This is next.
The annual Bethlehem Conference for Pastors is going on this week and there are loads of great messages from speakers and resources available, even for those not attending. A highlight every year, in my opinion, is the biographical message that John Piper gives about a hero from the faith. This year’s message is on George Whitefield, who preached to thousands in the 18th century as part of a great spiritual revival in England and our country.
Whitefield, who was known for his great energy and display of style during his sermons, has come under criticism in some circles. However, Piper explains that Whitefield was not about show but rather about believing what is real.
Growing up, going to New Attitude was always the highlight of the year. Not because it was our big brother’s conference, but because of the worship, teaching, and discussion that took place. The sessions by men like CJ Mahaney, Al Mohler, Mark Dever, and John Piper were the catalysts for major steps of growth in our walk with God.
In 2004, Dr. Mohler delivered a message on the modern crisis of young people delaying adulthood—particularly in the area of marriage. His challenge to embrace responsibility resonated with us. It served as the seed for an idea that grew and matured over the next two years — the Myth of Adolescence, and a challenge for young adults to rebel against the low expectations and “do hard things” for the glory of God.
In 2004, that idea became a ten-minute speech for competition in the NCFCA (National Christian Forensics and Communication Association), placing first in the nation. In 2005, that speech became the first series on our new blog, The Rebelution. In 2007, that series turned into the opening session of our first conference tour. In 2008, that session developed into one of the first chapters in our book, Do Hard Things.
Can a conference change the whole course of your life? For us, the answer is yes.
Isaac Harris, younger brother of Do Hard Things authors Alex and Brett Harris, is liveblogging at the San Antonio Independent Christian Film Festival over at The Rebulation. As Isaac is posting through the sessions he is reporting on the great tips being given by speakers such as “Fireproof” and “Facing The Giants” producer Stephen Kendrick. Be sure to check it out.
I have heard this message in the past, but this seemed appropriate because, as this year closes, there are many who are burdened by what seems like a host of problems in this world. This message is from the crew of Apollo 8 on Christmas Eve 1968. This is late, I know, but it is something to think about: How must those three men — William Anders, Jim Lovell and Frank Borman — have felt when they looked upon the Earth in a way that none of us had?
Jonah Goldberg, writing in National Review Online, gives some background:
Nineteen sixty-eight was one of the most tumultuous years in American, even in world, history. By Christmas Eve, Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and Bobby Kennedy lay dead from assassins’ bullets; King’s murder had provoked bitter riots. The Democratic Convention in Chicago was marred by protests in the streets. Over 14,000 Americans died in Vietnam that year, as the Tet Offensive turned the country increasingly against the war. A demonstration in Mexico City ended with hundreds of deaths just before the Olympics there opened. Students rioted in Paris, at Columbia University, and elsewhere. The “Prague Spring” of liberalization was crushed by Soviet tanks.
In this distinctly un-cheery season, a voice of hope spoke from, quite literally, the far side of the Moon. Apollo 8, only the second manned Apollo craft to go into space after the tragedy of the Apollo 1 fire in 1967, had launched from Florida on December 21, 1968. Its crew of William Anders, Jim Lovell, and Frank Borman became the first humans ever to enter the orbit of another heavenly body and the first to see the “dark side” of the Moon. They saw, for the first time, Earthrise as they completed Moon orbits and emerged above the near side pointed towards Earth.
In this historical, breathtaking scene, the three astronauts chose the words from Genesis to give their listeners perspective about Who controls a world seemingly spinning out of control:
In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.
And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters.
And God said, Let there be light: and there was light.
And God saw the light, that it was good: and God divided the light from the darkness.
And God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And the evening and the morning were the first day.
And God said, Let there be a firmament in the midst of the waters, and let it divide the waters from the waters.
And God made the firmament, and divided the waters which were under the firmament from the waters which were above the firmament: and it was so.
And God called the firmament Heaven. And the evening and the morning were the second day.
And God said, Let the waters under the heaven be gathered together unto one place, and let the dry land appear: and it was so.
And God called the dry land Earth; and the gathering together of the waters called he Seas: and God saw that it was good.
Let us never forget and let us cling with hope to a God who keeps it all in place and running.
