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Amazing stories from times past
Four days in the life of Albert Tenfold
What you'll find below is a Reformed Perspective tradition that started back in the winter of 1991 – 31 years ago! Each year since then, at year's end, and just in time for Christmas holiday reading, Christine Farenhorst has gifted us with a longer short story, and what follows below is her latest edition. We've also included links to reviews we've done for seven of Christine's books, so that when you're finished, you'll know where to go to find even more of Christine's stories.
“I’m going out tonight”
"Now for the matters you wrote about: It is good for a man not to marry. But since there is so much immorality, each man should have..."
Albert always felt slightly uncomfortable reading this passage. He ran his hand over the thin paper of his Bible page and cleared his throat.
"What's the matter? Do you have a sore throat?"
His mother sat across from him, regal and straight, in the red, high-backed plush chair that had been his stepfather's. She peered at him through her bifocals.
"Shouldn't let your thoughts wander, Albert."
He cleared his throat again and continued to read. "...should have his own wife, and each woman her own husband."
His mother's voice picked up where he had left off. They took turns reading two verses each after meals. He regarded her for a moment as she read, ring-fingered hands resting in her lap. It was one of the few moments he could observe her without her knowledge. Her rather coarse face had an equally coarse voice. Loud it was, and monotonous to the point of dull. She hadn't gone to school here, so perhaps the English.... But then, come to think of it, when she read in Dutch there was no inflection either. The voice was always flat and without feeling. Her gray, rheumy eyes suddenly met his.
"Albert, where are your thoughts tonight? Verse five, child."
He found the place and read on. "Do not deprive each other except by mutual consent...."
As he read, his thoughts smoothed out, smoothed out ridges which he occasionally tripped over and when he later breathed the words: "for it is better to marry than to burn with passion...," he was able to keep his mind on Paul without focusing on the lack of passion in his own life – a passion he occasionally desired.
Before Albert cleared the table, he helped his mother to the couch. "Do you want the paper? Or shall I turn on the television for you?'
She shook her head to both questions. "I'm a bit tired, son. I think I'll have a small nap while you do the dishes. In that way I'll be fresh for Scrabble when Mrs. Dorman comes later. Be sure to set out the cups for tea and the cookies..."
He stopped the avalanche of words with "I know, mother. I know."
There was a certain resignation in his voice as he pulled the afghan over her body but a thin thread of irritation unraveled in his hands and a sudden clumsiness overtook them.
In the kitchen Paul's words swam about as Albert placed the dishes in the sink.
"It is better to marry than to burn with passion..."
Had Paul known more about passion than he did? Had Paul been married? Had he taken a wife with him on his missionary journeys? Or a mother? If Paul had had his mother...
He suddenly grinned at the suds but then became serious. What did he, Albert, know about marriage anyway? His expertise lay in being single. He scrubbed at the potato pan with vigor and frustration. The small kitchen surrounded him with apathy. There was nothing new. Coffee mugs hung on a small rack in the same way that they had hung for years and years. A birthday calendar, with numerous Dutch aunts and uncles enshrined on separate dates, hung beside it. The white refrigerator stood squarely and the patterned tiles on the floor reflected cleanliness and care. The wooden plaque on the wall spoke to him in Peter's voice. "Cast all your care upon Him for He careth for you."
"But what are my cares, Peter?" Albert questioned the apostle out loud and repeated: "What are my cares?"
"What's that, Albert? I can't hear you."
"Nothing, mother. Just go to sleep."
"I'm sure I heard you say something."
"No, mother." He folded the dish towel over the rack and walked into the living room.
"Are you sure you didn't say something, Albert?"
"Yes." He stood in the middle of the room, undecided as to what to do.
"Sit down, son, and read the paper."
"I'm going out tonight, mother."
"Out? But Mrs. Dorman..."
"She's your friend, mother. She's coming to play Scrabble with you."
"But you always play with us. She..."
"I'm going out tonight, mother." His voice was firm.
"Where are you going?" She half sat up, reaching for her bifocals on the side table.
"I'm going out." It was all Albert could manage.
"You'll be all right. And I'll be home in good time."
He was out in the hall before she could formulate a reply. ''Albert?"
Opening the closet door, he took his coat off a hanger.
"Albert?" Her voice was growing in intensity.
"I'll see you later, mother." The door handle felt cold under his hand and the hinges squeaked.
"Albert?" It was more of a shout this time and he shut the door firmly, feeling both guilt and relief.
Into the night
Albert Tenfold lived on the fifth floor of a high-rise apartment building with his widowed mother. He was thirty-five and she was seventy. His stepfather had died when he was a teenager. Cast into the mold of male provider at an early age, he had never really been young. Fiercely dependent, his mother had leaned on him heavily, and he had settled under the weight. To the outward eye, they were a model family - a stalwart son providing constant love and care for an aging, frail mother. And it had seemed that way to Albert also - had seemed that way until this last month. Perhaps because he was rapidly approaching his thirty-sixth birthday, he had been doing some thinking. Ten years from now he would be forty-five, almost forty-six, and his mother would be eighty and then, ten years later, he would be in his mid-fifties and she would be ninety. Unless she died - but somehow he could not envisage his mother dead - even though deep down he sometimes wished it. He would be her son forever, her son and not someone's husband. And then guilt would flood over him like a wave of hot wind and he would break out into a sweat. How could he be thinking such thoughts?
The hall was empty. As he plodded heavily towards the elevator, Albert awkwardly buttoned up his coat. It had all been very well to tell his mother that he was going out, but the truth was that he had no inkling as to where he would go. He had few friends - few friends outside his mother's circle, that is. There were a great many Mrs. Dormans; widows who delighted in visiting back and forth; who excelled in speaking of rheumatism and the weather; and who always commented on how fortunate his mother was to have him. The elevator had brought him down to the first floor. He legged it towards the front door. It was raining outside and he stood for a moment, contemplating the sidewalk through the heavy glass panels. He could possibly go to the library. As he resolutely opened the entrance, both the sound of the rain and the fresh air comforted him. Raindrops were a sound he had always enjoyed. Sighing deeply, he pulled up his collar and struck out.
It was quiet outside and almost dark. The faint glow of streetlights reflected and trembled in the puddles. He wished he were going somewhere - somewhere where someone was waiting for him. It began to rain harder as he passed Mary's Dome, the large Roman Catholic cathedral. Although he had quickened his step with the downpour, he stopped for a moment to contemplate the cathedral’s colossal size and grandeur through the sheets of rain. Stone arches glistened in their wetness. He suddenly shivered and coveted shelter. Perhaps he could sit inside for a while. Just until the rain stopped. Turning, he climbed the stone steps which led to massive wooden doors. Gingerly pressing down on a wrought-iron door-handle, he pushed. As the door creaked heavily, an aperture appeared and Albert stepped inside.
The cathedral foyer was dark and smelled slightly musty. Behind him the massive wood fell heavily into place, the sound echoing and re-echoing. Hesitantly he walked on through the foyer into the lighted sanctuary. It was huge compared to that of his own church - and comparatively quiet. There people talked and whispered behind their hands when they walked in. They rustled bulletins and took out peppermints. But perhaps because there were so few people here... He inhaled the quiet and relaxed. Three or four people were present in the front pews, heads bowed and silent, praying, as far as he could tell. Albert stood for a moment and then slowly made his way toward the middle of the church, sliding into a seat on his left. The pew was small - almost too small for his bulk. He grinned to himself. What would his mother say? Or his ward elder? Or Mr. DeVries, his employer and an avid commentator on false churches? After a while the quiet had embraced him to such a degree that he felt as if time had stopped. Did it matter to God whether you sat in a Reformed church or a Roman Catholic one? Of course it did, he knew that. But it was raining proverbial cats and dogs outside and the state of one's heart, was that not what God considered? He pulled out his handkerchief and wiped his face dry. If a church happened to be on your way in a rainstorm and that church was Roman Catholic, well then... Well then, what? It certainly was peaceful here. He cautiously examined the stained-glass windows on his right. Impressive and grand, they made the raindrops outside them glow with color through the matted glass as they danced their way down in rivulets. He shifted his frame somewhat and his foot knocked against a wooden slat beneath the pew in front of him. He contemplated the kneeling bench with interest. Padded with red leather, it appeared comfortable. He glanced about again. There was no one present except the few worshippers at the front and the only one staring at him directly as he peered about was a statue of Mary in the aisle next to him. Clad in a sky-blue stone robe, she eyed him serenely. Cautiously he slid his knees onto the padded red leather and bowed his head.
He could not recall ever before having knelt for prayer in church. He did kneel for prayer when he went to bed. It is not a matter of knees or kneeling, the minister had told them in catechism, but a matter of the heart. And yet, kneeling always made his heart more submissive. Was it submissive now? So many thoughts.... Could you be submissive with so many thoughts running around in your head?
"Hallowed be Thy name..."
There was a strange smell here. It reminded him of... What was it? Christmas was the time when mother brought out the candles. It was the scent of sweet tallow. Mary's statue, just ahead of him in the center aisle, had a number of candles in front of it. Several of them were burning. Luther had knelt in such churches and so had Calvin. But he was neither a Luther nor a Calvin. Imagine people four centuries from now saying that they were Tenfoldian or Tenfoldistic.
He ran his hand over the wood in front of him. The grain was smooth. Sometimes he was not even sure of the truth he stood for. Was the truth always smooth? He went to church, had gone to a Christian school, read the Bible at mealtimes and before he went to bed, prayed at set times and was able to recite a fair number of the catechism questions and answers. Did those matters encompass the truth? And if he heard a lie, would he be able to detect it? He sighed. All of life, all of life... was it not one confrontation after another? Were simple problems not large ones in miniature? And each spoken word... Were you not judged for it?
"Thy kingdom come..."
Most times, he admitted to himself as he shifted his knees on the red leather, he had no thoughts of God's kingdom at all. There were only the day-by-day affairs of coping with small things, of pleasing his mother and of doing his work properly for Mr. DeVries.
"Thy kingdom come...."
He moved his body back up onto the bench again and rubbed his knees. In heaven there would be no marriage. The statue of Mary smiled at him benignly. The Roman Catholics believed that she was immaculate, pure, undefiled; and that she had never had relations with her husband Joseph. The figure certainly seemed flawless. There was one thing he had never doubted about her and that was that she surely must have loved her Son. But then, Jesus would have been easier to love than an Albert. Contemplating the statue, he began to whisper confidentially.
"I know that you were highly favored, but you were human - you did have sin."
Mary kept on smiling. A dozen candles shone brightly at her feet. He imagined lighting candles at his mother's feet, imploring her to intercede, begging her to help with some problem. Did candles have to be made of tallow? Did he not often light candles at his mother's feet in other ways? Did he not do it by always deferring to her and conceding that she was right; by asking if he might do this or that; by permitting her to take a role that somehow made him weak and ineffective, even though it seemed to all the world that he was the provider and the man of the house. Tonight was actually the first time that he could recall that he had actually done something without asking her permission. He regarded the statue again. The sky-blue of the robe was peaceful and Mary’s eyes were pensive, as if she was thinking deeply. But there was a hair-line crack along the folds of her stone robe.
He knelt down again on the leather and rested his forehead against the pew in front of him. He did love his mother. Hadn't he taken care of her all these years? Perhaps, perhaps he just didn't like her. Did she love him? Had she reason to not love him? His forehead rubbed against the smooth wood and slipped just a bit as sweat trickled past his eyebrows. He could not recall that she had ever said, “I love you, Albert.” There had been phrases like “I'm proud of you, Albert,” when he had graduated from college, and if he donated money to the church or Christian school, she would say, “The Lord loves a cheerful giver,” but that was about as close...
“You are a priest, then?”
A slight noise to his right startled him. He raised his head and saw a woman standing by Mary's statue. She fumbled with her purse and Albert watched her take out a wallet, fish out and fold a ten-dollar bill before depositing it into a slot. She made the sign of the cross and lit two of the candles. Hunching down, her clasped hands almost touching the carpet, she was evidently praying. Her blue raincoat dripped water onto the carpet staining bright red. He watched her for a long time. She was motionless but he could see that her lips were moving. What petition, he wondered, was worth ten dollars? What question so burned her heart that she had to kneel down on a faded, red carpet in front of a lifeless statue? Had Eli watched Hannah in this manner? She rose and turned and he could see that there were tears in her eyes. Ashamed to be watching, he bowed his head down on the pew wood again.
"Excuse me. Could you tell me what time it is?”
He opened his eyes. The woman was standing by his side.
"I'm sorry to bother... to bother you." She stuttered a bit in embarrassment and he pulled up his coat sleeve to check his watch.
"That's all right. It's a quarter after nine."
"Thank you." Her blue raincoat was still shiny with rain and black hair curled damply around an oval face. She was fairly young. He would guess her to be around twenty-four or five.
"Are you the... the priest?" She looked at him rather anxiously and he wondered if he had put on his collar backwards. The statue of Mary silhouetted behind her and compassion overcame him for her misplaced faith.
"Yes... He was to meet me at nine. I thought... thought that you ...?"
Clearly, within the chambers of his mind, he heard Peter's words, "But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of Him Who called you out of darkness into His wonderful light."
The girl continued to stare at him. Her dark blue eyes were pensive and he smiled at them. "I'm not the priest. That is to say, I'm not the priest you're looking for."
"Oh, but you are a priest then?"
"Well..." He looked for words to explain to her that as a believer he reflected the glory of God and... His thoughts got no further.
"If you're not busy, maybe you have time to speak to me for a moment?"
He saw the statue smiling at her back and got a whiff of the tallow. "I'm not Roman Catholic."
For a small moment looking into her dark, blue eyes, he was sorry he was not. The girl blinked and took a step backwards.
He shook his head. "No, I'm sorry if my being here misled you."
"You were praying." She said it defensively. He felt a trifle foolish and stood up.
"I came in out of the rain. It's very peaceful here. Yes, I was praying."
"I'm not Roman Catholic either." She suddenly smiled up at him and he could see strong, irregular, white teeth.
"If you were praying," she was earnest again, "maybe you know about God... about prayer…?”
“You might be a king, but…”
Albert Tenfold had led a very structured life. It had been drilled into him that organization and discipline were next to godliness. When he was growing up, his mother had always made sure that he had porridge for breakfast, drank milk with his lunch and went to bed at a set time after dinner. Christian grade and high school were givens and catechism lessons a must. There were always two services to attend every Sunday, regular Young People's meetings, and occasional youth rallies. After he had made a public confession of his faith at age seventeen, he had tithed, celebrated the Lord's Supper every two months and attended study weekends on various Bible topics.
"About God...?" he answered the girl slowly. "About prayer?"
She nodded at him. During his entire thirty-five years of Christian living, Albert had never been confronted with questions of this sort by anyone outside of his church circle, and they hung in front of him like an unused banner. He played for time.
"Do you want to go for a coffee and talk for a while?"
She considered him for a long moment and he wondered if she felt that this cathedral was a safe place, a place where strangers could be approached without fear.
"I'd talk here but it's just that..." He stopped abruptly and made a small gesture towards the front pews with his head. There were still some people there and Albert's whisper carried.
"Sure, I'll go for a coffee." Turning her back on the statue, she walked down the aisle ahead of him and he followed.
The rain had eased off considerably. There was a smell of sweetness in the air and in the distance a dog barked.
"What's your name?" She asked the question almost as soon as they reached the pavement.
"Albert. What's yours?"
"Victoria, but my friends call me Vicky."
"Why are you laughing?"
"Albert and Victoria."
She looked at him blankly.
"You know," he explained, "the king and queen of England."
She grinned too. "Well, you might be a king but I'm not exactly a queen."
He awkwardly offered her his arm as she gingerly edged past a puddle on the sidewalk. She took it lightly. He barely noted her touch. Out of the corner of his eye he saw that her hand was small and that her fingers had well-rounded, clean nails. He could not help but think of how his mother would cling to him in this sort of weather. His mother who always wore gloves. Her voice bounced off the sidewalk now and he heard her command clearly within the chambers of his mind. "Your arm, Albert! Give me your arm!"
