Author: MattMacNaughton

Reading as a Hobby

A few years ago, I was having lunch with a church member, talking about the importance of rest. During the conversation, we began talking about new hobbies and finding something to do that frees our minds to rest and relax from the normal grind of a typical work week. From that conversation, I decided my hobby would be reading. And if you’re around me enough, I’m going to try and make it your hobby in 2023 as well!

Reading is a year-long activity that can be done inside, outside, and even in the car (yes, listening to audiobooks does count as reading). When I graduated from Seminary, I would have been content with never reading a book again. In fact, for a few years, the only books I read were often commentaries. Occasionally I would pick up a book on the church or on pastoring but I had forgotten what it meant to read for fun. Now, I consistently read books on a wide variety of topics and genres and I find it incredibly restful. 

Reading fiction books takes my mind away from the present world and into a different world, allowing my mind to remove itself for just a few moments from the anxiety and pressures of the day. Reading biographies helps me learn from men and women from different centuries and how they navigated their own lives. Reading subjects that help me grow spiritually and personally helps me be a better husband, father, and pastor. 

Like any hobby, reading well for rest requires time, resources, and a plan. Allow me to share how I structure my reading.

I don’t just go to the library and choose a book based on its cover, though I have done this in the past. I follow a specific reading plan that keeps me from wondering what to read next. The plan I use comes from Christian blogger and author, Tim Challies. You can find the 2022 Reading challenge here. The 2023 reading challenge will be available soon. Here’s how the plan works:

The Christian Reading Challenge is composed of 4 lists of books, which you are meant to move through progressively. You will need to determine a reading goal early in the year and set your pace accordingly.

  • The Light Reader. This plan has 13 books which sets a pace of 1 book every 4 weeks.
  • The Avid Reader. The Avid plan adds another 13 books which increases the pace to 1 book every 2 weeks.
  • The Committed Reader. This plan adds a further 26 books, bringing the total to 52, or 1 book every week.
  • The Obsessed Reader. The Obsessed plan doubles the total to 104 books which sets a demanding pace of 2 books every week.

Under each section is a list of topics for you to follow. This allows you to read outside of your typical genre or give you a next step. It’s broad enough and specific enough to work within your interests. Here’s the list for The Light Reader:

  • A book published in 2021 or 2022 
  • A memoir or autobiography 
  • A novel 
  • A book by a woman 
  • A book by a man
  • A book published prior to 2000 
  • A book with the word “gospel” in the title or subtitle 
  • A book with an image of a person on the cover 
  • A book about a current social issue 
  • A book for children or teens 
  • A book about suffering 
  • A book about Christian living 
  • A book of your choice

Following this plan has allowed me to go from roughly 0-5 books a year to 100+ each year for the last few years. 

To read at this pace, I’ve developed a few habits for my hobby. 

  • I read while I’m watching a sporting event on TV. Sports don’t require constant attention and the break in action allows for a few moments of reading.
  • I listen to books through my local library when I’m in the car or mowing my yard or on a walk. These books are usually the bigger books like Providence by John Piper or D-Day by Stephen Ambrose.
  • I read a book as part of my devotions. Usually a chapter a day from a book that draws my heart to Jesus. Currently, I’m reading Thoughts for Young Men by J.C.Ryle
  • I read when I find myself waiting. Instead of scrolling social media, I have a book on my kindle app that I work through over time. Oil changes, haircuts, waiting for people to arrive for a meeting, and waiting to pick the kids up are all opportunities to spend a few moments reading a book.

Reading is also a hobby that doesn’t have to be expensive. The only books I purchase are books I plan to keep and use for resources. Which means, I don’t purchase any fiction books. The local library is an incredible resource available to all county residents. We go as a family every week, we’ve built relationships with librarians, and we’ve saved thousands of dollars (minus the late fees!) on books. Having a library card also gives you access to the Libby app to read via Kindle or to listen to the audiobook.

I also subscribe to Scribd. Scribd is much cheaper than Audible. An Audible monthly subscription usually gives you access to one book a month while Scribd has unlimited access to their collection at a cheaper monthly cost. The best part of audio books is that you can pick up the book you’re reading at home and continue it in the car! I did this a few times this year with a few fiction books.

For the year 2022, I hit 100 books again and I want to share with you my four of my favorite books from the past year.

 

Apollo 13 by Jim Lovell and Jeffrey Kluger

Many of us have seen the movie starring Tom Hanks but did you know it’s based on the details from this book written by Astronaut Jim Lovell, a member of the Apollo 13 crew? In Apollo 13, Jim Lovell recounts the details behind the entire Apollo program and the entire trip of the Apollo 13 mission. In April of 1970, just a few months after Apollo 11 landed on the moon, Jim Lovell, Fred Haise, and Jack Swigert launched from earth for another mission to the moon. But due to a cabin fire, they never landed on the moon. Instead, they made a heroic trip around the moon and returned safely to earth. NASA has labeled the Apollo 13 mission as a “Successful failure”.

 

Under the Banner of Heaven: A Story of Violent Faith by Jon Krakauer

In this book, Jon Krakauer dives into the history and structure of the Mormon Church. Founded on faulty lies and promoted by sexually perverted men, the Mormon Church grew in Western United States. From the Amazon Synopsis, “Defying both civil authorities and the Mormon establishment in Salt Lake City, the renegade leaders of these Taliban-like theocracies are zealots who answer only to God; some 40,000 people still practice polygamy in these communities. 

