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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.

The Importance of Congregational Singing

Throughout church history, one of the primary elements of the gathered church has been to worship through music. Whether led by an organ, a piano, a band, or a cantor, to go to a Sunday gathering of the church and not participate in music in some form would be quite strange. Some point to handwritten collections of songs from the Middle Ages as the earliest types of hymnals, but these people forget an even earlier source: the book of Psalms! In fact, certain editions of the Bible make it clear that it’s actually a collection of five sets of songs (1-41, 42-72, 73-89, 90-106, 107-150). So why have these included in the Bible? What’s the big deal about singing?

We are commanded to sing.

Psalm 96:1-2 Oh sing to the Lord a new song; sing to the Lord, all the earth!  Sing to the Lord, bless his name; tell of his salvation from day to day.

The word sing appears in the scriptures over 400 times and at least 50 are commands. Singing is a uniquely human activity, and it connects our breath and body to the outside world in a way nothing else can. It does not matter how good we believe our voice is. Much like faith, it is the object of our singing, not the quality of the voice, that matters. Singing and music allows us to express something beyond just words. And imagine this scene from after the last supper:

Matthew 26:30 And when they had sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives.

The disciples are not professionally trained musicians. But under the leadership of Jesus, they sang together as an act of worship. So if we are to follow Christ’s example, then this practice of singing with His disciples is further proof of obedience to a command. We also know that singing will be part of our eternal lives, as shown in Revelation 5:11-13.

When we sing, we connect our hearts to deep theological truths.

Colossians 3:16 Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God.

It is no accident that singing is found in this list that begins with “let the word of Christ dwell in your richly.” Singing brings an aspect of memory that can help us align our hearts if those lyrics come out of the Bible (or at least Biblical truths). As we jump into the Romans 8 series, we are intentionally singing some songs that are Scripture passages set to music. How powerful to have these tunes playing in our heads and hearts as we go through the week!

When we sing, we connect to those we are singing with.

Ephesians 5:15-21 Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is. And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.

Both this passage and the one from Colossians 3 have an important phrase- they both have an element of “one another.” Singing in a group is powerful, because it reminds us that we are not alone, and helps to draw our attention to God as the aim of our praises or pleas. There is value in music used for personal worship time, but the encouragement from the church raising voices together gives gusto to the soul and gladdens the heart. The passage here contrasts the goodness of music to the deceitful “pleasures” or the world. A heart brimming with joy for the Lord cannot help but express itself.

When we sing, we outwardly proclaim the truth of God’s Word.

Acts 16:25  About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them.

Singing hymns and spiritual songs are a witness not only to the church but also to the outside world.  When our lives are filled with music that points us to Jesus, then when others enter into our lives, they cannot help but see how different and unselfish the music liturgy of the church is to most other music available. That doesn’t mean that we must go around and sing aloud in all of our daily tasks. But if we allow the music of God’s people to permeate our consciousness, then it will not be a surprise when you find yourself humming or singing quietly a song that orients your heart towards Jesus.

This is why we make singing a priority in our Sunday morning gatherings. We don’t pretend to be the best, but we bring our best in pointing to THE best, Jesus, our Lord and Savior. And when we consider His sacrifice for us, His love, His patience, His grace and mercy, how can we help ourselves but to sing? No matter how bad you may think your voice is, it is more encouraging to hear an authentic cry of praise than the most beautiful singing without knowing Jesus. Remember that our singing is not ultimately about us, but about God and how we can connect to Him and His people. So, sing! Sing to God! Sing to one another!

Love in Christ,

Pastor Ben

The Greatest Chapter in the Bible

A few months ago, my family found a documentary series on the International Space Station. Since then, we’ve been pretty enamored by space. We’ve woken up early to see the space station passing by us and we’ve prepared to watch the recent Artemis mission launch, but it was rescheduled to launch later this month. Along the way, we learned more about the James Webb Space Telescope, which NASA launched in December of last year. The JWST is 100 times more powerful than the Hubble Space Telescope and uses infrared light to peer through dense layers of space dust. 

In July, NASA released the very first images captured by this telescope. You can look at these remarkable images here, all of them displaying God’s magnificent creation.

The enormity of the universe is virtually impossible to grasp. NASA explains that the SMACS 0723 image is “approximately the size of a grain of sand held at arm’s length.” So, find a grain of sand, hold it up to the night sky, and imagine that in it are thousands of galaxies we can see with the most powerful telescope we’ve ever constructed—and certainly countless more galaxies we cannot yet see. You can read more about it here.

I look at these pictures and I think of the enormous depths of space and think, how big is our God, the creator of it all! These pictures show us the glorious depths of God’s creation. And yet, the glorious God behind the great depths of space is not beyond them. He is near. While there are deep pockets of space we won’t see on this side of heaven, the glorious depths of God’s Gospel can be known and there are glorious depths to God’s gospel that we must search and discover for our own souls. 

But we don’t need a telescope or a microscope even; we have the book of Romans, which church history has called, “The greatest letter ever written”. Within the greatest letter ever written is what many, myself included, have called “The greatest chapter in the Bible”, Romans 8.

