Sunday, October 31, 2010

Five Solas

October 31 is celebrated as Reformation Day in churches of the “protestant” tribe (Lutheran, Baptist, etc.).

It is also Halloween, a day for kids to dress up in fun costumes and go door to door in search of candy.

Both will be done at my house today. The first thing we will do is go to worship. We will  not be worshipping Martin Luther or the Reformation. We will be worshipping God the Father Almighty who sent His only-begotten son, Jesus Christ, to save us from our sins.

At this time of year, I’m reminded of the “solas” (yes, with an “a”) of the Reformation.

There are five solas – or “alones” – that I believe, teach, and confess through my everyday living.

1. Sola Scriptura – “By Scripture Alone”

The Bible is a remarkable document. It is really a “library” of sixty-six books (in the protestant tradition) that were written by men and women over a period of 1500 years. It covers the entire history of the human race (in various ways, not all of them literally). It is remarkably consistent.

It is also my “go to.” As a trained (actually “in-training”) theologian, the Bible is my primary source for my theology. In other words, everything I believe about God, life, and salvation come from the Bible.

While I read other people’s work, listen to other preachers and teachers, I always use the Bible as my source document – testing all their teaching against what the Bible says.

2. Sola Fide – “By Faith Alone”

When it comes to salvation, I believe that I am saved by “faith alone.” There is nothing else that I can do to be saved except to have faith in Jesus Christ. This faith is a gift from God (we’ll explore that in point #3).

When Martin Luther posted 95 ideas on October 31 in 1517 in order to open the debate about Sola Fide, the Reformation “officially” began. His argument was with those who felt that “good works” had a prominent role in a persons’ salvation.

But the reality is that our “good works” are to be done because we are saved, and not in order to get saved.

3. Sola Gratia – “By Grace Alone”

This sola goes hand in hand with #2. Where faith alone without good works is how we are saved, grace alone is why we are saved. We don’t do anything to earn salvation, there isn’t anything about us that God sees and says, “I’ll save you!” other than pure love. God loves us with unconditional love (called “agape” love). It is like a mom or dad that loves their child – not because the child is beautiful or sleeps through the night or likes strained peas, but simply because she is their child.

4. Solus Christus – “Through Christ Alone”

This is the one that trips up so many people in this world. The Scriptures record Jesus Christ very clearly.

“I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the father except through me” (John 14:6)

I know that many take exception to this. I can appreciate that. But I can’t get past the fact that Jesus said it – the same Jesus that said “love your neighbor as yourself,” “For God so loved the world that he sent his only-begotten son,” and “I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.”

This is reassuring to me. I don’t have to worry that I’m on the right path to life. There is only one path.

5. Soli Deo Gloria – “Glory to God Alone”

This last one is our response to all that God has done. It is a way of life. All that I do is for God’s glory, not mine. He does promise to give me all I need, to give me the desires of my heart (Psalm 37:4). But I will strive to do all things Soli Deo Gloria.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Leadership from the Biggest Brother

Another excerpt from a current project at True Men Ministries.

Home page is here.

Dick Winters arrived at Teccoa, Georgia in the summer of 1942. The U.S. Army camp where the paratroopers would initially train was not much of a camp. There were one or two permanent buildings when he arrived. The troops would live in tents until barracks could be built.

Overshadowing the camp was 1,735 foot Currahee Mountain. On trooper remarked, upon arriving and looking up at Currahee, “I bet we’ll be running up that at the end of our training.”

Wishful thinking.

Dick Winters and the troopers started their training with runs up Currahee, with the rallying cry, “Three miles up, three miles down!”

Capt. Herbert Sobel, Commanding Officer of Easy Company at Teccoa, made them run up Currahee hill numerous times. Why? Because he knew that physical training would be vital to the company’s chances of survival and victory in combat.

Running up Currahee was Sobel’s torture that would help Easy Company survive Normandy on June 6, 1944, Holland in September 1944, Bastogne in December 1944 and January 1945 and finally reach Hitler’s Eagle’s Nest in May of 1945.

Currahee is thought to come from a Cherokee word that translates to, “stand alone.” It would become the motto of the 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment of the 101st Airborne Division – “We Stand Alone … Together.” The physical training not only prepared Dick Winters and the men of Easy Company for the rigors of war, but it help them to endure it mentally and banded them together as brothers in battle – a brotherhood that would last their lifetimes.