At the core of Krakauer’s book are brothers Ron and Dan Lafferty, who insist they received a commandment from God to kill a blameless woman and her baby girl. Beginning with a meticulously researched account of this appalling double murder, Krakauer constructs a multi-layered, bone-chilling narrative of messianic delusion, polygamy, savage violence, and unyielding faith. Along the way he uncovers a shadowy offshoot of America’s fastest growing religion, and raises provocative questions about the nature of religious belief.”

Learning about the Mormon church helped me see how I could communicate the gospel with them more clearly and to also critically think through Religious Freedom issues in our culture. It was also a lesson on how easily it can be for people to pervert the teachings of Scripture for their own gain and for the satisfaction of their sinful desires.

 

Redeeming Your Time by Jordan Raynor

This has been the most helpful book I’ve read the last few years and I wish it was written years ago. Jordan Raynor’s book on “learning time management from the one who created time” has helped me better structure my week, my to-do list, and my priorities. I recommend this book to everyone! 

The book looks at Jesus and how He navigated His time management while He was on earth. He knew His calling and therefore, He knew when and what to say yes or no to. He also looks at the importance of freeing your mind of to do list clutter. We know of the projects months down the road, but now is not the time to think about it. He helps create a system that allows you to put off for tomorrow the things that can wait. 

Two things I learned from this book: 1) Do the things that take less than two minutes and do them now. (Need to send an email? A text message? Print something? Just do it. 2) Create a system for future projects. (This has helped me with upcoming events and for my sermon calendar).

 

Deep Discipleship by J.T. English

The first book I read in 2022 and probably the most impactful. It’s one of the reasons we held a “Gospel for Everyday Life” study over the summer. I love teaching others about the Bible. I love seeing people grow deeper in their knowledge of God. Deep Discipleship helped me think through how to see more discipleship in our church. Jesus gave his followers the mandate to make disciples of all nations. But today, too many people are being “fashioned” outside the churches. It’s time for pastors and leaders to take responsibility for training and growing believers who can be sent to gather in the harvest utilizing three indispensable elements: the Bible, theology, and spiritual disciplines.

 

Reading is a lost love in our day and age. We are inundated with so much television that we forget the wealth of books available to us! We also need to be warned of the desire of knowing everything (Ecc 12:12). But reading can be and is a restful and helpful hobby. Read a book in the coming year. Take the 2023 Reading Challenge with me. Read with your kids. Maybe you’ll learn something new this year or maybe, like me, you’ll rest from the anxiousness of this world and for a few minutes, find yourself in another.

Prepare Him Room This Advent Season

Whether you’re ready for it or not, the Christmas season is upon us. At the MacNaughton house, we’ve got our Christmas tree up, lights hung around the house, and we’re about 37 Christmas movies into December. And we haven’t even made it to December yet!

While the Christmas season is underway, the Church calendar has designated the season leading up to Christmas Day as “Advent”. The word “Advent” simply means “awaited coming” and is mostly used during this particular time of year when we celebrate the coming of a Savior. But it also helps draw our hearts to the awaiting second coming of our Savior when He will bring His church to the home He has prepared for us.

Advent symbolizes the present situation of the church in these last days (Acts 2:17, Hebrews 1:2), as God’s people wait for the return of Christ in glory to consummate his eternal kingdom. The church is in a similar situation to Israel at the end of the Old Testament: in exile, waiting and hoping in prayerful expectation for the coming of the Messiah. Israel looked back to God’s past gracious actions on their behalf in leading them out of Egypt in the Exodus, and on this basis, they called for God once again to act for them. In the same way, the church, during Advent, looks back upon Christ’s coming in celebration while at the same time looking forward in eager anticipation to the coming of Christ’s kingdom when he returns for his people.

There are four themes seen throughout the Advent Season: Hope, Peace, Joy, and Love. For the next few weeks, we will take a few moments to look at these themes together on Sunday mornings and celebrate the Savior who came to this earth and is coming again. 

Advent both reminds us of the overflowing, extravagant nature of God the Father who, because he loved us so much He sent His Son Jesus (John 3:16), has given us hope (Hebrews 6:9-20), peace (Luke 2:8-21), and joy (Luke 2:1-20). Truly, the Christmas season is an incredible opportunity to reflect on all that Christ has done for us. Without His love, we cannot love Him (1 John 4:19). Without His peace, we are still His enemies (Ephesians 2:1-10). Without His hope, we are hopeless (Romans 8:24-25). Without his joy, we have no joy (Hebrews 12:1-2).

This coming Sunday, we will share with you on the Grace Life App our 2022 Advent devotional guide for you to sit down and do with your family. You’ll have daily Scripture readings centered around the themes of Advent and a few activities to help carry the truth of Christmas home for your family. While we celebrate the coming of our Savior, we wait patiently for the second coming of our King Jesus! 

Which makes the words of this familiar Christmas song by Isaac Watts even more wonderful when we sing it as it was intended: a song about the second coming of Jesus.

Joy to the world, the Lord is come!

Let earth receive her King;

Let every heart prepare Him room

And heaven and nature sing,

And heaven and nature sing,

And heaven, and heaven and nature sing.

 

Joy to the world, the Savior reigns!

Let men their songs employ,

while fields and floods, rocks, hills, and plains, 

repeat the sounding joy,

repeat the sounding joy,

repeat , repeat the sounding joy.

 

He rules the world with truth and grace

and makes the nations prove 

the glories of his righteousness 

and wonders of his love, 

and wonders of his love, 

and wonder, wonders of his love.

