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