Monthly Archives: October 2017

Contra Mundum

He was born poor.

His parents were frugal and hardworking.

His childhood was not an easy one. His mother, a woman of prayer, once beat the boy until he bled – for stealing a nut. His father was so verbally and physically abusive they became enemies for a time.

He once said it took him years to say the Lord’s Prayer without thinking of his own cruel father.

He later reflected that “the severe and harsh life I led with them was the reason that I afterward took refuge in the cloister and became a monk”.

It was an unlikely start for a man who would one day sway kingdoms.

He studied, he argued, he wrote and he thought.

He was, perhaps because of his childhood, pugnacious and defiant. Above all, he was a man of uncompromising conviction and iron-clad integrity.

When Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses to the main door of the Castle Church of Wittenberg, Germany on October 31, 1517 – five hundred years ago this month – he began a movement that would change the world forever.

The Protestant Reformation came not from a committee or a policy; nor a public opinion poll or focus group. It came from the heart and mind of a man who not only loved truth, and understood it, but was prepared to die for it. Luther was possessed of a passion that all truth was God’s and no amount of political, military or ecclesiastical power could storm its citadel or prevail against it.

The pure and simple Gospel found in the Bible – that “the just shall live by faith” (Romans 1:17) – was Luther’s call to arms, the light to his path and the altar of his life – and, if need be, his death.

Luther assailed the corruption of the Roman Catholic Church, though he himself was Catholic. He did so with a vehemence and candor that demanded a verdict of conscience from every citizen of the realm.

Attached to his arguments on the door of Wittenberg was this invitation:

“Out of love for the faith and the desire to bring it to light, the following propositions will be discussed under the chairmanship of the Reverend Father Martin Luther….”

Oh, to have been there!

He threw down the gauntlet of scripture at the feet of religious tyranny and dared the corrupt to defy God himself.

“I have been born to war,” Luther wrote, “and fight with factions and devils; therefore my books are stormy and warlike”.

Luther could not abide the practice of the church selling indulgences in exchange for forgiveness of sins. God alone could forgive sins and the blood of Jesus Christ, shed freely for all, was its only payment.

Faith alone, not good works, gained admittance to heaven and eternal life.

But the Church in Rome had grown rich from its heresy and would not give up its power without a fight. Before long, this was a struggle not over indulgences but over papal authority itself.

“I have cast the die,” declared the German monk. “I now despise the rage of the Romans as much as I do their favor … I no longer fear …” Luther would go against the pope himself, “in language so violent as if I were addressing Antichrist.” He called Rome “that empurpled Babylon” and “the Roman Sodom.”

“If we justly hang thieves and behead robbers, why should we let Roman avarice go free? For he is the greatest thief and robber who has come or can come into the world, and all in the holy name of Christ and St. Peter!”

When brought before the Diet of Worms in 1521 and ordered to “repudiate your books and the errors which they contain,” Luther stood his ground and budged not an inch:

“Unless I am convicted by the testimony of Sacred Scripture or by evident reason … my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and I will not recant anything, for to go against my conscience is neither right nor safe. Here I stand, I can do no other. God help me. Amen.”

Whether Luther actually uttered the words “Here I stand” is not verified. But it’s what he did.

Martin Luther did more than stand.

He stood “contra mundum”.

It’s a Latin phrase meaning “against the world”.

Luther stood against the corrupt power and falsehood of his time – and for all time. He wrestled “against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places” (Ephesians 6:12, KJV).

Martin Luther was unafraid because he knew that one person armed with a righteous cause is mightier than all the hosts of error. He also knew that truth was real, it could be known, and that it mattered.

Luther, who loved music, left us with the greatest hymn ever written. In it, he reflects his own struggle on behalf of timeless truth and casts the epic battle as a contest between God and Satan. He describes God as “a mighty fortress, a bulwark never failing”. He writes that God is “our helper” who stands with us and prevails “amid the flood of mortal ills”.

For Luther, no less than for us today, the outcome was never in doubt.

“The prince of darkness grim – we tremble not for him; his rage we can endure, for lo! His doom is sure”.

Let us stand where Luther stood.

Contra Mundum.

“Let goods and kindred go, this mortal life also; the body they may kill: God’s truth abideth still – His kingdom is forever.”

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The 32nd Floor

He was a regular guy.

A 64-year old senior citizen living in a retirement village in a quiet suburban town.

He was pleasant to his neighbors, never caused trouble, had not even a single speeding ticket and always parked his car in its proper place.

