Tuesday, May 30, 2017

John Huss: The Goose Who Gave Rise to a Swan

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This year, Protestants around the world celebrate the 500th anniversary of the Reformation. On Truth for Today, we have already looked back on the influence of John Wycliffe, “The Morning Star” of the Reformation (click here). Now we look at another courageous man of faith who led the charge to rescue the Gospel from man-made traditions.   

Early in his monastic career, Martin Luther, rummaging through the stacks of a library, happened upon a volume of sermons by John Huss, the Bohemian who had been condemned as a heretic. “I was overwhelmed with astonishment,” Luther later wrote. “I could not understand for what cause they had burnt so great a man, who explained the Scriptures with so much gravity and skill.” Huss would become a hero to Luther and many other Reformers, for he preached key Reformation themes a century before Luther drew up his Ninety-Five Theses.

John Huss

John Huss was born in 1369 to peasant parents. As a young man he trained for the ministry and in 1401 he became the preacher at Prague’s Bethlehem Chapel (which held 3,000), the most popular church in one of the largest of Europe’s cities.

During his years as pastor in Prague, Huss was deeply influenced by the life and teachings of Wycliffe. Like Wycliffe, Huss believed that the Catholic Church had grown corrupt and needed radical reform. He rejected the Church’s doctrine of relics—the notion that if someone touched an artifact that formally belonged to martyr—a wisp of hair, a patch of their cloak, or a piece of bone—that special blessings were imparted from the martyr to the worshipper.

Huss also preached against the Church’s doctrine of indulgences, which stated that a believer could pay for a Church authorized document that guaranteed you or someone else could be freed from the temporal consequences of sin. For example, you could buy an indulgence for your recently deceased mother which would cut 1,000 years off her soul’s time in purgatory.

Like Wycliffe, Huss argued that the Bible alone was the basis for spiritual authority—not the Church, not councils, not traditions—and that the Bible should be available to the common man. For his bold preaching Huss was declared a heretic by the Pope. In November 1414, the Council of Constance assembled, and Huss was given the chance to defend his beliefs.

When Huss saw he wasn’t to be given a forum for explaining his ideas, let alone a fair hearing, he finally said, “I appeal to Jesus Christ, the only judge who is almighty and completely just. In his hands I plead my cause, not on the basis of false witnesses and erring councils, but on truth and justice.”

Huss was thrown into solitary confinement, where many pleaded with him to recant. On July 6, 1415, he was taken to the cathedral, dressed in his priestly garments, then stripped of them one by one. A paper crown was placed on his head with the words written across, “The Chief of Heretics.” He refused one last chance to recant at the stake, where he prayed, “Lord Jesus, it is for thee that I patiently endure this cruel death. I pray thee to have mercy on my enemies.” He was heard reciting the Psalms as the flames engulfed him.     

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The Execution of John Huss

Interestingly, the word “huss” is Czech for the word “goose.” A priest who watched the execution reported that before Huss died, he said, “You can cook this goose [huss] but within a century a swan shall arise who will prevail.” Thus, the origin of the expression, “Your goose is cooked.” A century later, Martin Luther saw himself as the fulfillment of Huss’ prophecy. Exactly 102 years after Huss was martyred, Luther nailed his Ninety-Five Theses to the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg.[1]  

[1] Mark Galli and Ted Olsen, eds. 131 Christians Everyone Should Know (Nashville, TN: B&H Publishing, 2000), 369-361.
2 Erwin Lutzer, Rescuing the Gospel (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2016), 12-21. 

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Remembering the Fallen, Reliving the Cross

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On June 28, 2005, Lt. Michael Murphy led a four-man SEAL team deep into enemy territory through the rugged mountains of Afghanistan. Their mission was to scout out a Taliban leader who lived in the region. Murphy and his team came across a group of Afghan goat-herders. Marcus Luttrell, the second in command, had a gut feeling that the group might be Taliban spies. The team voted on what to do—finish them or free them—they decided to let them go.

