Tag Archives: Martin Luther

What Do You Do When Life Spins Out of Control?

When a small airplane goes into a spin, the worst thing for the pilot to do  to try to muscle it back on course. The harder you grip the stick and the more you wrestle against the spin the worse it gets. Or so I’ve been told.

Pilots know that stopping a spin is counterintuitive. You have to power down and point the nose of the plane toward the ground. Yikes.

So too when our lives spin out of control.

In my last blog I asked how you fight spiritual entropy, that state all of us fall into where, no matter how hard we grip the controls of our lives, the slow spin begins and takes our spiritual breath away.

The Fallacy of Self-discipline

At one time severe self-punishment was considered a mark of spirituality or godliness. Famous are the men and women of faith who starved, beat, and even mutilated themselves as a form of discipline, as a way to fight off the creep–and sometimes even the tidal wave–of sin and shame and guilt in their lives. The belief behind this was that they could flagellate the disobedience or evil out of themselves.

Martin Luther, before his “Tower Experience,” practiced such discipline fiercely. He felt God’s justice demanded he punish himself to pay for his sins. No matter that Jesus had already paid his–and our–bill. But Luther discovered that no amount of shivering in the snow all night long in February, nor climbing up and down the Scala Santa (Holy Steps) on his knees in Rome reduced his shame and guilt.

Luther wrote, “I was myself more than once driven to the very depths of despair so that I wished I had never been created. Love God? I hated him! … I lost touch with Christ the Savior and Comforter, and made of him the jailor and hangman of my poor soul.

The real goal of all this pain was not mere punishment, but rather self-discipline. And maybe even to get God to love them. Luther–and others–wanted to better themselves and believed self-punishment and deprivation would help. It didn’t.

How Do You Punish Yourself?

Spiritual self-punishment is not as popular today, nor as severe, as it once was, thank God. But still many of us practice mild forms of it, maybe subliminally. Today we may only force ourselves to watch several hours of the TV show Jersey Shore, or watch one of television evangelist Benny Hinn’s “Miracle Crusades,” or–if we have really sinned–relive any of the New England Patriot’s Super Bowl wins.

But seriously, now that I’ve probably offended you, how do you punish yourself? In the extreme, self-cutting and eating disorders are well documented problems in the modern world. These painful, heartbreaking disorders are, in part, echoes of those ancient, ubiquitous drives for perfection. And they are just as ineffective at producing perfection.

The other extreme is quitting. Maybe you have just quit trying to grow spiritually.

Many of us, however, simply grab the stick tighter. We work harder. If at first you don’t succeed try harder. That works when cleaning a floor or driving a nail. It does not work so well in matters of the soul.

Rest: The Counterintuitive Answer

What do you do when your life spins out of control? Neither a tighter grip nor giving up is the answer. Irish poet and singer-song writer Thomas Moore wrote, “It’s important to be heroic, ambitious, productive, efficient, creative, and progressive, but these qualities don’t necessarily nurture the soul. The soul has different concerns, of equal value: downtime for reflection, conversation, and reverie; beauty that is captivating and pleasuring; relatedness to the environs and to people; and any animal’s rhythm of rest and activity.”

In the Christian world we call this Sabbath. “Sabbath is that uncluttered time and space in which we can distance ourselves from our own activities enough to see what God is doing,” says Eugene Peterson.

Without planning it, my recent backpacking trip with my son, Brendan, and some close friends from Oklahoma, turned into just such a Sabbath. On the mountain there was not even a control stick much less an opportunity to grab it tighter. No cell coverage, no internet, no bad political news. Only eating and sleeping and fishing and talking and praying and stars. There was work to be sure. Pumping water, gathering firewood, cooking, the constant watch against the weather. But it is a different kind of work. Work sans worry. It is the work of letting go.

And in so doing the small plane of my life righted, pulled out of its spin, and leveled off.

Sabbath, I’ve rediscovered is powering down and letting go of the stick. But more than that, it’s releasing control of life to a bigger, more capable hand.

We’d love to hear about places and times you have found rest.

