Monday, July 25, 2011
In preparation for writing the letter to our son, Stephen Latimer Lionheart, we read an old biography of the English reformer, Hugh Latimer. Here are our notes from the book. We hope to polish this up into an informative aritcle summarizing this venerable man's life.
Hugh Latimer was born at the end of the 15th century as the War of the Roses was ending. He grew up in the home of a sturdy yeoman farmer near a small country village. As a young lad he would have helped around the farm, attended fairs and festivals, and learned how to shoot the English longbow. Intelligent even as a child and too delicate of health to follow in his father’s footsteps, his parents sought a good education for him. Zealous for religion, he went to Cambridge and entered the church. He was ordained in 1514.
Latimer spent 18 years in a quiet, academic career as his character and intellect developed.
Meanwhile Henry VIII ascended to the throne. England loved this handsome, wealthy, intelligent, well-educated, shrewd, jovial monarch. Though he was a staunch Catholic, God used him and the politics surrounding his reign to nurture the budding reformation.
Much like the famous Martin Luther, Latimer sought peace for his soul in ardent devotion to the church and her traditions and customs. Instead of studying the Bible, as many were beginning to do, he preferred to learn from the old scholars. He was 40 years old by now and no one expected him to change. Then a man named Thomas Bilney, “the first English Reformer”, shared with Latimer his own story of finding peace in the Word of God. When faced with this man’s simple faith, Latimer’s objections to the reformation began to crumble and he began to seek such solace for himself in the actual words of God. At last he found the peace he was looking for—not in appeasing an austere deity with penance and ceremonial devotion, but in free forgiveness by the blood of Christ. Instead of sighing after a life of sanctity and solitude in a monastery, he felt called to a nobler life of energy and action in the world.
Latimer’s openness and frank impetuosity of character could not long hide his change of opinions and he went on to become one of the most eloquent and forthright preachers of the English Reformation. Passionate and earnest, he could speak straight to the heart of his audience. He had a ready humor and a keen wit that endeared him to ordinary British people everywhere. He was not a scholar of theology—in fact, it was many years before he embraced what many have now come to consider the basic doctrines of the reformation. But he was filled with a love of the word of God and a desire to preach that word, simple and untainted, to all who would hear, whether they be gathered around a cozy hearth or filling up the grandest cathedral. Latimer’s day was one of ignorance and superstition and the church took advantage of this to become wealthy and immoral. To him, the reformation was not so much the revival of old spiritual truths long concealed as the restoration of an old spiritual life that had almost totally been obscured by the ceremonies and ecclesiastical superstitions of the papal church. Latimer urged people to turn away from elaborate exhibitions of religious zeal and return to the plain commands of God.
Latimer was not one to be intimidated by his audience. If a bishop hostile to the reformation descended upon his congregation, he would rise to the occasion and preach with greater boldness and perfect eloquence exactly what the bishop needed to hear—though it was rarely what such a one would want to hear. No one could preach with happier irony and more unsparing severity than he. He refrained from subtle discussions of theological questions—to him, as to the people at large, it was a question not of belief, but of life. His plainness evoked a loud response from the common people. Straightforward and practical, his preaching was exactly suited to the British mind. By 1538, his name was on everyone’s tongue and everyone discussed his doctrine.
That year was a peak for the Reformation. But it also saw the beginning of a reaction by the Papists. The progress made by men like Latimer, Cranmer, and Cromwell was checked, but only for a time. Perhaps the trial and persecution that followed was needed to give a depth and solidity to the reformation.
In 1539 Latimer was put under house arrest and banned from preaching. The voice of the most eloquent preacher in England was silenced for 8 years. Eventually he was released, though still banned from preaching. During this time he traveled from house to house among his hospitable country friends sowing seed with his conversation that would ripen into a glorious harvest. His health, which had always been delicate, and his mind needed the rest and he used this time to study and refine his views.
God had specially endowed Latimer as a preacher of the gospel rather than a scholar of theology or an administrative role. He did more for the reformation from the pulpit than his did in his years as a bishop.