Dick Winters recognized that physical stamina is the root of mental toughness. And the men of Easy Company would be pushed to the limit mentally from June 1944 to May 1945. Jumping out of a plane into a dark sky lit up by bursts of flak to land in enemy-occupied France. They would be pushed almost beyond the breaking point in the frozen forests of Belgium surrounded by the enemy shooting artillery shells into the trees above them day and night.

I’ve read many articles that claim that a sound mind stems from a sound body. I’m not exactly sure why that would be because I’m not a doctor. But I would think it has something to do with the body being healthy, with good blood flow to the brain, well oxygenated, able to endure long periods of physical testing.

The stories of soldiers in war strike a chord within me because as a disciple of Jesus Christ, I also am a soldier in war. The devil attacks with “flaming darts” (Ephesians 6), he prowls around (1 Peter 5), he makes war against us (Revelation 12). Not every attack by Satan is physical. Most of them are what we would call spiritual – they attack our faith, our relationship with Jesus Christ. But if we’re going to withstand these attacks, we’ll need to have physical and mental toughness.


Sunday, October 24, 2010

Do You Hear What I’m Saying?

I looked forward to chapel when I was a student at Concordia Seminary in St. Louis. Unlike being a normal church-goer who hears the same preacher every week, we would hear a dozen or so different preachers over the course of a semester.

But one type of preacher we never heard was a student preacher. I don’t know if it wasn’t allowed or that we just had some wise students during my time at seminary. I know I didn’t ever desire to preach for seminary chapel. In fact, fifteen years later, I don’t desire to go back and preach at seminary chapel. Getting up in front of two dozen theologians and three hundred theologians-in-training and preaching a sermon gives me the willies just to think about it.

My fear is that I wouldn’t be heard. Or that I wouldn’t be listened to. My fear is that I would be judged. That the professors would be sitting there thinking “who does this guy think he is?” and the students would be sitting there thinking “I can do better than that.” I suspect that they would both be correct to think this.

The closest I got to this blood-chilling position was being the liturgist for a seminary chapel during my last year of seminary. I wore my white alb and stood at the lectern leading the office of Morning prayer and reading the appointed Scripture lessons.

After chapel, I was sitting in a class-room waiting for my church history class to begin when the professor came up to me. He half-smiled and said, pointing to my shoes, “We noticed.”

I had made the critical error – to him at least – of wearing brown pants and brown shoes under my alb.

Of all thing things about chapel that one should listen to and notice, my wearing  brown instead of black was what this man noticed.

That was 16 years ago. It still sticks with me today.

When I get up to proclaim God’s Word, it still runs in the back of my mind, “What do they hear?” “Do they hear what I’m saying?”

If you went to worship this past weekend, did you hear what the preacher said?

Jesus had this problem as well.

2And on the Sabbath he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were astonished, saying, "Where did this man get these things? What is the wisdom given to him? How are such mighty works done by his hands? 3 Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon? And are not his sisters here with us?" And they took offense at him. (Mark 6:2-3 ESV)

For me, there are two things I need to keep in mind. One is that I’m human but I can take steps to not distract people when I preach. I can be “clean” (well-groomed, teeth brushed, etc). Two, I can live my life so that won’t be a distraction either.

The problem I have is that I haven’t always lived my life so its not a distraction. That’s why I could never preach in front of my old professors. They know me too well.

Somewhat ironically, though, is that I would have no problem preaching in front of people who know me even better – like my long-time friends. They’ve seen me at my worst as well as at my best. Yet they still love me and they don’t let that distract them from what I preach about.

Because what I preach about is the love of God that He has for us in Christ Jesus. This message of life and love goes so far beyond who I am that people who know me best hear the message instead of getting hung-up on the messenger.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Leadership from the Biggest Brother

Here’s another excerpt from a book on leadership I’m writing.

Mention “character” in the same context of “a man” and you most likely will get a mental image along the lines of “Homer Simpson,” “Peter Griffin,” “Ray Barone,” or “Charlie Harper.”

In the last 30 years or so, the picture of the American man has been reduced to flatulence jokes, hedonism, being somewhat dim-witted (whether intentional on the part of the guy or not), or as I once heard him referred to, “Stupid Guy.” There seems to be no end to the string of commercials – from American diet beer to glass cleaners – which play on the theme of “Stupid Guy.”

