"As she stood looking at it, wondering why there was a lamp-post in the middle of a wood and wondering what to do next, she heard a pitter patter of feet coming toward her..." (C S Lewis, The Chronicles of Narnia)

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Why My Conscience Loves Martin Luther


Martin Luther swore himself into a monastic life in a moment of dread during a fierce lightning storm. His prayer ironically was offered to St. Anne, inaugurating a journey that would lead him down the road to reformation that would include, among other things, denouncing the intercession of saints.

This month commemorates the 500th anniversary of the start of the Protestant Reformation. The story of its conception has had a share of the kindle that sparked a world-wide reform of Christian faith. It is an account in which many, among them pastors like me, can refresh our fretful consciences.

It was during Martin's time as a monk that he became overwhelmed with guilt over his depravity. He went to confession, again and again, seeking absolution for his sins, “He confessed frequently, often daily, and for as long as six hours on a single occasion.” Johann von Staupitz, Luther’s spiritual adviser, of whom he said, “if it had not been for Dr. Staupitz, I would have sunk in hell,” grew tired of hearing Luther’s endless account of transgressions. He advised Martin, with an apparent sense of humor, “Look here, if you expect Christ to forgive you, come in with something to forgive—patricide, blasphemy, adultery—instead of all these peccadilloes.”

Nevertheless, Luther was crippled by his sin and his view of God as a just, wrathful deity who could not be appeased by anything Luther could do. Staupitz, a mystic, tried to convince Luther that he was needlessly complicating the Christian faith, that he should embrace the simple call to love God. This was impotent in mending Luther’s festering conscience. He retorted, “I was myself more than once driven to the very abyss of despair so that I wished I had never been created. Love God? I hated him!”

No penance, sacrament or indulgence could set him free. Even the accouterments of the monastery could not cover his sullied heart, though try he did. Luther testified, "If ever a monk got to heaven by his monkery, it was I."

Staupitz concocted a cure for his student’s ails, one which would have consequences for the church he could not have conceived. He sent him to the Scriptures. He was to pursue his doctorate of theology, preach to a congregation, and become the chair of Bible at university. It was there in Wittenberg while studying and preaching through Psalms, Romans and Galatians, that Luther encountered the gospel of grace. The doors of paradise opened his soul's gloomy dungeon of despair:

“I greatly longed to understand Paul’s Epistle to the Romans and nothing stood in the way but that one expression, ‘the justice of God,’ because I took it to mean that justice whereby God is just and deals justly in punishing the unjust. My situation was that, although an impeccable monk, I stood before God as a sinner troubled in conscience, and I had no confidence that my merit would assuage him…Then I grasped that the justice of God is that righteousness by which through grace and sheer mercy God justified us through faith. Thereupon I felt myself to be reborn and to have gone through open doors into paradise. The whole Scripture took on a new meaning, and whereas before the ‘justice of God’ had filled me with hate, now it became to me inexpressibly sweet in greater love. This passage of Paul became to me a gate to heaven.”

On October 31, 1517, Luther posted his 95 theses against a corrupt medieval church and its notorious papacy on the door at Wittenberg Castle Church. Others rapidly translated them and they spread like fire. The rest, as they say, is church history.

The inception of the Reformation reminds us, as it once did a young German monk, that our guilty standing and uneasy consciences are set free by a gracious gospel that comes to us by faith alone in the satisfactory work of a perfect Christ. Pastor and parishioner alike can celebrate half a millennium of its rediscovery!

Friday, October 6, 2017

Trust, Faith, Belief

Harbor Bridge



Trust, faith and belief are synonyms. Trust is a powerful thing. When we say we trust someone or something, it affords it the character of being trustworthy. This is true of living beings as well as inanimate objects. If I trust a bridge, I am putting my faith in a structure to hold the weight of whatever I put upon it. I trust it enough to walk over, to drive a vehicle on top of it, or to be undaunted that traffic transverses it daily. I have faith in that bridge.

When we say we have faith in God, or we believe in Jesus, what we are saying is that we are confident he is fully capable to do what we trust him for, namely to save us. Like a bridge, faith in Jesus is to trust he will support us to cross over to the other side.

Trust is usually not given, but earned. We don't altogether trust strangers (for good reason) and we certainly don't trust those who have demonstrated themselves to be untrustworthy (for even better reason). I would not hand a newborn baby to a complete stranger nor would you entrust your kids to a lady with a pattern of abuse of children. You wouldn't pass your house keys to a man you just met, nor would I to a convicted house burglar. Their trust has not been earned.

