Friday, October 31, 2014

The Bohemian Morning Star

Today is Reformation Day, a day to remember and be thankful for the Protestant Reformation and the men like Luther, Calvin, Zwingli and Tyndale who worked to restore the church to faithfulness to scripture as her ultimate authority. To commemorate, I’m posting a biographical sketch of Jan Hus, who was not technically one of the Reformers, but rather a forerunner to the refomation.

Martin Luther was, of course, the first Reformer. In the providence of God, the Reformation was sparked when he nailed his 95 Theses on the door of the Castle Church in Wittenburg. But there were a few men who lived before the historical event we call the Reformation whose teachings were in line with those of the Reformers of the 16th century. One of these pre-reformers was John Wycliffe, the man some call the morning star of the Reformation.

If Wycliffe was a Reformation morning star, then Jan Hus was too, because he followed right along in Wycliffe’s footsteps. While Hus was studying at the University of Prague, he began to read and translate works of John Wycliffe brought back by students returning to Bohemia from Oxford. As he read and studied, he embraced Wycliffe’s teachings.

Hus became a priest and the rector of the University of Prague. He also preached at Bethlehem Chapel, a church in Prague built for the specific purpose of preaching in the language of the people.

Jan Hus preaching at the Bethlehem Chapel in Prague by Alphonse Mucha

Hus’s Beliefs

What did Jan Hus teach when he preached?

  • He taught that the Word of God is our highest authority. All of his preaching was based directly on scripture, and when he was accused of heresy, he asked to be shown from the scripture where he was wrong. 
  • He taught that Christ alone is the head of the Church. In Hus’s time, there were three men who claimed to be pope, and the Church was divided over which so-called pope was the true one. Hus said that it didn’t really matter because the church’s only pontiff was the Lord Jesus Christ. 
  • He taught that God alone can forgive sins through the merits of Christ. Hus said, "Let the pope, or a bishop or a priest say, 'I forgive thy sins; I absolve thee of thy penalty. I free thee from the pangs of hell.' It is all vain. It helps thee nothing. … God alone can forgive sins through Christ."
Do you see the seeds of the Reformation in these doctrines?

Hus’s Excommunication, Trial, and Execution

As you can imagine, Hus and his followers—and by now, there were many—were not popular with the powers-that-be in the Church. Pope Alexander ordered that all of Wycliffe’s writings be burned and that Hus stop preaching. Hus didn't follow the Pope's orders, so in 1411, he was excommunicated.

Eventually, after being imprisoned and tried before a church council in Constance, Hus was declared to be a heretic and sentenced to death. He was given opportunities to recant and escape execution, but each time he refused. In his final declaration, he wrote:
I, Jan Hus, in hope a priest of Jesus Christ, fearing to offend God, and fearing to fall into perjury, do hereby profess my unwillingness to abjure all or any of the articles produced against me by false witnesses. For God is my witness that I neither preached, affirmed, nor defended them, though they say that I did. Moreover, concerning the articles that they have extracted from my books, I say that I detest any false interpretation which any of them bears. But inasmuch as I fear to offend against the truth, or to gainsay the opinion of the doctors of the Church, I cannot abjure any one of them. And if it were possible that my voice could now reach the whole world, as at the Day of Judgment every lie and every sin that I have committed will be made manifest, then would I gladly abjure before all the world every falsehood and error which I either had thought of saying or actually said! 
I say I write this of my own free will and choice. 
Written with my own hand, on the first day of July.
Preparing for the execution of Jan Hus
On July 6, 1415, Hus was burned at the stake. The accounts of his death recorded by the best historians say his last words were “I shall die with joy today in the faith of the gospel which I have preached.” Then as he burned, he sang, “Christ, thou Son of the living God, have mercy on me.”

There’s one well-known tale about Hus’s death that's probably not authentic. Before he was martyred, Jan Hus supposedly said, "You, this day, burn a goose, but a hundred years hence a swan will arise, whom you will not be able to roast or boil." It’s a play on words, since Hus meant goose in Hus’s language. The swan that would rise, the story goes, is Martin Luther, for it was a little more 100 years later that Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses. It’s a compelling story, but the sources for it are unreliable.

I’d rather remember Hus for his true last words expressing faith in the gospel and trust in Christ anyway. Do you know better words to die by?

Hus's Influence

The Hussite movement continued after Hus’s death, eventually becoming the Moravian church, a church known for its missionary work, particularly in the remote regions of the Americas. I first heard of the Moravian church from friends who attended one in an isolated Alaskan village—and there are Moravian churches in many more Alaskan villages, too.

