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Truth requires you to love and love requires you to be truthful

Contrary to popular opinion, love and truth don’t stand in opposition to one another. In fact, you can’t really have one without the other. To love truth, you have to be committed to love, and to love love, you have to be committed to truth. The most loving person who ever lived, so loving that he died a cruel and bloody public death for crimes that others committed, was at the same time the most forthright and honest truth speaker that the world had ever known. It was not just that the love of Jesus never contradicted his candor and his candor never inhibited his love. No, there was something more profound going on. His commitment to truth speaking was propelled by his love. The biblical call to love will never force you to trim, deny, or bend the truth, and the biblical call to truth will never ask you to abandon God’s call to love your neighbor. We see this graphically displayed in a very well-known moment in the life of Jesus Christ. It is recorded in Luke 18:18–30. A rich ruler comes to Jesus to ask him about eternal life. It is a very good question that gets a very hard and honest answer. As you read the conversation, it doesn’t look like Jesus is engaging in very successful evangelism by modern standards. In a moment of complete honesty, Jesus doesn’t work to make the gospel attractive. Rather, he hones in on and exposes the central idolatry of this man’s heart. Jesus tells this man the bad news he needs to hear if he is ever to want the good news he desperately needs. So Luke is recording something very important for us. In the face of Jesus’s honesty, the man walks away, and as he does, Jesus looks at him with sadness. You see, Jesus isn’t being cold and indifferent. He doesn’t lack love. The hard words are motivated by love, and Jesus’s sadness at the end of the conversation exposes the love that motivated the words he had said. There is no mean-spirited condemnation in the words of Christ. Those hard words are words of grace, spoken by the Savior of love, spoken to redeem. Truth isn’t mean and love isn’t dishonest. They are two sides of the same righteous agenda that longs for the spiritual welfare of another. Truth not spoken in love ceases to be truth because it gets bent and twisted by other human agendas, and love that abandons the truth ceases to be love because it forsakes what is best for the person when it has been corrupted by other motives. Today you are called to loving honesty and honest love. You will be tempted to let one or the other slip from your hands. Pray for the help of the One who remained fully committed to both, even to death. His grace is your only hope of staying true to his righteous agenda.

For further study and encouragement: 1 Corinthians 13. Taken from “New Morning Mercies” by Paul David Tripp, © 2014, pp. August 6th Entry. Used by permission of Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers, Wheaton, IL 60187, www.crossway.org. This was first posted on Oct. 11, 2017.

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Fraud and Truth

Fraud is defined as wrongful or criminal deception intended to result in financial or personal gain. And insurance fraud is a deliberate deception perpetrated against or by an insurance company or agent for the purpose of financial gain. When my husband was still in practice as a veterinarian, he was often asked to sign death certificates for farmers – certificates which would assure an insurance company that the claim the farmer was making on the death of a cattle beast by lightning was authentic. There were a number of occasions, however, when he could not in good conscience sign that form for a hopeful farmer as there had been no thunder storms or lightning in the area and as it was obvious that something else had killed the animal. Should’ve been mortified In 2005 an English man by the name of Anthony McErlean – a trustworthy, bespectacled, older-looking gentleman – impersonated his wife and handed in his own death insurance claim to an insurance company. The claim stated that he had died after being struck by a cabbage truck while traveling in Honduras. The life insurance payout was a whopping 520,000 pounds. It was a lot of money and, sniffing a hint of fraud, the insurance company checked out the circumstances with the police. Strangely enough, the police found Anthony's fingerprints all over his own death certificate suggesting that Anthony McErlean had filled in the form after he had died. This was, of course, an impossibility. Found out, charged with fraud, the man was sentenced to six years in prison. Anthony's wife, who was obviously not acquainted with Exodus 23:1 – “You shall not spread a false report. You shall not join hands with a wicked man to be a malicious witness” – was also sentenced. Fraud started early There are numerous frauds recorded in history. All of them are the result of our forebears, Adam and Eve, who literally “fell” for the lines which the greatest fraudster of all had fed them. Those lines are recorded in Genesis and read: "Has God really said?" and "You will not surely die." The repercussions of their fall into sin resound throughout the ages. Remember, for example: "Jacob said to his father, ‘I am Esau your firstborn. I have done as you told me; now sit up and eat of my game, that your soul may bless me.’” – Gen 27:19 “... and the worthless men brought a charge against Naboth.” – 1 Kings 21:13 “... a man named Ananias with his wife Sapphira, sold a piece of property.” – Acts 5:1 The refrain of dishonest gain played (and plays) on. Murderous fraud During the 1780s, it is estimated that some 300,000 slaves were exported from Africa and carried away into captivity by slavers. In 1664, the British captured and took Cape Coast Castle in Ghana. Throughout the 1700s construction on this castle was continuous. Bricks and tiles from England were imported. Rebuilding the large structure, they used it ignominiously. The castle grew in size. It grew because the slave trade grew – a trade that constituted 90% of business on the Gold Coast. A slave outpost, Cape Coast Castle boasted large underground dungeons which had little ventilation and no windows. Throughout the years of this immoral trade, it played the wicked host to about a thousand prisoners at a time. Vast numbers of enslaved Africans who entered the structure through a door dubbed "Door of no Return,” were brought to this fortification prior to being sold into bondage. In the summer of 1781, a British slave ship left Ghana after herding out 442 slaves from the dungeons of Cape Coast Castle. The vessel, captained by a Luke Collingwood and named Zong, was excessively overloaded. Its human cargo was stuffed tightly into a five-foot-high hold like the proverbial sardines in a can. There was also a ledge along the edge of the hold and it served to store more people even as books are stored on a shelf. On this journey, the Zong's hold was what was described as a “tight pack,” which meant that as many people were crammed together as the space could possibly contain. Moreover, these captured people were chained together. They could not leave to go to a toilet, but day after long day had to lie in their own excrement. Conditions were ripe for illness and death. If one slave died, he was often not removed immediately, and the chained body could remain in his stilted position for hours and hours between two live people. The area was dark, the air was stale and the smell putrid. There was a ship's doctor, a man who stood to receive bonus payment depending on how many slaves stayed alive. Bound for Jamaica the Zong, due to a navigational error, spent three extra weeks at sea, much longer than anticipated. The usual six to eleven weeks trip morphed into twelve and thirteen weeks. Consequently, the water supply dwindled. It was now November. Sickness in the fold had begun, malnutrition, filth and sadness causing the subjugated to weaken day after day. Wanting to do something to hedge his bets on delivering healthy freightage, Captain Collingwood jettisoned some of the cargo. You might remember the story of Paul as he was on a ship that was troubled by storm and recall that some of the cargo on that ship was thrown overboard to lighten the load. However, the cargo on board the Zong was not tackle or some other material commodity; no, the cargo jettisoned on board the Zong consisted of human beings. In light of the fact that these humans had been insured, Captain Colllingwood had 132 sick slaves thrown into the Atlantic. If they had died on board, the crew would not be able to claim any insurance money. When the Zong finally arrived in Black River, Jamaica, the ship's owner, a fellow by the name of James Gregson, filled out an insurance claim fraudulently asserting that money for the loss of the slaves was due. The abolitionists of the day used this horrendous death claim to focus public attention on the plight of the slaves. The case went to court. In 1783, the crew of the Zong was tried. The case was heard, however, as an insurance dispute rather than as a murder trial. The question was not, “Can the murder of 132 slaves go unpunished?” but rather “Can the cargo be covered by the insurance company?" The publicity surrounding this trial caused the King's Bench, (the highest court in Britain), to call for a second trial. Although the abolitionists sought to have criminal charges brought against the captain and the crew, this was refused by the British Solicitor General, John Lee. He is quoted to have said: "What is this claim that human people have been thrown overboard? This is a case of chattels or goods. Blacks are goods and property; it is madness to accuse these well-serving honorable men of murder.... The case is the same as if wood had been thrown overboard." Conclusion The fraud in the Zong case seems to be fraud at its extreme. It makes you gag and throw up your hands at the absurdity and wickedness of the whole story, at the depths of the depravity of the human heart. Fraud, again, is defined as wrongful or criminal deception intended to result in financial or personal gain. There was another court case once: it was one that took place in Jerusalem; it was one of the greatest criminal deceptions of all time; it was one thought by the abusers to be a personal victory; and it was one that determined our eternal fate. When Jesus was convicted as a common criminal, Satan rejoiced and his minions with him. The strange thing is that this most fraudulent court case ever recorded in the annals of mankind worked for good; the strange thing is that those who believe that this fraud was foretold and that it came to pass because God willed it are blessed; and the strange thing is that those who thank God for this fraud are saved....