The Letter of Romans gives us the glorious depths of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. There are some of you here who are (1) questioning this gospel and maybe skeptical of it, (2) just dipping your toes into grace, or (3) ready to dive into the depths of God’s grace. No matter where you are, my prayer for you is to me amazed by the splendor of our God. It’s what Paul writes in Romans 11:33-36,

Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways! “For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been his counselor?” “Or who has given a gift to him that he might be repaid?” For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen.” – Romans 11:33–36

The entire letter shares with us that God has revealed the gracious depths of His righteousness to us. 

We see from Romans 1:1-7 that the Apostle Paul is the author of this letter to the house churches in Rome. He wrote this letter in roughly AD 56 during his third missionary journey while he was in Corinth (Italy) on his way to Jerusalem. You have to look at the final chapters to see a few of the reasons why he wrote this letter. He wrote this letter to (1) unite the Jews and Gentiles and (2) raise money for his mission trip to Spain, in which he hoped to stop by to see these brothers and sisters in Rome (Romans 15:24-25). 

It’s really by reading the entirety of the letter that we see why Paul wrote this letter to these Christians: he wanted them to explore the depths of the gospel.

This letter is a gospel treatise, an overflowing fountain of grace and mercy. It is saturated with Gospel goodness. It is rich in Gospel hope. And Paul invites his readers then and his readers now to discover the depths of Christ’s Gospel. Because A heart that has explored the depths of the gospel is a heart that overflows with gospel joy.

Paul encourages to keep going deeper into the endless wells of God’s grace to scrape the barrels dry only to discover it never does run empty. The depths of this gospel of grace that never ends is the theme of the entire letter. Grace upon grace from the God who is rich in grace. Not only is the gospel the central theme of this letter, but it must be the central theme of our lives. And for the gospel to be the central theme in our lives, then we must dive deep. And when we do, we can along with Paul declare, 

“For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, “The righteous shall live by faith.” – Romans 1:16–17

The gospel is Paul’s reason not only for writing, but for living! This gospel message is not just interesting information, but a transforming declaration! As we dive into the depths of God’s righteousness over the next several weeks, I pray the Lord will continue to stir within our hearts an overflowing joy for who He is and all that He has done for us. 

If you missed Sunday’s sermon, be sure to listen to it here.

By His Grace,

Pastor Matt

Community Matters: The Importance of LifeGroups

One of my favorite questions that I’ve heard over the past few weeks has been “When do LifeGroups start back up?” I love this because it shows the love that the people of Grace Life have for one another, the desire to step into deep community and to both encourage and be encouraged by the family into which God has brought us. This week resumes that practice of gathering together outside of Sunday morning, perhaps sharing a meal, and definitely sharing what Christ is doing in our lives and the struggles that come in facing this fallen world. So, as we get back into the weekly routine of LifeGroups, I want to remind you of why community matters and encourage those of you who maybe have not been a part of a LifeGroup lately (or ever!) to join in.

Gospel community matters because we are designed to do life together.

Genesis 2:18 Then the Lord God said, “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him.”

From creation, man was never meant to be alone. Adam had all of creation to name, and communion with God, and yet God says that it is not good for him to be by himself. The directives that come to Adam and Eve as well as Noah after the flood are to populate the earth with more human beings. Humans need other humans! And Christians need other Christians, which why the writer of Hebrews says this:

Hebrews 10:24-25 And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, 25 not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.

To neglect to be with God’s people is a loss not only of how you might be encouraged and stirred up to love and good works, but also that you miss the opportunity to do that for others. This is one of the basic functions of the church.

Gospel community matters because we need to be reminded of the Gospel.

1 Peter 1:22-23 Having purified your souls by your obedience to the truth for a sincere brotherly love, love one another earnestly from a pure heart, since you have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God.

The family of God we enter is connected solely through the Gospel message of salvation through Jesus Christ. Who else can you talk to about such spiritual things if not spiritual people? The world seeks to confuse us, to ridicule us, or perhaps to leave us to our own “foolish” devices. But the community of fellow believers shares the perspective of seeing the truth about our world and how it works. God’s people are not exempt from struggles, and in those difficult times, the church reminds us of God’s ever-present help in those times. We get to share the reminder of God’s promise of new mercies every morning, of no condemnation for we who are in Christ, that God is working everything out for our good and His glory.

Gospel community matters because we need a place to confess and repent of our sins.

Galatians 6:1-4 Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted. Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ. For if anyone thinks he is something, when he is nothing, he deceives himself. But let each one test his own work, and then his reason to boast will be in himself alone and not in his neighbor.

We are not perfect people. We mess up. We do harm to others, whether intentionally or unintentionally. And we need to have a place where we can seek forgiveness without judgment. The beauty of being saved by Christ means that another who is also saved has seen their own deep faults and can offer forgiveness in light of that.

But the other side of the coin is that we have to be willing to forgive others in our faith tribe as well. We have to take stock in the great sin that seeks to destroy us and realize just how good Jesus is in forgiving all of those thoughts and actions known only to God. And from that realization, there is no offense to great that man can put on us that we cannot forgive, and to do so in a spirit of gentleness.

Gospel community matters because God calls us to be there for each other.

Colossians 3:12-15 Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful.

