A mighty fortress is our God, a bulwark never failing…
For many of us, our first exposure to the Reformation of the 16th Century was through the words of this hymn penned by Martin Luther. It’s words resonate, both in the original music and in contemporary translation, in worship services today.
But this familiar hymn is only a small part of the sweeping changes that Luther kindled in Christianity of his day. He advocated the ability of lay people being able to have access to the Bible. In his day, the Bible was only translated in Latin, and those Bibles could only be read by a priest. Most churches chained their only Bible to the pulpit.
The reform kindled by Luther also introduced a new means of communication: the printing press was motivated by the belief that as many people as possible should be able to access the Bible in a language they could understand. If you can read and understand a Bible in your language, you owe a debt of gratitude to this German monk.
I truly believe the song he is best known for was his testimony. Luther knew attacks, not only from religious corners but political and spiritual as well. For him, spiritual warfare was so real that late one night, he threw an inkwell at a wall where he saw the Devil standing tormenting him.
Maybe you need to “hide” in that fortress today. It is a protection that will never fall.
God is my rock, my fortress, and my salvation.
I hope today, no matter what you may be going through, He is your fortress as well.
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 pow’r 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.
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.
That word above all earthly pow’rs, no thanks to them, abideth;
The Spirit and the gifts are ours through 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.
— Martin Luther
The Promises of God
We stand upon and live by promises made by God. Even if we are not inclined to acknowledge God’s faithfulness to us we are still dependent on them. Our salvation is dependent on God’s promises. Our provision is dependent on them. Our daily existence in fact, is dependent upon the promises of a God who is unalterably faithful.
So we know they are there; hundreds, like buried gold in a running stream. The “exceedingly great and precious promises of God.” (2 Peter 1:4). During my recent pilgrimage I stayed a week in Blue Ridge, GA, along the banks of the Toccoa River. Just a few yards uphill from where I stayed was a camp where you could pay a small fee and spend the day mining for gold. They virtually guaranteed you would find some. I never went. Gold was there for the taking… I just chose to pass.
We do that all the time. We read the Word, know it’s there, know it’s true. But some go to the trouble of “mining” it out, and find themselves much richer for the effort. I pray for us that we will not just know they are there, but will reach down and take them for ourselves.
A few things we need to do to make these promises the blessing God intends them to be:
REMEMBER them. We need to cling to these “exceedingly great” promises, but we sometimes (well, often) forget them. Meditate on a promise. Make one promise your promise this week. Don’t go wide in your hunt. Go deep.
SHARE them. It may be a helpful practice when you are working through a promise and seeking to really imbed it in your life, to tell someone about it. Put it on your Facebook page. Tweet it out. When somebody sends you theirs, share it with others in your network. Let’s rain the promises down through social media.
SPEAK them. Attempt to work them into your prayer life and in your conversations. Speaking them aloud gives your brain one more place to “hang” the memory of God’s precious promise to you.
REPEAT. Do it every week. How long? Until you have appropriated them all. Should keep most of us busy for the rest of our lives!
Stand on the promises of God. They are the rock that never shakes beneath you.
“Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful.”
So much of who we are as followers of Jesus Christ relies on the faithfulness of God. The promises of God hinge on the faithfulness of God. Our eternity depends on the faithfulness of God.
Though the faithfulness of God is mentioned hundreds of times in the Bible, let me invite you to think with me about three of those.
- It is through the faithfulness of God that we have SALVATION. “By grace you are saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God….” Our faith, which is given to us by God, is the key to salvation. Not our efforts. Not our own righteous acts or religious works. By grace you are saved… through faith.” We receive salvation as a gift of God’s faithfulness to us. We cannot earn it, and we cannot keep it. God does both for us.
- It is through the faithfulness of God that we have SUPPLY. “My God shall supply all of your needs through His riches in glory in Christ Jesus.” That is a promise of God’s faithfulness to us. He supplies all that we need. Every good and perfect gift comes from our faithful, Heavenly Father. Every bite of food; every drink of clean water; every dose of medication… all are gifts of a faithful God who keeps His Word to His children.
- It is through the faithfulness of God that we have SUCCESS. We succeed on God’s terms… not ours. Success as God defines it means that “He who began a good work in us will complete it.” It means that “all things work together for good to those who love Him and are called according to His purpose.” While we may not be “successful” in the way the world defines it, we will ultimately live successful lives in the hand of our faithful God who keeps His promises.
