When the Spirit of God Descends Upon Your Heart

The lovely words of the Irish hymn-writer, George Croly
serve as a simple reminder of why we desperately need the Holy Spirit
poured out upon us:

Spirit of God, descend upon my heart,
wean it from earth, through all its pulses move;
Stoop to my weakness, mighty as Thou art,
and make me love Thee as I ought to love.

  • According to Romans 8, when the Spirit descends upon our hearts,
    He rivets our attention upon the Lord Jesus Christ and His work
    for us on the cross.
  • When the Spirit descends upon our hearts, He produces in us the
    family trait of holiness by granting us the desire, determination and
    discipline to reject and kill sin.
  • When the Spirit descends upon our hearts, He assures us of our sonship
    and of our permanent gift of eternal life.

Martin Luther explains:
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.’
This little cry of the Spirit transcends
the hullabaloo of the law, sin, death, and the devil
and finds a hearing with God.

  • Luther’s Commentary on the Epistle to the Galatians

No wonder we call the Holy Spirit the “Lord and Giver of Life!”

Why Celebrate the 500th Anniversary of the Reformation?

Martin LutherMartin Luther launched the great Reformation when he nailed “The Ninety-Five Theses” to the door of the Wittenberg Cathedral on October 31, 1517. Since then, many protestant churches commemorate this day on the Sunday closest to Reformation Day (October 31) each year. This year we celebrate Reformation Day on Sunday, October 29th.

Why should you and your church celebrate the Reformation? At the core, we owe an immense debt of gratitude to the Reformers for their courageous efforts in recovering the biblical gospel: That God accepts us sinners not because of any work or supposed merit of our own, but because of His own mercy, on the basis of Christ’s finished work in which by grace we put our trust.

Robert Capon shares in a graphic metaphor exactly what happened during the time of the Reformation: “The Reformation was a time when men went blind, staggering drunk because they had discovered in the dusty basement of late medievalism, a whole cellar full of fifteen-hundred-year-old, two-hundred proof grace—of bottle after bottle of pure distillate of Scripture, one sip of which would convince anyone that God saves us single-handedly” (Between Noon & Three: Romance, Law & the Outrage of Grace).

Thus, on Reformation Sunday we remember the essence of all that we believe. You can summarize it in three words: Christ saves sinners (1 Timothy 1:15). Christ saves sinners from beginning to end all by His grace alone. If that’s true, then our lives should be distinctly marked by three character traits: Gratitude, humility and joy. Which of these marks of a Christian do you need to grow in the most?

As Reformation Day approaches, ask yourself if your faith at its core is more of a grace-filled journey or a moral code? Is it a love affair with your Savior rather than merely a religious exercise and a philosophy of love? Is your Christianity characterized by receiving a gift with open hands or is it keeping rules with clenched fists? As your relationship with Christ is characterized more as a grace-filled journey, a love affair and receiving a gift with open hands, you will grow in gratitude, humility, and joy.

Let us pray that our church would continue trumpeting God’s grace and that the Lord would unleash His Gospel with its transforming power so that He might revive us again so that we rejoice in Him (Psalm 85:6) and so that times of refreshing would come from the presence of the Lord (Acts 3:20). Don’t let this Reformation Day pass without praying this for yourself, your family, your church family and community!

What inspired Luther to recover the biblical gospel?

Luther Theses

In the little town of Wittenberg, Germany on October 31, 1517, a priest nailed a challenge to debate on the church door. No one may have noticed then, but within the week, copies of his theses would be discussed throughout the surrounding regions; and within a decade, Europe itself was shaken by his simple act.

Later generations would mark Martin Luther’s nailing of the 95 theses on the church door of Wittenberg as the beginning of the Protestant Reformation, but what did Luther think he was doing at the time? To answer this question, we need to understand a little about Luther’s own spiritual journey.

As a young man in Germany at the beginning of the sixteenth century, Luther was studying law at the university. One day he was caught in a storm and was almost killed by lightning. He cried out to St. Anne and promised God he would become a monk. In 1505, Luther entered the Augustinian monastery, and in 1507 became a priest. His monastic leaders sent him to Rome in 1510, but Luther was disenchanted with the ritualism and dead faith he found in the papal city. There was nothing in Rome to mend his despairing spirit or settle his restless soul. He seemed so cut off from God, and nowhere could he find a cure for his malady.

