Life's busy, read it when you're ready!

Create a free account to save articles for later, keep track of past articles you’ve read, and receive exclusive access to all RP resources.

Browse thousands of RP articles

Articles, news, and reviews with a Biblical perspective to inform, equip, and encourage Christians.

Create an Account

Save articles for later, keep track of past articles you’ve read, and receive exclusive access to all RP resources.

We think you'll enjoy these articles:

Music, News

That morning I listened to Kanye West

I’ve never been a Kanye West fan. About a year ago, I was flipping through the radio channels while driving. I came across a station playing one of his songs. It was one of the most vile, misogynistic songs I’ve ever heard. As we were eating our dinner, I told our kids about what I’d heard earlier in the day. Knowing Kanye better than I did, they weren’t surprised. But they sure were surprised to hear their dad listening to Kanye West last Saturday morning. I was rather surprised too. His new album had just dropped and the title led me to listen. Jesus is King blew me off my feet. How could it happen that the same man responsible for that horrible song could produce an entire album in praise of the Saviour? Who is/was Kanye West? Kanye West is an American recording artist who’s mostly worked in the hip-hop/rap genre. He’s been hugely popular and is one of the most successful musicians of all time. Jesus is King is his ninth studio album. The previous eight each went platinum. Moreover, he’s been awarded 21 Grammy awards since the beginning of his recording career in 2003. As far as his personal life goes, West was raised middle-class by his mother, an English professor. He briefly attended university but decided to chase a music career instead. He was involved in several romantic relationships over the years. He married reality-TV star Kim Kardashian in 2014 and they have four children together. His first album College Dropout included the song “Jesus Walks.” This song already indicated some spiritual inclinations. The song speaks of spiritual struggles but also features the profanity found in so many of his songs. Over the years, he’s claimed to believe in God, and in 2014 he even claimed to be a Christian. However, in the meantime, he continued making music putting those claims in question. For example, his 2013 album Yeezus included a blasphemous song entitled “I Am a God.” In short, while there have been spiritual themes in some of his past work, much of what Kanye West has produced up till now has been profane, wicked, and even sacrilegious. He’s represented the dregs of what hip-hop has to offer. What happened? Early in 2019, West began a new musical endeavor known as Sunday Service. Every Sunday, he and a number of others would get together to perform gospel music. While it began as an event for family and friends, eventually it turned into something bigger and Sunday Service began touring around American cities. That was the first sign something seemed to be changing with West. Through the end of 2018, it was well-known that West was working on a new album entitled Yandhi. It wasn’t going to be a gospel album – in fact, it wasn’t going to have any notable spiritual emphasis. However, in August 2019, West’s wife Kim Kardashian announced that the direction of the new album had changed and it would now be entitled Jesus is King. Around the same time, West began attending Placerita Bible Church in Newhall, California. This church is a non-denominational congregation. Besides what it says about baptism and eschatology, their doctrinal statement is mostly sound. The pastor, Adam Tyson, is a graduate of The Master’s Seminary, an institution founded by John MacArthur. Like MacArthur, Tyson’s doctrine of salvation is biblical/Calvinistic. According to Tyson (in an interview with Apologia Studios), West began attending the church and then asked to meet with him for instruction. West gave a sound Christian testimony and indicated a good understanding of the basics of salvation through the gospel. What he really wanted from Pastor Adam Tyson was instruction about how to begin living as a Christian. Tyson has been instrumental in guiding Kanye West’s spiritual journey. In the last while, Adam Tyson was invited to preach at several Sunday Service events. I watched a video of him preaching at a Sunday Service in Detroit. Using Isaiah 6:1-5 as his text, he gave a faithful and unambiguous presentation of the gospel to at least several hundred people. Kanye West provided a platform so the gospel could be preached. Tyson was also involved in the final production of the Jesus is King album. West told Tyson that he was finished with rap and hip-hop and didn’t want to do it anymore. But Tyson encouraged him to use his gifts in this genre to advance the cause of the gospel. Moreover, he helped him ensure the final product would be free of any serious theological errors. Jesus is King Having listened to the album a number of times now, let me make a few comments. Musically speaking, not everything here is going to be to everyone’s taste. In other words, there are hip-hop and rap elements. Yet it has a different feel to his previous work. I first listened to the album through Spotify, but since I don’t have the premium account, the stream would periodically circle back to his previous work. The difference was noticeable, not only in comparison with his previously foul lyrics, but also with the music. Even though I can’t put my finger on it, something has changed in the sound of the music. One of my Facebook friends noted she’s never listed to Kanye West and never will. I urged her to just listen to the first track on the album. “Every Hour” features lively African-American gospel choir singing – no hip-hop or rap at all. The last song of the album “Jesus is Lord” also breaks the stereotype. This short track features West singing of Christ’s Lordship accompanied by tuba, trombone, trumpet, saxophone, French horn, and euphonium. The lyrics are mostly sound. Check out these rhymes from “Closed on Sunday”:

When you got daughters, always keep em’ safe Watch out for vipers, don’t let them indoctrinate … Raise our sons, train them in the faith Through temptations, make sure they’re wide awake Follow Jesus, listen and obey No more livin’ for culture, we nobody’s slave

Stand up for my home Even if I take this walk alone I bow down to the King upon the throne My life is His, I’m no longer my own.

