Monthly Archives: October 2009
A Mighty Fortress is Our God
Words and Music by Martin Luther
1. A mighty fortress is our God, a bulwark never failing; our helper he amid the flood of mortal ills prevaling. 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.
2. 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.
3. And though this world, with devils filled, should threaten to undo us, we will not fear, for God hath willed his truth to triumph through us. The Prince of Darkness grim, we tremble not for him; his rage we can endure, for lo, his doom is sure; one little word shall fell him.
4. That word above all earthly powers, no thanks to them, abideth; the Spirit and the gifts are ours, thru him who with us sideth. Let goods and kindred go, this mortal life also; the body they may kill; God’s truth abideth still; his kingdom is forever.
“The first care of every Christian ought to be, to lay aside all reliance on works, and strengthen his faith alone more and more, and by it grow in the knowledge, not of works, but of Christ Jesus, who has suffered and risen again for him.”
- Martin Luther, Christian Liberty
I remember when it was cool to see Jesus in The Matrix. When that five minutes was over, and even your father in law was reading up in 2 Kings to figure out the significance of Neo’s spaceship, the whole thing was a joke. The tide had turned from a Lewisian seeing of celestial beauty in the jungle of filth and imbecility that is Myth to a marketable spotting of Christian symbolism in every pop cultural artifact imaginable. Jesus became Waldo.
I remember when it first hit me to see Christ at the center of the Old Testament narratives. It was only a few years ago—I’m a late bloomer, so sue me—listening to a sermon by Tim Keller given at the inaugural Gospel Coalition Conference. I mean, I wasn’t so dense not to see Jesus in the story of Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice Isaac, and of course I knew about the messianic psalms and prophecies, but Keller’s address, replete with appeals to Jonathan Edwards’s non-allegorical homiletical beauty, outlining of the gospel as news not advice, and laser accurate delineation of what constitutes Gospel-Centered Ministry (the name of the sermon, actually), didn’t just blow the rockface off of my understanding. To borrow one of his own illustrations, it burrowed in, planted dynamite, and devastated me. In a good way.
In his message, Keller presented the following:
* Jesus is the true and better Adam, who passed the test in the garden and whose obedience is imputed to us. * …
One fear we must put aside in our quest for greater gospel-centrality is that it will not preach week to week. The enemy and our own flesh will test our commitment with the “plausible argument” (Col. 2:4) that the gospel will just sound so one-note. We are tempted to think the repetition will have the unintended effect of boring people or making the gospel appear routine and commonplace.
But the gospel is resilient. It is miraculously versatile. It proves itself every day for those awake to it. Because it is the antidote for all sin of all people, power effectual for every type of person no matter their background or circumstance, it is God’s might to save every millisecond and therefore every Sunday.
The gospel is indeed one song. But it is a song with many notes. The news is the same, but some of the words may change and the angles shift. (Use a thesaurus if you have to.) If we are awake to the gospel and seek the wakefulness of others, Christian and non-Christian, the playing of the greatest song at every instance is a lot like the exuberance of childlike wonder in monotonous fun. In Orthodoxy, the great G.K. Chesterton writes:
“Because children have abounding vitality, because they are in spirit fierce and free, therefore they want things repeated and unchanged. They always say, ‘Do it again'; and the grown-up person does it again until he is nearly dead. For grown-up people are not strong enough to exult in monotony. …
1. The love of Christ is rich and free;Fixed on His own eternally;Nor earth, nor hell, can it remove;Long as He lives, His own He’ll love.
2. His loving heart engaged to beTheir everlasting Surety;‘Twas love that took their cause in hand,And love maintains it to the end.
Chorus: Love cannot from its post withdraw;Nor death, nor hell, nor sin, nor law,Can turn the Surety’s heart away;He’ll love His own to endless day.
3. Love has redeemed His sheep with blood;And love will bring them safe to God;Love calls them all from death to life;And love will finish all their strife.
4. He loves through every changing scene,Nor aught from Him can Zion wean;Not all the wanderings of her heartCan make His love for her depart.(Repeat chorus)
5. At death, beyond the grave, He’ll love;In endless bliss, His own shall proveThe blazing glory of that loveWhich never could from them remove.—
I don’t know who the little girl is, but I love that she pronounced “surety” so it sounds like “shorty.”
Now I want you to remember a few things about the pastorate. Being a pastor today involves more than merely teaching and preaching. You’ll be the comforter of the fatherless and the widow. You’ll counsel constantly with those whose homes and hearts are broken. You’ll have to handle divorce problems and a thousand marital situations. You’ll have to exhort and advise young people involved in sordid and illicit sex, with drugs and violence. You’ll have to visit the hospitals, the shut-ins, the elderly. A mountain of problems will be laid on your shoulders and at your doorstep.
