Luther’s Hymn

In devil’s dungeon chained I lay

The pangs of death swept o’er me.

My sin devoured me night and day

In which my mother bore me.

My anguish ever grew more rife,

I took no pleasure in my life

And sin had made me crazy.

 

Then was the Father troubled sore

To see me ever languish.

The Everlasting Pity swore

To save me from my anguish.

He turned to me his father heart

And chose himself a bitter part,

His Dearest did it cost him.

 

Thus spoke the Son, “Hold thou to me,

From now on thou wilt make it.

I have my very life for thee

And for thee I will stake it.

For I am thine and thou art mine,

And where I am our lives entwine,

The Old Fiend cannot shake it.

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Prepare the Way

“He will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God, and he will go before him in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, to make ready for the Lord a people prepared.” (Luke 1:16-17)

What John the Baptist did for Israel, Advent can do for us. Don’t let Christmas find you unprepared. I mean spiritually unprepared. Its joy and impact will be so much greater if you are ready!

That you might be prepared…

First, meditate on the fact that we need a Savior. Christmas is an indictment before it becomes a delight. It will not have its intended effect until we feel desperately the need for a Savior. Let these short Advent meditations help awaken in you a bittersweet sense of need for the Savior.

Second, engage in sober self-examination. Advent is to Christmas what Lent is to Easter. “Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts! and see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting!” (Psalm 139:23-24) Let every heart prepare him room… by cleaning house.

Third, build God-centered anticipation and expectancy and excitement into your home–especially for the children. If you are excited about Christ, they will be too. If you can only make Christmas exciting with material things, how will the children get a thirst for God? Bend the efforts of your imagination to make the wonder of the King’s arrival visible for the children.

Fourth, be much in the Scriptures, and memorize the great passages! “Is not my word like fire, says the Lord!” (Jeremiah 23:29) Gather ’round that fire this Advent season. It is warm. It is sparkling with colors of grace. It is healing for a thousand hurts. It is light for dark nights.

This passage is excerpted from John Piper’s Advent Devotional available for free here: http://ow.ly/fLqnw

Battling Unbelief With Promise

…Casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you. (1 Peter 5:7)

When I am anxious about being sick, I battle unbelief with the promise, “Many are the afflictions of the righteous, but the Lord delivers him out of them all” (Psalm 34:19). And I take the promise with trembling, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us (Romans 5:3–5).

When I am anxious about getting old, I battle unbelief with the promise: “Even to your old age I am he, and to gray hairs I will carry you. I have made, and I will bear; I will carry and will save” (Isaiah 46:4).

When I am anxious about dying, I battle unbelief with the promise that “none of us lives to himself, and none of us dies to himself. For if we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord. So then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s. For to this end Christ died and lived again, that he might be Lord both of the dead and of the living” (Romans 14:7–9).

When I am anxious that I may make shipwreck of faith and fall away from God, I battle unbelief with the promises, “He who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ” (Philippians 1:6); and, “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).

This is the way of life that I am still learning as I approach my seventieth year. I have written this in the hopes, and with the prayer, that you will join me. Let us make war, not with other people, but with our own unbelief.

It is the root of anxiety, which, in turn, is the root of so many other sins. So let us turn our eyes fixed on the precious and very great promises of God. Take up the Bible, ask the Holy Spirit for help, lay the promises up in your heart, and fight the good fight — to live by faith in future grace.

Future Grace, Multnomah Books (Colorado Springs, CO), pages 59-60

I Will in No Wise Cast Out

“Him that cometh to Me I will in no wise cast out.”—John 6:37.

No limit is set to the duration of this promise. It does not merely say, “I will not cast out a sinner at his first coming,” but, “I will in no wise cast out.” The original reads, “I will not, not cast out,” or “I will never, never cast out.” The text means, that Christ will not at first reject a believer; and that as He will not do it at first, so He will not to the last.

But suppose the believer sins after coming? “If any man sin we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.”

But suppose that believers backslide? “I will heal their backsliding, I will love them freely: for Mine anger is turned away from him.”

But believers may fall under temptation! “God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it.”

But the believer may fall into sin as David did! Yes, but He will “Purge them with hyssop, and they shall be clean; He will wash them and they shall be whiter than snow”; “From all their iniquities will I cleanse them.”

“Once in Christ, in Christ for ever,
Nothing from His love can sever.”
“I give unto My sheep,” says He, “eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of My hand.” What say you to this, O trembling feeble mind? Is not this a precious mercy, that coming to Christ, you do not come to One who will treat you well for a little while, and then send you about your business, but He will receive you and make you His bride, and you shalt be His for ever? Receive no longer the spirit of bondage again to fear, but the spirit of adoption whereby you shall cry, Abba, Father! Oh! the grace of these words: “I will in no wise cast out.”

