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4 Ways To Celebrate Reformation Day

Written by Ashley Ashcraft, USA

While October 31 is more popularly known as Halloween, the date also holds a special place in the heart of many Christians. On this day 501 years ago, a German monk named Martin Luther published a list of grievances against the Catholic Church. He nailed this list—which later came to be called the 95 Theses—to the door of the chapel at the University of Wittenberg, and this ignited a movement. All of Europe, and eventually the whole world, would feel the effects of Luther driving the nail into his list.

Until I became a Church History teacher, I didn’t fully appreciate the importance of the Reformation. Its impact just felt commonplace to me. But when I started teaching about the Reformation, I began to understand how truly revolutionary it  was—this lone monk standing up against the powers that be to call for reform, for truth.

For this reason, I think we should not let October 31 pass us by without remembering the work God has done in His body—the Church—during that momentous time. But, how do we do that? Here are 4 ideas to help you celebrate the Reformation:

 

1. Read Your Bible

When studying about the Reformation, we often overlook the impact of Luther translating the New Testament into German. Before he did this, the common person in Germany did not have access to the Scriptures for themselves or in their own language. So when Luther translated the New Testament into German, it was a revolutionary move: they no longer had to rely on those who could read Latin to translate for them, but could read it for themselves.

In a day and age when we have Bibles everywhere, literally at our fingertips on our phones, it can be easy to forget the people who dedicated their lives to making sure we could read the Scriptures in our own language. I encourage you to get a physical copy of the Bible out, flip through the pages, and read it. Read it with a grateful heart and mind, and the realization that to have your own copy, and to have it in a language you can read, is a monumental gift.

If you’re wondering where to begin, perhaps start with the book of Romans, a letter from Paul that was very influential and life-changing for Luther himself. It was Romans 1:17 that changed Luther’s life: “The righteous will live by faith.”

 

2. Watch The Movie Luther

If you’ve never seen this movie, I highly recommend it! Made in 2003, Luther is an excellent portrayal of the events of the Reformation. While some details are highlighted or added for the sake of storytelling, it does tell us the bulk of the story. And, better yet, it is captivating. I show this movie to my students every year, and they love it. They clap at some parts; they cry at others. And they don’t want to it be over when it ends. That’s a good recommendation!

This movie is rated PG-13, so put the littles to bed tonight, pop some popcorn, head on over to Amazon, and watch this film. You’ll be glad you did!

 

3. Reflect On What God Has Done

Not only is it important to look back in history—to learn from what went wrong and what we did well—but God Himself commands us to do so time and time again. In multiple places in Scripture, God tells us to remember and rehearse the ways that He has worked and moved among His people. God told Joshua to set up 12 memorial stones to help the people remember how He helped them cross the Jordan (Joshua 4). He also asked Samuel to set up a pillar called Ebenezer so Israel would remember how He had been victorious in battle (1 Samuel 7). And He definitely worked through Luther and the people who stood with him in protesting the Church. So let’s set October 31 up as one of these pillars or stones of remembrance, and take some purposeful time to remember what God has done among His people.

What we had then was a church suffering from years of corruption; we saw people seeking unity, but not at the cost of truth. We had a man willing to stand up to this corruption, and we saw a handful of supporters rallying behind this bold leader. So I give you these questions to intentionally think on and discuss with your loved ones this evening:

How should we actively seek unity and truth in our local church communities today?

When is it right to stand up to authority?

What does obedience look like for you right now?

Who are your people who will encourage you and champion your calling?

 

4. Learn More About The Reformation

A last way to celebrate the Reformation today would be to spend a bit of time learning about the events and important players of the time.

If the 95 Theses are what started all of this, then it would be worth our time to look into them. You can find a list very easily on the Internet. And if they’re difficult to understand, google a modern translation.

Look into the issues that dominated the Reformation, such as indulgences, purgatory, the power of the pope, and the five solas. Check out key people like Pope Leo X, John Tetzel, Prince Frederick, and Katarina Von Bora. All of these people played important roles in Luther’s life and in the Reformation. Maybe even add a few Reformation trivia questions to your evening! Knowing this story will help us appreciate what  happened, as well as how the events of the Reformation affect our churches today.