He sighed and quickened his step. She looked up at him questioningly. "You probably have other things to do, right? Actually you don't..."
He didn't let her finish.
"No, no. I'm sorry if I've given you the impression that ... that I'm not enjoying myself." He finished the sentence rather lamely and almost blushed.
The coffee shop was crowded and the noisy atmosphere fell about them like an intrusion. They stood in line for a while behind one another, not speaking, studying the pastry behind the glass.
"I'll pay for my own." She spoke curtly and avoided looking at him.
"No, please..." He didn't really know what to say but went on hesitatingly. "I'd be honored to pay for your coffee and..."
"Maybe," and she interrupted in a low voice, "maybe you won't be honored after we talk."
He felt unsure suddenly. Maybe this girl was a prostitute; maybe she had committed a murder; maybe... He got no further with his thoughts.
"Can I help you, sir?"
"A glazed donut, please, and a coffee."
"No, we'll eat here."
Vicky ordered the same and allowed him to pay.
“Sometimes, you want to redo time…”
Providentially there was an empty table by a window. It had begun to rain again and the sound eased the tension between them. Albert stirred his coffee and wondered how to begin the conversation. But he didn't have to.
"Do you still want me to talk to you?" she said.
He looked at her. She was fingering her donut without eating it. Damp hair clung to her forehead. "Yes, of course... but if you'd rather not…"
His spoon sploshed some coffee over the side of his cup and she reached for a napkin from the holder on the table.
"Oh, I'd like to talk to someone. Actually I have to talk to someone or..." She stopped and rubbed the brown puddle on the table fiercely, small fingers white with the pressure.
"Well," he said, matter of factly, "well, I'm here and at your service."
She took a small sip of her coffee, smiled nervously at him and began. "A year ago I was a student at the university here in town. I was enrolled in Political Studies..."
She lifted her coffee with both hands and stared out the window. He waited. He didn't have to wait long. She no longer seemed to be speaking to him but, considering her reflection in the window, addressed it.
"I resented most things... rich people, styrofoam, male chauvinists, acid rain and apartheid. I joined Greenpeace, the Sierra Club and Amnesty International and talked about a lot of things without really understanding any of them. I said that I was an agnostic and I was flattered when I raised eyebrows."
She paused for breath, put down her cup and crumbed off a piece of her donut. Not eating it, but turning it over in her hand, she went on.
"All my friends were saying the same sort of things. One of them... One of them..."
She picked up her coffee, sipped again and returned to her reflection in the window.
"To make a long story short... Well, I became pregnant... The father was someone I hardly knew... and the baby I conceived was just another thing I didn't really understand."
Albert had been watching her face. He had been listening to the sound of her voice thinking that it didn't really fit in the story. She had a child's voice and her hands were a child's hands.
"The group I hung around with all advised me to go for an abortion. So I did what was expected of me. I scheduled an appointment for an abortion at a health clinic."
Albert sat up straighter and took a bite out of his donut. His heartbeat increased and he felt sweat trickle down his armpits.
"But my friends... they suggested that I try a new abortion technique. It was a drug. So I... I looked into it. There was a special clinic and it was close to where I lived. I went to it."
Some people passed their table and Vicky stopped talking. She gulped down some of her coffee and coughed. Albert cleared his throat. He racked his brain for Biblical texts - prayed for some homily to come to him which he might deliver here at this coffee shop which would relieve the tension and which would both teach error and convey compassion. "I... There was a staff."
Vicky seemed not to notice his discomfort. Engulfed in the past, her voice kept on confessing.
"They examined me and had me sign two documents. One was a release form and one was a government something or other. Then a nurse came and she had this small suitcase. She explained things... like how this drug would work. I didn't understand it all but didn't let on. I was scared."
Albert took another bite of his donut. It tasted bland and he had trouble swallowing it.
"Was I sure I wanted to go ahead? That's what the nurse asked. And I said, yes... yes, I was sure. And then she opened the suitcase and gave me a small box. There were three pills in the box, just three little pills. She brought me a glass of water and then I... I swallowed those pills. Just like that... just like that."
Her voice broke and Albert took a swallow of his coffee and cleared his throat again. Vicky pushed her donut towards the center of the table and picked up her napkin.
"Sometimes you want to redo time, to relive just one moment. Have you ever had that?" She turned her face to him fully for the first time and he noted that her eyes were blue with small flecks of green in them. He answered slowly.
"I've had that. Yes... I've had that lots of times. It's because we continually do things that we regret later. We always..."
"Yes," she interrupted, "but what if the thing you do is so..." She stopped again and then went on. "The pills made me sick. I had cramps, nausea and diarrhea and I bled... I just bled and bled. I phoned the clinic and they told me not to worry but I felt so ghastly. I could barely get out of bed to make it to the bathroom. There was so much pain and I couldn't focus properly. I finally phoned for an ambulance. They came and took me to the hospital."
"Did you... Had you..." Albert couldn't help but ask, "Had you lost the baby?"
She stared at him with her blue eyes. "Lost it? You don't understand. If you lose something... Well, you can maybe find it later. I failed to abort with the pill but it had done the job. The child in me was dead and, as a result, I had to have a surgical abortion and... And during that surgical abortion my uterus was punctured. There was infection, a bad infection, and then I had a hysterectomy."
It was all Albert could manage. He played with his cup and noted that it had stopped raining. Were these the words Vicky had prayed to Mary? Was this what her silent lips had been speaking of to a mere statue? Had she lit a candle to atone for murder? He shivered.
“I have to apologize to someone”
"They didn't tell me that I would be feeling such guilt. No one ever mentioned the fact that I would feel such a..."
She stopped and tried again.
"No one explained. You see, I know for a fact that it was a child... not just a nothing... and I killed this child... my child. My friends didn’t understand when I tried to explain how I felt... and I was so lost."
“Your family..." Albert got no further than two words. She laughed.
"I have no family. That is, my mother died when I was seven and my father is living with wife number four. I haven't been home for years and don't plan to go there now."
Again, it was all Albert was able to say. How would his mother react to a Vicky? "Mother, may I introduce you to Vicky. She just had an abortion and is feeling a little down."
"I... I realize that whatever it was that I was trying to be or say last year and before that, was a fraud - was not real. But I know that there is something real. There has to be! And I'm trying to find it. So I wanted to ask the priest about God and then he wasn't there. But you were there."
Albert was suddenly calm.
"You see," she went on, staring out of the window again, "if there is nothing, then I wouldn't be able to live. I... I... I don't know if you understand, but I have to be able to apologize to someone for... for killing this baby."
There was a sudden clap of thunder outside and the rain resumed with thick drops splattering the sidewalk. Vicky shivered. Albert began to speak. Cautiously his voice crept across the table.
"I think I understand what you mean," he said. "Can I tell you something about myself - something I haven't told... something I have never told anyone." He stopped. She turned her eyes towards him. He could read neither approval nor disapproval in them.
"Sure." Her passionate voice had become flat. It had turned bland, disappointed perhaps. Maybe she wanted a quick answer. But he wouldn't be able to answer quickly. He looked her full in the face.
"It isn't easy for me to speak actually. I'm more of a doer than a speaker."
She didn't respond and he went on hesitantly, choosing his words with care.
"I was born during the first year of the war. We lived in a small village somewhere in the north of Holland. I don't remember much."
His hands crumpled the napkin he was holding.
"It’s funny, the things that I do remember though. Things like the creaking of the cradle I must have slept in; things like a horse pulling the milk cart passing our house every morning. My mother says that my first word was horse."
He looked at her, waiting for some sort of response, but there was none. And his intuition told him that she wasn't really listening because the words meant nothing to her, nothing at all. But he went on all the same.
“My father had a good job. He was a lawyer, a very good lawyer my mother tells me. He conducted a lot of business and people liked him very much. When the war came, he helped people. He helped Jews in particular. The strange thing is that I don't remember my father's face but I do remember that he was tall, very tall. Perhaps I remember that because he used to throw me up into the air and catch me in his arms."
“My heart accused me…”
Vicky was still not reacting to his story at all. If anything, she was slightly uncomfortable. But Albert persisted.
"During the first years of the war my father lived at home. He was not suspected by the Germans of any subterfuge even though he was involved in the underground. His specialty had something to do with illegal documents. But later on he had to leave our house and go into hiding. My mother and I only saw him on those few occasions that he deemed it safe to come for a short visit. On one of those visits the Gestapo must have been tipped off because shortly after he arrived they surrounded our house. My mother was frantic and father hid behind a secret panel in the living room. When they came into the house a moment later, she and I were in the kitchen. They didn't ask where he was but simply began searching."
Albert stopped and stretched his legs under the table. He wasn't looking for a reaction in Vicky's eyes anymore. He had actually almost forgotten she was there.
"And then... What happened then?" Her voice called him back and he saw that she had become genuinely interested.
"Then? Well, miracle of miracles, they didn't find him." He stopped and stretched his legs again.
"What was the point of telling me that story?"
"The point? I'm still coming to that. You see, after their combing of our entire house, one of the officers hunched down by me, small boy of three that I was, and began to play with me. He had a chocolate bar in his pocket and even though my mother frowned, I took it when he gave it to me. He helped me unwrap the candy and I began to eat... and all the while my mother was glaring. But it tasted wonderful and the man seemed so friendly. When he took me on his lap a moment later, I completely ignored my mother and freely smiled at him. He joked with me and then asked if maybe my father was maybe playing hide and seek. I laughed out loud, greatly amused that he would ask such a question. He laughed too and asked where my father, who must be very clever indeed, might be hiding. I slid off his lap, walked into the living room and stood by the panel. When they discovered my father a few moments later, I remember that I did not feel quite right about it but didn't really understand why. When I ran to my mother for comfort, she spat in my face. Then they... they took him out into our yard and shot him, right in front of the house. The soldier who had given me the chocolate said, 'Danke schön,' bowed to my mother and myself, and left. He was mocking us. Afterwards, my mother made me go out to look at the dead body of my father... and I screamed and screamed until the neighbors came and took me away."
"You didn't mean it," Vicky said. "You didn't know what you were doing. You were only a little child."
"Yes," Albert answered thickly, "you are right. I was only a child."
The thunder rolled in the distance and Vicky's eyes were sympathetic when she said, "How did you... How did you manage? What did your mother...?"
"She... I lived with the neighbors until the end of the war. She didn't want... me."
"Oh." She drummed her fingers along the table edge and regarded Albert seriously. "You were praying in church. You told me that you were praying. So, what did you do with your guilt? Or, didn't you pray when you were little? Or, what I'm trying to say is how did you deal with the fact that you caused...?"
She stopped abruptly. He smiled at her. The fact that he now felt forgiven for the death he had caused did not make it any easier to speak of this time.
"No one really spoke to me about my father's death. The neighbors were very kind. But as I grew older I felt, also because of what other children said to me at school, that I was solely responsible for the fact that my mother was a widow. When my mother remarried in 1946 I had been living with her again for about a year and my stepfather made plans to emigrate to Canada. We never spoke of my own father. As I grew older my mind told me that I had only been an ignorant child during the war, but my heart accused me of murder every day. We went to church, yes, and we read the Bible."
Vicky's eyes were wide with affinity. Albert went on.
"What finally saved me from this terrible guilt feeling, Vicky, was the fact that God allowed me to see that He was totally in control of all things."
He was quiet and for a moment saw himself earlier that evening, kneeling in the pew. He had been thinking about truth, the truth that God controlled one's life, the truth that God's tender, loving control had always drawn him with cords woven throughout everyday life. Vicky continued to look at him and he went on.
"God was in control of my father's life. He had stipulated when and where my father would die. And, I was also led to see that, but for my father's death, I would not have been as drawn to study the Bible so thoroughly to investigate the mighty God I worship, the God Who forgives when we are truly sorry."
Vicky stared at him unblinkingly. He wondered if she had understood what he was saying.
"I think that if you are looking for God, Vicky," he finally ended, "it's safe to say that He is making you look, that He has used this very tragic thing that has happened to you, this abortion, to make you look for Him."
“I can tell you where to look”
A waitress stopped by their table. "How is everything with you folks? Anything else you need?"
"No, thank you." Albert was quick to answer but then amended, "Maybe you would like some more coffee, Vicky?"
"No, no thank you." Her voice was thin and lifeless. The tables around them were almost empty.
The waitress smiled. "All right. We'll be closing soon. It's after eleven."
Albert glanced at his watch. He imagined that his mother would be livid by now. He took out the small notepad and pen he kept in his pocket and jotted down his church address.
"I can't give you faith, Vicky. I can't give you forgiveness either. But I can tell you where to look for it."
"I know God is there." Vicky whispered the words. "I know... but I don't know how I know."
"Do you have a Bible?"
"Yes, I bought one last week."
"Then you must read it every day."
The lights in the restaurant dimmed and they automatically stood up. The rain had let up again.
"I'll walk you home."
"No, no... I live very close by."
"Well, then it shouldn't be a problem."
"No, no... please, I need time to think and be by myself. Thanks."
The waitress eyed them impatiently as they walked past her to the door.
"Thanks again, Albert."
He watched her walk away, small and slight in a coat the color of her eyes, and felt some pain.
“It’s your mother…”
In the elevator ride up to the fifth floor, Albert rehearsed what he would say when he walked in. There was no doubt in his mind that his mother would still be awake.
"Where were you all evening?"
"Out with a girl, mother. She'd had an abortion and felt rather miserable. So I took her to a coffee shop and tried to tell her about the forgiveness we can have in Christ."
He contemplated the elevator buttons and continued his conversation.
"Do you know about forgiveness, mother? You don't, do you?"
"Albert, what kind of way is that to speak to your mother?"
"Sorry, mother, but I had to say it sooner or later. Even though God forgave me for inadvertently causing father's death you never let me forget that I made you a widow. You never let me forget that I was the one who..."
The elevator had reached the fifth floor. The hall was quiet and Albert's inward voice dissolved.
He took out his keys as he walked towards the apartment. They jangled and he stifled a yawn, hoping against hope that his mother would, after all, be asleep. Before he could fit his key into the lock, however, the apartment door opened. Mrs. Dorman stared up at him.
"Albert, you're finally home."
"Yes, but what are you still doing here, Mrs. Dorman?"
"Your mother, Albert... It's your mother."
"What about my mother? What's the matter with her?"
They were still standing in the doorway and he moved past the small, dark woman into the apartment.
"Maybe you should sit down before..."
"What's the matter with my mother, Mrs. Dorman?"
"She felt ill, Albert. She had a pain in her chest. So I called an ambulance..."
"Yes?" A strange feeling came over him.
"They came within five minutes of my calling and the attendant said that it was her heart."
He stared at Mrs. Dorman. The woman was nervously twisting her hands together.
"It was a heart attack, Albert. I rode in the ambulance with her to the hospital. They took her to intensive care. But before they took her there I promised that I would come back to the apartment and wait for you."
"Thank you, Mrs. Dorman. That was kind of you."
"Are you going down to the hospital now?" She looked at him, her eyes wide and helpless. His mother was her best friend.
"Yes, I will and I'll phone you in the morning to let you know how things are."
"Thank you, Albert. Thank you."
She walked towards the door and then turned. "Wasn't it too bad that you were out just tonight of all nights?"
"Yes. Goodnight, Mrs. Dorman."
After he closed the door behind her, Albert walked into the living room. A just-begun Scrabble game lay on the table. The words apple, tax and problem stared up at him - three words made by his mother and Mrs. Dorman. He ran his fingers through the word “problem” and then tilted the board, emptying the letters back into the Scrabble box. Maybe his mother had already felt ill when he had left. She had looked just a bit off color. He closed the box and sighed. A great weariness crept over him. But greater than the weariness was the feeling that he had failed somewhere - again. He sat down and cupped his face with his hands. If he was really honest with himself he had to admit that he had no great affection for his mother. “Honor your father and mother - which is the first commandment with a promise - that it may go well with you and that you may enjoy long life on the earth.” He didn't really know at this precise moment whether or not he had honored his mother. Holding him with invisible ropes as it were, she had made him aware of the past in innumerable ways. The small clearing of her throat, for example, when the minister read the sixth commandment. It had always made him edgy, nervous, countless times as a child, and still caused him to squirm. Not because God had not forgiven him, but because she had not. He sighed again and slowly stood up. Better go to the hospital and see how things were.
