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The First Point Luther Nailed And How It’s Still Reforming Me

Wise men are men, and truth is truth. -Richard Hooker

Martin Luther, like the other epic hero Reformers, was only a man and a flawed one at that.  His “Jewish Problem” was evil. This post won’t attempt to whitewash a sinful saint named Martin Luther.

But, in point of fact, it always has been flawed ones that God uses to build- and reform-his Son’s Bride. And since it was October 31, 1517- 500 years ago to the day- that Luther nailed his 95 Theses to the door at All Saints’ Church in Wittenberg and with that stroke, set off the Protestant Reformation and since his reforms still impact sinning saints like me, I thank God for Martin Luther today,

Like him or not, there’s a lot we can all learn from Luther. Like his concept of Christian repentance- which happens to be the very first of the 95 theses.

Luther’s First Thesis: A Life Of Repentance

When our Lord and Master Jesus Christ said, “Repent” (Mt 4:17), he willed the entire life of believers to be one of repentance. That’s it. The first thesis.
Biblically defined repentance is changing one’s mind, so that one lives differently (see Thesis #3). It means turning from sin to Christ. Repentance is the path to forgiveness of sins and favor with God. We repent and believe and are saved (Matt. 4:17, Mark 6:12, Acts 2:38, Acts 26:20).
But repentance  doesn’t end when we receive Christ Jesus as Lord. It’s a life-long process. It’s not, as Luther wrote (Thesis #2), a sacrament of penance administered by the clergy. That’s not so much the issue today as the notion that repentance is one and done. As if real Christians, strong Christians, are the one who never have to turn from sin, who never have to repent. The ones who might say, Oh, no. I’ve never changed my stance. I’ve always lived this way.

Really?  I think. Because it seems like that means you’re either omniscient, God-like and divine or proud, deceived and blind. And I betray my own proud, sinful heart.

Because, truth be told, we don’t see all of our sin at once. Our sins are layered, like onions. We peel a layer off and- lo! and behold- there’s another. We don’t see all our sin. 

From as much as you know of your sin…

Which is why I like Pastor Colin Smith‘s definition of repentance so much. He explains,

Repentance is turning from as much as you know of your sin, to give as much as you know of yourself to as much as you know of God. 

This definition, like Luther’s first thesis, helps me see repentance as a lifelong pursuit, a way of living. Not one and done. We repent as we see more of our sin. We don’t see it all at once, and maybe that’s a mercy for we’d all be so overwhelmed.

Sinners are comfortable with sin. Christians are not. We regret it and don’t settle with it. Seeing  own need to repent for caving to  impatience or harshness or envy or pride as a healthy, ongoing part of life helps me press on and do it. To repent, that refreshing might come. Luther, and Pastor Smith, help me see that there’s no shame in repenting.

Isn’t that what we teach our kids? Just admit that you know what you did is wrong and you want to go the right way. That repenting a really big thing to do? That it means Jesus is at work in you?

We’ve got to live like repentance is okay.  We’ve got to confess and repent of our sins. And welcome the confessions of others. We’ve got to normalize repentance. Because our Christian lives are continual mid-point correction, like swimming to a target on the beach when your dominant arm always pulls your front crawl that way.

We constantly reorient our strokes, our walk, our lives to align to as much as we know of our Lord.

Not a man who never goes wrong

You might say we’re in constant reforming mode. By grace alone, through Christ alone, we’re constantly, “making good.” My Reformation Study Bible explains repentance is the ongoing turning from sin in the life of a Christian. Ordinary Christian life will include times of profound sorrow for remaining sin. So good grief, and the repentance that follows is part and parcel of ordinary Christian life.

Continually turning from our sin, to our compassionate, gracious Savior who is Himself in us. Repenting, then is a revelation of the mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. Because like C.S. Lewis explained,

A live body is not one that never gets hurt, but one that can to some extent repair itself. In the same way a Christian is not a man who never goes wrong, but a man who is enabled to repent and pick himself up and begin over again after each stumble—because the Christ-life is inside him, repairing him all the time, enabling him to repeat (in some degree) the kind of voluntary death which Christ Himself carried out.  (Mere Christianity 1952; Harper Collins: 2001. 62-63).