This is not a suggestion, or just a good idea. We as the church are called locally to a people gathered together because of what Christ has done in our lives, and the picture of how we treat one another is found in the way in which we strive to love each other as Christ has loved us. This doesn’t mean that we will connect deeply with every single person, but it does remind us that whether we know a fellow believer a little or a lot, our posture should always be one of compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, patience, forgiveness, and love.

If you feel alone, if this type of community is tugging at your heart, if the Spirit is calling out your fear of being known which is causing you to miss out on the joy of being loved, join a LifeGroup. The imperfect people of God come together in a way that no other community can. You can find more information about LifeGroups by clicking here.

Love in Christ,
Pastor Ben

Resources for Christian Parenting

In January of this year, a news story broke of a 12 year old young girl who attempted to seriously harm herself. After the parents did some investigating, they learned that the school counselor allegedly encouraged this young girl to transition. The parents alleged their daughter was given a new name and they were never informed about it, which they believe led to their daughter’s pain.

A story like this is unfortunately very familiar to us now. We’ve read and watched with our own eyes as kids are encouraged to attend drag shows, read essentially pornographic material as they explore their bodies, and consider abandoning the design God has for them. We respond with anger and sadness and deep concern, but as we watch and read, we internally say, “That wouldn’t happen here.”

 

Except the story above comes to you from a school in our own county. 

 

In the story of Cain and Abel from Genesis 4, the Lord confronts Cain regarding his offering and says to him, 

“but for Cain and his offering he had no regard. So Cain was very angry, and his face fell. The LORD said to Cain, ‘Why are you angry, and why has your face fallen? If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door. Its desire is contrary to you, but you must rule over it’.” (Genesis 4:5–7)

Sin and evil is crouching at the door waiting to attack. Sin’s desire is to take us out and to rule over us. And the devil himself, while not omnipresent, is seeking to devour us. It’s why Peter says,

Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.” (1 Peter 5:8)

As parents, we have been given the responsibility to care, protect, and disciple our children. We have been entrusted by their Creator to nurture them and raise them up to know the Lord. And I think we can all be honest in saying, parenting today is challenging! But what I want to encourage us today is parenting has been the same for all of history. The distractions are different, the culture is different, and the temptations are different, yet at the core is the same root issue: your child is a depraved sinner. (Romans 5:12) 

This past Sunday, we looked at Deuteronomy 6:1-9 to see what the Bible has to say about Christian parenting. We looked at this text because it is not helpful to give you five steps to better parenting because those steps often treat the symptoms and not the disease. I wanted to give you a Biblical foundation to your parenting. 

Parenting in a hyper-sexual culture is not for the faint of heart. Boys and girls are introduced to some form of pornography between the ages of 5 and 10. From a Christian perspective, the goal is not just to prevent porn exposure, but rather to teach God’s design for sex, establish clear and open communication, and acknowledge the dangers.

There is a difference between not allowing access to YouTube, social media, or even iPhones or iPads and teaching them God’s design for sex. Instead of a mindset of preventing porn exposure, we need to have a mindset of preparing for porn exposure. This provides action steps when your child is “accidentally” exposed to pornographic material (whether explicit or inexplicit such as provocative television commercials) or their eyes begin wandering at the pool or beach. Yes, we prevent, but we also prepare.

We prepare them for porn exposure by teaching them the truths of Scripture and the importance of accountability. If you notice, we take the same first measures in our parenting as we do in our personal fight against sexual sin.

Scripture teaches our children God’s design.  Our children need to know that sex is God’s design between a married man and woman for life. We are proclaiming God’s design for marriage, sex, and gender because it is God’s design that is actively being attacked in our culture. We fight the lies of Satan with the truth of God. Any conversation concerning sex should be grounded in Scripture and celebrated as a gift from the Lord for a husband and wife. Read to them God’s design for sex and marriage from Genesis 1-2.

Open communication leads to intentional accountability – Talking to your children about sex in an age appropriate manner makes you the expert on the topic. They hear it from you first before they hear it on the playground or in a video game chat. Most importantly, they hear the truth behind sex found in God’s Word. Regardless of the topic, teaching the truth of God’s Word to our children before they hear the lies of the world will serve them well.

As you seek to be Biblically grounded parents, take the time to open the Bible and candidly talk to your children about God’s design for sex and their bodies. Here are a few additional resources that will help you in this conversation:

The Talk: 7 Lessons to Introduce Your Child to Biblical Sexuality by Luke Gilkerson

God Made All of Me: A Book to Help Children Protect Their Bodies by Justin and Lindsey Holcomb

Good Pictures Bad Pictures Jr.: A Simple Plan to Protect Young Minds by Kristen Jenson (Ages 3-6)

Good Pictures Bad Pictures: Porn-Proofing Today’s Young Kids by Kristen Jenson

Raising Teens in a Hyper-sexualized World by Eliza Huie

 

ADDITIONAL RESOURCES ON GENDER AND SEXUALITY

God and the Transgender Debate by Andrew Walker

Good God, Gay Girl by Jackie Hill Perry

Transgender by Vaughan Roberts

What Does the Bible Really Teach about Homosexuality? by Kevin DeYoung

I pray the truths from Scripture and these resources will encourage you in your parenting. And as always, if you ever need help, please let me know.

