Sunday, February 5, 2017

Soli Deo Gloria, Glory To God Alone

Soli Deo Gloria, Glory To God Alone

He was a man who couldn’t keep a job.   He was a church organist and composer and while he was a great organist the pieces that he composed himself were often considered too showy to be played in church, and so eventually the church would grumble and he would move on.  So glad churches today don’t grumble about music.

And he was no doubt forgotten by the churches he had worked for but certainly not forgotten by history.

His name was Johann Sebastian Bach, maybe you recognize it.  Once when the pastor of one church was relaying the concerns of the congregation Bach responded by saying:

"The main purpose of my music is to glorify God. Some people do this with music that is simple. I haven't chosen to use a simple style, but my music comes from my heart as a humble offering to God. This honours God no matter what musical style I use."

The main purpose of my music is to glorify God.  Can we say that about what we do?

Here is a sample of one of Bach’s compositions, and notice down here at the you’ll see Soli Deo Gloria - For the Glory of God Alone.

We are told when Bach began to write a new song that he wrote the initials JJ at the top of the page, which stood for “Jesu Juva” Latin for “Jesus Help Me” and when he finished the work he wrote For the Glory of God Alone.  

And he wasn’t alone, both Handel and Graupner signed their work with Soli Deo Gloria to signify that their music was produced for the sake of glorifying God.

This is our fifth and final week of our Old Foundation series and through the month of January we’ve been looking at the “Five Solas” of the Protestant Reformation.

Now for those who are thinking, “I wonder what a protestant reformation is?” Don’t feel bad, you probably are in the majority of folks.  Often people think that there has always been a broad range of Christians denominations, but not so.

For the first thousand years that the church existed there was really just “The Church”.  And that ended in 1054 with what was known as the “Great Schism”  and the church separated into the Catholic Church to the west and the Orthodox Church to the east.   And then for the next five hundred years there were two main Christian groups.

That two-church model ended 500 years ago.

In 1517 a Catholic priest and theologian by the name of Martin Luther challenged the leadership of the Catholic church on a number of issues where he felt the church had drifted into error.

He didn’t get up one morning and think “By golly today is the day that I completely reshape what Christianity looks like.”

He was simply seeking to bring the Catholic church in line with the scriptures.  Instead he was ultimately excommunicated by the church and the Lutheran church was born, and since then there have been more Protestant churches started then you can shake the proverbial stick at.

But what Luther shared with the reformers who would come after him, men like Calivn and Zwingli was a common foundation, what are often referred to as the Five Solas.  And that is where we’ve been parked for the past five weeks.

Although these individual phrases have been used for centuries, it is not clear when they were first put together.   And they sound fancy but Sola is simply a Latin term which means one or only.

And so, in week one we looked at Solas Fide, or By Faith Alone, and this was the belief that it is faith that is the main component of our salvation.  That while faith will never ask more than that you believe, that it will never ask less.  And we have to believe that God can save us, through his grace.

Then we looked at Solas Scriptura, or in the Scripture Alone.  And that was the belief that the final authority for our Christian life is the Bible.  The reformers didn’t feel that the bible was the only authority for the believer but they believed that it was the only infallible authority and it would be by scripture that those other traditions and teachings would be measured.

In week three we took some time with Solus Christus, through Christ Alone and looked at the power that is available only through the name of Christ.  And that power that was there for the church in the book of Acts is the same power that was there for the reformers 500 years ago and the same power that is there for us today.

And that took us to Sola Gratia, by grace alone last week.  And that is belief that our salvation comes completely by the grace of God, that it is not dependent on anything we do, other than believe in and accepting that Grace.  Grace is simply the unmerited favour of God.  Or getting what we don’t deserve.

Which is why we are told in Ephesians 2:8-9  God saved you by his grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God.  Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it.

And that brings us to the final Sola and that is Soli Deo Gloria, Glory To God Alone.

And in this teaching the reformers would remind us that every aspect of our Christian life is to bring glory to God alone.  It’s not about us, or about me, it’s about God.  
It really summarizes the other four Soli by pointing us toward God and what he has done for us.  The Grace of his Son, that we accept through faith.

There was also a reaction here on the part of the reformers to what they perceived as the unwarranted glorification of the church, the pope and other clergy.

So in the scripture that was read for us earlier we see these words Romans 11:36  For everything comes from him and exists by his power and is intended for his glory. All glory to him forever! Amen.

But what does that mean that everything is intended for his Glory?

And how do we give God the Glory, we can’t all be a Bach or a Handel giving God the glory with the music that we create.

Let’s go back to our scripture Romans 11:36  For everything comes from him and exists by his power and is intended for his glory. All glory to him forever! Amen.


We Glorify God When we Acknowledge that All Things are From Him.  God is firstly the creator.

The bible tells us in Genesis 1:1  In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.
And maybe you are sitting there thinking, “You don’t really believe that do you preacher?”  Yep, sure do.

Sometimes I’ll be in a conversation with someone and the topic of creation comes up and they will say something to the effect of how much faith it requires to believe in creation.  And then they will begin to educate me on how the world was really created.  

