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Urgent or Important

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BY DAN KIEHL, Senior Pastor, Oakwood Presbyterian Church

     Do you know what one of my favorite days of the year is? It's that day in the fall when we get to turn our clocks back one hour due to the change from Daylight Saving Time. Depending on your tendencies, it gives that annual gift of an extra hour to either sleep or stay awake. Since fall, with the end of the vacation season and the beginning of the school year, is one of the most hectic times of the year, that extra hour always seems bigger than it really is.

     To be honest, that extra hour has never really made any significant difference in my life. But what if we could add an hour to every day? Or, better yet, what if we could add four or five hours to every day? Would our lives be more productive or more relaxed if we had 20% more time in a day? Maybe, but the likelihood is that we would still be as stressed out and frustrated by our schedules as we are now. Just as your living expenses always manage to rise to meet your income, so your "time sinks" and responsibilities always seem to expand to fill your Day-Timer. So, if more hours in a day isn't the answer, then what is? Is there any way out of these stress-filled lifestyles?

     Let's stop and analyze this statement: "There are not enough hours in the day..." If that's really the case, then who should we blame for our frustration and anxiety? The only answer could be God since He's the one who created our days and who numbers our years. But we can't blame God - He has given us the perfect amount of time to do all that He's asked us to do. Well, then what's the alternative? It can only be that we are spending our time on a lot of things that He hasn't asked us to do!

     Many years ago Charles Hummel wrote, "Several years ago an experienced cotton-mill manager said to me, 'Your greatest danger is letting the urgent things crowd out the important.' We live in the constant tension between the urgent and the important. The problem is that the important task rarely must be done today or even this week. Extra hours of prayer and Bible study, a visit with that non-Christian friend, careful study of an important book: these projects can wait. But the urgent tasks call for instant action - endless demands pressure every hour and day." It all comes down to priorities, and it takes wisdom from above to be able to say "yes" to the things that God asks us to do with our time and to say "no" to those things (some of them very good things) that He hasn't asked us to do.

     The key to discerning between the urgent and the important is in creating what I call "holy spaces" in your life. These are the times that God has commanded you to have, where you truly rest - physically, emotionally, and spiritually. And these are the times where you enter into life's most crucial activity - "waiting on the Lord." It is through being quiet before Him, reading His Word, and praying to Him that you get your direction from God about what is really important in your schedule. You must have "holy space" every day and you need the "holy day" (the Lord's Day) every week in order to re-align your priorities and to receive your marching orders. If you squeeze those holy spaces out of your life then you can expect to wander astray from God's will and to get stressed out in the process.

     Jesus said to the Father near the end of His earthly ministry, "I have brought You glory on earth by completing the work You gave Me to do." Could you end any day of your life by confidently asserting to God, "I have completed everything You gave me to do today?" How much less could any of us say that about our entire lives?! The difference is that Jesus knew what He was called to do, the difference between the urgent and the important. And here lies the key to deliverance from our frazzled lifestyles.

     "The length of our days is seventy years - or eighty, if we have the strength; yet their span is but trouble and sorrow, for they quickly pass, and we fly away...Teach us to number our days aright, that we may gain a heart of wisdom."  Psalm 90:10, 12

Posted by Rev. Dan Kiehl with

Hold the Line on Sola Fide

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 BY BENJAMIN R. LEE, Assistant Pastor, Oakwood Presbyterian Church 

     It’s October again. I love October. Like most people, I love October because I get to pull my favorite jackets and sweaters out of the closet, carve pumpkins with my boys, and then eat their trick-or-treat candy in early November. What’s not to love? But that’s not what gets me most excited every year when October rolls around. Maybe “excited” isn’t even the right word. In October I get hyped, energized, even a tad chippy because in October I’m reminded of the Reformation.

     Reformation Day falls every year on October 31. It’s the day we remember that neurotic monk turned devil-defying preacher, Martin Luther, who nailed his 95 Theses to the church door in Wittenberg in 1517 in defiance of the Pope, lighting the spark that blazed into Reformation across Europe. Luther had been a monk for a decade before giving the last 30 years of his life to the Reformation. It was in those days in the monastery at Erfurt when, through great inner turmoil, Luther rediscovered the gospel of unmerited grace. Luther once said if anyone could have been saved by his monkery, it was him. He took his monastic vows seriously, and not without reason. He knew of God’s holiness. He knew better than most the depths of his depravity. He was tortured by the question of how a just and holy God could forgive him. He tried everything to find peace: confession, penance, indulgence, good works, even self-flagellation. But peace remained elusive. In such great despair was Luther he would later write that had the light of the gospel not broken through, he surely would have killed himself.

