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Christian, Are You This Courageous? Do you have this strength?

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERADevotional Thoughts for our days:

10 “Stop fighting,” he says, “and know that I am God, supreme among the nations, supreme over the world.” 11 The LORD Almighty is with us;  the God of Jacob is our refuge.  Psalm 46:10-11  TEV

A mighty Fortress is our God, A Bulwark never failing; Our Helper He amid the flood Of mortal ills prevailing: For still our ancient foe Doth seek to work us woe; His craft and power are great. And, armed with cruel hate, On earth is not his equal.

Did we in our own strength confide, Our striving would be losing; Were not the right Man on our side, The Man of God’s own choosing: Dost ask who that may be? Christ Jesus, it is He; Lord Sabaoth His Name, From age to age the same, And He must win the battle.

This is important: the courage to trust in Jesus’ mercy, in his patience, to seek refuge always in the wounds of his love.

As we approach the 500th anniversary of the reformation, I have spent a lot of time reading and thinking through the history, and how it affects the Church today.  Not just my congregation, or my denomination, but the entire family of God’s children.  And what it means to reform.

For example, in my news feed, this morning was a great story of Pope Francis and liturgical reform. If I dare say, it is very Lutheran.  At the same time, there are those who are trying, with intent or ignorance, to divide the church further.  Not in the hope of reform, but in the desire to keep what they know pure.  And in the process, lose what Luther found the greatest comfort in, the love and mercy of God. 

Ninety percent of the time I hear Luther’s classic hymn quoted in green above, it is done with the power and energy of a military anthem.  Full crescendo Organs, loud brass, even clashing cymbals, as if it is a call to battle, something to unite the forces of good behind as we go to war.

Given that it is derived in part from Psalm 46, I am not sure that interpretation is valid.  It is not a mighty anthem, but a recognition that we are not that strong, that we need a refuge, that we cannot have confidence if we are dealing with Satan or the World.  I see Luther, inspired by the Psalm, writing this to a soft broken melody of one who knows despair, who is confused and hurt, and who is beginning to realize his hope is found in the one who was nailed to the cross, the Lord Jesus who is portrayed on the crucifix he sol tightly grasps. I see this as the resolution of a man who has searched for hope, finding it with his last gasp… the music of reeds and deep strings.. as the words are whispered out…. from broken, contrite spirits that are finding refuge… and rest.

We have to have the confidence to hide in CChrist we must depend on Jesus’ mercy and his patience and to seek and find refuge in Christ, who we are united to in our baptism.  

So stop fighting the world, stop striving against the powers of evil, (or those you just think are evil.) Have the courage, the confidence to trust in God.  He is dependable, He is the one who has the victory, and in Him…

we are safe.  we can rest.

TO do so takes a lot of courage, a lot of strength, to stay firmly planted in Jesus, despite every temptation to fight or flee.  It, in fact, takes far more to endure, to wait on Him.  Yet the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For the Spirit works through the church to remind us of this fact.

the Lord Almighty is with you, and God is your refuge.  AMEN!

Martin Luther – A Mighty Fortress is our God

Pope Francis. A Year with Pope Francis: Daily Reflections from His Writings. Ed. Alberto Rossa. New York; Mahwah, NJ; Toronto, ON: Paulist Press; Novalis, 2013. Print

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We Need A Mighty Fotress!

An early printing of Luther's hymn A Mighty Fo...

An early printing of Luther’s hymn A Mighty Fortress Is Our God (Ein feste Burg ist unser Gott) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

We Need a Mighty Fortress!

Romans 3:19-28

 

† In Jesus Name †

 May we find ourselves secure and safe in the Fortress of Christ, and as we find ourselves there may our worship takes on a new dimension as we rejoice in His presence and provision!

How powerful is this passage?

In order that we don’t take this day, and this incredible passage from the Book of Romans for granted, I would share with you a story.