“Forgetting what is behind…”
It was still raining when he drove the car through the streets not five minutes later. The windshield wipers beat a soft rhythm and the quiet of the hour calmed him somewhat. He could not stop thinking about his mother's life. She had been happy, as far as he could tell, with his stepfather. His stepfather had been a good husband, a kind father, a gentle and hard-working man. But his mother had always been reserved, had always held back. Albert could not remember that he had ever seen her kiss his stepfather. Neither had she ever kissed her son for that matter. He could not remember either, that she had ever sung spontaneously or laughed genuinely at something silly. On the other hand, she had always cooked good meals, had provided adequate clothing and had kept the house very neat. She had led an ordered existence, an ordered existence that would now, he went on to think, maybe come to an end. What could he say to her as she lay on her hospital bed? If he could never speak to her again but this one time, what was it he should say to this woman who had, after all, borne him in her belly for nine months and who must, it seemed to him, have harbored some love for him. But he could not feel that love as he sat in the car and drove through the dark.
The streets were deserted but he stopped punctually at every red light, playing for time, having no particular desire to get to the hospital quickly. He thought of Vicky - a compassionate, young woman who had wept because she had killed her unborn child. Perhaps Vicky had more compassion for her dead child than his mother had ever had for him. No, that was a ridiculous thought, an unfair thought. He rubbed his forehead with his right hand and, returning it to the steering wheel, found it wet with sweat. He should not be unfair. What was it he had said to Vicky? Nothing, he had said, nothing is outside of God's control. God had used the tragedy in his life to make him realize just how dependent he was on God. What was it the minister had preached on last Sunday? Oh yes, forget what is behind and strain toward the goal for which God has called us. Another red light - he brought the car to a slow stop. His mother had been unable to forget what lay behind her. They had never really talked about his father and what had happened - never. Would they be able to talk about it now? If they talked about it, would she be able to forget - to forgive? Was it hampering her road to heaven? He should have talked to her at some point. The light turned green. He stepped on the gas and began to drive faster. Was it not also true that, if she had maintained a grudge against him all these years, he had also nurtured a grudge against her? He drove through the next red light.
The hospital entrance was quiet. The glass doors opened silently under his push.
"Can I help you, sir?" The nurse at the desk looked efficient.
"My mother was admitted earlier this evening - a heart attack. I've just heard and now...."
"What's your mother's name?"
She consulted her book and peered up at him from her swivel chair.
"She's in intensive care, sir. Fourth floor. You'll have to ask at the desk there."
He walked on towards the elevator.
“Perhaps it was a blessing”
The fourth floor corridor had a red carpet - red, the color of blood. He walked over it quickly and with some trepidation. Two nurses presided at the desk. They both looked up at him and smiled. "Yes?"
"My mother was admitted earlier this evening with a heart attack. I understand she's in intensive care." He eyed the double doors behind their desk to the intensive care unit with some degree of dislike. They appeared so grim, grey and dismal, as if they only let in and not out.
"Your mother's name, sir?"
"Drooger." He spoke with some impatience.
There was some hesitation on the nurses' part before one of them responded, "Could you wait in the waiting room, sir? I'll ring for the doctor on call to speak with you."
"The doctor?" He spoke cautiously, tripping over the word. "Why must I speak with the doctor? I just want to..."
"He'll be with you directly. You can sit down over there, sir." They indicated a small lounge behind the desk and smiled at him.
He walked towards the lounge, clumsily scuffing his feet on the red carpet, uncomfortably aware that both nurses were eyeing him behind his back.
There were three brown chairs and a leather couch. Indecisively he stood for a moment and then sank down heavily into one of the chairs. The table sported magazines - colorful editions featuring smiling men and ladies. The clock on the wall told him it was 12:01. He picked up one of the magazines and then laid it back down.
A young man had materialized at the entrance of the lounge. Albert stood up.
"My name is Tenfold, Albert Tenfold. Mrs. Drooger is my mother."
"Please, remain seated. I'd just like to speak with you a moment."
"My mother..." Albert was afraid to phrase the question. The young man came closer and bending down, offered his hand.
"I'm Dr. Ellis."
"Glad to meet you."
Dr. Ellis sat down on one of the other chairs and Albert waited.
"Your mother was admitted around nine o'clock this evening. I happened to be on duty and so I attended her."
"It was a heart attack?" Albert began searching out the pieces of the puzzle that lay between him and a finished picture - pieces that the doctor held.
"Yes," Dr. Ellis nodded and queried, "You live in town?"
"I live at home with my mother. I was not there tonight when she became ill." Albert's voice was meticulous and short.
"My mother..." Albert began again.
"Yes, your mother did have a heart attack."
It was now 12:05. The clock, Albert thought, seemed to move faster than this young man. "How is my mother?"
Dr. Ellis reached out a thin and long hand and placed it on Albert's knee. "I'm sorry, Mr. Tenfold. Your mother passed away about an hour ago."
Albert sat very still. The doctor removed his hand and regarded him solicitously.
"Is there something I can get for you - a coffee?"
"No, no, thank you."
"It may sound callous, Mr. Tenfold, but perhaps it was a blessing. You see, it was a massive heart attack. There had been extensive damage - several organs were not functioning anymore."
"May I see her? May I see the body?"
“Perhaps milk and honey”
The room in which his mother's body lay was very quiet. The doctor had offered to come in with Albert but he had refused, saying that he wanted to be alone. As the metal door fell shut behind him, he stood leaning against it for several moments, breathing in the nothing odor of the room. His mother’s form scarcely made a dint under the covers of the bed. For a moment he thought he saw the sheet moving, moving up and down as if his mother was still breathing. But it was fool's gold, because when he moved closer there was only stillness, unbroken stillness.
He stood at the foot of the bed and held onto the railing. "Hello, mother."
Moving to the side, he pulled up a chair and sat down.
"I've been gone most of the evening, I know," he went on, "but I didn't know. I really had no idea that you would die tonight."
She didn't answer and he looked down at his hands.
"You know," he went on, looking up again, "I thought that I might get a chance to talk to you tonight about the past. As I drove down in the car I was thinking about all the things that I would say to you. And now it's too late."
He stopped and pulled his chair a little closer to the bed.
"But maybe it's not too late, not too late for me, that is. You see," and he looked up again at her dead form, "you see, maybe if I had brought it up, maybe if I had told you that I was sorry, the way I told God that I was sorry, you might have forgiven me. Now you died without forgiving me."
His voice caught and he lay his head on the edge of the bed's steel railing. But the words flowed on, the words tumbled out past all the years of stifle, hitting the floor with their vehemence.
"Yet maybe this evening you did forgive me. Before you died, perhaps you thought, ah, I should have told my son that I love him. I should have..."
His voice broke again but still he went on.
"I do not know that you did. I cannot judge that. God will judge that... and this is what I want to say to God and to you - I forgive you, mother. I forgive you for haunting me, for never allowing me to have my own life outside of yours all these years."
He wiped his face with the back of his sleeve, before he went on. "... and yet it was my own fault too. Because I let you do it and I could have stopped it."
He stood up and regarded her face. Smooth and unperturbed, she lay silently. It was almost as if she would open her eyes in a second and say, "Albert, is the tea ready yet?" "No - no tea, mother," he whispered, "but perhaps milk and honey -perhaps that."
Then he left the room, not stopping to turn for a last look.
“It’s been three days…”
Three days later there was a funeral. Although Albert accepted myriad condolences at the funeral home, he was not quite comfortable with the “I'm sorry about your mother...” remarks. Was it necessary, he reflected, as he sat in the left front pew, flanked only by the three church members whom he had asked to be pallbearers, that others knew how he felt? Was it necessary that someone understood? The minister read from John, unperturbed by Albert's thoughts.
"When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went out to meet him, but Mary stayed at home. 'Lord,' Martha said to Jesus, 'if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But I know that even now...’"
There was no clock in the sanctuary. The coffin stood directly beneath the pulpit. His mother had always sat in the ninth row from the front. Albert turned his head slightly and almost expected to see her there, smartly dressed in her green summer coat, straight and dignified with her eyes on the minister. There were a lot of people behind him and his gaze passed over them impersonally, passed over them and then suddenly stopped. In the exact place where his mother had been wont to sit, was a slight figure in a blue raincoat. “‘If You had been here,' Martha said to Jesus, 'my brother would not have died.’” The minister's voice rose and fell about his being.
"These words of Martha tell us a lot about what she was actually thinking. She was thinking, if you had been here, and you could have been because we sent you a message, then you could have prevented Lazarus' death."
Albert turned again and saw that Vicky's face was turned towards the pulpit with studious attention. Why would Vicky be here? He'd given her the address of the church, of course. But it wasn't Sunday and...
"Jesus’ direct statement, 'Your brother will rise again,' evoked an earthly response from Martha. 'Yes, I know that he will rise again on the last day.'"
Albert eyed the coffin again. His mother would rise again. The lid of the coffin would open and she would climb out, maybe jump out.
"Martha wanted an immediate resurrection - she wanted a 'now' answer, brothers and sisters. We all often want a 'now' answer and we forget that God has His own agenda, His own way of working things out for good."
Albert shifted his feet and listened, listened with his own ears and also with Vicky's.
"‘I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in Me will never die. Do you believe this?’"
A shaft of sunlight fell through the window at the right and a pool of brightness bathed the front section of the church.
"The question is not, brothers and sisters, whether Martha believed Jesus' words. The question is, do you believe them?"
He walked out behind the minister. The pallbearers walked with him and the people from the funeral home pushed the coffin sedately ahead of them all towards the door and on to the parking lot. The small figure in the blue raincoat reached his side before he reached the hearse.
"Albert - wait."
Scores of heads turned, turned and listened.
"It's been three days - and I've been reading and looking. I just wanted you to know."
The pallbearers had stopped walking and Albert smiled broadly as he gestured to them to move on.
Teaching your kid to appreciate broccoli
or, Cooking up a recipe for contentment ***** One of the most common complaints I hear from other parents is how they have been unable to get their ...
Saturday Selections – Nov 26, 2022
Gender is fluid until you bring up this... (2 min) It's becoming the norm to pretend that men can become women and vice versa. And some are up for pr...
Getting used to a new church
The time may come when you must leave the church you grew up in and become a member elsewhere. Let me be clear: I’m not encouraging people to withdr...
In a Nutshell
Tidbits – November 2022
Chesterton saw it coming… A hundred years ago, in the Aug 14, 1926 edition of the Illustrated London News, G.K. Chesterton wrote a column that could be a commentary on our own time. The extreme skepticism that leads some to reject God was going to lead them to reject ever more of the real world. “The Declaration of Independence, once the charter of democracy, begins by saying that certain things are self-evident. If we were to trace the history of the American mind from Thomas Jefferson to William James, we should find that fewer and fewer things were self-evident, until at last hardly anything is self-evident. So far from it being self-evident to the modern that men are created equal, it is not self-evident that men are created, or even that men are men. They are sometimes supposed to be monkeys muddling through a transition stage before the Superman. But there is not only doubt about mystical things; not even only about moral things. There is most doubt of all about rational things. I do not mean that I feel these doubts, either rational or mystical; but I mean that a sufficient number of modern people feel them to make unanimity an absurd assumption. Reason was self-evident before Pragmatism. Mathematics were self-evident before Einstein. But this scepticism is throwing thousands into a condition of doubt, not about occult but about obvious things. We shall soon be in a world in which a man may be howled down for saying that two and two make four, in which furious party cries will be raised against anybody who says that cows have horns, in which people will persecute the heresy of calling a triangle a three-sided figure, and hang a man for maddening a mob with the news that grass is green. Thomas Sowell on those who can’t, critiquing those who do “The beauty of doing nothing is that you can do it perfectly. Only when you do something is it almost impossible to do it without mistakes. Therefore people who are contributing nothing to society, except their constant criticisms, can feel both intellectually and morally superior.” Secular isn’t a synonym for neutral “It turns out that, however you might wish otherwise, you eventually wind up wherever it was you were going. If you get on the plane to Chicago, and I would ask you to follow me closely here, you are going to land in Chicago. We are now arriving where a godless education must necessarily go. The public schools in America were not secular, they were godless. The public schools in America were not neutral, they were godless. The public schools in America were not even agnostic, they were godless.” – Douglas Wilson Wit and wisdom of Benjamin Franklin While best known as one of America’s Founding Fathers, Benjamin Franklin was also a printer, postmaster, scientist, diplomat, and inventor. On top of all that, he had quite the reputation as a public wit, spouting such well-known aphorisms as “Three may keep a secret if two of them are dead,“ “Fish and visitors stink after three days,“ and “Love your enemies, for they tell you your faults.” While he was likely not Christian (he seemed to deny Christ’s deity) many of his common-sense witticisms have some depth to them. Might it be because he was riffing off of the inspired Word? What follows are a few Franklin selections paired with texts that say something similar. Is the connection real or imagined? “Well done is better than well said.” “Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says.” – James 1:22 “Fools need advice most, but wise men only are the better for it.” “The way of fools seems right to them, but the wise listen to advice.” – Prov 12:15 “He’s a fool that cannot conceal his wisdom.” “A prudent person conceals knowledge, but the heart of fools proclaims foolishness.” – Prov 12:23 “He that lies down with dogs, shall arise with fleas.” “One who walks with wise people will be wise, but a companion of fools will suffer harm.” – Prov. 13:20 “Search others for their virtues, thy self for thy vices.” “…in humility count others more significant than yourselves.” –Philippians 2:3 Lyric of the month This might be an oldie but it is a real goodie from the Newsboys: Real Good Thing Born to sin / and then get caught. All our good deeds / don’t mean squat. Sell the Volvo / shred the Visa, send the cash to Ma Teresa. Great idea / the only catch is you don’t get saved / on merit badges. Doctor’s coming / looking grim: "Do you have a favorite hymn?" Check your balance through the years, All accounts are in arrears. Guilt is bitter. / Grace is sweet. Park it here / on the Mercy Seat. When we don’t get what we deserve, that’s a real good thing. When we get what we don’t deserve, that’s a real good thing. Why is only the other side quoting the Bible? In US politics one party is still acknowledging God’s Word as authoritative. And it’s not the Republicans. In an October debate with Florida governor Ron DeSantis, Democratic challenger Charlie Crist alluded to both Matthew 7:1 and 7:12 to, blasphemously, defend abortion and to justify allowing double mastectomies and other genital mutilations on children. “I believe that we need to do unto others as we would have them do unto us. It’s called the Golden Rule…. we’re all children of God. And that doesn’t mean that you are the one who’s supposed to judge what others are supposed to do, particularly women, with their bodies.” A month earlier, another prominent Democrat, California governor Gavin Newsom, ran billboards in Mississippi and Oklahoma that read: “Need an abortion? California is ready to help.” This offer of abortion was justified with Mark 12:31, included underneath, which reads “Love your neighbor as yourself. There is no greater commandment than these.” Such mangling of the Bible for political purposes is nothing new of course. In the 2004 presidential campaign, the Democratic contender, John Kerry, called “Honor your Father and your Mother…one of the oldest Commandments” seemingly unaware that God gave all Ten Commandments at the same time. But even as Democrats continue to cite the Bible, it’s worth considering, why does it increasingly seem that the only folks willing to quote God’s Word are the murderers and mutilators? They do so blasphemously, taking God’s Words in vain… but in a strange way they, at least, are treating God’s Word as both relevant and authoritative in the public sphere. Hit back? It is a Christian parent’s repeated role to explain to their pint-size progeny that Jesus did not tell us to“do unto others as they did to us.” But, as Greg Koukl recently pointed out, there can come a time in debate or discussion when that is good advice – you may need to give as good as you got. It is the appropriate response when someone tries to pin you with what’s called the “Kafka Trap.” In his novel The Trial, Franz Kafka presented a Soviet-style interrogation where the denial of something would be presented as proof of guilt. So, for example: I think you have a drug addiction What? I do not! That just proves it – drug addicts always deny it! Today this Trap is most often used to accuse people of racism: if you deny you’re racist, that just proves that you are. When you’re hit with this you’re-hooped-either-way attack, Greg Koukl offers this tactic: do unto them as they’ve done to you ...accept his approach, then turn the Kafka trap back on him. Here’s an example: “I knew you’d say that, and I’m glad you did.” “What! Why?” “Because it proves you’re wrong.” “Huh?” “No one says that unless they’re mistaken. Don’t you see it?” “No.” “That’s even more proof you’re wrong. Sorry.” Or… “Do you know what ‘social justice’ means?” “Of course I do.” “That proves you don’t. No one who really understands social justice thinks he understands it.” Doing to others as they’ve done to you isn’t wrong here because this isn’t about revenge, but rather clarity. You’re exposing them for just how insubstantial their rhetoric really is. Coaches with a parenting tip for us all It’s said that practice makes better… but better at what? A basketball player that practices badly will engrain those bad habits. Then, whatever he might be doing wrong, whether it’s a high dribble, or putting no arc on his shot – he’ll actually get more consistently bad by practicing at it. And parents, the same is true for our children: if they’re mouthing off with regularity, or responding with the right words but the wrong tone, they are practicing being bad. And if that’s left uncorrected then they’ll get really good at being bad… especially when they hit the teen years. So just as it is important to practice basketball the right way, our kids need to not just say the words, but practice saying them the right way… lest they be practicing and reinforcing and engraining the wrong way. Free vs. free “There are constant calls from NDP candidates and MPs for free post-secondary tuition, free childcare, free dental care, free drugs (both pharmaceutical and recreational), free housing, free wifi . . . even free money (Universal Basic Income). The only thing they don’t want free is ‘dom’ . . . (as in freedom). They don’t want a free press. They don’t want free speech. They don’t want parents free to raise their children as they see fit. They don’t want a free conscience. They don’t want free thinkers at universities. – Christian Heritage Party leader Rod Taylor, “Socialism …on the Instalment Plan”...