     But breakthrough it did. As Luther pondered and studied the Scriptures, he discovered that great doctrine, sola fide. He found that the holy God can and freely does justify the wicked not according to their works or manner of living, but only according to free grace received through faith alone. Just a year after writing the 95 Theses Luther penned a work I would argue is of even greater theological and historical importance, The Heidelberg Disputation. In Disputation 24 Luther wrote, “He is not righteous who does much, but he who, without work, believes much in Christ.”

     It’s no wonder sola fide spread like wildfire across Europe. No one had heard this before, at least not for hundreds of years. That God justifies, or declares sinners righteous, freely and completely without the aid of our works or merit, but only on account of Christ, was anathema in the church in those days. That’s why the Roman church reacted so harshly against the doctrine, and why Luther would spend the final 30 years of his life holding the line.

     It cannot be overstated enough that both the Roman Catholic Church and the Reformers viewed sola fide as a central issue. From Rome’s vantage point sola fide undercut their entire religious system, in which everything from the Mass to the penitential system was built on the belief that justification was not a once-for-all declaration of imputed righteousness based on the sufficient work of Christ. Rome taught (and still teaches) that justification is a process whereby God infuses grace into sinners in order to progressively make them inherently righteous, so that they may in the end be righteous enough to attain heaven. The chasm between these two views could not be wider.

     This is why Luther famously said justification sola fide is the doctrine by which the church stands or falls. The second-generation Reformer, John Calvin, would later add that “justification is the hinge on which all true religion turns.” The Reformation wasn’t just some theological spitting match. It wasn’t merely a bunch of ivory-tower intellectuals attempting to outduel one another to win the crowds. The Reformers, and the Catholic Church for that matter, believed this was a battle for the church, a battle for souls, a battle for the faith once for all delivered to the saints.

     That’s why I find myself a tad chippy come October. It’s because every October I’m reminded that though it’s been 500 since Luther began the protest against Rome, the protest still continues. We must keep holding the line on sola fide. The Apostle Paul warned us against turning to another “gospel.” Since Paul’s day, Satan has hurled myriads of false gospels upon the church, the errors of Rome being only a small fraction. Martin Luther understood this better than most. He wrote in his commentary on Galatians that, “The article of justification must be sounded in our ears incessantly because the frailty of our flesh will not permit us to take hold of it perfectly and to believe it with all of our heart.” Luther knew how easily the gospel can be obscured in our hearts by the world, the flesh, and the devil.

     The errors of Rome resurface in every generation in numerous ways. It was barely 20 years ago that our very own Presbyterian Church in America (PCA), along with the rest of NAPARC, held the line against the errors of the Federal Vision which challenged the Reformation doctrine of sola fide. Today even popular preachers (perhaps unknowingly) go terribly sideways on this central doctrine. One has even said we do not “attain heaven” by faith alone. For that, there are “conditions” we must meet.[i] How tragic. That’s not to mention “the frailty of our flesh” in believing deeply the promise of free forgiveness in Christ, or the devil’s continual assaults upon our consciences where he terrifies us with threats of wrath and hell, tempting us to look to our works for assurance of God’s love. Sola Fide is always under siege.

     So we hold the line. As Luther would tell us if he could, “we do not believe our conscience above the word of God.” And when he comes with accusation and threat “the best thing you can do is rap the devil on the nose at the very start.”[ii] You have to get a little chippy with the devil sometimes. The same is true with every false gospel that places the burden of merit on the backs of sinners. We will not stand for it. We say alongside Luther at the Diet of Worms in 1521 and alongside all the Reformers who followed him, from Calvin and Bucer to Lloyd Jones and RC Sproul, “here we stand.” Try as the world, the flesh, and the devil might, the protest for sola fide will not move an inch.

     This October, spend some time studying this great Reformation doctrine. On our website’s resource page you can find a document entitled Reformation Era Creeds and Confessions on Justification in which are compiled discoveries and teachings from the Reformation on justification. Drink in the riches of free acceptance in Christ. Then get a little chippy. Let’s hold the line of protest in our generation and lay the groundwork for the next. Because just as October rolls around every year, so do those “other gospels.” Don’t be hesitant to keep pounding nails into church doors.

[i] https://credomag.com/2015/09/faith-alone-by-thomas-schreiner // Accessed Oct. 10, 2021
[ii] You can find this advice and much more in Luther’s Letters of Spiritual Counsel edited by Tappert.
Posted by Rev. Ben Lee with

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