 

So church, prepare your hearts. Make room for Jesus this Christmas. In fact, and better yet, make Him the central focus in all you do this Christmas. Without him, there would be no Christmas to celebrate. 

By His Grace,

Pastor Matt

ThanksGivers

November 1st for many is the start of a new season. Some might call it the holiday season, some the Month of Thankfulness, some the beginning of two and a half months of Christmas. And now that Thanksgiving is upon us, this holiday that may get lost in the hustle and bustle of being busy gives us an opportunity to reflect on things that we are thankful for.  The tradition of gathering with family and friends around a meal, taking a moment and stating aloud what we are grateful for  is an awesome practice, and we know that the Church is called to be the best ThanksGivers around. What do I mean by this?

When we look at the Pauline letters, we see that the New Testament is full of exhortations to be thankful.

Colossians 2:6-7 Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him, rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving.

Philippians 4:4-7  Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.

Certainly this list is not exhaustive, but this last set of verses contains something that I think most people are very concerned with: what is God’s will for me?  I would argue one piece of the puzzle is to be a ThanksGiver.  Paul here gives three points to consider what that looks like.

First, we should be a rejoicing people. The Greek word here for rejoice comes from the same root that is used for grace. Our understanding of God’s will starts with recognizing that it was His will to save us from our sinful state, and this perspective should transform our outlook on all parts of life. And it’s not just rejoice sometimes, but always! Sometimes we forget about the circumstances of the original writer or the receivers of these letters, but their lives were full of struggles and hardships and celebrations and amazement, just like our own lives. This timeless approach from God’s Word applies to us in the same way it applied to them.

Second, we should be a praying people.  Remember that prayer is a continual, intimate conversation with God that is grounded in knowing who he is and that what He has said from HIs Word is true. This word “continual” may be better translated as “incessant” or “uninterrupted”. The idea here is that we recognize God is always available and that His Spirit is with us, and so we have a companion with whom to share our lives with every moment of the day. It’s not saying that we shouldn’t take time to get away and have uninterrupted prayer (Jesus did this constantly), but if that is the only time we involve God in the daily inner talk of our lives, we are missing out on a piece of God’s will for us.

Finally, we should be a thankful people. I love the phrase that comes along with this command to give thanks- in ALL circumstances. This can be tough because we know life is messy and broken. But if we choose to find thankfulness, the peace of God starts to truly rule our lives in those seasons. Something like taking each letter of the alphabet and making an “I’m thankful for ____” can reorient our hearts and minds back to just how good God is and remind us that He is near to us. The Psalms also provide a great resource as both a prayer guide and a way to infuse thankfulness. Some of them remain unresolved in their conflict but are resolved to give thanks to the Lord regardless.

1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.

I promise you that this ThanksGiver approach will make everything easier to endure. It helps us to realize that even when it doesn’t make sense, or it doesn’t fit in the plan you had for your life, or if it came out of nowhere, God knew it was coming, and at some point you will see it is for your benefit. I’ve held on to these truths through my own circumstances-

Rejoice- Psalm 119:68 You are good and you do good; teach me your statutes.
Pray- Romans 12:2- And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.
Give Thanks- Romans 8:28- And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.

So, take to heart these practices.  Seek Christ’s joy daily. Talk to God about everything as you read from His Word. Choose the thankful perspective, no matter what you are facing. This is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus, and my hope and prayer for you in the coming weeks.

Love in Christ,
Pastor Ben

Developing an Intentional Prayer Plan

I’ve thoroughly enjoyed preaching through Romans 8 and the recent focus on prayer has been especially helpful to my own soul. The last few weeks have been a reminder to me of the power and necessity of prayer in the life of the Christian and I want us to dive deeper into the gracious gift of prayer. It’s why I love this quote from the German reformer Martin Luther:

“To be a Christian without prayer is no more possible than to be alive without breathing.” 

Do we not understand theologically what Luther is saying? Then why is it practically such a chore to pray? Why is it that many of us can’t remember the last time we breathed a prayer? We know we are to pray (and pray without ceasing as Paul says in 1 Thessalonians 5), yet we do not pray. To fail to pray, then, is not to merely break some religious rule. It is a failure to treat God as God. 

Is our struggle to pray due to wrestling with God’s sovereignty over all things? Do we say “What is the point of prayer if God is sovereign?” I’d argue that when we fully understand the sovereignty of God, as it is recorded in Scripture, then the natural response is not prayerlessness, but rather genuine life of prayer. Is our struggle to pray due to a lack of desire to pray or not knowing what to pray? 

What if we, with sincere hearts, asked the same question the disciples asked Jesus in Luke 11: “Lord, teach us to pray”. From this simple statement the disciples both acknowledge the sovereignty of Jesus (“Lord”) and they recognize the immense need to commune with God in prayer (“teach us to pray”).

What is prayer then?

The Westminster Shorter Catechism defines prayer as “is an offering up of our desires unto God, for things agreeable to his will, in the name of Christ, with confession of our sins, and thankful acknowledgment of his mercies”. 

A few weeks ago, I defined prayer as a continual, intimate conversation with God that is grounded in knowing who He is and that what He has said from His Word is true. 

We could continue to define prayer but no matter how we define it – Biblically of course – it must always lead us back to actually spending time in prayer.

It’s why I want to encourage you to take the time and develop an intentional prayer plan.

Like any good goal, developing a plan helps us see that goal come into fruition. Want to lose a certain amount of weight? You need to develop a plan that includes working out and eating healthy. Want to save for a future purchase? A budget is the plan to help you accomplish that goal. We use plans all the time to help us accomplish goals and establish new rhythms and developing a plan to help you be intentional in prayer is worth considering.

