Sunday, December 30, 2007

Valley of Vision: O Great God

O great God of highest heaven
Occupy my lowly heart
Own it all and reign supreme
Conquer every rebel power.

Let no voice or sin remain
That resists Your holy war
You have loved and purchased me
Make me Thine forever more.

I was blinded by my sin
Had no ears to hear Your voice
Did not know Your love within
Had no taste for heaven's joys.

Then Your Spirit gave me life
Opened up Your Word to me
Through the gospel of Your Son
Gave me endless hope and peace.

Help me now to live a life
That's dependent on Your grace
Keep my heart and guard my soul
From the evils that I face.

You are worthy to be praised
With my every thought and deed
O, great God of highest heaven
Glorify Your name through me.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Valley of Vision: Let Your Kingdom Come

Your glorious cause, O God, engages our hearts,
May Jesus Christ be known, wherever we are;
We ask not for ourselves, but for Your renown,
The cross has saved us, so we pray Your kingdom come.

Let Your kingdom come, let Your will be done,
So that everyone might known Your Name;
Let Your song be heard, everywhere on earth,
Till Your sovereign work on earth is done,
Let Your kingdom come.

Give us Your strength, O God, and courage to speak,
Perform Your wondrous deeds through those who are weak;
Lord, use us as You want, whatever the task,
By grace we'll preach Your gospel till our dying breath.

Let Your kingdom come, let Your will be done,
So that everyone might known Your Name;
Let Your song be heard, everywhere on earth,
Till Your sovereign work on earth is done,
Let Your kingdom come.

Friday, December 28, 2007

Valley of Vision: I Come Running to You

Jesus, I am blind- be my light;
Darkened in my mind- be my wisdom;
Bend my stubborn will to Your own,
Open up my ears to hear Your Spirit.

Melt my conscience once again,
Help me hate the sight of sin;
And when Satan comes to tempt me . . .

I come running to You
When I fear, when I'm tried;
I come running to You
To Your blood, to Your side.

There my soul finds rest,
There my soul finds rest- in You
My soul finds rest in You.

Shepherd of my soul- lead me on,
To the pastures green in Your Scriptures;
Make me to lie down by waters still
Fill me with Your peace in the tempest.

I take my refuge in Your cross,
By Your sacrifice I'm washed;
And when Satan comes accusing

I come running to You
When I fear, when I'm tried;
I come running to You
To Your blood, to Your side.

There my soul finds rest,
There my soul finds rest- in You
My soul finds rest in You.

Once I was Your foe, a slave to sin;
a stranger to Your love, a hopeless outcast;
But You have brought me near by the blood
Now I'm Your precious child and heir with Jesus.

You brought heaven to my soul,
Your wondrous love it overflows;
And I marvel how You love me

I come running to You
When I fear, when I'm tried;
I come running to You
To Your blood, to Your side.

There my soul finds rest,
There my soul finds rest- in You.
My soul finds rest in You.

When I'm burdened
When I'm tired
When I'm cold and have lost my fire
When I'm weary in this race
I will run to seek Your face.

I come running, running to You.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Valley of Vision: How Deep

You were broken, that I might be healed,
You were cast off, that I might draw near;
You were thirsty, that I might come drink,
You cried out in anguish, that I might sing.

How deep is Your love,
How high and how wide is Your mercy;
How deep is Your grace,
Our hearts overflow with praise to You.

You knew darkness, that I might know light,
Wept great tears, that mine might be dry;
Stripped of glory, that I might be clothed,
Crushed by Your Father, to call me Your own.

How deep is Your love,
How high and how wide is Your mercy;
How deep is Your grace,
Our hearts overflow with praise to You.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Valley of Vision: In the Valley

Wnen You lead me to the valley of vision,
I can see You in the heights;
Though my humbling wouldn't be my decision
It's here Your glory shines so bright.

So let me learn that the cross precedes the crown,
To be low is to be high;
That the valley is where
You make me more like Christ.

So let me learn that my losses are my gain,
To be broken is to heal;
That the valley is where
Your power is revealed.

Let me find Your grace in the valley,
Let me find Your life in my death;
Let me find Your joy in my sorrow, Your wealth in my need,
That You're near with every breath-- in the valley.

In the daytime there are stars in the heavens,
But they only shine at night;
So the deeper that I go into darkness,
The more I see their radiant light.

So let me learn that my losses are my gain,
To be broken is to heal;
That the valley is
where your power is revealed,

Let me find Your grace in the valley,
Let me find Your life in my death;
Let me find Your joy in my sorrow, Your wealth in my need,
That You're near with every breath-- in the valley.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Valley of Vision: Heavenly Father, Beautiful Son

Father, You loved me,
Sent Your Son to redeem;
Jesus, You washed me,
By Your blood I am clean.
Spirit, You opened these blinded eyes
And brought me to Christ

Heavenly Father, beautiful Son, Spirit of light and truth,
Thank you for bringing sinners to come to You;
Heavenly Father, beautiful Son, Spirit of light and truth,
Thank you for bringing sinners to come to You.

Father, You gave me to Jesus to keep,
Jesus, You loved me as a shepherd
Spirit, You've given me faith in the Son
And have made our hearts one.

Heavenly Father, beautiful Son, Spirit of light and truth,
Thank you for bringing sinners to come to You;
Heavenly Father, beautiful Son, Spirit of light and truth,
Thank you for bringing sinners to come to You.

Father, You're waiting to hear my request,
Jesus, Your loving open hand is outstretched;
Spirit, You're in me, and You intercede, helping my need.

Heavenly Father, beautiful Son, Spirit of light and truth,
Thank you for bringing sinners to come to You;
Heavenly Father, beautiful Son, Spirit of light and truth,
Thank you for bringing sinners to come to You.

Monday, December 24, 2007

Valley of Vision: All That I Need

Valley of Vision: All That I Need

Give me the strength to sustain me,
And wisdom enough to guide my hand;
Mercy enough to forgive me
And power to finish what You began.

All that I need is in you, Jesus,
A fountain of grace that overflows;
All that I need is in you, Jesus,
You are my only hope.

In You is fullness of gladness,
And fullness of grace for every need;
A rest for the ones who are weary,
And beauty surpassing all we have seen.
All that I need is in you, Jesus,

A fountain of grace that overflows;
All that I need is in you, Jesus,
You are my only hope.
You satisfy my heart,
ou satisfy my soul;

You satisfy my heart,
O, help me always know that
All that I need is in you, Jesus,
A fountain of grace that overflows;
All that I need is in you, Jesus,
You are my only hope.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Six Gifts from God

Isaiah 9.6
Christmas, for some, can be an especially discouraging time of year. One often hears of those suffering from “seasonal depression” or the “holiday blues” as they contemplate the loss of a loved one, a failed marriage, unemployment and the financial pressure of being unable to provide gifts for their family, or perhaps a child who simply won’t come home.

But I have good news for you today! You have a reason to rejoice that far exceeds the combined effect of the difficulties and disappointments you face. The reason comes in the form of six gifts from God, but not the sort that you find wrapped with ribbon and bow and placed under a tree. Rather, these gifts are embodied in one person: Jesus Christ. Listen closely:

“For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace” (Isa. 9:6).

These gifts are six glorious truths concerning the person of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. But before we begin to unwrap them, one by one, there are a couple of things to note. First, when the prophet says his name shall be “called” Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, etc., he does not mean that Jesus actually bears these names, as if his mother Mary might have said: “Go tell ‘Wonderful Counselor’ that dinner is ready!” Rather, these names or titles are descriptive of his character and personality. He IS the kind of person the names portray him to be.

Also, these are not merely the names or titles or descriptive phrases of some ancient historical figure. These are more than lyrics in a chorus from Handel’s “Messiah” or words on a Christmas card. These names and titles express what Jesus is to you, in you, and for your sake. So I suggest that you read this passage personally: “For to me a child is born, to me a son is given . . .” Each gift has a tag with a single word.

(1) Sympathy! When the prophet declares that to us a “child is born” and a “son” is given, he highlights the fact that Jesus was and is a human being! Fully God and fully man. Wholly human and wholly divine. Both the son of a virgin peasant girl and the Son of Almighty God.

What significance does this have for you? Simply this, that “he had to be made like his brothers in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people. For because he himself has suffered when tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted” (Heb. 2:17-18). In other words, “we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Heb. 4:15-16).

There is no temptation or trial that he cannot understand. There is no struggle or sadness with which he cannot sympathize. There is no hardship or difficulty for which he cannot provide strength to endure.

(2) Supremacy! The “government”, declares the prophet, “shall be upon his shoulder.” If Jesus is more than able to shoulder the weight of the world, he can surely bear your burdens!

Contrast this with the structure of our government and its separation of powers. The Legislative, Judicial, and Executive branches are designed, among other reasons, so that no one person or group of individuals should bear the weight of the whole. But Jesus rules alone! Supremacy of power and authority rests with him. He is the King of kings, President of presidents, and Judge of all judges.

Terrorists may destroy, politicians may posture, armies maneuver and nations threaten, but Jesus Christ sits on the throne in unchallenged and unassailable supremacy!

(3) Sagacity! He is the “Wonderful Counselor”! Can you think of any situation in which Jesus said the wrong thing, or spoke out of turn, stuck his foot in his mouth, or remained silent when his words were needed?

His counsel is unfailing and flawless, perfectly suited to the situation, always practical and prudent. There is no problem on which he needs to “study up” or refer to a professional. I often feel the frustration of having to say to those confused or in need, “I’m sorry, but I don’t know what to tell you.” Jesus is never lacking for advice or an answer to satisfy our souls.

And note well: he’s not simply a good counselor or wise counselor but a wonderful counselor. And not only are there wonderful things about him, he is himself a wonder! It brings to mind that simple chorus we sang in the nineties,

“Jesus, what a wonder you are!
You are so gentle, so pure and so kind.
You shine like the morning star.
Jesus, what a wonder you are!”

(4) Sovereignty! He is the “Mighty God”. Jesus is not only able to give perfect advice; he is also able to supply us with the power to heed it. He is able to enable you to achieve what he advises! When people leave my presence, taking with them what little wisdom I may have provided, I’ve done all I can do. I can’t energize their wills or empower their hearts or stir their souls to act on what they know to be true. But Jesus can!

