet time plans. I’ve never found one to be THE ONE. Some years I have a plan to read through the whole Bible. Other times I spend much more time looking into one book. Sometimes I use a devotion book. I change my devotion time whenever it gets stale. The quiet time is your time with God. Reading God’s Word and praying ought not be like cramming two saltine crackers in your mouth to start the day. A quiet time ought to be refreshing and help keep your mind focused on God. Change the plan up, try something new, don’t let consistency become drudgery.

Bookend your quiet time with prayer

Start your quiet time with prayer. I like to read a written prayer to open up my quiet time. The Valley of Vision and Prayers for Meditation are my favorite pieces from which to draw. These written prayers help my quiet time focus on who God is and not on what I want him to do. After reading through the Bible, take some time to pray again. Start and close your quiet time with prayer. I try to keep my quiet time prayers from becoming laundry lists of requests. I do pray for other people, but for my quiet time I try to ask God to reveal sin in me and help me to keep his Word in my heart. My prayer time for others is generally later in the day. When I am praying for others, I try to remember to pray for my church, pastor/staff, and my spouse. Many other requests come and go, but those three are consistent.

Once you’ve established a consistent quiet time, you’ll begin to experience the benefits of it. I find that quiet times help me to keep the Word of God in my heart daily. I tend to think more about what God says and less about what I want. When I’m consistent in my time with God, arguments in the home, frustrations at work, and general anxieties lessen. Quiet times help cultivate the peace of the Lord in my life. More important than all these personal benefits, a consistent quiet time allows me to listen to the Lord and allow him to guide my life.

Letters From Dad, pt. 1

What is the purpose of masculinity? With so much talk concerning toxic masculinity, often we forget the positive sides of masculinity. News-media, TV shows, and all sorts of movies are now asking if masculinity is even necessary. Yet, within these same media sources, stories depicting fatherhood have tended to flourish (most recently seen in Aquaman‘s $1 billion intake). The time is ripe for a reexamination of Christian fatherhood. This series, Letters From Dad, focuses on letters which Christian fathers have written to their sons. These letters help reveal the heart of Christian fatherhood, as they seek to guide their sons through the Christian life. My hope is to encourage fathers and my fellow Christians and to provide a reminder of how important fatherhood is to the maturation of a young man.

Our first letter comes from Samuel Wesley to his son John Wesley (the founder of Methodism). John and Charles Wesley had written their father in 1732 seeking advice concerning The Holy Club. The Holy Club was a group of young Oxfordian students who were concerned with living life as pious Christians. At the time, John and Charles believed most Christians didn’t take their faith seriously. The Holy Club focused on waking up early, praying separately then together, reading the Scriptures, and reading the early church fathers, so that they “would not lean on their own understanding.” Nominal Christians at Oxford began to see John and Charles as extremists; they began to persecute John and Charles. While the persecution at Oxford was mild, it caused John and Charles some distress. John was concerned the Holy Club had gone too far and sought his father’s advice. The letter below is Samuel’s reply to John’s concerns over persecution.

In the letter Samuel seeks to strengthen John in three ways: 1. He encourages his son with scripture, 2. Samuel reminds John of how he is praying for him. Samuel does not want John to become proud of his accomplishments for God, 3. He offers John fatherly wisdom in handling worldly persecution.

Read Samuel’s letter below,

December 1,

“This day I received both your [letters], and this evening, in the course of our reading, I found an answer that would be more proper than any I myself could dictate; though since it will not be easily translated, I send it in the original. “I take great pride in you. I am greatly encouraged; in all our troubles my joy knows no bounds.”* (2 Cor. vii. 4.) What would you be? Would you be angels? I question whether a mortal can arrive to a greater degree of perfection, than steadily to do good, and for that reason patiently and meekly to suffer evil. For my part, on the present view of your actions and designs, my daily prayers are, that God would keep you humble; and then I am sure that if you continue ‘to suffer for righteousness’ sake, though it be but in a lower degree, ‘the spirit of glory and of God’ shall, in some good measure, ‘rest upon you.’ Be never weary of well-doing: never look back; for you know the prize and the crown are before you… Be not high-minded, but fear [God]. Preserve an equal temper of mind under whatever treatment you meet with from a not very just or well-natured world. Bear no more sail than is necessary, but steer steady.**

Samuel’s letter encouraged John and Charles to continue their pursuit of obeying God. The result of Samuel’s guidance produced the two of the finest men in Christian history. John and Charles strengthened The Holy Club and were eventually joined by George Whitefield. Between the revival preaching of George Whitefield and the influence of John Wesley’s Methodism, Samuel Wesley’s letter of encouragement impacted the history of the American Church deeply. Later, when John completed his multi volume compilation of all his works, he was sure to include his Father’s letter of encouragement within the introduction.