And then they let me know that they believe in the Big Bang Theory. There’s that word: “Theory”.   Do you know what the definition of a theory is?  Colins English Dictionary defines it this way.
1. a system of rules, procedures, and assumptions used to produce a result
2.  abstract knowledge or reasoning
3. a speculative or conjectural view or idea
4. an ideal or hypothetical situation (esp in the phrase in theory)

And the Big Bang theory is either number 3 or number 4.  And in case you are wondering it will give you 12 in Scrabble.

And then they begin to school me on how they believe that 4.5 billion years ago, out of nothing things just appeared, and from those things that appeared out of nothing our world was created and eventually we evolved from a single cell protoplasm to what we are today.

You understand that when people tell you they know how they world began and how life began they are not talking about facts they are talking about theories?

I can’t even get my head around the numbers they throw around.  And someone will say they have evidence that says the Dinosaurs went extinct 50 million years ago.   And that the world is almost 5 billion years old.

Seriously?  If this is 2016.  (Hold fingers apart 1 inch) then the distance from here to the back door is about 500 years.   If you look close you can see Martin Luther.

The birth of Christ happened somewhere in the upper parking lot.  1 million years would be 500 times greater than that, it would put you somewhere around the airport.

And 50 million years would be 50 times greater than that, which remember, this is 2016 and 50,000, 000 of these would put you in Montreal.  And now let’s multiply that my 90.  So if you kept going from Montreal around the world to Halifax that would be 1.5 billion years, so twice more around the world and you have in theory when the big bang happened.

Wow! And I’m left thinking “And people say it takes so much faith to believe that in the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.”
I think I’ll stick with Genesis 1:1, even Voltaire the Atheist said “The world embarrasses me, and I cannot dream that this watch exists and has no watchmaker.”  And the watchmaker is God,

You are giving glory to God when you stand in awe of creation and realize that it came from the hand of God.  That creation is a part of intelligent design, that it didn’t just happen, it happened at the word of God.  In the New Testament we read John 1:1-3  In the beginning the Word already existed. The Word was with God, and the Word was God.  He existed in the beginning with God.  God created everything through him, and nothing was created except through him.   And if you continue to read you discover that the word was Jesus.

And we Give God the Glory when we celebrate the words of 1 Corinthians 8:6  But we know that there is only one God, the Father, who created everything, and we live for him. And there is only one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom God made everything and through whom we have been given life.

It was Sir Isaac Newton, the Scientist, remember the apple and gravity and the whole story, who said “This most beautiful system [The Universe] could only proceed from the dominion of an intelligent and powerful Being.”

Let’s go back to our scripture:  Romans 11:36  For everything comes from him and exists by his power and is intended for his glory. All glory to him forever! Amen.

We Glorify God When We Acknowledge that All Things are By Him

God didn’t just create the world and turn his back on it.  We are reminded over and over again about how fragile our world is.

And it’s true, we are told that if the world was much further from the sun it would be too cold to support life, much closer and it would be too hot to support life.  Tilt it even a degree on its axis and life on earth would be disrupted.

And yet it continues to be where it’s supposed to be and turn as it’s supposed to turn.  And when things go awry as they sometimes do we need to remind ourselves that God is there and God cares.

Jesus reminded those who followed him of that truth two thousand years ago when he said,  Matthew 10:29-31 Jesus asked “ What is the price of two sparrows—one copper coin? But not a single sparrow can fall to the ground without your Father knowing it.  And the very hairs on your head are all numbered.  So don’t be afraid; you are more valuable to God than a whole flock of sparrows.”

And sometimes people will try to take away God’s glory by pointing to the pain and problems of a broken world and saying “If God is so great then how come. . . ?”  And you can fill in the blank.  How come there are hungry children, or how come there is cancer, or how come marriage vows are betrayed?

And that has less to do with God and more to do with mankind and the choices that mankind makes.

The world can produce enough food to feel every man woman and child, we don’t have a supply problem we have a distribution problem.

And don’t you think if we didn’t have to spend billions and billions of dollars on defense that the money and genius behind finding and building better ways to kill people could ultimately be used to find and build better ways to heal people?     That cancer could be prevented or cured?  

And God’s plan wasn't that marriages would fail, his plan was that marriages would thrive, and when they don’t it’s because of sinful behavior.

As much as God wants the best for the world he created He won’t take away our free will.

But what would the world look like without the goodness of God and his people in it?

Romans 11:36  For everything comes from him and exists by his power and is intended for his glory. All glory to him forever! Amen.

We Glorify God When We Acknowledge that All Things are For Him   Over and over again in the New Testament the writers return to the theme that Christ Followers are new creations, that the old is gone and a new has come.

And with that new life comes the responsibility of new behavior.   And when our lives reflect Christ and his teachings it brings glory to God.  And on the other side, when someone who professes to follow Christ lives a life that is at odds with what Christ taught it takes glory away from God.

We all seen and heard the words “And they call themselves a Christian.”