Christians stumble. We go wrong. We see our sin and get up and repent. And run on and stumble and see more of our sin and repent.
So, with Christ in us, repairing us all the time, as we see our sin, we repent. But try as we might, we’ll never see it all.

The answer we need when we don’t see it all

Don’t despair. Our Maker knows our frame.

And He knew his servant Martin Luther’s flawed frame too. He saw the sin that Luther himself couldn’t see in himself and, therefore, could not repent of and confess. But seeing Luther’s spiritual blindness, takes us straight back to one of the most precious Reformation truths.

Now I borrow from Trevin Wax to close. 

Luther’s anti-Semitism, egregious as it is, does not lead me to abandon his rediscovery of justification; it leads me to lean harder into it. Here’s the glorious truth: the reality Luther saw so clearly provides the answer to the sin he didn’t.

In other words, Luther discerned the reality of justification by faith alone better than he discerned the sinfulness in his own heart and life. And it’s that reality of justification by faith alone that levels us all and drives us to our knees–thankful for the clear example of horrendously flawed theologians articulating the only doctrine that gives hope to all of us who are horrendously flawed. It’s only in the security of being wrapped up in the righteousness of Christ that we can say, “Challenge me, Lord. Change me, Lord. Expose my wickedness.”

In the end, when death came for Luther’s mortal body, and the last of his parasitical sinfulness was destroyed, his final words contained no more vile epithets toward the Jews, but only a deathbed confession of his Jewish Messiah: “We are beggars; this is true.”

Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God.  

Romans 5:1-2

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Ills Have NO Weight? THOUGH Ills Have Weight? (Still, Abide With Me.)

Last week’s JoyPrO post was written by my friend Hannah. Hannah had cancer and has a thing or two to teach us all about rock-solid, living hope. At the end, I snuck in a link to Audrey Assad singing Abide With Me.  In the week since, I’ve been feeding on the hymn, soaking in these lyrics so I can store them up.

Because in the span of this one week dear some ones lost a tiny life and a heart attack almost cost a life and someone started chemo and another discovered disease. Because weather in our neck of the WI woods is way more damp, dismal fall than blazing glory today.

And because, truth be told. sometimes you just wake up feeling old and change and decay is all around to see. That’s why we need Abide With Me.

Store Up Abide With Me

That’s  why I want this one in me. I want to hide its truth in my heart so I draw on it at will. Like Psalm 23 or “I before E except after C” or “Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me.” I want it to be in me so it overflows from me. Because, one day it might be the right word to sustain a weary soul.

So I’ve listened to every mix of Abide With Me I can find- this one by King’s College Choir and this one by Indelible Grace and this acappella version by the Antrim Mennonite Choir and this one by sung by Hayley Westenra at an big rugby final and this beautiful one by Stephanie Seefeldt. This bagpiping father’s daughter even sung in tune with the Pipes and Drums of the Guards of the Royal Scots Dragoon.

And soaking so long like that landed me on a “variant” of a single line in verse four that I’ve been chewing on all week. I’d love to hear your take, to find out which lyric you pick. I’ll explain in a minute. First, maybe pick a link-Audrey Assad’s is my favorite- and sing along.

Change and decay in all around I see

Isn’t it stirring? The story behind the hymn is too. I won’t tell it now, but it is a great read. Because it’s these lyrics- so raw, so real, so what a soul feeling fragile needs- that are key. Will you read them with me?

  1. Abide with me; fast falls the eventide;
    The darkness deepens; Lord, with me abide;
    When other helpers fail and comforts flee,
    Help of the helpless, oh, abide with me.
  2. Swift to its close ebbs out life’s little day;
    Earth’s joys grow dim, its glories pass away;
    Change and decay in all around I see—
    O Thou who changest not, abide with me.
  3. I need Thy presence every passing hour;
    What but Thy grace can foil the tempter’s pow’r?
    Who, like Thyself, my guide and stay can be?
    Through cloud and sunshine, Lord, abide with me.
  4. I fear no foe, with Thee at hand to bless;
    Ills have no weight, and tears no bitterness;
    Where is death’s sting? Where, grave, thy victory?
    I triumph still, if Thou abide with me.
  5. Hold Thou Thy cross before my closing eyes;
    Shine through the gloom and point me to the skies;
    Heav’n’s morning breaks, and earth’s vain shadows flee;
    In life, in death, O Lord, abide with me.