There’s this growing idea that religion is the thing that makes the world an awful place, that somehow if people lived without religion, we would all get along better and be happier. It has been tried throughout history, but it doesn’t help. At this time of year, we even put that effort in the form of a person called Santa Claus. This is what John Piper says about that and how the effort fails to help us:
If there is going to be any salvation at all, there must be a divine revelation. God must reveal these things to us or we perish. We can’t find them out from television or radio or medicine or psychology or art. We learn the truth about ourselves from the Word of God. And once our eyes are opened to the truth that God reveals, then we can see confirmations of it in virtually all the sciences and arts.
Santa Claus and Religion
But if we don’t start with God’s interpretation of who we are, we will be like blind people who go on developing elaborate theories to prove that there really is no such thing as vision, and that color and light and perspective are the inventions pious imaginations projecting onto reality their own dissatisfaction with the dark. “Religion is the opiate of the people.”
That statement is not simply classic Marxism. It is classic American materialism. The difference is that American materialism doesn’t outlaw religion; it imitates it and then uses it. That is the real meaning of Santa Claus.
The true meaning of Christmas—that God sent his Son into the world to save us from our evil hearts of sin (Matthew 1:21), and to destroy the works of the devil in our habits and homes and schools and workplaces (1 John 3:8), and to rescue us from the wrath to come (1 Thessalonians 1:10)—that meaning of Christmas is unacceptable to the spirit of this world. But the impact of the truth of the incarnation is so undeniable after 2,000 years of influence, that the god of this world behind American materialism cannot oppose it outright, but simply imitates it with Santa Claus and a hundred other trappings in order to direct the religious impulses of the masses into economically profitable channels.
Does that mean you sit Christmas out completely? Listen to Piper explain how Christmas Day looked at their house when their kids were growing up:
The world cries out: Who can hold us? Only one man. Only one man can save us.
While the great majority of you out there will consider this day Halloween (and it is), there also may be some of you who are aware that it is also Reformation Day which, in the grand scheme of things, is much more important and good to know.
What is Reformation Day? Well, from a point of strictly definition, it is:
Reformation Day is an important liturgical festival that is celebrated by Lutherans and Christians of many Protestant denominations. It commemorates Dr. Martin Luther’s posting of his Ninety-five Theses on the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg, Germany on October 31, 1517. This act triggered the movement in world history known as the Reformation. While the historical date for the observance of Reformation is October 31st, most churches celebrate it on the last Sunday in October.
But more importantly, Reformation Day marks the rediscovery of the truth of the Gospel. As Herman Sasse puts it in “Here We Stand”:
The rediscovery of the Scriptural truth concerning the justification of the sinner by grace alone, through faith alone, is nothing less than the rediscovery of the Gospel. For, if this truth is forgotten, the Gospel must be interpreted as a system of morals or as a theory of religious metaphysics. Consequently, this discovery constitutes the reformation of the church. It revealed once again that truth by which alone the church lives.
For the church does not live by morals, by the knowledge and observance of God’s law. Nor does it live by religion, by lofty experiences of the divine and an awareness of the mysteries of God. It lives solely by the forgiveness of sins. Hence reformation does not consist, as the late Middle Ages believed, and has even been believed in wide circles of the Protestant world, of an ethico-religious correction, of a moral quickening and a spiritual deepening throughout the church. It consists, rather, according to its own peculiar nature, of the revival of the preaching of the Gospel of the forgiveness of sins for Christ’s sake….
The [Reformation] understanding of the Scriptures, we say, came as a result of this rediscovery of the Gospel. At all events, it has been the conviction of the [Reformation] that the sola scriptura is conditioned by the sola fide, that a real return to the Scriptures was made possible only by a new understanding of the Gospel. It is in this sense that the Apology to the Augsburg Confession speaks of Justification as “the chief topic of Christian doctrine…which is of especial service for the clear, correct understanding of the entire Holy Scriptures, and alone shows the way to the unspeakable treasure and right knowledge of Christ, and alone opens the door to the entire Bible.” This view alone guards against the false, legalistic conception of the Bible as a law-book ….[T]he Reformation was a renovation of the church brought about by the rediscovery and renewed proclamation of the pure doctrine of the Gospel of the forgiveness of sins.
Especially when it’s the Harvest of Harmony Parade here in Grand Island. And, to top it all, when my daughter is marching for the first time with the Grand Island Senior High band.
Christopher Hitchens and Frank Turek debated at Virginia Commonwealth University on the topic: Does God Exist? The video is below. Click on the image to view it.