A few hours later, the SEAL team was ambushed. Sure enough, the goat-herders had gone and reported their location to the Taliban. Outnumbered and at a terrain disadvantage, the SEAL team fought for nearly an hour until, the communications officer, Danny Dietz, attempted to send a distress call for air support. Dietz was shot before he was able to send the transmission.

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                                                            Members of the SEAL team

Realizing that a distress call had to be made, Murphy risked his life to save his team. Since the rough terrain made a broadcast difficult, he went into the open, despite his wounds, in order to request emergency assistance. As he was being fired upon, Murphy made contact with Bagram Air Base. During the transmission, he was shot in the back and dropped the radio, but he quickly picked it up and completed the call.  

A MH-47 Chinook helicopter, was sent in to extract the SEALs, but as the chopper approached the battle zone, a rocket-propelled grenade hit the Chinook and killed all 16 men aboard.

After about two hours of fighting, Murphy, Dietz, and Matthew Axelson were killed. Luttrell, though severely wounded, crawled down the side of a cliff and traveled seven miles on foot, evading the enemy. Locals came to his aid and carried him to a nearby village where he was given shelter for three days before he was rescued by U.S. forces.

Because of his courage and ultimately sacrificing his life, Lt. Murphy was able to place the call that led to the rescue of one of his team members. For his heroics, Murphy was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor on Oct. 27, 2007.  

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                                                                   Michael Murphy

Men like Michael Murphy are the embodiment of Jesus’ words in John 15:13, “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.” Memorial Day is a time of solemn remembrance for those who shed their blood for our national freedom, and to look to the One who shed His blood on the Cross for our spiritual freedom. According to the Bible, all love carries with it a price tag called sacrifice, “By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers” (1 John 3:16).

The world has many misconceptions about what love is, but the Cross of Christ shows us that love is not just an emotion or a warm feeling we have. Love is displayed by willing the good of another no matter the cost. Christian love is voluntary (John 10:18), we give ourselves freely; vicarious (Gal. 2:20), we give ourselves for others; and vulnerable (Matt. 5:43-47) we give ourselves despite the fact we may not be loved in return. Francis Schaffer said it best, “Love is ultimate apologetic and the badge of the believer.” Let’s wear Christ’s love well.  -DM   

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Battling the Beetles (and other pesky sins)

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I’m a gardener, so I am well acquainted with the effects of The Fall. God meant what He said when He told Adam, “Cursed is the ground because of you . . . by the sweat of your face you shall eat bread” (Gen. 3:17-18). If you have ever tried to raise a garden then you know the battles against bugs, blight and baking sun can be tiring and frustrating.

The other day I went out to check on my potato patch only to find that I had been invaded by a farmer’s nemesis—the potato beetle. The little pests, no bigger than a pencil eraser, can wreck havoc on potato plants in just a matter of days. With a voracious appetite, all it takes is just a few to defoliate a plant faster than Agent Orange. Not to mention they reproduce overnight. I tried dusting my plants with pesticides, but the vermin have proven resilient. I have found that in order to save my plants, I have to go down the row with a plastic bottle and pick the bugs off one by one and let them fall into a solution of soapy water. Daniel—my 3-year-old son—likes to take a more violent approach by squishing their guts out with a stick and rock.

As I was performing this tedious task, I thought about the far-reaching effects of The Fall and how my battle against the beetles resembles the saint’s struggle with sin. Have you ever noticed how the Bible portrays this conflict like a tug-of-war? Paul writes in Galatians 5:17, “For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do.”

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Just like my battle with the beetles, I have to be diligent in fighting my sin nature. The bugs never take a day off, and neither does the Devil, so neither can we. Jesus spoke of discipleship like this, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me” (Luke 9:23). Did you notice that key word “daily”? There is no short cut to sanctification. We must exert spiritual sweat and fight through until we die or get raptured out of this world.

Just like my battle with the beetles, I have to be drastic in fighting my sin nature. There is no compromising, bargaining or truces with these buggers. They have come to kill, steal and destroy. Likewise, we cannot rationalize when it comes to sin. Taking up a cross daily, involves putting to death the flesh and its desires. Speaking on the sin of lust, Jesus advocated radical surgery, “If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell” (Matt. 5:29).