Aren’t they rich? Every verse a tried and hurting heart’s faithful cry. Every verse  a cry to the Lord who formed us and loves us and keeps us and promised he’d never leave us.

But it’s the second line in the fourth verse of Lyte’s lyrics that gives me pause: Ills have no weight, and tears no bitterness. 

Is it really “Ills Have No Weight“? Or is it “Though Ills Have Weight“?

Which is it?  Did Lyte really write, lIls have no weight and tears no bitterness? Because if he did, I cannot relate. I’m not there yet. Ills do have weight and some tears have a bitter taste. Or did Lyte really write this version, which reads, Though ills have weights and tears their bitterness? 

This second one I can sing with abandon; I can pull out all the stops. Because sometimes my ills feel heavy and my tears have a bitter sting. No often, thank God, and not very long. But there are times. That’s why I prefer Though ills have weight and tears their bitterness. 

As in, I fear no foe, with Thee at hand to bless; though ills have weight and tears their bitterness. As in Peter’s, Even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake you will be blessedor Paul’s sorrowful yet always rejoicing.  Or like Lamentations 3- just before great is thy faithfulness- Jeremiah, a man of great faith, recalls his affliction and my wanderings; the bitterness (“wormwood”) and the gall and his eyes were spent for weeping.

As in our Suffering Servant, our Lord Jesus who felt sin’s weight so much he sweat bloody sweat. 

And Jesus wept.  

What Did Lyte Write?

Turns out we do have access to a 150 year old copy of the actual words Lyte wrote. He handed them off to his daughter a few weeks before at age 54, he “wore out for God.” You can see them in his own hand at the Challies’ “Hymn Story.”

Lyte wrote no weight and no bitterness.

Yow. I get that compared with the weight of heavenly glory our earthly ills are small. You might even say they “have no weight.” But I don’t say that, because I feel weight. Yes, I set my my heart on heaven, but my body still feels the weight of the fall. None of us is impervious to pain. We cry out to God like patient Job (6:10), “What is my strength, that I should wait?  And what is my end, that I should be patient? Is my strength the strength of stones, or is my flesh bronze?

Yes, it is okay to weep while we worship.

But we also sing songs and hymns to catch a vision for where we can be and for what will be. 

So I’ll sing what Lyte wrote. Even though ills still have weight and some of my tears sting. But I wouldn’t hesitate for a second to sing the other, Though ills have weight and tears their bitterness. Because ills have weight this side of heaven.

Though it’s a tough run, a fight of faith, and sorrowful yet rejoicing, in Christ we will triumph still. Because in the end, it’s like Paul and Lyte both wrote, Where is death’s sting? Where, grave, thy victory? We grieve, yes, but as those with hope. And as for triumph, oh yes- We are more than conquerors through Christ Jesus.

But if you woke up feeling fragile today, or if change and decay is all around to see, if ills do have weight and tears some bitterness, well, have I got a hymn for you.

I fear no foe with you at hand to bless, 
Though ills have weight, and tears their bitterness. 
Where is death’s sting? Where, grave, your victory? 
I triumph still, if you abide with me. 

-Henry Lyte

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Hannah’s Hope

Her smooth cello drew me. Then, nine months ago we crossed paths again and I made a new friend. Actually, I found a new friend. Or she found me. In any case, our meeting wasn’t chance.

Because, like C.S. Lewis explained, A secret master of ceremonies has been at work. Christ, who said to the disciples, “Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you,” can truly say to…Christian friends, “Ye have not chosen one another but I have chosen you for one another.” The friendship is not a reward for our discriminating and good taste in finding one another out. It is the instrument by which God reveals to each of us the beauties of others” (“The Four Loves”).

Truly.

Hannah was just finishing  her last chemo treatment when we met. But hat or no hat, short hair or no, Hannah is beautiful. Hannah exudes living hope; she laughs at the days to come.  Hannah lives her motto loud: Love Jesus. Love people. Share Jesus with people. By living this way, she strengthens my hope in God. 