The last bit echoes the biblical teaching of Lord’s Day 1, doesn’t it? Nevertheless, there’s some immaturity and imprecision in various tracks. Assuming he’s become a Christian, he’s just a young Christian and so we can’t expect the accuracy or theological profundity of Shai Linne and Timothy Brindle. Moreover, while the album is mostly clean in terms of language, there is one use of the word “damn.” It occurs in “God is”:

I know Christ is the fountain that filled my cup I know God is alive, yeah He has opened up my vision Giving me a revelation This ain't 'bout a damn religion Jesus brought a revolution

Could that be a legitimate use of the word? I’d like to be charitable. After all, there is religion that is damned – the religion of self-salvation and works righteousness. What shall we say about these things? For many people, their first inclination is to be skeptical. Me too. After all, how many “Christian” celebrities have we seen over the years? How many proved to be genuine followers of Christ for the long haul? The Parable of the Sower (Mark 4:1-9) reminds us that there are those who hear the Word, show some promise, but are either seed sown on rocky soil or the seed choked by thorns. Kanye West anticipates this response on the album. In “Hands On” he predicts that many Christians aren’t going to believe he’s the real deal. Despite that, he asks listeners to pray for him. Even as we have might have concerns, that’s a request we can enthusiastically embrace. One of the big questions people are asking is: what happens to all the old music West produced? He was asked this directly in an interview with BigBoyTV. His reply was that no one goes to an Apple iStore to ask for an iPhone 4 – Apple doesn’t offer the inferior product. He says his old stuff is behind him and he won’t be performing it anymore. From now on he claims he’ll only be performing gospel music to the glory of God. True, for the moment, his old music is still available for sale -- though, to be fair, when it comes to music sales there are more players involved than just the artist. There are indeed still inconsistencies and troubling things about Kanye West. Just in the last month, he boasted in an interview with Zane Lowe on Apple Music's Beats 1 that he’s “unquestionably, undoubtedly, the greatest human artist of all time.” While he’s attended Adam Tyson’s church in California, he lives in Wyoming and isn’t currently known to be a member of any church. He’s a public figure and, unlike many other fledgling disciples, his life is on display for everyone to dissect and analyze. There’s a lot of pressure on him and one can only hope that influences like Adam Tyson will prevail. Why should we care? Simply because God can do amazing things, even with the vulgar and profane. Let’s watch and see what happens. Whatever the case may be, we shouldn’t look up to Kanye West as a Christian leader – he’s untested. Finally, if nothing else comes from this, even if West proves to be a false disciple, at least the truth about Jesus Christ was broadcast by him and others for a time: Jesus is King! So, “whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed, and in that I rejoice” (Phil. 1:18).

Dr. Bredenhof blogs at yinkahdinay.wordpress.com. Kanye West picture is from Shutterstock.com.

Assorted

John Piper on debating moral issues in the public square

“…in your public involvement, don’t conceal the roots of your convictions about what is right and wrong. Don’t try to get a better hearing through downplaying your dependence on Christ and his Word and the gospel. “This is where many Christians, it seems to me, lose their saltiness and their light. Advocating for behaviors that are Christian is not the light of the world. Advocating for restraining behaviors is not the light of the world. There is nothing gospel in it. The light of the world is Christ and all that God is for us in him, all his gospel, and all his promises. If Christians become practical atheists in public, but simply advocate for behaviors that correspond to Christian ethics, they may see a little more political acceptance and affirmation in the short run, but they will lose the larger battle for the eternal good. “Do we really want to invest in a society whose outward behaviors are moral while everybody goes to hell?”

SOURCE: John Piper, interviewed on DesiringGod.org April 26, 2016 on the question “Should Christians partner with non-Christians on social issues?” Picture is by Micah Chiang, and used under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license. A hat tip to ARPA Canada, Lighthouse News, and Al Siebring

Remembrance Day

War through the eyes of a child: Alice Kuik shares her memories of World War II

“The horror and sacrifices of those who endured a war must be recorded and remembered. If we fail to do so, we will soon take peace for granted and exaggerate small inconveniences.” –  Jan Hendrik Luiten