Science - Environment
7 biblical principles of environmental stewardship
As environmental issues have become centerpieces in recent elections, policy-making, and public discourse, Christians must promote a biblical understanding of what the environment is, what humanity’s relationship with the environment is, and what God’s plan for the environment is. The mandate to care for the planet – including the animals, plants, land, water, and air – is a theme present throughout God’s Word. Christians have a responsibility to articulate these biblical principles and to shape environmental public policy in a way that is consistent with Scripture. Here are seven biblical principles about the environment and how humanity should interact with the non-human creation. These principles form building blocks for a Reformed Christian perspective on public policy concerning environmental care and expose flaws in other environmental perspectives. PRINCIPLE 1 God, the Creator of all things, has commanded mankind to exercise fruitful stewardship over His creation “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.”1 Those opening words of Scripture form the foundation of environmental stewardship. Because He created the earth and everything in it, God is the sole proprietor of all creation. All of creation belongs to Him.2 No human can lay ultimate claim over any aspect of creation – land, natural resources, or animals. Nevertheless, God delegated authority over creation to humanity at the very beginning of history. In Genesis 1:28, often called the cultural mandate, God commands mankind to “be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.”3 In Genesis 2:16, He also placed the man “in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it.” Caring for the earth is one of God’s purposes for humanity. The first command in the cultural mandate - be fruitful - can be understood through the Parable of the Talents.4 In this parable, Jesus likens the Kingdom of God, which encompasses all of creation, to a master who entrusts his property to his three servants. The servants understand that the property under their care is not ultimately theirs but belongs to their master. This master will eventually demand an account of how his servants managed his property. The two servants who fruitfully invested their master’s money were rewarded. The third servant, who neglected to fruitfully invest it, was condemned for his unproductivity. If the servant who allowed his master’s property to remain stagnant was condemned, how much worse would it be for a servant who deliberately wastes or ruins his master’s resources? This framework of fruitful stewardship over financial resources can also be applied to mankind’s treatment of the rest of creation. God entrusts the non-human creation to humanity, not necessarily so that humanity can simply preserve it in its natural state, but so that humanity might be fruitful with it.5 This requires mankind to develop and transform the earth’s natural resources, while also preserving ecosystems that provide valuable goods and services to mankind and that declare the glory of God (see Principle 2). Progress and development are implicit commands of God.6 As Dr. Cornelis Van Dam writes: “The divine mandate involves harnessing creation’s resources and making the most of its potential while being careful to use the resources wisely… It is telling that although the world began with a garden it will end with a great and beautiful city.”7 At the end of our lives or at the end of the world, God will reward those who fruitfully managed the creation that He has given to humanity, but will punish those who have not repented from their neglect or active destruction of it. Fruitful stewardship is mandatory. PRINCIPLE 2 All creation is valuable, but humanity, as the image-bearers of God, is the most valuable created being Scripture demonstrates that the whole of creation has intrinsic worth in the sight of God.8 After each day of creation, God declared his creation to be good – day and night, land and sea and air, plants, sea creatures, birds, and all animals.9 He commands the living creatures to “be fruitful and multiply”10 and to “abound on the earth.”11 After the great flood, God covenants with Noah and “every living creature” that He will never again destroy the earth with a flood (Genesis 9:8-17); in this passage, God mentions “every living creature” six times.12 God also covenants with the earth (Genesis 9:13) and the day and the night (Jeremiah 33:19-25). The book of Job and the Psalms abound with descriptions of how God delights in His creation. Matthew 6:25-33 also illustrates God’s care for His creation; He feeds the birds of the air and clothes the grass of the field with glorious lilies. The various parts of creation, in turn, also declare the glory of their Creator.13 The environment also has value to mankind.14 The resources of creation have – food, water, air, stone, wood, metals – nourish us and allow us to improve our standard of living. Creation provides many ongoing services that are indispensable to human flourishing:15 For example, plants use photosynthesis to transform carbon dioxide into the oxygen required for human respiration. Because creation is valuable both in the sight of God and humanity, God decreed how Israel was to exercise responsible stewardship over the environment in the Old Testament. Humanity was to allow animals to rest on the Sabbath16 and to treat animals well.17 Productive fruit trees were not to be cut down during the siege of a city, so that the productive capacity of the land would not be diminished.18 Even the land itself was supposed to rest fallow every seven years.19 Although these commands were made in the specific context of Old Testament Israel, the underlying principle to be responsible stewards over creation still applies. While God values all of His creation, He uniquely values mankind that He made in His image.20 Although after every day of creation God pronounced His creation to be good, God declared that creation was very good only after His creation of man. Thus, humanity is not merely equal to the animals or some other part of creation. He set humanity to rule over the rest of creation and gave plants21 and later animals22 to humanity as food. God established His original covenant with humanity and made humanity the object of this covenant. And, in Matthew 6:25-33, Jesus says that if God devotes such care for birds and grass, how much more will He care for humanity? Thus, a hierarchy exists in the created order.23 God, the sovereign and providential Creator, presides over both humanity and the other parts of creation. Humanity, the image-bearers of God, is below God but above the rest of creation.24 The non-human creation, although inherently valuable in the sight of God and man, rests at the bottom of this hierarchy. Humanity therefore should not adopt a “biocentric” philosophy that aims to preserve all life, nor an “ecocentric” philosophy that aims to preserve the environment in its natural state, nor an “anthropocentric” view in which nature’s only purpose is to serve humanity. Instead, humanity should adopt a “theocentric” view of both caring for and subduing the rest of creation in a manner prescribed by God.25 PRINCIPLE 3 God commands that humanity exercise both dominion and care over all of creation 26 In the cultural mandate of Genesis 1:28, God commands humanity to have dominion over the earth and to subdue it. Theologians point out that the original Hebrew word for subdue (kavash) is a “fairly strong term” that “means to overpower, to conquer, to bring under control.”27 This subduing of the environment includes extracting the natural resources of creation to increase human standards of living (both before and after sin infected the world). For example, God created hills out of which humanity “can dig copper”28 and trees that men could “cut down” for wood.29 Jesus both curses an unfruitful fig tree and suggests that it should be cut down, for “why should it use up the ground?”30 The Mosaic Law prescribed a number of practices to prevent the spread of disease. Unfortunately, our ability to properly exercise dominion over God’s creation is limited by humanity’s finitude and is marred by sin.31 Humanity has the capacity to overconsume, pollute, and destroy as we endeavour to exercise dominion over the non-human creation.32 Focusing only on Genesis 1:28 may lead us to think we have the “right to do anything we want to the earth”33 – that the sole purpose of the environment is to serve as raw materials to fuel human needs and desires.34 We might ignore the health of other living creatures or long-term sustainability. In case humanity is tempted to simply exploit nature, God balances this command to subdue the earth by revealing His purpose for humanity: to keep (ESV), to take care of (NIV), to tend (NKJV), or even to serve(YLT) the garden.35 Exclusive attention to this command in Genesis 2:15 may also lead to an incomplete understanding of environmental stewardship. Under a care-only philosophy, humanity is to preserve the environment the way it is, to never harm or kill animals, or to make conservation the highest calling of humanity. Combining the commands of both of these verses (subdue and serve) may seem contradictory, but a proper Christian understanding of these terms makes them perfectly compatible. Authority and service go hand in hand within families, within government institutions, and within environmental stewardship.36 Christians acknowledge that human beings have an imperfect capacity to exercise responsible stewardship over the rest of creation. This requires humanity to continuously refine and re-evaluate its exercise of dominion and stewardship over the environment. We should study how our activities may threaten animal species, interfere with a nutrient cycle, or pollute a water source. The solution to imperfect stewardship is not to abandon the responsibility of stewardship altogether, but to develop our stewardship techniques. PRINCIPLE 4 God commands humanity to multiply and fill the earth In the cultural mandate, God also commands humanity to multiply and to fill the earth, exercising stewardship – fruitfulness, dominion, and care – as they go.37 Indeed, He scattered humanity when they failed to spread out around the world.38 Humanity’s capacity for multiplying and filling the earth expanded markedly with the Industrial Revolution and modern medicine, prior to which the world population grew much more slowly and numbered only in the hundreds of millions. Earth’s population has multiplied many times over in the past two centuries, reaching approximately 7.8 billion people in 2020. The UN projects that the human population will peak at around 11 billion by the end of the century.39 Although this rapid population growth allows humanity to fulfil God’s command to multiply and fill the earth at a whole new level, this significant growth has come with growing pains. This growth has led to problems such as the overexploitation of natural resources and excessive pollution. However, these problems are the result of specific human choices and habits, such as rampant materialism and consumerism,40 not simply the overall number of people. Although a large and growing population may exacerbate existing problems and even create new challenges, a growing population should be considered inherently good. Indeed, “inquisitive, creative, and resourceful human beings” are “the ultimate resource” in this world.41 Many secular environmentalists fail to recognize this. In their zeal to care for the environment, they oppose both population growth and particular human habits. Some go so far as to claim that humanity is a parasite destroying the environment, worthy of eradication.42 But such a perspective ignores the fact that God has placed humanity as active stewards over His creation. Human multiplication must be considered “a blessing, not a curse.”43 PRINCIPLE 5 Although God allows humanity to suffer the consequences of poor environmental stewardship, the end of history will occur according to God’s sovereign plan A society’s eschatology – their view of how the world will end – will inform its policies on environmental stewardship. Secular environmentalists, ignoring the creation and providence of God, attribute the end of the world to human action or some natural disaster – an asteroid, a virus, or variation in the sun’s rays, for example. The fate of the planet rests in either the hands of humanity or the whims of chance. A biblical worldview, however, understands that all of history, including the end of this world, is directed by God. God “created heaven and earth and everything in them” and continually “upholds and rules them by His eternal counsel and providence.”44 This includes animals, plants, and the physical environment. God upholds His creation in ways we describe as laws of nature (e.g. the law of gravity, the law of thermodynamics, the law of biogenesis, etc.). Indeed, these laws of nature illustrate the covenant faithfulness of God.45Although humanity may mistakenly ascribe these laws of nature to nature itself, Christians know that these laws are issued by a Supreme Lawgiver. Absolutely nothing in creation occurs without God’s direction or permission. Despite the reality of God’s providence, God also allows humans to suffer the natural consequences of their actions. Adam and Eve’s disobedience and its consequence – the introduction of sin and evil into a good world – profoundly changed creation.46 As a consequence of man’s actions, God said, “Cursed is the ground because of you; in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life; thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you; and you shall eat the plants of the field. By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread.”47 These thorns and thistles represent how all of creation has been impacted by the Fall. Because of the original human sin, the living creation now naturally experiences suffering, sickness, and death.48 Romans 8:19-23 also speaks about how “creation was subjected to futility,” is in “bondage to corruption,” and is “groaning together in the pains of childbirth.” In the same way humanity must continue to grapple with the environmental effects of sin today. Human activity can cause catastrophic environmental damage (e.g. the Chernobyl nuclear disaster or the Exxon-Valdez oil spill). A basic Christian eschatology does not “guarantee that some form of global or cosmic catastrophe will be averted,” just as we do not believe that any natural catastrophe – a devastating earthquake, hurricane, or volcanic eruption – will be averted because of God’s promise to Noah.49 Although God allows humanity to suffer the environmental consequences of sinful actions or negligence, the fate of the world is in God’s hands, not in human hands. Many prophesy that human activity will cause an environmental apocalypse, while others envision a technological utopia. Christians should reject both visions as unfounded. Although human care and dominion may contribute to the redemption or reconciliation of creation, only God can ultimately fix the sin and brokenness that afflicts this world.50 PRINCIPLE 6 God created the environment to be simultaneously resilient and dynamic 51 God created every individual organism, plant, animal, person, and the wider environment with an astounding resiliency. The human body, for example, can survive weeks without food, can heal cuts to its skin, and can run a marathon. The earth also has positive and negative feedback loops that keep weather patterns predictable, animal populations in check, and nutrients recycling themselves all across the globe. However, the environment is also fragile.52 Microscopic doses of certain natural and man-made drugs are lethal.53 An extra copy of a particular gene on a particular chromosome causes Down syndrome. The eruption of a single volcano – such as the eruption of Mount Pinatubo in 1991 – can temporarily lower the world temperature and cause local or global famines. A single virus like COVID-19 can kill millions of people worldwide. The environment is sufficiently resilient to support huge numbers of people, even well beyond the current number, without apocalyptic impacts to our atmosphere, oceans, or critical habitats, if managed well.54This is a comfort to Christians who rest in the sustaining, providential care of God who will bring history to its conclusion in His timing. But the environment is not so resilient that we can do whatever we want without regard for our impact on the environment. The fragility of the environment necessitates the exercise of environmental stewardship by Christians and non-Christians alike so that we do not reap the consequences of our unwise actions.55 PRINCIPLE 7 Although cost-benefit analysis is an important tool to determine the wise use of resources, cost-benefit analysis cannot be completely comprehensive Many attempts to preserve or exploit the environment stem from an incomplete assessment of the value of the environment. Carefully weighing the costs and benefits is required in effective environmental stewardship.56 Of course, the challenge is to account for all the relevant costs and benefits (e.g. monetary, health, and environmental costs and benefits across wide swaths of the human population) as much as is reasonably possible. These costs and benefits cannot be properly estimated by experts in any single field. Although ecologists, biologists, chemists, and atmospheric and environmental scientists may lead the evaluation of the effect on the environment, experts in other fields – economics, political science, law, ethics, sociology, and psychology – must also contribute to developing the best human response. However, much debate exists about how to value the benefits that the environment provides and the cost of disturbing the environment. Some secular environmentalists, immersed in their study of nature, assign almost infinite value to the natural environment. Other professionals and laypersons, ignorant of the existence of many goods and services that the environment provides, assign virtually no value to the environment. Both forms of creation’s value mentioned earlier – its intrinsic value in God’s sight and its utilitarian value to humanity – must be considered when estimating costs and benefits. It is impossible to precisely appraise this value that God places on His creation and plug it into a cost-benefit equation. Instead, Christians should marvel at the handiwork of God, remembering that humanity is a steward of His creation. Even if a forest did not help convert carbon dioxide into oxygen or its trees provide useful timber for construction, it still reflects God’s creativity and praises Him; it should not be destroyed without ample cause, even if humanity cannot assign monetary costs and benefits to it. Thus, although empirical cost-benefit analysis is critically important, the moral component of environmental stewardship must be considered as well. CONCLUSION These seven principles outline a faithful Christian understanding of environmental stewardship that is fundamentally different from a secular understanding of the environment. Christian environmental stewardship recognizes that the environment is the creation of God and properly understands the responsibility of humanity, as the image-bearers of God, to exercise stewardship over the resilient yet fragile environment. Although humanity should carefully consider the consequences of their actions, Christians understand that God – not man – controls the end the world. May each of us be active, biblical stewards of the world that God has entrusted to our care! Levi Minderhoud is the BC Manager for ARPA Canada where he endeavors to bring biblical principles to bear on political issues of all stripes. In his spare time, he enjoys playing hockey, tickling the ivory, sharpening his wits with a good board game, and fellowshipping with friends and family. He and his family reside in Mission, BC, and attend the neighboring Abbotsford United Reformed Church. This is a slightly abbreviated version of a longer article available at ARPACanada.ca. References and Notes 1) Genesis 1:1 2) Psalm 24:1 3) See also Genesis 1:29 and Psalm 115:16 4) Matthew 25:14-30 5) Timothy Bloedow, Environmentalism and the Death of Science (Ontario: Freedom Press Canada Inc., 2008), 41–42. 