D. Marion Clark ©2007

Introduction: I Get It!

The work did not seem too difficult. I merely had to dig a few more inches in the foundation ditch that a back-hoe had already dug three feet deep. The ditch was about sixty feet long, but how long could it take to shovel out inches of dirt – longer and more difficult than I thought! The dirt turned out to be clay and my flat shovel could barely get a chip. I had to first use a pick axe to break up the clay, then scoop it out with the shovel. This was going to take forever! Little by little I chipped at the clay and scooped. After awhile I looked up and moaned over the distance I still had to go. Indeed, it appeared I had made little progress. But then I glanced behind me. Why, I had actually moved forward – further than I had expected. I realized that if I kept to the task without worrying about how far I had to go, I would reach the goal. This was one time when looking behind moved me forward to what was ahead.

This series of messages is my way of looking back. They are the significant lessons I have learned during my own spiritual pilgrimage about what matters. All but one came to me in “I get it!” moments that immediately changed my thinking, while the last one regarding grace was no less profound in shaping my spiritual growth and my ministry. Oddly enough, thinking through these messages led to an “I get it” moment. It dawned on me that my lessons reflected the ancient truths recovered by the Reformation known as the five solas. Here they are briefly in my revised order:

Sola Christus (Christ Alone) – By the work of Christ alone we are saved. God has provided no other means for becoming reconciled with him other than through his Son.

Sola Fide (Faith Alone) – We do not “do our part” through good works to add on to the part Christ has done for salvation, nor do we earn God’s favor by good works. We are justified by faith and live by faith alone.

Sola Scriptura (Scripture Alone) – Scripture alone is God's revelation. We are to trust it to teach us about God and what he wants of us. It alone is to be the measure for testing all other teachings and beliefs.

Soli Deo Gloria (For God’s Glory Alone) – We and all creation exist for the purpose of glorifying God, who is working all things out for his glory.

Soli Gratia (Grace Alone) – Whatever faith we may exercise and good we may do is by the grace of God, who loves us not because of what we have done, but out of his own free will.

The ancient Preacher of Ecclesiastes stated in his day that “there is nothing new under the sun” (Ecclesiastes 1:9). So I have learned, yet again, that my truth discoveries are nothing more than recovering for myself what our fathers and mothers of the faith discovered for themselves in each generation. Perhaps this was C. S. Lewis’ reason for titling his allegorical conversion story The Pilgrim’s Regress. Real progress is made by discovering truth that is not so much hidden as it is ignored. As in my series of talks on Speaking the Truth in Love, I noted that I had no profound wisdom to pass on, simply the commonsense wisdom of the kitchen table; so I present nothing new in these messages. They are merely an accounting of how I learned the age-old truths of the Gospel as expressed in the tenets of the Reformation.

Years ago I had such a re-finding experience with what is known as the “means of grace.” I was restless in my early years in the ministry, feeling that I was missing something experientially. I did not feel the power of God as I thought I should. What was I doing wrong? I looked at my Charismatic brethren who seemed to experience God every time they prayed and worshiped. Perhaps I needed to get baptized by the Holy Spirit like them. So I tried it. I did get more feeling, but I never did learn to speak in tongues, and I could not get the “God told me” revelations that everyone else seemed to have on a regular basis. What was I lacking?

It was not until I began serving in my present role of Executive Minister at Tenth Presbyterian Church under James Boice that the “I get it” understanding came. I was assigned the pastoral prayer for the morning services. I did not think too much about this. I did enjoy giving that prayer, and even now I find it to be my most fruitful prayer time. I think it has to do with praying audibly, which helps me concentrate. Letting the psalm, which we read responsively earlier in the service, set the tone and the content also makes it particularly meaningful to me. Soon into those prayers I began to receive thanks from worshippers telling me how they were impacted by them. I was surprised to find that such ordinary means of praying could touch others deeply.

My next step of awakening came one day in my study when I became aware of something I was enjoying. I was studying the Bible in preparation for a sermon. The thought occurred to me: When is it that I really do get excited about God? It is when I am grasping truth from his Word. I love to discover the treasure of a Scripture text and to share that discovery. What I had wanted from personal revelation, God was giving me through his written Word.

The final step came when I was privileged to lead a weekly Communion service. There I saw the effect of this sacramental sign and seal on both the worshippers and me as it fed our faith and strengthened us spiritually. Week after week of preaching the Gospel, praying in response to the Gospel, and then communicating the sign of the Gospel gave us comfort and inspired us to serve God with thankfulness and joy. The power of these “ordinary” activities was brought home to me one Sunday when I was asked to help a small church nearby with a baptism. I preached and conducted the Tenth communion service, then traveled a few blocks for the other service. In one morning, I had led the congregation in prayer, preached, and administered the Lord’s Supper and baptism. In each activity the Gospel was expressed, and my joy grew each time. In short, I learned the power of the ordinary means – Word, prayer, sacraments – by which our Lord ministers his grace to us. I had come home to the place where generations of Christians had been enjoying their God.

Such is my prayer for you, that you will delight in God as you read of these wanderings into the old fields of the solas. Greater saints than I have plowed these fields and produced rich insight, and so I hope my discoveries of “what matters” will whet your appetite to explore these truths more deeply.

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