Months ago, I invited her to share her story here. This week she took me up.  It is with pleasure that I share Hannah with you. 

Hi. I’m Hannah.

In the past 14 months God has led me and walked with me through stage 2 Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. By His grace I am currently cancer free. I recently participated in the Leukemia- Lymphoma Society (LLS) Light the Night walk. LLS provides support to cancer patients and survivors and supports research to find more effective treatments for blood cancers. I was looking forward to a night of camaraderie and sharing of stories, a night of savoring and rejoicing in life.

And we  did “light up the night with hope.” We raised money and awareness for blood cancer research and patients. The survivors and MC at the event spoke of the support of family and friends through hard times, shared fond memories of those who died of cancer, and we all celebrated the blessing of being survivors.

Yet I left with deep sadness in my soul. Where was the real hope? The solid hope? Not the fluffy, humanistic stuff, but the kind to base your life on, the hope that gives strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow. Where was that hope?

Some Trust In…

“Some trust in chariots [chemotherapy, radiation, surgery, science], some trust in horses [family, friends, statistics, positive thoughts] but we trust in the name of the Lord our God!” –Psalm 20:7

At the event, one of the women spoke of how positive thoughts, human relationships/support, and advances in science got her through treatment. I listened and thought sadly,  “Really? That’s all she’s got?” This is “hope”?  If it is, hope ends when life ends.

Positive thoughts are proven to help cancer patients handle treatment and life better, but no one  on her deathbed can save her  life by positive thinking. Human relationships have great power to affect lives, but all of us will die, and most of us won’t be remembered for long after our death (maybe a lifetime or two…).

Science provides many amazing ways to combat diseases and increase life expectancies, but no science could have predicted that I would be diagnosed with cancer at the age of 24. And this diagnosis after I’d lost 50 pounds and had really begun to live a “healthy” lifestyle. In fact, I’d run a PR in a 10k the week before my chemo treatments started. Beyond that, none of us can control whether or not the cancer returns. I know death is only breath away.

When the rubber meets the road, these sources of “hope” are just man-made smoke screens covering an abyss of hopelessness – a way for people to cope but not even come close to a permanent solution that addresses all anxieties and possibilities of an uncertain and unknown future.

But what we need, cancer or cancer free, is not hype and not “just to cope,” what we need is to hope.

Not hype, not “just cope”- hope.

“Never be afraid to trust an unknown future to a known God.” -Corrie ten Boom

I’m not saying positive thoughts, human relationships, and science are bad. They are helpful, but they are all much too small and frail to be the basis of real hope.

So what is hope?  True hope is no wishy-washy thing. It does not look to the future with wishful thinking and “positive thoughts.” Oh, it is so much more!

God promises that those of us who have trusted in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior have an imperishable and unfading inheritance, a 100% guarantee of hope in the future no matter what the present holds. Though we face various and difficult trials, we have this hope (1 Peter 1:3-9).

“We do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory…For we know that if the tent that if our earthly home is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens.” -2 Corinthians 4:16-5:1

Though this earthly body be destroyed, I have something better and lasting – a building made by God, perfect and eternal, apart from the presence of sin and death, in the very near presence of God…and that is the best part – to get to behold God’s glory forever.

Light The Night, All The Day

I did not survive my cancer, nor do I live cancer free, with an insecure, surface level “hope.” I thrive through cancer and can live free from anxiety. I live with a living hope and seeking to fix my eyes on Jesus, my glorious Savior. Now that is the walk I live each day, by God’s grace, with an excited, joy-filled and hopeful heart. It’s a walk full of camaraderie, sharing stories, rejoicing in and savoring God and the many gifts He has given.

Hannah with her brother and sister

It’s a daily “Light the Night” walk, lighting up the dark world with God’s light and daily proclaiming the greatness of my God and Savior who has called me out of spiritual darkness into His marvelous light.

But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession,

that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.

1 Peter 2:9

*Abigail again: I mentioned earlier Hannah plays a mean cello.  This version of Abide With Me features a deep, sweet cello like hers. But it’s more the lyrics than the strings that lead me to thank God for Hannah’s fearless, living hope when I hear these words:

I fear no foe with you at hand to bless, 
though ills have weight, and tears their bitterness. 
Where is death’s sting? Where, grave, your victory? 
I triumph still, if you abide with me. 

