Happy Reformation Day! On October 31, 1517, 503 years ago today, the German monk Martin Luther nailed his "95 Theses" to the Castle Church door in Wittenberg, Germany. That event marked the beginning of what became known of as the Protestant Reformation. Few remember that day today...even in the Church world. Even fewer remember what the Reformation was about or what it accomplished. It is no overstatement to say that the Reformation changed Western Civilization and was responsible for the founding of America as Protestants fled Europe to find religious freedom and a new beginning for their lives. Some of those people were called the "Pilgrims" who started our Thanksgiving tradition that most of us will celebrate in November.
At the heart of the Reformation was a story about how one man, Martin Luther, rediscovered God and changed the world. Before the Reformation everybody believed in God, but the God they knew wasn't the real God of the Bible. The Catholic Church at that time was very powerful and had its influence on every aspect of people's lives from their births and baptisms to their deaths and burials. But while the Church permeated every aspect of people's lives, the God behind the Church was largely unknown. People didn't read the Bible. There weren't any Bibles to read, nor any study guides available for the Gospels. People's only view of God was filtered and mediated by the clergy and the Church. As a result, people's view of God was whatever they were told by the Church's hierarchy.
All of us at Carlson Report want to wish you and your family a very happy Independence Day. We live in times no less momentous than the Founding Fathers and Signers of the Declaration of Independence faced 244 years ago today. May this brief article remind us of our heritage and freedoms as Americans. May this article also remind us that freedom is never free and that someone must always be willing to pay a price to maintain those freedoms or tyranny and slavery will return, as we are currently witnessing. May we all renew our calling today, as the Lord's people, to stand up for our faith in the face of many challenges, and never forget that all freedom in this life and the next are ultimately connected to the Lord Jesus Christ and the price that was paid for our freedom from sin on the cross.
As we look back 244 years ago today, the most famous words in American history come from the Declaration of Independence. So, on this 4th of July weekend, we look back and thank the Lord for those American leaders that laid a foundation of sacrifice to give us everything we have as Americans. Here are the two most famous lines in the Declaration, one at the beginning and one at the end. The Declaration opens with these words,
As we enter a new year, it is interesting to note that every New Year is really a repeat of the previous year....as least on a cosmological basis. That is, every year is still 365 days and has four seasons of winter, spring, summer and fall. So in a way, 2020 is an exact repeat of 2019. The reason this is so is because the Lord's plan to change the world for His glory never changes. The only plan the Lord has ever had is to make us like the Lord Jesus Christ, to conform us to His image. The Lord tells us that in Romans 8:28-29 where we hear,
And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters.
Each New Year is a reminder that the cycle of the last year repeats as it unfolds the cosmological story of the death (winter) and resurrection (spring) of our Lord. So each New Year is a repeating reminder that the concept of newness is rooted in what our Lord has done for us and how His life is the template of change as we die to our old life and come alive or resurrect to a new life in Christ.
On this 4th of July weekend, we look back, give thanks and remember that no nation in history has a past more concerned and connected to bringing freedom to people than America. From the beginning of the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776, our founders saw freedom as a God given right that should be defended,
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. That to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.
This focus on freedom and liberty has defined the American spirit and led our nation to have a profound influence on world history. The love for freedom has led Americans to defend it around the world in battles that have cost the lives of untold thousands in a series of wars. That love for freedom helped create the Statue of Liberty in New York harbor that welcomed millions of freedom-loving people from around the world. That same love for freedom led the architects of American democracy to place the Statue of Freedom on top of our Capital Dome in Washington as a reminder that our laws and government was committed to maintaining and protecting freedom for our nation.
But in the last few years our nation has exhibited signs that many do not understanding what freedom is all about. This conflict over defining and applying freedom to our lives has created a moral civil war between right and wrong, good and evil that is growing each year. Can you see it? Issues like abortion and what defines marriage have divided our nation in ways few thought possible just a few years ago. So this 4th of July is a good time to look back and ask some hard questions about the meaning and definition of freedom and not only what our founders had in mind, but more importantly how freedom is understood by the Lord and how that freedom is to be lived out in our lives.