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Allies vs. cobelligerents: don't mix them up!

Sometimes we find the most unlikely sorts fighting alongside us. Maybe it’s atheists and Roman Catholics standing with us against abortion, or feminists joining hands with us against pornography, or Jungian psychologists leading the way for us defending freedom of speech. When that happens it is important to understand what sort of combined effort we are making. As Douglas Wilson explains in Empires of Dirt: "An ally fights the same enemy you are fighting, and for the same reasons. A co-belligerent fights them for different reasons.” The danger is in mistaking co-belligerents for allies. When we side with a group like feminists, we have to keep in mind that the relationship between co-belligerents is not that of friendship, but utility – they are with us only so long as we can further their ends. But Paul's warning against being "unequally yoked" (2 Cor 6:14) applies here, because feminists have many ends we want no part of. Take the matter of “equality.” We believe in that too, right? That's why it would be only natural if, after working together against pornography, we mistook feminists for our buddies, and wanted to help them on the matter of “women’s rights” too. The problem is, we aren’t like-minded. Feminists are not our allies. Their understanding of equality is rooted in an ungodly denial of any gender differences. While we can stand side-by-side with them against sexual harassment, and against pornography, and against sex-selective abortion, we have to be aware they’re going to spin it all as being about “women’s rights.” And we have to ensure we don’t make the mistake of “allying” with their understanding of the term. Yes, we believe in equality, but not rooted in sameness. Equality has nothing to do with the genders being interchangeable and indistinguishable. No, God made us male and female and it is an attack on His creative genius to dismiss or demean what makes men masculine and what makes women feminine. On this point we do not side with the feminists, but must stand with the French: vive la difference! Different is good (Genesis 1:31, 2:18) and, in fact, these differences are to be explored and celebrated! So Christians have an entirely different basis for equality. We recognize that we are all unique, varying in our height, weight, hair color, eye color, and skin color, and in interests, abilities and much, much more. Thus the only real basis for equality is in the one thing (and one thing only) we all share: male and female, black and white, tall and short, blonde and brunette, all of us are made in God’s image.  Christians can be co-belligerents with feminists and others, on any number of issues, but we must never make the mistake of thinking or acting like these groups are our allies....

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When it comes to witnessing, are we just too impatient?

How long would you patiently wait for your morning coffee? Five minutes? Would you even last that long? What if you first had to manually grind the beans, boil the water over a fire, and, if you wanted cream with it, milk the cow? It wasn’t so many years ago that these time-consuming tasks had to be performed prior to enjoying a morning coffee. And back then, when they had to put work into it, do you think people were as particular about the taste and quality of their coffee? Not so much. However, today, with our near-instant coffee gratification, it seems the more we get, the more we expect, and even demand. Impatience with God? Of course, a little impatience when it comes to coffee isn’t too concerning. But do we have this same impatience with God also? Daily, when we receive a multitude of mercies from God, isn’t it our nature to turn around and demand more, better, and faster? We wouldn’t use those words in our prayers, but in our hearts we do want God to use His power to give us what we think is best… and give it right away. Are we patient and persistent when praying and working for the furtherance of God’s Kingdom? Or are we often in a great rush in our witnessing to the lost? If we don’t see a response of faith in the first few weeks, or months, or years, we become impatient, we despair, and we wonder if it is all a waste of time. If it isn’t working, just move on, right? Wrong. We don’t know – and don’t get to set – the speed at which God ought to work in the lives of people who are lost. God’s speed often appears to us to be a strangely slow speed, but that is His business, not ours. Our job is to be faithful to the task He has given us. And our patience with people is proof of our love for them – and proof of our faith in God’s power to change them. Patience is so important that J.I. Packer dared to write: “If you are not willing thus to be patient, you need not expect that God will favor you by enabling you to win souls.” Persistent witness When we look to the Bible, we see the apostles repeatedly preaching the gospel even when there was opposition. And they continued to do so after repeatedly being arrested, imprisoned, and told to cease (Acts 4-5). It was persevering during hardship. That is a concept that many Christians in the West have little experience of. Why do we experience setbacks while we are working in obedience to God’s commands? It seems like an unnecessary trial. In our weaker moments we could be tempted to think that if God wants us to build His church, He should (at least) remove the obstacles so it wouldn’t take so long. The apostles stop when – and only when – they are forcefully driven out (Acts 13:50-51) or opposed, verbally berated, and mocked (Acts 18:6). In so doing, they followed Jesus’ command: “Do not give what is holy to the dogs; nor cast your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you in pieces” (Matt.7:6) and: “And if anyone will not receive you or listen to your words, shake off the dust from your feet when you leave that house or town” (Matt.10:14). God isn’t “looking for results” the same way that we often do. Rather, God is the one who brings results about, and He decides how and when those results will come about. We are merely tools in God’s hand, used by Him to bring about His purposes in His timing. And God often uses processes that try our patience, test our perseverance, and cause us to trust His power, purposes and timing. Once again, J.I. Packer’s words come to mind: “God saves in His own time, and we ought not to suppose that He is in such a hurry as we are… the work of evangelizing demands more patience and sheer 'stickability', more reserves of persevering love and care, than most of us twenty-first century Christians have at (our) command.” So let us not grow weary while doing good, for in due season – according to God’s timetable and not our own – we will reap, if we do not lose heart. Pastor Brian Zegers has been called to minister the Gospel to Muslims in the Greater Toronto Area, and Peter Vogel serves full-time as Ministry Assistant at Word of Life Ministry. Find them at WordOfLifeMinistry.ca and their YouTube channel “True Salaam” where they seek to explain the Gospel to Muslim viewers....

