FROM HEAVEN ABOVE TO EARTH I COME

FROM HEAVEN ABOVE TO EARTH I COME

Martin Luther, translated by Catherine Winkworth

This year marks the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation. Therefore, in honor of Martin Luther’s significant role in the Reformation and the Church of Christ, I thought we would consider one of the Christmas carols that he wrote.  It is one of Lutheranism’s greatest Christmas carols, and it is entitled “From Heaven Above to Earth I Come”.

nativity-from-the-alamo-in-san-antonio
Nativity from a San Antonio mission

Robert J. Morgan in Then Sings My Soul, book 2, presents the story behind the carol and it is as touching as the words Luther wrote.

Luther was an Augustinian monk, and that means the he had taken a vow of celibacy.  Even though the Reformation truths of Scripture Alone, Faith Alone, meant that such vows were not required, Luther intended to maintain a celibate life.   

After the Reformation, both monks and nuns were renouncing vows of celibacy and marrying.  Luther heard of a nearby cloister in which the nuns wanted to marry but they were in virtual captivity.  Luther sought help from a merchant, and he smuggled the nuns out by placing them in empty barrels used to deliver herring to the nunnery. 

After freeing the nuns, Luther took it upon himself to find husbands for them, and he was successful except for one young lady, Katharina Von Bora, who remained unmarried for two years.  When Luther visited his parents, and said that he might have to marry her himself, his father gave whole-hearted support.

Martin and Katharina were married on June 27, 1525.  In the spring of 1526 Martin bragged to his friends: “There’s about to be born a child of a monk and a nun!” and on June 7, 1526, little Hans Luther was born to the couple.

Luther was a devoted father and for Christmas when Hans was 5 years old, Martin penned this hymn, calling it “a Christmas child’s song concerning the child Jesus” and it was annually sung in Luther’s home during the Christmas Eve festivities. 

Paul wrote:

“Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.  And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.”

Philippians 2:5-8 ESV

Let Luther’s hymn and the words of Paul remind you during this season that our Savior did come from heaven to earth, He did leave all his majesty and power behind Him in heaven and He did become man so that He could be our Savior.  He deserves all honor, glory and reverence from us for this sacrifice on our behalf.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7XY3O5MLYXM

Hear this hymn sung by the University of St. Thomas Alumni Choir, Aquinas Chapel, December 18, 2013.  The YouTube description states “Written by Martin Luther (1483-1546) and translated by Catherine Winkworth (1827-1878), this carol begins with the angelic proclamation of Christ’s birth and ends with a worshipful human response inviting Jesus to abide within the “quiet chamber” of the heart. In this new setting, verses selected from the original text alternate with the refrain “Gloria, the Christ is born.”” Music composed and conducted by Josh Bauder.

 

Father, I thank You for giving us the gift of Jesus Christ who came as a Babe and lived a perfect life so that He could be the atoning sacrifice for me, one who cannot life a perfect moment let alone life!  I pray that this Christmas season I would have a new appreciation for Christ’s coming to earth from heaven above.

500 years and counting!

Just a short note to say that Today, October 31, is the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation.  October 31, 1517, marked the beginning of the unveiling of the light of the gospel that had been hidden during the dark Middle Ages.  It was a day that resulted in being able to spread the word that salvation is available through faith alone in Christ alone.

Martin Luther

Martin Luther stood up and faced the authorities, challenging them to accept Scripture as God’s Word and the sole guidance for our life and as the rule for our faith.

He also penned multiple hymns, the most famous of which is “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God”, based on Psalm 46.  This hymn celebrates the sovereign power of God over all earthly and spiritual forces, and it highlights our sure hope that we have through Jesus Christ.   It is said that Luther’s hymn was on the lips of the people and that it encouraged the faint-hearted, bringing strength to fight the battle of the Lord.

It was sung at Augsburg during the Diet, and in all the churches of Saxony, often against the protest of the priest.  It was sung in the streets; and, so heard, comforted the hearts of Melanchthon, Jonas, and Cruciger, as they entered Welmar, when banished from Wittenberg in 1547.  It was sung by poor Protestant emigrants on their way into exile, and by martyrs at their death.  It is woven into the web of the history of Reformation times, and it became the true national hymn of Protestant Germany.