When Henry died and Edward became king, reformed ideals became popular. Vices and sins grew rampant, but Latimer preached against those just as strongly as he ever had against any Papal abuses.
By 1551, Latimer’s health was failing and he left London to pour his eloquence out in the country.
Then Edward died and Mary ascended to the throne, determined to undo, through persecution, all that had been done in the past 24 years to further the cause of the reformation.
Latimer was among the first to be summoned. He could have escaped, but he knew the time had come to “play the man.” He praised God for making him worthy to preach before two princes and trusted Him to make him able to preach before a third, “either to her comfort or discomfort eternally.” Latimer was confined to the Tower along with Cranmer and Ridley. The three spent much time in prayer and studying the New Testament, knowing they would soon have to defend their beliefs before an unfriendly audience. Even in such hopeless circumstances, Latimer remained calm and self-possessed. Even the damp, the cold, his weakening body, and the knowledge of what lay ahead could not repress his pleasant tendency to an occasional joke.
His duty was clear and he trusted God to see him through.
Saturday, April 14, 1554 was the beginning of the trial of the three great reformers. All three were given a chance to defend themselves, but the audience—learned scholars though they were—rudely and shamelessly interrupted with hissings and scornful jeers. Latimer went to great pains to write out his responses to the accusations, but in the end he was not allowed to use his notes. As a result, he abandoned his citations to other theologians and his systematic reasonings and returned as he always had to the Word of God for one final address.
It was 18 months before their sentences of condemnation could be carried out, but even from prison—stripped of rank—they were considered leaders of the reformation. Had they faltered in their resolve or sought safety in escape, the cause of the reformation would have been sorely shaken. But their unshaken courage was an inspiration to all sympathizers of their beliefs.
Queen Mary restored the Pope’s authority and the eyes of England became all too familiar with the tragic sight of men of learning and piety dying a cruel death for their faith.
After a final confrontation at which Latimer once again firmly maintained his beliefs and after one last two week wait, October 16, 1555, the day of execution arrived.
Latimer and Ridley were burned side by side; both remained true to the very end. Latimer’s last words have become famous:
“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.”
Sunday, July 24, 2011
To our cherished son,
You are our fourth child, but the blessing of new life remains a glorious miracle. God has already given us three children to care for and to teach and it has been a joy to watch their personalities unfold. We are so excited to behold another life—to be there at the very first breath and to watch as that blue little squirming body becomes the form of a new person: you. We are privileged to watch as your life unfolds before our eyes, as you grow from babyhood to boyhood and eventually to manhood. It is our prayer that God will use us to set your feet on the road that leads to Him. We will be with you at the beginning of your journey, but we pray that you will continue on much farther than we will be able to go.
We are naming you Stephen Latimer Lionheart, but first and foremost remember that God calls you Christian. We hope that you are proud to carry the names of two such courageous martyrs, but the name we most want you to live up to is the one God places upon you at your baptism.
Your first name is Stephen, after the first martyr, a man who is repeatedly described as being full of faith and the Holy Spirit. He was one of the first “deacons” chosen to minister to the needs of the new Church while the apostles prayed and studied and wrote what would eventually become the New Testament. Adversaries of the fledgling Church, envious of his wisdom and power, resorted to deception and slander, bringing forth false witnesses to accuse him. Standing on trial surrounded by those hostile to Christ, Stephen’s face was like that of an angel as he gave his great defense. Starting at the time when God chose Abraham and continuing through to the construction of the Temple, he related the acts of God. He especially emphasized God’s steadfast faithfulness to His people even though Israel turned away time and time again. When Stephen concluded his sermon by rebuking his accusers of the same unbelief, they stopped their ears and gnashed their teeth. As the stones began to fly, Stephen gazed into heaven and said, “Look! I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God!” Just as Jesus did, Stephen died with forgiveness on his lips. This was the beginning of the Great Dispersion, the first persecution of the Church. As Christians were scattered everywhere, the word of God went with them and the Gospel was spread to the four corners of the world.
