Series on Martin Luther

#06

June 25th we will begin a series on Martin Luther.  We will begin with a very dramatic feature film.  We will need to do a sign up to see the film during several showings the first week.  After that anyone who wants to attend the Thursday night sessions will be able to.  This is a wonderful way to celebrate our heritage on the 500th Anniversary of the beginning of the Reformation.  We will use a devotional based on Luther’s ministry, as well as a teaching that I will do and small group discussions.  Please consider participating. 

Luther had a wonderful way of getting straight at things with a heart full of trust for God and a desire to encourage we poor struggling sinners.   Especially things that matter like how do we draw near to God.  “Begin with Christ. He came down to earth, lived among men, suffered, was crucified, and then He died, standing clearly before us, so that our hearts and eyes may fasten upon Him. Thus we shall be kept from climbing into heaven in a curious and futile search after the nature of God.”  We should not take pride in how capable we are of thinking about God, but  despair in our lack of understanding of the divine, so that we might see clearly how in Christ God reveals himself.  Just as we only find God revealed in Christ, we should know that when we think with own cleverness about God we only find ourselves.

Some of Luther’s most encouraging words were directed at the strange condition we have in our relationship with God, faith.  Luther focuses here on the reality that faith is not a thing we can attain by our wisdom or goodness.  “Faith is permitting ourselves to be seized by the things we do not see.”  If trusting in God is being “seized” by God it is not only not our doing, it is at odds with our will.  The apostle Paul makes this most clear in the second chapter of Ephesians when he declares faith a gift of God, but Luther finds this truth expressed in a million different ways throughout the scriptures. 
One thing Luther knows is that life will present us with many reasons to despair for ourselves and those we love, and that faith grounded in my work of believing can never be strong enough to get me through.  Faith that comes from God’s taking hold of me is a comfort in the greatest of trials.  As Luther puts it, “Faith is a living, daring confidence in God's grace, so sure and certain that a man could stake his life on it a thousand times.”
Some of our darkest moments in life, Luther knows, will come to us because of our own sin.  His only hope is that we will see our sin always as God does, not condemning ourselves, but realizing our need of Jesus Cross and Resurrection.  “We are not to look upon our sins as insignificant trifles. On the other hand, we are not to regard them as so terrible that we must despair.”  The realization of our sin becomes also the occasion when we turn to Christ, that we may know his forgiveness and be brought to repentance.
Luther realized the human instinct is to strive for and seek after and accomplish faith as a work of our own which we can feel excited about and which distinguishes us from those who have not attained what we have attained.  Luther offers only the chance to let the Holy Spirit be in charge of our life and be humble servants in any circumstance God brings us to.  The world sees life as a constant exercise of our will and action for good or evil.  The important thing being that we make the choice, for or against God.  But faith in God knows better, it gives up the life of human effort and receives the life of trust, as a gift. 

 #07

As we go through the Summer and Fall, we will thinking about the person and teaching of Martin Luther.  Some have signed up to participate in weekly sessions where we will learn and discuss this part of our faith history.  If you can’t do all the Thursday 6:00 PM come when you can.  Watch for scheduled weeks.  Pick up a devotion based on “The Word and Work.”
What Luther asked was that we simply hear God’s Word and let faith be raised up in us by our loving Father.  The movement of the Spirit within us comes through our devotion to learning and meditating on the work of God in Christ as we find it in the scriptures.  It was not merely the knowledge we gain that Luther was concerned about.  Our growth comes not through knowledge only, but through the presence of God in us which through study we are ever more open to.  The same is true of gathering for worship.  It is good not only for the worship we offer to God, but for the work God does in us through the humbling and faithfulness that grows out of worship.  The importance of both study and worship are why Luther said this, “The best service that anybody can render God is diligently to hear and read God's Word.”

Naturally Luther knew study was not the only need we have in our relationship with God.  He himself was active in his prayer life.  “Praying is no small task, as those who have no experience think. Those who do have experience in spiritual matters have said that no task can be compared to the task of praying.”  This is true for many reasons, but especially because as we begin a practice of daily prayer and meditation most people have a hard time entering into conversation with God, being entirely humble and attentive. 


Luther instructs us well on how to do prayer as an active work done in the presence of God.   “For praying does not mean to recite a number of psalms or to bellow in the churches, as the monks are accustomed to do; it is a serious meditation, in which the heart makes a comparison between the person praying and the Person hearing, and reaches the firm conviction that even though we are wretched sinners, God will nevertheless be gracious, will alleviate our punishments, and will hear our prayers.”  The hope is that we will grow to be deeply aware of two aspects of our life before God.  On the one hand we are not worthy of all the blessings of relationship God has for us and nothing we do can bring the gifts of God to us, and on the other hand, God bountifully bestows on us these blessings with all his love and good will.