Studies of Familiar Hymns, by Louis F. Benson, D.D., The Westminster Press, 1903, “A Mighty Fortress is Our God” at page 159.  

Listen to this wonderful hymn and praise our God for the work of Luther and the other Reformers 500 years ago.  Then, praise God for His preservation of His Word and for His marvelous Gift to the children of men!

Here is “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God” as presented on the album Hymns for All Saints: Adoration, Praise, Comfort, (Concordia Publishing House). 

As you listen to this wonderful hymn, praise our God for the work of Luther and the other Reformers 500 years ago.  Then, praise God for His preservation of His Word and for His marvelous Gift to the children of men!   Now, work for God’s kingdom and pray that 500 years from now, if the Lord has not yet returned, the light of the Reformation will still shine out over our planet!

Praise the Lord!

KUDZU – A FORMIDABLE FOE

Kudzu is a vine that is ubiquitous in the American South.  It was formally introduced to the United States at the 1876 World’s Fair Centennial Exhibition in Philadelphia, however its potential in the U.S. was minimal at best and it appeared not to have a place in our landscape.

Then came the dust storms of 1935.  When soil erosion ravaged the prairies, millions of kudzu seedlings were grown in greenhouse nurseries as the weapon that would stop erosion in its tracks. 

Today, rather than in prairies, kudzu is associated with the South.  It is very aggressive when planted along roadways and railway embankments, and for that reason, it is conspicuously visible from passing automobiles!   Indeed, its creation of goblins and ghouls out of trees and telephone poles can be seen even when traveling 65 miles per hour. 

Kudzo - Trees engulfed in the vine
Kudzu as seen from the car traveling down the Interstate Highway.

In fact, the vine has been called “the vine that killed the South”, although that seems to be quite an exaggeration!  (Read more about this at: http://www.smithsonianmag.com/science-nature/true-story-kudzu-vine-ate-south-180956325/#cGVCq35eEDVdpfqu.99) )

We pass kudzu every time we get in the car as it is on the roadways that we travel daily.

As we were traveling down the highway, I began thinking about Kudzu and its spread.  At first, it is innocuous, just a little vine, a weed, no problem.  But when it becomes aggressive, it takes control of a small area on the tree and, quickly, engulfs the entire tree.  It is truly a formidable foe!

As I was thinking about this, I found a parallel to it for our spiritual lives. Consider the insidious ways that sin overtakes us.  Sin is cosmic treason, it is disobedience to God’s command.  Dr. R. C. Sproul says:

The slightest sin is an act of defiance against cosmic authority.  It is a revolutionary act, a rebellious act in which we are setting ourselves in opposition to the One to whom we owe everything.  It is an insult to His holiness.

R. C. Sproul, The Holiness of God, Tyndale House Publishers, © 1998, p. 115-116

Kudzo along highway beginning its takeover in VA
Kudzu getting a firm hold along the highway in Virginia.

Looking at trees that are consumed by kudzu, we see them weighed down, bent and misshapen.  This brings to mind Jonathan Edwards’ description of sin and its effects:

Your wickedness makes you as if it were heavy as lead, and to tend downwards with great weight and pressure towards hell; and if God should let you go, you would immediately sink and swiftly descend and plunge into the bottomless gulf; and your healthy constitution, and your own care and prudence, and best contrivance, and all your righteousness, would have no more influence to uphold you and keep you out of hell, than a spider’s web would have to stop a falling rock.

The Works of Jonathan Edwards, vol. II (Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth, 1974) p. 9.

Like kudzu, sin is insidious – it creeps in when and where we least expect it.  We must be on our guard because sin is constantly tempting us to disregard God and to act on our own, and sin is a formidable foe. 

“Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.”

1 Peter 5:8 ESV

Indeed, we cannot defeat sin on our own.

Martin Luther put it this way:

Either sin is with you, lying on your shoulders, or it is lying on Christ, the Lamb of God.  Now if it is lying on your back, you are lost; but if it is resting on Christ, you are free, and you will be saved.  Now choose what you want.