After the Reformation, Martin Luther acknowledged that his teachings were Hus’s teachings, too. “We are all Hussites,” he said, “without knowing it.” Jan Hus was a martyr for some of the truths that the Reformers would later proclaim, too. He was one of the morning stars who sparked the sunrise of the Reformation.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Fostering an attitude of gratitude

Have you ever noticed that gratitude is contagious? Have you ever sat and listened to someone share how she is thankful about something, only to find your own heart being inspired to express your own thanks?  This is what we hope to accomplish here at Out of the Ordinary in the month of November.

Many bloggers use their blogs for "Thankful Thursday" posts. Becky, Persis, and I regularly do this. For a couple of years, in the month of November, Becky devoted the entire month at her blog for offering thanks. Why? Because it is good to give thanks to the Lord, and there is always something to thank God for. Offering thanksgiving is part of our love for and worship of God.
The Lord is good to all, and his mercy is over all that he has made. (Psalm 145:9)
We can be thankful because God is good. That goodness expresses itself in a myriad of ways, daily. Whether it is the food on your table, the central heating (or air conditioning!) in your home, or the fact that you have been born again and have been brought from death into life, there is always something to be thankful for.

Being thankful reminds us of the source of our hope. When I'm struggling with a trial, an illness, or an aching heart, I may not feel thankful, but when I consciously choose to reflect on my life and identify what I can be thankful for, it reminds me of this hope. Learning to be thankful also reminds us of the source of every good and perfect gift: God. It reminds us that we are not nearly so self-sufficient as we think. Regularly giving thanks fosters humility, as we express gratitude for God's love, which we do not deserve on our own merit.

With that in mind, November will be devoted to thankful thoughts. I don't know what the other ladies are planning, but I know we all desire to promote an attitude of gratitude. And we are asking you to participate. Each Thursday, we will share a separate post highlighting your thankful thoughts. If you want to have one (more more than one!) included, simply share it in the comments throughout the week, and we'll compile them all and post them on each Thursday of November.

You'll see; it's contagious. And it's a good kind of contagious.

Monday, October 27, 2014

'Tis the Season

A couple of years ago, I turned forty. There are a lot of things we could discuss about the forties in general, but let’s talk about the mood swings, shall we? Lately I am experiencing emotions that have no basis in reality.

All three of my sisters are around a decade older than I am, so they reached this stage of life first. Several years ago, one of them said to me, “PMS is for sissies. I have full-on mood swings.” Yes and amen. I spent most of my Junior High years feeling like I could burst into tears at any moment, and I’m right back there again.

First I need to put my emotions in the proper perspective. In the book The Cry of the Soul: How Our Emotions Reveal Our Deepest Questions About God, authors Allender and Longman say, "Our emotions connect our inner world to the ups and downs of life.” For me, I have to think about specific ways in which my “inner world” is mistaken.

Of course, there may be medical things to be done. Address them with you health care provider. God in his common grace has provided medical help for some of this, but that’s another post for another type of blog. For now, I need to focus on what I can fix here and now.

Physical: I didn’t sleep well last night. As anyone who has ever dealt with an overtired toddler knows, it’s harder to maintain self control when you’re sleepy. I haven’t thrown a kicking, screaming fit (yet), but I tend to get overwhelmed more easily on these days. This time there wasn’t a particular cause for my sleeplessness. Other times it’s circumstantial: one child worked late, then another had to be somewhere exceptionally early. But I can also do more to help this. I’ve also noticed if I eat a lot of junk food, I feel awful the next day. I can’t bounce back from these things like I could when I was 25. My lack of self control has always been a bad thing, but now it has more obvious consequences.

Environment: The sun doesn’t rise until noon this time of year. (Not really. That’s only true where Rebecca lives. It’s more like 7:15 here. But still.) It’s hard for me to get going in the dark. The best solution, however, is not sitting around thinking ill thoughts about Benjamin Franklin and his invention of Daylight Savings Time, but turning on the lights and emptying the dishwasher. Getting out of my pajamas is a good idea, too. Complaining has always been one of my besetting sins. Now, rather than simply making me unpleasant to others, it makes me unpleasant to myself.

Fear: Things are changing fast, and change is scary. My oldest will be leaving home soon, and the other two are right behind him. Our kids are “good” kids. (In the traditional sense of the word. I realize, in a theological, Romans 3:23 way, that we’re all sinners.) But they have their own ideas and will make their own mistakes. Some things they will have to learn for themselves (as their parents did). But I am surely wrong about some things, too. I don’t always know what’s best, and only God can sustain and protect them. This has always been the case, it was just easier to fool myself into thinking I was in control when they were little.