A CHILD OF WAR My birth must have been a moment of mixed emotions for my parents. To be sure, I have every reason to believe that they were delighted with the arrival of their first-born child. However, my birth took place just three months after the German army had invaded the Netherlands. I was not born in a country where we could speak freely or go outside without worry. No, I was born in a country that was tightly controlled by an enemy. Fears and secrets were a normal part of my life. I was born a child of war. Yet, the horror of war was not unbearable for me. I endured it with acceptance and resilience. This remarkable ability to take things in stride had two reasons. First of all, I did not know what it meant to live in peace. I was not able to compare my current situation to better days. War was all I knew. But the second reason was more significant. At all times I felt supported by people who cared for me. My mother absorbed my fears when she took me in her arms. The members of our extended family provided emotional support and practical help. And, last but not least, I was comforted by the prayers that were spoken at meals, at church, and at times of great concern about loved ones. It is to honour my parents and family members that I feel compelled to share my story. I understand now that their practical helpfulness and their natural loyalty were expressions of their love for God. By their actions they unwittingly taught me that the Lord can always be trusted, and that He always hears our prayers. Even when the enemy is constantly harassing us. THE WAR COMES HOME My memories of the war would not have been so vivid if my parents would not have provided a hiding place for a Jewish couple. But they did, and soon the Germans suspected it. Without delay they placed our house under surveillance. I was completely unaware of the hiding place. But the stress of being watched by the Germans without knowing the reason for their suspicion had a deep impact on me. Mind you, my parents did not seek the danger. Their defiance of the Germans happened as a natural outflow of their faith in the Lord and their love for the neighbour. Our family belonged to the Reformed church in Enschede. Their minister was a man whose faith showed itself in his works. He had taken it upon himself to obstruct the plan of the Nazis to eradicate the Jews. Not only did he preach this conviction from the pulpit, but he also practiced it. With relentless determination he collected the names of the Jews who were short-listed for transportation to the death-camps. He then carefully selected members in his congregation who would be suitable to hide these Jews. It is telling of my parents that they were among those whom he selected for this onerous task. Of course, I was too young to know what was going on. But even if I had been old enough, my parents would not have discussed this matter until I was asleep in my bed. I can imagine that my father was immediately convinced that this was a task that the Lord placed on his path. My mother probably thought so too, but my father’s conviction allowed her to voice the objections. Where do we hide them? We cannot risk putting Alice’s life in danger! And we have no idea how long this war will last! What if the Germans find out? Then we will all die! What if the Jews get sick? And how do we keep it a secret? But soon all the concerns faded to background. My parents were already making plans. A hiding place could be constructed upstairs. The cupboard in the spare bedroom could be enlarged toward the back. Soon the construction started, with the help of my father’s brothers. The back of the original cupboard was replaced with a door that could be locked from the side of the room under construction. Attention was paid to details. The newly created space was decorated with brown-yellow wallpaper. I remember that wallpaper distinctly because after the war my sister and I used to play with our dolls in that room. But of course I do not remember anything of the construction. Neither was I aware of the fact that my parents had opened their home to Alfred and Reina Hen, whom they soon affectionately referred to as “our Jews.” And so it happened that my parents, Jan Hendrik Luiten and Geertruida Klos, became personally involved in the Second World War. NOISES AND WHISPERS I have no early childhood memories of a carefree summer evening, or of a cheerful family gathering. No. My first memories consist of unpleasant noises. I could clearly hear them in my bedroom when my uncles and aunt visited my parents. It sounded as if they were all talking at the same time, at the top of their voices. Through the closed door of my room I could feel the tension. Something was wrong. My uncles were very agitated. They were discussing the war. They always talked about the war. I got the impression that the situation was getting worse. The voices of my aunts sounded very worried. Once in a while I could clearly hear them sigh. All the voices together sounded restless. It was oppressive. I wished my mother would come to my room. The daytime had bad noises too. There was one sound in particular that scared me. It was quite different from the secretive talking of my family. This sound came from outside. It started as a rhythmic rumble in the distance. As it came closer I could sense its vibration in the air. Then the group of marching German soldiers appeared in full view. Proudly they paraded through our street, loudly stamping their boots to the beat of a song. The sound of the song was aggressive. I vividly remember the words “Ach wehr fahren, ach wehr fahren gegenüber England,” “We will make war, for sure, we will make war with England.” It made me feel terrible. I felt the fear in my stomach. But the most alarming noise may well have been the roar of the fighter planes. I could already hear their faint drone when they were still far away. Slowly the faint drone turned into a deafening rumble, right above our heads. Then it faded away again, like a ripple. It left me wide awake and worried. At the time I did not even understand that these planes were bombers on their way to a target. To my surprise I noticed that the sound of the family gatherings at our house was changing. The uncles and aunts still visited us. We needed each other. But they started to whisper, afraid to be heard. To me their muffled voices were much more unsettling than their loud noises had been. It was clear that my family needed to be very cautious. They were on guard, constantly. No-one else was allowed to hear what they were talking about. Someone could be listening in! A German soldier, or a traitor. It was very unsettling. I tried to be brave. But it was not easy. [caption id="attachment_7419" align="alignright" width="229"] Alice's father, Jan Luiten[/caption] WITHOUT MY FATHER Little did I know that my family had good reasons to be on guard. Not only did we hide two Jews, but my father had made the decision to join the Resistance. Both were serious infractions of the German rule of law. Both were punishable by death. After my father joined the Resistance he did not come home anymore. Often we did not even know where he was. This was very difficult for us. We felt lost and lonely without him. Thankfully our extended family continued to look after us. My grandfather supplied us with bread from his bakery. Another relative, who owned a branch of the well-known grocery chain “Spar,” always made sure that we had a sufficient supply of groceries in the house. My mother’s younger brother and his wife, who were childless, visited us often. Together our relatives were a source of light in these dark days. Not surprisingly, the Germans noticed that my father stopped coming home. His absence seemed convincing proof to them that we were hiding Jews. As a result our family was placed on an even higher level of suspicion. At any time of the day a group of Germans would come to our house, banging on the door with great force and shouting, "Wo Sind die Juden?" "Where are the Jews?" But, however thoroughly they searched our house, they did not find Jews. In no uncertain terms they questioned