Of the six truths about Jesus in this passage, this is the one non-Christians despise the most. The world is willing to acknowledge the “baby” Jesus, “away in a manger,” helpless, cuddly, and vulnerable. Christmas is o.k., if that’s as far as it goes, for it poses no threat to one’s sin and pride and personal autonomy. Speak and sing, if you must, of swaddling clothes and the tiny, tender infant. But then declare that this babe in a manger is also the Mighty God, Holy, Infinite, Sovereign over all, and they want nothing to do with him. Jesus in a manger is one thing. Jesus on a throne is something else altogether!

(5) Sensitivity! Why this word to describe Jesus as “Eternal Father”? First, the term “father” is not used here in the Trinitarian sense, as if depicting relationships within the Godhead. The prophet is not saying that the Son is also the Father (a heresy denounced in the early church councils).

The word “Father” is a descriptive analogy pointing to Christ’s character. What does a “father” do? What image is evoked by the word? I suggest he has in mind the tenderness and sensitivity of a compassionate and affectionate father. It is the security and love he provides, as well as protection and provision. Jesus, therefore, is fatherly, father-like, in his treatment of us. This is similar to what the psalmist had in mind when he said, “as a father shows compassion to his children, so the Lord shows compassion to those who fear him” (Ps. 103:13).

(6) Serenity! He is “the Prince of Peace”! He is the source of all serenity. He himself “is our peace” (Eph. 2:14), having broken down the barriers that divide us from one another and, most important of all, the barriers between us and God (cf. Romans 5:1).

A day is coming when he will establish peace among the nations and subdue all opposition to his rule. But now, in the present, he is here on your behalf to bring peace and joy and tranquility and calm to your heart. “I have said these things to you,” spoke Jesus, “that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).

At Christmas, children often spend time dividing up the presents under the tree, counting who in the family has the most (well, I did anyway; yes, it was carnal and materialistic, but I was only a kid!). Today I’m here to reassure you that you will never go gift-less, not on Christmas morn nor any other time of the year.

Here are six gifts from God, specially wrapped and delivered . . . for you! A sympathetic friend, a supreme and unchallenged Lord over all, wonderfully wise, always able to act on behalf of those who trust him, sensitive and caring and compassionate, the giver of all peace and comfort and consolation. Merry Christmas!

- Sam Storms

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Breakfast Today in Luke 1

I began reading this morning through Luke once again, since part of my regular reading of the Scriptures is to go through the gospels every 3 months, beginning today in chapter 1; Luke is perhaps what I would call the "richest" of the gospel writers; Luke's writing has a richness and life to it that seems unique- unique because it is unique. He is the only writer to give the parables of the Good Samaritan and the Prodigal Son and his is the only gospel that was written as a letter to a friend as a personal detailed investigated report on the life and ministry of the Lord Jesus.

Luke obviously gives the most detail of all the gospels regarding the incarnation and birth of the Lord Jesus. And I would put it this way- the Divine is in the details- Luke shares riches with us that not only instruct us about what occured, but warm the heart and can fill us with reality and an eternal perspective.

Here's a few thoughts:

The Ispiration & Innerancy of Scripture (1: 1-4)

Luke tells Theophilus that since he has had "perfect understanding of all things from the very first" (1:3), he has now written him an "orderly account" of the gospel record, so that, Theophilus can "know the certainty concerning the things he has been taught". (1:4) Here Luke is speaking of the absolute truthfulness of all he has written, and that the reader (Theophilus and anyone after him) can have certainty about what is written. There is no doubt left. Scripture is not only inspired, infallible, but perfectly inerrant and trustworthy.

The Birth and Ministry of John the Baptizer (1: 13-18)

John's birth, life, and ministry is taken up even in the first chapter, as Luke shows the supernatural nature of the calling and ministry of John, who is called "the prophet". (1:76)

- John's birth would bring joy and gladness to his parents, Zacharias and Elizabeth. (1:14)

- Many would rejoice at his birth. (1:14)

- He would be great in the sight of the Lord- if a person is great in God's sight, it does not matter if he is great in the world's eyes. (vs. 15)

- John would be filled with the Holy Spirit even from the time he was in his mother's womb.(vs. 15)

- His was not just a symbolic ministry of coming on the scene before Christ arrived- His was a powerful saving ministry, as he would, in the power of the Holy Spirit, "turn many to the Lord their God and turn hearts- the hearts of children to their parents and the hearts of the rebellious to the truth; he would also have a ministry that would uniquely "make ready" a people for the Lord. (vss. 16-17)

Zechariah's Unbelief (1:8-80)

As Zechariah was serving his priestly duties, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in the temple, and began to give him awesome and amazing news, that He and Elizabeth, even though they were old, would have a son whose name would be John. The angel then gives to Zechariah quite a bit of information concerning what would be true of John's life and ministry, and that he would be the forerunner of the Messiah. (1:16-17)

How did Zechariah respond? How would you and I respond? With fear, trembling, and unbelief; Zechariah's human logic and reasoning cancelled out faith at that point; even after being given a supernatural and perfect revelation of what God would do, Zechariah responded, not with a question motivated by submission but one motivated by unbelief-- "How can this be? We are old people." Zechariah was seeing and believing only that which was humanly possible.

How often are we like that as well? We often only believe to the degree that we see something to be humanly possible. But if it is impossible with man, we doubt and fail to believe what God has said. Zechariah's response was outright unbelief, even though an angel had personally and visibly appeared and brought a word straight from heaven to him.

Well, this was no small angel, no entry-level heavenly messenger, who was just practicing his first angelic assignments. It was none other than Gabriel himself. Gabriel's response is insightful. When Zechariah responds with unbelief, what was Gabriel's response to Zechariah?

"I AM GABRIEL, who stands in the presence of God; I was sent to you to bring you this good news." Zechariah, do you realize who is standing before you? I am one of the arch-angels and I dwell in the very presence of Jehovah Himself; I have been sent to you to bring you this good news."

If Gabriel comes with a word from God to this man, Zechariah should have believed what he had been told; there is no valid reason to doubt and give in to unbelief; he could have believed it; If Gabriel can show up announcing that God will give an old couple a baby, why does Zechariah have to think that their having a baby is impossible simply because they are old? What is impossible with man is possible with God; He is not hindered by the natural laws which govern the physical universe and the world of mankind. It was pure unbelief, and the text tells us so: "Behold, you will be silent and unable to speak until the day that these things take place, because you did not believe my words."

But notice one glorious and encouraging thing-- our unbelief does not nullify or hinder God's certain promises from being fulfilled. "Until the day that these things take place . . . which will be fulfilled in their time." God will do what He has promised; He will keep His Word and bring it to pass, regardless of the struggles of His people to believe Him. My struggling or weak faith at times will not keep God from being faithful. Though we believe not, yet He abideth faithful- He cannot deny Himself.

Mary, the mother of Jesus

Mary, on the other hand, is different than Zechariah. Hers is not a question of unbelief, but rather of submission and wonder. "How will this be, since I am a virgin?" (1:34) Gabriel, who has now also appeared to Mary, tells her that this will come about by the supernatural working of the Holy Spirit, for nothing will be impossible for God. (1:31-37)

Now, which is more difficult to occur. at least on the human level--to have a baby when you are old or to have a baby when you are still a virgin and have never known a man? When Zechariah failed to believe that they could have a child, Mary believed she could because she believed what God had said. Mary's response to the news was: "Behold, the handmaiden of the Lord; let it be to me according to Your word." And Elizabeth gives later (vs. 45) what seems to be one of the greatest definitions of faith in all the Scriptures: "Blessed is she [Mary]who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her from the Lord." (vs. 45)The point is simply this when it comes to faith: God has no more difficulty in giving a child to a virgin than He does to an elderly woman or a 25 year old. Nothing earthly, circumstancial, or human can hinder God from doing what He has promised He will do in our lives.

We learn from Mary that true faith is being persuaded in the heart that God is faithful to do what He has said He will do; Whatever God has said or promised, it is impossible for it to not come to pass. Faith says in the heart, "God has said this; He is almighty, He is true, He is faithful; He must do--He will do all that He has promised; I believe God, that it will be even as it was told me."

Mary's magnificat is so wonderful, as it is found in Luke 1. May it be the truth that fills our hearts and spirits in these days: And Mary said,

"My soul does magnify the Lord,And my spirit has rejoiced in God my Saviour;For He has looked upon the humble estate of His servant,For behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed;For He who is mighty has done great things for me,And holy is His name.

And His mercy is for those who fear Himfrom generation to generation;He has shown strength with His arm;He has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts;He has brought down the mighty from their thronesAnd exalted those of humble estate.

He has filled the hungry with good things,And the rich He has sent empty away.He has helped His servant Israel In remembrance of His mercyAs He spoke to our fathers,To Abraham and to His offspring forever."

What a book we have in Luke's gospel, what promises and what riches, what supernatural working of God, what a God and what a Saviour !

- Mack T.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

The Controlling Power of the Cross

2 Cor. 5.14-15

What gets you going in the morning? Aside from an alarm clock and the prospect of being fired from your job should you choose to remain in bed, what energizes you to face each day? How do you account for your decision to press on in life when there seem to be so many reasons to quit?

Do you find yourself coerced by an external force, perhaps a threat, a promise, or the hope of winning the lottery (that’s not an endorsement to purchase a ticket)? Is your life defined by the expectations of others or the fear of what may befall you should you choose to renege on your obligations?

The apostle Paul was a driven man, a man with seemingly endless energy, a man who gave every appearance to those who knew him of being impelled by an unseen power. How else do we explain his life, especially as it is portrayed in the book of 2 Corinthians?

I ask this question today in view of Paul’s own explicit word of testimony concerning the driving force of his daily existence. Read it closely:

“For the love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this: that one has died for all, therefore all have died; and he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised” (2 Corinthians 5:14-15; emphasis mine).

Quite clearly love is the power that accounts for Paul’s remarkable life and willing sacrifice for the church and the glory of God. But whose love, and for what? You don’t need to understand Greek to see that the phrase in question can be interpreted in one of two ways. Paul is either referring to his love for Christ or to Christ’s love for him (and some would argue that both are in mind!). I’m glad the ESV has chosen not to interpret the phrase for us. In my opinion, that is the task for the student of Scripture.