With God, we have one who has shown himself to be trustworthy not just to us, but to all his people throughout history. That is one reason, among many, we still look to the Hebrew Scriptures and God's covenant faithfulness to ancient Israel. It demonstrates to us the character of the God we trust with our lives. Two millennia of church history are replete with evidences of the trustworthiness of God. Christians throughout Christendom have trusted him with their lives, even unto death, and have found satisfiction in that faith. God's faithfulness, like a story's throughline, can be seen in history's pages, chapter after chapter.

When we say we believe in God, that is not a statement of mere philosophical conjecture. It is not the simple antonym of atheism. It is a dynamic statement of trust. We have faith in Jesus as Redeemer, we trust his sacrifice on the cross and power in the resurrection will be sufficient to save us from judgment. We trust him as King, he reigns over our future as well as our past. We trust him as the bridge we know will uphold us towards life.

Monday, September 25, 2017

Friday, September 15, 2017

"Protecting Dreamers"

A short Letter to the Editor on DACA in the Boston Herald, click HERE

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Gratitude for New England Autumns

Road in Fall


New England in the fall is perhaps the most iconic setting in America. It's easy for us to miss it. Sometimes you can be so close to something that you have difficulty seeing it. For example, we typically don't take the time to appreciate oxygen. It's ubiquitous and transparent; we assume its presence, utilizing it every four seconds. But talk to an astronaut about the importance and value of oxygen and we may gain a new appreciation. Oxygen is not assumed anywhere outside our terrestrial atmosphere. 

For most of us, New England in the fall is simply the air we breathe. Haverhill, MA has been my home since Kindergarten. Let's take the time this year to step back and enjoy the idyllic New England autumn. Let's enjoy the beautiful changing colors of the leaves. Nowhere else in this land, from California to the New York island, do we find such a breakdown of chlorophyll highlighting the trees. The surreal oranges, the majestic purples, the subtle yellows and the fiery red leaves should take our breath away. This land was made for you and me.

On top of that, we have our history and heritage. The Plymouth pilgrims and the Native Wamponoags survived together, preparing for the cold snowy winter. Thanksgiving in San Diego or Chicago just doesn't have the same feel as a turkey feast in New England. Gratitude is one of life's most important and surprising gifts. With it we are able to enjoy not only what we are given anew, but what we've had all along.

Sunday, January 1, 2017

Tim Tebow

Quoted by a local newspaper on the Tebow phenomenon HERE.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Buck up, Do something fun, Forget about Politics

Below is my letter to the editor for the Eagle Tribune. For the direct link, click HERE

It's time for the majority of us to take a break from politics. 
Politics was never meant to be our obsessive focus or the sole purpose of our lives. 
Indeed, politics at its best is what makes the life of the average citizen better, safer and more successful in her or his own endeavors. 
Maybe your candidate for president lost; maybe he won. Take a deep breath. Now let it go. 
Get back to enjoying your life: spend time with your family this Thanksgiving, get involved in your church helping the community, tidy-up your ski equipment or tune in to your favorite sitcom. Life will go on, and likely without much impact on your life. 
I don't mean this election doesn't matter. It will have long-standing effects on our nation, for better or for worse. But that doesn't mean anyone needs to fall into a deep depression and let this consume their lives. 
Enjoy the freedoms hard fought for by generations of Americans; freedoms that allow you not to allow the government to interfere with your life, your liberty or your pursuit of happiness. 
Snuggle up with a good novel by your fireplace. Go visit your favorite local restaurant (the Tap? the Barking Dog? Kruegger's Flatbread?) 
Come out for the Santa Parade this Sunday. Whatever you do, stop moping and worrying about the next resident of 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. I think we've spent enough time, energy and emotional resources on this election for a while. It's the holidays. Cheer up! 
Rick Harrington 
Haverhill 


Thursday, November 17, 2016

Follow Me.

When we think about Jesus words, "follow me," they sound so simple, so easy. We grow up playing games like "follow the leader" as we mimic others, following their movements and words. But do we really mean it when we say, I have decided to follow Jesus? To follow him wherever he calls. That may mean going to the mission field and reaching Muslims with the gospel of Jesus. It may mean settling into a sedentary life of patient and persistent ministry in a small town. It may mean going back to school in the classroom or travelling far and wide in the school house of the globe. It may mean enjoying an abundance or waiting for your daily bread to come each day. Can we say, "Wherever you will, whatever you want" to Jesus? Let's recognize the radical nature of those two words, "follow me."

Mission work in Nepal

God has been so good to me. May He use our time there to encourage and strengthen our Nepali brothers and sisters in their faith!



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