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All's well with the Earth

"I'm so glad that my parents never experienced such a time as this, such a time of uncertainty." "I'm so glad they did not have to endure this period of trial during which churches and other places are closed." "I'm so thankful that they did not have to live through these past two years because it would have broken their heart to know that I would not have been able to visit them in their old age home or sit at their bedside in a hospital." *** Presently many people quote and identify with such sentiments as are stated above. There are those who have become terribly angry; others are reduced to tears of depression because of increasing loneliness; there are many others who are extremely frustrated about being denied access to restaurants, theatres and vacations; and there are those who fear the ongoing Covid death tolls announced daily in the news media. Is it true that our parents, our ancestors, or any people in times past, had no idea about such hardships or deprivations? Or have past generations undergone their own distressing circumstances and severe affliction? And does history give us accountings of such circumstances? Consider Charles Spurgeon, (1834-1892), who lived with much pain a great part of his life. His wife was bedridden for the greater part of their marriage. Spurgeon had smallpox, he had gout, as well as rheumatism, Bright's disease (an inflammation of the kidneys) and was afflicted, from time to time, with severe depression. It is recorded that he spent nearly a third of his last twenty-two years not even able to preach. Still, this preacher freely confessed that his distress and hardship drew him closer to God. He is quoted as saying, speaking to a number of ministers and students: "I daresay the greatest earthly blessing that God can give to any of us is health, with the exception of sickness... If some men I know could only be favored with a month of rheumatism, it would by God's grace, mellow them marvelously." Since the Fall, suffering and distress have been part of humanity. Perhaps, being caught smack in the middle of a discouraging time period, it would seem that this twenty-first century is undergoing an especially calamitous and catastrophic time. Yet going back only a little in time, as little as the last century, we immediately glimpse turmoil, confusion and unrest in that time period as well. And yet our parents lived through it – lived through it and were blessed. My father and mother, for example, were born in the first decade of 1900 – a time rife with many tragic and disastrous events. An extremely limited but worthwhile overview follows, listing a few of those events. *** At the onset of the twentieth century, concentration camps were being operated by the British in South Africa. This was during and after the Second Boer War (1899-1902). Whole regions in South Africa were targeted and depopulated. Systematic destruction of Boer crops and livestock went alongside the burning down of homesteads and farms to prevent the Boers from returning there. Tens of thousands of men, women and children were forcibly moved into these concentration camps. Originally set up as refugee camps for displaced people, epidemics of measles and typhoid killed thousands interred there. Hygiene was terrible. Eventually, there were a total of 45 camps for the Boers and 64 more camps for black Africans. Of the 28,000 Boer men who were captured as prisoners of war, 25,630 were sent overseas. Approximately 26,000 women and children died in these camps. In 1906 there was an earthquake in California. This 7.9 earthquake ranks as one of the most significant earthquakes of all time. Its epicenter was near San Francisco, and it spawned devastating fires in its wake. More than 3,000 people died and over eighty percent of the city was destroyed. In 1907 a Peasants' Revolt in Romania, caused by inequity in land ownership, was squelched by the Romanian military. At least 11,000 were killed. 1908 saw another destructive earthquake. It took place in Italy. Measured as 7.1 in magnitude, it caused the death of between 75,000 and 82,000 people. The city of Messina's shoreline was greatly altered, as large sections of its coast sunk several feet into the sea. Houses, churches, palaces and monuments collapsed. Without distinction, railway workers, priests, sculptors, historians, politicians, ambassadors, policemen, writers, singers and attorneys were struck down in one small moment of time. In 1912, the ship Titanic sank after striking an iceberg. Fifteen thousand of her passengers died. The ship carried some of the wealthiest people in England as well as hundreds of immigrants from Great Britain, Ireland and Scandinavia – people who were seeking a new life in the US. In 1912-13 the First and Second Balkan Wars ravaged southeastern Europe. These resulted in huge casualties. The Bulgarians lost approximately 65,000 men, the Greeks 9,500, the Montenegrins, 3,000, the Serbs at least 36,000 and the Ottomans as many as 125,000. As well, tens of thousands of civilians died from disease. In 1914 WWI began, resulting in the deaths of 40 million. From February 1918 to April 1920 the Spanish Flu or the Great Influenza Epidemic seemed to reign. A deadly global influenza pandemic, it was caused by the H1N1 influenza A virus. With 500 million suspected cases, this pandemic engendered an estimated 25-50 million deaths. *** Often, we think we are in control, or we want to be in control, in total control… and then something happens. It might be an accident, job loss, a war, a broken relationship, or a pandemic. But these things have always been and will be until Christ returns. Another quote from Spurgeon puts it in this way, a very good way: "I am afraid that all the grace I have got of my comfortable and easy times and happy hours, might almost lie on a penny. But the good that I have received from my sorrows, and pains, and griefs, is altogether incalculable.... Affliction is...the best book in a minister's library." Isaiah, the great prophet Isaiah, totally concurs with Spurgeon and calls out the words of our providential God and Father: I am the Lord, and there is no other, besides me there is no God; I equip you, though you do not know me,  that people may know, from the rising of the sun and from the west, that there is none besides me; I am the Lord, and there is no other.  I form light and create darkness; I make well-being and create calamity; I am the Lord, who does all these things. – Isaiah 45:5-7...

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Gezellig: cozy, restful

When I think of my mom, an image that often comes to me is one of her sitting in her rocking chair, holding her cup of coffee, either reading her Bible or cuddling a child. It is not just an image, it is a feeling, one of safety and of rest. Those who know my mom know she is one of the hardest workers in Christ’s field, always serving her family and his church, filling her home with baked goods for anyone who stops by, and frozen meals so that unexpected visitors are always expected. Yet, a hard-working pattern of life at my parents' home is also a life of rest. How? My parents are both children of Dutch immigrants who fled Holland in the years following WWII. These grandparents of mine helped start faithful Reformed churches and worked incredibly hard to survive in a new land. They brought their Dutch traditions with them, some that continue to be practiced among their grandchildren, and some which have likely faded away with time. One simple, but beautiful tradition that may start fading in our modern world is that of a gezellig coffee break. Gezellig means something cozy, restful, a comfortable conviviality that fills you up with joy. The Swedish word is fika and in Danish, hygge means something similar. Having a hygge life has become more popular in North America in the past few years, books have been written on it, numerous blog posts talk about it. Hygge is the pursuit of everyday happiness, a sense of comfort and togetherness, it is warm socks and a crackling fire. In the modern world, people are in desperate need of an excuse to slow down, a practice to help them savor the moment. When I started to notice these words pop up on my social media feed I was immediately transported to my Dutch upbringing of coffee and cake after church, coffee time each afternoon when dad came home, and morning coffee time. Unfortunately, my usual practice is to make coffee for myself in the morning and then carry it around with me wherever I go for the next two hours. I know this is not unique, in fact, it has become a marketable practice as special coffee cups to transport and keep your coffee warm are now a regular commodity. Last summer I got the privilege of spending three months on my parents' farm. Each day my parents were up early working, but at 10:00 am we always stopped for a coffee and snack break. 15 minutes of rest, then back at work till lunch, then work until 3:00 pm for another short rest with a drink and snack. A much-loved tradition in the hearts of all us siblings, and in our many friends over the years, was an added nightly ritual around 9:00 pm of gathering together for a drink and snacks to spend time talking about our day and enjoying one another. My husband and I remarked to each other many times throughout last summer that we did not understand how we could end a day feeling more productive than usual, but also more rested. I believe the answer is in these natural patterns of life my parents had, with these simple breaks to gather and be still. For me, this practice of hard work and regular coffee breaks has become a daily reminder of the life of a Christian. Living on this side of heaven we still must work hard to fight against sin, the world, and the devil. We are not yet fully in the Promised Land. Yet, already in Christ we also have all the spiritual blessings in the heavenly places (Eph.2:6-7). We work and simultaneously rest, resting in the joy that it has all been accomplished, in Christ who has declared, “you are mine!” The coffee break does not have to include others, the routines of these moments of sitting and resting are also a habit of the heart to rest in the day that the Lord has made. A day of hard work becomes marked by the joy also of looking forward to these quiet times of savoring the moment, leaning into Christ, and having fellowship in your home. My children love to have “tea-time” with mom, a momentary break each day to sit and see the little blessings we have, the birds that fly by our yard, the taste of the tea, a little snuggle, and a plan for what the rest of the day will look like. Of course, when your children are young not each day will be gezellig, for each magical morning you may have one terrible one, and two mediocre ones, but it's the life-long pattern that matters, and it's the building of relationship blocks that will have your children coming over for coffee time way into their adulthood. Do not underestimate how beneficial it may be for your marriage to have a daily practice of sitting for 15 minutes and enjoying the day together. My parents did that faithfully, and it's another one of those images that brings me delight in the wisdom they taught by example. Work hard and rest. Sit on your own. Fellowship with your family. Invite friends and strangers over. Let the watching world see your deep joy rooted in a simple life filled with the beautiful blessings of rest and a gaze towards the One who gives it. One last note: a gezellig coffee break has no room for cell phones....