my mother about my father. Boldly she would enter into an argument with them, explaining that they had no reason to be suspicious. With brave determination she dodged their questions about my father, calmly stating that she expected him home in the next day or so. My mother would always take extra time for bringing me to bed on days that the Germans had searched our house. "Where is Papa?," I would ask her. She could not say. But she prayed with me, and sang songs. Her soothing voice helped me to feel safe again. It was during these dark days that my sister Hinke was born. One morning it was not my mother who called me out of bed, but Tante Aaltje, my aunt. I was very surprised. I was even more surprised when I noticed that my mother did not come to the breakfast table. She was staying in bed. That was not like her at all. But, thankfully, Tante Aaltje took charge of the things my mom usually did. She was also the one who told me that I had received a sister. I did not know what to think. Where did the sister come from? Where would she sleep? Tante Aaltje suggested that I should see the baby. But I was not sure. Everything felt unreal and scary. Soon I realized that things had changed. My mom and I were not together anymore. We were joined by a little person who needed care around the clock. It was sad that we could not tell my father about our baby sister, because we did not know where he was. Would things ever become normal again? I kept asking about my father. And I always received the same answer. We did not know where he was, or when he would come back. We were not even sure if he was still alive. Over time this uncertainty became our new normal. We accepted the pain of not-knowing and forced ourselves to carry on. For my mother this new normal included looking after the Jews upstairs. Then we received the devastating news that my father had been caught by the Germans. He had been transported to a concentration camp in Germany. I did not fully know what that meant. But I did understand that his situation had become dreadful. And that he might die. I felt lost. I wanted to cry. Everybody seemed numb. The silence did not feel right. But at that moment there were no words. Only sighs. And silent prayers. THE WORST OF TIMES The news that my father had been caught changed the way I looked at things. I gave up hoping that he might come home soon. I started to imagine how we would live without him. I was sure that my mom would manage well. The evidence was clear. She kept looking after her regular commitments. She took care of my sister. She kept our house tidy and clean. And she prepared the meals with the groceries that our family provided. At the time I did not understand how lonely she must have been. One day I noticed that my mother took a tray with food upstairs. I was confused. Maybe she brought it to her bedroom for a late-night snack. But I could not figure out exactly where she took it.  I sensed that it was not any of my business to ask about it. But boldly I asked her anyway. “Mom, where are you going with the food?” Without blinking an eye my Mom answered, “I am looking after a sick dog.” That was exciting! It had never occurred to me that the secret would be a surprise for me! My imagination soared. Soon my mom would take a healthy dog downstairs, and I would have a playmate. I would take the dog for walks. I could look after feeding him. And maybe he could sleep in bed with me. At the first opportunity I shared the exciting news with my friend next door. The friend hastened to tell her mother. At that point the situation took an unexpected turn. My friend’s mother rushed over to our house. She talked to my mom in a hushed, but agitated voice. Only after the war I was told what transpired in the conversation. The neighbour lady explained to my mom that soon the whole neighbourhood would know that she was bringing food upstairs for a sick dog. But they would very likely understand that we did not have a sick dog upstairs. And not all the neighbours could be trusted. My mother should be careful not to draw any attention to our house. We were already under suspicion! But I think that the Germans had made up their mind already at that point. Their suspicion that there were Jews in our house was all but proven. They were dead-set on finding them. One day we heard the loud singing and stamping of marching soldiers in our street. It stopped at our house. We were holding our breath. But soon all doubt was removed. After a loud knock a large number of German soldiers barged inside. Suddenly the house was filled with dark-grey uniforms and Wehrmacht army caps. My mother placed her arms securely around me. The soldiers searched for a long time, especially upstairs. But again, their search was unsuccessful. Venting their anger they grabbed my mom by the throat and kicked her into the hallway closet. Then a soldier looked at me, picked me up and threw me into the cupboard too. Another soldier started to kick me viciously. I felt the blows of his heavy boots on the lower part of my back. It was hurting badly. Their kicks damaged my spine. For life. The incident in the closet changed me. It destroyed my hope that things would get back to normal. I lost my childlike optimism. The Germans would undoubtedly come back to our house. My father was gone. Dead maybe. My back hurt. I was concerned for my little sister. I was confused by the secrets. But I felt safe with my mom. And I loved it when the relatives came. Thankfully my family had an inner resilience. They had a faith that passed understanding. I felt that. NO MORE WAR A while later I noticed that the conversations of the relatives were changing again, slowly but surely. But this time it felt like a good change. Their voices became less hushed and more cheerful. Excited even. Other things changed as well. The German soldiers were not marching through the streets of Enschede anymore. Their bragging songs had stopped. Then the exuberance broke loose. The war was over! It took a while for me to understand what it meant to live without fear for the enemy. The marching Germans had disappeared. There were no strange secrets anymore. But there were surprises. One day my mother called me to the kitchen. Two people were sitting at the table. A man and a woman. I had never seen them before. My mother told me that these people were Jews. They had lived upstairs in a secret room. My eyes must have been wide with surprise and my mouth probably fell open. The Germans were right then. We had been hiding Jews. Our Jewish guests turned out to be good company. It was very nice to have them in our house. Not much later the relatives began to discuss the Dutch Resistance workers in the German concentration camps. Supposedly many of them had started to walk home from the camps. That was very good news! Filled with new hope I asked my mother when my father would be coming home. To my disappointment she told me that we could not be sure that he was coming back. He could have died. In the camp. Or on the way home. That worried me. But I remained hopeful. My hope started to soar when my mother told me a few days later that trains had been arranged to bring the liberated prisoners home. A train was scheduled to arrive at the Enschede railway station once a day. Names of passengers could not be provided. Although there was no certainty that my father would be on one of the trains, this was very good news. On the day that the first train was to arrive we got up early. It would take us about an hour to walk from our home on the outskirts of Enschede to the railway station in the centre of town. And we surely did not want to be late. We left the house in high spirits. My sister sat up in the stroller which my mother pushed with joyful determination. And I walked, hopped and skipped the whole way. As we came closer to the railway station we met several other excited people. This would be a day of happy reunion. It could be. We knew that not everyone would come back. But we wanted to be hopeful. We arrived at the train station plenty on time. The wait was long. But finally we could see the train in the far distance. It