And how does the Reformation affect our churches today? Had Luther not stood up to the authorities and called for truth and change, many things would have been different. The power of the Pope might have remained unchecked, and the sale of indulgences might have persisted. We might not teach or believe justification by faith; the common everyday person may not have access to the Scriptures for themselves; and the Protestant branch of the church, with its many denominations, may not even exist. The influence of the Reformation is huge and lasting, and worth celebrating! Happy Reformation Day!

3 Reasons Why We Should Stop Church-Shopping

Written By Ashley Ashcraft, USA

Are you guilty of church-shopping?

Church-shopping is when people hop from church to church, never quite settling or putting down roots anywhere. This is especially prevalent among people who are setting out on their own for the first time. Perhaps it’s the college kid who is trying to find a new place, or the new family who just moved cities. For whatever reason, when we’re in a season of transition, it’s intimidating to plug into a church, and so church-shopping inevitably follows.

I can understand the appeal of church-shopping. I got to see a lot of churches growing up. My dad served as an interim pastor for so many churches, I can’t even count them all. And while we had a church that we loved and called our home, I often opted to go with my dad on Sunday mornings because I loved seeing how different churches did things. I saw so many church buildings, church hierarchies, a variety of worship music, Sunday school classes, business meetings. . . And I loved it. I became fascinated with how churches operate, as well as how people choose which church they will call their home.

While it can be wise to check out a handful of churches before committing to one, it can be dangerous when this becomes a prolonged process. Here are a couple reasons why we should be wary of continued church-shopping.

 

1. We let our preferences control us

One of the reasons church-shopping is so dangerous is because it tends to make us believe that going to church is about us, as if church exists to entertain us or fulfill our preferences. This is dangerous thinking. How often have we heard of divisions in churches over music preference or preaching style?

But in all honesty, corporate worship is not about us and our preferences. There should be a much bigger and stronger bond than music preference that holds the people of a local church community together. Being part of a family means that you don’t always get your way, and that’s okay.

I remember being at a small church where the pastor left, and a new interim pastor was called to step in. We didn’t love the new guy’s style of preaching, but we didn’t leave the church. Now don’t get me wrong: if there is wrong or unbiblical teaching happening at a church, that’s reason to leave, or at the very least, call for change. But that wasn’t the case here. What he was preaching wasn’t wrong; it just wasn’t our style. But we decided to stay.

It wasn’t an easy decision, but church is more to us than preaching style. Church is about God and His people. It isn’t really about us at all, and so we pressed on in that little church community. And I’m so glad we did. Real growth happened in us while we were at that church. We were given opportunities to lead and serve. Had we moved because of our preferences, we would have missed out on all this goodness.

In Ephesians 2, Paul reminds us that Christ is the cornerstone of the Church. The cornerstone is the first stone set in place when a building is being constructed. And every other stone or brick is built around that One stone. The same is true of Christ and the Church. The Church is about Him, not about us. Everything we do is because of Him.

 

2. We lose the opportunity to serve

Church-shopping for a prolonged period of time also means we never commit to a certain church community. We never put down roots. We don’t serve in churches we’re just “shopping” at. And this is a major problem. Paul describes, in multiple places, the church as a body that is made up of many members. “Even so the body is not made up of one part but of many,” he says in 1 Corinthians 12:14. If this is true, then by church-shopping, we are excluding ourselves from the body of Christ—which isn’t healthy for us. It also means that we are depriving the body of Christ from the gifts and service it needs to grow into its fullness.

At our current church, I’m so very thankful for the teachers of my daughter’s class, for the kind woman who works so hard at serving coffee, for those who greet me at the door with a smile. I’m grateful I get to teach a class to the ladies at our church. I’m grateful for my husband who mans the sound booth. No one gift or place of service is better than the other. Some are more public, but that doesn’t mean they are more important. The copies made, the door held open, the diapers changed, the craft prepared, the sermon delivered. All of these are vital and important in the inner-workings of a local church community.

 

3. We miss out on accountability

A lot of us prefer to church-shop because it makes it so easy to be invisible. Maybe we are afraid to be vulnerable or real. Maybe we are afraid to commit to serving or might have experienced hurts from our previous churches that make us wary of being part of another church community.

There was a time in my life when I was guilty of this kind of “invisible” church-going. My husband and I were newly married, and we had just moved to a new part of town. He was job searching; I was finishing school. And it was just a difficult time for us. So, while we believed that going to church was important, it was easier for us to just go in and out of a church service each week, invisible and anonymous.