Fathers, let us take Samuel’s example. Let us strengthen the faith of our children with the encouragement that comes from the Word of God. Children need reminders we are praying for them (make sure prayer is happening). Only after we’ve allowed God to speak to our children, then out of that wisdom comes fatherly advice. Samuel saw his role as the spiritual leader of his children, even when John and Charles were adults. As Christian fathers, we need to keep our commitment to leading our children well.

“Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old, he shall not depart from it” Prov 22:6.

*Samuel Wesley quoted this verse from the Greek. This is what he means in writing, “I send it in the original.” I have supplied a translation from the NIV.

**The letter is printed in full in The Works of John Wesley, Vol. 1., 8–9.

What Happened to the United Methodists?

On February 12, 2019 the United Methodist Church (UMC) released the findings of a theological research report conducted across the denomination. “The goal was to shed light on the present, in the interest of the church’s future” (Press Release here). While many people may consider the United Methodists to be split between conservative and liberal evenly, the survey revealed that 44% of United Methodists were conservative and only 20% viewed themselves as progressive/liberal.

The Theological Survey

While one may be surprised to discover that the majority of United Methodists (UMs) proclaim to be theologically conservative, the real shocker concerns the doctrine of the Word of God. Only 41% of UM conservatives surveyed believe the Bible is the most authoritative source of their faith—30% cite church tradition as most authoritative. Among the liberals (and this comes as little surprise) only 6% cite the Bible as the most authoritative source of Christian faith and practice. Only 29% of UMs surveyed held to an orthodox understanding of the sufficiency of Scripture. This means the Bible is not the primary source for faith and practice for the majority of UMs. Only 20% of UM members surveyed believe the Bible is the actual Word of God and ought to be taken literally. 36% of UMs agreed with the statement that the Bible contained errors.

Since the Bible is no longer the standard of faith and practice for the UMC, theological erosion has followed. The reason the Bible anchors a denomination’s theology is simple: everyone is subject to God’s authority. When questions on homosexuality, female pastors, or divorce inevitably arise, Scripture demands theologians answer exegetically. Liberal theologians must apologize for tough passages; Conservative theologians must defend them. Both sides answer to the same standard.

Whenever tradition replaces Scripture as the standard for faith and practice, theology stops answering to God and lends an ear to the court of public opinion. No church conference is going to vote certain passages be stricken from the Bible. Tradition is not nearly as resistant to change. Where Scripture is immune to popular vote, church tradition is not; while tradition may be slow to change, change is inevitable.

Voting to Change Tradition

Change is exactly the problem faced by the UMC’s self-identified Conservatives. Currently, the UMC is going to vote on changing the Methodist Book of Discipline. On February 23rd, 864 delegates from around the world will meet in St. Louis to vote on whether traditional doctrine concerning homosexuality ought to be changed. Currently three plans regarding change to the Methodist Book of Discipline have come forward:

  1. The One Church Plan. The One Church Plan calls for the Book of Discipline to change its definition of marriage to include same sex couples. Due to the high percentage of those who self-identify tradition as the primary source of faith and practice, the One Church Plan seems least likely to be accepted by the wider UMC. If the One Church Plan should win, it will be because progressive/liberal hold a modest majority in the Council of Bishops. If the plan passes, conservatives will face a theological crisis; likely many conservatives would leave the UMC.
  2. The Traditional Plan. The Traditional Plan will change the Methodist Book of Discipline to reinforce a traditional view of human sexuality and put forward stricter punishments on those who perform same-sex weddings. The Traditional Plan relies heavily upon engrained traditions; since 44% of the UMC identifying as conservative, the plan has a chance at being confirmed. The Traditional Plan is the only one which actually upholds all the current policies and traditions of the UMC. If the Traditional Plan is implemented, many liberal pro-LGBT ministers would be expelled or leave voluntarily.
  3. The Connectional Conference Plan The Connectional Conference Plan (CCP) calls for removing the five geographical jurisdictions of the UMC in favor of three theological ones (conservative, moderate, and progressive); each connectional conference would decide its own stance on the issue of homosexuality. The CCP is by far the most complicated of the plans and, in my personal opinion, the most likely to be accepted. The plan officially ratifies what the theological survey already confirms—three theological branches of the UMC and a denial of Scripture providing cohesion to UMC standards of faith and practice. While the plan may keep the UMC united for the time, it is hard to see how the CCP doesn’t pragmatically create three separate UMCs.