came closer and closer till it screeched to a halt. The doors opened. Strange-looking men came out. Their eyes were hollow and their bodies had points sticking out at the shoulders, the hips, and the knees. All the women looked closely to see if they recognized these strange men. Soon shouts of joy filled the air. But my mom was not showing any excitement. However hard she looked, she was not able to pick out my dad. Slowly it started to dawn on us. He was not on the train. The way home seemed very long. My mother was crying. But the next day we went again, in good cheer. We were convinced that this would be day that my father would have made it on the train. If he was alive. But again he was not there. On the way home I looked at my mother. She was crying. And so it went, for what seemed an endless number of days. Every morning again we left hopeful; and every afternoon we came home sad. Then the trains stopped coming. My mother was informed that the transportation of liberated prisoners to Enschede was completed. I decided not to believe any rumours anymore. The devastation of false hope was more hurtful than the nagging pain of hopelessness. I tried to stop thinking about my father. Life continued. I helped my mom and I spent time with my friends. One day I was playing in our backyard with some of the neighbour girls. Suddenly we heard happy shouts and laughter coming from our house. My mother appeared in the door opening and started calling my name. I ran over to her, curious to hear what was going on. “Alice! Sweet girl! Dad has come home!” What? Really? I could hardly believe it. Overjoyed I rushed inside. I ran into the kitchen. There was a man sitting at the table. I stopped in my tracks. Was that my father? He talked to me. “Hi Alice,” he said. “I am so glad to see you again. Mom was right. You have grown into a beautiful girl.” Gently he reached down to hug me, but I drew back. This man could not be my father. He did not look one bit like the wedding picture that we had treasured so dearly during his absence. And he stank terribly. I was scared. I looked up at my mom, and ran away. My mom did not call me back. At the end of the day she asked me if I would kiss my father goodnight. But I couldn’t. The next morning “our Jews” joined our family for coffee. We had a nice time with each other. It was clear that Mr. Hen and the man who said he was my father knew each other well. My supposed father used Mr. Hen’s nickname, “Frans,” rather than his formal name “Alfred.” It made me think. I was still not sure that this strange man was my father, but I was starting to consider the possibility. Mr. Hen must have been watching me. Turning towards me, he said, “Alice, do you trust me?” I had to think about that for a minute. Then I nodded. “Very well,” he continued, “Would you believe me if I said that this strange man is your father?” After a pause, I nodded again. Mr. Hen had one last question. “Would you give your father a little kiss to show him how happy you are that he came back?” I decided to stand up. Slowly I walked over to my Dad. He smiled at me. Then I did it. I gave him a little kiss. It was scary. And it was good. I was only five years old when I reconnected with my father. But the connection lasted till death parted us. And his memories are alive in my heart. From this moment on “our Jews” became our honourary relatives: Uncle Frans and Aunt Reina. It took time before my Dad was ready to share his story with us. He never told us the whole truth. He was not able to. He left out the most painful, most disturbing parts. He did not want to relive them, and he wanted to spare us the extent of his misery. And no one prodded him. He did, however, share the story of his liberation from the concentration camp. The Resistance workers in the concentration camp were never officially informed that the Germans had surrendered. But when the rumours of the German capitulation were eventually confirmed, the prisoners started to escape in small groups. My father and two other captives decided to undertake the journey home together. It was not an easy trip. Much of their physical strength had been lost due to the hard labour, mistreatment and malnutrition during their camp years. But they were helped along the way by German farmers. They discovered that many Germans had hated the war. These people were grateful for the opportunity to provide hospitality to the survivors of the camps. After several weeks my father and his two friends arrived at the border-crossing between Germany and the Netherlands, not far from Enschede. It was a very emotional moment. Soon they would embrace their loved ones again. They did not know what had happened to them in their absence. Maybe not all of them would have survived the war. But they trusted that the Lord, who had stood by them in their dark hours, would also have cared for their loved ones. In that confidence the three men traveled their final miles back to their families. THE WAR REMEMBERED The war may have been over, but its horror continued in my soul. Throughout my childhood I relived the fear that I felt when the roaring fighter planes dropped their bombs on our town. For many years I had nightmares about the sight and sound of these low-flying bombers. In these dreams I vividly heard the rumbling roar of bombs that fell on homes and stores, reducing them to ruins. I would wake up in a sweat and run to my mother’s bedroom. She comforted me with tight hugs and soothing words. I did not know at the time that these bombings were accidental droppings by American planes that missed their targets in Germany. After the war our family stayed in close contact with Uncle Frans and Aunt Reina. They found a place to live not far from our home. This provided us with the opportunity to visit each other regularly. Together the families reminisced about the hiding years. I was impressed to hear that Uncle Frans had kept himself busy with reading as well as writing. Together with other Jews who survived the war they decided to rebuild the synagogue in Enschede. When the restoration was completed they invited my parents for a tour. To their joy my parents accepted the invitation. Soon I was old enough to help Aunt Reina with small housekeeping chores. There was always something to do, the more so after the birth of their son. On Saturdays I had a special task. They did not do any work on that day of the week as it was set aside as the Sabbath. They could not even switch on a light. However, they did not object if I performed this task for them. Aunt Reina then treated me to a piece of delicious cake which she had baked the day before. Eventually the three of them emigrated to Toronto, where Uncle Frans started a successful tailor business. But their immigration did not prevent us from staying in touch with each other. My Dad needed to regain his strength. But in due time he, my mother and our dear relatives were all convinced that he was ready to return to work. Without delay he contacted the textile factory where he worked before he was taken prisoner. It was a great joy for him to hear that his previous position was available! I am sure that it made his transition from captive Resistance worker in a concentration camp to fulltime employee much easier. The fact that I passed his place of work every day on my way to and from school made it even more wonderful. What a big difference for me, from fearing that you might never see your father again, to walking by his workplace twice a day. I was very happy. A number of years later my brother Andre was born. We were very excited, and exceedingly thankful for our abundant blessings: health, family, friends, food, employment, and now a baby brother who was born in a time of peace. Several years later our family of five emigrated to Carman, a small town in Manitoba. Our correspondence with Uncle Frans and Aunt Reina gained a new dimension. We could understand their situation much better having experienced an emigration ourselves. My mother sealed the mutual friendship when she traveled by plane to Toronto. She was a brave, loyal woman. And my father was proud of her.