Martin Luther was bright, and his superiors soon had him teaching theology in the university. In 1515, he began teaching Paul’s Epistle to the Romans. Slowly, Paul’s words in Romans began to break through the gloom of Luther’s soul. Luther wrote

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. Night and day I pondered until I saw the connection between the justice of God and the statement ‘the just shall live by faith.’ Then I grasped that the justice of God is that righteousness by which through grace and sheer mercy God justifies us through faith. Thereupon I felt myself to be reborn and to have gone through open doors into paradise. The whole of Scripture took on a new meaning…This passage of Paul became to me a gate to heaven.

The more Luther’s eyes were opened by his study of Romans, the more he saw the corruption of the church in his day. The glorious truth of justification by faith alone had become buried under a mound of greed, corruption, and false teaching. Most galling was the practice of indulgences — the certificates the church provided, for a fee, supposedly to shorten one’s stay in Purgatory. The pope was encouraging the sale of indulgences. He planned to use the money to help pay for the building of St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome.

Johann Tetzel was one of the indulgence sellers in Luther’s vicinity. He used little advertising jingles to encourage people to buy his wares: “As soon as the coin in the coffer rings, the soul from purgatory springs.” Once Luther realized the sufficiency of Christ’s sacrifice alone for our sins, he found such practices revolting. The more he studied the Scriptures, the more he saw the need of showing the church how it had strayed from the truth.

So on October 31, 1517 he posted a list of 95 propositions. This was the means of inviting scholars to debate important issues. No one took up Luther’s challenge to debate at that time, but once news of his proposals became known, many began to discuss the issue Luther raised – that salvation was by faith in Christ’s work alone. Luther apparently at first expected the pope to agree with his position, since it was based on Scripture; but in 1520, the Pope issued a decree condemning Luther’s views. Luther publicly burned the papal decree. With that act, he also burned his bridges behind him.

Bibliography:

  1. Adapted from an earlier Christian History Institute story.
  2. Bainton, Roland. Here I Stand. New York: Mentor, 1950.
  3. Durant, Will. The Reformation. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1957.
  4. Köstlin, Julius. Life of Luther. New York, C. Scribner’s sons, 1884.
  5. Wells, Amos R. A Treasure of Hymns; Brief biographies of 120 leading hymn- writers and Their best hymns. Boston: W. A. Wilde company, 1945.
  6. Various encyclopedia articles.

Source: http://www.christianity.com/ChurchHistory/11629921/

Prayer of Confession – Reformation Sunday (Martin Luther)

Waken our hearts, O Lord, our God;

make them ever watchful to serve You and Your purposes.

Trouble us with the smallness of our vision and work.

Trouble us with the greatness of Your command to make disciples of all nations.

Trouble us with Your great love for sinners and our own slowness to make You our greatest love.

Trouble us with the brevity of our lives and time, talent, and treasure not invested in eternity.

Comfort us by drawing us to Yourself with the cords of Your
unfailing mercy.

Comfort us, O Lord, with the assurance of our salvation and
unending glory with You when we suffer and are afflicted.

Rekindle in us a renewed desire

for the coming of Your glorious kingdom

when all wrongs will be made right,

when everything that is broken will be made whole,

and when we will trade a cross for a crown.

In Jesus’ name we pray, Amen.

—Adapted from the Prayers of Martin Luther

In Times of Spiritual Dryness

spiritual_drynessAll of us go through times of spiritual drought and dryness. When I was a college student, I encountered this for the first time and it concerned me greatly. I was helped by reading a little book called The Green Letters by Miles Stanford. The title has been changed now to Principles of Spiritual Growth. It is online at:http://www.angelfire.com/mo2/goodnews/growth.html

One quote from this book that helped me immensely is found in chapter 2 on the subject of Time. Graham Scroggie, a preacher who is now with Jesus, writes:

“Spiritual renewal is a gradual process. All growth is progressive, and the finer the organism, the longer the process. It is from measure to measure: thirtyfold, sixtyfold, an hundredfold. It is from stage to stage: ‘first the blade, then the ear, and after that, the full corn in the ear.’ And it is from day to day. How varied these are!There are great days, days of decisive battles, days of crises in spiritual history, days of triumph in Christian service, days of the right hand of God upon us. But there are also idle days, days apparently useless, when even prayer and holy service seem a burden. Are we, in any sense, renewed in these days? Yes, for any experience which makes us more aware of our need of God must contribute to spiritual progress, unless we deny the Lord who bought us.”