Just like my battle with the beetles, I have to be detailed in fighting my sin nature. Going down the rows and picking the bugs off one-by-one is slow and backbreaking, but it ensures that I don’t miss many. In our struggle with sin we have the power of prayer and confession. We ought not to gloss over our sins glibly, or ignore them, thinking they will go away. We ought to call the sin what God calls it—lust, anger, envy, lying, pride, coveting. One by one we must allow the Holy Spirit to pluck out the sins from our lives. The good news is that we have powerful detergent that wipes the record clean, “But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin.” (1 John 1:7) -DM       

Thursday, May 11, 2017

When God Made My Mother

When God made my mother . . .
He said, “She will be different from the start,
For I will give her a piece of My heart.
She will need to be tender, but also tough
So, I will make her of the very best stuff.”

When God made my mother . . .
He poured in love everywhere it would fit
So when it comes to her family, she won’t quit.
Where her love ends, no one can really know,
‘Cause it follows her kids wherever they go.

When God made my mother . . .
He added patience seeing her trials would be long,
‘Cause to raise three kids you’d have to be strong.
She would be there from the very first kick
And stay beside your bed when you were sick.

When God made my mother . . .
He must have dumped in talent by the bunches,
'Cause she did it all, even packed our lunches.
She’s a doctor, a teacher, a cook, and so much more.
My mom can do the work of ten men plus four.

When God made my mother . . .
He set a day and hour when she would believe,
That Jesus was a Savior she needed to receive.
I am so glad that when I went astray,
I had a mom that knew how to pray.

When God made my mother . . .
He made the best there could ever be,
‘Cause He made her just for me.
I could have been born here or there,
But I’m glad He made us a pair.


Wednesday, May 10, 2017

A Mother's Forgiveness

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In a small apartment building in North Minneapolis, a 59-year-old teacher’s aid sings praise to God for no seemingly apparent reason. Indeed, if anyone was to have issues with the Lord, it would be Mary Johnson. In February 1993, Mary’s son, Laramiun Byrd, was shot to death during an argument at a party. He was 20, and Mary’s only child. The killer was a 16-year-old kid named Oshea Israel. Mary wanted justice, telling CBS reporter Steve Hartman, “He was an animal. He deserved to be caged.” Tried as an adult and sentenced to 25 and a half years –  Oshea served 17 before being recently released. He now lives back in the old neighborhood, next door to Mary. How a convicted murder ended-up living a door jamb away from his victim’s mother is a story, not of horrible misfortune, as you might expect - but of radical forgiveness.

Before his release, Mary asked if she could meet Oshea at Minnesota’s Stillwater state prison. As a devout Christian, she felt compelled to see if there was some way, if somehow, she could forgive her son’s killer. Oshea says they met regularly after that. When he got out, she introduced him to her landlord, who with Mary's blessing, invited Oshea to move into the building. Today they don't just live close, they are close. Mary was able to forgive. She credits God, of course, but also concedes, “Unforgiveness is like cancer. It will eat you from the inside out. It's not about that other person, me forgiving him does not diminish what he's done. Yes, he murdered my son - but the forgiveness is for me. It’s to set me free from hate and bitterness.”

For Oshea, it hasn't been that easy. “I haven't totally forgiven myself yet, I'm learning to forgive myself. And I'm still growing toward trying to forgive myself.” Oshea works at a recycling plant by day and goes to college by night. He says he's determined to payback Mary's clemency by contributing to society. In fact, he's already working on it—singing the praises of God and forgiveness at prisons, churches to large audiences everywhere.[1] (Watch the story here)

There is no doubt that Mary is an incredible mother. Having lost her son, she gained another one through the power of forgiveness. By giving grace and mercy to those who have wounded us, we participate in God’s redemptive work. It’s the same kind of redemptive love that compelled Jesus to cry out from the cross, “Father forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34). When we participate in God’s redemptive work it causes the onlooking world to gawk in amazement and it invites the offender to Jesus. Paul wrote, “Our Scriptures tell us that if you see your enemy hungry, go buy that person lunch, or if he’s thirsty, get him a drink. Your generosity will surprise him with goodness. Don’t let evil get the best of you; get the best of evil by doing good” (Rom. 12:20-21 MSG).     

