Thursday, October 31, 2013

Martin Luther's Conversion: Born Again Into Amazing Grace

We were just ministering out in the High Desert area where we experienced an outpouring of the Spirit, the Lord touching even eight- to twelve-year-old kids with His presence, while tears streamed down their faces.  It is such a demonstration of God’s unearned and unmerited grace available to all of us, when you see the Holy Spirit minister the love and power of God upon even little children such as these.

As we come upon another October 31st  (Reformation Day), we look back and remember the grace that Martin Luther experienced and the stand of faith he took for the truth:

Martin Luther’s Conversion: Born Again Into Amazing Grace

Martin Luther's Conversion Video:

We often hear of powerful revivals of the past like “The Great Awakening," “Cane Ridge,” or “The Finney Revivals” and how awesomely God moved.  Something largely forgotten though, is the foundation that needed to be laid early on before these moves of God could take place.  They did not come about in a vacuum, and it was not the endless fasting or prayer of some super holy dude in a cave somewhere that brought them about either. The foundation was laid through that little event called “The Reformation” which became the platform from which these moves of God sprung forth:

It is important to understand the connections since those that were used in the later revivals had foundations which can be directly linked back to the Reformation!

How one of the main figures of the Reformation, Martin Luther, came to saving faith in Christ, is a story that needs to be understood, if one wants to understand how God used the later revivalists:

Having spent an inordinate amount of time as a Catholic monk repeatedly performing every ritual stipulated by the church, Martin Luther still found no peace before the Almighty.  Having understood he was a sinner, he faced the following dilemma:  How much sin needs to be confessed, or how much fasting performed, or how many Hail Mary’s recited, or prescribed ritualistic prayers repeated?  If we are sinners, can we ever really do enough works to pay for our own sins?  And if that be the case, how much is enough?  There is always a sin one may forget to confess or a prayer that one might have recited incorrectly—if one really needs to say required prayers as the Church dictated—and on and on!

God’s providence saw Luther forced into the Scriptures to face his dilemma.  He was doing so much confessing that his superior in the monastery, Staupitz, sent him away to study the Scriptures.  In fact, frustrated with Luther, Staupitz said to him in jest: “Go out and commit some real sins and then come back when you have something actually to confess!”
Luther was very earnestly trying to find salvation while most monks grew weary with endless rituals.  They would actually mock while performing the so-called sacraments. In fact, while in Rome, Luther was taken aback at the brazen attitude of the priests who ridiculed out loud: “Bread you are and bread you shall remain!” mocking the very idea of the strongly held Catholic tenet of transubstantiation while they yet performed it. The loose morals of the priests in Rome who had harems of both boys and girls also shocked him as he saw debauchery everywhere including amongst the clergy.

Having been sent away by his superiors to rid the monastery of this troubled soul, Luther was forced into the Bible, a Bible that was only in Latin back then. 

Lest one thinks this was a normal turn of events it must be understood: Reading the Bible wasn’t the order of the day at that time because the church since the 1200’s had forbidden the laity to read the Bible. Only church clergy, i.e. priests, cardinals, bishops, were allowed to read it and they could do so only in Latin.  Most, however, weren’t familiar with Latin, except the smattering of highly educated. 

Unlike most people, Martin Luther could actually read Latin, and  do so quite well since he was a former law student who had dropped out of law school in order to join the monastery.

So, forced into the Scriptures, Luther there sought to find an answer to his dilemma: 

If God be just and holy and I be a sinner then how much good works can actually ever be enough?  There is always something I fall short in and always a sin I overlook in confession… The way of the Church if truly followed was obvious: Man relying upon his own works or confession or rituals or sacraments could never really satisfy the justice of God and assuredly receive salvation; relying on one’s own works was an empty hope set to fail in the end.

Also ordered to love God as a tenet of Catholicism, Luther says: “I hated him instead since the justice of God means we are surely condemned. Although I was an impeccable monk I still stood before God as a sinner troubled in conscience and had no confidence that my merit would assuage him.  Therefore I did not love a just God…but hated him and murmured against him.”