Normal and nice.

He’s someone you’d wave to when you drove by; someone who’d wave back and smile as he watered his flowers.

Nothing strange about him, nothing conspicuous, nothing unusual.

A great neighbor.

The shop owner who sold him a gun said he was very nice. “The kind of guy who’d mow your lawn, go to church; nothing about him concerned me at all. And we keep an eye out for suspicious characters. You can’t be too careful.”

The gun store owner remembered him when he heard the news.

Stephen Paddock had gone to a hotel and rented a suite on the 32nd floor. He methodically hammered out two windows, positioned two tripods near them and late on a Sunday night took an automatic rifle and began shooting. Below him was a crowd of 22,000 people attending a country music festival.

Before his ten-minute reign of terror was over, Paddock had turned a fun-loving outdoor concert into a bloody killing field. Fifty-eight people died. More than 525 were injured. It was the worst massacre in modern American history.

Paddock took his own life before police broke into his sniper’s perch. Investigators found 19 guns, several of them long rifles, in his hotel suite. They later found another 23 at his modest, well-kept home.

“Normal” ? “Nice”?

The intense search to discover a motive was proving amazingly elusive. Not a hater, apparently, nor was he part of any dangerous or controversial groups. Not into politics. There were no ties to international terrorism.

“This makes no sense.”

That’s what everyone said.

In his statement of consolation to a shocked nation and the grieving families, the President said this quiet, unassuming retired accountant had committed “an act of pure evil.”

Evil. It’s a spiritual word.

It appears in the Bible 613 times. The word “evildoer” appears twice; “evildoers”, 12 times.

Read the scriptures and you’ll see evil. Resident in the heart of every man and every woman. The Bible doesn’t sugar-coat our humanity; it reveals it for what it truly is, the good, the bad and the ugly.

Here, in its holy pages, stands the story of humankind’s fallen condition.

Vegas is the latest violent tragedy. It’s hardly the last.

This gunman may have acted alone but he’s not alone.

Stephen Paddock’s motive? We may never know. The cause of his horror? We do know that.

Or do we?

“The heart is deceitful above all things,” writes the prophet, “and desperately wicked; who can know it?” (Jeremiah 17:9, KJV).

Stephen Paddock’s heart, perhaps, but surely not yours. Not mine.

Yes, ours.

We are also evildoers.

You and I have the exact same depraved nature as Stephen Paddock. The same tendency toward evil. The same capacity to hurt and destroy. This is a spiritual genetic strain that runs through the heart of every human being. Though you and I might never commit such a horrific act – and recoil in offense at the suggestion – we daily reflect the same bent toward sin.

“There is none that doeth good; no not one” (Psalm 14:3, KJV).

“For all have sinned” (Romans 3:23,KJV).

There’s not one of us who hasn’t fallen short of God’s standard for right living.

No, we’ve not fallen like Stephen Paddock, but is this not a matter of degree rather than a question of universal, self-evident fact?

To many, such a monstrous deed makes no sense. It violates the optimistic confidence that man, once sufficiently educated, cultured and sophisticated; once liberated from the dark bondage of religious superstitions, will become perfect. He’ll live in a perfect and just society and will do no ill to his neighbor.

The government will help toward this utopia by spending money on programs and passing good laws. In time, we’ll arrive. If we just keep working at it.

It’s the liberal illusion.

Stephen Paddock shatters this illusion.

When we look no further than the 32nd floor, we are shocked at the senseless; we must find reasons outside ourselves to explain it. We can lose all hope in the face of what is ultimately the horrendously inexplicable.

We leave disappointed – and baffled. “Dumbfounded”, as Paddock’s brother admitted.

You and I must look above and beyond the 32nd floor if we are to have a right understanding and a glorious hope.

The tragedy in Las Vegas proved again that the worst of circumstances brings out the best in people. The selfless heroism of concert goers, the long lines to donate blood, the skilled efforts to save lives – these all remind us that God loves us so much because he made us – and made us in his divine image.

In God’s eyes, that’s our value. It’s why we’re worth saving. It’s him, not us.

God sent his Son to redeem us and someday he will place us on his new earth, where goodness, joy and peace shall last forever, unchanged and unchangeable.

Evil will be no more.

Without this eternal perspective, we are, said Paul the apostle, “more to be pitied than anyone in the world” (I Corinthians 15:19, NLT).

Let this certain hope of a once and future resurrection be a comforting confidence that lifts us forever above that 32nd floor.

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