By His Grace,

Pastor Matt

A Great Cloud of Witnesses: Learning from Church History

* Blog Picture is of Lottie Moon from IMB.org

We recently wrapped up our summer long sermon series on Hebrews 11, a series that pointed us to the faithfulness of God in our lives. The men and women of Hebrews 11 are examples of God’s great faithfulness to His people. We see in Hebrews 12:1-2 that we are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses, men and women who have gone before us who testify to us of God’s faithfulness. 

I want to share with you a little more information on the men and women I shared with you in the sermon from Sunday and a few resources you can read to learn more about church history.

 

Stephen Langton

Hebrews 11 is incomplete without Hebrews 12:1-2. The Bibles we read from have a helpful tool of which we have given little to no thought. The chapter divisions commonly used today were developed by Stephen Langton, an Archbishop of Canterbury. Langton put the modern chapter divisions into place around A.D. 1227. The Wycliffe English Bible of 1382 was the first Bible to use this chapter pattern. Since the Wycliffe Bible, nearly all Bible translations have followed Langton’s chapter divisions. Up until that point, Scripture was a flowing document only divided by books. 

I’m thankful for the chapter and verse divisions in our Bibles. It helps us find Scripture quicker and easier. But they often do a disservice when it comes to understanding the context of a text of Scripture. One example of this is Hebrews 12:1-12.

 

Polycarp 

Polycarp was born in 69 AD and was believed to have been a disciple of the Beloved Disciple John. He was arrested for his faith when he was 86 years old! Dr. Timothy George sets the scene of Polycarp’s death for us. (1)  

“It was game day in Smyrna, a holiday. Twenty-thousand bloodthirsty fans of torture and violence had turned out to see the shows. This violence was by design. Smyrna was the epicenter of the Roman spectacle. Up in Pergamum, just a few miles to the north, there was a school for training gladiators. The program of the day went like this: In the morning, the wild animals were let loose into the arena, hunted down and killed. Later in the day, the gladiators themselves would fight. But in the afternoon, with the sun high in the sky, it was time for the execution of the criminals. There were a lot of them: slaves, war captives, arsonists, murderers and those like Polycarp who had committed sacrilege by refusing to honor the godhead of Caesar and who would not take the easy way out.

So the proconsul said to Polycarp, “Take the oath. I will let you go. Just revile Christ.” Polycarp answered, “For eighty and six years I have been his servant, and he has done me no wrong. And how can I now blaspheme my king who saved me?” 

He offered a prayer in the name of the triune God, and then he was bound. The wood was lit. Like Jesus, who was crucified naked, Polycarp entered the flames without his clothes. But when they saw that his body would not be burned by the fire, an executioner was called to stab him with a dagger. And so he was killed by fire and sword. About a generation after Polycarp, another great teacher of the early church, Tertullian, made a famous statement we often remember: “The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church.” That man was Tertullian.

 

TERTULLIAN

He was born around 170 AD in North Africa, and after his conversion, spoke strongly concerning the doctrine of God and was strongly opposed to society’s wickedness. As far as we know, he was the first person in the history of the church to use the word “Trinity” to summarize the New Testament teaching.

Reflecting on the early days of persecution amongst Christianity  Tertullian penned these words to the Roman emperor to show him that the gospel was indeed thriving despite the persecution: “We are but of yesterday, yet we fill your cities, islands, forts, towns, councils, even camps, tribes, the palace, the senate, the forum; we have left you the temples alone.”

 

JOHANN VON STAUPITZ

Fast forward several centuries to 1469, a man named Johann Von Staupitz was born in Germany. Staupitz was a Christian scholar who was asked to help start a new university in Wittenberg, Germany. It was there he met a young monk who was a professor at the university at the time. Here is how one author recorded it. (2)

“This young man was struggling with the need to confess completely everything he had ever done wrong. He wore Johann von Staupitz out, trying to remember every sin that his mind would try to cover up. On at least one occasion, he confessed for six hours straight.

Johann tried to explain God’s grace to the young man. Surrender to the love of God, he counseled.  Lose himself in God, he said. He was making religion too difficult. All he needed to do was love God. But the young man was tormented by fears and doubts. “I was myself more than once driven to the very abyss of despair so that I wished I had never been created. Love God? I hated him!”

“I don’t understand it!” replied the long suffering Johann when the student reported this latest line of reasoning to him. He reminded him that Christ died to remit our sins. However, the student was so afraid of Christ, the judge, that he could not turn to him for relief. Eventually, that young man came to know Christ as Savior. His name was Martin Luther who would go on to be a leading Reformer and post the 95 Theses which spoke against the teachings of the Catholic church. If it had not been for Dr. Staupitz, I should have sunk in hell,” said Martin Luther.

 

GEORGE LIELE 

Germany feels so far away, so let’s bring church history a little closer to home. George Liele came to Christ in 1773, at the age of twenty-three, and was baptized by his white pastor, Matthew Moore. Sometime after Liele’s conversion, his owner, Henry Sharp, who was a Baptist deacon, gave Liele his freedom so he could pursue God’s call. Liele preached for two years in the slave quarters of plantations surrounding Savannah and into South Carolina after his conversion. Because of his faithfulness and powerful preaching of the Word, many surrendered their lives to Christ. George Liele was ordained on May 20, 1775, becoming the first ordained African American Baptist preacher in America. After his ordination, he planted the first African American Baptist Church in North America, a church still in existence today.