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Neither poverty nor riches? Making God our priority in prayer

People prefer to be rich rather than poor. It’s therefore striking that the Bible gives us a record of this prayer in Prov. 30:8: …give me neither poverty nor riches; feed me with the food that is needful for me. Agur, the person expressing this, isn’t asking for much: just an allotment of bread, a fixed portion. He leaves it up to the LORD God to establish that portion. A humble petition This Old Testament prayer is echoed in the petition that Jesus taught his disciples: “Give us this day our daily bread” (Matt. 6:11). Does this idea, especially seen against its more explicit setting in the Old Testament, make you feel uncomfortable? Do you find it difficult or easy to pray like this? Or don’t you pray about your daily needs at all? What’s the further biblical context of this request? Although the LORD may give us earthly riches, he teaches us to focus not on them, but on his Kingdom. God is our Father, the King of his people. He lovingly directs our lives and calls us to respond to him by relying on him to provide for us while serving him gladly (Ps 100:2). Pray confidently to our all-powerful and merciful Father for daily food! By praying in this way, you oppose the spirit of the world. You reject the idea that people are self-sufficient. People often think they can take care of themselves. They cherish the illusion that they are in full control of events. But God gives sunshine and rain. Without his blessings, crops will fail and ultimately all endeavours will amount to nothing that has eternal value. It’s a human inclination to want an abundance of good things. However, understanding our calling to live for God leads to a reorientation of our lives. Through Jesus Christ, God gives the means we need to live for him. We learn to pray for what we need to live for him in a fruitful way. A bold petition This is also the thrust of the prayer of Jabez in 1 Chr 4:9-10, a petition of a man whose name is linked to the pain of his mother at childbirth. Although Scripture describes such pain as one of the consequences of sin, this doesn’t exclude the possibility of blessings. Jabez prayed to “the God of Israel,” asking for the blessing of enlarged borders, meaning more territory. Was this a greedy petition? No, it was in harmony with the LORD’s promise of land for his people to provide for their needs. Jabez asked for more territory within the context of fellowship with the LORD, praying “that your hand might be with me.” He also prayed, “keep me from harm so that it might not bring me pain.” This is at root not unlike the petition “deliver us from evil” (Mt 6:13) in the Lord’s Prayer. So, we pray for and look for opportunities to serve our God fruitfully with what he provides. The important thing is to leave it up to him how he will honour such petitions as we seek to use the gifts he gives us to glorify him.  A liberating petition The LORD determines the potential and the limits of our abilities. Knowing and acknowledging this can be a liberating experience. Don't take on too many responsibilities, trying to do more than you can actually oversee. Whatever you do, keep in mind what your motives are. Are you doing this to serve God, or just to get even further ahead financially? There is more to life than economic gains. Do you have a family? You have more than just financial responsibilities toward them. We live in a world that is affected by man’s fall into sin. That means there are spiritual challenges which we will have to face. Lay your motives and goals before the LORD God in prayer. That makes a big difference. It will lead to peace. The condition is, however, to trust in God and ask him for our daily bread. As long as he has a task for us in this life, he will provide us with what we need.  Dr. Pol is a retired minister of the Carman West Canadian Reformed Church in Manitoba....

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Comfort facing death

Do you ever think about your own death? Poets may come up with flowery words and philosophers may make scholarly statements that ring hollow when there is no connection with the Word of God. But in Psalm 139 God gives us the comfort we need when facing the end of our lives. It brings into sharp focus that no matter where we are, the LORD, our covenant God, is there. He knows everything about us, even our thoughts! That can frighten someone who tries to escape from God, but for those who put their trust in Him, it gives us confidence and strength. God has been working on us In verse 13, David highlights God’s personal involvement in our lives from conception onwards. He poetically describes the creative activity of the LORD, “you formed my inward parts.” The Hebrew word used for “formed” here points to ownership. Our God has been personally involved in shaping our bodies and has laid his personal stamp on our very being. David continues the thought in a parallel fashion, “you knitted me together in my mother’s womb.” He is honouring the LORD, who lays the basis for the development of each body part, weaving the network of bones and tissues. “I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made” (Ps 139:14). In verse 15, David speaks of having been “woven.” The word he uses occurs eight times in the book of Exodus. There it refers to the work of someone who weaves coloured cloth or who embroiders a cloth with coloured threads. That requires talent and skill. As scientific advances continue, we can learn more and more about the complexity of the human body and stand in awe of God’s creative work! God has plans for us David marvels further in the next verse, “Your eyes saw my unformed substance.” This indicates divine activity, not the seeing of an uninterested spectator. He broadens the picture dramatically by stating “in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them.” God’s knowledge of our lives includes foreknowledge. His care for us predates our lives and forms part of a plan that extends beyond our temporary existence on earth. Knowing that our lives here on earth are limited by God should not make us afraid. He, who has put so much thought and effort into forming us in the wombs of our mothers, promises to be with us throughout our lives and beyond that. God is with us Centuries after David wrote Psalm 139, God was at work in the womb of the virgin Mary. He shaped a body for his only begotten Son. The coming of the Son of God into the world was truly a “wonder,” a miracle beyond comprehension. Jesus Christ is Immanuel, “God with us.” Nothing throughout his life, including his crucifixion and death, happened by chance. He was “delivered up… crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men,” but all of this took place “according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God” (Ac 2:23). God’s plan was for his Son to become the Saviour of sinners and to lead people like you and me into fellowship with God forever. The question we face when contemplating David’s words is whether or not we are prepared to echo them. Do we take comfort from knowing that our Creator is the LORD, our faithful covenant God? Are we entrusting ourselves and our eternal future into the hands of him who put so much thought and effort into forming us in the wombs of our mothers? Psalm 139 ends with a petition. “Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts! And see if there be any grievous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting!” (Ps 139: 23-24). Are you prepared to make this prayer your own? Guided by the Word and Spirit of God, you may then be confident that his way is the way of life forever with him (Ps 139:24)! Dr. Pol is a retired minister of the Carman West Canadian Reformed Church in Manitoba....

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A matter of seeing: decay and delights to consider