Prayer: “Lord, thank You that there is no trouble that You cannot redeem. There is no problem in my life that is so terrible that You cannot bring beauty from it. Help me to forgive and stop the cycle of evil, hate and pain by giving others a measure of the grace You have given me.”

[1] Steve Hartman, “Love Thy Neighbor: Son’s Killer Moves Next Door,” CBS News, 8 June 2011, <http://www.cbsnews.com/news/love-thy-neighbor-sons-killer-moves-next-door/> 

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

How to P.R.A.Y for America

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America did not spring forth from the precepts of the Koran, but the Bible. There were no Hindus who signed the Declaration of Independence. When the Founding Fathers wrote in their journals they didn’t quote from Buddha, but from Jesus.  Despite what the liberal, revisionists historians would have us believe, there is no doubt that America was born out of a Christian worldview. If you don’t believe that then all you have to do is read what our Founding Fathers believed.    

George Washington set the tone as our first president declaring, “It is impossible to rightly govern the world without God and the Bible.”[1] In 1891 scholars uncovered a twenty-four page manuscript in Washington’s handwriting which he entitled, “Daily Sacrifices.” They were a collection of prayers that he either authored or copied. One of them read: “O most glorious God, in Jesus Christ my merciful and loving savior, I acknowledge and confess my guilt, in the weak and imperfect performance of the duties of this day. I have called on thee for pardon and forgiveness of sins.”[2] Don’t you wish your president prayed like that?   

When Washington was inaugurated as president in 1789 in NYC, he got down on his hands and knees and kissed the Bible. Then he led the Senate and the House of Representatives to an Episcopal church for a two-hour prayer service. If that happened today it would be enough to send the ACLU into apoplexy.[3]  

One of the greatest prayers recorded in the Bible is offered by the statesman and prophet Daniel, who lived during a particularly disastrous time in Israel’s history known as the diaspora.

Jerusalem, the city that Daniel remembered fondly as a boy, had been plundered and the Temple ransacked by the marauding armies of Babylon. Daniel spent most of his life living as an exile in Babylon. Daniel understood that his people were being punished by God for their years of sin and blatant disregard for His Word. In Daniel 9:1-19 we find this man of God on his knees crying out for his nation.

Daniel’s prayer is a good pattern for us as we turn our attention on May 4th to The National Day of Prayer, in which we will pray for a spiritual awakening in the United States. If you are like me, then you are concerned with the direction of our country and you see that we desperately need God’s people crying out for His conviction, mercy and wisdom. Let’s use Daniel’s prayer as a model to form a simple acrostic that will help guide our hearts on May 4th.   

How to P.R.A.Y. for our nation . . .

Praise – Thank God for all His many blessings on this nation and the freedoms we enjoy. “O Lord, the great and awesome God, who keeps covenant and steadfast love with those who love him and keep his commandments” (Dan. 9:4).

Repent – Confess your sins and ask God to reveal anything unpleasing to Him in your life. Cry out for the sins of this nation.  “We have sinned and done wrong and acted wickedly and rebelled, turning aside from your commandments and rules” (Dan. 9:5).

Ask – Request that God would reveal His truth, turn our hearts back to Him and bring healing. “We have refused to seek mercy from the Lord our God by turning from our sins and recognizing his truth” (Dan. 9:13).

Yield – Submit to the Lord and know that He will answer our prayer according to His perfect and sovereign will. “O my God, incline your ear and hear . . . For we do not present our pleas before you because of our righteousness, but because of your great mercy. O Lord, hear; O Lord, forgive. O Lord, pay attention and act” (Dan. 9:17-18).


[1] David Jeremiah, What in the World Is Going on? (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2008), 126.
[2] D. James Kennedy and Jerry Newcombe, What If Jesus Had Never Been Born? (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1994), 69.
[3] Ibid.