In Romans we are told that everything is intended for his glory, that is expanded on in Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians when he writes,  1 Corinthians 10:31  So whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.

Whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.  Bach wrote his music for the glory of God, but what does that mean for us?  Most of us will never compose like Bach or Handel or write like Luther but does that mean that we can’t do what we do to the Glory of God?

Peter wrote in  1 Peter 4:10-11  God has given each of you a gift from his great variety of spiritual gifts. Use them well to serve one another.  Do you have the gift of speaking? Then speak as though God himself were speaking through you. Do you have the gift of helping others? Do it with all the strength and energy that God supplies. Then everything you do will bring glory to God through Jesus Christ. All glory and power to him forever and ever! Amen.

What you have, God gave you and he asks that you do what you do with all the strength and energy that he provides.

So if you teach, or sell, or protect or heal or repair or parent do it in such a way that at the end of the day you will have no problem signing your day SDG, To God alone the Glory.

And by the way that isn’t reflected in false humility.  Have you ever heard someone complimented for a sermon or a song and they’ve shrugged it off by saying, “Oh it was just God speaking or singing through me”? That doesn’t bring glory to God.  Doing your best and then simply smiling and saying thank you is a much better response.  

I have to admit there have been times when I’ve heard someone say “it was just God” that I’ve wanted to reply, “Oh really, I’ve heard him do better.”  But I don't’.  Regardless of what some might think there are times that I have a filter.

And so, tomorrow when you go to work can you go with the goal of not just earning a living but to bring glory to your God?

If you are a Christ Follower, then God expects that when people talk about your life and your livelihood that it will bring glory to Him.  And that is a choice.  A choice only you can make.

If you are a Christ Follower, then God expects that when people speak of your attitude and your words that your attitudes and words will bring glory to Him.  And that is also a choice, a choice that only you can make.

If you are a Christ Follower, then God expects that when people see how you trust Him in the face of whatever circumstances life may put in your way that your trust will bring glory to Him.  And that is a choice, a choice only you can make.

And each of those decisions will be rooted not in your own ability but only in the foundation that you have laid with the other solas.

That by Christ Alone you will live that life, that through Grace alone you will be able to live that life that you will accept that Grace by Faith alone and that ultimately you will not be guided by culture or the opinion of others but by scripture alone.

That like Paul at the end of the day and the end of our days we will be able to say.  Romans 11:36  For everything comes from him and exists by his power and is intended for his glory. All glory to him forever! Amen.


Sunday, January 29, 2017

Sola Gratia, by Grace Alone.

I was sixteen when Gary Gilmore died it was January 17 1977.  And maybe some of you are thinking:  That name sounds familiar.  Gilmore was a petty criminal from Texas who would have lived and died in complete obscurity except for one thing.  He became the first person in the United States to be executed after the supreme court reversed a 1972 decision that had ruled capital punishment to be a cruel and unusual punishment. 

In July of 1976 Gary Gilmore committed two armed robberies in the state of Utah and in both cases shot and killed the people he was robbing.  He was sentenced to death and because he refused to appeal his sentence he was executed six months later. So we only know about Gary Gilmore because of the medias fascination with him being the first American executed in five years. 

And even though it was forty years ago I still remember all the media hype that the case generated.  

As a side note the United States has executed 1444 people since then and if you kill a white person you are 3 times more likely to be executed than if you killed a person of colour. Just saying.  

The other thing that captured the attention of the media and society was that Gary Gilmore was executed by firing squad. Which seemed to me as kind of strange at the time. 

Utah and Oklahoma are the only two states that allow execution by firing squad and in this case Gilmore actually requested that he be allowed to die that way.

And there was a reason, you see Gary Gilmore’s mother was a member of the Church of Jesus Christ and Latter Day Saints, that is she was a Mormon, and that had a profound effect on how Gary would choose to die.  

Gilmore’s brother Mikal would write that his brother’s decision was because he wanted “To spill his blood on Mormon soil, as an apology to God.”

Which might seem a little strange to us but was based on the LDS theology of Blood Atonement that had been taught by Brigham Young.  And while blood atonement is no longer required by the church in 1978 LDS apostle Bruce R. McConkie, claiming to reflect the view of church leadership, wrote that he still believed that certain sins are beyond the atoning power of the blood of Christ.

And while we might not hold to the theology of Blood Atonement there are those who still believe that some sins are beyond the Grace of God.

This is week four of our “Old Foundation” series. 2017 is the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation.

In 1517 a catholic priest by the name of Martin Luther took the church to task for what he felt were theological errors that needed to be corrected.  He wrote a list of these errors and nailed them to the door of the largest church in the area, the Wittenberg Cathedral. 

Now a couple of things that we need to understand.  Martin Luther did not start down this road in order to start a new denomination.  His intention, as a priest and theologian was to start a healthy debate within the church which would ultimately bring the church back to its roots. It was “The Church”, after all.