Thus, real spiritual progress and development can and oftentimes takes place even through the dry and hard times.Here is a strategy that I would recommend to you. It is called the garland method of prayer. I can explain later why it is called that.  I would limit my Bible reading to the book of Psalms. The link at the end of this paragraph contains a monthly cycle of readings through the book of Psalms. Here’s the link to a monthly guide through the Psalms: http://www.bibleplan.org/ps/esv/

You can actually have them send you the particular day’s reading to your email address. For example, on the 23rd day of the month, the reading is Psalm 113-118. You can read this selection in its entirety, but you don’t have to read all of it. It obviously depends on your time constraints. You might only have time to read one of the Psalms like Psalm 118. You might just focus on one verse of Psalm 118. Or, you could focus on a few verses like verses 5-9:

Out of my distress I called on the Lord;
the Lord answered me and set me free.
6 The Lord is on my side; I will not fear.
What can man do to me?
7 The Lord is on my side as my helper;
I shall look in triumph on those who hate me.
8 It is better to take refuge in the Lord
than to trust in man.
9 It is better to take refuge in the Lord
than to trust in princes.

What do I see in this text for which I can praise the Lord? Just jot down in your journal a couple of things that you learn about God. You don’t have to be exhaustive. Just a couple of things. It can honestly be one thing. I can trust the Lord because He hears and answered prayer. He is a God who is for me. I can trust Him because He is my helper and my refuge especially in times of conflict.

Then, what are the sinful thoughts, actions, and attitudes that result in me when I forget this about the Lord? I become distressed. I become fearful. I become enslaved to the approval of others. I trust in other people rather than the Lord.

Thirdly, how does this text point me to Jesus Christ – his person, work and/or teachings? For example, how is it that Jesus looked in triumph over those who hated him? How is it that we can even call on the name of the Lord? We can approach the Lord in prayer only because we have a perfect high priest who interceded for us with his precious blood. Then, I stop and begin to thank Jesus for his triumphal resurrection… that he died to pay the penalty for all of my sins of people pleasing, fear and doubt.

Lastly, I ask myself: How would I live differently if the truths of this text were more real in my life? Just ask the Lord to show you one or two points of application here. For example, when I am in personal distress and difficulty, I will resolve to seek the Lord’s counsel first before reaching out for the counsel of any significant others in my life.

Then, having written down a thought or two for each question. I would quickly turn these thoughts into prayers to the Lord. You can do this in five minutes. You can do this in an hour. Be flexible.

Having the monthly guide above from the bibleplan website will give you some structure. Why not try it for the several months and, if you miss a day, just go to the next day’s reading because that particular reading will be coming around again in a month.

By the way, if you ever have to lead a Bible Study and if you don’t have much time to prepare, just read the passage as a group and walk through the four questions above. You’ll find yourself eventually in the midst of a spiritual downpour instead of a time of spiritual drought.

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

The Responsible Use of Gospel Freedom

Here are a few helpful quotes on how we are to use our gospel freedom responsibly.

Remember that God’s kingdom is not eating and drinking but living together in the righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit; so serve Christ, not yourselves, with your eating and drinking.
— Nelson Kloosterman

A Christian is a most free lord of all, and subject to none.
A Christian is a most dutiful servant to all, subject to all.
Martin Luther

As to God, our great concern is righteousness—to appear before him justified by the merit of Christ’s death, sanctified by the Spirit of his grace; for the righteous Lord loves righteousness.
As to our brothers, it is peace—to live in peace and love, and charity with them, following peace with all men: Christ came into the world to be the great peace-maker.
As to ourselves, it is joy in the Holy Spirit—that spiritual joy which is wrought by the blessed Spirit in the hearts of believers, which respects God as their reconciled Father and heaven as their expected home.
—  Matthew Henry

Rather than resembling a moral combat zone, the church is to be a place where all of us obey the Apostle Paul’s moving mandate: Accept one another as Christ has accepted you in order to bring praise to God (Romans 15:7).