Today is my last blog post here.  It has been a pleasure to be a part of this blog for the last several years. Thanks, Mike. And thank all of you for your listening ear, wise comments, funny responses, challenging ideas, and your on-line friendship. Please consider, if you have not already, joining me on my Living Spiritually blog. Click here and subscribe. Eugene

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Why Technology and Science Can’t Save Us

By Eugene C. Scott

The only time I’ve ever given something (my computer) up for Lent, it wasn’t even Lent. And I didn’t choose–of my own free will–to give up my computer.

A few years ago, despite the fact that I own one of the best and most reliable computers going (yes, you poor PC plugs it is a world-famous Mac), my 256 megabyte hard drive crashed and burned. After trying several home remedies such as opening and closing the laptop lid, pushing various mysterious buttons (I wonder what the “F” stands for on those buttons), and muttering to myself, I finally scheduled an appointment with the “Mac Genius” in the closest Apple Store, which happened to be a mere 150 miles away. At the time I lived in the mountains near Vail, which was great except when . . . . Anyway the 2.5 hour drive to Boulder, CO did give me time to reflect—to take stock of my life as it relates to computers and electronic stuff.

The way I remember that fateful drive is like this:

That drive turned out to be a sobering and painful several hour odyssey, during which my hands trembled on the steering wheel and thoughts of living computerless distracted me. The usually spectacular Rocky Mountain scenery passed in a blur. My skin became clammy to the touch, as I fought back fear and worry each time I thought of how long it had already been since I had last checked my e-mail—ten hours and counting.

What if someone sends me an extremely important e-mail chain letter and I break the chain? I worried. I sobbed when I realized my communication ties to my world had been sadistically and heartlessly severed. I had unwillingly joined the ranks of the out-of-touch and uninformed. I feared I might become e-illiterate.

Less important but equally traumatic it dawned on me that I had lost parts of my seventy-five page (so far) doctoral dissertation, and my most recent sermon (I convulsed at the idea that I now faced researching sermons using books rather than the internet and writing them on those hideous yellow legal pads).

And how could I live in a world where my entire iTunes library had vanished?

Then panic hit! With my Treo palmOne phone calendar lost in cyberspace, how could I possibly know when to be where and with whom I was supposed to be? I nearly ran off the road. I saw my life pass before my eyes. To my horror my life was configured in indecipherable ones and zeros. Tears blurred my vision. I pulled over and turned on my emergency flashers.

I was a mess. Right then and there I knew what I must do. Admit my dependency.

So looking up to the blue sky through my pitted windshield I mumbled, “Hi, my name is Eugene.” I paused; I breathed; I listened. Then white-knuckling the steering wheel, I continued, “And I am addicted to my Mac! Computers, and other electronic devices rule my life.” I listened again. Sadly there was no encouraging “Hi, Eugene” response because there is no support group for this. I sighed. More tears flowed. At least I had said it. It was out.

On the drive back to Edwards, CO, determined but frightened, I swore I would use the three to ten days it would take to repair my PowerBook G4, to overcome my addiction and start a new life. I told myself I would read more books, talk to people face to face, and occasionally— shudder—use a pen or pencil to write. I even thought I would break out the old turntable and listen to a record or two. I pulled into our driveway ready for anything. I was fearful but resolute.

Fortunately my PowerBook was ready in three days and I never had to follow through on those rash resolutions. Though on day two of web-sobriety I did pick up my old, loose-leaf Bible. I stumbled on this passage, “You shall have no other gods before me.” Then I googled the passage to find out what it could mean.

Some wise saint (possibly John Calvin) once said, the human heart is an idol factory. The ancients carved wood and stone into what they hoped would be gods of their salvation. We fashion chips and technology into the same hope.

If you listen to the chatter of our world, how many times a day will you hear that a certain scientific discovery, or hypothesis, or technical advancement will bring us the healing or answers we are looking for? Hundreds? All the while God stands at the side of the internet-super highway with his thumb out, hitching a ride. As wonderful as science and technology are, they are finite–limited–and can’t save us.

