A Simple Prayer through Psalm 23

shepherd-sheep-10Gracious Father,
at birth we are all launched into a world
that is ringed with terror –
conflicts, accidents, assaults, disease, violence and death.

How easy it is to allow fear to dominate our lives:
The fear of rejection, failure, condemnation, pain and death.
Thank You that Your sword was awakened
against our Good Shepherd who laid down His life for us
so that we might experience
the certainty of your care.

Your lamb was slain to save wayward, stubborn sheep like us.
Grant us grace to trust
that everything is necessary that You send into our lives
and nothing is needful that You withhold.
May all our days be full of praise and delight in You
our Shepherd, King and God.
For we make our prayer in Jesus’ name, AMEN.

Martin Luther & The Courage to Face Your Fears

images

Martin Luther leading family worship.

On Sunday, October 29th, we will celebrate the 500th Anniversary of the Reformation. We remember on this day that Martin Luther began a process that resulted in the recovery of the biblical gospel. Many congregations will recall the efforts of Martin Luther and will sing his famous hymn based on Psalm 46 entitled “A Mighty Fortress is Our God.”

When Luther needed encouragement, comfort and strength to face the many afflictions and trials that came upon him, he would frequently go to Psalm 46 for courage.

He himself explains why he would regularly sing Psalm 46 during times of trouble:

“We sing this psalm to the praise of God,
because He is with us
and powerfully and miraculously preserves and defends
His church and His Word
against all fanatical spirits,
against the gates of hell,
against the implacable hatred of the devil,
and against all the assaults of the world, the flesh, and sin.”

 

With Jesus in the Boat

The early church viewed Jesus’ miracle of calming the troubled sea (Mark 4:35-41)
as a sign of His saving presence amidst persecution
that threatened to overwhelm the church.

In early Christian art, the Church was portrayed as a boat
being driven about on a perilous sea and,
with Jesus in the midst, there was nothing to fear.

rembrandt_christ_in_the_storm_on_the_lake_of_galilee

The Majesty of a Forgiving Father

Psalm 130:4 sets forth one of the greatest discoveries that we can ever make:
“With you (the LORD) there is forgiveness, that you may be feared.”
According to John Stott, this verse “contains a beautiful balance
because its first part brings assurance to the despairing,
while its second part sounds a warning to the presumptuous.”

How easy it is to abuse God’s grace when we lose sight
of what it cost our Lord to rescue us.
Instead, knowing how forgiven we are
should move us to to fear and stand in awe of the Lord
so that we live more and more in a way that honors and exalts Him.

The Cross is not simply a lovely example of sacrificial love.
Throwing your life away needlessly is not admirable — it is wrong.
Jesus’ death was only a good example if it was more than an example,
if it was something absolutely necessary to rescue us. And it was.
Why did Jesus have to die in order to forgive us?
There was a debt to be paid — God himself paid it.
There was a penalty to be born — God himself bore it.
Forgiveness is always a form of costly suffering.

– Timothy Keller, The Reason for God

The majesty of God’s forgiveness is lost entirely
when we lose what has to be forgiven.
What has to be forgiven is not just what we do but who we are,
not just our sinning but our sinfulness,
not just our choices
but what we have chosen in place of God. . . .
When we miss the biblical teaching,
we also miss the nature of God’s grace
in all its height and depth.
In biblical faith it is God’s grace through Christ
that does for us what we cannot do for ourselves.”

– David F. Wells, The Courage to be Protestant

The voice that spells forgiveness will say:
‘You may go: you have been let off the penalty which your sin deserves.’
But the verdict which means acceptance [justification] will say:
‘You may come; you who are welcome to all my love and my presence.’

– Sir Marcus Loane, quoted by John Stott, The Message of Romans

Grace, she takes the blame. She covers the shame, removes the stain.
Grace makes beauty out of ugly things!

– Bono

What a mercy that our Heavenly Father does not leave His wandering child
to the hardening tendency and effect of his backslidings;
but, sooner or later, His Spirit, by the word,
or through some afflictive discipline of love,
recalls the wanderer to His feet, with the confession and the prayer-
“O Lord, pardon my iniquity; for it is great.”
“Heal me, O Lord, and I shall be healed.”