Although Paul’s personal love for the Lord Jesus Christ is passionate and unquestioned, I don’t think that is what he has in view. There are at least two reasons why I’m convinced that Paul is referring to the love and affection that Christ has for us.

First, in virtually every other instance where Paul uses this particular construction (a personal genitive [in this case, “of Christ”] after the word “love” [Greek, agape]), it refers to the love which that person has or demonstrates or manifests. Thus, when we read about “the love of God” in Romans 5:5 or “the love of Christ” in Romans 8:35 or “the love of the Spirit” in Romans 15:30, it is the Father’s love, the Son’s love, and the Spirit’s love for sinners that Paul has in view.

Second, and perhaps even more important, is the context. Clearly Paul has in mind Christ’s death for us (he “died for all”) as the preeminent expression of his love. As Paul reflects on the unfathomable sacrifice Christ made for sinners such as himself, he is gripped yet again with “the breadth and length and height and depth” (Eph. 3:18) of divine affection for hell-deserving transgressors. This, then, is the single reality that shapes and sustains and empowers his every breath, every decision, as well as every sacrifice he made.

The word translated control (ESV) or constrain literally means “hemmed in”. It is as if Paul says, “I'm on a road where I can veer neither to the right nor left. I can’t even retreat! I'm pushed forward by the transforming power of knowing that Jesus loved me to such an extent that he would give his life in my place on the cross.”

The water that flows in a river has no choice but to follow the direction set by its banks on the right and left. Such is how Paul feels. Thus the idea is far more than that of mere “moral influence” or “persuasion.” It’s as if Paul says, “If ever I should be tempted to think first of my own welfare, the love of Christ at the cross takes hold of my heart and liberates me from myself and for the service of others. If ever I should use my suffering as an excuse to slow down or back off or withdraw altogether, Christ’s willingness to endure the wrath of God on my behalf lights a flame in my soul that no amount of earthly comfort or promise of man’s praise can extinguish!”

Perhaps this doesn’t resonate with us as it did with Paul because we don’t understand the magnitude of what was entailed in Christ’s death for us. If that is true, let James Denney shed light on the significance of that powerful preposition translated “for”:

“Plainly, if Paul's conclusion is to be drawn, the 'for' must reach deeper than this mere suggestion of our advantage: if we all died, in that Christ died for us, there must be a sense in which that death of His is ours; He must be identified with us in it; there, on the cross, while we stand and gaze at Him, He is not simply a person doing us a service; He is a person doing us a service by filling our place and dying our death!”

This, says Paul, accounts for all that I am, all that I do, everything I endure, and everything for which I hope and live. Were it not for the amazing grace and undying love of Christ as manifest in his dying my death, I would degenerate into a self-absorbed solipsist. When I feel self-pity rising up in my heart, I’m reminded of the love of Christ and thereby empowered to slay it. When I find bitterness taking root in my soul, I’m reminded of the love of Christ and thereby impelled to renounce it. And when indifference threatens my commitment, the cross of Christ’s love ignites a zeal that sustains me through every trial.

Here is what controls, constrains, and impels me, says Paul: It is that Jesus chose not to hate me (though I was hateful), but to love me (though I was unlovely), and gave himself for me that I might now live for him.

Does the love of God revealed in the cross exert a similar power in your life, or in mine?

When long-held dreams are shattered against the rock of unexpected reality, do you find strength in the knowledge that he died your death so that you might live in the power of his resurrection life?

When others betray or abandon you, are you sustained by the assurance that the cross is the measure of his commitment to you and the pledge, in blood, that he will never leave you or forsake you (cf. Hebrews 13:5)?

Does the reminder that “he who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for” your sake (Romans 8:32) prove adequate in times of despair and depression and confusion?

I ask you today (as I ask myself): What “constrains” your choices? What “controls” your mind? What animates your affections? What empowers your relationships? I pray that, together with Paul, you can say it is the glorious and incomparable assurance that he “loved me and gave himself for me” (Gal. 2:20b).

- Sam Storms

The Insulted Christ

A British teacher in Sudan is arrested and barely escapes with her life for allowing her class to name a teddy bear Mohammad. Twelve cartoons portraying Muhammad in the Danish newspaper, Jyllands-Posten causes flags to be burned, embassies to be torched, and at least one Christian church to be stoned -- sending the editors into hiding, like Salman Rushdie, fearing for their lives.

Here is the essential difference between Christianity and Islam -- the work of Muhammad is based on being honored and the work of Christ is based on being insulted. In fact, if Christ had not been insulted there would be no savior -- no rescue of sinners from the wrath of God. The stone which the builders rejected would never have become the chief cornerstone.

This was not true of Muhammad -- in fact, most Muslims do not believe it is true of Jesus, as they are taught that Jesus was not crucified. "Muslims believe that Allah saved the Messiah from the ignominy of crucifixion." Another says, "We honor [Jesus] more than you [Christians] do . . . We refuse to believe that God would permit him to suffer death on the cross." A crucified savior, to Islam, is a contradiction in terms -- it's a stumbling stone. The very kind that men fall over and are either saved -- or fall under, and are damned.

But enduring suffering and mockery is not only the essence of Christ's mission, but is the essence of the Church's as well. "Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you on my account" (Mt. 5:11). Martin Scorsese portrayed Jesus in The Last Temptation of Christ as always agonizing with doubt and beset with sexual lust. Andres Serrano was funded by the National Endowment for the Arts to portray Jesus on a cross sunk in a bottle of urine. The Da Vinci Code pictures Christ as a mere mortal who married and fathered children. The insults go on -- and so does the growth of the Church.

The difference between Christianity and Islam isn't that we're not grieved, even angered when Christ is dishonored -- but that we understand and pray for our enemies, as our Savior did. We honor Christ by following in His footsteps, not by protecting His reputation. Allowing mockery doesn't show the weakness of Christianity, but its strength -- the power of a gospel that dispenses mercy and grace. Something Islam knows nothing about. (Adapted from Taste and See, John Piper).

- Mark Lacour

Monday, December 10, 2007

Thought Crazy For Christ' Sake

2 Cor. 5.13
There’s hardly anything more painful and disheartening than being misunderstood. I can’t begin to imagine what Jesus must have felt each time the religious leaders twisted his words into something he never intended or misinterpreted his motives or impugned his character, attributing to him ideas or aims foreign to his heart.

The apostle Paul was another who often experienced this kind of misunderstanding. His actions often ran counter to the cultural norms of his day, not least of which was his refusal to accept remuneration from any church in which he was at that time ministering (although he had every right to be supported by them, as he makes clear in 1 Corinthians 9:3-18).

Here in 2 Corinthians 5, Paul refers explicitly to being the object of this sort of unwarranted misinterpretation. He has acknowledged that he does not follow the ways of the false teachers in Corinth who parade their “outward appearance” as grounds for boasting (v. 12; would that our Christian leaders and TV personalities might hear and heed this word!). This inevitably exposed Paul to accusations that he was out of his mind, although in the final analysis he couldn’t have cared less what they thought of him. That is why here, in the flow of his argument, he declares,

“For if we are beside ourselves, it is for God; if we are in our right mind, it is for you” (2 Cor. 5:13).

Paul’s point is that self-interest simply doesn’t factor into his decisions or behavior. If he is judged irrational or insane, that is between him and God. If he is considered rational and astute, it is for the welfare of others. But before I go any further, a comment is in order about Paul’s choice of terms in this text.

The word translated "beside ourselves" is exestemen. It is used nowhere else by Paul, but is found in Mark 3:21 where it is used of Jesus! There we read, “And when his family heart it, they went out to seize him, for they were saying, ‘He is out of his mind.’” This word is also used in the NT as an expression of amazement (see Mt. 12:23; Mark 2:12; Luke 8:56; Acts 2:7,12; 8:13; 9:21; 10:45; 12:16).

Paul’s statement has thus been interpreted in a number of ways. Some argue that his critics were insisting that he was a victim of religious mania; that he had lost his senses, a criticism that may have been due to certain doctrines he proposed. You may recall at his trial that Festus declared “with a loud voice, ‘Paul, you are out of your mind; your great learning is driving you out of your mind’” (Acts 26:24). Of course, Paul’s response was to say, “I am not out of my mind, most excellent Festus, but I am speaking true and rational words” (Acts 26:25).

This charge may also have been provoked by the apostle’s “indefatigable zeal and tireless work (cf. 6:4-5; 11:23-28)” (Harris, 417), his unbridled passion for Jesus and the extreme physical and emotional abuse to which he willingly exposed himself for the sake of the gospel (see 2 Cor. 4:7-18; 6:4-10; etc.). Perhaps his opponents in Corinth thought Paul too eccentric for their own tastes, preferring instead someone who would diligently uphold the norms of social propriety. Paul, quite simply, lacked those social graces they regarded as essential for a true apostle.

Another option is that Paul is referring to exaggerated behavior in his past which he now repudiates. His point would be that however extreme or bizarre his actions may have been, God knows they were well-meant and sincere.

A final option is that Paul has in view here his own personal experience of what some have called “religious ecstasy” or “spiritual elation”. Included would be his consistent and unapologetic practice of praying in tongues, for which he gives God profound thanks (1 Cor. 14:18; although be it noted that tongues is nowhere described as “ecstatic” in the NT), as well as his many dreams, visions, and trances (see Acts 16:6-10; 18:9-22; 22:17). Some would also point to his having been caught up into the third heaven, as he will later describe in 2 Corinthians 12:1ff.

In the final analysis, it matters little which view is embraced. What is important is that in the immediately preceding verse (v. 12), Paul distanced himself from those who were obsessed with “outward appearance,” which is to say, they took pride in their credentials and wanted to be perceived as “having it all together.”

Paul, on the other hand, put no stock in such claims. For him, it was solely a matter of “the heart” (v. 12b), of inward integrity and sincerity in conduct. That his behavior may well have appeared bizarre, extreme, and outlandish by the standards of most was of no concern to him. If his conduct evoked charges of being crazy, he was willing to live with it, so long as God was honored.