This was until the light broke. Luther pondered and meditated over Paul’s letters in the New Testament until he saw the connection:  The justice of God brought forth by Christ in the New Covenant is that justice by where which Christ on the Cross took on our sins and satisfied God’s justice, paying for our sins once for all. He did the work of salvation for us we couldn’t do for ourselves:  On the cross, wrath and mercy were fused, and God Himself in the person of Christ paid for our sin, taking on the punishment for sin upon Himself.  The One who knew no sin, nor had committed any, actually became sin (2 Cor. 5:21) when he went to the cross and paid the price for us that we might become children of God.
In his own words he explains how the light of revelation broke over him: “Night and day I pondered Paul’s letter to the Romans… Then I grasped that the justice of God is that righteousness by which through grace and sheer mercy God justifies us by faith.  Thereupon I felt myself to be reborn and to have gone through open doors to paradise.  The whole of Scripture took on a new meaning and whereas before the justice of God filled me with hate it now became so inexpressibly sweet in greater love.  This passage of Paul [Rom. 1:17] became a gate to heaven…”
“If you have a true faith in Christ as your savior, then at once [you should understand] that you have a gracious God.  For faith leads you in and opens up God’s heart and will that you should see pure grace and overflowing love…to behold God in faith you should look upon his fatherly friendly heart in which there is no ungraciousness…”

In the New Covenant instituted in Christ we are no longer under judgment or wrath or condemnation of any kind, yet there are those believers that still live under those things and the accompanying guilt and shame that come with it. They live as though they are still under the Old Covenant and thus feel the force and sting of the law. Christ, however,  has fulfilled the law for us at the cross and brought us into a relationship of grace and love in Him, and the price has been paid once for all on the cross by Jesus.

He wiped out the written Law with its rules. The Law was against us. It opposed us. He took it away and nailed it to the cross. Colossians 2:14

“Where sin abounded grace abounded all the more.” Romans 5:20 

Grace is a greater force than sin, and thus overcomes it when a person will but put their faith in the one who went to the cross and fulfilled the law and the prophets and paid the price once for all for us.  Grace overcomes sin and vanquished it through the cross, not through human effort but through the sacrifice made by Christ where the grace of God flows to us.  The light shines in the darkness and the darkness does not overcome it; the light overcomes the darkness!

This conversion where Martin Luther was born again changed not only Martin Luther’s life, but set forth a chain of events that would later be known as the Reformation.  On October 31st—the eve before All Saints Day—Luther posted his Ninety-Five Theses on the Castle church door in Wittenberg in a response of protest to the Church’s sale of indulgences—forgiveness tendered for payment rendered which would reduce the amount of time in purgatory (a manmade place created by Catholicism between heaven and hell where one must suffer still for sins)—which lit the flames that fanned into the Reformation.

Luther’s subsequent writings, preaching, and outspoken efforts on the grace of God carried the message throughout Europe and the world, and indeed it was the Reformation and at times Luther’s actual message itself, derived from Paul’s words in Scripture, that set many revivalists aflame:         

*John Wesley was converted when his brother dragged him to church one evening.  The message had Luther’s preface to his commentary on Romans being read.  It was during this message from Luther’s commentary that Wesley was converted.  The Spirit of God warmed his heart setting him aflame to preach the Gospel all over the British Isles and bringing forth revival! 

*The Hernhut Revival which birthed the first Protestant missions movement came about when a group of Lutherans and Moravians (spiritual descendants of Reformer John Hus, from Bohemia—modern day Czech Republic—whose teaching mirrored Luther’s) experienced an outpouring in Hernhutt, Germany.

*Revivalist George Whitfield, prince of preachers from The Great Awakening, was converted when he was given a reformer’s book that told him fasting and praying didn’t save him.  He became so angry that he was ready to throw the book in the fire, until he searched the Scriptures and found the grace that sets captives free. “What a burden was lifted off my shoulders,” he cried as he brought forth revival fires!

*Jonathan Edwards experienced the flames that would fan into revival when he saw that the Early American colonies must get back to the Gospel: “During a message on Salvation by grace through faith there came a great acceleration of the Spirit.  This would later explode into full revival when Whitfield poured gasoline on those flames by preaching on “The Righteousness that is by Faith!”