Take the time to answer these questions and enjoy how the Holy Spirit strengthens you as you spend more time in prayer.

Determine when you will pray.

The heart of a believer who prays without ceasing understands the need for an intentional time of prayer daily. It is good to pray at meal times, in the car when you see an accident, when you head into a meeting, or when you are prompted to pray when talking with someone. It is also good to pray when there are no other distractions or responsibilities. It is good to have time just between you and God.

While the Bible is not dogmatic on when you should pray, the Bible speaks on the importance of speaking to God first thing in the morning, even before you speak with anyone else.

“O LORD, in the morning you hear my voice; in the morning I prepare a sacrifice for you and watch.” – Psalm 5:3

Your plan might require you to adjust your morning routine by getting up earlier or spending time in prayer instead of scrolling social media. Your plan might mean you take your lunch break in the car and spend a portion of that time praying. Maybe you take the first 15 minutes of your kid’s nap time to pray, and then go take a nap yourself!

 

Determine where you will pray.

I recently mentioned my Prayer Chair ™ in a sermon, not realizing how much time I spend in that chair. It’s a chair in my office that faces two windows and is at a table. There is no work at the table and I can’t see my normal desk. It’s really only me, my Bible, and a few pens. It’s here where I spend my intentional time in prayer.

You don’t necessarily need to have a Prayer Chair ™ in an office, but you need to have a certain location where you pray and the people in your house know that is where you go to pray. Jesus speaks to the importance of a prayer closet in Matthew’s gospel account.

“But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.” – Matthew 6:6

Determine where your prayer closet will be. Maybe it’s in the garage or out on the porch or maybe it’s a walk around the neighborhood. Wherever you decide to pray, know that wherever you are, you are meeting with the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords and He hears your prayers!

 

Determine what you will pray.

This may seem like a strange determination but knowing what you will pray is key to intentional praying! Many of us determine the time and the location, but then we sit down to pray and find out we don’t know where to start. There’s a host of helpful tools to help you know what to pray, but the most practical comes from Jesus himself.

Now Jesus was praying in a certain place, and when he finished, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples.” And he said to them, “When you pray, say: “Father, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come. Give us each day our daily bread, and forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive everyone who is indebted to us. And lead us not into temptation.” – Luke 11:1–4

We can see Jesus’ model prayer and establish four key points that you can implement in your intentional prayer time. The four points make up the acronym A.C.T.S.

 

Adoration: Acknowledging who God is and understanding His Holy character.

Take the time in your prayer by praising God for who He is! Need a start? Pray through Colossians 1 or Ephesians 1.

 

Confession: Acknowledging you have sinned against God’s Holy character.

Take the time to confess your sins specifically, not generally. Need a start? Pray through Psalm 51.

 

Thanksgiving: Acknowledging God’s goodness towards you flows from His Holy Character.

Take the time to say thank you to God for all that He has done for you. Need a start? Pray through Psalm 34.

 

Supplication: Requesting from God, in accordance with His will, what you need to reflect His holy character.

Take the time to take your requests to God. He loves to hear His children come to Him with their needs. Prayer is taking everything that is on our heart to God. 

In Romans 8:15, God’s children cry out to God the Father. “Crying out” to our Father in Heaven represents both the crying out of “Dad, help I’m hurting” and the “Dad, come look at how awesome this lego house I built is!” It’s the crying out of both pain and praise. 

When we turn to the Lord, we trust that even when we are not praying the Lord’s will for us, the Holy Spirit Himself is interceding for us, because He knows perfectly God’s will for us. 

 

Determine to pray.

Finally, an intentional prayer plan requires us to actually pray and commit to praying! The plan becomes meaningless if we don’t actually implement it. And one of the surest ways an intentional prayer plan is derailed is through the excuses we create.

Being too tired, not having enough time, being too busy, too much noise, or even not knowing what to say are all excuses that we need, no, we must eliminate them. We make time for what we deem important, even when we are too busy and have little time. We carry on conversations with other people while our kids are around all the time. I could keep going but you see what I’m trying to say. Any excuse is a poor excuse for a lack of praying. 

So determine to pray. Determine to spend a designated time in a designated place with just you and the Lord. Take your heart to Him. Hear him speak to you from His Word. And go to Him in confidence, knowing that you are no longer condemned, but you are now His child whom He longs to talk with.

 

By His Grace,

Pastor Matt

Taking the Gospel to the Neighborhoods Around Us

If you’ve been around Grace Life for any extended period of time, you know that one of the rhythms we try to maintain is to do prayer walks around the communities that we live in and are surrounded by.  But what is a prayer walk, why do we do them, and how can you participate?  Although there is no specific biblical precedent for the term “prayer walk”, we see throughout the Scriptures that the mentality of this continual conversation between us and God (as we learned this past Sunday) happens not only in the quiet corners of our lives but also in the active parts of our daily routines.

Deuteronomy 6:4-9 “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.”

From the onset of God’s chosen people, we see a clear command to be in constant conversation about God and what He reveals to us about Him from His word. The depiction of daily recognition of God in all aspects of our life is where a life filled with prayer leads us. We can and should pray individually (certainly Jesus was constantly getting away to pray!) but we also pray together with one another and for one another.  These prayer walks are intended to simply be a time of literally praying as we walk about.  Life is full of distractions, and so prayer walking is not some magical ritual, but instead an intentional opportunity to focus on praying for the lost in our communities, to remind ourselves of the mission set before us in Matthew 28:18-20, and potentially open up the opportunity to have Gospel conversations.