It was easy, but it wasn’t healthy. At a time when we should have been especially surrounded by our people and held accountable, we weren’t. We eventually became dissatisfied with this type of church-going. We were lacking something and we knew it. Finally, God called us out of this anonymity. He confirmed for us that being invisible was a far cry from His purposes for the Church.

What then, are the purposes of the Church? In Acts 2:42, we are told that the early Christians “devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.” Here we have a glimpse of what the early church looked like. Correct and biblical teaching, community, and regular prayer—all of these should be part of any local church community.

But lest we forget: our local church communities are part of a much bigger Church—Christ’s body, His bride, made up of His people all over the world and all throughout history. In the gospels, Jesus speaks of the Church with such affection and compassion. He loves his Church. And because the Church matters to Christ, it should matter to us. We must persist in “doing” Church. We need people who are willing to dig deep, put down roots, and work hard at being God’s people, at being the Church.

3 Ways Missions Changed The Way I Relate To Others

Written By Ashley Ashcraft, USA

It was the summer after 9/11. Looking back, I can’t quite believe that we went. Everything and anything to do with airports and security was tense, and everyone was on high alert. So much was going on in the world, and yet our church still commissioned and sent out five different groups of teenagers to five different countries.

I was part of a team that embarked on a 10-day journey to China, a country I knew nothing about. I had no idea that I would fall in love with this people and place, or that God would bring me back another three times. I also had no idea how God would use these trips as formative moments in my life.

God taught me a lot during these short-term mission trips. The lessons I learned still affect me today; they inform how I live, how I relate to people, and what I put my hope in:

 

1. Seek to Understand Others

Right off the bat on my first visit to China, I learned the importance of knowing and studying cultural differences. Whether it has to do with manners, food, or dress, there is great value in knowing about the people we will meet.

Before our first trip, we were required to read Hudson Taylor’s Spiritual Secret. Taylor was an early Protestant missionary to China, and he did something that seemed revolutionary at the time. He dressed like the Chinese. This was because he wanted people to feel comfortable with him—and it worked.

If the goal of our mission trip is to know people and build relationships so that we can share Jesus, we need to be respectful of our cultural differences. If we go on a mission trip and either impose our cultural niceties, or worse, dismiss theirs by not taking the time to learn them, we will have no foundation for Jesus-sharing. I had to learn the hard way that in China I shouldn’t eat every single bite off my plate because it implied that I hadn’t had my fill. I learned that chopsticks are for eating, and shouldn’t be used for drumming on the table, as it implied I wasn’t happy with the chef.

In everything that we do, we should seek to break down barriers between people, not build them higher. If we want to build stronger relationships with people, we need to take time to understand their customs and learn with humility. This also applies beyond mission trips. Wherever we are, there are people around us who are different from us. Instead of assuming that we know better than them or that their behavior should conform to ours, we need to walk in humility, understand their perspectives, and affirm their worth and value as persons made in the image of God.

In a world and time where there is much civil unrest because of differences—cultural or otherwise—among people, we would do well to exercise humility and seek understanding in our own homes, schools, and communities.

 

2. Always Check Our Motivations

I’ll forever remember this moment: One of my group members was holding an orphan child in her lap, and for some reason he needed to leave. Instead of letting him go when he needed to, the group member kept him there, crying, while she insisted on getting a picture just so she could post it on Facebook when she got home.

Something about this just struck me as wrong. This was supposed to be about the kids, their needs, and how we could help them. Instead, it very quickly became about getting the perfect picture to show the world. I think that we need to seriously check ourselves when it comes to short-term missions. Why are we going: what is our heart and motivation? What good are we hoping to accomplish? Will our being there benefit them or is it more about us? What if we went and worked, but with zero recognition or evidence?

A lot of us struggle with what I would call “mock humility.” While mission trips are certainly not the only place this happens, it seems to be a breeding ground for it. We want to serve, but we want the picture to prove it.

Jesus was well aware of our temptation and desire for recognition. He addressed it in the Sermon on the Mount, “Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven” (Matthew 6:1). Later in the same sermon, Jesus reminds us that we should be seeking His kingdom. This is about His name and renown—not our own.

Again, this temptation isn’t only present on mission trips. This is true of our everyday life. I’ve struggled with this at work, feeling as though other teachers receive acclaim and praise for something they did, while I don’t get recognized for the things I’ve done because I tend to be more quiet and behind the scenes. I especially feel this as a mother. Moms do so many things that are behind the scenes, and that no one will ever know about.