His point is that all he does is either for the glory of God or for the spiritual welfare of other believers. He simply does not take himself into consideration. No matter what his state of mind may be, self promotion does not factor into his aims or activities. “If he had visionary experiences – on which his opponents prided themselves – they were moments of intimacy between God and himself, and not to be paraded as flamboyant claims” (Martin, 127). If, on the other hand, he appears right-minded and rational, that is for the sake of the Corinthians themselves and their spiritual edification. But nothing is done with himself in view, even though he may be the victim of unjustified caricature.

Let’s return now to what’s most important for us to learn from the apostle in this passage. If God is being honored and exalted, what difference does it make what others may think? Our value as individuals is not suspended on the approval of religious elites. Paul had two primary concerns, neither of which was his own reputation. He cared only that God be honored in his life and that other Christians be edified by his ministry.

So, how do you respond to unwarranted criticism? What reaction is evoked when your motives are misinterpreted? Is either your life or ministry dependent on the approval of men or do you seek God’s favor alone? Whether we are maligned as madmen or eulogized for our eloquence, our aim should be the glory of God and the good of his people. Nothing else matters.

- Sam Storms

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Rutherford's Riches- Pt 3

It is the Lord's kindness that He will take the scum off us in the fire. Who know how needful winnowing is to us and what dross we have before we enter the kingdom of God? So narrow is the entry to heaven that our knots, lumps of pride, self-love, idol-love, and world-love must be hammered off us, that we may stoop low and creep through into that narrow entry.

O, what I owe to the file, the hammer, and the furnace of the Lord Jesus! I know that He is no idle husbandman- He purposes a crop.

How sweet a thing is it for us to learn to make our burdens light by framing our hearts to the burden and making our Lord's will a law.

He takes His children in His arms when they come into deep waters; when they lose ground and are having to swim, then His hand is under their chin. I do see that grace grows best in winter.

Let Him make anything out of me, if so that He be glorified in my salvation; for I know that I was made for Him.

Every day we may see some new thing in Christ. His love has neither brim nor bottom.

I find that our needs qualify us for Christ.

I urge upon you a nearer communion with Christ and a growing communion. There are curtains to be drawn in Christ that we never saw and new foldings of love in Him. Therefore dig deep and sweat, labor, and take pains toward Him; set by so much time in the day for Him as you can, for He will be won to you by spiritual labor.

We need fear neither crosses or pain or be sad for anything that is on this side of heaven if we have Christ.

- Samuel Rutherford

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Rutherford's Riches- Pt 2

Rutherford's Riches- Pt 2There is as much in our Lord's pantry as will satisfy all His children and as much wine in his cellar as will quench all their thirst. Hunger on, for there is meat in hungering for Christ; go never from him, but seek him who is yet pleased with the importunity of hungry souls until he fills you; if he delays, yet do not go away, even if you faint at his feet.

I find it most true that the greatest temptation outside of hell is to live without temptations; if water stands, it rots; faith is the better for the sharp winter storm in its face and grace withers without adversity. The devil is but God's master fencer to teach us to handle our weapons.

O, mercy for evermore, that there should be such a one as Christ Jesus-- so boundless, so bottomless, so incomparable in infinite excellency and sweetness, and yet so few to take him! O, you poor dry and dead souls, why will you not come here with your vessels and your empty souls to this huge well of life and fill all your vessels? O, that Christ should be so large in sweetness and worth and we so narrow and void of happiness, and yet men will not take him! They lose their love miserably who will not bestow it upon this lovely One.

You will not get to steal quietly into heaven, into Christ's company, without a conflict and a cross. I find crosses to be Christ's carved work that he marks out for us and that with crosses he portraits us to his own image, cutting away pieces of our ill and corruption. Lord cut- Lord carve- Lord wound- Lord do anything that may perfect thy Father's image in us and make us ready for glory.

- Samuel Rutherford

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Rutherford's Riches- Pt 1

The great Master Gardener, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, in a wonderful providence, with his own hand, planted me here in this part of his vineyard; here I grow and here I will abide till the great Master of the vineyard thinks it fit to transplant me.

If your Lord calls you to suffering, be not dismayed; there shall be a new allowance of the King for you when you come to it. One of the softest pillows Christ has is laid under his witnesses' head, though often they must set down their bare feet among thorns.

God has called you to Christ's side and the wind is now in Christ's face in this land [Scotland]; and seeing you are with him, you cannot expect always the sunny side.

Needs are my best riches, for I have these supplied by Christ. I think the sense of our needs, when we have a restlessness and a sort of spiritual impatience under them, because we need him whom our soul loves, is that which makes an open door for Christ; and when we think we are going backward, because we feel deadness, we are actually going forward; for the more sense of need we have, the more life there actually is, and when there is no sense of need, it argues that there is no life.

There is no sweeter fellowship with Christ than to bring our wounds and our sores to him.

- Samuel Rutherford

Monday, December 3, 2007

Gazing Intently at What You Can't See

2 Cor. 4.16-18
I can’t remember who said it or wrote it, but I agree with it: the power to persevere comes from gazing intently at what you can’t see. Needless to say, that calls for explanation. But the explanation itself requires a context.

The context is Paul’s discussion of how we as Christians daily carry about in our bodies the dying of Jesus, and do so without succumbing to despair or bitterness. His comments that concern us today, in 2 Corinthians 4:16-18, still have in view the experience he described in vv. 8-12, one that entails affliction, perplexity, persecution, and being struck down. What that meant for Paul and his ministry in Corinth might not be the same for you and me, but all of us, in our own unique way, face disappointment and suffering that threaten us with discouragement. So how does one not “lose heart,” to use Paul’s very words? Where does one find the power to persevere? Here is what he said:

“So we do not lose heart. Though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed day by day. For this slight momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal” (2 Cor. 4:16-18).

If we’re going to profit from Paul’s perspective, we first need to understand his terms.

The outer nature in v. 16 is not a reference to the old man of Romans 6:6 (or Col. 3:9 or Eph. 4:22). The old man refers to the moral or ethical dimension of our fallen, unregenerate nature. Outer nature, on the other hand, refers to our bodily frame, our physical constitution, our creaturely mortality, the “jar of clay” or "earthen vessel" of 2 Corinthians 4:7. Thus, the "decaying" or "wasting away" of our "outer nature" is most likely a reference once more to the hardships of vv. 8-9 and our carrying about in our bodies the dying of Jesus of v. 10 and our being handed over to death of v. 11 and the death that is at work in us of v. 12. The "renewal" of the "inner nature", therefore, is probably synonymous with what Paul earlier said in 3:18 when he declared that “we are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another.”

What makes this truly remarkable is that these are simultaneous processes! At the same time Paul was physically weak and materially deprived and oppressed by his enemies he experienced unparalleled spiritual success (see Hebrews 11:32-40)! The Lutheran commentator, R. C. H. Lenski, put it this way:

"With perfect calmness Paul can watch the destruction of his outer man. What if his enemies hasten the process, yea, bring it to a sudden end by means of a violent death! He loses nothing. The inner man blossoms into new youth, beauty, and strength day by day. This inner renewal is not hindered but only helped by the tribulation that assails the outer man. These 'bloody roses' have the sweetest odor. These enemies are only defeating their own end; instead of causing Paul to grow discouraged, his elation is increased.”

If you aren’t aware of the inner transformation, the outer decimation might well breed bitterness and despair.

Paul explains this in greater detail in v. 17. There he says, in utterly stunning terms, that the persecution he endures and the trials he confronts daily are but “slight momentary affliction”! Paul was no Pollyanna. The suffering in his life was very real, not imaginary, and if viewed only from an earthly or temporal perspective would probably be more than any human might endure. But when viewed from the vantage point of eternity “the suffering took on the opposite hue – it seemed slight and temporary. The eye of faith,” notes Harris, “creates a new perspective” (363).

Note carefully the contrasts in view: “momentary” is contrasted with “eternal,” “slight” is set over against “weight,” and “affliction” is counterbalanced by “glory”. Similar language is used by Paul in Romans 8:18. There he says that “the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.

God is not asking you to treat pain as though it were pleasure, or grief as though it were joy, but to bring all earthly adversity into comparison with heavenly glory and thereby be strengthened to endure. Philip Hughes put it thus:

"Christian suffering, however protracted it may be, is only for this present life, which, when compared with the everlasting ages of the glory to which it is leading, is but a passing moment; affliction for Jesus' sake, however crushing it may seem, is in fact light, a weightless trifle, when weighed against the mass of that glory which is the inheritance of all who through grace have been made one with the Son of God.”

It’s encouraging to know that whatever suffering we might endure now, in this age characterized by pain and injustice, cannot overturn or undermine the purposes of God! “Only those who have no genuine vision of eternity,” said Paul Barnett, “think otherwise” (252-53).

But note well: this inner transformation in the midst of outer decay does not happen automatically. Carefully observe the relation between v. 16 and v. 18. In other words, the renewal Paul describes (v. 16) only occurs while or to the extent that “we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal” (v. 18).

As we fix the gaze of our hearts on the glorious hope of the age to come, God progressively renews our inner being, notwithstanding the simultaneous decay of our outer being! Be it also noted that this is no fleeting or casual glance or occasional thought concerning the “glory” of the age to come. The apostle has in mind a fixity of gaze, an attentive and studious concentration on the inestimable blessings of heaven.

When Paul refers to “the things that are seen” he does not mean material or physical things, as if to suggest that “matter” is evil or unprofitable. God created “matter”! All things were pronounced “good” (Genesis 1). After all, we will live forever on a new “earth” which will be quite tangible and physical. Rather, the contrast between “the things that are seen” and “the things that are unseen” has in view the distinction between the present age and all that is temporal and subject to sin and decay, as over against the unchanging righteousness and incorruptible reality of the age to come.

So don’t use this passage to justify a careless, indifferent, or neglectful disregard for the daily responsibilities of life in the present day. Paul is simply warning us against a carnal fixation on what this world system can provide and calling us to set our hope and confidence on the eternal values of God’s kingdom.

Here, then, is the power to persevere: by setting your mind and fixing your gaze and focusing your heart on the unseen yet eternal realities of what God has secured for you in Christ. If I may be allowed to turn the age-old and misguided adage on its head, you will never be of much earthly good unless you are utterly heavenly minded.