*Charles Finney experienced a radical conversion and baptism in the Holy Spirit. He says: “It was shown me that justification by faith through grace is a present experience to be received and known now.”

*Amazing grace continued to sweep up many a poor and unexpected soul into the loving arms of a merciful God for those that would turn to Him in repentance and faith, including an old slave trader by the name of John Newton who turned to Christ and found mercy for his hideous deeds, later penning the very words to the song “Amazing Grace” that have been some of the most famous in all of history.

We’ve been blessed to walk the very streets in Germany in the towns of Wittenberg and Eisenach and Eisleben and Worms, and to feel the cold damp sting of a winter’s frost in the Wartburg Castle, the very places where some of the pivotal events of the Reformation took place. We have peeked into, and even felt ourselves, something of an understanding of the price paid for preaching the Gospel when every force seems mounted against you, and our earnest desire is that you also should understand this Amazing Grace given in Christ the Savior who paid it all for us.

Video: Martin Luther and the Reformation--

Martin Luther: The Priesthood of all Believers Video--

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Acid Trippers and Hippie Crash Pads

The death of Chuck Smith recently stirs a lot of memories, since Calvary Chapel Costa Mesa was the first church I attended.  It’s a wild story how I ended up there and got to experience some of that famed Jesus People Revival:

I’d gotten heavily into surfing in my early teen years.  Hitchhiking was pretty common back in those days, so my friends and I would often thumb a ride to the beach since we weren’t driving yet. Taking the bus was a bummer, it didn’t seem to know that the shortest distance between two points was a straight line—stopping at every shopping mall with hordes of people getting on was no fun—plus there was little room for surfboards. 

We were hitchhiking one day when a really spacey dude pulled over; he was dazed and spaced out, but we really needed a ride so we all jumped in.  It went downhill fast from there since it became clear he was tripping on acid —those types of drugs were everywhere back then—and acting reckless.

Bryan Marleaux as a young teen

This guy was totally stoned and was going 80 and 90 mph on Beach Blvd. and then all of a sudden would just fly into a supermarket parking lot without slowing down, driving through it at breakneck speeds, almost hitting pedestrians who were jumping out of the way, and not even watching where he was going. Then he started yelling: “I put a job application in at that supermarket and they never called me back, those jerks!”  We all couldn’t help laughing, “Gee, I wonder why that would be…” 

After a few minutes in the car with him, my friends and I said: “Hey, we need to get out right here ‘cause actually, we need to go to the store.” The guy, however, kept rambling: “But you all have surfboards and wetsuits! I thought we were going to spend the day at the beach together.”  We were looking at each other thinking, “Ok, we definitely got into the wrong car…”

He finally let us get out of the car after we begged him: one friend said he was sick, pretended to cry, and said he needed to go home. We jumped out when he pulled over and quickly ducked into an alley and got away from that scene, then walked to the closest bus stop and waited for the next bus to get to the beach. 

But the dude somehow found us at the beach later—we must have told him where we were going to surf—and showed up and started making a public scene, yelling at the top of his lungs, “You said you were going home! I knew you were going surfing!” “Wow, what gave us away, was it the surfboards?” one of the guys yelled at him, and he started running towards us.  We just ran a bit and jumped in the water to get away, watching in amusement as he ran off, stoned out of his brain and completely out of touch with reality, screaming, “What kind of bro’s are you! You didn’t even bring the sandwiches we made to the beach.”

After that experience, we were going, “We gotta find an easier way.” The bus was a bummer and hitchhiking, well, you just read what can happen. So we got whatever money we could scrounge up one summer and rented a tiny apartment in Huntington Beach and shared it. It was a couple of blocks from the shore and we were all stoked to be at the beach where we could just walk down the block to go surfing, rather than hitchhike or be crammed between shopping bags and tattooed home boys who wanted to brawl with the surfers on the bus.

We’d hang out at the dingy little apartment and surf all day. I found a job at a little market in the neighborhood, where I earned some money for occasional food (not a priority in those days) and some rent money. I had started working and fending for myself at a very young age, ever since my parents had gotten divorced some years earlier.  After my parents split, everyone in my family just seemed to take off in different directions and did their own thing.