This is because they are creations of our own limited minds. Technology is created not in God’s image but ours. We are broken beings capable of taking anything good and using it for evil. And we do. Also, if our struggles were material/physical only, maybe physical/material solutions could help. But our problems run deep into our souls. And not even a super computer can go there. Only God can.

I may have exaggerated my struggle with my forced fasting from electronics of several years ago. But I did recognize then, and still do now, how easy it is for me to try to slip something else into that God shaped void in my life.

Maybe that’s what seasons like Lent are really about. Not just giving stuff up. But taking stock of where in our life God stands or who/what we have standing in God’s place.

Eugene C. Scott writes the Wednesday Neighborhood Cafe blog.  If you’re reading this on Facebook and you’d like to join the conversation, click here. www.bibleconversation.com. Eugene co-pastors The Neighborhood Church in Littleton, CO

Beginning on March 13–the Sunday following Ash Wednesday–we will begin a Lenten series titled “Embrace: Discover, Desire . . . Jesus” at The Neighborhood Church.  During worship we will explore those things of God we can embrace and add to our lives as a response of love to Jesus.  These worship gatherings will also include hands-on opportunities to practice these things God asks us to add to our lives.  Join us.  See tnc3.org for worship times.

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Why Does The Devil Have All The Good Music?

After sitting in a local pub and comparing the music in church with that sung by the minstrels, Martin Luther posed a great question: “Why does the devil have all the good music?” This is a paraphrase, but it’s the gist of what he said.

Five hundred years later, legendary Christian music pioneer Larry Norman put Luther’s words to music, which you can watch in the above video.

But Martin Luther understood the power of music and more importantly, the power behind the music.

Please join us as we discuss this in our daily Bible conversation.

TODAY’S READING

Job 1:1-7:21
1 Corinthians 14:1-40
Psalm 37:12-40
Proverbs 21:25-27

INSIGHTS AND EXPLANATIONS

Job 1:1-7:21. The book of Job is one of the Bible’s most mysterious books. We don’t know who wrote it or when it was written. Most scholars date it to the time of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (1800-2000 B.C.). If the Pentateuch was penned by Moses, then Job predates the second oldest book(s) by approximately 500 years.

Except for the first two chapters and the epilogue at the end, everything in Job is written as poetry.

Job has also been heretically misinterpreted by certain teachers who believe that pain and godly living are mutually exclusive. They can’t explain how God can allow “bad” things to happen to good people. But he does—which is why Job is such a helpful book. “Job was the biggest fool in the Bible,” I heard one well-known television preacher say.

But the bigger fool is the one who believes Job was a fool. From the outset we read that Job was “blameless and upright, a man who fears God and shuns evil.” Furthermore, no one on earth was like him (Job 1:8).

Most amazing about him is his response to deep tragedy, which included the loss of his children, servants, and possessions: “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I will depart. The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; may the name of the Lord be praised” (Job 1:21).

These aren’t the words of a fool, but rather a man terribly out of touch with reality, or perhaps, incredibly in touch with reality. I believe the latter.

The bigger fools were Job’s three friends. We’re first introduced to Eliphaz. He can’t believe that bad things happen to good people. “You must need a little discipline to fix some problems in your life” he seems to be saying (Job 5:17). “Just be patient and everything will work out.”

Eliphaz represents the people who cannot enter our pain because they have never experienced it. They look at us and say, “Just hang in there and everything will be okay. Just learn what you need to learn and then the pain will stop.”

Sometimes—oftentimes—pain and loss happen without any good explanation. Rather than sit with Job in his pain, Eliphaz stood at a distance and offered shallow platitudes.

For good reason, Job refused to accept it. After responding to Eliphaz, Job then directs himself to God. The New Bible Commentary makes an excellent observation here:

For the moment, [Job] asks of God nothing except that he should leave him alone so that he can live out his remaining days free from pain. But of course there is more to this than meets the eye; for in the very act of begging God to desert him he is in fact approaching him.