To combat this need for recognition, we need to remind ourselves that we are not after the approval of man. This must be a daily, moment by moment surrender. This is a discipline we’ll have to practice, and we’ll have to be intentional about it. God is the one we aim to please; He is the one who sees our work, even the work we do in secret.

 

3. Help Others Develop Kingdom Vision

During my time in China, we had the opportunity to worship at a local church. And the picture of kingdom-life came alive for me.

When we entered the church, they seated us so that we could mingle with others in the congregation instead of sticking to our own team members. I sat next to this lady who sang her heart out during the hymns. Most of the hymns I didn’t recognize, but one I did. It was the hymn, “Just As I Am.” We stood next to each other; she was singing in Mandarin, and I was singing in English, but we were singing the same song, the same message, to the same God. I remember thinking that this is what heaven must be like.

Psalm 86:9 says, “All the nations you have made will come and worship before you, Lord; they will bring glory to your name.” That day, I got to see a glimpse of a day when people from every tribe, every tongue and every nation will gather and bow and sing to the One who is worthy. This moment ignited in me a longing, a yearning for the day of Jesus’ return, when He will make good on His promises.

Those promises became very real for me in my years in China. That first trip, when I sat in church with that sweet woman, cemented in me an interest in the nations, in encouraging people to get out of their bubbles and comfort zones to experience God’s world and people, and to look forward to the coming kingdom. It’s what brought me back to China another three times. It’s why we support my dear friend who has committed to living in Papua New Guinea and sharing the gospel there.  It’s what led me to do the work I do today—for the last seven years, every spring I’ve taught about 100 teenagers a year about the five major world religions. This is all rooted in the conviction that it is important to know the people around us so that we can introduce Jesus and the kingdom to them in a way that they can understand.

 

It’s been eight years since I’ve been to China. I think about the people there often, and I very much hope to return one day. I would love to show my husband and daughter this place that impacted me so much. But until I can return, I don’t have to put these lessons on hold. God didn’t just work in my life and change my perspective when I was on the mission trips, He is still actively speaking into my life where He has placed me. And so today, I’ll look to my mission field as a teacher, a wife, and a mother. I’ll seek to encourage others by affirming their worth and value, to check my motivations and serve for the One, and to always keep the kingdom at the front of everything I do.

Why Social Media Scares Me Sometimes

Written By Ashley Ashcraft, USA

I’m an old soul. I’d rather read an actual book than a device. I prefer hymns to contemporary worship. I was mercilessly made fun of once for saying that a glass of iced tea “hit the spot.” So it probably comes as no surprise for me to tell you that social media. . . scares me sometimes.

I’m not anti-social media or anti-Internet, I promise. There are undeniable benefits to social media, such as our ability to be instantly connected to those who are miles away. But I also see some subtle habits and mindsets that creep in as we become more and more familiar with and accustomed to our devices.

 

Social Media Feeds the Need for Instant Gratification

First off, social media feeds our need (or want, really) for instant gratification. Remember when the Internet took a minute to dial up? Or wait, remember when we didn’t have the Internet at all? When we would mail things off, and wait days for a response? Remember when we had to wait a week between each episode of our favorite TV show?

But today, we can find what we want to watch or know just as fast as our fingers can type. The world is literally at our fingertips! The idea of waiting feels preposterous now. And I think that we are losing our appreciation for waiting. The idea that there is any value in waiting feels ridiculous.

Luke records for us in the book of Acts that, right before Jesus ascended, He told His disciples to go back to Jerusalem and wait for the promise He had spoken to them about. I don’t know about you, but if Jesus had told me to go back and wait, I would have had a million questions. What am I waiting for? How long will I wait? How will I know when it’s here? And I probably would have been a passive “wait-er.” I would have let the time whittle away, doing nothing.

But not the disciples. If they had questions about Jesus’ instruction that day, Luke doesn’t record them. Instead, we are told that they go back to Jerusalem and pray and make use of the time by choosing a replacement  for Judas. They didn’t rush. They didn’t panic. They saw that waiting can be good, that sometimes when we wait instead of rushing ahead full steam, we are better experienced or better equipped for what comes next. Waiting comes from a posture of realizing that I don’t know everything and that time doesn’t own me.