Martin Luther (1483-1546)

Kudzu thrives in the light along the highways and roadways of the South.  But, its enemy is the shade of the forest where it cannot survive. 

Sin thrives in the darkness of rebellion against God and of self-pride.  Jesus said:

“The eye is the lamp of the body. So, if your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light, but if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness!”

Matthew 6:22-23 ESV

But, sin has its enemy, specifically the Lord Jesus Christ.  When the Light of the world illuminates sin, the Light defeats the darkness. 

“Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.””

John 8:12 ESV

“For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.”

2 Corinthians 4:6 ESV

Like kudzu, sin may creep in and may even cover the heart, but the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ is sufficient to overcome whatever sin we have committed.  Repent and accept His forgiveness, then praise our Lord and glory in His name.

Father, thank You for shining the light of Jesus Christ in my heart and for the presence of the Holy Spirit that protects me as sin tries to tempt.  I pray for strength as I walk the path you have directed, I pray that I will look to You each day in Your strength, all for Your glory.

 

Reformation Day

martin-luther
Martin Luther. [1483-1586] [Image obtained from biography.com.]
Just a short note to say that Today, October 31, is Reformation Day.  A day in 1517 that began the unveiling of the light of the gospel that had been hidden from the world during the dark Middle Ages … a day that resulted in being able to spread the word that salvation is available through faith alone in Christ alone.

Praise the Lord that the lowly monk Martin Luther stood up and faced the authorities, challenging them to accept Scripture as God’s Word and the sole guidance for our life and as the rule for our faith.

Praise the Lord!

FRUIT OF THE SPIRIT, No. 7, JOY, Part One

 

JOY – EFFERVESCENCE EVEN IN CHAOS

 PART ONE

This week we are considering Joy.  We know that everyone wants to be happy.  In our culture, happiness is talked about and searched for, but seldom is real joy experienced.

 

The internet dictionary.com defines joy as being “the emotion of great delight or happiness caused by something exceptionally good or satisfying; keen pleasure; elation.”  A picture of joy, I believe, is this one of a young boy with his grilled cheese sandwich.   Eyes closed, bread in both hands, cherishing the taste in his mouth.  He seems to be in little boy bliss!

Joy of grilled cheese sandwich (C)

In an attempt to find happiness, people try all sorts of things, way beyond grilled cheese sandwiches.  For example, Indian philosophy has given a 7 prong approach to locating happiness.

 

  • Think less, feel more
  • Frown less, smile more
  • Talk less, listen more
  • Judge less, accept more
  • Watch less, do more
  • Complain less, appreciate more
  • Fear less, love more

 

These things are good and they may help you lead a more productive happy life.  Any time that you focus on others and have your eyes off of yourself your life is likely to be happier.  But, these actions are based on our own efforts, and any happiness that is achieved is fleeting because it is based on outward circumstances.

 

This is the fundamental difference between Christians and unregenerate persons around us.  Even though we use the same word Joy, the Joy given to the Christian is separate and apart from outward circumstances of this world … it is not the power of positive thinking nor is it based on the prosperity gospel’s promise of vast monetary wealth here and now.

ORANGE - JOY

What does Scripture say?

 

Using the orange analogy that we developed previously, Biblical Joy is a segment of the fruit of the Holy Spirit as found in Galatians 5:22-23.

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. 

 

The Greek word Chara Joy – refers to a delight in God and His salvation for the sheer beauty and worth of who He is.    The world’s counterfeit of this fruit is elation that comes with blessings rather than from thoughts of the One who blesses.  Further, because the world’s joy is based on external things, there will be mood swings based on circumstances.

 

The Holy Spirit’s Joy is not dependent on external circumstances but is deep seeded and is rooted in the heart filled with love for our Lord.

 

Martin Luther said:

Joy means sweet thoughts of Christ, melodious hymns and psalms, praises and thanksgiving, with which Christians instruct, inspire, and refresh themselves.

 

Matthew Henry understands Paul’s use of the term “Joy” as part of the fruit of the Spirit as being “a constant delight in God.”