- Sam Storms


Dear friends,

This is a report to you on our recent trip to Romania and the Ukraine. I can honestly and with full integrity say that I believe this is the very best trip I have ever had personally to Eastern Europe. The hand of the Lord was evident in all things.

There is usually spiritual warfare and opposition in making preparations for these trips, and this one was no exception. Fear tried to rob us about going and a sense of our own inadequacy. But the promises of God's faithfulness and His grace helped us to trust Him for grace to go in faith and dependence.

Mike Preston from here in Denton and Jim Elliff of Kansas City, Missouri completed the 3 man team with me, as Mike and I flew from Dallas to Detroit, then out to Amsterdam and on to Bucharest, where we met Jim on Friday, Nov 9; Jim had gone earlier in the week through Germany for some ministry and met us there.

We immediately began a 4 hour drive northwest from Bucharest toward the Ukraine, where we were scheduled to be by Saturday, Nov. 10. Spending Friday night, we arrived on Saturday afternoon late and settled in to our accomodations at a Ukrainian missions center, where we each had our own private room. It was all very comfortable, warm, and a great blessing. We would be at this place for the full 5 days we were in the Ukraine.

Our time in the Ukraine was about 40 miles across the Romania border. We were here for 5 days, where we preached in 8 churches over 4 days and held a 2 day pastor's conference for Romanian speaking pastors in the Ukraine. There were both Romanians and Ukrainians attending this conference.

It was a blessed time of being with the dear Eastern European pastors and leaders who really live by faith and have a vision to be used by God to reach their country with the good news of Christ.

In the Ukrainian conference, Jim Elliff taught through a 3 part exposition of John chapter 6 and one time on the security of the true believer and Christian assurance. I spoke once on the place and authority of Scripture in the life of the believer and then 3 times on the sovereignty of God. These men had apparently never heard God's sovereignty taught and it seemed to be a revelation to them, as well as stirring much discussion and questions. The Lord made it evident that He was showing many of them that this is a biblical view of God-- it was most encouraging.

After being there 5 days, we headed back on Wednesday morning south into Romania, where we spoke in 7 churches together over the next 5 days throughout northeast and then southern Romania. Some of these areas are the poorest in all of the country and it was truly moving to see true Christians and missionaries both having a real heart for God and His word and sacrificing to live in those places for the sake of the gospel.The believers there have so very little, as far as this world's goods are concerned, and yet have great faith and a real desire to be taught more deeply the truths of the Bible.

It was in south central Romania that we were in an area known as Oldtonian, which is a very poor region of the country. The unemployment is at least 70% and it is a very depressing area in every way. It is also in this area that there is a high number of gypsies, as well as demonism, witchcraft, and palm-readers. We were told by a Canadian couple who are there as missionaries that it wasn't long ago that a man who had died that local people believed to be a vampire. Soon after his death, they dug up his body and cut out his heart to prevent him coming back to life.

It was just such superstition and strong evil that we felt all around us as we preached there. But there is a fairly strong church now right in the midst of this synagogue of Satan, with 6 missionaries laboring out of it, to take the gospel to that region. Please pray for this church in the Oldtonian area.

In all the churches in both countries, both Jim and I would preach in each service and Mike would give his testimony of how God saved him as an adult. We preached both evangelistic messages and messages to believers for spiritual growth and encouragement. It seemed that God was sovereignly pleased to give special help from the Holy Spirit upon all the preaching. It was in one service particularly that I preached from Hebrews 4 on the glory of our new covenant in Christ, that there is no more need of human priests at all, and how true Christianity far exceeds any man-made religion that has ever existed.

I did not know that a Romanian orthodox priest had come to attend the service and I was later told that this was very fitting for him to hear. The neat thing was that I was not sure what I should preach in that Sunday evening service and was only directed to that particular message less than 30 minutes before the service began.

The fellowship together as a team was always good, encouraging, and a great blessing. Please pray for the churches and the believers in Romania and the Ukraine, for God continues to do a great work there for the glory of His Son.

I have currently been asked to return in the spring and ask your prayers for God's direction about this invitation.

Thanks to all of you who prayed and contributed financially to this wonderful time of ministry. God continues to do great things all over Eastern Europe.

Yours warmly in our Lord Jesus Christ,

Mack Tomlinson

Friday, November 30, 2007

What Happens When a Christian Dies? - Pt 3

2 Cor. 5.9-10
To this point, concerning happens when a Christian dies, most everyone is pleased with what Paul has written. So why spoil everything by talking about judgment? I can anticipate what people will say: “I was thrilled when you described the reality of the intermediate state and the assurance of bodily resurrection. I was ecstatic upon hearing that to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord. But judgment? Couldn’t you have conveniently skipped over that one?”

Well, no, I couldn’t. Paul didn’t, so neither can we. Here is what he said:

“So whether we are at home or away, we make it our aim to please him. For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil” (2 Corinthians 5:9-10).

Let’s be clear about one thing from the start, something that I believe may go a long way in putting to rest your fears about judgment. In one of the most encouraging and liberating texts in the New Testament, Paul wrote: “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1). In other words, whatever else Paul may have in mind in 2 Corinthians 5, if you are “in Christ Jesus” by faith you need never, ever fear condemnation. That being said and settled, what ought we to expect, following death, at the judgment seat of Christ?

The best way to answer this question is with a series of ten observations that are evoked by Paul’s statement.

First, who is to be judged? Whereas it is possible that all mankind are included here, the broader context in 2 Corinthians 4-5 suggests that believers only are in view. Murray Harris has also pointed out that wherever Paul speaks of the recompense, according to works, of all people (such as in Romans 2:6), “there is found a description of two mutually exclusive categories of people (Rom. 2:7-10), not a delineation of two types of action [such as “whether good or evil” here in v. 10] which may be predicated of all people” (406).

Second, what is the nature or purpose of the judgment? In view of Romans 8:1, as well as John 3:18; 5:24; Romans 5:8-9; and 1 Thessalonians 1:10 (just to mention a few), eternal destiny is not at issue; eternal reward is. This judgment is not designed to determine entrance into the kingdom of God but reward or status or authority within it. More on this below.

Third, when does this judgment occur: At the moment of physical death? During the intermediate state? At the second coming of Christ? Paul doesn’t seem concerned to specify when. The most that we can be sure of is that it happens after death (see Heb. 9:27). Having said that, I’m inclined to think it happens at the second coming of Christ (cf. Matt. 16:27; Rev. 22:12), at the close of human history, most likely in conjunction with that larger assize that will include all unbelievers, known to students of the Bible as the Great White Throne judgment (see Revelation 20:11ff.).

Fourth, we should take note of the inevitability of judgment for everyone (“we must all appear”). This is not a day that can be set aside as irrelevant or unnecessary. It is essential for God to bring to consummation his redemptive purpose and to fully honor the glory of his name among his people.

No one is exempt. Paul himself anticipated standing at this judgment, for it served (at least in part) as the motivation for his grace-energized efforts to “please” the Lord (v. 9).

Fifth, Paul emphasizes its individuality (“each one”). As important as it is to stress the corporate and communal nature of our life as the body of Christ, each person will be judged individually (no doubt, at least in part, concerning how faithful each person was to his or her corporate responsibilities!). Paul said it in similar terms in Romans 14:12 – “So then each of us will give an account of himself to God.”

Sixth, we should observe the mode or manner of this judgment (“we must all appear”). We do not merely “show up” at the judgment seat of Christ but are laid bare before him. As Paul said in 1 Corinthians 4:5, the Lord “will bring to light the things now hidden in darkness and will disclose the purposes of the heart.” Murray Harris is right that “not merely an appearance or self-revelation, but, more significantly, a divine scrutiny and disclosure, is the necessary prelude to the receiving of appropriate recompense” (405).

Is it not sobering to think that every random thought, every righteous impulse, every secret prayer, hidden deed, long-forgotten sin or act of compassion will be brought into the open for us to acknowledge and for the Lord to judge? But don’t forget: “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1)!

Seventh, this judgment has an identity all its own (it is the “judgment seat of Christ”). Most Christians are by now familiar with the term used here: bema. The use of this word in v. 10 “would have been particularly evocative for Paul and the Corinthians since it was before Gallio’s tribunal in Corinth that Paul had stood some four years previously (in A.D. 52) when the proconsul dismissed the charge that Paul had contravened Roman law (Acts 18:12-17). Archaeologists have identified this Corinthian bema which stands on the south side of the agora” (Harris, 406).

Eighth, the judge himself is clearly identified (it is the “judgment seat of Christ”). This is consistent with what we read in John 5:22 where Jesus said that “the Father judges no one, but has given all judgment to the Son.”

Ninth, of critical importance is the standard of judgment (“what he has done in the body, whether good or evil”). Reference to the “body” indicates that the judgment concerns what we do in this life, not what may or may not be done during the time of the intermediate state itself.

According to the ESV, we receive “what is due”. In other words, and somewhat more literally, we will be judged “in accordance with” or perhaps even “in proportion to” deeds done. The deeds are themselves characterized as either “good” (those which “please” Christ, as in v. 9) or “bad” (those which do not please him).

Tenth, the result of the judgment is not explicitly stated but is certainly implied. All will “receive” whatever their deeds deserve. There is a reward or recompense involved. Paul is slightly more specific in 1 Corinthians 3:14-15. There he writes: “If the work that anyone has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward. If anyone’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire.” The “reward” is not defined and the likelihood is that the “loss” suffered is the “reward” that he or she would otherwise have received had they obeyed.

Can anything more definitive be said about the nature of this recompense? Jesus mentions a “great” “reward” in heaven, but doesn’t elaborate (Matt. 5:11-12). In the parable of the talents (Matt. 25; cf. Luke 19:12-27) he alludes to “authority” or dominion of some sort (but over whom or what?). Paul says that “whatever good anyone does, this he will receive back from the Lord” (Eph. 6:8).

According to 1 Corinthians 4:5, following the judgment “each one will receive his commendation from God”. Both Romans 8:17-18 and 2 Corinthians 4:17 refer to a “glory” that is reserved for the saints in heaven. And of course we should consider the many promises in the seven letters to the churches in Revelation 2-3, although it is difficult to know if they are bestowed now, during the intermediate state, or only subsequent to the second coming, and if they are granted in differing degrees depending on service and obedience or are equally distributed among God’s children (see Rev. 2:7, 10, 17, 23; 3:5, 12, 21; cf. also Matt. 18:4; 19:29; Luke 14:11; James 1:12).