This doesn’t seem to always have been the case. Even on television – men were portrayed in a much more positive light in the 1950’s and 1960’s.

I suspect that these are exaggerations – on both ends of the spectrum – from reality. But I also suspect that there is some truth to the exaggeration. There are some guys out there like this – “Stupid Guy” I mean. I think that the way our country is headed – morally, spiritually, and economically – can all be attributed to more and more “Stupid Guys” influencing our young men and boys.

We need men of character, competence and courage more than ever in today’s world.

Men like Richard Winters – who was known to NOT “fraternize” with the local women while overseas serving in the army, drink alcohol (at all) while on leave, and did everything to a moral code that was based on the Bible.

He did this because he felt that being a man of good character was vital to the survival of himself and the men he led into battle. He didn’t know when he would be going into battle. It could have been at any moment – and often was “at any moment.” At least once he and his men were thrust into battle at a time when they least expected it. When the Nazi forces broke through the Allied lines in the Ardennes forest at Bastogne, Winters and his men were on leave in France. But because he was a man of character, he was ready to go at the moment he was ordered to go.

It is no different today. We must be ready at a moment’s notice to “go into battle.”

For a time, my son suffered from seizures. They could happen anytime – and they did. In the middle of the night, at the beginning of the day, at the end of the day, during school, on holidays like Christmas Day. I had to be ready at a moment’s notice to help him. There is not “time off the clock” for a father.

Because we live in a culture of time clocks, “nine-to-five” and weekends off and vacations, we think there will be times when we can “cut loose” and not be accountable to anyone. It’s “me time” we think.

But people are counting on us to be ready to help and serve and fight for them no matter what the time or day. Being a man of character goes a long way to being prepared to do that.

We also need to be competent. This means we must know what we are doing or are called upon to do. This means training and education. Winters and the men of Easy Co. went through some of the hardest training of any group in the United States Army during World War II. They did close-order drill over and over again, day after day. They ran up and down Mt. Currahee at Camp Teccoa. They assembled and disassembled their M1 rifles to the point that they could do it blindfolded. They trained and trained some more in Georgia, North Carolina, various other Army camps and eventually in England.

They made five jumps out of C-47’s at jump school in order to get their jump-wings and be qualified to be paratroopers. That’s three more jumps than they actually made into combat in World War II. They may not have actually used everything they became competent to do, but they were ready to do so. This is why many of them survived the war, lived to tell about it in books and movies afterward and pass on what they learned to another generation.

Our competence comes from school and self-study in the school of experience. While high school and college usually comes to an end, the school of experience is a life-long area of learning. There is no end to the amount of material available to us to continue our learning. Books, seminars, and the like are there for us to continue to learn and strengthen our leadership skills.


I wonder why I’m so afraid of trusting? Is it God’s fault for making me this way? Is it something I did? Is it something I didn’t (or don’t) do?

I’ve read the Bible admonishments to “trust in the Lord.”

But how do I do that? And why am I afraid to do that?

It isn’t as if the Lord God Almighty, creator of the heavens and the earth, hasn’t done anything to earn my trust. (And I’m sure He’s greatly relieved to hear that He has earned my trust! By the way, that’s a little sarcasm on my part. Thank you to Susan Isaacs who taught me that “sarcasm is a viable form of communication".”)

Yes, God has earned my trust. He’s given me a wonderful wife of 19 years, three wonderful sons, a brother, mother, father, grandparents, friends. He’s gifted me to be a teacher and preacher – which I’ve been able to make a decent living with for 15 years. He gave me coffee and a sunrise most mornings that touches my heart in unspeakable (unwritable?) ways.

So why don’t I trust Him in all things?

I mean, I know I’m saved and my sins are forgiven by the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. I know I’ll spend eternity in the presence of Jesus and in heaven and all that. That isn’t my problem.

My problem is now. What about now? How can I trust God to get me through this month?

Someone will tell me to “just do it.” Heck, I’ve been that someone to other people. You can slap me now.

But, in my defense, there is some truth in that. We just have to do it. I just have to trust that God will provide, will take care of me. I mean, what alternative do I have, really?

I just wish, sometimes, that He would hurry up.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Leadership from the Biggest Brother

Here’s an excerpt from a book I’m writing right now. The time is ripe for a book on Leadership in our world. I’m looking at the leadership qualities of a man who led an elite unit of men in the U.S. Army in World War II. My intent is not to glamorize war, far from it. But the horrors of war brought to the forefront qualities of leadership in these men in the 1940’s that our world could use today.