There was once a pastor, raised in a great Christian home, sent to one of the finest universities, in the world. Thirty-five years old, quickly becoming a leader in the church.  Yet, one night, everything would change.  Change so much, that he would talk about it using the word, “conversion”.  Here are his words…

“In the evening I went very unwillingly to a society in Aldersgate Street, where one was reading Luther’s preface to the Epistle to the Romans. About a quarter before nine, while he was describing the change which God works in the heart through faith in Christ, I felt my heart strangely warmed. I felt I did trust in Christ, Christ alone for my salvation: and an assurance was given me, that he had taken away my sins, even mine, and saved me from the law of sin and death.”   http://www.biblicalstudies.org.uk/pdf/bets/vol07/7-3_cox.pdf

The passage that was being read from Luther’s commentary was about this passage – especially verse 28, the very verses that so changed Luther, who was also a minister of the gospel when he heard them, that Luther was willing to die rather than forget them.  SO what is so powerful, that men like Martin Luther and John Wesley would use terms like “conversion” and “salvation” when they finally realized what they meant?

Why are these words,  So we are made right with God through faith and not by obeying the law.,” so powerful, so life changing?

I pray, oh I pray, that as we look at these verses, our lives would change as much as Luther’s, as Wesley’s, as King David’s, who wrote the following words when he got this truth,

 I love you, LORD; you are my strength. 2  The LORD is my rock, my fortress, and my savior; my God is my rock, in whom I find protection. He is my shield, the power that saves me, and my place of safety. Psalm 18:1-2 (NLT) 

Why do we need a fortress?

When we sing “A Mighty Fortress”, do you ever think about what you are singing?  It is what can be called a Creedal Hymn – a hymn testifying, confessing the very core of our belief, our creed.

Reducing all the verses down, it is a simple statement.  We believe we need God, that we desperately need His interaction in our lives.  That we need Him to deliver us, and to be our sanctuary, our fortress, that we need Him to be rock solid for us…

It is as much a confession of our need for Jesus’s work as when we confess our sins at the beginning of our service.

We need Him.

We need a fortress. A rock, a place where we can catch our breath, where we can find comfort, where we can know peace.

Not just because of our sin, but because of the unrighteousness we have to deal with each and every day.  Because of the stress the injustice, the unrighteousness of the world deals us daily.  We have to have that place where we can pour out all our anxiety, all our pain, all the crap that affects our lives.

Not just because of our sin, and the unrighteousness and injustice of life, but because of the threat and reality of death.  For that is where the Law seems to get its strength, for death would make the law a victor.  For in death there is no excuses, and based on the law alone, there is no way we can be right with God.  We can’t, we don’t make the standard.  Our thoughts, words, and deeds, well if we look at them honestly, would we want everyone to know them?  Could we stand a record of all that we’ve thought and said (including under our breath) and done be given out this morning?

Yet God knows them all,

And He volunteered to be our fortress, our place of rest.

How do we gain entrance?

As it seems all of our enemies, sin, anxiety, injustice, and the threat of death’s closing the book on us surround us, we have to find a safe place, a secure place, a place where we can recover and heal from our own brokenness. Where we can experience the revelation of what Wesley and Luther and King David and so many have known.  But how do we get to that place?

We don’t.

We find ourselves there.  The lights come on, and we are in God’s presence.  Verse 21,

But now God has shown us a way to be made right with him without keeping the requirements of the law, as was promised in the writings of Moses and the prophets long ago.

That phase, “shown us a way” is literally translated, “He enlightened us”.  This is what Luther wrote in the explanation of the creed, where it says, “But the Holy Spirit called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, made me holy and kept me in the true faith, just as He calls, gathers together, enlightens and makes holy the whole Church on earth and keeps it with Jesus in the one, true faith.” Luther’s Small Catechism: Developed and Explained.

God shines the light on what Jesus has done, with kindness we do not deserve, as He died on the cross.  Hear these words again,

“24 Yet God, with undeserved kindness, declares that we are righteous. He did this through Christ Jesus when he freed us from the penalty for our sins. 25 For God presented Jesus as the sacrifice for sin. People are made right with God when they believe that Jesus sacrificed his life, shedding his blood.”

And now hear them, as Luther and Wesley did….

24 Yet God, with undeserved kindness, declares that I am righteous. He did this through Christ Jesus when he freed me from the penalty for my sins. 25 For God presented Jesus as the sacrifice for my sin. I am made right with God when I trust that Jesus sacrificed his life, shedding his blood for me.