Some years back we rented a little island cottage north of Kingston, Ontario, sight unseen, for the first week of July.  The fact that in a world filled with animosity and chaos – spiritually as well as financially – we could freely do such a thing as rent a cottage was truly amazing.  We read of beheadings, homicides, protests, countless refugee camps; of the persecuted, impoverished and dying; of massive and mind-boggling national debts; and we were free and able to go to a cottage.  It is something to digest - something over which to chew. It was a Friday afternoon when we traveled along the 401 towards our destination. We stopped at a small motel across from the Brighton Christian Reformed Church where, forty-two years ago, our second daughter had been baptized by my oldest brother. My brother is now with the Lord; the church, however, and its denomination, have deteriorated incredibly. We walked around the church building with a pang and thought, “How the mighty have fallen,” but Paul's voice reproved us as we drove away across the black parking lot, “... let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall.” Four score and some years… Saturday morning we drove on towards Elgin, bought some fruit and then, became a trifle lost.  We asked directions from a man who was an apparent four score and some years – a man who was motoring along on the edge of his driveway in a wheelchair.  He was a friendly sort, all gummy smiles and anxious to help.  After he had pointed us in the right direction, he began to back up his wheelchair... towards the nearby ditch. My husband, Anco, spoke loudly through the open window, "Stop! Stop, sir!  There's a ditch behind you!" His voice grew louder as the thin, old figure smilingly continued to move backwards. "Stop! Stop!" It was too late. The wheelchair and its occupant slid down a small embankment.  The octogenarian fell backwards off his seat and tumbled onto the grass.  We were both out of the car in an instant, as was another motorist passing by. Thin glasses had been knocked off.  We reached him as he, on all fours, was reaching for them. A little dazed, the man still smiled as we carefully helped him up. "You really have to watch those culverts," he said and grinned, while blood dribbled down his nose from small cut next to his left eye. "Are you all right?" I held onto his arm, and he nodded brightly. "I'm fine, really I am." My husband and the other motorist retrieved the mechanized wheelchair, rolling it back onto the driveway.  I held a kleenex on his cut and like a child that has fallen off his bicycle for the first time, he climbed back on the wheelchair full of courage. "I hit the reverse instead of the forward," he said, "I should have known better." Anco checked the cut, but it was small and he seemed fine.  So we drove off as he waved to us. Good news and bad We launched our boat at the appointed dock at Sand Lake.  The owner, who was to meet us and guide us to the cottage, was late. She arrived in a small aluminum boat, exclaiming as she jumped out, "You must be Anco and Christine.  Sorry about the wait." We nodded and she went on. "There's good news and bad news.  I'll give you the bad news first." We nodded again. "There was a fire in your cottage last night and the fire department had to come.  The good news is that the cottage did not burn down and my daughter and myself have been cleaning all day." We sympathized greatly, raised our eyebrows at one another when she wasn't looking, and followed her, boat-wise, out to the cottage.  A little three-room construction on a beautiful hilly, three-acre island met our eyes.  Fir trees, mossy rocks, a female loon nesting on a little outcropping by the dock, all met our expectations of a northern getaway.  Disembarking and loading ourselves down with food and luggage, we climbed up a small path towards the front door.  As we entered the smell of smoke pricked our nostrils.  The upstairs bedroom ceiling was somewhat blackened but, on the whole, with the windows flung wide open, things seemed to be under control. "The last people," Joan, our landlady, volunteered, "foolishly lit a candle before drifting off to sleep and the lampshade under which the candle was standing caught fire.  The wife burned one of her hands trying to put the fire out.  She had to go to emergency.  They left a day early." We nodded once more and felt compelled to say that, generally speaking, we were not in the habit of burning candles. Joan next related that a John 3:16 framed Bible text had been standing on the night table but, amazingly enough, it had not caught fire.  This was something which had confounded the pyromaniac couple causing them to exclaim, "Your God did not burn!"  Joan, who was a Christian, smiled as she told us this, commenting that perhaps this would give them something to think about. Wonders to behold We spent the week fishing, playing Boggle, reading Spurgeon sermons and marveling at God's creation. There was a scarlet tanager moment in which we noted a small splotch of red in a rock pool - a crimson fifth-day creature stretching its wings as it bathed.  God must have smiled when he pronounced this bird good. We often heard the raucous cry of the great blue heron as he skimmed by and saw, nearby, the dark belly and the white tail of the bald eagle majestically soar overhead.  Again and again, the muskrat, apparently undaunted by our presence, swam up to and past our boat towards rock crevices on the shore.  Daily the female loon, whom we dubbed Constance for her faithfulness in brooding her eggs, eyed us as we paddled by on our way out.  A cerulean warbler sang a duet with a pine warbler.  Water lilies lined inlets and little bays.  During the day, the high heavens above declared how great God's love was towards us; and as we contentedly fished in the evening, the red-balled setting sun in the west sang of the immeasurable distance God had removed our sins from us.  The osprey as well as the kingfisher dove, the big and small mouthed bass bit, and we tanned under God's goodness. Something better coming Yet we were unable to forget that we are pilgrims and continue to be pilgrims en route to a much, much better place than Sand Lake or any other northern getaway.  For even as we enjoyed and glorified God's goodness, Genesis 3 lurked in the background. We noted that creation has many thorns and thistles. There was poison ivy to avoid.  Fly-catchers hunted dragonflies and other insects. Bald eagles and osprey ate fish. Owls hunted mice... and so the list went on.  And in the background, the newspaper headlines we had left behind, whispered of terrorist organizations, human turkey vultures, seemingly devouring God's people as if eating bread.  Neither could we hide from the rampant materialism, egoism and self-centeredness breeding around and in ourselves.  It skulked in our hearts and minds; it hid in the weeds as we trolled the shores of earthly life for a piece of the action. On our way home, we stopped to say hello to the man who had fallen off his wheelchair.  Full of good cheer, he was glad to see us.  He told us that when he had fallen off his wheelchair, one of the things that had initially concerned him the most was that he might have lost his eye.  It seemed that his left eye was made of glass.  He was greatly relieved that it had remained in place in spite of the fall.  We told him that we had prayed for his well-being and he smiled broadly. We drove off thinking about the man's eye, and about eyes in general. After the fall, the continued though spoiled beauty in nature is God's gift; and the promise of a totally renewed nature – both for the earth and for ourselves – through our Lord Jesus Christ, is grace.  And Paul's words of hope followed us as we drove home on the highway, "For, as it is written, no eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love Him" (I Cor. 2:9). This first appeared in the November 2015 issue. Christine Farenhorst is the author of many books, including "Hidden: Stories of War and Peace," "Katharina, Katharina: the story of Katharina Schutz Zell," and "The Sweet Taste of Providence."...

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Woven Together

My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place, when I was woven together in the depths of the earth. Your eyes saw my unformed body; all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be. (Psalm 139:15-16) ***** It was a rather warm, early afternoon, if I recall properly, a long-ago day in April of 1978. Our oldest daughter was in grade one, our second daughter was attending kindergarten and the two younger ones were napping soundly. I was cleaning up after lunch and rather contemplating a nap myself when the telephone rang. Picking it up, the voice of an old acquaintance came through. "Christine? This is Anna Piller." "Yes, how are you Anna? Good to hear your voice. I haven't heard from you for quite a while." "I'm fine." There was a silence and I heard the clock ticking through it. "How are your girls?" I recalled that Anna had four daughters. She had taught at the local Christian school for a while, but had left to move south to the London area. "They are fine." There was another silence. Then Anna continued, continued rather hesitantly. "Actually, they're not fine. That is to say, Rachel is...." I tried to help her: "Is something wrong with Rachel, Anna?" "She's pregnant, Christine. And here's the thing. I wonder if she can stay with you for a while? If you would take her into your home." Rachel was the second of Anna's daughters. Anna was a divorcee. Her husband had committed adultery, had not repented and had left her and the girls a number of years prior to her teaching at our school. "Is the father of the baby," I began softly, but was interrupted. "There's not going to be any wedding, Christine." "Oh," I answered, and then went on, "and you want Rachel to stay with us?" "You have such a nice family," Anna rushed on, "and I would feel so good to know that she is with you." When someone tells you that you have a nice family, pride oozes through your veins. You instantly feel good about yourself and when Anna complimented our household, there was no doubt in my mind that I wanted to help. "How far along is she?" "She's only two months and she feels sick as a dog every morning." I was expecting our fifth and not sick in the least. But I felt instant empathy for Rachel. No husband to help her, she was probably worried about what the community would say and she was so very young. I ventured to guess she was only seventeen or so. Compassion filled me. "I'd have to speak with my husband, Anna, but I think that we could make room for Rachel." "There's something else, Christine. Rachel is going to abort the baby before coming to your house." I was knocked for a loop and honestly did not know what to say for the next minute or so. "Oh, Anna." "Yes, I know." There was a long drawn-out sigh and the clock on the wall kept ticking. "You know this is not right. Why would she...." "I've spoken with her, Christine. I've tried to persuade her to keep the baby but she won't listen to me. There are counselors.... and they say.... I just think that after the abortion she's going to feel pretty low and that she won't feel good about being here and being with you might just raise her spirits and be a good influence on her. Again Anna's sentence stopped midair. Unconsciously I had put my hand on my belly, as if to shut out the influence of the secular world from my unborn, and very much wanted, fifth child. I took a deep breath. "I'll drive down to where you live, Anna, and speak with Rachel myself. I'd like to try and change her mind. You see we are also expecting another baby and maybe I could....” In the end, after discussing it at length, my husband and I decided that Rachel would be welcomed into our home with open arms if she chose to keep the baby, if she chose to stay pregnant. We would help her, encourage her, pay for what she needed and love her. But if she chose to abort prior to coming to our home, she would have to make other arrangements. I drove to the London/Woodstock area shortly after that and had two long conversations - one with Anna and another with Rachel. Rachel almost agreed to come home with me, but in the end she changed her mind and opted for abortion. Anna, the grandmother of the little unborn, was sorry about the situation but it was obvious that she would have found it most convenient to board out her daughter. I drove home sorrowful and have never found out what happened. Both my husband and I were convinced that God would provide for Rachel through ourselves if she chose life. Perhaps, in the end, she did and we were never apprised of the fact. We pray that she did. ***** Mark Jones, pastor of the Faith Reformed Presbyterian Church in Vancouver, Canada, has recently (2019) written a book entitled If I Could Speak - Letters from the Womb. In it are fifteen chapters. Each chapter is a letter written from the womb by a tiny fetus named Zoe. Zoe begins each of her letters with a statement – statements such as "I can hear your voice," and "You and daddy put me here," or "I'd rather be adopted than aborted." The letters are obviously beyond the capacity of a little fetus. The reader is asked to overlook that and to indulge pastor Jones who in this touching and straightforward manner is arguing for life. He's making the case that abortion stops a human being from being able to laugh; from being able to give love; from being able to graduate from school; from caring for parents; and so on. He is, in effect, making the case that abortion is murder. In these days when new laws are being enacted and abortion in Canada is legal at all stages of pregnancy, (funded in part by the Canada Health Act), it is good to make this a matter of much prayer. Canada is the only nation with absolutely no specific legal restrictions on abortion. Human life is sacred because we, all of us, have been made in the "image of God." God alone has authority over life because He alone is its Author. Christine Farenhorst is the author of many short story collections including “Hidden: Stories of War and Peace” which you can find on Amazon.com and Amazon.ca....