****

[caption id="attachment_7420" align="alignright" width="250"] The house today: Alfred and Reina Hen hid in the attic[/caption] Several decades later it was me who made a historic trip, together with my husband Bert. We had decided to pay a visit to the country of our birth. One place we were sure to visit was Enschede. I was eager to show him the place where I was born. It was not difficult for me to find the old family home. “Bert, here it is,” I said. As I was saying these words, the present merged with the past. This was the place where I was born. In this house the Jews were hidden. Here it was where I had suffered the fear of separation from my father. Here it was that I endured the house-searches by the Germans. Here it was that I was kicked into the hallway cupboard by German soldiers. As I was sharing these stories with my husband, the front door opened. A woman stepped outside. “Are you looking for someone?” she asked. “No, this is the place where I was born,” I answered spontaneously. Immediately the woman opened the door wide and invited us in. But I was hesitant. Would it be appropriate to accept her invitation? Would I not impose on her privacy? But Bert put a bit of pressure on me. He would not want me to have regrets later, and he was curious to see the house. I felt a bit tense as we walked through the front door. Tentatively I looked around. The house was not as big as I remembered. But I recognized the hallway, the door to the living room, the kitchen. We went upstairs. The lady explained that her husband was working on some renovations. With anticipation I turned my head to the place where I expected the entrance to the hiding place. But all I saw was a wall with holes and loose boards on the floor. The husband was taking the hiding place out, board by board. Then, with a shock, I noticed that the brown-yellow wallpaper was still covering the walls. “This is the hiding place,” I uttered. “Our Jews lived here.” “Really?” the lady called out. “Please tell me more about your parents, and about the people that lived here in hiding.”

****

Throughout my life I have often reflected on the war in the Netherlands. At the time I saw it through the eyes of a child. I feared the marching Germans. I was worried about my father. But I found comfort and safety in the arms of my mother. Now I have reached the age of the strong. Over the years I have learned to see the magnitude of the Second World War. Entire nations lived in fear. Many Jewish families were killed. Healthy young men died a horrible death, on both sides of the war. And wars continue to be waged. Yet, I have also learned to trust the Lord. We do not have to fear. He is our shield and our tower, our comfort in life and in death.