We stop on this Memorial Day weekend to give thanks for all those who have served our nation to protect our freedoms and the way of life we have here in America. We especially give thanks for those who died for us and ended their journey on a battlefield, often thousands of miles from home, never to enjoy the life that we sometimes take for granted. As is often said, "Freedom is never free." But one of the things that makes Memorial Day memorable is that the Lord gives us the ability to remember. Memory is the one thing that allows us to look back and to gain perspective and value from the past. If we didn't remember, learn from, enjoy or honor the past, life would be meaningless. If we didn't remember those who have gone before us and if cemeteries meant nothing, then our lives would have no purpose. It is only when we remember and honor the past that life becomes eternal and meaningful as it was intended by the Lord. It is only when we remember the past that we truly value our military, our families and those who have gone before us to create the life we have today.
One of the great battles we face today is not on the battlefield but when we forget the past. Our modern world tends to ignore history and just live for the now. It is easy to forget why we have Memorial Day and just have a nice picnic or party. For many people history seems irrelevant to their lives. We tend to forget that history is the record of God's purposes in the world because all of history is really His Story. History is the Lord's way to remember the past and celebrate the wonderful story of His faithfulness, as well as learn from human tragedy and sin. If we forget the people and lessons of history our lives not only become empty and meaningless, but we end up making the same mistakes again and repeat the errors of the past. The philosopher George Santayana is often quoted about this issue when he said,
Those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it.
After 35 years of pastoral ministry it has become abundantly clear to me that human nature and the Church world are profoundly confused about the issue of God's grace. It is surprising to see how many people think our behavior, beliefs and good works are going to gain us a place in heaven one day. There seems to be a growing proliferation of these human works based beliefs, sects and cults growing all around us. As a result, the number of people that clearly understand that God's love and salvation in the Lord Jesus Christ is a wonderful gift of pure grace alone is a small remnant of people today.
This issue of God's grace in Christ alone versus human merit has always been an issue in the Bible from the beginning. The Bible starts off teaching this truth with the story of Cain and Abel. The Bible tells us in Genesis 4:3-7 that Cain and Abel approached God with two very different attitudes and offerings.
In the course of time Cain brought some of the fruits of the soil as an offering to the Lord. And Abel also brought an offering—fat portions from some of the firstborn of his flock. The Lord looked with favor on Abel and his offering, but on Cain and his offering he did not look with favor. So Cain was very angry, and his face was downcast. Then the Lord said to Cain, "Why are you angry? Why is your face downcast? If you do what is right, will you not be accepted?
Today is the Ash Wednesday, which marks the beginning of Lent. Lent is a season that parallels our Lord's fasting and spiritual trials in Matthew 4:1-11 over a period of 40 days. It marks a season of spiritual reflection about our Lord's sufferings for us that culminates in the cross. Most people today, including Christians, don't think too much about Lent anymore. For some it is a dead or lifeless Catholic tradition that has little to say to Protestants. For others it doesn't seem very relevant to modern life. But the most important thing about the Lenten season is that it reminds us of the cross and why our Lord came into this world in the first place as our Savior.
As we enter the Lenten season, it might be a good time to stop and ask why God chose the cross in the first place. People have always struggled with the cross from the beginning for a variety of reasons. The Apostle Paul wrote eloquently about these struggles with the cross in 1 Corinthians 1:18-23 where he writes,
For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written: "I will destroy the wisdom of the wise; the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate." Where is the wise person? Where is the teacher of the law? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe. Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles
One of the most amazing things in life is the world's fascination and obsession with love. It really doesn't make much sense if you look at it objectively. People do all kinds of crazy things for love, yet most have no idea what love is all about. Just imagine some of the crazy, romantic things that will be done this Valentine's Day. People will be buying flowers that last but a few days and writing out cards with often saccharine sentiments that might embarrass many. Once again, all of this is done for something no one can really define or easily understand. And yet, when you stop and think about it most of the things done in life are motivated and explained by love. So, what's love all about?
The reason love is so hard to define and/or understand is because it is a spiritual thing. Love is not primarily about some biological urge to mate. We know this is true because much of the love people enjoy in life is not about sex. Grandparents love grandchildren, grandchildren love grandparents, Christians love other Christians, friends love friends, people love their pets, hobbies and on it goes. Love goes far beyond biology and is much more than a way to keep our species alive. Love is mysterious; love is ultimately a spiritual thing because it always leads to the Lord. Every search for real love must end at the foot of the cross in the arms of the Lord. That is true because only the Lord Himself can define love as He does in I John 4:10,
This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.
Isn't it great to know that life isn't about politics and our daily battles in this life? As we move toward the Thanksgiving and Christmas holiday season, it is wonderful to know that our life is really about knowing the Lord and having the privilege and pleasure of worshipping the Lord with all of our hearts and minds in spirit and in truth. That is the Lord's joyful call to everyone. With that in mind, this week's edition of the Carlson Report is about our life of worship and praise of the Lord. I hope you enjoy this article about worship and pass it along to somebody you love and care about today.
