Years ago, I read Presidential hopeful Jimmy Carter's autobiography, Why not the Best. The title for the book went back to the dreaded mandatory interview Carter had with Admiral Hyman Rickover prior to being accepted into the officer corp of the US Navy's nuclear submarine fleet. After the Admiral asked Carter if he had always done his best, his follow-up question (after Carter's admission of "no") was "why not?" This became the title of Carter's life-story up to the point of his quest for the presidency.
This conversation identifies a salient issue in our world today. Are we accustomed to consistently doing our best, or do we simply want to get by? I am amazed at how often people settle for mediocrity.
When Jesus was asked about the greatest commandment, He answered that it was to "love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength, and to love your neighbor as yourself." Normative here is the word "all." Whole-hearted devotion, whole-hearted commitment, and whole-hearted discipline mark the person who consistently performs at an excellence level.
One reason I wrote Lectures from the Gates of Hell was to help believers understand that doing one's best will generate considerable opposition from a determined adversary. To you I say, do your best! God rewards the faithful. And should we not continuously look to Jesus who was a living demonstration of continuously doing His best even to the point of death on the cross?
Today is not just Halloween. Today also marks the 499th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation. On this date in 1517, an Augustinian monk/professor, named Martin Luther nailed his
"95 Theses" to the church house door of the Wittenberg Cathedral. This action was the customary means of introducing a subject for academic debate. Luther had no idea that he was launching a movement of massive proportions. Yet, that is precisely what he did.
The root issue embedded in the proposal for debate was the understanding of salvation. The Dominican monk, John Tetzel, had been commissioned by Pope Leo X in Rome to raise money to complete the building of St. Peter's Basilica in Rome. The means for raising these funds was the sale of Indulgences. Supposedly (and this theology was a complete fabrication by the Roman Catholic hierarchy) all the good works of past saints was collected in a treasury of merit. When someone purchased an Indulgence, they purchased enough merit to have a deceased loved one's sins forgiven and thus escape purgatory. The slogan used by Tetzel was, "As soon as the coin in the coffer rings, a soul from purgatory springs." Martin Luther, the Augustinian monk, had no love for Tetzel, the Dominican monk, nor his heretical theology. Hence, the challenge penned in the "95 Theses."
Luther had come through an excruciating spiritual ordeal that culminated in his his "tower experience," that moment when his eyes, mind, and heart were opened to the truth that salvation was by grace through faith, and not of works or even for sale. That was a monumental moment in history when western civilization made a cosmic shift back to biblical truth.
So, what truths did Martin Luther help rediscover and uncover for future generations? First, that the only authentic authority for Christians is the Bible, not traditions, popes, or even councils should they disagree with Scripture. Second, he declared that salvation was a gift received by faith and not something that could be earned by human effort. Third, he pointed out that salvation was by God's grace and that it was initiated by God's sending His Son to be the sacrifice for our sins. Truths that we take for granted had to be painfully rediscovered some 500 years ago.
As we think back to the Reformation, we are reminded that it was a time to refocus on biblical truth. My newest book, LECTURES FROM THE GATES OF HELL, is similarly, an attempt to refocus Christians' understanding on the biblical truth of who the real enemy is...lest we forget.