Thomas Chisholm grew up in a log cabin in Franklin, Ky. During his lifetime, he entered ministry but due to ill health was forced to retire after just a year. After that, he spent the rest of his life in New Jersey working as an insurance agent. Though he was no longer in public ministry, Chisholm wrote over 1,200 poems, several of which were made into hymns. One of the most familiar is the hymn, “Great is Thy Faithfulness.”
Chisholm explained toward the end of his life, “My income has not been large at any time due to impaired health in the earlier years which has followed me on until now. Although I must not fail to record here the unfailing faithfulness of a covenant-keeping God and that He has given me many wonderful displays of His providing care, for which I am filled with astonishing gratefulness.”
“Morning by morning new mercies we see….”
Because our God is faithful.
Since the week after Pam’s celebration of life at Fruit Cove, I have been on a journey; spiritual, physical, and emotional. I have driven almost 2,700 miles. It began with just revisiting areas of our life together… geographic touchpoints… that allowed me to remember, weep and give thanks for God’s goodness in allowing our lives to intersect.
Our first home site, the church where we grew up and later married, the places we worked, the places where we dated, and along the way I met with people who touched our lives and gave guidance, models and counsel to us. I was allowed to preach the homecoming for the church we served over ten years near Louisville, Ky. These have been rich days… necessary days actually… to allow me to fully enter grief and begin that experience.
I have also had the privilege in these days of spending time with Pam’s mother and sisters and her “side” of the family tree and to rest with them in God’s comfort. Their grief has been multiplied not only by Pam’s death but also by Pam’s father’s passing. In these days, I have lived with my brother and sister-in-law who have offered rich shelter and much grace to me. They are also caring for my mother as she has passed 90 years… her birthday was on the day of Pam’s homegoing. She is going through her own trials with breast cancer as well.
Along the way I spent a week in a cabin in Blue Ridge, NC, a retreat I hope to enjoy more often. Some new friends have offered me shelter there on their property overlooking the Toccoa River.
To be accountable to you, my church family and friends, I have also begun grief counseling and intend that to continue for this season. In all, it has been needed reflection, prayer, and opportunity to begin work on a book.
My plans at this time are to begin to enter back into “new” normal as I try to close doors on this chapter of my past. If you have been on this grief journey, you know how hard that is to do. I will not do it perfectly, of that I am certain.
I intend to return to “regular” preaching on October 15 and October 29. My duties as trustee for the Baptist College of Florida are also on my agenda as well as serving on the Executive Committee of the SBC. Both are tremendous privileges for which I am grateful to be asked to serve.
My office hours will be sporadic for a bit as I enter back in to “life” as it now is. We have tremendous challenges laid before our church body now with added efforts to assist the hurricane-ravaged Caribbean Islands as well as south Florida. And Advance 2020 is beginning its two-year countdown in January, as I celebrate my 25th anniversary with you.
“So is your journey done?” I was asked in earnest by a friend. My answer was, for now, my traveling is. Someone else asked me if I was running from something or running toward something. The answer is, “Yes. Both.” There are certainly things I am not looking forward to doing. But I am encouraged as clarity has begun to return.
Grief is not a “cycle” or a linear, stage-by-stage process. It is an experience that we endure. Along the way, you will meet denial and anger, depression and sorrow, regret and tears. I will carry this burden for some time I am sure.
So the best answer I can give to you as to “how are you doing” is “I am grieving well.” We don’t get to hide from it, avoid it or pretend it doesn’t bring crushing pain.
But as we have claimed, said and sung through this journey, we have a good, good Father. And no matter where your journey has taken you…
He is good all the time.
Living in the Big Blue Nation this past week, I have been forced over and again to relive Kentucky’s painful loss last weekend (31st time in a row) to the Florida Gators. Our last minute failure to cover an open player cost us the game. That was by definition a game changer.
But some game changers have higher stakes. (We’ll get ’em next year!) These “game changing” moments take lots of shapes and forms. An illness has changed the game for some. A hurricane for others. Perhaps a death. But when these moments come, life changes for a while or maybe forever.
We can’t avoid these moments. They come at us unexpectedly, without warning or notice. But everything changes in their wake. And sometimes what they leave behind is fear… of the unknown, of the uncertainty of the future.. even of survival.
Someone has said, “fear is a condition, but trust is a decision.” In Psalm 56:3, we read, “When I am afraid (condition) I will trust in You (decision).” You can’t keep conditions that generate fear and uncertainty from coming into your life.
But you can make the biggest game changing decision of all:
Choose to trust.