6) J. Michael Beers et al., “The Catholic Church and Stewardship of Creation,” in Environmental Stewardship in the Judeo-Christian Tradition (Grand Rapids, MI: Acton Institute, 2007), 44–45; Rodney Stark, The Victory of Reason: How Christianity Led to Freedom, Capitalism, and Western Success (New York: Random house, 2006). 7) Cornelis Van Dam, God and Government, 178; see also Wayne Grudem, Politics According to the Bible, 322. and Timothy Bloedow, Environmentalism and the Death of Science, 43 8) Steven Bouma-Prediger, For the Beauty of the Earth: A Christian Vision for Creation Care, Second Edition (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2010), 120. 9) J. Michael Beers et al., “The Catholic Church and Stewardship of Creation,” 35. 10) Genesis 1:22 11) Genesis 8:17 12) Genesis 9:9-10, 12, 13, 15, 16, 17; see also Steven Bouma-Prediger, For the Beauty of the Earth: A Christian Vision for Creation Care, 92. 13) J. Michael Beers et al., “The Catholic Church and Stewardship of Creation,” 36. See also Job 38-41; Psalm 19; Psalm 104; Psalm 148; and Psalm 150 14) E. Calvin Beisner, Creation Stewardship: Evaluating Competing Views (The Cornwall Alliance for the Stewardship of Creation, 2020), 10. 15) Sandra Diaz et al, “Assessing Nature’s Contribution to People,” Science Magazine 359, no. 6376 (2018): 270–72; W. M. Adams, “The Value of Valuing Nature,” Science Magazine 346, no. 6206 (2014): 549–51; Steven Bouma-Prediger, For the Beauty of the Earth: A Christian Vision for Creation Care, 157. 16) Exodus 20:10; 23:12; 34:21 17) Deuteronomy 25:4; Proverbs 12:10 18) Deuteronomy 20:19-20 19) Exodus 23:10-11; Leviticus 25 20) Wayne Grudem, Politics According to the Bible, 325; see also Matthew 12:12, 10:31 21) Genesis 1:29 22) Genesis 9:2-3 23) Cornelis Van Dam, God and Government, 173. 24) See Psalm 8 25) Calvin Beisner et al., “A Biblical Perspective on Environmental Stewardship,” in Environmental Stewardship in the Judeo-Christian Tradition, n.d., 70; Steven Bouma-Prediger, For the Beauty of the Earth: A Christian Vision for Creation Care, 78, 96–98, 112. 26) J. Michael Beers et al., “The Catholic Church and Stewardship of Creation,” 39. 27) Cornelis Van Dam, God and Government, 176. 28) Deuteronomy 8:9 29) Deuteronomy 19:5 and 2 Kings 6:4 30) Matthew 21:18-22 and Luke 13:6-9 31) James R. Skillen, “Stewardship and the Kingdom of God,” in Beyond Stewardship: New Approaches to Creation Care, ed. David Paul Warners and Matthew Kuperus Heun (Grand Rapids, MI: Calvin College Press, 2019), 102. 32) Calvin Beisner et al., “A Biblical Perspective on Environmental Stewardship,” 84. 33) David Paul Warners and Matthew Kuperus Heun, Beyond Stewardship: New Approaches to Creational Care (Grand Rapids, MI: Calvin College Press, 2019), 9, 12–13. 34) David Paul Warners and Matthew Kuperus Heun, 12–13. 35) Genesis 2:15; for a fuller explanation of how humanity is to “serve” the garden, see Steven Bouma-Prediger, For the Beauty of the Earth: A Christian Vision for Creation Care, 64. 36) Steven Bouma-Prediger, “From Stewardship to Earthkeeping: Why We Should Move beyond Stewardship,” in Beyond Stewardship: New Approaches to Creation Care, ed. David Paul Warners and Matthew Kuperus Heun (Grand Rapids, MI: Calvin College Press, 219AD), 81–91. 37) Genesis 1:28 38) Genesis 11:1-9 39) United Nations, “Population,” 2020, https://www.un.org/en/sections/issues-depth/population/index.html. 40) Steven Bouma-Prediger, “From Stewardship to Earthkeeping: Why We Should Move Beyond Stewardship,” 71. 41) David VanDrunen, Politics after Christendom: Political Theology in a Fractured World (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2020), 243; Robert A. Sirico, “The Ultimate Economic Resource,” Acton Institute, 2010, https://www.acton.org/pub/religion-liberty/volume-8-number-3/ultimate-economic-resource; Julian L. Simon, The Ultimate Resource (United States: Princeton University Press, 1996). 42) J. Michael Beers et al., “The Catholic Church and Stewardship of Creation,” 51; Timothy Bloedow, Environmentalism and the Death of Science, 31; Cornelis Van Dam, God and Government, 182; Wayne Grudem, Politics According to the Bible. 43) Calvin Beisner et al., “A Biblical Perspective on Environmental Stewardship,” 86. 44) Heidelberg Catechism, Question and Answer 26; see also Question and Answer 27 for a definition of providence 45) Arnold E. Sikkema, “Laws of Nature and God’s Word for Creation,” Fideles 2 (2007). 46) Genesis 3; Heidelberg Catechism Q&A 6 47) Genesis 3:17-19 48) Clarence W. Joldersma, “The Responsibility of Earthlings for the Earth: Graciousness, Lament, and the Call for Justice,” 63–64. 49) David Atkinson, “Climate Change and the Gospel: Why We in the Church Need to Treat Climate Change More Urgently” (Operation Noah, 2015), 17–18, http://operationnoah.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/02/Climate-and-Gospel-David-Atkinson-30-01-2015.pdf. 50) Katharine Hayhoe and Andrew Farley, A Climate for Change: Global Warming Facts for Faith-Based Decisions, 133; David Paul Warners and Matthew Kuperus Heun, Beyond Stewardship: New Approaches to Creational Care, 6. 51) Timothy Bloedow, Environmentalism and the Death of Science, 2. 52) Richard A. Swenson, “How Balance Is Displayed in Every Quadrant of the Created Order,” in In Search of Balance (Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress, 2010). 53) For example, the lethal ingestion dose of botulinum toxin is 30 nanograms; 39.2 grams of the toxin would “be sufficient to eradicate humankind;” see Ram Kumar Dhaked et al., “Botulinum Toxin: Bioweapon & Magic Drug,” The Indian Journal of Medical Research 132, no. 5 (November 2010): 489–503. 54) Michael Shellenberger, Apocalypse Never: Why Environmental Alarmism Hurts Us All, Digital Edition (Harper Collins, 2020). 55) David Atkinson, “Climate Change and the Gospel: Why We in the Church Need to Treat Climate Change More Urgently,” 13. 56) Cornwall Alliance, “The Biblical Perspective of Environmental Stewardship: Subduing and Ruling the Earth to the Glory of God and the Benefit of Our Neighbors”; Environmental Stewardship in the Judeo-Christian Tradition, 58; see also Luke 14:28...
Saturday Selections – Nov 12, 2022
Should Christians use someone's "personal pronouns"? (12 min) J.D Greear, former president of the conservative-learning Southern Baptist Conference, said he would, if asked, refer to a man as "she" and he would do so out of a "generosity of spirit." This is a pitting of truth vs. love, with Greear choosing to side with love. But it is a false contrast. In the same way that it would not be loving to affirm an anorexic in their delusion, it's not loving to affirm a transgender in their lie. As James White notes, some of the Christian confusion here comes from believing there is some sort of moral neutral ground. And some of it comes from not being prepared to pay the cost for standing up for God's Truth. (For more see When Steve wants to be called Sue.) Tim Challies on love covering a multitude of sins "There are as many ways to react badly to sin as there are ways to sin against one another. There are not nearly as many ways to react well to being sinned against. The Bible gives us two: lovingly overlook that sin or lovingly address that sin. The question is, when are we to overlook and when are we to address?" The "knockout punch" syndrome Gary Bates explains "why creationists are sometimes too quick to embrace the latest apparent ‘evidence’ for biblical creation." The problem with declaring a "pandemic amnesty" The problem isn't simply that mistakes were made when we didn't have enough information. The problem was, "when we did not have adequate information to know what was best, interventionist policymakers nevertheless acted as if they did know." Though this isn't a specifically Christian article (it cites a rabbi), it has thoughts on the nature of forgiveness and repentance which aren't far off. The case for kids (10-minute read) Kevin DeYoung: "I do not urge Christian couples to have as many children as possible. But I do urge them to have more children." On the significance of beards The beardless John Piper recommended this article, and I, equally beardless, add my kudos. In an emasculated world, beards can be a bit of a counter-protest and even a signpost. Voddie Baucham on how they're normalizing sin to our children... and us too (10 min) I've been asked why I wear pro-life shirts; do they prompt conversations? And the answer is, no, most often they don't. I either get a thumbs up, or a lady might make a throat clearing, scoffing sound. So, why wear them then? And why put a pro-life sign on your lawn, or an "Adoption, not Abortion" bumpersticker on your car? To, as one friend put it, normalize dissent. In our godless age, God's Truth is so infrequently presented that when it is, it might well be immediately ruled out as the crazy thoughts of some fringe minority. But the unborn's defenders number in the millions; we're no fringe element. We only seem like it because we're being quiet. So, to further the case for the unborn – to get it moved out of the crazy camp to a place where conversations can happen – we need to normalize being pro-life. The video below is on how impactful normalization can be, though the other way around. Consider just how many Christians feel uncomfortable when God's thoughts on homosexuality are shared publicly. That's the culture impacting us. And now, through children's shows, the world is trying to impact our kids: from Peppa Pig and Muppet Babies to Sesame Street and Blue's Clues. They seek to normalize what God condemns. Countering this involves more than just shutting off these shows (though it certainly involves that too). There's really no escaping the pervasiveness of this normalization effort. So we must acquaint our children with both God's truth and how to most winsomely communicate that truth on issues like transgenderism, and homosexuality, the unborn, marriage and more. And we need to hear preaching that isn't embarrassed by God's stand, but highlights how our good God, who loves us, knows what is best for us. ...
The “couldn’t be my kid” delusion
Sexual temptation caught up Solomon, the wisest man who ever lived; Samson, the strongest man who ever lived; and David, a man after God’s own heart. Our kids are not immune. ***** I gave my first presentation on the dangers of pornography eleven years ago at a United Reformed youth camp in Alberta. At the time, as Internet use became ubiquitous and smartphones were becoming the norm, the availability of digital pornography was beginning to become an increasingly dangerous problem. Pastors and community leaders were noticing that porn use was becoming increasingly normal. Nobody, however, suspected just how prevalent it would become over the next decade. I have given presentations to Reformed audiences – high schools, churches, youth camps, and other events – of nearly every denomination, and in the past several years I have reached an awful conclusion. Pornography use has increasingly become normal. Reformed kids are getting addicted I know this is difficult for many Reformed people to believe. We would like to think that preaching, parenting, and education have made us at least partially immune to this scourge. Unfortunately, as I have written in this publication before, we underestimated the extent to which the digital age would make this tremendously addictive sexual poison a nearly omnipresent temptation to nearly everyone with access to a digital device with Internet capacity – and the ways in which the porn industry works to place these images in front of every Internet user, young and old. I have spoken to hundreds of Reformed people who were exposed to pornography by accident, and ensnared as a result. I’ve now spoken with many kids who have been hooked on pornography prior to the age of ten – something I almost never encountered just a few years ago. One young man was fifteen, and had been addicted since the age of five. Several others first encountered porn at the age of 7 or 8. I’ve lost count of the number of kids who say that they began using porn in Grade 6. Many of them got addicted by using one of the unused cell phones lying about the house, which they used to connect to Wifi and access porn – circumventing any protections their parents had put in place. (Indeed, many of the kids I spoke to came from homes where the Internet was monitored and parental efforts had been made to keep the home porn-free.) Many young men who have reached out to me have shared that because their addiction started so young – indeed, profoundly impacted the brain development – they have been rendered incapable of viewing women and girls in a pure way. One, in desperation, told me that he badly wanted to ask a girl to graduation, but that he couldn’t even look at a girl without pornographic images surging through his mind. Young men – and increasingly, young women – are pumping hundreds, if not thousands, of hours of sexual toxins directly into their minds for years. They are taking these images into their relationships. Young women too A key development that I have noticed over the past several years is the spike in porn addiction among girls and young women in Reformed communities. Pornography addiction among young women has always existed, but has generally been different than male porn addiction – pornographic books, for example. But the sheer prevalence of porn addiction and its common usage amongst many teens has changed that. At one Reformed school, every girl in high school had at least watched it. Some were struggling with several addiction issues. Accompanying this trend is sexting – personalized pornography. Most Reformed schools have had to deal with this issue at least once, and the young ages of some of the participants highlights the extent to which this problem has exploded. I’ve also lost count of the stories I have been told by young men and women who entered marriage with an undisclosed pornography addiction (and very frequently, a consequently deformed view of sexuality), causing their spouse tremendous pain. Many of these couples struggled to heal their marriage for years; therapy is often necessary to do so. “Betrayal trauma” – which psychiatrists compare to post-traumatic stress disorder – is becoming a norm for young spouses in the first years of marriage (or, if the addiction remains hidden for years, later on.) Pastors and church leaders have told me that porn use within the Reformed community is a leading cause of marriage strife, pain, and in the worst cases, divorce. The “couldn’t be my kid” delusion I know there are many parents who will read this and think: This couldn’t be my children. This is other people’s kids. I had one mother come up to me after a presentation and tell me how glad she was that her sons hadn’t struggled with this poison; both of her boys had talked to me about their struggles with porn. A father told me after a parents’ evening on the porn problem that he didn’t think it was that big of an issue, but he supposed it would be worth it if one kid quit. At least one did quit as a result of attending – his son. Because pornography is everywhere, all kids have access to it – and “good kids” get hooked just as often as rebellious ones. The Scripture warns us never to think that we will not be susceptible to sexual temptation – to say this would be saying that we are wiser than Solomon, the wisest man who ever lived; stronger than Samson, the strongest man who ever lived; and closer to God than David, the man after God’s own heart. Job was called a perfect man, but he knew his own heart well enough to commit to making a covenant with his eyes to avoid sexual sin. Parents, we need to talk After presentations at high schools, I take questions from the students on pieces of paper (so that they will be willing to ask whatever is on their mind). Over and over again, I get the same question: How can I get help? There are hundreds – very likely thousands – of kids in our communities who are struggling with this, too scared and ashamed to ask for help; too nervous that the adults will not be able to handle their struggles. Many have sought and received help, but many struggle alone. It is essential that we have these conversations in our homes first, but also in our schools and our communities. The teenagers are ready. Couples struggling with this are ready. It is time for us to start fighting in earnest—and begin rebuilding....