Perhaps the differing nature and degree of reward will be manifest in the depths of knowledge and enjoyment of God that each person experiences. People often balk at this notion, but they shouldn’t. Here is how I explained it in my book, One Thing.

“Hardly anything will bring you more joy [in heaven] than to see other saints with greater rewards than you, experiencing greater glory than you, given greater authority than you! There will be no jealousy or pride to fuel your unhealthy competitiveness. There will be no greed to energize your race to get more than everyone else. You will then delight only in delighting in the delight of others. Their achievement will be your greatest joy. Their success will be your highest happiness. You will truly rejoice with those who rejoice. Envy comes from lack. But in heaven there is no lack. Whatever you need, you get. Whatever desires may arise, they are satisfied.

The fact that some are more holy and more happy than others will not diminish the joy of the latter. There will be perfect humility and perfect resignation to God’s will in heaven, hence no resentment or bitterness. Also, those higher in holiness will, precisely because they are holy, be more humble. The essence of holiness is humility! The very vice that might incline them to look condescendingly on those lower than themselves is nowhere present. It is precisely because they are more holy that they are so very humble and thus incapable of arrogance and elitism.

They will not strut or boast or use their higher degrees of glory to humiliate or harm those lower. Those who know more of God will, because of that knowledge, think more lowly and humbly of themselves. They will be more aware of the grace that accounts for their holiness than those who know and experience less of God, hence, they will be more ready to serve and to yield and to go low and to defer.

Some people in heaven will be happier than others. But this is no reason for sadness or anger. In fact, it will serve only to make you happier to see that others are more happy than you! Your happiness will increase when you see that the happiness of others has exceeded your own. Why? Because love dominates in heaven and love is rejoicing in the increase of the happiness of others. To love someone is to desire their greatest joy. As their joy increases, so too does yours in them. If their joy did not increase, neither would yours. We struggle with this because now on earth our thoughts and desires and motives are corrupted by sinful self-seeking, competitiveness, envy, jealousy, and resentment” (180-81).

Two closing comments are in order. First, our deeds do not determine our salvation, but demonstrate it. They are not the root of our standing with God but the fruit of it, a standing already attained by faith alone in Christ alone. The visible evidence of an invisible faith are the “good” deeds that will be made known at the judgment seat of Christ.

Second, don’t be afraid that, with the exposure and evaluation of your deeds, regret and remorse will spoil the bliss of heaven. If there be tears of grief for opportunities squandered, or tears of shame for sins committed, he will wipe them away (Rev. 20:4a). The ineffable joy of forgiving grace will swallow up all sorrow, and the beauty of Christ will blind you to anything other than the splendor of who he is and what he has, by grace, accomplished on your behalf.

- Sam Storms

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

God's Passion for Himself

What is the pre-eminent passion in God’s heart? What is God’s greatest pleasure? In what does God take supreme delight? I suggest that the pre-eminent passion in God’s heart is his own glory. God is at the center of his own affections. The supreme love of God’s life is God. God is pre-eminently committed to the fame of his name. God is himself the end for which God created the world.

Better, still, God’s immediate goal in all he does is his own glory. God relentlessly and unceasingly creates, rules, orders, directs, speaks, judges, saves, destroys and delivers in order to make known who he is and to secure from the whole of the universe the praise, honor and glory of which he and he alone is ultimately and infinitely worthy.

The question I most often hear in response to this is that if God loves himself pre-eminently, how can he love me at all? How can we say that God is for us and that he desires our happiness if he is primarily for himself and his own glory? I want to argue that it is precisely because God loves himself that he loves you. Here’s how.

I assume you will agree that your greatest good consists of enjoying the most excellent Being in the universe. That Being, of course, is God. Therefore, the most loving and kind thing that God can do for you is to devote all his energy and effort to elicit from your heart praise of himself. Why? Because praise is the consummation of enjoyment. All enjoyment tends towards praise and adoration as its appointed end. In this way, God’s seeking his own glory and God’s seeking your good converge.

Listen again. Your greatest good is in the enjoyment of God. God’s greatest glory is in being enjoyed. So, for God to seek his glory in your worship of him is the most loving thing he can do for you. Only by seeking his glory pre-eminently can God seek your good passionately.

For God to work for your enjoyment of him (that’s his love for you) and for his glory in being enjoyed (that’s his love for himself) are not properly distinct.

So, God comes to you in his Word and says: “Here I am in all my glory: incomparable, infinite, immeasurable, unsurpassed. See me! Be satisfied with me! Enjoy me! Celebrate who I am! Experience the height and depth and width and breadth of savoring and relishing me!”

Does that sound like God pursuing his own glory? Yes.

But it also sounds like God loving you and me perfectly and passionately. The only way it is not real love is if there is something for us better than God: something more beautiful than God that he can show us, something more pleasing and satisfying than God with which he can fill our hearts, something more glorious and majestic than God with which we can occupy ourselves for eternity. But there is no such thing! Anywhere! Ever!

- Sam Storms

Friday, November 23, 2007

What Happens When a Christian Dies? Pt. 1

2 Cor. 5.1-5
I’m dying. I don’t say that because I’ve just returned from the doctor with a fatal diagnosis, whether of cancer or heart disease, but I’m dying. So, too, are you. With each passing moment, no matter how vigorously we exercise and how nutritiously we eat, we are deteriorating physically. As Paul said in 2 Corinthians 4:16, “our outer nature is wasting away.” Nevertheless, and for this we praise God, “our inner nature is being renewed day by day” (v. 16).

But death is approaching, for some faster than others. Recently I attended the funeral service of a dear friend who lived only fifty years. She left behind a loving and faithful husband and a teenaged son. Much was said at the service about where she is now and what she is experiencing, all with a view to encouraging those present who must now face life in her absence.

So where is my friend? What is it, precisely, that she now sees and feels and experiences, or is she, as some would argue, “asleep”, unconscious, lifeless in the grave until the second coming of Christ? The most explicit answer to this question, in all of Scripture, is found here in 2 Corinthians 5:1-10. We will devote several meditations to a serious consideration of this most important issue: What happens when a Christian dies?

I’ve witnessed a lot of death in my family in recent years: my father-in-law, a cousin, one uncle, and three aunts have passed away. All were Christians. Like you, I want rock-solid, revelatory assurance, not merely speculation, about where they are. Twice in this paragraph Paul speaks with unshakeable confidence, declaring that “we know” (vv. 1, 6) what has happened to them and where they are.

It’s important that we read 2 Corinthians 5:1 in the light of what has preceded in 4:7-18. Paul writes, “For we know that if the tent, which is our earthly home, is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens” (5:1). The “tent” or “earthly home” (5:1), i.e., the physical body, is one example of the many “transient” things “that are seen” (4:18), just as “the building from God” (5:1) is one example of the “eternal” things “that are unseen” (4:18). Similarly, the “destruction” (5:1) of the earthly body is simply the ultimate outcome of what Paul described as his repeated encounters with death or his carrying about in himself the dying of Jesus (4:8-12).

What is this “building from God” that is ours following physical death? Among the many possible answers, four are most frequently suggested.

Some argue it is a reference to heaven itself, or an abode in heaven (cf. John 14:2), perhaps even the New Jerusalem. Others say it refers to the body of Christ, i.e., the church. On the other hand, it may be a reference to an intermediate body, i.e., a bodily form of some sort suitable to the intermediate state but different from and only preparatory to the final, glorified, resurrected body (cf. Matt. 17:3; Rev. 6:9-11). The fourth option is to see here a reference to the glorified, resurrection body, that final and consummate embodiment in which we will live for eternity.

There are two fundamental reasons for embracing the fourth option and understanding Paul as referring to the final resurrection body (cf. Phil. 3:21). First, the “building” or “house” in v. 1b stands in a parallel relationship with “home” in v. 1a. Since the latter refers to our “earthly, unglorified” body, it seems reasonable to conclude that the former refers to our “heavenly, glorified” body. Secondly, the description in v. 1b (“not made with hands,” “eternal,” and “in the heavens”) is more suitable to the glorified body (see especially 1 Cor. 15:35-49). Paul’s point would be that our heavenly embodiment is indestructible, not susceptible to decay or corruption or dissolution.

The major objection to this view is Paul's use of the present tense, “we have a building from God” (not “we shall have”). This seems to imply that immediately upon death the believer receives his/her glorified body.

But this would conflict with 1 Corinthians 15:22ff.; 15:51-56; and 1 Thessalonians 4-5, all of which indicate that glorification occurs at the second advent of Christ. Furthermore, frequently in Scripture a future reality or possession is so certain and assured in the perspective of the author that it is appropriately spoken of in the present tense, i.e., as if it were already ours in experience. Thus Paul's present tense “we have” most likely points to the fact of having as well as the permanency of having, but not the immediacy of having. It is the language of hope.

It has been argued that perhaps Paul uses the present tense because the passing of time between physical death and the final resurrection is not sensed or consciously experienced by the saints in heaven; and thus the reception of one's resurrection body appears to follow immediately upon death.

But against this is the clear teaching of Scripture that the intermediate state is consciously experienced by those who have died (as we will soon see in 2 Cor. 5:6-8; cf. also Phil. 1:21-24; Rev. 6:9-11). It is clear that the deceased believer has “departed” to be “with Christ” (Phil. 1:23) and is therefore “with” Christ when he comes (1 Thess. 4:17). It would seem, then, that some kind of conscious existence obtains between a person's death and the general resurrection (this is why we refer to this time as the intermediate state).

Even though Paul appears to envision the possibility (probability?) of his own physical death, he still has hope that he will remain alive until Christ returns. Thus he writes:

“For in this tent we groan, longing to put on our heavenly dwelling, if indeed by putting it on we may not be found naked. For while we are still in this tent, we groan, being burdened -- not that we would be unclothed, but that we would be further clothed, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life. He who has prepared us for this very thing is God, who has given us the Spirit as a guarantee” (vv. 2-5).