The second name we give you is Latimer, in memory of that venerable old English Reformer. Hugh Latimer was the most eloquent preacher of his day, yet at the same time his message was always practical. Open and frank, his ready humor and keen wit endeared him to British people everywhere. He was not a theologian, nor did he do well in administrative roles. Instead he was filled with a love of the word of God and a desire to preach that word, simple and untainted, to all who would hear. To Latimer the reformation was not so much about theological doctrines as it was a return to a life of obedience to God’s simple commands. A hostile audience never intimidated him; he would boldly and directly preach admonitions that people needed to hear—whether they were peasant, bishop or king. Passionate and earnest, he could always speak straight to the heart of his audience.
Latimer was born at the end of the 15th century, an age of ignorance and superstition. Too poor of health to become a farmer like his yeoman father, he was given a good education, attended Cambridge and entered the church. Much like the famous Martin Luther, he sought peace for his soul in ardent devotion to the church and her traditions and customs. All he found was guilt and shame. Then a man named Thomas Bilney, known by some as “the first English Reformer,” pointed him to the words of God in the Bible. At last finding peace, grace, and forgiveness, Latimer turned away from his yearning for a life of monastic solitude to face a nobler life of energy and action in the world. Filled with a new love for God’s word, he began to preach with an irresistible eloquence that did much to spread the Reformation throughout England during the days of Henry VIII and Edward VI.
But when Mary I became queen, she set out to undo through persecution all that had been done in the past 24 years to further the cause of the reformation. She quickly restored the Pope’s authority and began to silence, one by one, the voices who sought to reform the church in England. Latimer was one of the first to be summoned. He could have escaped, and there were those who urged him to do so, but he saw that his duty was clear and he trusted God to see him through the trials he knew lay ahead. He was tried at Oxford in April of 1554 alongside Cranmer and Ridley, but none of them would recant the beliefs that they knew to be true. All three were excommunicated, condemned as heretics and sentenced to death.
On October 16, 1555, Latimer and Ridley were burned at the stake side by side. Both remained true to the very end. As the flames were kindled at their feet, Latimer said to his companion:
“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.”
And indeed, that candle never has been put out. Once again the blood of the martyrs became the seed of the church and the doctrines which Latimer had taught and for which he had died were more sincerely cherished. The fearless deaths of these men, rather than silencing the reformation, firmly established it in the hearts of those who witnessed their faith.
Your third name is Lionheart, perhaps an unexpected one to go with the names of two men who gave up their lives instead of fighting for the causes they believed in. But fighting battles is not usually the way God’s soldiers win. As Christians, we are called to follow the Son of God who went forth to war by laying down arms. On the day He gave up His spirit on the cross so many years ago, the Enemy thought he had finally vanquished God. But Satan’s moment of exaltation turned out to be the moment he was forever conquered. And now there can be no defeat for Christians. Even in death, we triumph. Of course, it is our prayer that you will live a long, healthy and happy life and we hope you never have to face the kind of deaths your namesakes did. But as you live your life, even if it is in peace and safety, keep your focus on eternity. Being fearless of death, being scornful of the petty delights of this life that some find so important, and being ready to turn the other cheek instead of defending yourself is what really takes the courage of a lion.
When the pastor asks us at your baptism, “What is the Christian name of this child?” we will reply, “Stephen Latimer Lionheart.” Signs and symbols and seals will mean nothing to you and you might even cry as the water drips off your new little head. Even so, you will be brought into the assembly of the saints and it is our prayer that the lion-hearted saints of Christendom rise again in you. As you live with a will to die, even the lord and prince of hell will not be able to stand against you.
Saturday, January 01, 2011
Two very dear friends asked me to give the devotional for their joint baby shower. It was an honor to read this on that occasion:
Life is a Story
Once upon a time there was a beautiful princess. Her father loved her. Her mother loved her. Eventually a handsome prince loved her and married her. They had four beautiful children who were always very good. Each one grew up and ruled over one of the four corners of the kingdom. And the princess lived happily ever after. The end.
