Reformation Day and the Five Solas

Unfortunately, Halloween comes to mind when many people think of October 31st. This date actually looks back on one of the most dramatic moments in church history. On this day in 1517 Martin Luther nailed his list of grievances against the Catholic Church to the door of a chapel in Wittenberg, Germany. These Ninety-Five Theses became the catalyst for the Reformation, which produced the Five Solas.

Martin Luther spoke one of my favorite quotes when the Catholic Church threatened to excommunicate him. He said:

Unless I am convinced by Scripture and plain reason – I do not accept the authority of the Popes and councils, for they have contradicted each other – my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and I will not recant anything for to go against conscience is neither right nor safe. God help me. Amen.

The Catholic Church was unable to defend their false teaching with Scripture or respond to Luther’s criticisms. On May 25, 1521 Luther was declared an outlaw and his literature was banned. The Catholic Church said, “We want him to be apprehended and punished as a notorious heretic.” It was a crime for anyone in Germany to give him food or shelter.

Jesus said, “I will build My church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it” (Matthew 16:18). It’s hard to argue there are more significant fulfillments of this promise than the victory God produced through Martin Luther. When October 31st rolls around each year we would do well to think not of Halloween, but of the Reformation and the Five Solas.

In honor of the Reformation I want to provide a brief summary of each of the Five Solas…

1. The Five Solas: Sola Fide—“Faith Alone”

This excludes any works from being necessary for salvation. Justification – or being declared righteous by God – is received by faith only, apart from anything man can do. At the time the Catholic Church emphasized the use of indulgences (donated money) to purchase status, and even forgiveness, with God. Works, such as baptism and other sacraments, were seen as required for salvation. Continue reading “Reformation Day and the Five Solas”

3 Blessings When Choosing God Over Family

There aren’t many situations more difficult for Christians to face than those involving choosing God over family. Consider the following:

  • A loved one claims to be a believer but wants to marry an unbeliever. So you’re unable to support the relationship.
  • Family members invite your child to stay with them, but you know they’ll be a negative influence on them. So you have to decline.
  • A relative is living in habitual sin and you have to confront the person.

There are examples in the Old Testament of individuals having to choose God over family members. For example, Moses called for the execution of the individuals responsible for the Golden Calf. This meant some Israelites had to kill their own relatives. Exodus 32:27 says:

“Thus says the Lord God of Israel: ‘Let every man put his sword on his side, and go in and out from entrance to entrance throughout the camp, and let every man kill his brother, every man his companion, and every man his neighbor.’”

King Asa was one of the greatest reformers in the Old Testament. When he purged the idolatry from the land, he had to punish even his own grandmother. 1 Kings 15:13 records:

[Asa] removed Maachah his grandmother from being queen mother, because she had made an obscene image of Asherah.

In both of these situations it would’ve been very easy for those involved to choose loved ones over God.

Jesus is the premier teacher and example when it comes to choosing God over family

Jesus said, “Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me” (Matthew 10:37; see also Luke 14:26). He taught the closest relationships in His life weren’t with His physical family, but His spiritual family. Matthew 12:46-50 records:

While he was still speaking to the people, behold, his mother and his brothers stood outside, asking to speak to him. But he replied to the man who told him, “Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?” And stretching out his hand toward his disciples, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.”

I tend to think God is repetitive when He wants to make sure we don’t miss something. This account occurs in each synoptic gospel; it’s also in Mark 3:31-35 and Luke 8:19-21. Jesus minimized His earthly relationships to emphasize His spiritual relationships were with those who obey His Father. Continue reading “3 Blessings When Choosing God Over Family”

Marriage Is a Reflection of Our Relationships with Christ

A few years ago I learned  the important lesson that marriage is a reflection of our relationship with Christ. Katie and I faced the biggest crisis of our marriage. I started pastoring Woodland Christian Church when it was fairly small. Within three years the congregation had tripled in size. I admit that before I became a pastor, I was completely unaware of how much work is actually involved in shepherding a church of even a few hundred people. I had been an Army officer, a supervisor at a distribution center for Target, and an elementary school teacher. But none of those occupations approached the amount of mental and emotional energy and sheer hard work pastoring entails!

We had no secretary or associate pastor at the time. Almost all of my waking hours were packed with studying, teaching, counseling, making phone calls, sending e-mails, meeting with people, addressing administrative responsibilities, and tending to benevolence issues. When I was home, I should have been an engaged father and husband. Unfortunately, I did not have much left for my family emotionally, mentally, or physically.

