In Luke 2:25-32, the biblical character Simeon is an old man waiting on the promise of the Messiah. He has placed himself in the Temple which he rightly assumes to be the best possible location to maintain a daily lookout for the deliverer. It is in the course of this relentless vigil that Joseph, Mary, and a very young baby Jesus cross paths with this singular man “waiting for the consolation of Israel.” In a Rafiki action that was sure to shock the nativity family, Simeon takes the child and declares: “Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation.” His faithful persistence had been rewarded with personal peace. Continue reading “Finding Peace in Faithfulness”
In 711, a Muslim army invaded and conquered most of what is now Spain and Portugal. What followed was an intermittent and complex season of warfare and crusade known today as the Reconquest, or Reconquista as Christian Kingdoms to the north and east fought to recapture these regions. The movement spanned generations and continued even after the last Muslim kingdom fell in 1492 as the remnants of Islam were prosecuted and expelled. Despite all of its political and social underpinning, the Spanish Reconquista was equally an ideological conquest fueled by a robust crusade theology. While physical armies fought and conquered, the true crusade was one of ideology.
Folquet de Marselha (1150-1231) is a fascinating figure. Though certainly not modern in his theology and philosophy, his multifaceted professions and rise to prominence have an almost modern tenor. “A troubadour, then a Cistercian monk, and finally Archbishop of Toulouse (1205-31),”he is a fine case study of the theological perspectives of reconquest and crusade during the period. His basic message offers the pragmatic observation that fighting Muslims in Spain would spare the crusaders the risks experienced during a long, Mediterranean Sea voyage to the Holy Land. However, it is his new addition to the already familiar doctrine of earning one’s salvation through fighting for God that tells us how highly he valued the crusade in Spain.
In a bizarre hermeneutic, if also an effective sales tactic, Folquet argues that the initial Muslim conquest of Spain was actually a positive action instituted by the providence of God to bring about salvation for those who would fight in the crusade.Claiming the event was an act of greater grace than the death of Christ on the cross since it offered a means of direct salvation, the archbishop broke new ground in soteriology to be sure.While his sentiments are not widely repeated among his contemporaries, the fact that he is not criticized for this teaching and the mere fact that this idea is a possible extrapolation of the theology of the time demonstrates not only the unique interpretations of medieval theology regarding salvation but also the true belief that the Church was indeed operating as the strong right arm of the Almighty Himself.
“But when Jesus heard this, He said, “It is not those who are healthy who need a physician, but those who are sick.” – Matthew 9:12 (NASB)
“I try to be as good as I can”
From Charles H. Spurgeon’s “The Great Physician and His Patients,” 1865
A minister, when he had done preaching in a country village, said to a farm-labourer who had been listening to him, “Do you think Jesus Christ died to save good people, or bad people?” “Well, sir,” said the man, “I should say he died to save good people.” “But did he die to save bad people?” “No, sir; no, certainly not, sir.” “Well, then, what will become of you and me?” “Well, sir, I do not know. I dare say you be pretty good, sir; and I try to be as good as I can.” That is just the common doctrine; and after all, though we think it has died out among us, that is the religion of ninety-nine English people out of every hundred who know nothing of divine grace: we are to be as good as we can; we are to go to church or to chapel, and do all that we can, and then Jesus Christ died for us, and we shall be saved. Whereas the gospel is, that he did not do anything at all for people who can rely on themselves, but gave himself for lost and ruined ones. He did not come into the world to save self-righteous people; on their own showing, they do not want to be saved. He comes because we need him.
As humans, we learn to encounter our own grief as a natural part of life. As a pastor, one must also learn to encounter the grief of others as a natural part of the role of caretaker and shepherd. Recently, after officiating a funeral, talking to someone else about their grief, and preparing to attend another funeral within a short period, I was quietly reminded of the timeless nature of our struggle with loss. I am regularly struck by our incapacity to fully immunize ourselves against grief’s contagious efforts to redesign our own life experiences. Many of us know how faith has shaped our own responses in this area, but I believe we are missing out on history as another great teacher if we fail to savor the sorrow together with those who have gone (long) before us. Continue reading “History: Our How-To Guide to Grief”
I write today to answer a common question:
“Should I read historical theologians in my personal discipleship time?”
Of course, any writer at historicaltheology.org will answer with a resounding “yes!” Yet, the vast majority of Christians never consider the 2000 years of thoughts and scriptural reflections from those saints, hermits, and religious vagabonds who went before them. Many scholars of the Protestant Reformation did champion going back to the sources with the Latin phrase ad fontes, literally meaning “to the fountains.” However, these reformers were talking about getting back to the ultimate source of their information about God: the Bible.
Certainly, our faith is nothing if cut off from this original wellspring. Yet, it is helpful to understand through which territories this fountain has traveled on its way to us moderns. Indeed, these paths were often wastelands where the stream of the true faith all but trickled through deserts. Other times, it raged in torrents as the floodgates upstream released a torrent as happened in the Reformation movements. Could we not learn from these times of drought and plenty alike? How did others see the Bible before us? What did they learn from it, and how did they apply its teachings to everyday life?
You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people’s feet. You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven. – -Matthew 5:13-16 (ESV)
To this day, I remember a well-meaning college student teaching on this passage at an event when I was part of a youth group. With all the wisdom of a church father, they read the passage and then waded into interpretation by saying: “Christians are here to give flavor to the world” as they attempted to explain the meaning of “you are the salt of the earth.” I remember how strange and unhelpful that was for years to come. However, for all the weird and uninformed hermeneutics available, there are some great historical examples of references to this passage that will be sure to add flavor to any sermon or Bible study. Continue reading “Salt & Light: Historical Sermon Illustrations from Matthew 5:13-16”
Methods of using stories in sermons have long been debated. Typically, evaluation is given to their quality, length, and volume. One great example of how this can be done effectively is in a particularly powerful sermon by D. L. Moody (1837-1899) that was so riddled with testimonies of God’s work in the lives of famous theological figures that one could criticize the good evangelist for excess if one dares censure the portly statesmen of the faith. Regardless, from Moody’s example the modern pastor can learn better the craft of weaving in the real-life testimonies of saints past and contemporary without distracting from the narrative of the Gospel in their own sermons.
For this task, we will consider the singular revival sermon entitled “Sowing and Reaping.”In a brilliant set up to his stories that come later in the message, Moody reflects on both Christ’s and Paul’s use of “teaching from analogy.” Moody allows this subtle reference to percolate in the mind of the audience; full of foreshadowing but without any awkward reference to the fact that he would be employing the same didactic method later in his own discourse. Continue reading “D. L. Moody & the Art of Using a Story to Get to THE Story”