When I think of periods of waiting in my own life, I think of when I was pregnant with my daughter. Those months of waiting and anticipation prepared me for what was ahead. There was no way I would have been mentally ready (or that she could be physically ready) any earlier than those nine months. There was value in the waiting. It prepared us; it slowed us. It showed us that we don’t know everything. In short, I think waiting humbles us.

 

Social Media Devalues Work and Effort

“Can’t I just google it?” Oh man, these words. As a teacher, I hear these words every day. And yes, a lot of the time, it may be faster to find the answers we’re looking for by just googling something or asking  someone on social media, but faster isn’t always better. I am concerned  that social media, and the Internet in general, has made us lazy: we just take the easy way out by looking up something someone else has already worked on. Less work for ourselves; a good thing, yes? I think not.

Work is a biblical value. God worked for six days to create the earth, and then on the seventh day He rested and enjoyed it. When we work, create, and produce, we are living into our purpose as His image-bearers. It can be dangerous for us as Christ-followers to lose an understanding of the significance of work. We are doing what we were made to do when we live in the pattern of “work, then enjoy.”

We work to make a delicious meal, and then we enjoy eating it together. We work to research and put together a paper for the novel in our English class, and then we enjoy the satisfaction of a job well done. We work and work to save for that vacation with our family, and then we revel in a week off with the people we love most.

So in my classroom, googling isn’t an option. When I ask my students to find a question, I don’t want them just reporting back to me what someone else has already said. I’m doing my best to encourage the generation  to think deeper, to wrestle with questions, to analyze and wonder, to ponder and create.

In my own world, I’m recently working on this: I am writing out the sayings of Jesus from the Gospel of Matthew. I heard this suggested a long time ago as a way to focus in on Jesus’ teachings and instructions. Sure, I could just google this and get a list of things He has said, but by reading through Matthew and writing Christ’s words out in my own hand, I get a much deeper sense of communion with Him. By having to slow down to write out His instruction, I’m slowing down to think more deeply about what Jesus has said and the context in which He said it.

 

Social Media Makes The Truth Just That Much Harder to Find

Several years ago, I decided to take some time off from social media. I took an entire year away from Facebook. After my year-long hiatus, I noticed that a remarkable shift had occurred while I was away. Facebook used to be about friends keeping in touch with friends and wishing each other happy birthday, bragging about your vacation, things like that.

When I got back on, I saw so few people actually talking to one another. Instead what I saw was people “sharing” articles or posts. Facebook had become less a site for people to be “friends” digitally, and more a space for people to push their agendas. And with everyone pushing their agendas, from every angle, it has becoming difficult to know what’s what anymore. People can literally say whatever they want and publish it.

In our day and age there is already a fight for the idea of absolute truth—that there is only one Truth, and that His name is Jesus. Instead, what we see today is relativity: “You do you.” This is already a difficult fight, and so all this other stuff on social media is just muddying the water.

Social media gives each of us a podium and a platform. But just because someone has a podium, it doesn’t mean what they are saying is true or right or valuable. That might be a hard truth, and a very unpopular one in our day and age, but I stand by it. Just because the majority is behind someone or something, doesn’t make it truth.

 

So,  What Should We Do With Social Media?

How do we use social media in a way that is responsible, and that doesn’t set us up to fall prey to these subtle shifts in thinking?

Some things I have done are to delete the Facebook app on my phone. If I want to log on to Facebook, I go to an Internet browser, type in the web address, and log in. Having to do this every time I want to get on helps me to not be a casual browser; instead I have to get on very intentionally.

Very recently, I also limited my time on my phone in a couple ways: I heard someone say they fast from their phones from 8:00 p.m.–8:00 a.m. I think that’s a great idea. I also try very hard, and don’t always succeed, to resist the temptation to browse social media when I’m with my daughter. I don’t want her having to compete with my phone for my attention. I want to set a good example for her: I don’t want her to be addicted to her phone when she grows up, and that begins with me modeling that for her.

A concluding thought—C. S. Lewis writes on the origin of evil in his book Mere Christianity. He says that when God created humans, He gave them certain faculties and intelligences. And as much as humans had capacity to use that intelligence for good, they had the same capacity to use it for evil. Social media is the same. It has a great capacity for good, but also for evil. I think we would do well to be sober-minded about its power and influence in our lives and our world. We need to be a force for good with it. We need to represent Him well with it.