Why do we do these prayer walks? Because it is not only an opportunity to get to know our communities, but also an opportunity to rub shoulders with other brothers and sisters. In both Mark 6:7 and Luke 10:1, we see Jesus sending out his disciples in sets of two. Prayer walking is not an activity that we engage in alone, but we partner together and share in this activity, increasing our confidence and speaking with joy the love of Christ for all people. We also know that we are called to proclaim the Gospel to all people.

Colossians 4:3-4 “At the same time, pray also for us, that God may open to us a door for the word, to declare the mystery of Christ, on account of which I am in prison – that I may make it clear, which is how I ought to speak.”

Unlike Paul here in Colossians, we are not stuck in prison- we have the chance to actively seek open doors! And even when we are rejected, which the first disciples also experienced, we know that God hears our prayers and knows the needs of the people we interact with. None of our labor is in vain when we are doing it for the Lord.

So how can you be involved?  This Saturday, November 12th, at 9:45AM  we will gather together in the church building to get our hearts and minds focused, and then we will go on foot into a neighborhood nearby and simply walk, pass out cards with information about our church, and engage with anyone who is willing to talk or be prayed over.  For those who physically may not be able to walk, you can gather with us and pray, drive and give out water bottles, or even just take the time at home around 10 AM to stop and pray that gospel seeds will be planted and watered. We will do another walk in the morning on December 10th, so you can mark your calendars for that as well.

1 Thessalonians 5:17 tells us to pray without ceasing. This is a great opportunity to learn what it means to be in constant prayer through means of setting our minds on God as we take our hands and feet to task. Don’t miss the opportunity for this great blessing both for you and our community.

Love in Christ,


Pastor Ben

Brothers and Sisters in Christ

I’ve (Pastor Matt) been struck recently by one of the incredible truths we’ve learned from Romans 8: we belong to God. The gospel brings us salvation from sin and God’s wrath and it brings us into God’s family. The Holy Spirit testifies that we belong to God. We are His sons and daughters! Which also means, for those who are in Christ, we belong to a family filled with brothers and sisters. 

The New Testament writers frequently referred to their readers as “brothers and sisters” (example seen Galatians 1:11). It’s a phrase that portrays intimacy, closeness, and unity. We are brothers and sisters not by human blood, but by the blood of which purchased our freedom redeemed us from all sin. 

This is what makes a local church so remarkably incredible. People from all different walks of life, of different ages and ethnicities, different career paths and family dynamics, different personalities and passions, brought near to one another by Jesus Christ. Because of who we are together in Christ Jesus, we should see the local church, Grace Life Church, as a people to belong to, a people to live with, not people we occasionally see. 

Church Membership is the invitation to officially belong to a local body of believers. Church membership is putting the needs of the church ahead of our own personal preferences and desires. It’s being faithful to the Lord by being faithful to one another while staying vigilant against division and fighting for unity. We’ve written more about the importance of church membership here.

Being a church member comes with important responsibility, one of which is attending Member meetings when they are scheduled. The next member meeting is this coming Sunday evening. The term “meeting” implies that business will be conducted, which is true. We will consider and vote upon our upcoming 2023 budget as well as vote in new members to our church. While participating in the business of the church is important, we will intentionally take time Sunday evening to worship, pray, celebrate, and look forward to the upcoming year and what we will do as a church to proclaim the name of Jesus to the nations.

Church membership is important and if you are a member of Grace Life, we expect you to be there Sunday evening, Lord willing. If you haven’t made the steps to becoming a member of our church, then do so today. We’d love for you to come and be a part of our family. Start that process by attending our upcoming Intro to Grace Life on November 13th.

The Lord has been so faithful to us. Let’s gather together, as members of the church, and celebrate His faithfulness.

 

By His Grace,

Pastor Matt and Pastor Ben

Why the Reformation Matters Today

This coming Monday is Halloween, ending the second largest retail season of the year, only behind the Christmas season. While many people will celebrate with candy and costumes, for Christians, today represents a significant moment in church history. On October 31st, 1517, Martin Luther, a Roman Catholic Monk, nailed his 95 theses to the door of his church. Luther wrote these words out of a deep concern with the Roman Catholic Church’s view on several issues that Luther deemed unBiblical. His efforts lead to what is now referred to as the Protestant Reformation.

I don’t want to spend this entire post recounting the historical moments that both preceded and succeeded Luther’s actions on this day. If you want to read more about Reformation Day, I’ll provide a few links at the bottom. You can also read more from this blog post.

What I want to write about is how the Reformation impacts us today. Though they were flawed men and women, the stance taken by the Reformers 500 plus years ago is a model for us today. 

We must take a stand for the Gospel.

After Luther posted his 95 theses, he knew he would have to defend his claims. So he stood before the Emperor of Rome and, knowing he may very well lose his life, stated, “Here I stand. I can do no other. So help me, God.”

What Luther was standing for was the Gospel. While the church he served under said salvation can be earned or paid for or you can pay your relatives out of purgatory,  Luther read from the Scriptures that our righteousness was like filthy rags and the only hope for salvation is through Jesus Christ. After years of hating what he was reading in the Scriptures, he fell in love with the righteousness of God. Christ died for our sins and it is his righteousness that is placed on us.

This, among other doctrinal concerns, led Luther to take a stand against the Roman Catholic’s idea of the Gospel. His influence then is an example for us today. In the midst of so many false gospels, we must take a stand for the true Gospel of Jesus Christ; that salvation comes by grace alone, through faith alone, in Jesus Christ alone (Ephesians 2:8-9).