Not every interesting, huh? Maybe we should add a dragon, the kind that eats a virgin every week. Or maybe her father is old and feeble and her evil uncle is trying to usurp the kingdom. Perhaps the handsome prince should be under an enchantment, one that involves a dangerous quest to break. None of this would make life easy for the beautiful princess, but it sure would make her story more exciting to read. And by the end of the tale she would be a better person than she was at the beginning.
Your lives are the same way. Would you really want it to go this way: Once upon a time there were two lovely young ladies named Johanna and Katelyn. Their weddings were beautiful, their husbands were handsome. They each had eight children who never made messes and who always carried in the groceries. When they died at the age of ninety it was after a life of peace and neither had any wrinkles.
Think of your favorite stories. Darcy and Elizabeth don’t just get married after their first dance. But after everything that Jane Austen puts them through, they are both more mature and more wise and their marriage is based on a deep respect and love that will last long past the last page of the book. You may not like that Percy mistrusts Marguerite and the risks they both take keep you on the edge of your seat, but the end of the story is sweet in a way it wouldn’t have been without the tension and the peril.
Somewhere outside the walls of Mordor on the way to Mount Doom Samwise Gamgee said this:
“I used to think that [adventures] were things the wonderful folk of the stories went out and looked for, because they wanted them, because they were exciting and life was a bit dull, a kind of a sport, as you might say. But that's not the way of it with the tales that really mattered, or the ones that stay in the mind. Folk seem to have been just landed in them, usually — their paths were laid that way.”
And Frodo said:
“You and I, Sam, are still stuck in the worst places of the story, and it is all too likely that some will say at this point: "Shut the book now, dad; we don't want to read any more.”
Another story put it this way, “Adventure is what happens to other people. When it happens to you, it’s only trouble.”
Motherhood is an adventure. There will be times when all it is is a bunch of trouble. And the trouble won’t come on days when life is a bit dull and you say, “How about we have a little adventure today?” No, it will come in the middle of the night when you have to get up early for something important the next morning. It will come when you’re nursing and all you want to do is have some peace and quiet for a minute. It will come when you are making dinner or on your way out the door and it will always take you off your guard. But those are the parts that make motherhood a story really worth living. Those parts take the boring, undeveloped character that was you at the beginning of your life and shape you, transform you and refine you into the multi-faceted, exemplary woman you will be at the end of it. Proverbs tells us to train up our children in the way we should go, but we have to remember in the midst of it all that our children are also God’s way of training us. Right now, when you have moments when you want to shut the book and not read any more, think of it as character development. Every wrinkle, every white hair will be a chapter in your story. At the last day, when your Heavenly Father looks on each wrinkle, on each white hair, He will know each story and He will say, “Well done, thou good and faithful servant.”
The Two-Kid Chapter
So, you both just began a new chapter in your story: the two kid chapter. To get through this adventure you will need a special tool, kind of like Frodo’s star-glass from Galadriel. This tool is called Two-Kid Grace and when all is dark and there are no other lights it will shine and show you the way. When you only had one little one you did not have the grace to take care of both the little ones you have now. And if you ever have the kind of days when you wonder how you will be able to handle more little ones, remember that in that day, you will have More-Kid Grace. With Two-Kid Grace you will be able to handle things like simultaneous vomiting and “Mine! Mine!” and “Would you stop touching me!” Pray for Two-Kid Grace. Pray for it when one of your little ones wakes you up in the night. Pray for it more fervently when the other one wakes you up fifteen minutes after the other one went back to sleep.
When Lucy was born I didn’t have too much trouble with the Two-Kid Chapter. She was a good sleeper and Joshua still took a 3-hour nap. Joshua played happily by himself so I was free to take care of my new little bundle of joy. The trouble--I mean the adventure--didn’t start until Lucy could get around and talk. I remember one day, it was a wet, rainy Monday...here’s what I wrote:
“I could have napped till dinner time, but Joshua and Lucy woke up after only two hours of sleeping. Gone was the drowsy quietness that had descended over our home.