 

Unlike the writings of other faith systems, Joy is well embedded in Holy Scripture of the Bible.  Scriptural Joy is the fruit of a right relation with God because it is based on the Holy Spirit’s presence within us.  If we do not have the Holy Spirit, we cannot have Biblical Joy!

 

Note:  The Bible distinguishes scriptural Joy from pleasure – the Greek word for pleasure is the word from which we get our English word hedonism, and it is the philosophy of self-centered pleasure-seeking.  Paul referred to false teachers as “lovers of pleasures rather than lovers of God.” (2 Timothy 3:4)

 

The Bible warns that self-indulgent pleasure-seeking does not lead to happiness and fulfillment.

  • Ecclesiastes 2 records the sad story of one who tried to build his life on pleasure-seeking and was left empty and disillusioned.
  • 1 Timothy 5:6 says that the self-indulgent person is dead even while seeming to be alive.
  • Titus 3:3 notes that pleasure-seeking often enslaves the person in a vicious cycle of addiction.

 

In contrast, the God of Scripture knows Joy and He wants His people to know Joy.

  • Psalms 104:3 speaks of God rejoicing in His creative works.
  • Isaiah 65:18 speaks of God rejoicing over His redeemed people who will be to Him “a joy.”
  • Luke 2:10, a focal verse at Christmastime, reminds us of the perfect example of bringing joy from the Lord in the Angel’s pronouncement to the shepherds at Bethlehem.

“Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people.” 

 

How does this apply to my life?

 

In John 15:9-12, Jesus told us to keep His commands and to abide in His love, further stating that He told us this so that “my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete.”   

 

The answer to the question “Can we have that same joy?” is a resounding YES.  We can, and do, have within us the same Joy that Jesus was speaking of.  We can confidently say this because we have His Spirit within us and He provides Joy as we listen to Him, as we read the Scripture and as we rely on Him for all things.

 

Is our joy different from the happiness that is sought so desperately by the world?  As you should be aware by now, the answer to this question is an unequivocal YES.  Our joy is different because of Who it is based on – our joy is not dependent on circumstances or things.   Our joy is based on the Person and work of Jesus Christ, and we experience it through the power of His indwelling Holy Spirit.

 

In speaking of Galatians 5:22, Author Keri Wyatt Kent says:

“This verse is not a to-do list for us to work through, but a description of the transformation that occurs when God’s Spirit begins to work in us.”

 

This week, pray that the Holy Spirit would continue this transformation by enlarging your love and joy in Christ.  Ruminate about keeping the commands of our Lord so that you can abide in His love.  Then, take action and do that which the Lord commands.  I believe that you will find that your joy will be abundant as you live and serve Him through the power of His Spirit.

 

Blessings to you and I pray that you will continue to walk with me as we learn about the fruit of the Holy Spirit and as we mature in our transformation into Christian believers who speak and act as Jesus did and who share in the passions that Jesus had for the lost sheep and for the worship of His Father, the Almighty God.  

 

 

FRUIT OF THE SPIRIT, INTRODUCTION, Series Post No. 1

This is the first post in a series of thoughts about the fruit of the Spirit found in The Bible at Galatians 5:22-23.   I plan to post this series each Friday, if the Lord grants it, and we will take time to think about what the Scripture says, and how it applies to my daily life.

 

I have used a number of references in preparation for this study, but throughout this study we will be specifically referencing Dr. R. C. Sproul’s teaching series Keeping in Step with the Spirit, CD Teaching Series; and Developing Christian Character, CD Teaching Series, both of which are available from Ligonier Ministries at http://www.ligonier.org. I will also make frequent reference to Jonathan Edwards’ sermons collected in the excellent book Charity and Its Fruits, available through The Banner of Truth Trust at https://banneroftruth.org/us/. Another reference that I have referred to in this study is the Westminster Shorter Catechism. This is an incredible reference for understanding our Christian theology, not just the fruit of the Spirit. I would encourage you to obtain a copy of the Shorter Catechism together with proof texts at http://www.pcaac.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/11/ShorterCatechismwithScriptureProofs.pdf.