The church in Luther’s day wanted to make sinners look good, but as Luther put it: “Sinners are attractive because they are loved; they are not loved because they are attractive.”

While we take a stand for the gospel, it also means we take a stand against false gospels taught by churches. Whether it’s the deceitful prosperity Gospel or a works-based gospel, we must take a stand for the Gospel. Taking a stand for the Gospel has never been popular, but if we fail to take a stand, then who will? The apostle Paul took a stand for Gospel priority by calling out those who abandoned the Gospel of Jesus:

[6] I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel—[7] not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. [8] But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. [9] As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed. [10] For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ. (Galatians 1:6–10)

We must take a stand for the Scriptures.

Luther’s conflict with the church began when the church’s teachings collided with his understanding of the Scripture. He was a Scholar and when he realized that the church was teaching something contrary to the Word of God, he spoke up. He saw God’s Word as authoritative and should be available to all people.

God’s Word must be the authority in our lives. It’s how we learn about God, his grace, and his forgiveness through Jesus (2 Timothy 3:16-17). The Holy Spirit uses Scripture to convict us daily. To limit its authority is a dangerous step towards apostasy. The church must teach and disciple believers on how to read and study the scriptures.  

We also must make sure that all we do within the church is founded on the teachings of the Bible. Our traditions, our theology, and our individual and corporate practice must be grounded in the Word of God. Luther stood up for the authority of the Scriptures during a time when the Catholic church claimed to hold all authority.

We must take a stand for God’s Glory.

It may sound odd, but the church today needs Jesus. While Luther’s church may have said “Jesus!”, everything else said other-wise. It was about the church, it was about the Pope, it was about money. It was about everything other than Jesus. Unfortunately, too many churches have become about other ideas other than Jesus.

If programs, methods, or anything else becomes more important than Jesus, then we’ve missed it. If we give over to more lights or more buildings or more “attractiveness” and set Jesus to the side, then it’s necessary to evaluate our churches. The Reformers understood that it was through Christ alone and it was for God’s glory alone. They weren’t out to make a name for themselves or for their church, they only desired to make a name for Jesus. 

Here are a few indicators that a reformation may be needed within a church:

  • If the worship is about how well done and entertaining the music is and not about who God is, then a reformation is needed.
  • If the preaching becomes about the speaker’s giftedness or focuses on relative topics and opinions and not about the teaching of God’s Word, then a reformation is needed.
  • If the church becomes inwardly focused and not focused on the spreading of the gospel to people outside the church, then a reformation is needed.

It’s never been about us; it must always be about God’s glory.

So much more could be said about the influence of the Reformers. Their impact 500 years ago should influence us to take a stand for Scripture Alone, Faith Alone, Grace Alone, Christ Alone, and to the Glory of God Alone. May we all be reformers in our churches.

Happy Reformation Day.

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ARTICLES

What is Reformation Day? – ligonier.com

3 Things Every Christian Should Know About the Reformation. – thegospelcoalition.com

Here We Stood (a brief history of Martin Luther) – desiringgod.org

The Reformation and your Church – 9marks.org (This is a Fall Journal loaded with great articles on the reformation. Save this link and read/watch/listen to everything that is included.

DOCUMENTARIES AND PODCASTS

Luther: The Life and Legacy of the German Reformer – Watch this documentary in its entirety to discover the events God used in Martin Luther’s life that led him to rediscover the gospel of justification by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone.

Luther in Real Time – It’s 1520. Martin Luther has been declared a heretic by Pope Leo X, and his books are being burned. How much longer before Luther himself is thrown into the fire?

Enter the German Reformer’s dramatic story with Luther: In Real Time. First released 500 years after the events described, this podcast allows you to walk in Martin Luther’s footsteps from his heresy charges to his famous stand for the authority of God’s Word at the Diet of Worms. Share this podcast with people of all ages so they can hear—in Luther’s own words—what Protestants are protesting and why it still matters today.

Standing Against A Modern Day Indulgence

From the Elders of Grace Life Church: This post continues a month long look into the Protestant Reformation. See the previous post on “What is the Protestant Reformation?” here. There is much we can learn from church history, mainly, the encouragement from men and women who boldly stood in the face of false teaching. One such example is provided below and written by one of our church members and LifeGroup leader, Josh Bird. 

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On October 31, 1517, a German monk posted a challenge to debate on the doors of the Wittenberg Church. That German monk was named Martin Luther, and the challenge to debate was on his 95 theses.  Today, the posting of the 95 theses is viewed as the beginning of the Protestant reformation. It certainly wasn’t the beginning of the reformation as several reformers preceded Luther, and it wasn’t Luther’s intent to start a reformation.  

We romanticize the moment in hindsight.  We think of Luther nailing the theses to the door with every hammer blow thunderously shattering against the Catholic church.  But that was not Luther’s intent at all. In fact, Luther posting his theses was like posting on a bulletin board.  Luther did not even post the theses in German, the common language. He posted them originally in Latin, the language of the academics. Some of his students translated his theses into common German, and once the laity were able to read the theses, a spark ignited into a flame which remains unquenched today.

Luther’s intent was to have an open discussion and debate about what he felt were abuses within the church, particularly with the selling of indulgences.  The Catholic catechism defines indulgences as follows: “An indulgence is a remission before God of the temporal punishment due to sins whose guilt has already been forgiven, which the faithful Christian who is duly disposed gains under certain prescribed conditions through the action of the Church which as the minister of redemption dispenses and applies with authority the treasury of the satisfactions of Christ and the saints.”