In 1778, Henry Sharp was killed in the Revolutionary War. After his death, Sharp’s heirs took steps to re-enslave Liele. As a result of their actions, Liele was thrown in jail. Eventually, he was able to produce proper documentation concerning his freedom and was set free. Soon after his release, George and his wife, Hannah, and their four children left Savannah and landed in Kingston, Jamaica, in 1782 where they served as missionaries to the Jamaican people. 

Not only was Liele an effective missionary and evangelist, he was known for encouraging his converts to go preach the gospel to the lost. As a result of his leadership, they went to Savannah, Georgia, Nova Scotia, and Sierra Leone.

Adoniram Judson is often cited as the first Baptist missionary from the United States. But, in fact, this designation belongs to George Liele. His story is an important part of missionary history and is worthy of emulation.

 

LOTTIE MOON

Lottie Moon is an inspiration to all Christians and her story is a vital part of the International Mission Board’s (IMB) efforts to send out more missionaries and raise financial funds to support them. Here is Lottie Moon’s story, as told by the IMB. (3)

Born Charlotte Digges Moon, December 12, 1840, in Albemarle County, Virginia. Lottie rebelled against Christianity until she was in college. In December 1858, she dedicated her life to Christ and was baptized at First Baptist Church, Charlottesville, Virginia. In 1873, Lottie, as a single woman, left home to take the gospel message to China. Lottie served 39 years as a missionary, mostly in China’s Shantung province. She taught in a girls’ school and often made trips into China’s interior to share the good news with women and girls.

A young woman serving as a clerk for the Foreign Mission Board signed for the small brown package. She probably wasn’t aware at the time that the package contained the ashes of Charlotte Digges Moon — the Lottie Moon who was loved in China and revered in the U.S. and whose legacy would become a symbol of Southern Baptist missions around the world.

Forced out of China due to malnutrition and sickness, Lottie’s 50-pound frame could not survive the journey back to the United States. Though thousands mourned her passing, her life’s work in China represented eternity to many. She was the missionary who believed strongly in the teaching of young girls and started schools, though the community’s men scorned her for it. She passionately spoke out against the gruesome practice of foot-binding, offering relief to hundreds of girls whose families were swayed by Lottie’s persuasive arguments against it. She visited thousands of homes to teach the Scriptures, evangelized while she walked from village to village, and led in her Chinese church. She wrote letters back to the U.S. pleading for more funds, more workers and more prayer.

Near the end of her ministry, she had given of herself, her food, her supplies so completely, that she had little left on this earth, but riches abundant in heaven.

 

Learning from these witnesses of God’s faithfulness encourages us to trust in His faithfulness as well. Here are some additional resources for you to learn more about the saints who have gone before us.

 

BOOKS:

IN THE YEAR OF OUR LORD: REFLECTIONS ON TWENTY CENTURIES OF CHURCH HISTORY by Sinclair Ferguson

The story of the church is important for Christians to know, for it contains rich and uplifting stories of God’s dealings with His people. Dr. Sinclair B. Ferguson takes the reader on a tour of the Christian history, featuring stories and songs to give believers a sense of their place in God’s kingdom and to encourage them in their walk.

 

21 SERVANTS OF SOVEREIGN JOY: FAITHFUL, FLAWED, AND FRUITFUL by John Piper

In this book, John Piper explores the lives of twenty-one leaders from church history, offering a close look at their perseverance amidst opposition, weakness, and suffering. Let the endurance of these faithful but flawed saints inspire you toward a life of Christ-exalting courage, passion, and joy.

 

FOXE’S BOOK OF MARTYRS by John Foxes

In 1563, John Foxe began writing a book in tribute to Christian martyrs, beginning with Stephen, the first believer who died for the cause of Christ. Foxe’s original work ended with the martyrs of his own day — those who were killed during the reign of “Bloody Mary.” He wanted the Church to remember the martyrs, for he knew that the blood of the martyrs truly is the seed of the Church.

 

WEBSITES

175 YEARS OF THE INTERNATIONAL MISSIONS BOARD

Since 1845, almost 25,000 Southern Baptist missionaries have shared the gospel, made disciples, planted churches and planted their lives in 185 countries around the world. This interactive timeline celebrates 175 years of Southern Baptists on mission through the International Mission Board, which was originally called the Foreign Mission Board. Get to know missionaries whose names may have been forgotten but whose stories remind us of the power of God and the courage of His people. Learn about significant moments in Southern Baptist history, often shaped by events happening in the world at large. Celebrate God’s faithfulness through 175 years of remarkable missions history.

 

PODCASTS

5 MINUTES IN CHURCH HISTORY

Travel back in time with Stephen Nichols to look at the people, events, and places that have shaped the story of Christianity. This podcast offers an accessible glimpse into how God has worked in the church and how this can encourage us today.