The second thing is that the Catholic church of 500 years ago isn’t necessarily the Catholic church of today.  Any more than the Protestant Church of today is the Protestant Church of 500 years ago.  In both cases for better or for worse.  

When theolgians speak of the central teachings of the protestant reformation they refer to them as the “Five Solas”.

Sola is simply the Latin word for “One” or “Only”.   And while there was no attempt by men like Luther, Calvin, Zwingli and other reformers to define what they were doing, church historians have gone back and kind of reverse engineered their beliefs and came up with the Five Solas.

And so, in week one we looked at Solas Fide, or By Faith Alone, and this was the belief that it is faith that is the main component of our salvation, not works or good deeds and certainly not a belief in purgatory.  So, we are saved by faith alone.

Then we looked at Solas Scriptura, or in the Scripture Alone.  And that was the belief that the final authority for our Christian life is the Bible.  And while the reformers would allow room at the table for tradition and the teaching of the church only the scriptures would be considered infallible and it would be by scripture that those other traditions and teachings would be measured.  

Last week we took some time with Solus Christus, through Christ Alone and looked at the power that is available only through the name of Christ.  And that power that was there for the church in the book of Acts is the same power that was there for the reformers 500 years ago and the same power that is there for us today.

And that brings us to Sola Gratia, by grace alone.  That is belief that our salvation comes completely by the grace of God, that it is not dependent on anything we do, other than believe in and accepting that Grace.  

And that is spelled out in the scripture that was read this morning was Ephesians 2:8-9  God saved you by his grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God.  Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it.

There is no one scripture that sums up the teaching on grace more than these two verses.

Let’s personalize it and read it together: Ephesians 2:8-9  God saved me by his grace when I believed. And I can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God.  Salvation is not a reward for the good things I have done, so I cannot boast about it.

The words come from the book of Ephesians which was a letter written to the church in Ephesus by the Apostle Paul.  But Paul’s teaching on grace wasn’t limited to this one letter. Grace is mentioned in every book that Paul was the author of in the New Testament, which would kind of make us think that grace must have been fairly important to Paul and that he wanted it to be important for the early church.  

And that sentiment is reflected in Martin Luther’s statement “This grace of God is a very great, strong, mighty and active thing. It does not lie asleep in the soul. Grace hears, leads, drives, draws, changes, works all in man, and lets itself be distinctly felt and experienced. It is hidden, but its works are evident.”

So the first thing we discover is,  For Paul, Grace was Personal  You have to know Paul’s story to really appreciate this.  The first time we see Paul is in the book of Acts and when we first meet him he isn’t called Paul he’s called Saul.  The first mention of Saul is when Stephen becomes the church’s first martyr.  

And if you know the story an angry crowd stones Stephen for preaching the gospel and before they stone him we read that they took off their coats, sounds a little strange but I’m not really up on stoning etiquette, and laid them at the feet of a young man named Saul.  In the next chapter we read this Acts 8:1-3  Saul was one of the witnesses, and he agreed completely with the killing of Stephen. A great wave of persecution began that day, sweeping over the church in Jerusalem; and all the believers except the apostles were scattered through the regions of Judea and Samaria.  (Some devout men came and buried Stephen with great mourning.)  But Saul was going everywhere to destroy the church. He went from house to house, dragging out both men and women to throw them into prison. 

I repeat it over and over again, Justice is getting what you deserve, mercy is getting less then you deserve and grace is getting what you don’t deserve.  

If I was God, Saul would have died a long and painful death, lonely and scared.  Just saying.  His mission in life was to destroy the church, if he didn’t throw the stones that killed Stephen he was certain complicit in what happened that day.

In many jurisdictions, there is something called Felony Murder and if you are involved in a criminal activity and someone dies, you are guilty of their death, even if you didn’t actually kill them.  So if you and two of your buddies were robbing a convenience store and you were driving the getaway car and one of the guys inside accidentally shot and killed the clerk.  You would all be guilty of murder, even though only one of you pulled the trigger.

And understand, there was nothing legal about the stoning of Stephen, nothing.  He was killed for being annoying.  And although Saul didn’t pick up a stone he was still guilty of Stephen’s death.   

And so, justice for Paul would have been to answer for his crime and two thousand years ago the penalty for murder was death.

Mercy would have been that Paul wouldn’t have been executed for Stephen’s death, but he would have had to answer to God for his crime.

Instead God reaches down and offers Saul a new beginning and a new life.  The church’s greatest enemy becomes its greatest ambassador.  The man who was at least complicit in the death of Stephen would become instrumental in bringing thousands of people to a saving knowledge of Christ and whose teachings would shape the church for two thousand years. 

And that’s not an anomaly, it’s not just one bad person who is offered God’s grace.   If it was just Paul, we’d write it off and say:  Sure but you don’t know what I’ve done.   

There was Peter, you know Peter who denied knowing Christ, not once but three times.  When Jesus had been arrested and put on trial and needed the support of his friends, there was Peter cursing and swearing that he had never even met Jesus.  And that same Peter became in many ways the father of the church.