1 Corinthians 14:1-40. Over the last hundred years, countless churches have gotten hung up on the subject of speaking in tongues. At the risk of continuing this practice, I will admit that I see no evidence that proves the gift of tongues has ceased. Yet the point Paul is making is this: tongues aren’t the point. Love is the point (see Eugene’s excellent post from yesterday) and after that, we need prophecy.

According to Paul’s definition in verse 3, prophecy is a word spoken from God for our “strengthening, encouragement and comfort.”

This doesn’t mean that tongues should be ignored over more “important” gifts. All the spiritual gifts are equally important, but they all play different roles. In a corporate worship setting, prophecy is most important.

Paul concludes this discussion with these helpful words: “Be eager to prophesy, and do not forbid speaking in tongues” (1 Corinthians 14:39). Good advice!

Psalm 37:12-40. I won’t expound on this passage because this blog post is on the long side, but it offers some great insights into Job’s suffering.

If you’ve found A Daily Bible Conversation helpful, share it with your friends! Forward your daily email or send them a link to the website: http://www.bibleconversation.com.

THE WORD MADE FRESH

Zoroastrianism purports that God and Satan are equal adversaries, engaged in a cosmic battle. Taking their cues from this ancient Persian religion, many well-intentioned believers believe that Christianity works the same way. God and Satan are engaged in a cosmic battle, with the deciding factor boiling down to the actions of Christians around the world. If the Christians could just get their act together and pray and legislate righteousness around the world, then God will win.

“Christianity is one generation from extinction,” I’ve heard many preachers say.

Really?!?

At the beginning of Job, we read that Satan enters the presence of God along with the angels.

The word “Satan” means “adversary” or “accuser.” In fact, the literal translation in the first two chapters of Job refers to Satan as “the accuser.” Revelation 12:10 tells us that the accuser stands before God day and night, charging us with any and every sin. His intent? To disarm us. To prevent us from understanding the authority and power that God has over him.

Yet today’s reading clearly shows us that God is greater than any power in heaven and on earth.

Like Job, we may experience pain and loss or unfair accusations. But God is still stronger, still greater, still wiser. This is the message of Job.

Martin Luther once wrote, “The devil is God’s devil.” Like we read today in the book of Job, Luther knew that Satan’s power was no equal to God’s. He found that music was an effective vehicle to not only teach about the power of God over the devil, but also to mobilize people in their resistance to him.

“Music is a gift and grace of God, not an invention of men. Thus it drives out the devil and makes people cheerful…The devil, the originator of sorrowful anxieties and restless troubles, flees before the sound of music almost as much as before the Word of God.”

In addition to appreciating music, he also wrote perhaps the most well-known Protestant hymn, A Mighty Fortress Is Our God. The first verse of his hymn is familiar among many, but I’d like to take a moment to highlight the third and fourth verses, which accentuate our reading in Job:

Verse 3:

And tho’ this world, with devils filled,
Should threaten to undo us,
We will not fear, for God hath willed
His truth to triumph thro’ us;
The prince of Darkness grim,
We tremble not for him;
His rage we can endure,
For lo, his doom is sure,
One little word shall fell him.

Verse 4:

That word above all earthly pow’rs,
No thanks to them, abideth;
The Spirit and the gifts are ours Thro’
Him who with us sideth:
Let goods and kindred go,
This mortal life also;
The body they may kill:
God’s truth abideth still,
His kingdom is forever.

Our world is filled with evil and the influence of the Accuser. But even in the midst of pain and loss, God is still in control. Satan may buffet us, but God will win because he’s God.

So why did God allow Job to suffer? We’ll discuss that as we work our way through Job.

CONVERSATION STARTERS

  1. What spoke to you in today’s reading?
  2. What does your reading in Job tell you about God and Satan?
  3. How might our reading in Psalm 37 inform your understanding of the righteous who suffer?
  4. What has been your experience with prophecy and tongues? Why do you think these two gifts have been particularly divisive in the church? Is that a valid reason to avoid them? Why or why not?

If you’re reading this blog on FaceBook and you’d like to join the conversation, click here.

www.bibleconversation.com

Michael co-pastors The Neighborhood Church with Eugene Scott in Littleton, Colorado.

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