In these verses Paul speaks of his desire to be alive when Christ returns, for then he would not have to die physically and experience the separation of body and spirit, a condition he refers to as being “naked” (v. 3) or “unclothed” (v. 4). Paul's perspective on life and death may therefore be put in this way:

It is good to remain alive on this earth to serve Christ (see Phil. 1:21-26).

On the other hand, it is better to die physically and enter into the presence of Christ (see 2 Cor. 5:6-8; Phil. 1:21b, 23).

However, it is by far and away best to be alive when Christ returns, for then we avoid death altogether and are immediately joined with the Lord in our resurrected and glorified bodies.

Here in v. 2 (which is repeated and expanded somewhat in v. 4) Paul mixes his metaphors by speaking of putting on or being "clothed” with a “building”. But it is more than simply putting on a garment: it is putting on of a garment over another. The heavenly body, like an outer vesture or overcoat, is being put on over the earthly body with which the apostle is, as it were, presently clad. In this way the heavenly, glorified body not only covers but also absorbs and transforms the earthly one (see Phil. 3:20-21; 1 Cor. 15:53).

If he remains alive until Christ returns he will be found by the Lord clothed with a body (the present, earthly one), and not in a disembodied state (v. 3). To be without a body is to be “naked”. Clearly, Paul envisaged a state of disembodiment between physical death and the general resurrection (cf. "unclothed" in v. 4).

But what assurances do we have from God that he will in fact supply us with a glorified and eternal body that is no longer subject to the deterioration and disease we now experience? The simple answer is: the Holy Spirit! Paul’s statement in v. 5 is a reminder “that 'the earnest of the Spirit' is not a mere static deposit, but the active vivifying operation of the Holy Spirit within the believer, assuring him that the same principle of power which effected the resurrection of Christ Jesus from the dead is also present and at work within him, preparing his mortal body for the consummation of his redemption in the glorification of his body" (Hughes).

For the Christian, death is not to be feared. For we know that whatever illness or debilitation we experience now, whatever degree of suffering or hardship we must face, there is promised to us by the Spirit a glorified, Christ-like, transformed and utterly eternal abode, a body in which there is no disease, no pain, no deprivation, and no decay.

“The best case scenario,” Paul seems to say, “is to be alive when Christ returns. That way I could transition instantaneously from this ‘garment’ (my current physical body) into that glorified ‘vesture’ (that is and will forever be my resurrected body). I don’t want to get ‘undressed’ but to put the garment of eternity over the garment of time in such a way that the former redeems and transforms the latter. But in all things I yield to the timing and purpose of God, and rejoice in the assurance, the rock-solid guarantee from the Holy Spirit, that physical death is not the end but the beginning.”

“Therefore encourage one another with these words” (1 Thess. 4:18).

- Sam Storms

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Fruitfulness and Harvest

Dear brethren,

I leave in 3 hours for Romania for 12 days; my heart has been stirred again this week as I have been reading and meditating in Scripture, to be more fruitful and see more of a harvest in kingdom labors. As I read Romans 1 again this week, I was much stirred by Paul's words found in ch. 1:13, where he says in 13b: "that I might have some fruit among you."

Paul's goal expressed here- his desire and longing- was fruitfulness and seeing a spiritual harvest. The ESV translates this phrase: "that I may reap some harvest among you, as well as among the rest of the Gentiles."

Should we desire, pray for and even expect God to give increase, to produce fruit, and grant a harvest? If Jesus's words are to be taken at full face value and truthfulness, then yes, we should ever be doing this. Our Lord said in John 14: 7: "By this is my Father glorified, that you bear much fruit and that your fruit should remain." NOT just praying that His will be done and remaining passive about results, BUT also desiring, asking for, and expecting from our Heavenly Father a harvest.

The harvest might be any number of things: conversions, outpourings of the Spirit, the Word coming with power in preaching and teaching, the lives of believers being transformed, opened gospel doors, and direct advancement of the kingdom in situations. The harvest is up to God Himself- what He purposes to send and purposes to do.

But we have a warrant given in Scripture to have no less of a goal than for a harvest that would glorify our Father in heaven. Anything less does not glorify Him to the extent He is to be glorified.

So over these next 12-13 days, if and when we come to your mind, please lift up prayers to our Heavenly Father that He would give harvest in Romania and Ukraine. The One we are praying to and serving has called Himself "The Lord of the harvest."

- Mack T.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

The Subsequent History and Outcome of the Seven Churches of

Revelation 2-3

It’s important to remember that we have very little concrete historical evidence for any of the churches in these areas or indication as to whether or not they heeded the Lord’s warnings and repented. This is largely due to the status of the church as persecuted until 312 a.d.

Christians flourished and grew all throughout Asia Minor, but obviously never attained any political or economic status until Constantine came to power. So it would be unwise to say anything about their spiritual status prior to that date given the fact that they were all very much in the minority and laboring simply to survive. It was an extremely hostile environment. We mustn’t forget that in 249-251 a.d. the emperor Decius issued a decree calling for the extermination of all Christians, something that was renewed under Diocletian in the early 300s.

But we do know a little about them (the best information is found in the Anchor Bible Dictionary), and I thought you might find it interesting.

(1) As for Ephesus, John the Apostle most likely lived there when not exiled on Patmos. We know that Ignatius of Antioch wrote a letter to the church at Ephesus early in the second century a.d., so the church was still present. Justin Martyr, a Christian apologist, was associated with the church at Ephesus well into the middle of the second century. But the city as a whole suffered from the mid second century on. Plagues brought back by Roman troops in the latter half of the second century devastated the place. Worse still were the series of incompetent Roman emperors who wrought havoc in Ephesus well into the third century. Christians were severely persecuted under these emperors. Parthians and Goths also invaded the land and brought difficult times.

Notwithstanding this, the Christian presence in Ephesus continued, especially after the “conversion” of Constantine in 312 when Christianity was made legal. Many of the early debates on Christology and Trinitarianism involved bishops and theologians in Ephesus. My understanding is that the church continued there until overrun by the Muslim invasions of the 7th century. But we don’t know what spiritual condition it was in.

(2) Smyrna remained strong and grew prominent in the years following the letter to her. There is every indication that the church there persevered.

(3) The city of Pergamum did not treat the church well. The persistent influence of the cult of Asclepius made it hard for believers, as paganism was rampant. Julian the Apostate, Roman emperor in the 360’s, persecuted the church intensely. Pergamum as a whole declined after Julian’s death and never recovered. It was devastated by the Islamic invasions of 663 and 716.

(4) Thyatira is recorded as having a thriving civic and social life well into the third century. That doesn’t mean it deteriorated after that, but only that there is only solid archaeological evidence for its early life.

(5) Sardis continued to flourish as a city and the church there grew following Constantine’s “conversion” in 312. We don’t know its spiritual condition but it was present until the Persians attacked in 616, and of course the Islamic invasions of twenty and thirty years later were devastating.

(6) I don’t know much of what happened in Philadelphia, except that it flourished in the mid second century as a center of prophecy. It was probably where Montanism first emerged. Christians in Philadelphia in the second century were apparently quite bold and outspoken.

(7) There is some evidence that Laodicea retained its Christian witness well into the second century a.d. A man by the name of Sagaris, a bishop of Laodicea, suffered martyrdom for his faith sometime between 161 and 167 a.d. In 363 a.d. a church synod was held at Laodicea that established 60 rulings (called the Canons of Laodicea) which were acknowledged by later church councils as a basis for canon law (see The Anchor Bible Dictionary, 4:231). Toward the end of the 4th century Laodicea also became the seat of government of the newly established province of Phrygia Pacatiana. There was another devastating earthquake in 494 a.d. from which Laodicea seems never to have recovered.

The bottom line is that all Christians, in every province and country, at least until the early fourth century, suffered as a persecuted minority. As I said earlier, they had no political or economic power and were constantly threatened with extermination. I don’t think it can be said with any degree of certainty that the churches there were any worse off or more spiritually lifeless than other churches in other regions. All we know with certainty is that Christianity as a whole in Turkey suffered greatly following the Islamic invasions of the 7th and 8th centuries.

- Sam Storms

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Gospel Suffering & Witness

Hugh Latimer was famous as a preacher. He was Bishop of Worcester (pronounced WOOS-ter) in the time of King Henry, but resigned in protest against the king's refusal to allow the Protestant reforms that Latimer desired. Latimer's sermons speak little of doctrine; he preferred to urge men to upright living and devoutness in prayer. But when Mary came to the throne, he was arrested, tried for heresy, and burned together with his friend Nicholas Ridley. His last words at the stake are well known:

"Be of good cheer, Master Ridley, and play the man,for we shall this day light such a candle in Englandas I trust by God's grace shall never be put out."

Does this candle burn in your heart? Are the flames intense enough to carry on the work of those before us that have been martyred for their love of Christ, the truth of God's Word and the refusal to bow before sinful men?

Today around the world there are many dear believers persecuted each day for their faith in Christ. How can we honor the memory of those who would not yield in their faith? How can we continue to glorify our heavenly Father? How do we keep this "candle" lit?

First and most important we must continually pray and trust in God's righteousness, then we must proclaim the truth of the Gospel in every way the Lord opens.

"....others were tortured, not accepting deliverance; that they might obtain a better resurrection: And others had trial of cruel mockings and scourgings, yea, moreover of bonds and imprisonment: They were stoned, they were sawn asunder, were tempted, were slain with the sword: they wandered about in sheepskins and goatskins; being destitute, afflicted, tormented; (Of whom the world was not worthy:) they wandered in deserts, and in mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth And these all, having obtained a good report through faith, received not the promise: God having provided some better thing for us, that they without us should not be made perfect" (Hebrews 11:35-40).

"Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us, Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God. For consider him that endured such contradiction of sinners against himself, lest ye be wearied and faint in your minds " (Hebrews 12:1-3).

- Wylie Fulton

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Celebrating the Reformation: A Lesson in God's Sovereignty over Human Sin

Most of us would like to think that the Protestant Reformation, whose 490th birthday we celebrate today (October 31st), was always driven by godly motives on the part of people whose greatest desire was for a recovery of the New Testament gospel. Of course, this was indeed the intent of prominent figures such as Martin Luther (who nailed his 95 theses to the church door at Wittenberg on this day in 1517) and John Calvin, just to mention two more well-known names.