And remember Thomas?  The one who is called Doubting Thomas because he doubted the resurrection?  Tradition tells us that it was doubting Thomas who started the church in India.

And the book of Matthew was written by a man who had been a corrupt tax collector.  And the Gospel of Mark was written by a young man who Paul took under his wing as a protégée, but halfway through their journey John Mark got homesick and bailed and went home.

Time and time again God reaches down to the ones who are the least deserving and offer them what they deserve the least, his grace, his unmerited favour. 

But God’s grace wasn’t something that Paul just experienced once.  For Paul, Grace Was Something that was Ongoing  

Sometimes folks seem to see Grace simply as a ticket to eternal life; as so they sing “Amazing Grace how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me, I once was lost but now am found, was blind but now I see.”  But they never seem get beyond the first verse.  And then it’s almost as if they put the grace of God up on a shelf and don’t think about it again.  

And yet Paul was always reminding his readers of how God’s Grace was at work in his life.  For example, we read in  2 Corinthians 12:7 . . . So to keep me from becoming proud, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger from Satan to torment me and keep me from becoming proud.   

And we don’t know what the thorn was that Paul is talking about.  All kinds of theories, the temptation to sin or doubt, head-aches, the persecution that he was always facing, his eye sight and even malaria.  One Scottish commentator even suggested it was his wife, I have no idea where he came up with that idea.  

A friend of mine recently wondered if it was just a thorn, a really nasty splinter that Paul couldn’t get out of his flesh.  But we don’t know.  But if we keep reading we discover this.

2 Corinthians 12:8-9 Three different times I begged the Lord to take it away.  Each time he said, “My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness.” So now I am glad to boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ can work through me.  

Whatever the thorn was it was by God’s grace that Paul was able to rise above it.  And when Paul wrote to the church from prison he said it was only God’s grace that allowed him to endure prison.  

Here is the reality, when you don’t think you can’t handle it, whatever “it” is, you are probably right.  But God gives us what we need, through his Grace.  Not because we deserve it because God doesn’t just want us to survive he wants us to thrive.  

None of us will get out of life unscathed.  And we don’t always know or understand what people have gone through or are going through.  We look at folks and think, “Well sure they are great Christians but they haven’t had to deal with what I deal with.”  Really, do you really believe that you have it so much worse than everybody else?

And whether we grow through our troubles or simply go through our troubles will be determined by God’s grace.  And if we come out the other end better or bitter it will be determined by God’s grace. 

And that grace is available to all of us, not because we deserve it but because we are God’s children.

And if you’ve tasted of God’s grace and turned your back on it, here’s the good news it’s still there.  It is a gift and like all gifts it needs to be received.  But understand, the grace of God isn’t something that is only needed at the beginning of your Christian journey, if you are going to make it to the end, it will only be as you lean on God’s grace.

For Paul, Grace Wasn’t Something to be Abused  Paul asks an interesting question in  Romans 6:1 Well then, should we keep on sinning so that God can show us more and more of his wonderful grace?

This seemed to be an ongoing discussion in the church at Rome because Paul had addressed it earlier in Romans 3:7-8 “But,” someone might still argue, “how can God condemn me as a sinner if my dishonesty highlights his truthfulness and brings him more glory?” And some people even slander us by claiming that we say, “The more we sin, the better it is!” Those who say such things deserve to be condemned.

It is a twisted logic that leads us to the rationale that our sinful behaviour actually becomes a public service by introducing more of God’s grace into the world.  And so Paul asks the question: Romans 6:1 Well then, should we keep on sinning so that God can show us more and more of his wonderful grace?  And then he answers it in the very next verse by stating Romans 6:2 Of course not! Since we have died to sin, how can we continue to live in it?

This type of argument and debate was common in the era that Paul was writing and was referred in Latin as: Reductio ad Absurdum  And the definition of that term is: The process of refuting an argument on the grounds that absurd – and patently untenable consequences would ensue from accepting the item at issue. In other words, reducing the argument to the absurd.  

For example, sometimes someone will say something that just doesn’t make sense or is unlikely to happen.  “If I won the lottery, all my money problems would be over.”  And I will respond one of two ways, both of which fall into the class of Reductio ad Absurdum.  So I will either say “And if wishes were horses beggars would ride.” Or I will respond “And if my grandmother had wheels she’d be a wagon.”

So taking it to the extreme, if we do continue to sin it is an opportunity for God to demonstrate his grace over and over again, however we are told that God hates sin and the ultimate consequence of sin is spiritual death and so while sin provides the opportunity for grace it ultimately leads to our destruction.  

We fall into the same trap when we are intentionally disobedient, counting on God’s grace to cover that sin.  Father forgive me for what I’m about to do.

But we are told that we are to avoid temptation, that if we love Jesus then we are going to want to obey him.

For Paul, Grace Something to be Shared  And Paul wanted everybody to share in God’s grace.  It was his life’s mission and why he travelled across the known world.  He had tasted this marvellous grace and wanted others to taste it as well.

Over and over again through Paul’s writing we hear him telling people about the grace that had been offered to him and urging them to accept God’s Grace.