 

Footnotes:
1 – https://www.beesondivinity.com/blog/2019/martyria-polycarp
2 – https://www.christianity.com/church/church-history/timeline/1501-1600/johann-von-staupitz-luthers-confessor-11629932.html
3 – https://www.imb.org/175/missionary-profiles/lottie-moon/

The Beautiful Body of Christ

I’ve recently taken up teaching piano lessons, and between that and being a vocal coach, I am continually amazed at what our bodies can do.  For example, when we rotate our arm as though we are opening a door handle, the internal movement of our bones is not one solid unit that just turns but actually two separate bones that follow around the circular shape of the rotation (if you put your hand on your opposite wrist and then rotate, you’ll see exactly what I’m talking about).  The position of our tongue creates different vowel shapes.  We can actually teach ourselves to wiggle each toe individually! I don’t know why one would want to, but all this to say, the way God designed our bodies is incredible.

And this picture of a body, with all its different functions, is an analogy that Paul uses in 1 Corinthians 12 to describe the way that the church functions and serves one another. Throughout this letter, Paul is addressing a lack of unity among the believers in Corinth on various topics, not the least of which was the structure and daily function of the church. Reminding them that salvation comes from Christ and Christ alone, he addresses in chapter 11 that Christ is the head of the body, not a church leader.  And as he goes on to how that plays out then for the rest of the church, he states:

1 Corinthians 12:12-14 For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit. For the body does not consist of one member but of many. 

So first, we see that we serve because Christ has called us to serve. The local church is not a place where people come to “get” something in exchange for goods or services. No, the local church is a people who gather frequently and serve one another. We are connected through the commonality of the mission Jesus has given us to go and make disciples, and the presence of God’s Spirit in us is what binds us together. When we look around and see all different backgrounds, interests, life stories, preferences, it’s a picture of the unique nature of a local body of believers. And each person is designed by God for something special. Paul continues-

1 Corinthians 12:15-21 If the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body.  And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would be the sense of hearing? If the whole body were an ear, where would be the sense of smell? But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. If all were a single member, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, yet one body. The eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you,” nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.” 

We serve because we are all uniquely made by God for different functions. If we were a church full of people who just love greeting people, it’s a great sentiment, but no one would ever make it into the front door. If we were a church full of people who love caring for babies, the nursery would not be able to contain the bodies of all of us, let alone the love! We are each given different inner desires and gifts, different life experiences and positions, and we each have a role to play in the daily function of the church.  Whether it’s teaching in KidLife or cleaning the bathroom, every part of the local church function has great value in God’s eyes.

1 Corinthians 12:22-27  On the contrary, the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and on those parts of the body that we think less honorable we bestow the greater honor, and our unpresentable parts are treated with greater modesty, which our more presentable parts do not require. But God has so composed the body, giving greater honor to the part that lacked it,  that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together. Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it. 

We serve out of a heart captivated by the love of Christ. Paul goes on in chapter 13 to tell us that these gifts of service are meaningless without love. And so regardless of how we might feel about our gifts and abilities, God has a place for everyone in His church to provide a vital function in the encouragement and edification of the local gathering. The people of Grace Life are not an accidental or random collection of individuals, but a beautiful body of believers called to serve one another in love as we live out what God has called us to. 

If you’ve been wondering where you fit in, talk to Pastor Matt or myself about the areas that the Spirit is pressing into your heart as you seek to build and be built up in the body of Grace Life Church. You can also sign up to join any of our serve teams here.

Love in Christ,
Pastor Ben

Annoyingly Bold with the Gospel

It’s summer time in Florida which means we are dealing with the influx of mosquitos. The mosquito is the most annoying species in the world. There are over 3,500 different species of mosquitoes, all of which are annoying. They fly around your ear, bite your ankles, and ruin your cookouts and send you inside before you’re done with the outdoors. 

When I think of the word “annoying”, I think of the mosquito. I think of the people who take too long to turn. There are hundreds of habits and mannerisms that are annoying to me and I’m sure there is something I do that annoys other people. In fact, I can tell you exactly the habits I have that annoy my wife and my kids. I can’t help it. It’s who I am. I am the mosquito to someone.

The dictionary definition for annoying is “to irritate someone” or “to make someone a little angry” and this is how the Jewish people labeled the teaching of Peter and John in Acts 4.

“And as they were speaking to the people, the priests and the captain of the temple and the Sadducees came upon them, greatly annoyed because they were teaching the people and proclaiming in Jesus the resurrection from the dead. And they arrested them and put them in custody until the next day, for it was already evening. But many of those who had heard the word believed, and the number of the men came to about five thousand”. – Acts 4:1–4

It did not take long for Peter and John to irritate people with the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Shortly after Jesus ascends into heaven, Peter, empowered by the Holy Spirit, stands up on the Day of Pentecost and proclaims the death and resurrection of Jesus. Thousands place their faith in Jesus Christ and are added to the church. The Gospel has broken free.

This must have been exhilarating for Peter and John because they keep proclaiming Jesus. In the name of Jesus Christ, they heal a lame man who stood up and started praising God with them. We don’t know the lame man’s name but “all the people saw him walking and praising God, and recognized him as the one who sat at the Beautiful Gate of the temple, asking for alms. And they were filled with wonder and amazement at what had happened to him.” (Acts 3:9–10)

But not everyone responded this way. The religious leaders were greatly annoyed because Peter and John were teaching the people and proclaiming in Jesus the resurrection from the dead. This is how we should be labeled.