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Why we don’t evangelize and why we must

If there is a time to be silent, there is also a time to speak (Eccl. 3:7). If the gospel is the Good News entrusted to us, we heap upon ourselves guilt if we neglect to pass it on. In his book Our Guilty Silence, Dr. John Stott lists four major causes for our silence. He said, “Either: we have no compelling incentive even to try to speak, or we do not know what to say, or we are not convinced that it is our job, or we do not believe we shall do any good, because we have forgotten the source of power.” And we can add a few causes of our own. Some have identified evangelism as an outgrowth of American activism – they think of it as just a bag of clever tricks and techniques to gain church members. Other are caught up in the tension between evangelism and preserving the purity of the church. They struggle with the question: What comes first, preserving the truth of the gospel and restoring the church through a Reformation or evangelism and missions? But the Bible does not allow us to emphasize the purity of doctrine at the expense of evangelism. Of course, we must stress purity of doctrine and contend for the faith once for all entrusted to the saints (Jude 3). But a church which keeps her doors closed out of fear that the world may enter is not faithful to the Gospel. A church which does not evangelize can be compared to a crew of a lifeboat anxious to save the souls of her own members. She certainly does not resemble a rescue brigade out to reach our fellow men, who are perishing without the Savior. When we live the Gospel, the tension between maintaining purity of doctrine and outreach into the community and world will not exist. We will spend our time and energy on both. So in this article I will point to six reasons why we must be active in congregational outreach. 1 - The Glory of God First, we must evangelize because we are zealous for the glory of God. As Reformed Christians we must always have the glory of God as our motive for action. That’s why Reformed Christians have been instrumental in establishing Christian schools, a Christian labor movement, a Christian businessmen’s organization, and we are involved in Christian politics and in a host of other Christian activities. And rightly so. These very activities attracted me to the Reformed faith. But we must not only strive to win all things for Christ, but also all people for Christ. The ultimate goal of all things is the glorification of God. “For of Him, and through Him, and to Him, are all things: to whom be glory for ever. Amen.” (Rom. 11:36). Our Savior Himself regarded the salvation of man as a means to bring glory to God. In His high priestly prayer He prayed, “I have brought you glory on earth by completing the work you gave me to do.” (John 17:4). Therefore, through evangelism we bring glory to God’s name. 2 - Obedience to God Second, we evangelize because our Lord commanded it. Evangelism is not an option, but a sacred duty and a high calling. We evangelize because we are commanded to as part of the all-inclusive task of the Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-20). Our Lord’s assignment is to proclaim the Gospel, bring new converts into the church, lead them to the sacrament of baptism and disciple them. Evangelism, then, is the work of the church in obedience to her Lord to make known the Gospel to those who are estranged from it or who have never heard it before and to call them to repentance, faith and conversion. 3 - Love for God Thirdly, love for God should motivate us to do evangelism. R.B. Kuiper called it, “The motive for evangelism, embracing and excelling all other worthy motives.” If the love for God does not compel us, what will? Yet in much current literature on evangelism this love motive is rarely mentioned. The emphasis is more on the felt needs of the non-Christians and on outreach techniques rather than on the force that should drive us to proclaim the Gospel - the love for God. “God is love” (1 John 4: 8,16). He has shown His love to us by sending His only Son into the world for our salvation (John 3:16). When we know why we are Christians and what we are saved from, we want others to share the same privilege. We cannot even begin to love people, if we have no love for God. John says, “We love because He first loved us” (1 John 4:19). The greatest command is, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind” (Matt. 22:37). As God has freely loved us, so we love Him. R.B. Kuiper comments: “Love for God and His Christ guarantees on the part of the believer loving, hence genuine and devoted, in distinction from external and legalistic, obedience to the divine command to evangelize the nations. And this love for God will keep us going even in the face of disappointment, lack of immediate results and discouragements.” I too, am convinced that we must focus on God’s love. We love God for His own sake. And when we love Him we will be affected by His love. The love for God will enable and encourage us to witness boldly for Christ. 4 - Love for our fellow man Fourthly, we evangelize because we love our fellowman. Yes, we must love God for His own sake, yet love for God must find its expression in our love for our neighbor. Jesus said that the first and greatest command is to love God. And He added, “the second is like it: love your neighbor as yourself” (Matt. 22:39). And I know no greater expression of love for God and our neighbor than to bring the Gospel to him and in this way bring glory to God. If we believe that our non-Christian neighbor is eternally lost unless he hears the gospel and responds to it, how can we remain silent? There is a heaven to be gained and a hell to be shunned. Hell has not frozen over. “The wages of sin is death” (Rom. 6:23). This is as true today as it was back in the Garden of Eden after Adam and Eve’s fall into sin. Jesus spoke of eternal punishment for the wicked, but for the righteous, eternal life (Matt. 25:46). Those who are not written in the Lamb’s Book of Life will be cast into the lake of fire (Rev. 20:15). Shouldn’t we ask, when we are honest with ourselves, “Don’t we suffer from the sin of omission?” God does not want anyone to perish (2 Pet. 3:9). He finds the salvation of one sinner so important that the angels in heaven rejoice every time a sinner repents of his sin and trusts Jesus as His Savior and Lord (Luke 15:10). But how can sinners put their trust in Him if they have never heard of Him? How can they hear unless someone preaches the Gospel to them? God will save many of the lost in the world, but He will do it only through men and women willing to go into the world with the Gospel (Rom.10). How can we, who subscribe to the truth that all who believe in Jesus Christ will be saved and all others are bound for hell, neglect to persuade them to turn from the road of destruction upon which they are walking? If we still believe in the reality of hell, evangelism will be indeed seen as a sacred duty. And we will say then with the apostle Paul, “We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making His appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God.” (2 Cor. 5:20). The late Rev. J. Overduin, a well-known Dutch author, pastor and evangelist, told the story of an atheist who had come to Christ and had become filled with love for Him. The converted atheist said that one thing he could not understand was that he had been living in a neighborhood where church people lived, but not a single one had ever told him the Gospel. I wonder how often this story can be repeated in our own neighborhoods. 5 - Love for the Church                                Fifthly, we evangelize because we love the church and long for her expansion in the world. By and large, today’s church gets bad press. But the church is still the bride and the body of Christ (Eph. 5:22ff; 1 Cor. 12). In His great commission, our Lord commanded His church not only to make disciples of all nations, but also to baptize them (Matt. 28:19). Evangelism, therefore, is not completed until the convert has joined the church. Professor Lindeboom aptly said: “Evangelism is not only a sign of health of the church, it also keeps her healthy. It is for every church a question of life and death. Through evangelism the church is concerned about her own well being.” 6 - Advance of the Kingdom of God Sixthly, we evangelize to advance the Kingdom of God. The Gospel which Jesus preached is described as “the Gospel of the Kingdom” (Matt. 4:23). Our Lord also said that He will not return until the Gospel of the Kingdom has been preached in all the world for a witness to all nations (Matt. 24:14). Our Lord taught us to pray, “Your Kingdom come, Your will be done on earth as it is heaven.” Lord’s Day 48 confesses that this petition means: “Rule us by your Word and Spirit in such a way that more and more we submit to you. Keep your church strong, and add to it. Destroy the devil’s work; destroy every force which revolts against you and every conspiracy against your Word. Do this until your Kingdom is so complete and perfect that in it you are all in all.” The Gospel of the Kingdom focuses on the whole person: the hungry, the naked, the afflicted, the mourning, the despairing, the exploited. Our world must be confronted with the claims of Christ. All who receive Him should honor Him as Lord. He is Lord of lords and King of kings (Rev. 17:14). The aim of evangelism, therefore, is to bring the world to the recognition of Christ’s Kingship. As a hymn writer put it: “Let every kindred, every tribe, on this terrestrial ball, To Him all majesty ascribe, and crown Him Lord of all.” Conclusion Since evangelism is imperative, I focused on the motives for reaching the lost for Christ. When we are rightly motivated, evangelism will be spontaneous. No packaged programs, no gimmicks, no marketing techniques will succeed in making permanent waves for evangelism. Only when the church is excited about the Gospel and Biblically motivated, will we see spontaneous evangelism. And this Biblical approach requires patience, understanding and empathy. As we reach the lost for Christ in obedience to the Great Commission, driven by our love for God and for our fellow man, we should remember what our primary calling is - not that we should be necessarily successful but faithful. In conclusion, consider the apostle Paul’s word of encouragement to the church in Corinth, which was troubled, yet engaged in evangelism: “I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God made it grow. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow” (1 Cor. 3:6). A version of this article first appeared in the February 2001 issue under the title “Our guilty silence.” Rev. Johan Tangelder (1936-2009) wrote for Reformed Perspective for 13 years and many of his articles have been collected at ReformedReflections.ca....

