Hello, Death, my old enemy. My old slave-master. Have you come to talk to me again? To frighten me?
I am not the person you think I am. I am not the one you used to talk to. Something has happened. Let me ask you a question, Death.
Where is your sting?
My sting is your sin.
I know that, Death. But that’s not what I asked you. I asked, where is your sting? I know what it is. But tell me where it is.
Why are you fidgeting, Death? Why are you looking away? Why are you turning to go? Wait, Death, you have not answered my question. Where is your sting?
Where is, my sin?
What? You have no answer? But, Death, why do you have no answer? How will you terrify me, if you have no answer?
O Death, I will tell you the answer. Where is your sting? Where is my sin? It is hanging on that tree. God made Christ to be sin—my sin. When he died, the penalty of my sin was paid. The power of it was broken. I bear it no more.
Farewell, Death. You need not show up here again to frighten me. God will tell you when to come next time. And when you come, you will be his servant. For me, you will have no sting.
O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting? The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. (1 Corinthians 15:55-57)
John Calvin was younger than Martin Luther, and had a great respect for him. Sometimes painted as rivals, or even enemies, the truth is more complex. This, for example, is an amazing ending for a letter that Calvin wrote to Luther:
In a letter which Calvin wrote to Luther, but which he never received or read, for Luther’s friend Melachton, did not think it advisable to deliver it to him, Calvin asked Luther’s opinion about a certain matter which gave him much trouble. Beautiful and magnificent is the ending of this letter.
“For I would preferably converse with you personally, not only on this matter, but also on other matters. But that which is not granted to us on earth, will presently, I hope, be imparted to us in the Kingdom of God. Hail to you, most excellent man, servant of Christ, and honoured father. May God bless you always through his Spirit until the end, to the mutual well being of his church.”
Why do we need sleep? For some people, it seems like a defect. If God created us perfect, then why make us waste a third of our lives lying unconscious. John Piper, in A Brief Theology of Sleep has an interesting answer:
Psalm 127:2 says, “It is in vain that you rise up early and go late to rest, eating the bread of anxious toil; for he gives to his beloved in his sleep.” According to this text sleep is a gift of love, and the gift is often spurned by anxious toil. Peaceful sleep is the opposite of anxiety. God does not want his children to be anxious, but to trust him. Therefore I conclude that God made sleep as a continual reminder that we should not be anxious but should rest in him.
Sleep is a daily reminder from God that we are not God. “He who keeps Israel will neither slumber nor sleep” (Psalm 121:4). But Israel will. For we are not God. Once a day God sends us to bed like patients with a sickness. The sickness is a chronic tendency to think we are in control and that our work is indispensable. To cure us of this disease God turns us into helpless sacks of sand once a day.
God wants to be trusted as the great worker who never tires and never sleeps. He is not nearly so impressed with our late nights and early mornings as he is with the peaceful trust that casts all anxieties on him and sleeps.
Paul Washer is easily one of my favorite preachers of today. I love how he cuts through all the junk and gets right to the message. Battle 4 Truth has a good collection of some of his quotes. A couple of my favorites:
“Here stands God on the day of creation. He looks at stars and He says “all you stars move yourself to this place and start in this order and move in a circle and move exactly as I tell you, until I give you another word. Planets-pick yourself up and whirl, make this formation at my command, until I give you another word. He looks at mountains and says “be lifted up” and they obey him. He tells valleys “be cast down” and they obey him. He looks at the sea and says “you will come this far”, and the sea obeys. Then, he looks at you and says “come” and you go “No! Does that bother anyone?”
“People tell me judge not lest ye be judged. I always tell them, twist not scripture lest ye be like satan.”