Sharing the Gospel with someone is intimidating, mainly, because we know the Gospel is offensive to those who do not believe (1 Corinthians 1:18). Yet, over and over again in Scripture we are reminded to be bold and to not be ashamed of the Gospel (Romans 1:16). Even in the books of Acts (Acts 4:13), the disciples are said to have shared the Gospel with boldness, meaning, they knew sharing the Gospel was offensive and intimidating, but the good news of Jesus must be proclaimed. The eternal life of the sinner is at stake.

In love, let’s proclaim the message of salvation. Let’s be so bold in our proclamation of the Gospel that it irritates people. But let’s not be irritating in our presentation. It’s the message of the Gospel that is offensive, not the presenter of the Gospel. Peter and John had such a passion for Jesus that it annoyed people, but more importantly, it led many to Jesus. Take every opportunity to share the hope of salvation and the forgiveness of sins with someone. It may be annoying to some, but it will be life changing to others. 

How can we be annoyingly bold with the Gospel?

Take every opportunity to share the Gospel.

The Gospel, in short, is the good news that Jesus Christ died and rose again for the sins of the world and through belief in Jesus, you can have eternal life. This is the message we share. Not our opinions. Not just an invitation to church. Jesus has called us to “Go and make disciples” (Matthew 28:18-20).

Romans 10:13-17 asks the question, “How will people believe on Jesus if they have not heard about Jesus”? Most likely, when sharing the Gospel, the questions you are asking yourself internally are, “Will they say no?”, “Will they still be my friends?”, or “What if I don’t have the right answers?”. You’re probably not asking the question: “What if this is their last opportunity to hear the Gospel?” Or “What if no one else tells them?”.

This is what Romans 10 is telling us to consider. Consider every encounter as a last opportunity to share the Gospel with someone. “How can I do this?” you may ask. God desires to use ordinary men and women, like Peter and John and like me and you, to proclaim the extraordinary message of salvation in Jesus Christ. 

In love, let’s proclaim the message of salvation. Let’s be so bold in our proclamation of the Gospel that it irritates people. But let’s not be irritating in our presentation. It’s the message of the Gospel that is offensive, not the presenter of the Gospel. Peter and John had such a passion for Jesus that it annoyed people, but more importantly, it led many to Jesus. Take every opportunity to share the hope of salvation and the forgiveness of sins with someone. It may be annoying to some, but it will be life changing to others.

By His Grace,

Pastor Matt

A Back to School Prayer

Today is the official first day of school for K-12th grade students in Clay County. It’s pretty remarkable how quickly a summer flies by us. Now, we trade in our beach chairs for school desks and our summer vacations for scheduled routines. As we head into the new school year, I want to offer this prayer on behalf of our children. This is the prayer from our Sunday, August 7th gathering and can serve as a prayer for you to pray over them as well.

 

Gracious Father,

With boldness we come before your throne as your children (Hebrews 4:16), welcomed into your presence by the righteousness of Jesus that has covered our sins. You Jesus, our king of kings, Emmanuel our God with us, are magnificently beautiful and you are the radiance of the Father’s glory (Hebrews 1:3). 

In you Jesus, we have redemption through your blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, which you have lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight making known to us the mystery of your will, according to your purpose, which you have set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in you, things in heaven and things on earth (Ephesians 1:7-10).

Your Word says in Proverbs 3:5-7, “Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths. Be not wise in your own eyes; fear the LORD, and turn away from evil”.

As we head into another year of school, another year of activities, another year of busyness, Father we lift our children up to you. You have blessed us with these little ones, some of which are not so little anymore, and you have entrusted their care to us. There are moments when we’re not sure how to parent them and even how to protect them, so Father help us to do so in the way that you have cared and protected us. 

We pray that as our children head back to school, that you will protect them from evil. Protect them from evil attacks and evil ideologies. Protect them from the schemes of the devil that seek to take them away from you. Care for them when they are out of our care.

Lord, we pray that our kids will trust in you with their whole heart. That the faith of their parents will become their faith. Stir within their hearts a need for salvation through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Convict them of their sin and regenerate their hearts. More than anything in this world, more than wealth, or comforts, or prosperity, we long to see our kids come to know you as their Savior. Help us Lord to point them to Jesus in all things. To disciple them along the way. To show them the incredible truths from your Word. Help their hearts to not be anxious, but to trust that you are with them every step of the way.

Lord, we pray that our kids will not lean on their own understanding, but in all their ways acknowledge you. The world believes the knowledge of Christianity is foolish and seeks to take a generation of kids with them. Help our kids to see the foolishness of sin in this world. Help them to lean into your understanding. Help them to live according to your good and beautiful design. We know your Word never returns void. We know your Word is true and right and sufficient. Holy Spirit, remind them of the Words of Scripture. Remind them that the Words of God are far better than the words of this world. We pray that our kids will acknowledge you in private and in public. That they will stand bold for the gospel as they face peer pressure. 