Saturday Selections – October 29, 2022
The miracle of the human heart (4 min) God's fingerprints are all over your heart not simply in its abilities – it may beat more than 2 billion tim...
Science - Creation/Evolution
Masters of disguise!
“Poppa! Have you seen the Mimic octopus?” My oldest granddaughter’s question was lit with excitement. I had been mentioning a presentation I ...
Aging in hope!
I am 68 years of age and retired, so I suppose I am considered old. In our politically correct times, I am called either a “senior citizen" or "chronologically gifted." What is aging? How do we react to it? These questions are no longer academic for me. When I was in my teens, I thought that people in their fifties were old. At this juncture in my life, a fifty-year-old seems relatively youthful. So aging is ambiguous. Bernard Nash describes aging as a paradox: "Does it not strike you that we all want to live longer but none of us want to grow old?" Throughout our lives we think other people grow older until we gradually realize that we ourselves have aged. Some say that aging can be compared with the fall season when the fruits ripen and the leaves fall; others claim that the moment of aging has arrived when the sum total of memories has become greater than our expectations. Aging, says the American gerontologist Howel, "is not a simple slope which everyone slides down at the same speed. It is a flight of irregular stairs down which some journey more quickly than others." To grow old also means to lose acquaintances and lifelong friends to distance, illness, and death. Obituaries testify that life is the process of aging, and aging is the steady progress of dying within us. Every moment we are alive, we are aging. Life and death are intimately linked. The day is coming when all our earthly possessions will be swept away, including our ability to enjoy them. This is not a morbid view of life – it is simply reality. As the 17th century poet Robert Herrick wrote, Gather ye rose-buds while ye may, Old Time is still a-flying. And this same flower, that smile today, Tomorrow will be dying. So how do we cope with aging? We live in a society that has shown little understanding of growing old, and valued it even less. The Christian literature on aging seems sparse, with far more attention paid to child-rearing. Too little attention has been given to caring for aged parents. DENIAL CAN'T LAST It’s seems the fear of aging has contributed to a denial of reality – if we don’t talk about it, maybe it won’t happen to us, right? This sort of denial is why some find visiting a nursing home a burden. They can't imagine themselves ever being there. They don’t want the reminder of their own mortality. Our society views frankness about death as deviant, a subject not to be discussed in polite company. For many death is the last taboo in Western culture; for others it has become an exploited sentimentality: people don't attend funerals anymore, but instead “celebrations of a life lived.” And when they do talk about death, it is to make light of it, with styrofoam tombstones on the front yard on All Hallows’ Eve. But their atheistic naturalism leaves them unable to face the brute finality of death. And because they are unwilling to return to a biblical perspective, a new generation puts their faith in reports of out-of-body experiences and in New Age mysticism. Still, try as it might, the world cannot keep death out of sight and mind. The moment we are born, we begin to die. PERPETUAL TEENAGERS The world’s death denial is evident, too, in how it is now a common goal among the aged to stay young. Or, rather, not just stay young, but stay immature. Whereas in the past becoming an adult was the ideal, today the older generation wants to look as young as possible, with some trying to camouflage their age by dressing like teenagers. In his own inimitable and not very flattering way, British journalist Malcolm Muggeridge reported on a month he spent at a resort in Florida. He said that everything was done to make senior citizens feel that they were not really aged, but still full of zest and expectations; if not teenagers, then keenagers. These seniors, he said, had withered bodies arrayed in dazzling summer wear, hollow eyes glaring out of garish caps, skulls plastered with cosmetics, lean shanks tanned a rich brown, bony buttocks encased in scarlet trousers. Muggeridge's description may be exaggerated, but it does say something about the affect contemporary youth culture has on our society. It has a negative and morbid view of aging. FOREVER ON EARTH? The advertisement industry contributes to this mood. Wherever we look, there are ads for anti-aging creams, yoga routines, nutritional programs, and medical interventions. Growing old is seen not so much as part of the human condition but rather as a solvable medical and scientific problem. Hence, doctors and scientists search for a solution to the "problem of old age." What are the chances that scientific advance will find a way to extend life indefinitely? A number of investors have paid large sums to have their bodies frozen at death by means of cryogenics, which is used to freeze beef and vegetables, as well as people. But as Dr. Russell points out in his secular work Good News About Aging, those who cherish dreams of being defrosted and living forever some time hence are probably cherishing an implausible dream because freezing destroys human body cells. He adds: "…even if we can overcome this and other problems, no scientific evidence suggests that we can expect to eliminate death now or in the future because all things break down over time." And what if we could live forever? In our fallen world, would we really want to? In his 1922 play The Makropulos Secret, Karel Capek probes this issue with the 337-year-old character Emilia, who notes: "… no one can love for three hundred years – it cannot last. And then everything tires one. It tires one to be good, it tires one to be bad. The whole earth tires one. And then you find out there is nothing at all: no sin, no pain, no earth, nothing." What a hideous future! To be given an everlasting longevity without being regenerated by the Holy Spirit, without hope to be with the Lord in the new heaven and earth, is a dismal prospect. It is to live under a curse. If we could live on in this world with all its pain, conflicts, without solving the immense human problems, a medically-expanded life would simply set the stage for more of same human conflicts and social injustices. IMPATIENCE INSTEAD OF HONOR Death denial is also evident in our youth’s treatment of the elderly. Aging frustrates modern youth – it interferes with their desire "to get things done." Have you ever noticed the impatience shown in a lineup at the bank when a senior is trying to carry out a transaction? Their slower pace often exasperates the clerk and the younger customers waiting for their turn. These young people can’t imagine ever being in the same situation. Sure, other people age…but not them. The conflict between the generations is a subject of much discussion. Many seem to view aging as a process to endure and suffer through, rather than as a temporally contingent gift from God to be approached with gratitude. The Canadian philosopher George Grant observed that old age is more and more seen as an unalleviated disaster, not only for those outside of it but by those people who are old themselves. And he noted that we do not see age as that time when the eternal can be realized, and we therefore pity the aged as coming to the end of historic existence. Sociologists even refer to ageism, which can be defined as a general distaste for the elderly in our culture – equivalent to racial prejudice, but in this case unfair generalizations are made about any who are old: “all elderly people are forgetful," "all elderly people are ill-tempered," "all elderly people suffer from depression,” or “mental impairment is endemic to aging.” Contrary to the myth about aging, seniors do not necessarily decline in intelligence or lose their decision-making abilities. History gives us countless examples of creative, active, and productive seniors. At 71, Michelangelo (1475-1564) was appointed the chief architect of St. Peter's Cathedral in Rome. After he was 63 years old, Joost Van den Vondel (1587-1679), Holland's greatest poet, wrote Jephta, Lucifer and Adam in ballingschap (Adam in exile). George Bernhard Shaw (1856-1679), Irish dramatist and author, wrote Farfetched Fables at 93. Polish-born Arthur Rubinstein (1888-1982) gave a stunning performance at Carnegie Hall at the age of 90. Like these famous people, there are millions of elderly people who are still productive and active in their own way and want to remain so. Ageism seems to comes about because people know little about old age, and because what they know is based on myth and fear. People even talk about generational wars. In recent years, the conflict between the generations has become most noticeable due to the decreasing ability of government to pay for health and pension benefits. The pinch is already provoking generational conflict in the ambitious welfare states of Northern Europe, where birthrates and immigration rates are lower than in the United States and where the elderly wield considerable political clout. Young Europeans are complaining about the high cost of healthcare for the elderly, and are resentful of fees that are eroding the tradition of free university education. One German youth leader gained notoriety by suggesting that old folks should use crutches rather than seek expensive hip replacements. Unfortunately, this generational conflict is also seen in churches today. Seniors don't like to call their dominee “pastor Jack” and they certainly don’t like his casual appearance when he comes visiting. But when a vacant church thinks of calling a pastor there is a strong emphasis on youth. It seems that some search committees look for a twenty-five-year-old man with thirty years of experience. A CHRISTIAN ALTERNATIVE The differences between the generations don't need to lead to conflicts. Christians can offer alternative understandings of aging. The Bible views the conflict between generations as abnormal. Yes, youth is a wonderful thing, but it is not the only thing. It is a blessing in many ways, but it can, on some occasions even be a curse. When Isaiah pronounced judgment on Jerusalem and Judah, he said, "I will make boys their officials; mere children will govern them" (Isa.3:4). Young and old can come to mutual understanding and appreciation of each other. In the Kingdom of God, "Children's children are a crown of the aged, and parents are the pride of their children" (Prov. 17:6). Old men dream dreams and young men see visions (Joel 2:28; cf. Acts 2:17). And God promises that He will be with His people of every age bracket. "Even to your old age and gray hairs I am He, I am He who will sustain you" (Isa. 46:4). So how do we face the twilight years of life? With feelings of dread… or of hope? Let’s delve further into God’s Word and see. AGING IN THE OLD TESTAMENT In the Old Testament we find that God regards great age as the supreme reward of virtue. The aged were shown respect and honor. Old age is a blessing and not a curse. Scripture says, "Rise in the presence of the aged, show respect for the elderly and revere your God" (Lev.19-32). The psalmist testifies to growing old in hope. He says, "The righteous ... will still bear fruit in old age; They will stay fresh and green, proclaiming, The Lord is upright; He is my Rock, and there is no wickedness in him" (Ps. 92:14-15). Growing old became a symbol of blessing, wisdom, and righteousness – an honorable process by which God rewarded those who were obedient, for example, in honoring their own parents: "Honor your father and your mother, so that your days may be long in the land that the Lord your God is giving you" (Ex. 20:12). In Proverbs readers are essentially promised a long life if their hearts will but, “keep my commandments; for length of days and years of life and abundant welfare they give you" (3:1-2). The very display of gray hair itself, a sure sign of growing old throughout the centuries, becomes in Scripture "a crown of glory; it is gained in a righteous life" (Prov. 16:31). By pushing the elderly aside to fringes of society, we diminish them and make our society the poorer through the loss of their experience and maturity. When Moses was 80 years old, God called him to lead His people to the Promised Land. At that greatly advance age, Moses became the historian, leader, and statesman of Israel. At about 85 years of age, Joshua was divinely commissioned to succeed Moses. At his death at 110 years of age, he was deeply mourned and his eminent service widely acknowledged (Josh. 24:29-31). A NEW TESTAMENT BLESSING TOO In the New Testament the attitude towards aging is no different from that in the Old Testament. Those who reached an advanced age were honored and esteemed in the community. Aged saints have a significant role in the opening chapter of Luke's Gospel. The first characters to appear on the stage are the priest Zechariah and his wife Elizabeth, who were both "advanced in years" (Luke 1:7). They are the instruments of God's purposes and the first interpreters of God's saving acts. Simeon and Anna are the prophetic chorus welcoming the child Jesus on the occasion of his purification in the Temple (Luke 2:22-38). The remarkable thing is that the aged Simeon dies in the beginning of the Gospel account. His eyes are fixed in hope on the one newly born, in whose life, death, and resurrection the world will know peace. He has long been hoping for "the consolation of Israel," and has been promised by the Holy Spirit that he will not die before he has seen the Lord's Messiah. Anna – an eighty-four-year-old prophetess who frequents the Temple to worship and pray night and day – recognizes Jesus, gives thanks to God, and declares the news about him "to all who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem" (2:38). As people who have clung to God's promises over many years, they embody the virtues of long-suffering patience and trust in God's ultimate faithfulness. They also exemplify faith and hope, even when circumstances seem hopeless. Aging was not seen by the early Christians as a "problem" to which some sort of religious solution was required. In the entire New Testament, particularly in the Pastoral Epistles, the respect due to older members of the community is emphasized. The exhortations imply and speak explicitly of dutifully caring for widows, honoring the elderly, imitating their faith, and faithfulness. For example, "Do not rebuke an older man, but exhort him as you would a father." Here we find also specific directives that the community should provide assistance to widows over age of sixty, and that women recognized by the Church as widows should devote their energies to prayer, hospitality, and to service to the afflicted (1 Tim.5: 3-16). In our youth obsessed culture, the elderly are strongly tempted to act youthful. They are expected to get a workout to remain in shape, get beauty treatments to rejuvenate themselves, and to dress in youth fashions. Should seniors long to be young again? I don't think so. For Christians old age is not a dead-end street. As we age, we can still grow spiritually. The apostle Paul wrote to the Corinthians "Do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day" (2 Cor. 4:16). He said to the Ephesians that we can progressively succeed in putting off the old self and putting on the new self and "be made new in the attitude of our minds." This renewal through the Holy Spirit impacts our mental attitude, state of mind, and disposition with respect to God and His world throughout our life. In other words, we continue to develop our walk with God (Eph. 4:22-24). NEVER TO OLD TO SERVE THE LORD Dr. Viktor E. Frankl, who suffered unspeakable horror in Nazi concentration camps, says that there is no reason to pity old people. And he adds this remarkable statement, "Instead, young people should envy them." Why? Because seniors have something young people don't possess. Frankl says that seniors have realities in the past – the potentialities they have actualized, the values they have realized – and nothing and nobody can ever remove these assets from the past. In Book X of his Confessions, Augustine (354-430) calls memory a "vast court" or "great receptacle." The elderly have a rich storehouse of memories, and inner landscape to explore: times lost in idleness, opportunities well used, a fulfilling career, children grown up, and suffering gone through with dignity and courage. What an opportunity for our youth to tap into the memories of their grandparents! Covenantal obligations never cease. The Christian faith is passed on from one generation to the next. It depends on that transmission. That’s why there must always be a most intimate relationship between the present and the coming generation if there is to be a future generation of Christians. The Church cannot be the Church without the elderly. They are the embodiment of the Church's story. Of course, we do not expect that all the elderly will be able to express the "wisdom of their years." But there can be no substitute for some old people in the Church passing on their wisdom to the younger generation. The youth simply cannot do without the older generation. In our culture, for a few years young adults may pretend (egged on by social and cultural forces) that they can live forever as autonomous, self-reliant, self-fulfilling beings. The pretense, however, collapses soon enough. The presence of the visible vulnerable elderly is a reminder that we are not our own creators. All of us will age; dark and blond hair will turn grey. Consequently, young Christians need the elderly so they will not take their lives for granted. I will say it again: the Church cannot be the Church without the elderly. That's why throughout history the Church has frowned on separating the young from the old through conducting youth services. I have even read about a Church where no older people were expected to attend. But according to Scripture old and young belong together. They are all part of the great family of God. Our covenant youth need to hear from their grandparents and seniors in the Church what it means to be a Christian. Grandparents know the family traditions and values. They can tell the story of their wartime experiences, their immigration with its hardship and adventures, and the reasons for leaving the country of their birth. Seniors can give to the youth the lessons and spiritual resources that have been harvested over a lifetime. Our times are so confusing and threatening for our young people. Why not explain to them that the Christian faith is for all of life: hence the founding of Christian schools, colleges, universities, a Christian labor association, Christian magazines and bi-weeklies, and a Christian political party? Why not tell them that doing good works is doing your work well? Why not testify to them how the Lord's promise "Surely I am with you always" (Matt.28:20) is a reality and not a myth? The lessons learned from godly grandparents and other Christian seniors are often long remembered. HOPE IN CHRIST As we age, we become more aware of the swift passing of years. We can either let the fear of death put a mental stranglehold on us or we can look to the future with hope. Let’s remember, the best is yet to come! Jesus Christ, the risen and ascended Lord is the ground of our hope and the promise of our deliverance. The hope of the resurrection lies at the heart of the way in which Christians embody the practices of growing old. We serve a faithful God who will never forget us! We are strangers and pilgrims on earth, the older we become the nearer we are to our eternal home. This truth encourages even the oldest individual to cherish each moment of life while preparing to relinquish it. Each day is a gift from God. We look to Him for our daily bread while making sure that we seek first the kingdom of God rather than squandering our time and energy on secondary concerns. With the prospect of a glorious future for all who are in Christ, we can identify with Martin Luther's suggestions that "in the purpose of God, this world is only a preparation and a scaffolding for the world to come." I also think of John Calvin's teaching in his Geneva Catechism that we are "to learn to pass through this world as though it is a foreign country, treating all things lightly and declining to set our hearts on them." We all face death some time or another. When we are old, it is more of a reality than in the days of our youth. I pray that our attitude toward death may resemble that of Lutheran pastor, scholar, and resistance leader Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who with shining face in joyful expectation, said to the two Nazi guards who had to come to take him to be executed, "For you it is the end, for me the beginning." Rev. Johan Tangelder (1936-2009) wrote for Reformed Perspective for 13 years and many of his articles have been collected at Reformed Reflections. This is an edited version of a two-part article that first appeared in the 2004 November and December issues. ...