Dick Winters looked to the west as the C-47 headed south and east toward the coast. The sun was setting here. It was still shining back home. It was lunchtime at his parents’ house in Pennsylvania. It was dawn in California. It was quiet back home. But where he was – at Upottery Field in England, it was very busy in the failing light of June 5, 1944.

Winters was the last one on the plane and he would be the last one to jump out. He was part of the first stages of the largest invasion force the world had ever seen. He was scared but he did his best to keep his fear under control. He had been training for nearly two years for this moment. All those runs up Currahee at Camp Teccoa. All the exercises under the leadership of Herbert Sobel, C.O. of Easy Company, Robert Strayer, Battalion Commander and Robert Sink, Regimental Commander made Winters and the men of Easy Company tough, confident, and ready to do what they were called upon to do – nothing less than save the world from the evils of Nazi Germany.

Richard Winters was born in Lancaster, Pennsylvania and grew up in nearby Ephrata. He graduated from Franklin and Marshall College in 1941 with a degree in business; while in college, Winters painted electrical towers for extra money. There was nothing special about him, at least nothing we would associate with being special. He was just an ordinary man.

Dick Winters enlisted in the Army in the summer of 1941, thinking he would get his one year required duty out of the way and then get on with his life. December 7th changed all that. After basic training he entered Officer Candidate School and upon graduation and commissioning as a 2nd Lieutenant, he volunteered for paratrooper training. He was made executive officer in Easy Company – the group of men who would forever be known as “The Band of Brothers.”

On D-Day, when the CO of Easy Company – Thomas Meehan’s – plane was shot down and all aboard were killed, Winters became the CO.

Winters was gifted by God with leadership. This would be put to the test throughout France, Holland, and eventually Germany.

Dick Winters would later identify qualities of leadership. It was these qualities that caused the men under his command to follow him into bloody battles that would become vital to bringing victory to the Allies in World War II.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Thy Will Be Done

This four-word phrase from the Lord’s Prayer is the key to all prayers. It takes the focus of our lives off of ourselves and puts it where it belongs – on God (He’s the “Thy” in the phrase).

Sometimes when I pray, I give God my “shopping list.” Ok, I’ll admit it – almost all of the times when I pray, I give God my “shopping list.”

The shopping list usually goes something like this:

Dear God, please keep my family safe. Heal those I love who are sick. Help me financially. Don’t let anything bad happen to me or my family.

And on it goes. I ask God for stuff. Not that there’s anything wrong with that – God wants us to ask for stuff as “dear children asks their dear father” (Luther’s Small Catechism).

I think most people pray like this. We ask God for stuff for our lives. We ask God for the stuff we need – like daily bread. We ask God for the stuff we desire (Psalm 37:4) – like a new iPad.

Lately, however, I’ve been feeling a little selfish praying this way. I hope I don’t hurt the feelings of those I have (and continue to) pray for who need heeling and comfort.

I need to pray more like Jesus, who said “your will be done” (Matthew 26:39-44). Jesus prayed for people and and for stuff, but with the understanding that not everything He was praying for was God’s will for Him.

It may not be God’s will that I have an iPad (but I hope it is, at least someday soon). It may not be God’s will that healing happens. Or it may. I don’t know. But I will pray “your will be done” because I know, and I believe it with all my heart, that God will bring about the very best for me (Jeremiah 29:11).

I’ll still pray for stuff (like that iPad) and for daily bread and for healing for my family and friends that need healing.

But my prayers will end with “Your will be done.”

Friday, October 1, 2010

Let’s Talk

Where would we be without communication?

I might argue that we’re in this mess (sin) because of a decidedly lack of communication between Adam and Eve.

We need to communicate. With each other and with God.

But there is good communication and bad communication. Could I also add, lazy communication?

Good communication is what God has with us. He communicates clearly His love for us in the person and work of Jesus Christ.

Bad communication is what the devil uses against us. He lies, just as he did to Eve, “Did God really say…?”

Today there are so many different ways to talk to other people.

Twitter. Facebook. Myspace. Email. Texting. Instant Messaging.

There really is no reason or excuse not to talk to people. We are more accessible than ever before.

But it is also true that more and more people can hear what we say – even if we never intended to be heard by so many people.

Now, maybe more than ever, it is important to mean what you say and make what you say count!