Luther was aware how much life’s sorrow, hurt, anxiety, illness, and fear, we human beings go through in the struggles of our daily lives.  This is why he saw in the Christian’s own efforts to accomplish the life of faith through their own efforts and insights as an illusion.  Luther recognized the power of feeling like we are moving forward in our life with God through our own efforts, but his concern was always for us to be at peace as we trust God’s work in us above our own.   “I have held many things in my hands, and I have lost them all; but whatever I have placed in God's hands, that I still possess.”  Let us rest in the Joy and Love that God brings to our lives through Christ.

 

#08

What Luther was concerned about in his day is not less a concern today, but a greater concern.  He pointed out that we human beings are given to thinking that we know everything even when our hearts and minds are only beginning to learn.  Our enthusiasm takes away our caution in all things, and when this happens in faith we lack wisdom and maturity.  As he said, “We find, alas! many of these self-grown doctors; who in truth are nothing, do nothing and accomplish nothing, are moreover untried and inexperienced, and yet, after a single look at the Scriptures, think themselves able wholly to exhaust its spirit.”  The needed thing is for all of us to humble ourselves in prayer and study of the Word and learn together, focusing on the center of our faith and the breadth of the Word.

The result of this allows us to live focused on the Lord and those we serve.  Taking our eyes off of ourselves results in peace and joy beyond emotion.  As Luther notes, “The heart overflows with gladness, and leaps and dances for the joy it has found in God. In this experience the Holy Spirit is active, and has taught us in the flash of a moment the deep secret of joy. You will have as much joy and laughter in life as you have faith in God.”  What we need to be sure of is that this happens because we focus our attention on life with God, not as a result of our longing for the emotions themselves.

One indication our attention has turned to our own spiritual experience and away from God is that we have a feeling of emptiness and discouragement when we don’t get the emotional highs and excitement we crave.  Luther accepts that we will have dark and discouraging times.  He encourages us that we should not sit in that depressed state.  “You must learn to call on the Lord. Don’t sit all alone or lie on the couch, shaking your head and letting your thoughts torture you. Don’t worry about how to get out of your situation or brood about your terrible life, how miserable you feel, and what a bad person you are. Instead, say, “Get a grip on yourself!  Fall on your knees, and raise your hands and eyes toward heaven. Read a psalm. Say the Lord’s Prayer, and tearfully tell God what you need.”

Spiritual maturity is our goal because it is God’s call on us that our relationship might be deep.  Through that relationship we have joy and peace and are better able to do the work the Lord calls us to.  It comes as we give ourselves wholly to the Lord with worship, prayer, and study of God’s Word.  Take time today for prayer and scripture reading.





#09

At a time when the church had invited average people to do little to grow in the Christian life Luther called for all people to dedicate themselves to a faith filled life.  He did so not through fear of God’s wrath, but hope in God’s promise that we are forgiven in Christ and that the Holy Spirit will be at work in each of us.  “God receives none but those who are forsaken, restores health to none but those who are sick, gives sight to none but the blind, and life to none but the dead. He does not give saintliness to any but sinners, nor wisdom to any but fools. In short: He has mercy on none but the wretched and gives grace to none but those who are in disgrace.”

What Luther asks us simply to hear God’s Word and let faith be raised up in us.  The movement of the Spirit within us comes through our devotion to learning and meditating on the work of God in Christ as we find it in the scriptures.  It was not merely the knowledge we gain that Luther was concerned about.  Our growth comes not through knowledge only, but through the presence of God in us which through study we are ever more open to.  The same is true of gathering for worship.  It is good not only for the worship we offer to God, but for the work God does in us through the humbling and faithfulness that grows out of worship.  The importance of both study and worship are why Luther said this, “The best service that anybody can render God is diligently to hear and read God's Word.”
 

Naturally Luther knew we need more than understanding in our relationship with God.  He was active in his prayer life.  “Praying is no small task, as those who have no experience think. Those who do have experience in spiritual matters have said that no task can be compared to the task of praying.”  This is especially true because as we begin a practice of daily prayer and meditation most of us have a hard time entering into conversation with God, being entirely humble and attentive. 

Luther instructs us well on how to do prayer as an active work done in the presence of God.   “For praying does not mean to recite a number of psalms or to bellow in the churches, as the monks are accustomed to do; it is a serious meditation, in which the heart makes a comparison between the person praying and the Person hearing, and reaches the firm conviction that even though we are wretched sinners, God will nevertheless be gracious, will alleviate our punishments, and will hear our prayers.”  The hope is that we will grow to be deeply aware of two aspects of our life before God.  On the one hand we are not worthy of all the blessings of relationship God has for us and nothing we do can bring the gifts of God to us, and on the other hand, God bountifully bestows on us these blessings with all his love and good will.

Luther knew well how much life’s sorrow, hurt, anxiety, illness, and fear, we human beings go through in the struggles of our daily lives.  This is why he saw in the Christian’s own efforts to accomplish the life of faith through their own efforts and insights as an illusion.  Luther recognized the power of feeling like we are moving forward in our life with God through our own efforts, but his concern was always for us to be at peace as we trust God’s work in us above our own.   “I have held many things in my hands, and I have lost them all; but whatever I have placed in God's hands, that I still possess.”  Let us rest in the Joy and Love that God brings to our lives through Christ.