It wasn't long before Joshua's grumpiness earned him a spanking. Then he helped me clean up the scattered blocks and cars, only to have Lucy pull out a stack of books. I went to start a load of laundry and came up to the kitchen to find Joshua furtively trying to use a dry bath towel to clean up cinnamon sugar he'd spilled. I like cinnamon swirled in bread—it's not so attractive swirled across the kitchen floor. After removing his socks and sending him away from the mess, I started to clean it up. But soon there were screams to deal with...
"Enough!" I told myself. There were still dishes to be washed and rooms to be tidied and I felt like I was chasing my own tail. So I pulled out the stroller, put on shoes, buttoned up coats, and buckled the kids in. "We're going to walk to Nanny's house," I said to them. "Just wait here while I finish cleaning up." Excited about a walk, they happily obliged. Besides, being strapped down, they couldn't make messes or annoy each other.
Twenty minutes later, the floor was cleaned, the washer was running, and the dishes were washed. And the kids were still sitting in the stroller. A fresh spring breeze washed over us as we began strolling down the wet street. As the rain fell on everything around us, I could only think of God's blessings showering down. A sense of great peace and calm filled my soul.”
I remember coming up the stairs to see Joshua furtively trying to wipe up the cinnamon sugar with a big bath towel of all things! He was so nervous and hurried and he was trying so hard, it was funny even then, though the combined effect of that and everything else didn’t make me happy. Try to smile when you land in these adventures. Try to make as many of those wrinkles come from laughter as you can. And seek peace, even if you have to walk in the rain to find it.
I watched Bill Cosby, Himself one month before Joshua was born. I laughed and laughed at the parts about children, but I thought they were exaggerated into ridiculousness. I watched it again a few months ago and as I laughed I was saying, “It’s true, it’s so true!” No, you shouldn’t handle your children like the Cosbys and you should never wield the spanking rod like a Samurai sword but there are days when it seems that the kids just can’t sleep without their nightly beatings! And when you hear the baby saying, “Mine! Mine!” you will be tempted to forget about justice because all you really want is some peace and quiet!
You may not be on your way to Mordor to save Middle Earth from the Dark Lord and you may not be traipsing through the French countryside hiding from revolutionaries, but whatever adventure you do land in, be like Samwise or the Scarlett Pimpernel and make it a story worth telling.
Turn to God and Your Husband
You are both married with two children. The opportunities to sin are many. You’re low on sleep, you’re hungry and so is everyone else, but they’re all waiting for you to get out the food. There’s laundry and dishes and diapers and everyone needs love and attention. And what about you? Didn’t any of them consider that you have needs too?? But where sin abounds, grace abounds much more. Let these adventures turn you to God. I never knew how much I needed God until my children needed more of me than there was to be had. But God is boundless. Let Him be your strength, let Him be the light in your star-glass that will shine out when all else is dark. Turn to your husband too. Turn to him when you need another pair of arms to help handle the tears, the poopy diapers, the little shoes and coats. Turn to him when you need the companionship of someone who speaks in complete sentences. It’s nice to be needed and you will need him. And as you need more of him he will have to turn more and more to God as well.
Both of you are godly women of valor, raised by ladies of wisdom. Ruby and Virginia and Katie and Victoria will look up to each of you as you looked up to your own mothers. And I know that someday they will rise up and call you blessed.
Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.
Saturday, October 30, 2010
I am working on a new look and site overhaul for our family website. In the mean time please feel encouraged to come visit me over here.
Friday, October 29, 2010
It's fall. I still haven't worn a coat anywhere and I haven't gotten out any sweaters, but there's no use denying it. Fall is here.
Right now the ground is cold and wet but the sun is shining warmly, brightly. This means that little wisps of mist are floating off the street, the porch stairs, and the roof of the backyard shed that I can see from my window. I remember how weird and eery that looked to me as I child, like everything was smoldering. If I had a camera I would take a picture of it and make this post more visually interesting. But, vanity of vanities, vapor of vapors, I bought a camera and then I lost it.
Speaking of vanities, I deactivated my Facebook account. Goodbye world, it was fun while it lasted. But the world that I have right here within these four walls is growing and changing and learning faster than I can keep up and I don't want to miss out.