And Paul was the first to admit that he didn’t deserve it at all. Paul writes in 1 Timothy 1:12-14  I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who has given me strength to do his work. He considered me trustworthy and appointed me to serve him,  even though I used to blaspheme the name of Christ. In my insolence, I persecuted his people. But God had mercy on me because I did it in ignorance and unbelief.  Oh, how generous and gracious our Lord was! He filled me with the faith and love that come from Christ Jesus. 

And until we realize just how much we need God’s grace it’s difficult to share that grace with others.   

There are times that I hear people ask,  “Well, why can’t God just accept everyone?”  What they are asking for is universal salvation.  

But that really creates a different problem with fairness.  That means that God wouldn’t care about injustice and evil.  How good would you have to be to get in? And how bad would you have to be to be kept out?

I was listening to some old country music the other day, don’t judge me, and I heard a line in a Statler Brother’s song that said “Maybe she ain't good enough to go to heaven, But heaven knows she's too good to go to hell.”  

And if the truth was known most of us feel that way about ourselves and the ones we love.  That we might be bad but we aren’t that bad. 

And to prove I’m not a complete Philistine when it comes to music, the same day that I heard the Statler Brothers’ song I heard a U2 song that said “I woke up at the moment when the miracle occurred, I get so many things I don't deserve”

Remember, Grace is getting what we don’t deserve.  That is the gift that God offers, that regardless of how good or how bad you are, God’s grace is offered to you.

Someone once said that evangelism is simply one beggar telling another beggar where to find bread.    And we have a responsibility to share the grace we have received.  

If I buy a pizza and share some with you then I have less pizza for Denn, but when I share God’s grace with you, then I have even more.  It’s kind of like new math.  

So, where you at?  Have you accepted the Grace of God in your life?  






Sunday, January 22, 2017

Solus Christus Through Christ alone


What is in a name? The question was asked by Shakespeare when he wrote In Romeo and Juliet, “What's in a name? that which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.”  To which Anne Shirley responded  “I read in a book once that a rose by any other name would smell as sweet, but I've never been able to believe it. I don't believe a rose WOULD be as nice if it was called a thistle or a skunk cabbage.”

For those of you who don’t know, my name is Dennison.  I was named after my father’s uncle.  And yet the only person who has ever called me Dennison was Austin White when he was little.
For the first 19 years of my life I was called Denny, and I still am by some who knew me then.

When I went to university I decided that Denny was a little boy’s name and so I changed my name to Den, spelled with one “N”.  And for the next 15 years’ people would correct it for me and spell it  Dan or Don.

In 1994 just before we left Australia, someone asked my what Den was short for, when I told them Dennison they asked how that was spelled and when I told them they asked “Then shouldn’t Den be spelled with 2 “Ns” and three months later when we returned to Canada I became Denn, with 2 “Ns”.

I thought the misspelling of my name was a thing of the past, one of the first thing I applied for with my new spelling was my library card.  And it arrived in the mail two weeks later, addressed to Dean Guptill.  

Oh well, I guess it just goes to prove the truth of W.C. Fields’ words “It ain't what they call you, it's what you answer to.”

In the scripture that was read this morning Peter was defending himself in front of the Jewish religious leaders.  And his message that day shared the common theme that most of his messages in the book of Acts revolved around.  “God sent his Son, you killed him, now say you are sorry.”

And he ends his message with these words.  Acts 4:12  “There is salvation in no one else! God has given no other name under heaven by which we must be saved.”

 In case you missed it let’s read it again, “There is salvation is no one else!  God has given no other name under heaven by which we must be saved.”  The name he is talking about is the name of Jesus.  And that is not a comfortable concept in 2017 where people feel like there should be many names by which a person can be saved.  But the Bible, the word of God tells us that God has given no other name under heaven by which we must be saved. 

This is week three of our “Old Foundation” series.  2017 is the  500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation.  Which was the point in history that the Protestant church saw it’s beginning. 

And while there were other people who were seeking to reform the Catholic church at that time, history tends to point to a Catholic Priest, named Martin Luther, who challenged the church on some of its teachings that he felt were in error, as the father of the reformation.

Luther didn’t start down that path so that he could start a new denomination, although eventually he did.  He didn’t start down that path so he could leave the priesthood, marry and become a father, although eventually he did.

Luther was simply trying to open debate within the church on some of these topics, which he thought would ultimately strengthen the church and make it better.  But the church didn’t feel that way and eventually the church excommunicated Luther.

Often the central beliefs of the protestant reformation are referred to as the “Five Solas”  Sola being the Latin word for “One” or “Only”.   And while there was no attempt by men like Luther, Calvin, Zwingli and other reformers to define what they were doing, church historians have gone back and kind of reverse engineered their beliefs and came up with the Five Solas.  In hind sight, this is the foundation of the reformation.

And so, in week one we looked at Solas Fide, or By Faith Alone, and this was the belief that it is faith that is the main component of our salvation, not works or good deeds and certainly not a belief in purgatory.  So, we are saved by faith alone.