Are you breathing right now? If you are, then there is good news...you are still alive! As long as breath goes in and out of our lungs each moment, we are among the living. Our breath is a profound thing, because a lot of things have to go right in our bodies for it to happen at all. Breathing is largely an automatic thing we do without ever thinking about it. However, from time to time, each of us can control our breathing to decide to speed it up or slow it down. As an example, have you ever tried to see how long you could hold your breath? Most of us have done that at least once in our lives. But under normal circumstances, when our body needs oxygen, it gets us to breathe. The average person takes in about 23,040 breathes a day, more than anyone would ever guess. Bottom line: Breath is life and at the heart of some amazing insights to the Lord's purposes in our lives.
One of the goals of the Carlson Report is to get the Lord's people to do a little more thoughtful and critical thinking about the Lord and our lives in Him. It is easy to get lost in our sound-bite, shallow culture and miss the richness of life and the Lord. After all, aren't we all a bit tired of the mindlessness going on in our world today and sadly, sometimes even in the Church? A more thoughtful Church is a more powerful Church. That is true because we rarely act outside of our deepest thoughts and understandings of things. The truth is, we don't know what we don't know and we don't do what we don't think or know about. So, let's do some deeper thinking today about the Lord and allow Him to change our lives. A renewed mind is at the heart of every growing Christian disciple according to the Apostle Paul in Romans 12:2.
The great philosopher and mathematician Renee Descartes once said, "I think therefore I am." Descartes was looking for a way to validate and better understand his existence. His ability to think led him to understand that the very nature of thought itself was the way to establish his being. In other words, when we think or perceive things we validate them and help to establish their real meaning and existence. So, this ability to think about anything, including ourselves, is a doorway into the meaning of our lives and a preeminent witness to the Lord.
As Good Friday approaches next week, it is worth the time to stop for a moment and reflect on the Cross. Good Friday is a day of celebration that reminds us that the Lord Jesus Christ died for the sins of the world, and more personally for our sins if we are Christians. And while some churches have Good Friday Services, much of Christendom will skip them and just go to Easter Sunday. Sometimes this skipping of the Cross has increasingly turned into a problem for the Faith because without the Cross there is no real Church, no redemption and surely no Empty Tomb. The centrality of the Cross totally changed the Apostle Paul and led him to say in I Corinthians 2:2,
For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified.
The Apostle Paul realized that everything in life was and is somehow tied to the Cross. He made it his life's mission to know and proclaim Christ crucified and how that old, rugged Cross revealed the heart of the Lord to our world. As Good Friday draws near, let's take a fresh look at the Cross and how the Lord has placed it at the center of everything in our lives today, whether we understand it or not.
Happy New Year! For many people the New Year is just another day. For some it is a holiday, a time to party with friends or a chance to watch a football game or parade. Now that the New Year is over...so what? Does it really matter that it is 2018, or any New Year for that matter? After all, new years have been coming and going from the beginning of time. Did you ever stop and think that something as simple as the New Year is really the key to understanding the meaning and purpose of our lives?
Few people ever stop to think that a New Year marks the beginning of something new, namely a new cycle of the Earth around of the Sun. Right now the Earth is turning at 1000 miles/hour on its axis every 24 hours. In addition to that rapid turning, the Earth is moving at 67,000 miles/hour around the Sun. And if those numbers don't surprise you, stop and reflect on the fact that our Solar System is orbiting around the center of the Milky Way Galaxy at 490,000 miles/hour. And while we may sometimes think that not much is happening around us, we are in a drama that cannot be fathomed by the greatest scientist.
As Palm Sunday approaches this weekend, millions of Christians will be celebrating our Lord's ride into Jerusalem as the Savior of the world. This event marks the beginning of what is known of as "Holy Week," culminating with Easter Sunday or First Fruits the following Sunday. And while millions of people will be gathering for celebrations around the world, few may see the deeper meaning of Palm Sunday and our Lord's ride on the donkey as it relates to our lives in Christ.
When the Lord Jesus got on that donkey, His primary purpose was to fulfill a passage from Zechariah 9:9 that was written over 400 years earlier that said,
Rejoice greatly, Daughter Zion! Shout, Daughter Jerusalem! See, your king comes to you, righteous and victorious, lowly and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.