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Repent therefore, and turn back, that your sins may be blotted out

New Year's resolutions - we all make them and then we all break them. Perhaps praying the first part of the Proverbs 30:8 prayer is a great reminder as we move further into 2021: Remove far from me falsehood and lying... ***** I can't lie; my bed is broken. This small one-liner has you thinking twice, and is designed to create a smile in those who hear it. The underlying sad truth, however, is not really funny because all of us can, and do, lie. Every day we lie, again and again. We are surrounded by lies. We only have to turn on the daily news to be overwhelmed by the untruthfulness of the world around us. The voter fraud that has gone on in the presidential election of the US, (and many other countries), is only a small example of continual lying. There is nothing in the world so abysmally sad as to catch someone we love and admire in lies. The October 2020 edition of WORLD magazine ran an article by Emily Belz on Christian apologist, Ravi Zacharias. Sexual misconduct claims on this well-known figure were investigated. Accusations were addressed in which a number of women, who provided regular massage therapy to Zacharias at spas he owned, claimed he had touched them without their consent. A nasty business and one which dishonors our Lord! Zacharias died in May of 2020 of cancer. While alive, he steadfastly denied all these accusations. Refuge for those who seek We've all had to deal with lies, disappointments, and broken promises. We all live in a world tainted by sin. As such we need help, we need a place to which we can run, a place in which to hide, a place which has comforting truth. There are stories of hiding, especially stories dealing with Jews during the Second World War when they were so brutally hunted down by the Nazi regime. There is the accounting of a husband and wife, a Jewish couple, who were hidden in a church in Rotterdam, a church situated on Breeplein. They had three daughters who were taken care of by way of foster homes throughout the duration of the war, but they themselves were hidden by the pastor of that church in an area behind the organ. One of the granddaughters, Daphne Geismar, later wrote: “Access to the attic hiding place was by a retractable ladder, through a trapdoor, which was covered with a cloth when closed. The attic sat below a steeply pitched roof, its brick and cement walls were windowless, and there was no floor—only joists, forcing one to step from beam to beam to avoid falling through the ceiling below. It was frigid in winter and suffocating in summer.” Her grandparents thankfully made it to the end of the war and thought themselves ”lucky” to have done so. This despite the fact that each Sunday, they must have been privy to preaching, to the proclamation of God's Word; this despite the fact that hopefully the pastor would have testified to them by his words and actions of Jesus Christ. This truly might have been their hiding place in a deceitful and perfidious situation. But as far as we know, they did not avail themselves of it. In his The Treasury of David, a commentary on the Psalms, Charles Spurgeon writes a note on Psalm 32:7. He says: "Suppose a traveler upon a bleak and exposed heath to be alarmed by the approach of a storm. He looks out for shelter. But if his eyes discern a place to hide him from the storm, does he stand still and say, ‘I see there is a shelter, and therefore I may remain where I am’? Does he not betake himself to it? Does he not run in order to escape the stormy wind and tempest? It was a 'hiding-place' before; but it was his hiding-place only when he ran into it and was safe. Had he not gone into it, though it might have been a protection to a thousand other travelers who resorted there, to him it would have been as if no such place existed." It is a good thing to remember that the Judge of all the earth is merciful and kind, not holding us accountable for our sinful lies if we go to Him, confess our sins to Him, and repent before the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ. But that is only if we, as the Prodigal Son did, run to Him. If liars, if sinners, do not do this, then it is vital to know that the Judge of all the earth will do what is right. An allegory There is an allegory, and I'm not sure where it came from but I will recount what I remember of it. There was a man who had been heavily involved in the hunting down of Jews during the Second World War. He was a fellow whose days had been filled with murder and bloodshed. He had personally been responsible for the killing of thousands during the Holocaust. Cruel and willful, he had no thought of repentance to either man or God, but he was afraid. To the outward eye, to his post-war neighbors, he appeared a gentle and successful businessman, but inside his mind and heart he continually relived his war days. His fear, a fear which ate him up every day, was of being caught by earthly authorities and earthly judges. Sadly, instead of turning to Jesus Christ and pleading forgiveness for his heinous past, he tried to devise a means of escape on his own. This man, we'll call him Esau for the sake of clarity, concocted a strange plan to escape his feared earthly judgment. He loved paintings. Each week he would spend hours in the museum gazing at masterpieces. One painting which he loved above all other paintings was an idyllic nature scene. Visible peace oozed from the canvas. In the center of the painting was a small boat. A man sat in that boat, a fishing rod in his hand. Mountains lined the background and the sky above was vast and still. There was a bench in front of that painting and Esau often sat on that bench drinking in and contemplating the peace and the quiet of that scene. He coveted it. There were times that he was almost transported, almost becoming the man in the boat. He then fancied that one day he would be able to relocate himself into the vessel and literally sit in the boat. It became a fixation for him and he was sure that he could become that man, and thus be freed from all his worries. Inevitably the day arrived when Esau's wicked past came to light and the police began to investigate and search him out. Esau became aware that they were about to arrest him and he panicked. Leaving his house in the dead of night, he drove straight to the museum. Able somehow to enter, he made his way through the dark corridors of the building and came to the room where the painting he so admired hung. But it was very dark and his steps were unsure. He knelt in front of where he thought the picture was hung and tried harder then he ever had before, to transfer his entire being into that painting. He felt himself succeeding. A few hours later the police finally traced Esau to the museum. Eventually they too came to the room where the painting Esau had so admired hung. "Nice painting," one commented and another agreed with him. They both failed to notice that next to the peaceful, pastoral scene hung another painting, a painting depicting pain and the crucifixion of criminals. They also both failed to notice that the contorted face of one of those criminals was eerily like the man whom they were seeking. “But I have stripped Esau bare; I have uncovered his hiding places, and he is not able to conceal himself. His children are destroyed, and his brothers, and his neighbors; and he is no more” (Jeremiah 49:10). We enter 2021. Who knows what the year will hold? Oh, Lord, remove from us falsehood and lying....