The little apartment turned into a surf rat pad pretty quick, with no furniture to speak of and just surfboards and wetsuits everywhere.  There was never any food in the fridge, and if anyone dared to leave anything in it, it would be eaten the moment you turned your back. Guys would sometimes leave stuff just to see if someone would eat it. One guy once left some old rabbit meat as a joke to see if someone would actually eat it, and someone actually ate the thing.

More people somehow were trickling in and staying there than originally planned, and it was getting kind of cramped. They seemed to just kind of assume they were living there too now and it turned into a real hippie crash pad, with guys just showing up every night and crashing wherever they found some space on the floor. People were always coming and going and it was normal to just go surf or head somewhere with whoever happened to be around that day. 

One day a guy popped in and said, “Hey, I’m heading to a real cool concert. You guys want to go?” So me and some other guys who were hanging out all jumped into his car.

Bryan Marleaux surfing 

He started driving way across town and was going pretty far, first through Newport and then up towards Costa Mesa.  Someone in the car said, “Hey, where is your friend taking us?”  “My friend?” I said, “I thought he was your friend!”  “Then who is this guy?”  “Oh man, I hope he’s not another acid tripper!” “Man, we’re in a car with another acid tripper!” The complaints started flying: “Hey dude, where on earth are we going?” He tried calming everyone down by telling us, “Everything’s cool, nothing to worry about, it is going to be an awesome concert and the best part is that it’s free.”  “Yeah, how good can it be then?” one guy grumbled.

We started pulling into the parking lot of what looked like a church, which I would later come to find out was Calvary Chapel Costa Mesa. One guy in the car started complaining, “Ugh, this is a church. You said we were going to a concert, man.”  Another guy added, “Oh man, he’s a Jesus Freak. That’s just as bad as an acid freak!”  Someone else said: “Great! We get to listen to a bunch of church music, whoop-de-do, how exciting! They probably have a pipe organ, accordions and a harp, far out man!” The sarcastic complaints kept flying.

It did look like a church but lots of young people with long hair and sandals seemed to be going in anyway, including lots of young ladies, so the guy didn’t have to do too much coaxing to get everyone to come in after that.

I’d only been to church twice in my life before this, and neither had been a stimulating experience, to say the least.  My parents dragged my brothers and I into some church down the street from our house for Christmas once or twice.  They wanted to leave as soon as we got there, my dad figured we were missing sports on TV and this was just too boring. Once or twice in a lifetime was enough according to them; you’ve punched in your time card, now hopefully it’s enough for heaven, if it exists at all anyway.

My friends and I hesitantly walked into the place and were surprised to hear a rock band playing.  Then some hippie dude got up and started talking. He didn’t start screaming and yelling, however, like some of the religious dudes that would come down to Huntington Pier in the middle of the hot summer dressed in three piece suits and ties with accordions and bullhorns. Instead, this hippie guy on stage started sharing some wild stories that quickly pulled us all in. Instead of holding up a lighter like at a typical rock concert some people were sticking their index fingers up in the air—maybe it’s some old acid trip thing hung over from the past, I thought.

So the hippie guy shared some cool stories and then invited people to come up and receive Jesus.  The guy who had brought us asked me if I wanted to go up. I answered, to his surprise, “Well, I did that already on the radio.”  It so happened that I received Christ as a white Orange County surf dude by somehow “mistakenly” tuning onto a black Pentecostal LA radio station. I got caught up in the stories of the black Pentecostal preacher who was really funny, and ended up saying the sinner’s prayer at the end of one of his messages  (a longer story for another time--click here if you want to know more). But I kept it to myself and didn’t tell others about my conversion.

So I was a CIA Christian—a Christian who is Invisible and Anonymous.  After receiving Christ on the radio I basically had “death insurance” now, so if I died I got to go to heaven, and I had also stopped partying and smoking pot, but that was about the end of it.  I didn’t have a church since I didn’t know of any, and the two times we’d been to one growing up were pretty boring, so I wasn’t looking forward to one, but I did think the black Pentecostal preacher was cool, so maybe it actually could be different than what I had experienced those couple times growing up. 