The real theological issue facing the UMC is not homosexuality; it’s the downgrade of the status of the Word of God.

Yet, I would argue the real theological issue facing the UMC is not homosexuality; it’s the downgrade of the status of the Word of God. Church traditions are always subject to change. Only when the Word of God is recognized as infallible, inerrant, and sufficient, can any denomination resist the pull of the secular tide and keep itself from theological drift.

My prayer for the UMC conference is a revival and reliance on God’s Word. As a young Christian, John Wesley, the founder of Methodist, and his Holy Club questions had a deep impact on me spiritually. Wesley would often ask, “did the Bible live in me today? Which would be followed up by asking, “do I give the Bible time to speak to me every day?” I pray that each delegate will honestly ask these two questions before they vote on Saturday.

Tradition is a helpful map to keep the church from drifting off course. However, without Scripture as the rudder and captain at the helm, the church will find itself blown in any theological direction. Whichever way the wind blows on the 23rd, the United Methodist Church is heading toward a theological storm. When less than one-third of a denomination’s members can sing, “Jesus loves me this I know, for the Bible tells me so” with any theological integrity, the denomination is heading for destruction.

How to Start a Family Devotion in December

December is coming! And with it many reminders of the holiday season. For many Christian homes, December presents an opportunity to close the sacred/secular divide. Many have had a full year of Bible study and devotions at church groups, but have yet to cross the barrier into family devotion time. In this post, I’d like to suggest a reading plan for bringing the actual story of Jesus home this Christmas. First, allow me to suggest some practical advice for starting a family devotion.

Keep it Short and Sweet

If you have young children like I do (5, 2, and 7 months), doing a family devotion at all may feel like an impossibility. We can hardly get everyone in clean jammies, let alone to settle down enough to read a section of Scripture. Don’t let the fear of family devotion time keep you from having a time devoted to God. Right now, our family devotion time lasts less than 10 minutes each night. We read a small passage of Scripture, let each child have a question time, review the story, then pray together. Don’t let devotion time become a grandstanding for theology or give a 30-minute lecture on the meaning of a Greek verb. Let the time reflect the age and maturity of your family.

Don’t Wait

There are a million reasons for not starting a family devotion. So your kid is 15 and you’ve never done it before. Its awkward. It’s not cool. And no one has any clue what they are doing. That’s okay! Obedience trumps awkwardness every time. Satan will let you have whatever excuse you need to stay out of the Bible. Open God’s Word, start small, and stay regular. Don’t wait to start, let this Christmas season open a new chapter in your family worship time.

Sing Something

While I may have particular delusions of grandeur day dreaming winning American Idol, no one in my family is a particularly gifted singer. Despite the squeaks and squawks coming from the Wegener household, we still try to sing at least one Christmas hymn together at home after devotion time. This personal family worship time is not going to win any awards, but it is going to honor God. Sing a hymn together through December. If you need to, put on a recording and sing along. Let praising God for the birth of Christ be a sweet ending to each December day. This personal family devotion time will help children connect with worship at church.

Don’t Pick on a Family Member

Don’t pick on any child or family member during devotion time. This is not a time for exposing sin and embarrassing a kid. If something came up during the day and you need to address it, make sure to do it the biblical way and go speak to that person directly first (Matt 18:15). Nothing will cause resentment for devotions to God like turning family time into the Spanish Inquisition. Some devotion material will naturally bring up sin issues in the home. Don’t shy away from those moments, but make sure to point the finger at yourself first and often. Husbands, as spiritual leaders of the household, we cannot come across as the most holy of our home. We need to be made of the same common clay as our children. Let them know that you struggle with sin as well. If you have to pick on or expose anyone’s sin, let it be your own sins first and foremost.

Suggested December Reading Plan

Below I would like to suggest a December reading plan of the gospel. Adjust the plan for the age of your family. Get a translation (not a children’s story book) the youngest person can understand. If you get behind, don’t fret—just try again. Emergencies happen. Extraneous circumstances come up. Remember, family devotion time won’t happen by accident. Make it the routine not the exception.

Download the reading plan here.