CD Review, Music
Why you, too, should listen to Jamie Soles
I like Jamie Soles! From his music telling Bible stories for kids to his versifications of the Psalms, there is something for every Christian in his repertoire. As his website, SolMusic.ca, says, "If you love how the whole Bible testifies of Jesus, you will love this music!" A bit of history We've been listening to Jamie Soles for a long time. Our boys grew up on his Bible stories from albums like The Way My Story Goes and Fun and Prophets. To give you a bit of a taste of some of my favorites, I’ll share some excerpts. My son Isaac and I once performed “Chariots” from Fun and Prophets. Imagine these words sung in a lovely, boyish treble. I won my heart's desire when a chariot of fire And a horse named Blaze took my master away. Imagine my delight to behold such a sight Of Elijah in flight on the wind. Soles turned stories about lists of kings and apostles and repeated sacrifices by Jewish tribal representatives into memorable and singable songs that prompted questions and looking up of Bible passages. We are indebted to him for helping us to teach our children the Bible because, as he put it in “These Are They,” "stories are your biblical A-B-Cs." These are only part of it, This is but the start of it, Stories are your biblical ABCs! Now… All these stories, they show My glories. These are they which speak of Me. I think we were introduced to Jamie Soles back when we lived in the Hamilton area. I played violin at our church and was teaching music to one of our pastor's daughters. We visited with their family a lot, and on one visit the children came to me and excitedly asked me to listen to "This is the Sign," which is about the covenant significance of circumcision. It begins with God explaining his covenant to Abraham: Ninety and nine seems a long time But I have been waiting longer than you have To give you My Word that you’ve become Mine The father of kings and nations... I remember thinking, "Wow! That's not something most people write a song about." I've been hooked ever since. We took our boys years later to one of Jamie's concerts, and met up with him at Ontario Christian Home Educators’ Connection conferences as well. His music is still a part of our lives and I find myself humming tunes like "These are the Prophets" and "Jesus to the Rescue" on a fairly regular basis. I've even purchased his albums as gifts for friends on more than one occasion. Why I'm telling you about this Music is a big deal! It's an important way to teach your children about God's word. It's also an important way to help fill your heart with scripture and worship. Music is obviously an essential aspect of corporate worship on Sundays as well. The thing is, Christian music should be skillfully done and it should be theologically sound. Jamie Soles delivers on both counts. You can't go wrong with teaching his songs to your kids, and you can't go wrong with walking around humming them yourself either. Until my family was introduced to Jamie Soles, the music that often played in my head when reading scripture came from the libretto of Handel’s “Messiah” or Mendelssohn’s “Elijah,” not to mention the songs of Michael Card. But now, as I read through Numbers 23 I hear the sounds of “Dust of Jacob.” Jamie’s songs will be with my family and me for the rest of our lives, and we’re thankful. Soles' music is very difficult to categorize. It ranges from what sounds a bit like folk to songs that are more akin to rock and roll. But his music and his words always suit each other and he seems to always have a fresh take on a biblical theme or a little-known Bible story. It doesn't hurt that his wife and his children have often been a part of his albums and their contributions make many of his recordings that much better. I highly recommend Jamie Soles' music. You can find all of his albums on Spotify and you can purchase them as CDs or MP3 downloads at SolMusic.ca. I want to leave you with one song that I especially love. In “Gates of Nain” Soles' wife Valerie sings the poignant story of Luke 7:11-17 from the perspective of the widow whose only son has died. My sons call me a softy, but this never fails to bring me to tears, mainly because of the widow's realization that this man is the great prophet whom God has finally sent to Israel. Through my tears I see the crowd has grown A Man approaches with compassion shown He says, "Do not weep." And our march of death and time stands still Nothing could prepare me for this What could have prepared me for this.... He spoke to my son, my dead son, my only son And He told him to arise, and he did!...
Saturday Selections – October 15, 2022
Perfect timing Here's a fun one for the whole fam that's sure to inspire some imitation... Scientists revive 100 million-year-old bacteria? For anything to be alive that long is, of course, impossible... unless it's actually much younger. Vaping tax led to an increase in cigarette usage... The practical case for government being small is simply that they are fallible. One of the latest illustrations of that fallibility is a tax on vaping that was intended to discourage use. But instead it prompted a turn to even more harmful cigarettes. As the article asks, "How many times do their efforts have to backfire before bureaucrats and politicians learn the limits of their abilities?" Fossil fuels: still essential to human flourishing In his new book, Alex Epstein notes that there is still a pressing need for the poor to get access to fossil fuels. As this review notes: "One example of the suffering which energy poverty imposes is the fact that almost 800 million people have no access to electricity, while around 2.4 billion people still rely on wood and animal dung to cook and heat their homes...." By using "human flourishing" as his measure for environmental policies Epstein is, whether intentionally or not, placing Man at the pinacle of creation just as God has done. Tips for homeschooling when you have a toddler in tow When mom is teaching the olders but has a little one toddling about the juggling act can get hectic. This article, and its two sequels, offer some tips on keeping that toddler busy so you can have time to help with lessons. Public schooled! In the video below a student discovers that government schools teach that whatever the problem, government is the answer. As Douglas Wilson has noted, why would parents be surprised that their kids are indoctrinated in socialism when they've sent them to what is a socialist school system? Similarly, Voddie Baucham wrote, "We cannot continue to send our children to Caesar for their education and be surprised when they come home as Romans.” ...
G.K. Chesterton on the difference between reformers and deformers
As a young man I had questions about how my denomination conducted services: Why did we have an organ and the style of music we had? Why did we sing so many psalms, and so few hymns? Why did we have two services? Why did we have Heidelberg Catechism sermons? Why did we get so dressed up for services? And I thought that because I had questions, and because answers were not always at the ready, that clearly meant we should do away with all these practices. Not so fast However, just because an answer isn't easy to come by doesn't mean it doesn't exist. And Chesterton had a caution for young guys like me when it came to doing away with old practices - old "fences": “In the matter of reforming things, as distinct from deforming them, there is one plain and simple principle; a principle which will probably be called a paradox. There exists in such a case a certain institution or law; let us say, for the sake of simplicity, a fence or gate erected across a road. The more modern type of reformer goes gaily up to it and says, 'I don’t see the use of this; let us clear it away.' To which the more intelligent type of reformer will do well to answer: 'If you don’t see the use of it, I certainly won’t let you clear it away. Go away and think. Then, when you can come back and tell me that you do see the use of it, I may allow you to destroy it.' “….Some person had some reason for thinking it would be a good thing for somebody. And until we know what the reason was, we really cannot judge whether the reason was reasonable. It is extremely probable that we have overlooked some whole aspect of the question, if something set up by human beings like ourselves seems to be entirely meaningless and mysterious. There are reformers who get over this difficulty by assuming that all their fathers were fools; but if that be so, we can only say that folly appears to be a hereditary disease.” (The Thing, “The Drift From Domesticity”) Seek out that other side Now, no denomination is perfect, so there will be practices that could be improved, and maybe some that will need to go. But before any change is made, a properly humble Reformer is going to want to first find out why things are being done this way in the first place. This is living out Prov. 18:17 – only after we hear "both sides" can we then evaluate whether a change is truly needed....
Witnessing without knowing it all
Ding dong! The doorbell goes and through the peephole you can see two young men clad in dark conservative suits. Fortunately you’ve recently read...
Saturday Selections – October 1, 2022
Loud for the unborn (3 min) On Sept 3, in New York, abortion defenders showed up at a pro-life protest. And this gentleman saw it as an opportunity t...
Articles, Internet, Sexuality
Fund a film about fighting sexual temptation
"Into the Light" will equip God’s people to fight the pull of pornography This is an overview of an episode of Lucas Holvlüwer and Tyler Vanderwoudes’ Real Talk podcast. Real Talk is a podcast of Reformed Perspective featuring great conversations on everything from propaganda to mental health, and if you haven't checked it out already, you really should. And you really can, at www.RealTalkPodcast.ca. ***** On this, their 50th episode, Real Talk’s Lucas and Tyler invited filmmakers Jake Valk and John-Michael Bout to talk about pornography, its devastating effects on Christians, and how the Lord’s people can fight against this terrible pervasive sin. Bout began by describing in a very real and personal way his own decade-long struggle with pornography – the feelings of guilt at what he knew was sinful, difficulties with anger brought on by his own hypocrisy, and his gradual drift away from the Lord with a conscience made dull over time. Bout described how grateful he is that God led other Christians on his path who had turned away from porn by the Lord’s grace, and dedicated themselves to helping others with this pervasive, insidious sin. A providential conversation So what made the two of them think about creating a documentary? Jake Valk shared a story of having coffee with Christian author Tim Challies, whose book Sexual Detox was of great help. Not (yet) knowing that Valk was a filmmaker, Challies wondered if books were the best means to address the problem of pornography: wouldn’t video be a better medium to reach those caught up in that cycle? This suggestion fanned a spark into a flame: why not make a documentary that would inspire people to take the steps to get out of the grip of pornography? And that is just what Valk and Bout did. Their new film, to be called Into the Light introduces six speakers with expertise in Christian responses to porn, not just in understanding that porn is sinful and wrong, but with real and practical suggestions for how to stop sinful habits, from the perspective of both those struggling with the sin, and those trying to help “the struggler.” Valk explained: “(One of our speakers) is Deepak Reju; he wrote the book Rescue Plan. He and Jonathan Holmes wrote a pair of books that are really good. One of the things he talks about is the philosophy of locking down a phone: how to cut off all access, and he walks you through that process from the vantage point of someone who is struggling with porn, but also if you’re helping someone who is struggling, and understand how they would be tempted to get out of the full lockdown of a phone, and so you can be extra alert to make sure that you really are shutting down a device for all it’s worth. So you can kind of take everything that our speakers talk about in the film from two different angles – the struggler, and the (one helping the struggler).” Valk and Bout want the film to be made available for no cost to churches, organizations, and individuals, to be a resource to as many people as possible. To make this work, they’ve been fundraising through a Christian crowdfunding site with a target of $85,000. You can find out how to donate at their page GiveSendGo.com/IntoTheLight, and you can watch the trailer below. It’s not about stopping the bad, but embracing the One Who is Good Bout emphasized that freeing people from porn is not the end goal: the real goal is to help people find Jesus Christ, and to have Him be the foundation of their new life. “There are other methods to get free from pornography that don’t involve God – there are many secular programs… but if you get free of porn and still lose your soul, what’s the point?” Valk stated emphatically that a documentary can never take the place of a program like Life Renewal, with accountability, personal connections, and a thorough teaching program. “Life Renewal is way better than what we can make. 100 percent! Life Renewal is so thorough; they really walk through the process and do it over a year. That’s way better than this!” But there’s also a place for a film like Into the Light to help get conversations started, and to push a struggling sinner to seek help through a program like Life Renewal and other Christian resources. “If you find this film, and you’re uncovering sin, and you’re bringing it into the light, and you’re really building your relationship with God, and you want to go to something like Life Renewal which will take you way, way deeper, please do! They do a phenomenal job.” First, stop the bleeding So what else is in the film? Bout summarized a section that deals with “triage” “Deepak Reju gets into the radical practical measures of cutting off access (to porn)… if you walked into a hospital with an open wound, you’re not going to be getting asked ‘oh, so what are your symptoms, what are some things you need?’ The first thing they do is they take you in and stitch up the gaping bleeding wound so that they can have the healing take place, and to use that analogy, when you’re dealing with pornography it’s not legalism to say we have to start by cutting off access… cutting off total access.” Valk remembered asking one of the speakers, Heath Lambert, when it was OK to introduce the internet or social media back into someone’s life. “Heath gave a really thoughtful response to that, a large part of it being that you’re not necessarily the best person to make that choice, so having good community in your life saying, hey brother, you know it’s been two months since you last fell into pornography, you’re displaying good devotional habits, you’re really walking with the Lord, I can see that in your life. If you enjoy Instagram, I think it’s reasonable you can have it back, let’s see how that goes… So other people in your life can give you an opportunity to have a better perspective.” Bout followed up on his own story: “There are a lot of things that I cut out, and there’s (just) a couple of things I’ve reintroduced back. I never had to go as radical as going to a flip phone – actually, that may have been a good thing to do; I really respect people who do that. So for myself, I’ve actually kept most of the (guards) that I put in place, and just because I know I would so much rather live with the inconvenience than deal with the temptation or the potential relapse.” What about relapse? Speaker Ellen Mary Dykas is highlighted in one of the chapters in the film called “Endurance,” dealing with the reality of sinners struggling with a relapse, or a step backwards. Bout stated that it is very rare that one is able to “change instantly, although that is not beyond the Lord’s power. Your inadequacies, your failures do not mean that God is not able or willing to change you.” Valk summarized some of what Dykas taught: “Your identity is not your track record. You are not your success last week, your success yesterday, the pattern of sin… even if you do really well, that’s still not your identity. Your identity has to be as a Christian, as a loved, cherished child of God, because that’s where you find your root in fighting in the first place.” The last section of the film is presented by Garrett Kell, and reminds viewers of the hope that we have in Jesus’ saving work. Valk summarized: No matter what our sinful tendencies are today, “one day all of this sin, that darkness, like what you did last night, all that’s going to be gone if you’re a Christian… God’s going to do away with this sin nature that we have, and that’s going to be incredible, and then there’s going to be (forever) of being porn free… I won’t have to shed another tear, an angry, frustrated tear (at my sins)… There is hope beyond this (life) where there are no tears anymore!” You can download this and other episodes of “Real Talk” at www.RealTalkPodcast.ca, on your favorite podcast app, or through the ReformedPerspective.ca home page. You can also watch the YouTube version of the 50th episode below. For more information on “Into the Light,” go to IntoTheLightDocumentary.com. ...
Our hope is that our articles will start people talking. And in hopes of furthering those consultations among the communion of saints, RP hopes to host some key conversations online. First up, we're going to be having a conversation with Bill DeVries on what God has been doing in the Bulkley Valley. If you would like to meet Bill DeVries to learn more, ask questions, and discuss the issue with others, join us for a special video conversation from the comfort of your own home. HOW: we aim to have a sign up form shortly, but in the mean time you can simply email [email protected] to register. All you need to participate is a phone, tablet, or computer to connect to the conversation. WHEN: Likely late October. If you register, we will update you with the date and time. WHEN: Date still to be determined, but some time in October so sign up to be notified. COST: Free Please spread the word and invite family, friends, or church members to this important 60-90 minute conversation....