~ C.H. Spurgeon (from Morning and Evening, a daily devotional; formatting mine; also some minor language updating)

Why Do I Continue in Mourning?

“Why go I mourning?”—Psalm 42:9.

Can you answer this, believer? Can you find any reason why you are so often mourning instead of rejoicing? Why yield to gloomy anticipations? Who told you that the night would never end in day? Who told you that the sea of circumstances would ebb out till there should be nothing left but long leagues of the mud of horrible poverty? Who told you that the winter of your discontent would proceed from frost to frost, from snow, and ice, and hail, to deeper snow, and yet more heavy tempest of despair? Do you not know that day follows night, that flood comes after ebb, that spring and summer succeed winter? Have hope then! Ever have hope! For God fails you not. Do you not know that your God loves you in the midst of all this? Mountains, when in darkness hidden, are as real as in day, and God’s love is as true to you now as it was in your brightest moments.

No father chastens always: your Lord hates the rod as much as you do; He only cares to use it for that reason which should make you willing to receive it, namely, that it works for your lasting good. You shall yet climb Jacob’s ladder with the angels, and behold Him who sits at the top of it—your covenant God. You shall yet, amidst the splendors of eternity, forget the trials of time, or only remember them to bless the God who led you through them, and wrought your lasting good by them.

Come, sing in the midst of tribulation. Rejoice even while passing through the furnace. Make the wilderness to blossom like the rose! Cause the desert to ring with your exulting joys, for these light afflictions will soon be over, and then “for ever with the Lord,” your bliss shall never wane.

“Faint not nor fear, His arms are near,
He changeth not, and thou art dear;
Only believe and thou shalt see,
That Christ is all in all to thee.”

~ C.H. Spurgeon (from Morning and Evening, a daily devotional; words adapted for contemporary language)

Am I My Brother’s Keeper?

At the heart of the word “courage” are ideas of boldness, fortitude and resolve. These three closely related words together provide a robust understanding of courage. Boldness is the confidence to take a risk – initial courage. Fortitude is the firmness of the mind without retreat – sustaining courage. Resolve is the determination to reach the end goal – persevering courage.

Courage is often expressed in word pictures of battle, conflict or crisis (insert a William Wallace freedom cry here) so that a “courageous” person will face an opponent even if victory looks bleak. But what about the courage to speak truth in love though it may cut to the heart (Acts 2:37John 6:60)? It requires courage to call out friends for living lives that do not resemble the faith they profess.

When lacking the courage to speak plainly and with conviction, we often say nothing, call it mercy and let the opportunity pass. Passivity counterfeits for patience. Cowardice masquerades as grace.

Instead of recognizing that our fear of man cripples us to silence, we convince ourselves that we are gracious people. But the problem is that leaving someone in sin is not grace or love; it is consent, indifference and, quite honestly, unloving.

Grace is frequently misunderstood to mean overlooking wrong, when true grace could not be further removed from this misconception. Grace is not rejecting someone when they sin or overlooking sin in a person’s life. It’s having the courage of conviction to call someone out when they sin and to do so in love. Grace is a commitment to bring to light what is in darkness (1 John 1:5-10).

There have been many times in the past where I have overlooked sin in a brother and called it grace. Instead of leading them out of sin, I let them stay in their sin, which corrupts and decays. This is not an act of love but an act of cowardice.

Genuine grace transforms. True grace never overlooks. It is remarkable, and when you see it, you know it. Grace never leaves you the same.

If we quench the voice of the Spirit long enough, we can become numb to His leadings and thereby render our selves useless to our brothers and sisters in the church. We must regain our sense of conviction and be bold, strong and resolved to stand courageously with other believers when we see sin in their lives (Heb. 3:13). This is true love.

It is time to leave coward ways behind and become mature men and women marked by conviction and courage. Are we willing to be bold and initiate conversations with our brothers and sisters who are not living out the faith they profess? Are we willing to show fortitude and to pursue those who are unwilling to change? Are we committed to not letting one in the flock go astray?

After the infamous fratricide in Genesis 4, the Lord comes to Cain asking where his brother is. Cain projects his guilt in his response to the Lord: “Am I my brother’s keeper?” The reality is this: He was his brother’s keeper. And I am my brother’s keeper. You are your brother’s keeper. You are your sister’s keeper. We are to look after one another, speaking truth in love (Eph. 4:15). We are to shine the light of Christ into the dark places, especially if that dark place is your brother or sister.