I didn’t have a Bible of my own; we just had a family one back at home that someone gave my parents when they got married.  From the dust all over it, it looked like the last time it was opened was probably on the day of their wedding. Also, I was afraid to have my mom catch me reading it, since it was viewed as more of a decoration, and like most decorations, kids handling them was not encouraged—you might break it or rip a page.  The one time when I tried checking it out in that old King James language, I came across the phrase “the whore of Babylon” and asked my mom if she knew what that meant, which got the reply: “Where the #&%@ are you learning words like that?”  “The Bible,” I said. “Well, stop reading it then. You’re learning bad words.”

So here was a new experience: a church with surfed out looking hippie people all around, even preaching from the pulpit, and cool music to go with it. It actually could be different than I had experienced those two times growing up, and it was. So I started going now and then to the Saturday night concerts and evangelistic services when I could find a way to get there.

I also started going to Calvary Chapel Bible studies when transportation was available, official ones at the church in Costa Mesa as well as ones that took place in people’s homes. They gave me a Bible and some cool comic-book-style booklets with Bible verses, so I was stoked because the concerts were always fun and the Bible studies were a blessing as well.  Those studies initiated the beginnings of building a biblical foundation in my life.  I even got baptized later down in Corona Del Mar where the mass baptisms took place.

I also went to a couple of these meetings called “Afterglows” where that hippie dude (Lonnie Frisbee) was running the show, but couldn’t figure out why I would hear people speaking in what sounded to me like Swahili or something in the middle of the service. I thought maybe someone was visiting from Kenya and needed some interpretation, but for the life of me, I could never spot where the Kenyans were in the meeting.  I had no idea they were speaking in tongues until later, when I was baptized in the Holy Spirit at Calvary Chapel Yorba Linda.

I actually didn’t even know who Chuck Smith was for a couple of years there at Calvary Chapel until someone took me to a Sunday Morning service, which had a completely different group of people than the Saturday night events and Bible studies: they were a bit older and many of them were dressed up in suits and stuff.  It was almost like a different church and hardly seemed connected with the concerts and Bible studies.

When I later heard the real story of how Calvary Chapel actually started, it made perfect sense, since back then most of the young people I encountered were at the meetings run by the hippie dudes like Lonnie, while Chuck did the Sunday morning services which had a different crowd. Below are a few of the details of how it all began:   

                                                A Little History

Lonnie Frisbee,  a hippie evangelist, had been hitchhiking in Orange County and happened to be picked up by a relative of Chuck’s and taken to meet him. When he met Lonnie, Chuck began to cry, for he knew Lonnie was an answer to his wife’s prayer to reach the hippies. Chuck says plainly that he had no interest in reaching them but it was his wife who had a burden for them. God answered her prayer and sent Lonnie, who soon moved into Chuck’s house and began going out to the beaches and parks to evangelize the hippies that were hanging out everywhere at that time. He began to bring them to the church, a rather small church Chuck had pastored for years that he hadn’t been able to grow past a certain point. Now, he had an evangelist to the hippies working with him, and it was Lonnie who began to bring them to the church and to Chuck’s house, even having them sleeping in his bathtub at times.  

Chuck, to his great credit, opened the door and let them in, and didn’t demand that they change before coming to the church. They were accepted with their long hair and beads and bare feet.  Since Chuck was willing to take up the cross of persecution from other churches for doing this, God blessed Calvary Chapel, which became the place known for accepting the hippies as they were.  They were just interested in preaching the Gospel and reaching the lost and God blessed them in that. With Pastor Chuck as the stable pastor figure and Lonnie as the hippie evangelist, many thousands began to be reached. Lonnie also reached people who would become major leaders in the movement like Greg Laurie—evangelizing and discipling him, and even starting his church in Riverside—as well as Mike Macintosh and Tommy Coomes. Chuck became a respected Bible teacher and the church grew.

I was stoked to experience not only that revival but the next revival that would start in Calvary Chapel Yorba Linda, later to become The Vineyard, where Frisbee again would be a catalytic figure, central to what happened.  It was a blessing at Calvary Costa Mesa to come into a place that accepted people as they were, even if they had long hair and bare feet. Praise God for those who have gone before us, who were willing to just preach the Gospel and buck man-made traditions, even if it meant suffering the slings and arrows of persecution from the establishment for doing so.