Happy Valentine's Day! If you go to a store today you will see a frenzy of people buying cards, flowers and candy for the people in their lives. Valentine's Day is the third biggest day in the floral industry, following Christmas and Mother's Day. Valentine's Day is the second largest greeting card holiday after Christmas. Valentine's Day is the fourth largest candy day following Halloween, Easter and Christmas. So, Valentine's Day and the love connected to it is BIG business. The holiday has its roots in the early history of the Church. According to Wikipedia,
Valentine's Day, also called Saint Valentine's Day or the Feast of Saint Valentine, is an annual holiday celebrated on February 14. It originated as a Western Christian liturgical feast day honoring one or more early saints named Valentinus, and is recognized as a significant cultural and commercial celebration in many regions around the world, although it is not a public holiday in any country.
Most of the stories and possible myths surrounding this holiday connect it to the martyrdom of Christians serving others. So, the idea of Christian love and sacrifice seems to be at the heart of the holiday's origins long before people were sending flowers, candy and cards.
One of the great mysteries of life is time. Nobody really knows much about it, other than it passes by and people get older and die. But outside of the obvious, the real meaning of time is hidden from us right now. One day there won't be any more time because we will be living in the eternal now forever. You see the Lord doesn't wear a wrist watch and there aren't any wall clocks in Heaven. The Lord operates outside of time as we know it, and as His people that will be our experience of time one day as well.
For many people today, the idea of time is connected to the New Year's Eve party the world held a few days ago, some fireworks and perhaps watching a ball drop from a tower in Time Square in New York City on December 31 at midnight. New Year's Eve can be a time to celebrate new beginnings, but honestly most people have no idea of why the year is new or if anything new will happen to them or the world that they haven't seen before. That is true because without the Lord nothing is ever really new....no it was here long ago as the Bible tells us (Ecclesiastes 1:10.)
Many of us will be watching the Super Bowl this weekend. Some people even attend "Super Bowl Parties" with family and friends that were planned for weeks or months. It is estimated that about 190 million people will be watching the game. Even the commercials are "super," costing about $5,000,000 for a 30 second spot. The Super Bowl has grown over the years to not only be one of the most watched events in history, but it has made legends and superstars out of some of the players. For some people, winning the Super Bowl is the stuff of dreams and reflects the ultimate glory of this life with regards to achievement and status.
One of the greatest Super Bowl stars ever to play the game was San Francisco 49er quarterback Joe Montana. Joe led his team to 4 Super Bowl wins and was the MVP (Most Valuable Player) in three of them. Joe retired from football in 1995, but he still appears at many celebrity and charity events around the world as one of the greatest sports personalities of all time. Joe's skills were legendary in the football world, eventually earning him a place in the Football Hall of Fame in 2000.
In his book "Miracles," Christian author C.S. Lewis called the idea of God becoming Man the "Grand Miracle" of life. He went on say that, "If the event happened, it was the central event in the history of the Earth-the very thing the whole story has been about." Lewis leaves no doubt that the story of the Incarnation, or God becoming Man, is the real story behind every life that has ever been lived. Nothing else in life has any meaning or really matters IF it is not tied to this event. Lewis is absolutely right. That is why Christmas, the Virgin Birth and the Incarnation are worthy of our attention on a much deeper level that it often receives in our lives and in the Church's ministry.
This idea of God becoming Man is an amazing concept. It raises the deepest questions about what God did before He created mankind and eventually became one of us. In other words, what was God up to before we were here? Since the Lord is eternal and has always existed, our existence is something that must occupy a slice of time that is as nothing compared to eternity itself. How does one compare the infinite with the finite?
It's hard to think that some event might upstage Christmas this year, but it appears to have happened for some. There seems to be an amazing amount of "hype" out there today about the opening of the latest "Star Wars" movie, a week before Christmas. Hollywood has long used the Christmas season as a great time to get an audience out to the theatres. This year seems to be no exception.
The hype of this movie borders on hysteria for a few. Theatres are sold out all over the world and the money this movie is going to make is anticipated to be well over one billion dollars. Not only is the worldwide audience of this movie expected to set all-time records, but even some churches are trying to tap into the craze. One large and growing church in Morristown, New Jersey is planning a live Nativity scene featuring Star Wars characters in the Manger to draw a crowd.