 

WHAT DOES SCRIPTURE SAY?

 The first question we need to ask is “Why study the fruit of the Spirit?”

 

We know that the Westminster Shorter Catechism teaches that the chief end of man is to glorify God and to enjoy Him forever. Catechism Answer Number 1.

 

The Catechism also teaches that God created man, male and female, “after His own image in knowledge, righteousness and holiness” with dominion over the creatures. Catechism Answer Number 10.

 

However, because of Adam’s fall, sin entered the world and all mankind lost the “knowledge, righteousness and holiness” that had been given to us at creation. Catechism Answer Number 18.

 

Paul in 1 Corinthians 15:22 says it this way:

 For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive.

 

No longer do we have the righteousness and holiness that we had when mankind was first created. But all is not lost. The Catechism again comes to our aid by explaining that sanctification is the work of God’s free grace by which we are renewed in the image of God and are enabled more and more to die to sin and live to righteousness.

 

Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, to make you obey its passions. Do not present your members to sin as instruments for unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments for righteousness.  For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace.

Romans 6:12-14

 

Paul continues to consider the Christian transformation in Colossians 3:10 where he says that we “have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator” and Ephesians 4:24 says that our new self was “created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.”

 

So, how important is righteousness?     God calls each of his children to righteousness. Remember the first catechism answer – our primary purpose is to glorify God … we do that through the practice of righteousness.

 

At this point, some are asking “what in the world does all this righteousness talk have to do with the fruit of the Spirit?”   Listen to the words of Jesus.

 

Jesus prioritized the disciples’ concerns in Matthew 6:33: they were not to worry about what they would eat or wear — they were to “seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness” and all the other needful things would be added to them.  Jesus explicitly stated that our goal is righteousness.

 

In his book The Holiness of God, Dr. R. C. Sproul says “the goal of all spiritual exercise must be the goal of righteousness.[i]

 

So, how do we know if we are growing in righteousness? Dr. R. C. Sproul continues to provide this answer:

The fruit of righteousness is that fruit that is exercised in us by the Holy Spirit. If we want to be holy, if we have a real hunger for righteousness, then we must focus our attention on the fruit of the Holy Spirit. [ii]

* * *

[The virtues listed in Galatians 5:22-23] are the marks of a person who is growing in holiness. These are the virtues we are to cultivate. … In this list of the fruit of the Spirit, the apostle gives us a recipe for our sanctification. … The fruit of the Spirit – that is where our focus must be. [iii]

 

HOW DOES THIS APPLY TO MY DAILY LIFE?

 

Martin Luther explained righteousness in practical terms by saying that “Every Christian is called to be Christ to his neighbor.” We understand this to mean that we should live our lives to conform to God’s will so that when people see us, they see the reflected holiness of Christ in our lives – people will see us reflecting Jesus’ love to others and, in so doing, they can see Him living through us.

 

We all sin every day, or more likely every moment of every day. But for the believer in Jesus Christ, that sin is covered by His righteousness and we are made children of God through His work on the cross. Therefore, we can follow our chief end, which is to glorify God and to enjoy Him forever, by growing in righteousness. This is done by allowing the Holy Spirit to work in our minds and hearts so the fruit of the Spirit becomes recognizable in our life.

 

Our search for righteousness leads us directly to the Holy Spirit and the fruit that He promises to provide and grow in our hearts.

 

So, for now, I would challenge you to read Galatians Chapter 5 and focus on the comparison between the acts of the natural man and the acts of the believer in Christ Jesus who has the Holy Spirit working in her heart, specifically verses 19-23.

 

Blessings to you and I pray that you will continue to walk with me as we learn about the fruit of the Holy Spirit and as we mature in our transformation into Christian believers who speak and act as Jesus did and who share in the passions that Jesus had for the lost sheep and for the worship of His Father, the Almighty God.

——————–

[i] The Holiness of God, R. C. Sproul, published by Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., © 1998 R. C. Sproul, page 166.

[ii] Ibid., page 167.

[iii] Ibid, pages 169-70.