– Octavius Winslow

And now, when the question returns with personal force,
“Should God mark my iniquities, how can I stand?”
Let faith, resting upon the divine word, answer,
“Jesus is my Substitute: Jesus stood in my place: Jesus bore my sins:
Jesus did all, suffered all, and paid all in my stead, and here I rest.”

– John Owen

The forgiveness of God that delivers from the depths of despair,
guilt, and anxiety is not an end in itself
but it makes it possible for us to fulfill the chief goal of our lives:
To glorify God and enjoy Him forever.

– Patrick Miller

Don’t fool and fancy yourself that you must pay your own debt of sin.
George Bernard Shaw  once wrote:
“Forgiveness is a beggar’s refuge… we must pay our debts.”
It is true: The debt of sin must be paid
and that forgiveness is indeed a beggar’s refuge.
However, we will sing King Jesus’ praise throughout eternity
because has paid the debt of sin of beggars like us.

Let Not Your Hearts Be Troubled

Let not your hearts be troubled for Jesus promises…

Light after darkness,
gain after loss;
Strength after weakness,
crown after cross;
Sweet after bitter,
hope after fears;
Home after wandering,
praise after tears;
Sheaves after sowing,
sun after rain;
Sight after mystery,
peace after pain;
Joy after sorrow,
calm after blast;
Rest after weariness,
sweet rest at last;
Near after distant,
gleam after gloom;
Love after loneliness,
life after tomb;
After long agony, rapture of bliss;
Right was the pathway, leading to this.

– Frances R. Havergal (1879)

The Fear that Conquers All Fears

Fear can dominate and immobilize us. Internet images of brutal deaths of the oppressed and persecuted stoke the fires of fear in our hearts. Two of the greatest fears with which we deal are: The fear of man and the fear of death. Those who trust in the resurrected and reigning Lord Jesus Christ must constantly remind ourselves of the words of Hebrews 13:6 – “The Lord is my helper; I will not fear; what can man do to me?” Well, man can do a lot to me. He can inflict physical and emotional pain. He can belittle, slander, abuse, torture, maim, and kill me.

A straight-forward reading of Jesus’ teaching reveals that there is only one way to banish and conquer these fears: Possess and cultivate a greater fear –  the fear (the reverential awe) of the living God.

Jesus sets forth His teaching on this matter in the two verses below:

Luke 12:4-5: “I tell you, my friends, do not fear those who kill the body, and after that have nothing more that they can do.
5 But I will warn you whom to fear: fear him who, after he has killed, has authority to cast into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him!”

Prayer: Fill us with such an overwhelming sense of awe of Your majestic holiness that we fear You more than we fear anything or anyone else, AMEN.

 

Have You Settled the Issue Regarding Your Assurance of Salvation?

Both our struggle with sin and pressures from suffering can unsettle us deeply. The only remedy is to know with equal depth the unbreakable love of God for us in Jesus. Reflecting on Romans will promote a cross-based, Spirit-given assurance of salvation for all believers in spite of sin (8:1-17), suffering (8:18-30) and death (8:31-39).

Here are some encouraging words from saints of old on assurance based upon their study of Romans 8…

Assurance sets a child of God free from a painful kind of bondage. It enables him to feel that the great business of life is a settled business, the great debt is a paid debt, the great disease is a healed disease, and the great work is a finished work; and all other business, diseases, debts and works are then by comparison small.  In this way assurance makes him patient in tribulation, calm during times of grief and sorrow, not afraid of bad news, in every condition content; for it gives him a settledness of heart.
J.C. Ryle

The Law scolds us, sin screams at us, death thunders at us, the devil roars at us.  In the midst of the clamor, the Spirit of Christ cries in our hearts:  ‘Abba, Father.’
Martin Luther

I grasp thy strength, make it mine own, My heart with peace is blest;
I lose my hold, and then comes down, Darkness, and cold unrest.
Let me no more my comfort draw, from my frail hold of thee,
In this alone rejoice with awe, Thy mighty grasp of me.
John Newton