Can you be a Christian your whole life, and realize one day that you’re actually not? Charo Washer grew up Christian and was married to a missionary for over a decade before she realized that she wasn’t actually saved. It’s not just a cute, catchy little prayer that “saves” us. Time and again the Bible tells us that if we are truly saved, we will show it. Not because we are saved by such works, but because when Christ comes into our hearts, he changes us. It can’t be any other way. Our old selves were dead in sin. If we are born anew, and made to be more like Christ, then how could we possibly be, act, live the same as before. Our thoughts, priorities, actions, feelings change. Not overnight, but they’re moving in a certain direction. Though not even all people who outwardly look like or profess to be Christians really are. Jesus spoke very clearly about this:
(Matt 7: 21-23) “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’
In fact, Paul calls on us to take a good look at ourselves: (2 Cor 13:5)
“Examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith; test yourselves. Do you not realize that Christ Jesus is in you—unless, of course, you fail the test?”
The America version of easy salvation can become stale and legalistic. We often make it seem like a legal contract, made on our behalf by a very kind uncle. We get a nice inheritance, but we’re disconnected from the actual transaction. That was done 2,000 years ago by a very nice man, who suffered a little bit. Since most of us haven’t done anything we think is terrible – like murder – and since we’re generally good people, we often feel that’s it’s quite right for us to receive that inheritance.
As the speaker in the third clip points out, when God convicts us of our sin, it becomes personal. It’s so easy to just repeat the mantra that “we’re all sinners.” It’s an easy out, and it doesn’t make us think much. But do we truly understand that we’re sinners? No, not really. It’s only when God opens our eyes to the hurt and pain we’ve caused to Him, to those around us, to ourselves, that we begin to understand our fallen state. Only then can we truly repent. How can you ask for forgiveness if you don’t think you’ve done anything wrong? One of the ways that we know we’ve been saved is when we begin to hate the sin that we once loved.
Charo Washer went through the motions for decades, not because she wanted to, but because it was what she was supposed to do. God finally opened her eyes, after listening to her husband’s sermons for years. Three ten minute installments. The first two are Charo’s story, and the last is commentary. Well worth the listen:
Pope John Paul II did a lot to bring Catholics and Protestants together, and deservedly holds a special place in the heart of American protestants. He was culturally and socially conservative, which provided the bridge across which our intellectuals crossed, creating a conversational dialogue on issues fundamental to the faith.
Pope Benedict XVI has largely followed in his footsteps, at least doctrinally. Culturally, there has been a bit of hostility because of certain statements, but on the issues, he is following the path John Paul’s laid. As Cardinal Ratzinger, under John Paul, Benedict was the head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, whose job is to “promote and safeguard the doctrine on the faith and morals throughout the Catholic world.” This organization used to be called the Holy Office of the Inquisition, so you can imagine that they take Catholic teaching pretty seriously.
This past weekend, Benedict opened “worldwide meeting of bishops on the relevance of the Bible for contemporary Catholics:”
“Today, nations once rich in faith and vocations are losing their own identity, under the harmful and destructive influence of a certain modern culture,” said Benedict, who has been pushing for religion to be given more room in society.
A document prepared for the meeting rejects a fundamentalist approach to the Bible and said a key challenge was to clarify for the faithful the relationship of scripture to science.
Benedict is spot on. It seems that the more material wealth a society has, the less spiritual they are. Mother Teresa noted the same thing:
There are different kinds of poverty. In India some people live and die in hunger.
But in the West you have another kind of poverty, spiritual poverty. This is far worse. People do not believe in God, do not pray. People do not care for each other. You have the poverty of people who are dissatisfied with what they have, who do not know how to suffer, who give in to despair. This poverty of heart is often more difficult to relieve and to defeat.
Last week, I read 1 and 2 Kings, and the same principal was noted there. David lived most of life in extremely difficult circumstances – a hard life on the run from Saul. David’s son, Solomon, reigned over a period of peace and unparalled prosperity. David was far closer to God than Solomon, who fell away and built places of worship for all of his non-Jewish wives. David, whose constant companion was suffering, felt the need and closeness of God. Solomon, who lived in comfort, filled all of his material needs and found no need for God.
Christians all around the world, but especially in the developed, wealthy West ought to pay special attention that we don’t allow material wealth to crowd out God – because the material only provides temporary satisfaction at best, and often not even that.