Last week we looked at Solas Scriptura, or in the Scripture Alone.  And that was the belief that the final authority for our Christian life is the Bible.  And while the reformers would allow room at the table for tradition and the teaching of the church only the scriptures would be considered infallible and it would be by scripture that those other traditions and teachings would be measured. 

This week we are looking at Solus Christus, through Christ Alone.  And there are a number of scripture that teach us that there are not many ways to God, or several ways to God or even two ways to God but only one way to God.

And while that may seem very exclusive it is reality of Christianity.  And while the other Solas may have been seen as a reaction to error in the Catholic church, the Catholic church very strongly believes in Solus Christus.  More so even than a number of liberal protestant churches today.

If there was one difference in how the Catholic church and the Reformers would view the centrality of Christ it would have been in how they viewed the priesthood.  For the reformers, there was nobody standing between the believer and Christ, everyone had direct access to Christ.  However for many Catholics the parish priest was seen as the intermediary or the go between them and God.

Which was why Luther would remind priests of his time: “You are not lords over the pastoral office.… You have not instituted the office, but God’s Son alone has done so.”

And Solus Christus is drawn and taught from the many scriptures that speak of the “Name of Jesus”.

Throughout the New Testament we see this concept of the “Name of Jesus” being brought up again and again. By Peter, by Paul, by James and by Jesus himself.

There is something about the “Name of Jesus” which is unlike any other name.  So what is it?

The first thing we need to realize is that The Name of Jesus is a Descriptive Name  Remember how we started with the quote by Shakespeare, who said that if you called a rose by a different name it didn’t make it a different thing?    Well in the same way simply calling something a rose that isn’t a rose will not make it a rose.
Abraham Lincoln was fond of asking people “If you call a dog’s tail a leg, how many legs would a dog have?”  And when people would respond with “Five” Lincoln would say “No, four.  Calling a tail a leg doesn’t make it a leg.”
If someone handed you a tulip and said it was a rose, you would know right away it was not a rose.  But only if you knew what a rose looked like.  However, if you had never seen a rose it is conceivable you would think the flower you had been handed was indeed a rose and you might even tell other people it was a rose.
But would that make it a rose?  No.  it would still be a tulip.
And so, we have churches and those who are part of those churches who say “Here is Jesus, but he’s not the Jesus who was born of a virgin, because we don’t believe that.  And he’s not the Jesus who was the Son of God because we don’t believe that.  And he’s not the Jesus who was raised from the dead or who will return again because we don’t believe that either.”  
Then I would tell them that you are looking at a tulip and not a rose.
When the Gospel Writers talk about the name of Jesus they were talking about a very specific Jesus.  They are writing about the Jesus who always was and always is.  They are writing about the Jesus who is not only the son of God but is God.  They are writing about the Jesus who was born of a virgin. They are writing about the Jesus who lived a sinless life.  They are writing about the Jesus who died on the cross. They are writing about the Jesus was raised from the dead and ultimately they are writing about the Jesus who will someday return.  That is the Jesus who is named in the Bible.   
And for two thousand years churches around the world have embraced that Jesus.  
And we are told in the Bible in Hebrews 13:8  Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever.  And then in the very next verse we are told: Hebrews 13:9  So do not be attracted by strange, new ideas.   There is a reason why for two thousand years the church has taught and believed that Jesus was born of a virgin and why for two thousand years the church has taught and believed that Jesus lived a sinless life and why for two thousand years the church has taught and believed that Jesus died on the cross. 
And why for two thousand years the church has taught and believed that Jesus was raised from the dead and and why for two thousand years the church has taught and believed that that Jesus will someday return.  Because Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever.