Although I was failing as a husband and father, I was able to convince myself I was still pleasing the Lord. I compartmentalized my life by saying, “I am a Christian first, a spouse second, a parent third, and an employee fourth.” Instead, I should have said, “I am a Christian spouse, a Christian parent, a Christian employee.” The danger of seeing ourselves as a Christian first and a spouse second is we can find ourselves believing the lie I bought into at the time: “If I can be a good pastor, I can please God even though I am not the best husband.” The truth is that I was a poor husband, and I should have recognized that meant I was not pleasing the Lord. Continue reading “Marriage Is a Reflection of Our Relationships with Christ”

The Three Reasons I Wrote Marriage God’s Way

There are thousands of marriage books, so why another one? Here are the three reasons I wrote Marriage God’s Way!

Marriage God’s Way isn’t about people trusting me

I recognize this isn’t a “reason” I wrote Marriage God’s Way, but it does answer an important question—why should you trust me to write a marriage book? I would never encourage people to trust what I have to say about marriage. Marriage God’s Way isn’t a collection of my thoughts about God’s first institution. Rather, I’m trying to get readers to trust what God says about marriage. He’s the author of it. He designed the roles and responsibilities for husbands and wives. He knows what a couple needs to have “a healthy, joyful, Christ-centered relationship.” And He provided a recipe for that in His Word. My desire was to present that recipe clearly and biblically.

First, I wrote Marriage God’s Way, because I’m passionate about marriage

I’m passionate about this area of Scripture and life. God designed the family as the primary unit for every other segment in society, including the church. And marriage is the heart of the family. As marriages disintegrate, families disintegrates. When families disintegrate, churches disintegrate. As churches disintegrate, society disintegrates.

When marriages are strong, however, families are strong. When families are strong, churches can be strong because strong churches are made up of strong families. As a pastor, I have seen many struggling marriages, but I have also seen couples find the solutions to their problems in Scripture. The truth of God’s Word has the power to heal and strengthen any marriage. Continue reading “The Three Reasons I Wrote Marriage God’s Way”

Do you know why you believe what you believe?

Instead of, “Know what you believe,” a more appropriate statement might be, “Know why you believe.” 1 Peter 3:15b says, “Always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect.”

We’re supposed to be ready to explain why we believe what we believe. The words “make a defense” are one word in the Greek: apologia. It means, “verbal defense; a reasoned statement or argument.” Apologetics is the branch of theology concerned with defending Christianity, and we get this English word from apologia.

Not just knowing why you believe, but defending those beliefs humbly

People loosely quote 1 Peter 3:15 saying something like, “As a Christian you’ve got to ‘be able to give a defense of your faith.’” But they often leave off the last few words: “with gentleness and respect.” Peter first commands us to be ready to explain our beliefs, but he also tells us how we should do that—with gentleness and respect.

These words are important, because they prevent Christians from looking arrogant, condescending, or hostile. When that happens, even though Christians are trying to defend their faith they actually make Christ look bad. Continue reading “Do you know why you believe what you believe?”

The Art of Apologizing Well

Katie asked me six questions about apologizing. Here’s the outline for the video:

  1. 0–4:17—Have you always been good at apologizing?
  2. 4:17–6:54—What are wrong ways to apologize?
  3. 6:54–13:00—What are right ways to apologize?
  4. 13:00–19:35—What is your favorite story about apologizing?
  5. 19:35–24:04—Should we apologize to our kids?
  6. 24:04–27:39—How can apologizing or lack of apologizing affect marriages?

1. Have you always been good at apologizing? Elaborate on your “history” with apologizing and how you grew in it.

When I saw this question, my first thought was, “If I’ve learned too apologize well, it’s from making so many mistakes.”

As a pastor you’re going to learn to become comfortable apologizing, because it’s a necessity to have a healthy church body. I’d go so far as saying don’t become a pastor if you’re not comfortable apologizing. You’re going to have to apologize for your own actions and the actions of others. Nothing looks worse than shifting blame, even if the blame belongs elsewhere.

As far as when I learned to apologize, I’d have to give credit to LTC Richard Brewer, my commander in Army ROTC. He didn’t teach me to apologize. He forced me to apologize. I couldn’t make excuses or shift blame.

2. What are wrong ways to apologize?

When we should apologize our sinful nature wants to flare up, get angry, make excuses or blame others. Some people – whether intentionally or unintentionally – act like they’re apologizing, but their “apologies” are simply excuses disguised as apologies.

Two words destroy apologies: Continue reading “The Art of Apologizing Well”

Don’t be discouraged when confused by Scripture!

Every Christian has been confused by Scripture at times. Here’s part of a message I received from someone after a study I taught:

Last week, I took the entire chapter [from the study], copied it to Word, and then made spaces for notes. I thought I was prepared. But I wasn’t as prepared as I was hoping. I will just keep working on it.