Assorted

A more generous ministry of mercy?

The Lord loves his church and gave her the gift of the ministry of mercy. But is this blessed ministry as active as it can or should be within the communion of saints? Let’s consider the following scenarios and the possibilities they present.  1. After a miscarriage A sister has had a miscarriage or stillborn child. Initial visits by the elder and/or minister have taken place. There is concern that it will take some significant time before the sister will have the energy and emotional strength to take on the regular management of the household. The husband has a good paying job so doesn’t think to ask the deacons for help. A few sisters have dropped off meals, and this has been a godsend. Nevertheless, laundry is piling up, the kids are not bathed, the house is not getting cleaned. The sister knows that this is not the way it should be, but that only makes her feel more guilty and incapable of taking next steps. Her husband has tried to take on more responsibilities, but now he is also starting to feel overwhelmed and is afraid of coming across as insensitive. They need more help! Do the deacons know that there is a problem? Maybe not, but perhaps it should be expected that they inquire again two or three weeks after the loss of the child, to see how things are going. If the deacons were to follow up with the brother and sister, and to inquire how things are going, they might find that while there isn’t any help need financially, the family does need to experience the love of the communion of saints in other tangible ways. 2. In the face of cancer A brother has been diagnosed with cancer. He is sixty years old. The news is shared with the congregation and the minister/elder come to make a visit. After the initial shock is over, the couple decides that it is best that they move out of their large home and into a smaller place. They have children all over the country but who here in town can help them move? Members of the congregation can get together, but the deacons can also take a lead here. They can ensure that this couple, under their care, has the physical help they need. And, of course, the deacons will want to ensure this couple has adequate financial means after the cancer diagnosis led to the brother’s necessary decision to stop working. 3. An unplanned trip A brother in Ontario has a father deathly ill in British Columbia. The deacons or close friends in the congregation know that this family does not have a lot of financial resources. The brother takes his wife and three children to BC to make a visit. He can afford this trip because he has a line of credit, and feels such a trip justifies the expense. Who would disagree? This brother would not be likely to ask for assistance from the deacons because he has a full-time job. But might it be good if the deacons (or other church members) made a visit? Could they, or other members, inquire as to the cost and conceivably gift the family with a signed cheque to help cover some of these unexpected costs? Was this family in dire straits? No. Could they use the help? Absolutely! **** I am sure we can come up with a plethora of other examples in which the minister of mercy, led by the deacons, can be administered within congregational life. Nevertheless, let’s return to the question we began with: is this blessed ministry as active as it can or should be within the communion of saints? My hope is that this article causes all of us to reflect on God’s Word to determine the answer to the question: Is the ministry of mercy equipping all the saints to live in the joy of being redeemed? Loving and caring as God does I strongly recommend Dr. Van Dam’s book “The Deacon” available at Amazon and elsewhere. The New Testament church of our Lord Jesus Christ is blessed to have a formal ministry of mercy as ministered by men serving in the office of deacon. As Dr. C. Van Dam notes in The Deacon: Biblical Foundations for Today’s Ministry of Mercy, seven men were originally chosen in Acts 6 with the task “to see to it that there were no needy so that everyone could rejoice and celebrate the salvation and freedom given in Christ.” As the number of followers was increasing, there seemed to arise a tension between the Hellenists (Greek-speaking Jews) and Hebrews because the Hellenist widows were being neglected in the daily distribution. In order to ensure that the ministry of the Word was not hindered, brothers were appointed to an additional office to begin exercising the ministry of mercy. These men were “set before the apostles, and they prayed and laid their hands on them” (Acts 6:6). And so the ministry of mercy is initiated. How does this office function today? In the first place, this ministry of mercy proceeds from the love of our God and Saviour. While he was on earth, Christ fed the hungry, healed the sick, and showed compassion to the afflicted. And while the formal ministry of mercy was not initiated in the Old Testament, the loving covenant God provided numerous laws to ensure that the poor and afflicted were cared for in generous ways (e.g., gleaning, labor, and marriage laws). God loves and cares for his people. That is a consistent characteristic of our covenant God throughout scripture. In Matthew 26:34-40, Christ teaches that on judgment day: “the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.  For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’” “The Form for Ordination of Elders and Deacons” used in many continental Reformed churches summarizes Matthew 26 with the conviction that “no one in the congregation of Christ may live uncomforted under the pressure of sickness, loneliness, and poverty.” Living uncomforted is not an option for the Christian community; rather, we should be living in the joy and comfort of our freedom in Christ. And so, the Form explains, it is for the sake of this service of love, that Christ has given deacons to his church. Diaconal work is made possible by the congregation sharing their resources, monetary and other gifts, with these office-bearers, for distribution in one’s home congregation and beyond. Sharing resources is rooted in our love for each other. We love each other because Christ first loved us. Scripture also teaches that God loves a cheerful giver (2 Cor. 9:7). And it remains an important principle that collections are done in such a way that members can give in secret, without sounding the trumpet and making a public show of their generosity (Matt 6:1-4). When we give generously, there is no need for brothers and sisters in the Lord to experience the burden of poverty or the suffering of want. Not waiting to be asked However, while there is no need for poverty and suffering of want in Christ’s church, for some of us, it is a challenge to ask for help, especially financial help. When we lose our job, become seriously ill, or struggle with frailty, we are often not prepared to ask for help. In The Deacon, Dr. Van Dam suggests (insists) that deacons should be visiting the members under their care in order “to give those he visits the opportunity to feel comfortable with him.” The idea is to build mutual trust. The deacons can learn a lot about family life when they make a visit, and can quickly learn to trust a member in their ward when they have the courage and humility to ask for help. Likewise, when a member trusts the deacon, confident that neither an audit or interrogation will take place, he can ask for help without shame or fear. In addition to building this trust, deacons can also ascertain “whether church members have any needs, financial or otherwise, that are not being met… ideally can see or anticipate needs and offer to help rather than waiting for those in need to come to them.” Love is the greatest command within the congregation of Christ. We love, because he first loved us. It remains important that office-bearers practice servant-leadership as they serve the congregation in which they are appointed. Love requires a servant’s attitude. This means that when they hear someone has lost their job, deacons make a visit and offer help; when a member is diagnosed with a serious illness, deacons should make a visit; when a baby is born and requires a lengthy stay in the hospital, the deacons should ensure the parents have sufficient kinds of help during that challenging time. Deacons do not wait to be asked for help, they need to take the initiative to offer help to the members. Deacons need help too At the same time, deacons do not always know when there are needs. Communication is a two-way street, and the members can also take initiative. When we lose our jobs, we confess that this is under God’s providence. There is no shame in asking the communion of saints for help. This can be done by asking members directly, if a solid relationship of trust has already been established. There is no rule that suggests that members should not help each other directly, rather it should be encouraged. Nevertheless, the ministry of mercy is there to provide for the financial and physical needs of those in need. A relationship with deacons helps members ask for such assistance. The ministry of mercy is a gift – it bears repeating. Do we make good use of this gift? And, yes, like all good gifts, we can abuse them, but let’s leave that for another article. Let’s first commit to making good use of this godly gift of our Lord for His children. For more on the ministry of mercy, be sure to check out the episode below of the Focal Point podcast where Dr. Chris deBoer, along with special guest Dr. Cornelis Van Dam, discuss the why, what, how, and where of the Church's ministry of mercy. ...

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