Three Ways to Redeem Thanksgiving

When it comes to Christmas songs, I’m a post-turkey kinda guy. As soon as Black-Friday hits, its beginning to look a lot like Christmas in our house. However, I ran into a unique problem this year. When we started Pandora radio, we found a “Thanksgiving” channel. Intrigued by the notion of Thanksgiving songs, we started playing the channel. To my surprise we began hearing, “Come Fly with me,” with Frank Sinatra dominating the Thanksgiving airways! Apparently, Thanksgiving songs have long been given a coup de grace.

Why don’t we sing about being thankful? At Christmas time, its easy to sing a secular song about the joys and doldrums of the weather or emotional ties to a warm fire. But when it comes to being thankful, we need to be thankful to/for someone. The problem lies with the human condition. We are naturally a self-centered idolatrous people. It is easy to be generally thankful; it is hard to recognize a true and personal God for whom we ought to be thankful. Not being thankful to God on Thanksgiving is simply a symptom of the secularism that pervades our home life.

Recognizing God at Thanksgiving

At Thanksgiving dinner our children will say they are thankful for their parents and various trappings and we’ll have our customary prayer. Yet, the largest portion of our Thanksgiving conversations will belong to football, Black Friday deals, and inventing reasons for a second piece of pie. God, in many American households, will get a prayerful name drop but little more concerning him will be welcome.

We all recognize that materialism continues to encroach on our giving of thanks. We know our society continues to progress in the sickness of consumerism. Yet, many of us adopt the secular Thanksgiving motto, “the best way to be thankful is to have more stuff to be thankful for.”  Our Christian families can push back against this materialistic tide. We can use Thanksgiving as a launching pad into the advent season.

Some Suggestions for Thanksgiving

1. Ask family and friends how God has blessed them this year
This isn’t an opportunity to brag or correct errant prosperity gospel theology; this is an opportunity to reflect on how God provided for our families. For my family this year, God provided us a church and a home here in Georgia. Personally, I am thankful that the gospel is reflected so beautifully in my wife. My children have grown in knowledge and understanding of Jesus. Thanksgiving is a proper time to recognize these blessings.

2. Spend time praying for politicians, rather than critiquing them
No doubt many of our families are divided over who should hold office. We could don our MAGA apparel or make sure the conservatives in our family feel-the-bern this year or we could agree to pray for our leaders (without backhanded comments). No doubt each one of us has a good reason to sit down at a glutton’s feast of slander and disdain for politicians. A godless Thanksgiving concerns itself with proving our cousin’s social policies are insane but a God-filled Thanksgiving is about being thankful to God for our cousin. Find a way to be thankful to God for people with whom you disagree.

3. Avoid complaining and arguing
We need to remember that God’s Word tells us to, “do everything without complaining or arguing” (Philippians 2:14). Yes, the rolls got left out this year. Yes, the turkey should have been thawed long before the oven was preheated. Yes, our parents, in-laws, cousins, uncles, aunts, etc. are still the same people we had to deal with last year. None of these factors negate or change God’s Word. Its time to set a Thanksgiving precedent for obeying this portion of God’s word—Do everything without complaining or arguing. Remember, critiquing each other is not the same as being thankful for each other. God has been so abundantly merciful with us this year, maybe its time to extend that mercy to family and friends at the dinner table.

Why I Vote

There are two things you should never talk about at Thanksgiving: religion and politics. Since Thanksgiving is still a few weeks away, let’s go ahead and do both. Though some will argue for splitting the two up, it is important that both religion and politics continue to keep a civil discourse together. For Christians, participation in government, including the right to vote, is an important means for achieving a society that protects fundamental God given rights. Below I discuss some personal reasons for why I vote.

Influence Local Government

I hear often, “its just one vote what does it matter –  it won’t influence anything.” Let’s ask for a moment what just one vote represents. A vote represents the influence which one person has in government. If I get the privilege of casting only one vote, what have I influenced? After all, one grain of salt hardly makes a difference when baking a loaf of bread. However, if the baker forgets to put just a fourth of a teaspoon into the mixing, the entire batch won’t turn out right. We must understand this, our country is run by votes! If we are in-tune with the needs of our community, then our vote – our influence – is doing more than making one tick mark on the ballot; our influence is garnering the will of the people for the improvement of our local community. Therefore, we can actually measure the good we have done for our cities through the democratic process. We can reflect on and change the policies of our towns. My vote is a personal plumb line for measuring foundation of our society’s principles.