And then there’s the heartache of ministering to a weak and carnal and worldly, apathetic group of professing Christians, very few of whom will be found trustworthy and dependable.
Then there a hundred administrative responsibilities as pastor. You’re the generator and sometimes the janitor. The church will look to you for guidance in building programs, church growth, youth activities, outreach, extra services, etc. You’ll be called upon to arbitrate all kinds of problems. At times you will feel the weight of the world on your shoulders. Many pastors have broken under the strain.
If the Lord has called you, these things will not deter nor dismay you. But I wanted you to know the whole picture. As in all of our Lord’s work there will be a thousand compensations. You’ll see that people trust Christ as Savior and Lord. You’ll see these grow in the knowledge of Christ and his Word. You’ll witness saints enabled by …
Now here is an example of the gospel properly contextualized. And not one jot or tittle of the message is compromised.
This is the best preaching I’ve heard all week. Gave me goosebumps.
(The whole video is long, but just watch the first 2 minutes; that’s the pertinent part I’m referring to.)
This is Shai Linne. His hip-hop is more theologically rich than hundreds of evangelical sermons that will be preached this Sunday combined. For reals.
And, no, it ain’t getting to wear jeans on Sunday.
What is your only comfort in life and death? (Question 1)
“That I am not my own, but belong with body and soul, both in life and in death, to my faithful Saviour Jesus Christ. He has fully paid for all my sins with His precious blood, and has set me free from all the power of the devil. He also preserves me in such a way that without the will of my heavenly Father not a hair can fall from my head; indeed, all things must work together for my salvation. Therefore, by His Holy Spirit He also assures me of eternal life and makes me heartily willing and ready from now on to live for Him.”
- The Heidelberg Catechism
Consequently, he is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them.– Hebrews 7:25
I really like the “to the uttermost” of the ESV there.
The gospel is a door with a sign overhead that reads, Abandon all despair ye who enter here.
I have Bryan Chapell’s new book Christ-Centered Worship coming my way soon thanks to the goodness of a friend, and I can’t wait to read it. Here is an excerpt from a great interview CT conducted with Chapell. (Don’t freak out when you see the word “liturgy;” as Chapell helpfully points out, every church has one:
What is—and is not—Christ-centered worship?
Christ-centered worship is not just talking or singing about Jesus a lot. Christ-centered worship reflects the contours of the gospel. In the individual life of a believer, the gospel progresses through recognition of the greatness and goodness of God, the acknowledgment of our sin and need of grace, assurance of God’s forgiveness through Christ, thankful acknowledgment of God’s blessing, desire for greater knowledge of him through his Word, grateful obedience in response to his grace, and a life devoted to his purposes with assurance of his blessing.
In the corporate life of the church this same gospel pattern is reflected in worship. Opening moments offer recognition of the greatness and goodness of God that naturally folds into confession, assurance of pardon, thanksgiving, instruction, and a charge to serve God in response to his grace in Christ. This is not a novel idea but, in fact, is the way most churches have organized their worship across the centuries. Only in recent times have we lost sight of these gospel contours and substituted pragmatic preferences for Christ-centered worship. My goal is to re-acquaint the church with the gospel-shape of its worship so that …
The truly transformational leaders differ in almost every imaginable respect except for two common denominators: they have a deep sense of humility, and an indomitable will. In church leadership, a good deal gets written about the importance and virtue of humility, but not nearly so much gets written about the need for an indomitable will.
We are a little distrustful of the whole notion of will in leaders. Willfulness comes pretty close to the essence of sin. And perhaps the highest prayer ever recorded is an expression of surrender: “Not my will, but yours be done.”
However, there is a fundamental difference between a surrendered will and a weak will.
Jesus’ surrendered his will. That meant he placed it in submission to his Father, to the mission his father gave him, and to the service of sacrificial love. But that did not mean he was weak-willed. To the contrary, it required a tremendous exertion of moral courage to defy power and authorities and influences that tugged on him from all sides trying to divert him from his calling.
An indomitable will is not the same as sheer stubbornness (being Swedish, this is something of an inherited trait.) Stubbornness lacks precisely the humility that makes learning possible, and gives conviction the flexibility needed to achieve ultimate goals. It is not egoism, which seeks to gain control for the gratification of the self.
At its heart, an indomitable will involves a sense of commitment; a binding of oneself to a task …