Scriptures for Further Reading

Originally posted on The Village Church’s blog by Clint Patronella here: http://ow.ly/cvCnI

7 Marks of a Right Heart Before God

1) A right heart is a NEW heart (Ezek. 36:26). It is not the heart with which a person is born—but another heart put in them by the Holy Spirit. It is a heart which has new tastes, new joys, new sorrows, new desires, new hopes, new fears, new likes, new dislikes. It has new views about the soul, sin, God, Christ, salvation, the Bible, prayer, heaven, hell, the world, and holiness. It is like a farm with a new and good tenant. “Old things are passed away. Behold all things are become new” (2 Cor. 5:17).

2) A right heart is a BROKEN and CONTRITE heart (Psalm 51:17). It is broken off from pride, self-conceit, and self-righteousness. Its former high thoughts of self are cracked, shattered, and shivered to atoms. It thinks itself guilty, unworthy, and corrupt. Its former stubbornness, heaviness, and insensibility have thawed, disappeared, and passed away. It no longer thinks lightly of offending God. It is tender, sensitive, and jealously fearful of running into sin (2 Kings 22:19). It is humble, lowly, and self-abased, and sees in itself no good thing.

3) A right heart is a heart which BELIEVES on Christ alone for salvation, and in which Christ dwells by faith (Rom. 10:10Eph. 3:17). It rests all its hopes of pardon and eternal life on Christ’s atonement, Christ’s mediation, and Christ’s intercession. It is sprinkled in Christ’s blood from an evil conscience (Heb. 10:22). It turns to Christ as the compass-needle turns to the north. It looks to Christ for daily peace, mercy, and grace—as the sun-flower looks to the sun. It feeds on Christ for its daily sustenance, as Israel fed on the manna in the wilderness. It sees in Christ a special fitness to supply all its needs and requirements. It leans on Him, hangs on Him, builds on Him, cleaves to Him, as its physician, guardian, husband, and friend.

4) A right heart is a PURIFIED heart (Acts 15:9Matt. 5:8). It loves holiness, and hates sin. It strives daily to cleanse itself from all filthiness of flesh and spirit (2 Cor. 7:1). It abhors that which is evil, and cleaves to that which is good. It delights in the law of God, and has that law engraved on it, that it may not forget it (Psalm 119:11). It longs to keep the law more perfectly, and takes pleasure in those who love the law. It loves God and people. Its affections are set on things above. It never feels so light and happy as when it is most holy; and it looks forward to heaven with joy, as the place where perfect holiness will at length be attained.

5) A right heart is a PRAYING heart. It has within it “the Spirit of adoption whereby we cry, Abba Father” (Rom. 8:15). Its daily feeling is, “Your face, Lord, will I seek” (Psalm 27:8). It is drawn by an habitual inclination to speak to God about spiritual things—weakly, feebly, and imperfectly perhaps—but speak it must. It finds it necessary to pour out itself before God, as before a friend, and to spread before Him all its needs and desires. It tells Him all its secrets. It keeps back nothing from Him. You might as well try to persuade a person to live without breathing, as to persuade the possessor of a right heart to live without praying.

6) A right heart is a heart that feels CONFLICT within it (Gal. 5:17). It finds within itself two opposing principles contending for the mastery—the flesh lusting against the spirit, and the spirit against the flesh. It knows by experience what Paul means when he says, “I see a law in my members warring against the law of my mind” (Rom. 7:23). The wrong heart knows nothing of this strife. The strong man armed keeps the wrong heart as their palace, and their goods are at peace (Luke 11:21). But when the rightful King takes possession of the heart, a struggle begins which never ends until death. The right heart may be known by its warfare, quite as much as by its peace.

7) A right heart is HONEST, UNDIVIDED, and TRUE (Luke 8:15;1 Chron. 12:33Heb. 10:22). There is nothing about it of falsehood, hypocrisy, or image-acting. It is not double or divided. It really is what it professes to be, feels what it professes to feel, and believes what it professes to believe. Its faith may be feeble. Its obedience may be very imperfect. But one thing will always distinguish the right heart. Its religion will be real, genuine, thorough, and sincere.

 ► Summary:

A heart such as that which I have now described, has always been the possession of all true Christians of every name, nation, people and tongue. They have differed from one another on many subjects—but they have all been of a right heart. Some of them have fallen, for a season, like David and Peter—but their hearts have never entirely departed from the Lord. They have often proved themselves to be men and women laden with infirmities—but their hearts have been right in the sight of God. They have understood one another on earth. They have found that their experience was everywhere one and the same. They will understand each other even better in the world to come. All that have had right hearts upon earth, will find that they have one heart when they enter heaven.
~ J.C. Ryle [Old Paths, “The Heart” (348-351)].