We can't save the world, and that's OK
What if our insatiable interest in the world’s injustices is really just an Edenic desire to be gods ourselves? ***** We are weary. Gloom and malaise are the shadows of the moment, inescapable beneath the blazing ball of stressors that blinds our eyes to what is true and hinders our feeble attempts at faithful living. Why? Why do weariness and anxiety trail us wherever we walk or however fast we try to run? There are, of course, any number of reasons that an individual person may feel weary or sad or anxious. But there is reason I believe that our collective sense of dread is at least partially self-inflicted. We are weary because in an attempt to image our Savior we may actually be trying to be him. The paralysis of information Our parasitic relationship with the social Internet leads us to see a literal world of burdens and deceives us into believing we must bear them all. This isn’t a new phenomenon: in Amusing Ourselves to Death, Neil Postman traced it all the way back to the advent of the telegraph: "The news elicits from you a variety of opinions about which you can do nothing except for offer them as more news, about which you can do nothing. "Prior to the age of telegraphy, the information-action ratio was sufficiently close so that most people had a sense of being able to control some of the contingencies in their lives. What people knew had some action-value." We feel burdened by the events of the world because we consume information in such a way that we could never meaningfully act on the information we consume. This isn’t just a practical problem or a mental health problem. This is a spiritual problem. Bearing burdens or being gods? In Galatians 6:2 Paul tells us to: “Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.” To live as a faithful follower of Christ in our own daily lives is difficult in its own right. But to bear others’ burdens, like those of our family, friends, or church family, is what we are called to do in this verse. Bearing one another’s burdens is important! It is one of the ways we most clearly image Christ to the world. But I think it is fair to say Paul is not calling us to bear the burdens of the world, a destructive calling to which many of us believe we have been called simply because of our ever-increasing awareness of world events. How can we possibly faithfully follow Jesus while also attempting to bear the countless burdens highlighted by our Twitter feeds? We can’t. And we should stop trying. This is not to say we shouldn’t care for and pray for the global church or the state of humanity in general. Of course we should approach our God on behalf of others who may be suffering any variety of plight around the world. My call is not a call to global ignorance but local faithfulness. One of my concerns is that our rightful concern for the vast brokenness and injustice around the world distracts us from faithfulness in our neighborhoods and churches. Beyond that, though, the constant gnawing we feel as we scroll through pictures of poverty and clips of corruption on our thousand-dollar smartphones may be a God-given conviction toward justice and righteousness … but it also may not be. What if our insatiable interest in the world’s injustices is really just an Edenic desire to be gods ourselves? The social Internet becomes a virtual tree of knowledge of good and evil – it opens our eyes to the harsh realities of a world fractured by sin and fools us into bearing the burden of the world’s brokenness. Our convictional awareness of the world’s problems may actually be a modern manifestation of our most ancient transgression: our desire to be gods rather than trust God. Wearying ourselves with public injustices in front of a watching world is more appealing than quietly advocating for justice in our communities because it makes us feel like gods, and gods receive praise. Good friends and neighbors usually don’t. To bear the burdens of others is to fulfill the law of Christ and to image Christ to the world. To want to save the world is to attempt to be Christ and reap the praise he alone is due. The measure of the world Reflecting on the cultural power of the nightly news broadcast in 1985, Postman wrote: “It has not yet been demonstrated whether a culture can survive if it takes the measure of the world in twenty-two minutes.” Indeed, one may say that it has not yet been demonstrated whether a culture can survive if it takes the measure of the world in a brief scroll of Twitter, but the forecast is, well, a bit gloomy. Perhaps we, and our communities of faith or proximity, would be better served if we attempt to bear the burdens of our neighbors rather than feeling as though we have to bear the burdens of the world. Everyone’s problems are not all of our problems. Yes, we are called to bear one another’s burdens, but not everyone’s burdens. Christ alone can bear the burdens of the world. Our feeble attempts to do this are the roots of our gloom and malaise. Being a Savior is exhausting and it’s not who we were made to be. This originally appeared in Chris Martin’s "Terms of Service" newsletter and is reprinted here with permission. “Terms of Service” looks at the social internet from a Christian perspective, and you can sign up at www.termsofservice.social. His book, also called “Terms of Service,” is available at online retailers....
A valley of conquerors
God’s work in one Reformed community to set prisoners free from their bondage to sexual sin ***** The fire crackled in a massive stone fireplace behind us as we talked and sipped coffee. The handcrafted log home that surrounded us was almost finished, after seven years of construction. It was sitting at about 4,000 feet elevation, built on the side of Hudson Bay Mountain, in northwest British Columbia. I was meeting with the home’s builder, Bill DeVries, to learn about how God has brought hope to many men and women in the Bulkley Valley whose lives have been impacted by pornography and other forms of sexual bondage. While DeVries was building this stunning home for his clients, God has been working through him and others in this community to rebuild lives. Unlike the mansion on the mountainside, this work is being used by God to result in something much more valuable – transformed hearts, revitalized families, and captives set free. When it comes to the hold that Satan has on many in the world through pornography, this story is an exception, not the norm. But just as a spark has been fanned into a flame in one community, the hope is that it sets a fire across this land. For “nothing is impossible with God” (Luke 1:37). Stepping up with trepidation Reflecting on what started it all, DeVries was upfront with his own story. “I saw the lingering effects of porn use when I was young. The effect is still here. Seeing the impact it had on my own family, I wanted to find a way to break this.” He can see now how the LORD had been preparing himself and a number of other men in the local church community to bring leadership to this problem already back in the winter of 2017. A friend had shared with DeVries how he took part in a DVD program called the Conquer Series at a local church and was interested in sharing it with others, including the Reformed church community. God stirred the hearts of DeVries and a few other men to step out of their comfort zone and bring this program to the local churches, in particular the Canadian Reformed and United Reformed churches. DeVries explained how the program goes to the root of the issue, while always doing so in the context of grace through Christ. “It helps men to understand how a sin problem becomes a brain problem, and why it is so difficult to break free. It leads us to apply Scripture to get away from our shame identity, helping us to see grace, and our identity in Christ. It takes men into a daily, deep immersion in the Word.” The title lends itself from Romans 8:37: “In Christ we are more than conquerors.” “I went into it with a lot of trepidation,” DeVries recalled. He knew that dealing with pornography was not something to be done lightly and could impact marriages and lives in a big way. “We put out a bulletin notice. It was straightforward, describing how 60-70 percent of men struggle with pornography.” Through the work of the Holy Spirit, the ads struck a chord. 180 men lead the charge The first session was held in March of 2018, and 47 men courageously answered the call and showed up. DeVries and the other organizers were ready, with ten men prepared to lead small groups. They shared their own stories of their struggle with sexual sin, setting an example for vulnerability and creating a spirit of trust. The Conquer Series is much more than a 10-part DVD series. “It’s demanding. You get a half hour of work every day, and then three phone calls to different guys in their group every week.” But not only did those men carry on through the program, it has been run again in the Bulkley Valley many times since then, and to a variety of groups including teens and women. Shortly after the first time it was run, a group of 11 dads introduced the series to their sons in Grade 11 and 12. “The guys that led, led by being open about their own struggles. That opened the door for others to do the same.” It takes courage to be vulnerable with other men. It takes even more courage to talk about this with their sons. But DeVries shared that he had already come to a place of surrender. “I had nothing left for me to defend so it wasn’t that hard for me to speak into it.” The impact was immediate and others noticed. That September, another 49 men signed up to do the series. Since 2018 it has been run at least four times, though the group has become smaller each time since so many had already gone through it. In total it has reached about 180 men in the area, a couple dozen of whom have done it twice. It didn’t take long for local women and youth to follow the men’s lead. The organization behind the Conquer Series has also produced a number of other programs that have been run locally. Experiencing victory With so many men, women, and children having gone through these programs, the impact on the entire community has been both quiet and profound. Pastor James Slaa was the minister of the Smithers Canadian Reformed Church while the Conquer Series was run locally. Not only did he intentionally incorporate the issue in his preaching, he also took part in the series himself, something that requires an extra degree of vulnerability for a pastor. The fruit was evident quickly. “The exercise of immediately being able to confess our sins to others is something that rarely happened before, and Conquer Series provided that place for the men to come clean in just a matter of days” he shared. “Occurring on Saturday nights, there was something very special to be able to gather together for church the next day and partake fully in the gospel message of salvation and worship our great and loving God and Father.” Pastor Slaa could see the impact it was having on the entire church community. “I was also humbled and moved to tears at times to hear the testimonies of others and of their wives, seeing how God was working mightily” he shared. “In my last years in Smithers I was overwhelmed by God’s work among us. The war against evil was on, and God was winning handily and soundly.” I also reached out to a young father who was one of the first to go through the program. He asked to remain confidential but shared with me that “The Lord used it in an instrumental way to change the direction of my family and my career.” He has been exposed to other means to deal with the issue since, but none as effective. “It is the Lord who does the work, but good tools help” he added. “This is a good tool.” Devries understands the connection between tackling pornography and our spiritual health generally. “The impact has been really big. One of the biggest things is teaching us to be intentional. If you are intentional, you are in a way better position to not lose faith. Guys are testifying to how it has changed how they walk with the LORD and with their family.” He proceeded to share a couple of examples. “One of the guys asked what have I been up to. I told him about taking part in Conquers and my story. He looked at me and was just about bawling. ‘You struggle with that? I do too. This gives me hope.’ And then I saw him walk into serious victory in the battle.” “A young guy, from Grade 11 or 12, did the Conquer Series and then when it was done he came to me and said ‘Thanks man. This has given me hope when I thought I would never escape.’ He has gone on and been leading other groups since.” “A guy five years older than me did it and testified ‘It is the first time in my life that I have hope that I can gain the victory from this.’” DeVries shared that an indirect result is that there is more communication between husbands and wives. “If people are hiding something, the sexual relationship is affected, which affects a lot of life.” “There is more openness among women and they are more vulnerable with each other. That is something with my parent’s generation that was far more difficult. Most women have two or three people that they can be open with. That is probably a spin-off from the men taking the lead.” This also made DeVries think of the text found in Judges 5:2: “When the princes in Israel take the lead, when the people willingly offer themselves – praise the LORD!" DeVries believes that the program may even have indirectly resulted in the steady, deliberate, and firm leadership of the local churches through Covid. “People were charitable with each other. Relationships were maintained in a very difficult time. There was a willingness to listen and be vulnerable with others.” Amidst all of the reports of success, it was also evident that there is one demographic that DeVries remains particularly concerned about – older men. “There is a generation that seems to have given up.” He later explained, “it is a bit harder to break through to the older ones who think they have a lot more to lose if they come clean on this stuff.” One challenge with leading change, especially with problems that run deep, is maintaining a good trajectory and not falling back into old routines and sin. I asked if those who have gone through the program have been able to continue to walk in freedom. DeVries affirmed that has been the case, but that it requires intentionality. That is why many who have gone through it went on to lead other groups. They have also maintained accountability phone calls. Humility needed I also asked DeVries whether there is anything unique about the Reformed community that there was such interest in these programs. “From what I understand now, it is that we don’t know how to deal with trauma. If we look through our past seventy years, we see World War Two, a church split, immigration, settling into a new community, a new language, and a lot of hardship. A lot of trauma happened.” At the same time, families weren’t well prepared to deal with the brokenness. “Dad is busy just getting food on the table. Everyone is kind of living in a suppression. Amidst that, there is physical and sexual abuse. Moms and Grandmas are giving everything except themselves. I have noticed this as an elder through the years. A lot of people couldn’t open up during a home visit, especially the older generation.” Although the Conquer Series has blessed more than two million people worldwide, it isn’t known by most Reformed communities. But the impact it has had in the Bulkley Valley has caused others to hear of it and ask for more information. DeVries has fielded interest from Reformed Christians in Winnipeg, Edmonton, and the Fraser Valley. Some have testified to how there is a lot of resistance to doing something similar in the local Reformed churches in their area. I reached out to one Reformed Christian in a different part of Canada, who has devoted much effort in the past decade to seeing his church community address the same issue and asked to remain anonymous because of the negative experience he has had. Unlike DeVries, he was exasperated and deeply disappointed, especially by the church leadership. His assessment was blunt. “There are way too many people involved and they don’t want to deal with it.” “The problem is so big,” he shared, “that I don’t know a young man who isn’t involved.” But when he tried to bring leadership to the issue by bringing in speakers and resources, he was frustrated by the response from his church community. “ find everything that they don’t like” he shared. “80 percent of the time was spent on what we disagreed with.” Yet he continues to speak about the issue one-on-one because “I have seen the joy that transpires when people are set free.” It starts with starting There is indeed a longstanding suspicion from many in the Reformed community towards utilizing resources that don’t originate from within. There’s often good reason for these concerns, as we’re warned that many who profess to be Christian are actually wolves in sheep’s clothing (Matt. 7:15). So practicing discernment (1 John 4:1), and exercising caution is admirable. But paralysis is not. When faced with a pressing issue like pornography we can’t be so worried about making a misstep that we don’t take any steps at all. This would be akin to the servant in the Parable of the Talents (Matthew 25:14-30) who fearfully hid his talent, rather than risk misinvesting it. When asked what advice he has for others who may want to consider running the program, DeVries was quick to offer “Keep it simple and just do it.” Don’t make it too big. Don’t force people. Just start it and let the yeast do its work.” DeVries credits the success of the program to the fact that it jives with God’s Word, including the call to each of us in James 5:16 to “confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed….” Mark Penninga is the Executive Director of Reformed Perspective. You are invited to meet with Bill DeVries in October, via a new online forum, RP Conversations. Sign up, and find out more information here. Pastor James Slaa on the Conquer Series ***** "I remember the time when Conquer Series began. I heard that a group of men were getting together at an undisclosed location to deal with the matter of pornography. That was good news to me! I didn’t get too involved at that time, other than talk with organizers and get a broad understanding of the program. "The next year organizers wanted to run the program again, due to its success, and I was encouraged by one brother to attend, if only to provide support and encouragement. Having heard so many good things about it by now, I did. The program was running on Saturday evenings, from 7:00 to 10:00, which can be an important time for a pastor. It’s time to go over the sermons for the next day. Also, traditionally it was the evening to catch some Hockey Night in Canada. And finally, it’s a time to spend with family after a busy week. So, it took some sacrifice to commit. But since other men were committing to take the 10-week program every Saturday night, which was for them also usually a family night, and a time to relax, I felt I had no real excuse. Imagine my surprise when seeing over 60 men having registered! "I had some amazing first impressions. I remember the excitement in the air, which I eventually understood was really a large group of men who were expressing real hope. I also remember my initial reaction to the media presentation, which was professional and high quality. I recall the commitment of the program to be Biblical and Christian. I fondly remember how eventually nobody cared about keeping secret the undisclosed location and what was going on – there was such an excitement and joy over the next weeks that not only the men spoke openly about attending, but many wives were noting the substantial transformations of their husbands, and could not contain their exuberance! Besides, when people drive by a parking lot full of cars on a Saturday night, they naturally want to know what’s going on. "Personally, I received a lot of feedback from the attendees. They also commented on how much it meant to them that I too was attending and participating. I started to include material in the sermons and even preached on key Bible verses. This was very well received. Many strong bonds were forged amongst the men; I too built strong and lasting relationships on account of my attendance. We were a band of brothers, fighting the great evil and enemy of our time. "But I also knew that participating in the Conquer Series meant I too would be confronted by Scripture concerning my own life, thoughts, and actions. Conquer Series doesn’t merely address the sin and addiction of pornography but goes deeper into how the mind works and the brain functions. I greatly benefitted in weeding out a lot of junk in my own life. I grew in personal Bible devotions. I sought accountability in my life and on my devices. I remember how sitting in my small group for the first time that I was resisting opening up, but that over time, witnessing my fellow brothers confessing their sins, and seeing the Holy Spirit working, I too eventually opened up and expressed my own struggles, anger, frustrations, and stresses in my life. There was real joy and liberation in doing that and finding forgiveness in Jesus Christ. "At week six the idea is that there is full disclosure to your small group, and for me to know that was coming in my small group seemed inconceivable, but it is amazing how by the time you get to that week, you are led by the Holy Spirit and prepared to be open and honest, confessing your sins to one another, seeking prayers from each other, and experiencing freedom and liberation from the power of sin, and knowing assuredly the forgiveness of sins. Knowing as well that there will be falls and relapses, still, the exercise of immediately being able to confess our sins to others is something that rarely happened before, and Conquer Series provided that place for the men to come clean in just a matter of days. Occurring on Saturday nights, there was something very special to be able to gather together for church the next day and partake fully in the gospel message of salvation and worship our great and loving God and Father. "I was also humbled and moved to tears at times to hear the testimonies of others and of their wives, seeing how God was working mightily. In my last years in Smithers I was overwhelmed by God’s work among us. The war against evil was on, and God was winning handily and soundly. "I knew there were some concerns about whether this program is Biblically sound. Personally, I found nothing significant that was an attack on the Reformed faith and thus of the evil one. Satan was being slammed down, and that was evidence enough to me that this is a Biblical and Christian program that advanced truth and freedom. I look back with fondness on that special time with my brothers in the Lord and how through God’s grace and power we experienced real victory, a taste of what is to come!"...