Henry Francis Lyte

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Dinah Departed: Remembering A Flop-eared Bunny

On Losing A Pet

Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal.  – C.S. Lewis, The Four Loves

Who knew that the sight of purple clover could, reflexively, cause my knees to bend so my fingers can pluck? That three years would be enough to create in me a clover-picking reflex? Or that, these last three years, for a walk to be good it must be capped by gathering fresh greens for Dinah?

Who knew, in bed at night, we’d find ourselves listening for her leggy, lagomorphic thump from an empty crate in the basement? Or wishing I could watch her kick up those big heels again and leap- I always thought- like a calf released from a stall. Seeing her hop like that when I came down to exercise in the morning always made me happy.

Losing a pet means we can’t push death out to the margins. We can’t ignore the fact that all flesh is like grass, and our lives our like a mist. Pets shorter lives force us to measure  our short lives. Losing a pet forces us to think about these things.

Who knew that a glance at a purple clover would make me think on heaven?

Remembering Dinah

Men spend their time in following a ball or a hare; it is the pleasure even of kings. -Blaise Pascal, Pensées

Somehow a lumpy little flop-eared bunny named Dinah did all that. The boys followed her for three years and now she helps our family measure our own days. Five years ago, losing a pet named Zippy, did the same. In fact, remembering our good dog Zippy sort of kicked off this blog. 

But this week, we remember Dinah. 

We’d just moved to our new dwelling place, after 17 years in the old schoolhouse on the corner, when our friend Rosie mentioned her nephew might have a bunny for sale. 

We remember how Dinah made us laugh. Like when she pounced on a friend’s yippy little puppy. We remember how our timid cousin Anna finally worked up the courage to feed Dinah a carrot. Then Dinah crunched, and Anna laughed. We laughed as she hopped figure eight’s around our feet and under our knees. She enjoyed those routes.

We laugh about how she swallowed that balloon and hopped right along. We smile now wondering if she may possibly have enjoyed being hopped along by Gabe with his much-desired, 9th birthday, rabbit-hopping leash. But we know for certain how Dinah enjoyed all the loving rubs she got from the guys. Those rubs are when we learned that cats aren’t the only critters that purr.

Our three years and a month with Dinah ended Tuesday.

A Yardstick for our Days

Lord, make me know my end and what is the measure of my days;  let me know how fleeting I am! …For I am a sojourner with you, a guest, like all my fathers.Psalm 39:4, 12b

Easter Morning with Dinah, 2015

Granted- Rabbits aren’t man’s best friend, and cats might have more personality. But Dinah had a place in our hearts. She was a measure for our days.

Dinah munched less and nested more the last few weeks. We saw this coming. So when Tuesday came, I filled her box with Dad’s fresh, alfalfa hay;  her bowl with sweet orange Gator-Aide. Then I carried Dinah from crate and place her gently down on a towel beside my desk.

Hey guys, Dinah doesn’t have long to live. You might want to say good-bye now, I told them when they marched in after school. And Sam said his in his matter-of-fact way. And Gabe said in his emotive way. Then hope broke through and Gabe announced, “Look Mom, she’s grooming. You said that means she must feel good.” 

But a few minutes later Dinah lay down. Soon her breathing changed. Then Dinah thumped one last time and lay still on her side. Death is not right, Gabe. It hurts. It’s not how God made it to be. That’s why we need a Savior. 

Tears flowed as we stroked a velveteen ear. But if we know Jesus, Gabe, death will be swallowed up in victory. 

That was last week. Since then, I’ve heard a few phantom thumps in the night and bent down once or twice to pick a purple clover.

And I’ve thought a lot about how living with a pet anchors our memories and gears up our hope for Resurrection Morn. How losing a pet, oddly enough, can even help us.  Dinah’s departure reminds me how short this life is, and makes me want to number these fleeting days right. 

So  if you need any help measuring your days, you might get a pet.

Even a lumpy little flop-eared bunny will do.

Teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom. 
Relent, LORD! How long will it be? Have compassion on your servants. 
Satisfy us in the morning with your unfailing love, that we may sing for joy and be glad all our days. 
Psalm 90:12-14