If there is one area of our lives under attack today it is our sexuality. Our politically correct culture, media, government and progressive "churches" are working hard to destroy any concept of "male" and "female" and any attempt to define sexuality and marriage. If any pastor, parishioner, pundit, or member of the general public raises any clear Biblical standards about these issues you end up with a large target on your back. Of course at a deeper level, we see this battle as a continued war against the Lord and His Image in the world, as seen through "male" and "female" from Genesis 1:26-27.
Enter the Christmas Story. Whatever anybody knows about Christmas, most may have heard that Mary was a virgin. People may not like it, believe it, understand it, try to revise it or ignore it.......but the Virgin Birth is front and center in the Bible in passages like Matthew 1:20 and Luke 1:34-35. The Virgin Birth of Christ is the clear teaching of the Bible. It has been held by the Church for over 2000 years as accepted orthodox doctrine in the Nicene and Apostle Creeds. Believe it or not, the Virgin Birth is even believed and held by Islam in the Koran of all places.....go figure.
I was out driving the other day and saw an interesting billboard on the highway that said, "Keep Christ in Christmas." As Christmas draws near this year, there are groups of Christians that are deeply concerned with the increased secularization going on in America that has removed the Lord Jesus Christ from Christmas and turned it into some sort of winter holiday about who knows what. All of this is because there seems to be a quiet and maybe not so quiet war going on today against our Lord and His Church. These days it is getting harder for some to even say "Merry Christmas," let alone, "Jesus is the Savior of the World."
As America wrestles with political correctness at Christmas, the magnitude of the Lord Jesus Christ is being lost in this silly cultural battle not to offend anyone. Sadly, what people fail to remember is that every moment of time from now and on into eternity has its' origin starting at Christmas. You see Christmas is the event in history that connected time and eternity into one seamless story of God's plan to love the world. Most people would be surprised to know that all of time is marked from the day Christ was born. We live in the 2015th year since Christ was born. Sometimes you will see the designation 2015 A.D. referring to our current year. Those two capital letters following the year, "A.D." is a Latin abbreviation that stands for Anno Domini, which simply means "in the year of our Lord."
The Carlson Report sends our love and prayers to each of you on this Thanksgiving weekend. May it be your best ever. How thankful to know the Lord of the Bible and live in a wonderful Nation like America that has a rich, Christian heritage of godly people. It was President Abraham Lincoln that made Thanksgiving a National Holiday on October 3, 1863, at the height of the Civil War. Lincoln knew that whatever our trials, it was right and good to stop as individuals and a Nation to seek and thank the Lord. Lincoln wrote:
I do therefore invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens. And I recommend to them that while offering up the ascriptions justly due to Him for such singular deliverances and blessings, they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend to His tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged, and fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty Hand to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purposes to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquility and Union.
Have you ever been bored going to church? I hate to admit it, but even pastors get bored at church on occasion. What bores me the most is when things seem too routine, too mechanical, too ordinary…..just going through the motions. When the Church gets taken over with programs and potlucks, there is a tendency for us to miss the excitement the Lord built into the Christian life. It can also become weary and even boring to hear yet another sermon on “How to Love Your Neighbor More.” Sure, we can all learn to love our neighbors more. What else is new? Is that it? My former preaching professor in seminary told our class that it is a terrible thing to bore people with the Gospel. He was right.
You see the ONE thing that is often missing from the modern Church world is a sense of excitement and wonder about our future with the Lord Jesus Christ. Thinking about that kind of thing thrills me. How about you? The Church was designed by the Lord to bring something fresh and alive to everyday life about the world to come. The Church was not meant to get stuck in just “doing better,” “ethics for daily living” or “how to be a better parent.” While those sermons and themes have a place, we all need a gust of wind to hit us in the face about the Lord’s BIG plans for us and our future. If the Church becomes too earthly minded it truly won’t be any heavenly good….and it will be boring.
If a person never opened a Bible, heard a sermon or read anything about Jesus they might guess that technology was an important issue to consider when talking about spiritual things. They would be right in ways they never dreamed. The amazing thing about the technology bubble we are living in today is so few can see what the Lord is trying to say to us through it all. If people could only understand the connection between our smart phones and the Lord Jesus Christ, we would be in the midst of a revival. Let the revival begin today with us.
It is no small observation to say that the smart phone has revolutionized life as we know it on planet Earth. The smart phone has combined the power of a desk top computer with a phone in ways no one ever thought possible. These phones are so much of people’s lives now that some people become anxious if they can’t find their phone….they panic. It is not just a phone anymore, a communication tool; for many it’s become their daily focus, if not an identity for a few. It now seems hard to imagine living without them.