Integrity

If we cannot be true to our convictions in the voting box, then we are not true to our convictions. A vote may not make so much a difference where you are, but it does say something about who you are. Take for example the issue of abortion. There is a large chasm of difference between someone who claims a pro-life stance and someone who votes pro-life. Yet under the guise of separation of church and state, many Christians do not want to take their ethics and morals to the voting booth. They don’t want to ‘impose’ on others. The person who says, “I cannot take my religion to the polls,” advertises his  hypocrisy. His beliefs are little more than virtue signaling. The most basic action any Christian can take towards building a moral and ethical society is with her vote. Removing the Christian influence from the public arena is not just putting our light under a basket, it is snuffing that light out altogether.

Just and Humble Leaders

I long for our nation to be led by just and humble leaders.  Who are the great men and women of our day? Who are the leaders going to be? Often our political officials strut around with heads too large to bend their neck to an ordinary task. But just and humble leadership in office begins with just and humble voters at the polls. Our elected leaders are nothing more than mirrors reflecting ourselves. We ought to remember that in the United States the people rule (or at least should rule) and if the people are moral and just in ruling, we do not need the “greater” men and women in office – we just need a common person who is willing to serve. When I go to vote, I am not looking for a great name like Washington, Lincoln, or Roosevelt. If a man or woman is not great before they serve in an office, they won’t be great when they secure it. Therefore, I am looking for the honest humble servant. Since we do not need men and women who are ambitious for an office but rather ambitious for service, then I (as a voter) need to be ambitious for serving. Serving our nation begins with my one vote.

Do we really believe that our nation is made great by those serving in an elected office? Our revolution was not won by an epoch of uncommon men and women. Our government was not founded on the belief of a ruling class. No, we are a nation of the ordinary mundane everyday men and women. Our elected officials are hewn from the same quarry as our, builders, nurses, lawyers, and artists. No matter our birthrights, economic status, or education, we all gather together on one equal playing field. We all hold exactly one vote in our hands – one vote that speaks volumes for the state of our influence, integrity, and humility as a nation.

Happy Hallowed Reformation Day

While small super heroes and tiny princesses are parading around during Halloween, it is appropriate for Christians to reflect upon another October 31st event, the birth of the Reformation. On October 31st, 1517 an Augustinian German Monk named Martin Luther nailed to the door at Wittenberg his 95 thesis (issues he had with the Catholic Church). The 95 thesis are not particularly revolutionary in themselves. Initially very few people paid any attention to what Luther wrote. It is highly unlikely Luther even considered hammering his work as a spectacular event. Yet, history bears witness to tumultuous consequences and blessings of his action. When we reflect back on Luther and on the Reformation, we are celebrating three things: living by faith, Scripture over tradition, and giving God all the glory.

Living by Faith

Prior to his revelation from Scripture, Luther operated under the belief that good works would merit salvation. The German Monk’s conscience was uneasy with this proposition. No matter how disciplined he was, how many good works he performed, or prayers he made, Luther was condemned by sin. Every good work was tainted. Every action was infected with selfishness. If salvation were in his own hands, Luther believed he was condemned already. The revolutionary change in Luther’s thinking came from Romans 1:17. In Romans 1:17 Luther believed he found the heartbeat of the gospel—the righteous shall live by faith. Those who would be righteous need not trust in good works but must live by faith. Therefore, Luther challenged the Pope’s authority to forgive and remit sins (thesis 5). Nothing but faith in Christ alone could save humanity. This tenet of the Reformation would come to be known as Sola Fide (Faith Alone). Celebrating the Reformation means celebrating the forgiveness by faith alone.

Scripture Over Tradition

While Luther was contemplating Sola Fide, Johann Tetzel, a Dominican Monk, was selling indulgences to the masses. Tetzel became known for his famous couplet:

“As Soon Coin in the Coffer Rings,
a Soul From Purgatory Springs.”

Unbaptized babies, those who died without full grace, anyone with earthly attachments, they all were candidates for an extended stay in purgatory. Purgatory was a place for the purging of sin and earthly attachments, in order to make one fit for heaven. Fortunately, the faithful on earth could buy purgatorians a fast pass to heaven—an indulgence.

Luther, who wasn’t known for his quaint rhyme scheme (see A Mighty Fortress), took issue with Tetzel and the indulgence scheme. Once one accepted salvation by faith alone, good works could no longer merit salvation. For Luther, Scripture trumped the tradition of purgatory. No tradition was a greater authority than Scripture itself. The Bible for Reformers was the only infallible, inerrant, and sufficient source for faith and practice. Any church tradition that did not line up with Scripture needed to be reformed. Luther’s belief in going back to the source, the Bible, became known as Sola Scriptura (Scripture alone). To reflect on the Reformation means opening the Word of God and allowing its infallible authority to change our lives.