Lord, we ask that you go before our kids. Direct their paths. Only you can make them straight. The plans we have for them, the plans they have for themselves are nothing compared to your will in their life. We know your will for them is their sanctification and that they live their lives for your glory and your glory alone. We pray that no matter if they are eating or drinking, they will glorify your name. Help them not to be wise in their own eyes, but to fear you in all things, to see your greatness, to see the beauty of your eternal salvation.

Lord, we pray that you will help us as parents to carefully shepherd our children. Be with us as we send our kids to school, off to college, or keeping them at home to teach them. We ask that you give patience to every home school mom and dad, give them rest and wisdom, and the support they need. We ask that you be with every mom and dad fighting the anxiousness and worry of dropping off kids and helping them navigate new schools and new friendships. Help us as parents to trust in you as well. Help us to know you are directing our paths and making it straight.

Thank you Lord that we are your children and you care for us and love us far more than we will ever realize. Help us to seek you, knowing that you came to seek and to save us. Help us to live out your Word all the days of our lives. Thank you for your sovereign care over us all.

In your holy name we pray,

 

Amen

Redeeming the Sunday Morning Car Ride to Church

For close to seven years, my family drove in separate vehicles to our Sunday gatherings at Grace Life. I left early for setup and Julie came a little later with the kids. The roughly 20 minute drive was an opportunity for me to “preach” my sermon to the empty car and spend time in prayer. But that all changed when we moved into our new space. For the first time, my family rode together to church.

It took some time for everyone to get adjusted to our new routine. What I mean is, it took me a while to get adjusted to making sure the kids were ready to get out the door. It also changed the car rides for me. I was no longer a pastor headed to preach, I was now a dad taking his family to church. I had to repurpose our time in the car on Sunday mornings.

In Deuteronomy 6, the LORD tells his people the importance of keeping the truth of God’s words front and center and teaching them to your children.

“Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. [5] You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. [6] And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. [7] 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. [8] You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. [9] You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates. – Deuteronomy 6:4–9

There’s a line here that’s relevant to this conversation: “When you walk by the way”.

In the Old Testament, people mostly walked when they needed to go somewhere. Today, we go places in our cars. No one, no matter how much they want to, can escape the moving car. The doors are locked and seatbelts are in place. It’s the perfect time to spend time in prayer and help your children love and value the local church gathering. You have an opportunity to prepare their hearts for church. Here’s what this can look like, but first, a few encouraging notes on “Ride to Church Discipleship”.

Anyone can do it. No matter how far along you are in your Christian faith, no matter how old your children are, and no matter if it is just you or just you and your spouse, anyone can participate in “Ride to Church Discipleship”.

Get your children involved. It’s easy to take charge of reading or praying, but reading isn’t advised while you’re driving. Getting your kids involved is easy and safe!

You only need a few minutes. Is your ride to church five minutes? That’s fine! You can accomplish “Ride to Church Discipleship” in just a few moments. Is it 20 minutes? That’s okay too! Find a landmark and begin “Ride to Church Discipleship” when you pass the landmark each week. This will also help establish a routine for your kids.

Here is what “Ride to Church Discipleship” looks like:

Have someone read the Scripture for the sermon.

Every week, we’ll share the text of Scripture for the next sermon so you can read ahead. (This coming Sunday’s sermon text is from Hebrews 11:23-30.) As a church, we gather together to hear God’s Word preached so we can know Jesus more and the power of His resurrection in our lives. Reading the Sunday morning text helps prepare our hearts for the gathering.

If you have a child who can read, have them read the text. The Bible is written in such a way that even new readers (with a little bit of help) can read. If the driver is the only reader, you can use the Bible Audio from The Bible App, read the text in the driveway before you leave, or when you are stopped at a red light. Even if your child is preschool or younger, reading Scripture to them is a great practice and the routine will be normal when it comes time for them to read.

 

Ask, “What are you most excited about gathering with the church this morning”?

It’s very easy to speak negatively about the church. It’s a tool the enemy uses and what he’s doing is using negativity about the church to bring disinterest to children. Many kids grow up to be non church attending adults because parents either spoke negatively about church or they didn’t make church a priority. Don’t let this be the case for your family. 

Talk to them about singing and praying and preaching and friendship. Explain the importance of the church as the people of God. Jesus did not establish the church for people to check off and check out. No, he wanted people to grow together in friendship and in their faith. Going all in in the life and mission of your local church is essential to the discipleship of your children.

 

Pray Together

Once again, have one of the kids pray and then follow it with a prayer of your own. Of course, praying with your eyes open is certainly acceptable! Be sure to pray for the preacher. (This week, pray for Lawrence Wilson as he preaches). Pray for our band as they lead us to sing to Jesus. Pray for their KidLife teacher. Pray for Grace Life Church. Pray for the Elders. Pray for people who the Holy Spirit places on your heart. Pray for missionaries around the world. The prayer doesn’t have to be perfect, but as we go by the way, we are showing our kids the importance of talking to God.

The car ride to church can be spent listening to the radio, sitting in quiet, playing with toys, watching videos on a device, or we can redeem those few minutes by spending time in prayer or disciplining our kids to love the church, the people whom Christ died for.

By His Grace,

Pastor Matt

Making Jesus-Centered Disciples For God's Glory


Sunday 10am | 3180 County Rd 220 Suite 1 Middleburg, FL 32068

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