But such was not always the case. In fact, we see in certain events associated with the Reformation how sinful and politically motivated decisions were made that affected the course of human history and how God, in his sovereignty, used them (without justifying them) to bring about the much-needed renewal of the church.

I have in mind particularly the so-called “English Reformation” and the events surrounding King Henry VIII and his progeny. I’m especially intrigued by what happened in England given the release of the film, “Elizabeth: The Golden Age,” a sequel to the earlier “Elizabeth” (both of which star Cate Blanchett in the title role; although not flawless, I highly recommend both films).

The reformation in England differed from that on the continent in several ways. For example, it was dominated by political events rather than theological convictions. In addition, there was no one figure who stood out in the way Luther, Calvin, or Zwingli did in Europe. And perhaps most important of all, the struggle in England, at least in its early years, focused less on doctrinal issues of grace and the authority of Scripture and more on the nature, function and worship of the church.

There were undoubtedly influences present in England that tilled the soil, so to speak, for what was to come. I have in mind the presence of the Lollards, the English followers of John Wycliffe; the humanists such as John Colet (1466-1519) and Sir Thomas More (1478-1535), as well as certain intellectuals at Cambridge who regularly met at the White Horse Inn, a pub that acquired the name “Little Germany” where the latest Reformation intelligence fresh from the continent was discussed. Luther’s writings were being widely circulated in England at this time in spite of the papal decree in 1521 that they be burned. And we should never forget that William Tyndale (1494-1536) published two editions of 3,000 copies of an English New Testament in 1525, while Miles Coverdale provided the world with the first English translation of the entire Bible in 1535.

However, the primary impetus for reform in England had little if anything to do with popular disdain for late medieval Catholicism or the spiritual appeal of Luther’s doctrine of justification by faith alone. It must be traced to the political ambition, sexual lust, and overblown ego of Henry VIII.

Henry was driven by many things, one of which was his passion to ensure that he had a legitimate male heir to succeed him on the English throne. Henry was a well-educated and scholarly man, a competent theologian and musician, who spoke Latin, French, Spanish and English.

Henry's father had arranged for Henry's brother, Arthur, to marry Catherine of Aragon (daughter of Ferdinand and Isabella of Spain). But Arthur died, forcing the elder Henry to press his younger son to marry Catherine. Pope Julius II first had to set aside Arthur's marriage to Catherine lest Henry be guilty of incest. He did so reluctantly. Henry and Catherine had one child, a girl named Mary (Catherine suffered numerous miscarriages, still births, and infant deaths). By 1525 Catherine was forty and had gone seven years without a pregnancy. Henry's desire for a son, plus his growing attraction for Anne Boleyn (with whose sister, Mary, Henry had already had an affair), led him to divorce Catherine (he appealed to Lev. 20:21), an action denounced by the Pope. The Pope had come under the influence of the emperor Charles V, Catherine's nephew!

Henry proceeded to secretly wed Anne (who was pregnant by this time), while deposing Catherine. The Pope demanded he do away with Anne and reinstate Catherine, under threat of excommunication. Henry gained control of the English church and manipulated the Parliament to pass the Act of Supremacy in 1534 which declared him, the king, to be the supreme head of the Church of England. This constituted the political break with Rome.

Not all of Henry's advisors agreed with his assertion of authority. Sir Thomas More, the brilliant humanist and author of Utopia, refused to renounce allegiance to Rome and was subsequently beheaded for treason. His head was displayed on London Bridge on the end of a pike as a warning to others whose loyalties might be divided between pope and king.

In 1536 Henry dissolved all the monasteries in England, largely because he desired their wealth. Still, it was not Henry's desire to break theologically with Rome, as the doctrinal affirmation known as the Six Articles (passed by Parliament at the king's request, 1539), demonstrate: they reaffirmed transubstantiation, celibacy of priests, and other RC distinctives. The fact is, Henry appears to have had little interest in the reforms advocated by Luther or Zwingli. His aim was to retain an English form of Catholicism stripped of its allegiance to the Pope (an allegiance Henry coveted for himself alone).

Henry soon tired of Anne Boleyn, who had given him only a daughter (Elizabeth), so he had her tried and eventually executed for adultery (along with five of her lovers). Henry persuaded Thomas Cranmer to declare his marriage to Anne void so that the child Elizabeth could not succeed to the throne. Ten days later he married Jane Seymour who bore him the son he always wanted, Edward. Nine days after Edward's birth, his mother died.

Henry's next marriage was politically motivated. He married Anne of Cleves (without having laid eyes upon her), sister of a German prince, hoping thereby to solidify relations with that country and strengthen his position against France. When Henry finally saw her, he was repulsed and divorced her six months later. He then married Catherine Howard, whom he had executed in 1542 (she was charged with numerous adulterous affairs), and lastly Catherine Parr, who alone of his many wives outlived him.

When Henry died he arranged for Edward to rule first, followed by Catherine's daughter, Mary, and then Anne's daughter, Elizabeth (about whom the two films noted above are concerned).

Several important changes were made during Edward’s short reign (1547-1553): the reading of the Bible in public services was approved, the Six Articles of Henry were abolished, the clergy were allowed to marry, and the cup was granted to the laity. In 1549 the Book of Common Prayer was published, reflecting a conservative, Calvinistic theology. A doctrinal confession called the 42 Articles was drafted, largely by Thomas Cranmer, with the help of John Knox of Scotland (1553). Three weeks after signing it, Edward died. The significance of Edward's reign is that during this time England broke with Rome theologically. But this was not to last.

It was also during this time that a number of Reformed theologians from the continent settled in England and were assigned by Cranmer to influential positions at several universities. Among the more influential were Martin Bucer (Strasbourg reformer and mentor of John Calvin), Peter Martyr Vermigli (an Italian by birth), and John a Lasco. Their contribution to the Protestant movement in England was profound.

Bloody Mary, as she became known to history, was Henry's daughter by Catherine of Aragon and thus had ties with the RCC. Her reign, although only five short years (1553-1558), coincided with the Catholic Counter-Reformation on the continent and she was undoubtedly influenced by it. She forced Parliament in 1553 to repeal everything Edward had done and returned England to the religious conditions that prevailed under her father.

Persecution was intense and martyrdom frequent [Foxe's Book of Martyrs chronicles much of what occurred]. Among the more than 300 who died for their Protestant faith were Hugh Latimer (1485-1555) and Nicholas Ridley (1500-1555). These two stalwarts of the reformation were ordered to be executed outside the city gate of Oxford. As they were being led to the stake, they passed the prison in which Thomas Cranmer was jailed, hoping to catch a glimpse of him and shout a word of encouragement. Indeed, Cranmer was brought to the tower of the prison by the government to watch the proceedings. Their aim was to frighten him out of his defiance. Whereas Cranmer was overcome with anguish by what he saw, falling to his knees and bewailing the event, he remained steadfast.

Engulfed by flames, and with his last breath, Latimer uttered the famous words: "Be of good comfort, Master Ridley, and play the man. We shall this day light such a candle, by God's grace, in England, as I trust shall never be put out."

Thomas Cranmer (1489-1556) was Archbishop of Canterbury under Henry VIII and is generally regarded as the founder of English Protestantism. He was imprisoned when Mary ascended the throne. He was brainwashed while in solitary confinement and was compelled to write a denial (recantation) of his Protestant faith.

Despite his recantation, the law required that he suffer death. He was led to a packed church on the day of his execution, at which time the government and RCC anticipated that he would publicly denounce the reformation and affirm the authority of the Pope. Much to everyone's surprise, Cranmer seized the opportunity to proclaim his faith in the doctrines of the reformation. "And as for the Pope," he shouted, "I refuse him, as Christ's enemy, and Antichrist, with all his false doctrine."

Shocked, the authorities rushed to pull Cranmer from the pulpit and led him immediately to the stake. As he stood before the flames, he fulfilled a promise which he had made in his last shouts in the church. He stretched forth into the fire the hand that earlier had signed the document of recantation, declaring aloud:

"Forasmuch as my hand offended, writing contrary to my heart, my hand shall first be punished for it."

Virtually all those who were martyred lost their lives because they would not embrace the RC mass and its doctrine of transubstantiation. Those who were able to escape Mary's bloody persecution fled to Geneva (called Marian Exiles) where they studied under Calvin and Theodore Beza (among whom was John Knox).

When Mary died in 1558 she was succeeded by Elizabeth (1558-1603), daughter of Anne Boleyn. Elizabeth sought a middle ground between Protestantism and Catholicism (although her inclinations were toward the former). She passed the Act of Supremacy in 1559 that made her supreme ruler in both ecclesiastical and temporal affairs. She re-instituted the Book of Common Prayer with slight revisions and adopted the 39 Articles, a revision of Edwards' 42 Articles. In 1571 the 39 Articles were adopted by Parliament as the official creed of the Anglican Church and remain such to this day.

Pope Pius V proceeded to excommunicate Elizabeth and sent Philip of Spain to take back England for the RCC. Philip himself laid claim to the English throne via his marriage to Mary, Queen of Scots (Mary's grandmother was Henry VIII's sister). Philip's Spanish Armada was defeated in 1588. Countless explanations have been given for the demise of the purportedly superior Spanish fleet, one of which is noted by Thompson:

"As the armada came around the northern coast of Scotland and met the gales of the Atlantic Ocean, what remained of the great Spanish engine of war was hurled against the rocks or swamped in mid-ocean. No more than half of the Spanish Armada managed to struggle back to Spanish ports in 1589. History interprets the defeat of the Spanish Armada as an English victory. It was not thought so at the time. The armada had not sunk under English bombardment, but under the wind of God. 'Afflavit Deus,' said the English --- 'God blew!' (And the God who blew was no doubt Protestant). . . . It is probably an instance in which Divine Providence is given too much credit" (656-57).

Whatever explanation is most cogent, the fact remains that divine providence can hardly be given “too much credit”! Indeed, if we learn nothing else from these remarkable and often sordid events, let it be that divine sovereignty alone is sufficient to turn the arrogant, selfish, and sinful choices of men such as Henry VIII for his glory and the recovery of the gospel of grace.

Happy Reformation Day!

- Sam Storms