Giving God the Glory

When Bach and Handel wrote their magnificent pieces, they would sign Soli Deo Gloria (Glory to God alone). Every work, every action, every day for the Christian is given fully and entirely to the glory of God. Once a sinner, now redeemed by Jesus’s own blood, the believer lives his life for God’s glory. Celebrating the Reformation means celebrating a great change in the human heart. The motive of good works is no longer one of fear. Through Jesus, the believer is able to perform good works out of love.

Ultimately, celebrating the Reformation is sweeter than the occasional Trick or Treat on October 31st. We are not just remembering those who gave their lives in defense of the Christian faith. We are not just celebrating 500 years history. We are giving thanks for Jesus Christ who died on the cross for our sins. We no longer need to mask ourselves behind a thin veil of good works. We need not pretend to be anything other than what we are – sinners in need of grace. As believers in Christ, we walk by faith knowing that Scripture declares Jesus died for sins. Today when you remember the Reformation, don’t just be thankful for some list of historical facts. The men and women of the Reformation, who gave their lives so we could practice our faith freely, lived to the glory of God. All of humanity can be saved by grace through faith alone (sola fide) according to the Scriptures (sola scriptura) to the glory of God the Father (soli deo gloria).

Should the church #believewomen?

Mayella Ewell falsely accused Tom Robinson of sexual assault, but Tom was found guilty. While making an attempt to escape prison, Tom was shot dead. Do you remember Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird? It was one of my favorite books growing up. In the novel Mayella truly had been assaulted; she was a survivor. But Tom was not her attacker and she knew it. Atticus Finch, Tom’s Lawyer, could do little to reconcile Tom before the court. Lee wrote, “Atticus had used every tool available to free men to save Tom Robinson, but in the secret courts of men’s hearts Atticus had no case.”

As the #believewomen movement grows, To Kill a Mockingbird puts an important question before us:

How do we protect the abused, while maintaining a presumption of innocence?

Harper Lee’s 1960 fiction shines a light on 2018 issues. When Tom Robinson was accused, he was considered guilty because of his race. If the court of public opinion is mistaken as a court of justice, the innocent are often destroyed. So how should the church respond in cases like the one presented in To Kill a Mockingbird?

This question isn’t a mere hypothetical. As recent events have proven, even the church is not exempt from both abuse and false accusations. When accusations come forward, and those who have been abused should feel safe coming forward, who should the church believe: all the accusers or all the accused?

Even the attempt to answer such a question inherently alters the role of the church. The church is no longer the Bride of Christ but assumes the gavel of the Judge. In doing so, she assumes a role reserved for her Bridegroom, Jesus (Matt 28:18, Acts 10:42). Only God knows the secret courts of men’s hearts. In a world full of hurt and pain, Jesus assures both the abused and falsely accused a just heavenly court where sin will be punished. Meanwhile, God gave the church a specific role: healing wounds—not judging them.

The Judge or The Bride?

All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation.
2 Corinthians 5:18

When accusations arise, the question for the church isn’t “who should we believe” but rather, “how can we bring about reconciliation—how can we make things right?” In such cases we would do well to remember the church is the Bride and not the Judge. As the Bride, the church points to the only True Judge—Christ. He alone is the truly Just Judge. His Bride, the local church, seeks to restore the abused in him; in her, the abused find a empathetic embrace. Women who have been sexually assaulted and abused ought to find care in the church. The Bride of Christ can and does provide shelters, safe places, and counsel for assaulted women.

Having addressed those who are abused, we must also talk about protecting those falsely accused. False accusations are the minority of cases, but they need reconciliation too. We must remember that Jesus was falsely accused, sentenced and executed before a court largely influenced by public opinion. The Bride, therefore, must be very judicious before making public statements concerning any accused party. Premature public declarations of innocence or guilt threaten to change sanctuaries into courtrooms and altars into witness stands. In order to refrain from putting on the judge’s robe, the church should allow for outside investigation for accusations against her ministers.

In God’s court, all truth will be established. Yet here on earth, some of the guilty will go free. Lamentably, not all of the abused will receive earthly justice. Some of the innocent will be punished. Therefore while the Bride points to God’s ultimate justice, she must embrace and bring healing to the children of God. The local church—the embassies of God’s kingdom—must offer the healing balm of the gospel to the deepest wounds of the heart.