This first appeared in the Nov/Dec 2018 issue.

Politics

Compulsory voting is only for show

Should everyone have to vote? This past September the polling group Research Co. asked 1,000 Canadians if voting should be made mandatory in all federal elections. 62% thought it should be. Why would so many want to make voting compulsory? Advocates argue that higher voter turnouts give a government a higher degree of political legitimacy. In Australia, where voting is required, the 2013 election saw roughly 80% of the voting age population cast a ballot.1 To put that number in context, over Canada's last three federal elections we’ve averaged about 65% of the electorate casting a ballot. Compulsory voting could increase those totals. How? By forcing the apathetic to get up off the couch: folks who were too lazy to get educated about their choices, or those who know and hate their choices but who are too sluggish to step up and offer voters an alternative. Now here's a question: do we even want them voting? We can force them out to the ballot box, but nothing we do can force them to get informed. Why would we want to make them eenie, meenie, miney, mo their way through the slate of candidates? Are we really making democracy better when one voter's thoughtful choice can be countered by a guy making selections based on his favorite number? “I’m going with lucky number 4!” Making voting mandatory will inflate the voter turnout, but that’s really only a sham: requiring someone to vote doesn’t mean they will be any more involved. Compulsory voting won't motivate the I-won’t–vote-unless-you make-me sort to also spend time studying the issues and researching the various candidate’s positions. That's why, the very last thing we need to do is force people who don’t care, who haven’t done their research, and who otherwise wouldn’t vote, to now go down and mark their utterly random “x” on a ballot. Endnote 1 The official figure was 93% but that doesn’t factor in that, despite the law, 10% of Australians aren’t registered to vote. When we consider all the people of voting age, and then see how many actually voted, we get 80%.