Under Catholic theology, when one dies and they are a believer, they are not immediately allowed to enter Heaven. They undergo what is called Purgatory. A Protestant understanding may describe this as further sanctification from sins in purgatory until they are allowed to enter Heaven.  Indulgences were sold by the Catholic church which would allow a reduction in time one had to spend in Purgatory. Indulgences could be bought on one’s behalf, or on behalf of the dead, such as a departed relative. As John Tetzel, a prominent seller of indulgences stated, “as soon as a coin in the coffer rings, the soul from purgatory springs.”

In the early 1500’s, indulgences were sold to help pay for the rebuilding of St. Peter’s in Rome.  Luther felt that this practice was being abused and that the poor were being taken advantage of.  Luther stated in his theses that “they preach human folly who pretend that as soon as money in the coffer rings a soul from purgatory springs.” 

While the reformation primarily focused on issues of faith and justification, it started as an argument about indulgences.  An argument that Luther eventually seems to have won. The Catholic church outlawed the sale of indulgences in 1567, though the practice of earning indulgences is alive today.  But while the Reformers battled indulgences and buying God’s favor, today, there is a popular and prominent theology which seems to focus on the worldly. That false teaching has come to be known as the Prosperity Gospel. Prosperity theology teaches that God is predominantly concerned with a believer’s health, wealth, and prosperity is rampant. 

Prosperity theology operates on the assumption that it is God’s will to have financial blessings in this life. Oftentimes this blessing comes in the form of “sowing a seed,” via tithing to the church.  One prominent prosperity teacher stated in 2015 that “Jesus bled and died for us so that we can lay claim to the promise of financial prosperity.” He would delete the statement, but he never actually or formally retracted his statement to my knowledge.  His further writing seems to show he still believes that logic.  He would later go on to say, “He took our sins upon himself and exchanged them for His righteousness so that we could become enriched and abundantly supplied.” 

He looks to 2 Corinthians 8:9 as proof for his assertion which says,

“For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich.” But if you read that verse within the context of the entire chapter, it’s easy to see where he gets it wrong. 2 Corinthians 8:1-3 says “we want you to know brothers about the grace of God that has been given among the churches of Macedonia, for in a severe test of affliction, their abundance of joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part. For they gave according to their means, as I can testify and beyond their means of their own accord.” (Emphasis added). 

When we look at the entirety of the chapter, it has nothing to do with obtaining worldly wealth, but a wealth of joy at the great news of Jesus Christ. Out of this joy, the Macedonians gave to continue spreading the word of God and help fellow brothers and sisters in Christ who were in need.  

In his book “Your Best Life Now,” Joel Osteen also argues that “God wants us to constantly be increasing, to be rising to new heights. He wants to increase you in His wisdom and help you to make better decisions. God Wants to increase you financially, by giving you promotions, fresh ideas, and creativity.” He then goes on to argue that “you must conceive it in your heart and mind before you can receive it. In other words, you must make room for increase in your own thinking, then God will bring those to pass. Until you learn how to enlarge your vision, seeing the future through your eyes of faith, your own wrong thinking will prevent good things from happening in your life.”

Joel Osteen starts out on bad footing.  First, he creates a vision in which a Christian is supposed to be constantly seeking after things of this world, financial gain, promotions, etc. Consider Paul’s words in Philippians 4:12-13, “I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.” Contrasted with the constantly seeking more version of Christianity from Joel Osteen, Paul talks of having as much contentment in prison as when he had abundance. Paul can do this because he has Christ.

The next thing to notice about Osteen’s premise, is it’s works-oriented. Notice that we are not responding to God, but it is God who is responding to us.  God will not bless us, we are told, until we have enlarged our vision, increased our thinking, and then God will respond by blessing us with good things in our life. Ignoring that prosperity theology has us focus on the wrong thing, financial and worldly position, it also ignores that we can do no good work but by God acting through us. We can produce no fruit unless we abide in Jesus Christ, the True Vine (John 15:4).  

While our fight may no longer be against indulgences, we fight against the false teachings of the Prosperity Gospel by standing on the right teachings of Scripture. We proclaim the spiritual and eternal “riches of God’s mercy” (Ephesians 2:4-10; Romans 11:33-36) and we trust that the Lord sovereignly cares for us in the abundance and in the little (Matthew 6:25-34; 2 Corinthians 12:9) and our earthly possessions in no way communicate the strength of our faith. We are recipients of saving grace and we testify to the world that the undeserved grace of the forgiveness of sins is far greater than any earthly wealth or prosperity.

As we come up on the anniversary of the Reformation. It is important to remember that we must always be reforming. We do this by remembering the five Solas of the reformation: Sola Scriptura (“Scripture alone”), Sola Fide (“Faith alone”), Sola Gratia (“Grace alone”), Solus Christus (“Christ alone”), and Soli Deo Gloria (“To the Glory of God alone”).  We must remember that the Bible is our highest authority. That we are saved by faith alone. This faith is through grace alone. Christ is our only Lord, Savior, and King. And we must live our lives to the Glory of God alone. As Scripture refers to the Church as Christ’s bridegroom, we must remember that in sickness and in health, in wealth and in poverty, we have all that we need through Christ.

Why we’re studying Galatians in our LifeGroups

Next week, we will begin a new LifeGroup study through the Apostle Paul’s letter to the Galatians. To help us prepare for the study, our Elders, Pastor Matt and Pastor Ben, sat down together and talked a little about our upcoming study in Galatians.