In light of that, I have to start talking to myself, rather than listening to my feelings. As Martyn Lloyd-Jones says,

The main art in the matter of spiritual living is to know how to handle yourself. You have to take yourself in hand, you have to address yourself, preach to yourself, question yourself. You must say to your soul: ‘Why art thou cast down’–what business have you to be disquieted? You must turn on yourself, upbraid yourself, condemn yourself, exhort yourself, and say to yourself: ‘Hope thou in God’–instead of muttering in this depressed, unhappy way. And then you must go on to remind yourself of God, Who God is, and what God is and what God has done, and what God has pledged Himself to do. Then having done that, end on this great note: defy yourself, and defy other people, and defy the devil and the whole world, and say with this man: ‘I shall yet praise Him for the help of His countenance, who is also the health of my countenance and my God’.

So today, I turn my thoughts to truth:

How I feel doesn’t necessarily reflect reality.

This too shall pass.

This world is not my home. Part of my unease is run-of-the-mill longing for heaven.

God is in control, as he always has been.

God has sustained me in the past. He will sustain me in the future.

"He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?” (Romans 8:32).


[1] Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Spiritual Depression: Its Causes and Cure, page 21.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Why I love Spurgeon

Painting by Robert Bucknell
God has blessed His church with theologians, past and present, who have equipped the saints through their sermons and writings. Kim wrote last week of her appreciation for the good Doctor, Martyn Lloyd-Jones. I am going to borrow her idea and share why I love Charles Spurgeon.

I first heard of Charles Spurgeon from a fellow InterVarsity member when I was in college. I still remember his exact words: "Spurgeon is awesome!" To be honest, my first thought was, "Why on earth would someone want to read anything by a long-dead Baptist preacher?"

Fast forward nearly 30 years. The bottom had just dropped out of my marriage. I wasn't attending a local church at the time, which is another story. I had no idea where to turn for help, so I called a close friend who promptly told me, "You need to read some Spurgeon." I wasn't sure what advice a 19th-century minister could give to a 21st-century woman who was facing a broken marriage, but I was desperate. I googled "Charles Spurgeon" to see what I would find. The first site on Google's list was The Spurgeon Archive. This seemed like a good place to start, so I clicked the link for the daily devotions.  Given my present state, it would not be an exaggeration to say that I had never read anything like this in my life.

Even though I had been a believer since childhood, my view of God was pretty pitiful. Like Job, I couldn't wrap my mind around the idea that God would allow His children to suffer, and like Job's friends, there was a nagging sense that if I had been a better Christian, none of this would be happening right now. On top of this, I was spiritually malnourished from the lack of sound teaching and fellowship.

My view of God was small, but Spurgeon's view of God was BIG. The God he described was glorious and awesome in His holiness and power. Yet He was unchanging in His love for and faithfulness to His children. If there was any doubt on that score, look at the Cross and look at Christ. He also ordains every second of our lives, watching over us as a loving Father who has our eternal good in mind.

This was food and drink to my starving soul. I eagerly read Morning and Evening and Faith's Checkbook each day. I printed out sermon after sermon until I had bulging 3-ring binder. Spurgeon's love of God and His Word was so contagious that I began to read the Bible in a new light. My trial did not miraculously disappear. I still shed many tears and battled fear and unbelief, but my view of God changed which changed everything.

I truly believe God used this long-dead Baptist preacher to keep me from throwing in the towel and abandoning the faith. My weak and rather unbiblical understanding would never have stood the test, but He was faithful to give me a bigger glimpse of Himself in His power, His love, and His sovereignty.

So I thank God for His faithful servants down through the ages, and I especially thank Him for Charles Spurgeon.

The Lord and no one else shall save me. I desire no other helper and would not trust in an arm of flesh even if I could. I will cry to Him evening, and morning, and noon, and I will cry to no one else, for He is all sufficient.
How He will save me I cannot guess; but He will do it, I know. He will do it in the best and surest way, and He will do it in the largest, truest, and fullest sense. Out of this trouble and all future troubles the great I AM will bring me as surely as He lives; and when death comes and all the mysteries of eternity follow thereon, still will this be true: "the Lord shall save me." This shall be my song all through this autumn day. Is it not as a ripe apple from the tree of life? I will feed upon it. How sweet it is to my taste!  
Faith's Check Book, August 28


Monday, October 20, 2014

Food for Thought

 Whom have I in heaven but you?
And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you.
My flesh and my heart may fail,
but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever. 
~Psalm 73:25-26

All the riches of the covenant of grace that Christ has purchased with his precious blood, and all the good that an infinite God can give, you shall have them. God will fill your soul to its utmost capacity. When you have these, you desire no more and quietly rest forever. What a portion is this! The pleasures of sin are for a season, a little inch of time. This portion is forever...Death parts all other portions from the sons of men, but gives you your full portion. Then you will know your portion's true worth. When fire burns up the world it will not even singe your portion. You may stand upon the ruins of the world and sing: I have lost nothing, I have my inheritance, my happiness, and my God still.
~George Swinnock