This is what it is all about. This is what caused such a dramatic change in Wesley, and in Luther.  It’s why we find ourselves, as if we’ve awakened, in the presence of God Almighty and we realize it will be all right. For we have been made right with God, He has declared us right! He has said to each on of us, that we are His child, and that nothing can separate us from Him.

When we needed a place that was safe; He brought us in, cleansed us, healed us, provided for us and does so each moment of our lives!

That is what this day is about – each one of us realizing that we have unlimited access to God – not just when we are at full strength spiritually, but when we are at the breaking point, when we are broken, when our spirits are crushed my sin and unrighteousness and anxiety and even death….

He is here…for you…

As He has been for so many, including John Wesley, and Martin Luther, and Augustine, and the whole company of heaven… and so you can cry with me the words of the psalm,

I love you, LORD; you are my strength. 2  The LORD is my rock, my fortress, and my savior; my God is my rock, in whom I find protection. He is my shield, the power that saves me, and my place of safety. Psalm 18:1-2 (NLT)

Our place of peace…

AMEN?

A Hymn of Surrender… A Mighty Fortress…

Devotional Thought of the Day:

Tomorrow, Lutheran Churches around the world will sing “A Mighty Fortress”, the hymn written by Martin Luther.

I’ve heard it called the Battle Hymn of the Reformation, a rally cry to do battle…. As I look at the words, and at Psalm 46 which it is drawn from, and look at Luther’s life, I am not so sure.

I think it is a hymn of surrender, and let me use a medieval village (think like Robin Hood’s era) as a parabolic example.

The village is constantly raided by bandits. Those who would try to stand and fight, are instead overwhelmed, beaten and battered into submission.  Those who are too weak simply give in, and compromise, and let the bandits steal what they want.  The village is crushed, there is no joy left, no hope, nothing but the bondage thrust on them by the  Until a messenger comes from a nearby castle, offering protection, and more importantly, a place in the King’s family.  People struggle with the decision, for it means they have to give up what they know and what will it be like to be no longer free.

Such is the life that Luther knew, in bondage to his own sin, oppressed by Satan and by the thoughts of death.  The church at his time didn’t help – it held hostage the very thing that would give any hope.  Forgiveness, redemption, restoration, the hope received by those who believe and are baptised, hidden behind indulgences merited..by paying a hefty price.

It is as Luther realizes the breadth, the width, the height and depth of the Father’s love shown to us in Christ, that grace – the mercy and peace of God is revealed.   Our freedom, which was but an illusion is traded in for security, protection, peace…forgiveness, adoption.  Nothing, absolutely nothing, St Paul wrote – can seperate us from that love in Christ.

I picture then, using my parable, the people of the village, being pursued by their enemies, running to the Fortress, encouraged by the One who came to bring them to their real home.  The hymn not a cry to do battle, but a realization that true safety is found there, in Christ, who brings us home.  For He is not just a messenger, but the Lord God Almighty, come to bring His people home.  A favorite Catholic priest/writer wrote:

“Doubts assail you, temptations, with that gloss of elegance about them. I love to hear you say how this shows that the devil considers you his enemy, and that God’s grace will never leave you unprotected. Keep up the struggle!” (1)

It is not our battle, this battle against sin, and satan and death… it is Jesus’ battle.  One of the translations of A Mighty Fortress says this so well:

With might of ours can naught be done, soon were our loss effected;
But for us fights the Valiant One, whom God Himself elected.
Ask ye, who is this? Jesus Christ it is.
Of Sabbath Lord, and there’s none other God;
He holds the field forever.

Indeed He does, as we scurry into His fortress, as we tend to those wounded and broken, as we go out, not to do battle, but on rescue missions, to bring home  those who need the refuge we have found.

May we indeed live by faith, by trusting in the One who sets captives free, and then guards their hearts and minds, in the peace that abiding in Christ brings.

AMEN!

 

 

(1) Escriva, Josemaria (2011-01-31). The Forge (Kindle Locations 1247-1250). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

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