Listen to their conversation on our main podcast channel or you can listen to it here.

To prepare for our study, go to thegracelifechurch.org/galatians or find our study on Galatians on the Grace Life App.

Blessings!

What is the Protestant Reformation?

While many people are prepping their costumes and candy buckets for Halloween, October 31st marks a significant day in church history. On October 31st, 1517, Martin Luther, a Roman Catholic Monk, nailed his 95 theses to the door of his church. Luther wrote these words out of a deep concern with the Roman Catholic Church’s view on several issues that Luther deemed unBiblical. His efforts led to what is now referred to as the Protestant Reformation. Christians now see October 31st as Reformation Day.

For the next couple of weeks, we’re going to look at the Reformation and how it impacts us today, 500 plus years later. First, let’s take a brief look at the historical context leading up to the Protestant Reformation. Much has been written on the Reformation, so allow me to give a short summary, specifically looking at Martin Luther’s role in the Reformation. Additional resources will be provided below.

Leading up to the 1500s, The Roman Catholic Church had substantially departed from the teaching of the Apostles recorded in the New Testament and heretical teachings were being promoted by monks all the way to the Pope.

In July of 1505, a young man named Martin Luther was on his way home when he was nearly struck by lightning. Seeing he was in the throes of death, he cried out “Help me, St. Anne! I will become a monk.” And so he did, abandoning his plans to become a lawyer. At 21, Martin Luther kept his vow from that stormy walk home and became an Augustinian Monk.

When Luther was given the tasks to lead in his first Mass, he was overcome by his sinfulness and God’s greatness. He was barely able to make it through Mass and considered running away from his duties in fear of again being confronted by a Holy God. But he kept to his commitment and continued on, despite the insistent reign of fear of God in his life. 

Luther was very much in tune with the depravity of his own soul, spending hours and hours in the confessional booth. He wrote later on in his life, “Though I lived as a monk without reproach, I felt that I was a sinner before God with an extremely disturbed conscience. I could not believe that he was placated by my satisfaction” (Selections, 12).

While Luther was deep in despair over his unworthiness, a close friend, Johannes von Staupitz, gave Luther several opportunities to teach from God’s Word and soon became a theological professor at Wittenberg University in Germany. It was through his preparations for his classes that the Holy Spirit struck the heart of the German monk and confronted him about his unrighteousness. It had been clear to this point that Luther despised all teachings on righteousness because he fully believed it was impossible to obtain it. It was here when he realized that righteousness comes by faith alone, Christ alone, for the glory of God alone.

This life changing gift of salvation spurred Martin Luther to eventually forsake the teachings of the Catholic church and stand firm to the teachings of Scripture. He proclaimed that justification came by faith alone in Christ alone and that no one deserved grace, let alone could earn it or pay for it. His teachings on the truth of Scripture caused an uproar within the Catholic Church, leading the Pope to admittedly deny Luther’s, and ultimately the Scripture’s, teachings as “A cesspool of heresies”. Luther didn’t care and stated as much when he nailed his 95 Thesis to the doors of his church.

Two great issues were at stake during the Reformation, justification by faith alone (sola fide) and the authority of Scripture alone in the life of the church and the believer (sola Scriptura). The efforts to return to the Apostolic teachings contained within the 66 books of the Bible was at the forefront of the Reformation. Men Like Luther, John Calvin, John Knox, and so many others wanted to see the church reformed or changed in such a way that tradition became secondary and God’s Word became primary.

Martin Luther was excommunicated from the Catholic Church and when asked to recant his teachings at the Diet of Worms in 1521, Martin Luther stated,

“If, then, I am not convinced by testimonies of Scripture or by clear rational arguments—for I do not believe in the pope or in councils alone, since it has been established that they have often erred and contradicted each other—I am bound by the Bible texts that I have quoted. And as long as my conscience is captive to the Word of God, I cannot nor do I want to retract anything when things become doubtful. Salvation will be threatened if you go against your conscience. Here I stand; I can do no other. May God help me. Amen.”

The life of Martin Luther and the men of the Reformation is a reminder that we too must stand firm on the teachings of God’s Word in the face of heretical malpractice and cultural denial. It is from God’s Word we know the universal need for salvation from God’s wrath and sin and it is from God’s Word we learn that this precious salvation comes to us through Christ and Christ alone. There is no other Savior. Here we stand.

 

ADDITIONAL RESOURCES

What is Reformation Day? – ligonier.com

3 Things Every Christian Should Know About the Reformation. – thegospelcoalition.com

Here We Stood (a brief history of Martin Luther) – desiringgod.org

Luther at the Diet of Worms. – Crossway.org

The Reformation and your Church – 9marks.org (This is a Fall Journal loaded with great articles on the reformation. Save this link and read/watch/listen to everything that is included.)

Luther: The Life and Legacy of the German Reformer – Watch this documentary in its entirety to discover the events God used in Martin Luther’s life that led him to rediscover the gospel of justification by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone.

Luther in Real Time – It’s 1520. Martin Luther has been declared a heretic by Pope Leo X, and his books are being burned. How much longer before Luther himself is thrown into the fire? Enter the German Reformer’s dramatic story with Luther: In Real Time. First released 500 years after the events described, this podcast allows you to walk in Martin Luther’s footsteps from his heresy charges to his famous stand for the authority of God’s Word at the Diet of Worms. Share this podcast with people of all ages so they can hear—in Luther’s own words—what Protestants are protesting and why it still matters today.

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