I can tell the person was discouraged, and this is something I’ve encountered regularly. Here are two passages that should discourage us from being discouraged:

  1. “Our beloved brother Paul, according to the wisdom given to him, has written to you, as also in all his epistles, speaking in them of these things, in which are some things hard to understand“(2 Peter 3:15-16). The Apostle Peter himself read Paul’s letters and found them difficult to understand at times.
  2. “Of this salvation the prophets have inquired and searched carefully, who prophesied of the grace that would come to you, searching what, or what manner of time, the Spirit of Christ who was in them was indicating” (1 Peter 1:10-11). The prophets were given the very words of God. Even they had to “inquire” and “search carefully” to understand the revelation in each other’s writings.

Why does God allow certain parts of Scripture to be confusing?

God’s Word offers wisdom that can’t be found anywhere else. This makes it unbelievably valuable and reveals why it is is compared with precious jewels: Continue reading “Don’t be discouraged when confused by Scripture!”

Hope Initiative Ministries receives Marriage God’s Way

My desire for Marriage God’s Way has been two-fold from the beginning—strengthen marriages and exalt Christ. I’ve seen this prayer answered in different ways. One of the most recent took place on November 9, 2016. I received the following message from Efumbi Vicent, the program director of Hope Initiative Ministries:

We are so much in love with your marriage teachings. In the near future this could turn into big workshops here as we keep sharing and working together on fully establishing our ministry in Kampala. The need for knowledge of Christian marriages is high. We can end up asking for a big number which may not be managed at the moment.

I shared this message with the elders at Woodland Christian Church. They decided to send two boxes (80 books total) to Hope Initiative Ministries. The books were given out as an outreach in HIM’s main centers at Bugiri and Kampala (in eastern Uganda).

I understand the question people will have, so let me answer it now. The books were given to Hope Initiative Ministries (HIM) for free. Woodland Christian mailed them, and I did not receive any money.

Hope Initiative Ministries plan for Marriage God’s Way

Continue reading “Hope Initiative Ministries receives Marriage God’s Way”

The best way to counsel believers in sin

counsel believers in sin
Glennon Doyle Melton and Abby Wambach

There’s terrible confusion regarding what is and isn’t loving when it comes to correcting people. This makes it difficult to counsel believers in sin. Take for instance homosexuality, which draws almost immediate hostility when criticized. The most disheartening situations occur when believers defend sinful behavior. Take for instance author, speaker, and professing Christian Glennon Doyle Melton announcing she is in a relationship with soccer star Abby Wambach.

How would I counsel professing believers in sin, such as Glennon Doyle Melton?

Before Katie and I were married, she looked for a job doing massage. We were excited when the professing Christian owner of a local barber shop offered her a room. After Katie’s first day of work she told me, “I don’t know how to say this, but the woman who owns the shop…is a man.”

Genesis 1:27 says God created us male and female. “She” was a man despite the physical changes he made to his body. Since he claimed to be a Christian, we decided to speak with him about living such a lifestyle while professing to follow Christ.

A Christian friend of ours was angry with us saying:

“How can you think of calling ‘her’ a ‘him’? How can you think of confronting ‘her’ about this? This is so unloving!”

I think her sentiments capture the way a number of people feel about confronting sin. Continue reading “The best way to counsel believers in sin”

Book Review of Reflecting Christmas by Matthew J. Elliott

I was given the opportunity to review Reflecting Christmas by Matthew J. Elliott. Matthew is the founder of Love the Saints Ministries, a website committed to “Encouraging Believers Every Step of the Way.”

Christmas is the most well-known, and popular holiday in the world. While cultures are separated by vast differences, no matter where you go, you’ll find people who celebrate this holiday. In Reflecting Christmas, Matthew looks to the Christ behind all the traditions and practices.

The Content of Reflecting Christmas

Reflecting Christmas by Matthew J. Elliot
Reflecting Christmas by Matthew J. Elliott

Matthew looks at the different symbols related to Christmas. He sees Christ in each of them and also discusses the way some of them illustrate our relationships to God. For example:

  • In the evergreen Christmas tree he sees a picture of Jesus’ lordship.
  • The bells of Christmas signify joy, like those rung at toasts or weddings. They remind us that the holiday is a celebration.
  • He sees in the wreath a picture of the crown of thorns on Christ’s head.
  • The Poinsettia looks back to the Star of Bethlehem.
  • The lights of Christmas remind us that Jesus is the “Light of the World” (John 8:12). Matthew moves beyond that to remind followers of Christ that we too are called to be the “light of the world” (Matthew 5:14-16).
  • The colors of Christmas are primarily green and red. Green, reminds us of freshness and new life. This reminds us of the spiritually new life we have in Christ.

Although I am only discussing these symbols, obviously if you’d like to know about them in more detail, you need to purchase the book.

Matthew’s style in Reflecting Christmas

Continue reading “Book Review of Reflecting Christmas by Matthew J. Elliott”