You might remember five years ago when Mitt Romney was running for President of the US there was some discussion about whether or not he was a Christian because he was a member of the church of Jesus Christ and Latter Day Saints, the group popularly referred to as the Mormons. 
And when Robert Jeffress, senior pastor of First Baptist Church of Dallas, called Mormonism a “theological cult” he was vilified by the press for being judgemental. 
But he was correct.  Because the Jesus of the Latter Day Saints is not the Jesus of the Bible.  On the other hand I think Jeffress was over the line when he went on to declare “Evangelicals ought to give preference to a Christian instead of someone who doesn’t embrace historical Christianity.”   Mitt Romney might have made a great president. 
I think history has shown that you just because you are a good Christian doesn’t mean that you will make a good national leader.  And vice versa.
Lifeway Research a Christian research firm in the states did a survey and found that among Protestant pastors 75 % disagreed with the statement that Mormons were Christians.    But hopefully most of us would agree with the president of Lifeway Ed Stezer who stated “Though pastors believe overwhelmingly that Mormonism is not Christianity, their opinions should not be confused with personal scorn for Mormons, A person can respect a religious group and even appreciate their commitment to traditional moral values without equating their beliefs with Christian orthodoxy.”
But understand that it’s not enough to claim the name of Jesus without claiming the Jesus of the name.
The Name of Jesus Is a Holy Name  This goes back to what we believe about Jesus, if we truly believe that Jesus is God then his name deserves the same respect as the name of God.
 And that takes us back to Exodus 20:7 "Do not misuse the name of the LORD your God. The LORD will not let you go unpunished if you misuse his name.   and we’ve talked about this before.  To misuse God’s name is to use it in a frivolous manner, to misuse Jesus’ name is to use it in a frivolous manner.  It’s not an exclamation, or a statement of surprise or anger.  It is a holy name and deserves to be treated as such. 
It’s not just a command about the way we speak, it’s also a commandment concerning the way we live.  When you call yourself a Christian then you are calling yourself a follower of Christ, you are in effect taking his name, his name, and attaching it to yourself and to your behaviour.   And when your life does not reflect your commitment as a Christian then you are misusing his name.  So, when you call yourself a Christian then live like the devil what does that say?  What are you doing to the name of Christ with the way you are living?
Not only is his name descriptive his name is holy, but more than that:
The Name of Jesus Is a Powerful Name  If you read through the book of Acts you discover that the early church depended on the name of Jesus.  It was in the name of Jesus that the message of the Gospel was preached, it was in the name of Jesus that demons were cast out and it was in the name of Jesus that people were healed.
I love the story about Peter and John going to the temple one afternoon to pray and they encounter a crippled beggar outside the temple gate.  And when he sees them approach he asked them for money.  And this was their answer:  Acts 3:6  But Peter said, “I don’t have any silver or gold for you. But I’ll give you what I have. In the name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene, get up and walk!”   And he was healed.  But it was done in the name of Jesus.
And it was in the name of Jesus that tyrants were rebuked and it was in the name of Jesus that people found the strength to be martyred for their faith.
And there are great scriptures that we claim and hold unto to, scriptures like John 14:14 You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it.   How often have we heard that promise, and how often have we claimed that promise?  You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it. Wow! 
But did Jesus actually mean that you could ask for anything in his name and it would be yours?  That you and yours would never be in want, that you would never be sick that you could ask for anything in Jesus’ name and it would be yours?  Because if that’s the case I want an electric smart car convertible, and a giraffe. 
That’s how it is preached sometimes and that is a heresy and a mockery of the words of Jesus.  Seriously you can’t just cherry pick verses like this and let them stand on their own.  You can’t just take a sentence out of the bible and look at it in isolation. 
The very least that you can do is look at the verses that immediately surround that verse.  That’s called taking the verse in context.

In this case, we need to look at John 14:12-13 I tell you the truth, anyone who has faith in me will do what I have been doing. He will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father. And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Son may bring glory to the Father.   What is it talking about here?  It is talking about doing what Jesus did.  That your prayers and your life would bring glory to God. 
And you are thinking “Well sure Denn, but if I won the lottery that would bring glory to God.”  Do you really believe that? 
This goes back to the line in the Lord’s prayer that says “Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”  There is power in Jesus name and that power is living in Jesus name and means that we live in such a way that our requests are requests that Jesus would honour.  John 15:16 You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit--fruit that will last. Then the Father will give you whatever you ask in my name.   
We sure like the last part.  Then the Father will give you whatever you ask in my name.   But you can’t isolate the last part from the first part of Jesus statement and that is that you will bear fruit that will last, because that is what your requests are supposed to lead to. 
When you pray for the power and desire to live the life that Jesus would have you to live, then then power that you need is there.   When you pray for the strength to resist temptation then that strength is there.  When you pray that you will be better able to bear the name of Jesus and that your life will produce the fruit that Jesus wants you to produce, that request will be answered.
As a young pastor, I thought that praying “Your will be done” was a cop out, that if we were truly to pray in faith, believing that whatever we asked for in Jesus name would happen that we were just given ourselves an out by praying “your will be done” because if our prayers weren’t answered then we could just say “well I guess that it wasn’t in God’s will” 
But what if we truly believed that God is smarter than us, and ultimately that God wants the very best for our lives, even if at this point in our lives it doesn’t seem that way? 
Sometimes we are like children who feel that we need every shiny new toy that captures our imagination and every cone of ice cream or candy bar that tickles our fancy and that doesn’t bring glory to God. 
But have you ever wondered what would happen if every prayer you ever uttered had been answered in just the way you wanted it to be answered? 
The power that is in the name of Jesus is the power to live as a new creation, the power to be a witness to his name, the power to bear the fruit that he would have us to bear. 
Paul wrote these words to the believers in the Colossian church, Colossians 3:17 And whatever you do or say, let it be as a representative of the Lord Jesus, all the while giving thanks through him to God the Father.   Now listen to how it is said in the New International Version,   NIV Colossians 3:17 And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.   
So, you understand that if you are a Christ follower, then whatever you do, whether in word or deed, you’re supposed to do in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.  The question of course is: Do you? 
So to finish this morning let’s go to the book of Romans, where Paul writes Romans 10:13  For “Everyone who calls on the name of the LORD will be saved.”   Have you called on the name of the Lord?