Most Recent



The Rest


Assorted

The boy that drove the plow

“If God spare my life, ere many years pass, I will cause the boy that driveth the plow to know more of the Scripture than thou dost.” – William Tyndale ***** CHAPTER 1 The Severn burbled alongside its banks. Longer than the Thames, and famous for its tidal bore, the river’s source lay in the moorlands of mid-Wales and its murky depths flowed past the city of Gloucester in three separate channels. There was the western channel; the easternmost channel, also known as the Little Severn; and the formidable middle channel, the one carrying the greatest volume of water, known as the Great Severn. The middle channel was spanned by Westgate Bridge, the longest bridge in England and one much prized by all Gloucester citizens, for it brought much business to the area. It was the route over which much merchandise passed – merchandise such as wood, salt, cloth, corn, wine, and cattle. It was also one of the pathways over which new thoughts and ideas crept into the city. It was 1537. Thomas Drourie, a cattleman, reflected on these matters one early October morning as he guided his herd of cows along the crossover. Dark currents swirled below him. Drourie was a tall man, and for that reason was considered prosperous. The height of most men in Gloucester averaged five and a half feet. Thomas’ over six-foot stature was imposing. Yet when he smiled, the measure of his towering frame radiated friendliness. Dark of hair and swarthy of face, he was a lean, strong fellow, one who embodied hard work and resilience. The hoofbeats of the cows echoed hollowly on the thick wooden slats. Trekking between his cattle, Thomas bellowed out a noisy, tuneless ditty. He’d noted his animals enjoyed music, for when he hummed or sang during milking the full udders spouted a greater amount of milk into his pails. The bridge groaned and creaked with the collective weight of the party. Storms and flooding often wreaked damage on its timber anatomy. Almost a citizen itself, the Westgate was considered so dear to Gloucester that often folks would leave a bequest for its upkeep and repair. “Thomas!” Startled, he stopped his singing. Turning sideways, he peered down into the face of a Franciscan priest who had managed to edge in next to him between the cattle. The man flanked Thomas, although his plump form in its loose-flapping, wide-sleeved, cassock barely reached the height of the farmer’s shoulders. This man, Thomas thought to himself as he always did when he saw the cleric, was afflicted with bellycheer, afflicted with gluttony. “I haven’t seen you at Mass for a while, Thomas.” The words were calmly but loudly spoken, as need be, for the commotion of the cattle made soft talk impossible. Thomas gave no answer but calmly continued walking, steering his animals towards the Northgate Street. He knew that Father Serly, for this was the name of the priest, would turn towards Westgate Street, where St. Nicholas’ Church stood at its far end and where he and a number of other friars resided. “Thomas!” Father Serly’s voice was more intense now and no longer neutral. “It’s been busy.” It was the only answer Thomas voiced before turning onto Northgate. There were four main roads leading in and out of Gloucester, all meeting at a main intersection where the town's high cross stood. All were named from the gates by which they entered town. Thus there were the Eastgate, Northgate, Southgate and Westgate streets. Northgate led to London; Southgate to Bristol; Eastgate to Oxford; and Westgate to Wales. People walked, rode in carts, and journeyed by horse on these unpaved roads. Some four thousand citizens made their home in Gloucester. Passing the town hall, Thomas longingly eyed the nearby New Inn. Its strong, massive external galleries and courtyards attracted pilgrims and visitors alike. How he yearned to go into the public house and drink some of its frothing ale for he was thirsty after his long morning walk. But with these newly bought cows as his companions, he was forced to amble past the gabled and timbered structure, well aware that the priest probably still stood at the crossroad, eyeing his retreating form suspiciously. The truth was that Thomas held no high opinion of the local priests, or of any priests for that matter, and only occasionally attended Mass. A devoted cattleman, he spent much time on his farm, waxing poetic to anyone who would listen about the state of his cows, calves, and steers. Praising their rich, dark brown color, he often remarked with a twinkle in his eyes that the color resembled the tint of Dory's hair. And wasn't she a beauty? Dory was his wife. The bulls in his herd, on the other hand, hued a blue-black shade, and while showing them off he would point to his own hair and grin. All of the Drourie cattle sported white bellies and were finch-backed. That is to say, they all had a white finching stripe along their spine, a stripe which continued on over the tail. Well-developed horns with black tips crowned their heads. Thomas Drourie was inordinately proud of his livestock. Noted for providing strong and docile draught oxen, the beasts also proved to be tender beef when roasted on the spit. As well, they were valued for the richness of their milk. The fat in that milk made a full, hard cheese – cheese with a buttery, mellow, nutty taste. Thomas sold it at the Gloucester market on Westgate Street. Aged for four months, double Gloucester cheese was popular throughout the region. ***** Lizzie Drourie was born later that same day. Arriving home, Thomas learned that Janey, the midwife, had been closeted in the bedroom with Dory all night. A tinge of fear shivered through his stomach. By his calculations, it was a trifle early for the child to be born. "We had to send for her about an hour after you left yesterday to pick up the cows at Noent, master. But it's over now," Nelly, the kitchen maid, assured him. "Janey just came down before you came home to say all's well and that you were free to come up." Indeed, it was all well, and he relaxed moments later at the bedside of his Dory, his long legs sprawled out under the great bed. She looked weary, mounds of her dark brown hair spread across the pillow. But though her face was exhausted, it was also contented and he was lost in admiration of her. "It's a girl, Thomas," she whispered, "a bonny girl, and I'd like to name her Elizabeth." He was of a mind to let her have whatever she wanted and nodded in agreement. "Lizzie, then," he answered softly. Janey tutted as she bustled about, carrying the swaddled newborn. A moment later, Thomas curiously peered into the tightly bound bundle she laid into his arms and he suddenly recalled with some alarm that it had been this very day a year ago that William Tyndale had been burned at the stake. He said as much even as he was overcome by the dark eyes of his firstborn daughter. But the memory of Tyndale somehow clouded the joy. "It's a bad omen for the child," he added after contemplating Lizzie. "Oh, tush," responded Janey, who had little ken of such as Tyndale, "the child is beautiful, your wife is doing well, and you're just a bit daft not to note it." Dory smiled, and Thomas grudgingly had to admit that all seemed exceptionally propitious with both mother and child. So after sitting a while, stroking his wife's hand and intermittently peering into the cradle where Lizzie had been laid, he left the birthing room for the stable where there was ample room to stretch his legs. And as the door shut behind him, Janey commented disdainfully that recalling the death of someone they had not even known, was ridiculous. "But," Dory protested weakly, her mind mostly on the fact that she had just born her first child, "Master Tyndale was, after all, a Gloucester man, Janey. He was from our area. It seems clear to me that all he wanted to do was give the English people the Bible to read. And although I have not read it for myself, I cannot help but think that such a gift had no evil intent. They say that Queen Anne," she added a moment later, “the poor lass who was executed last year, had a small Bible, a richly ornamented one, and that she wrote the words ‘Anna Regina Angliae’ around its edges.” It was a long sentence, a bit of a ramble, and she yawned towards the end. "We've no need to read the Bible, lass," the midwife cheerfully responded, "Why we've got the pope, haven't we, to tell us what we need to know?" "Yes, but," Dory rejoined, her thoughts becoming fuzzier, "now that King Henry has made himself the head of the church, we haven't got the pope anymore, have we? Besides that, I once saw master Tyndale here in Gloucester. He was giving alms to a beggar, and seemed to me to be a most kind and gentle man." After these words, totally drained of her physical energy, she fell asleep. For a brief minute, before she continued her cleaning up, Janey stood at the foot of the bed, smiling tender-heartedly at the sight of the spent, young woman. Then she continued her tasks, muttering softly to herself that King Henry was not really interested in being the head of the Church and surely everyone in England knew it. Was it not obvious that the man was only interested in power? And that which mostly occupied his waking days was passing that power on to a male heir. His third wife, Queen Jane, was about to give birth shortly and hadn’t English people like herself been instructed to pray for the child to be a son? Wouldn't it be something to be the midwife in Hampton Court palace this month? Oh, well, Janey philosophized, even as she tucked a woolen coverlet around the newborn Lizzie, it really wasn't any of her concern. Then she smiled into Lizzie's wide-open, dark eyes. "I stand to benefit from your birth, little one," she whispered to the baby, "and isn't that the truth of it! I'll be needed for a goodly while as your mother regains her strength, and the extra income is most welcome to me. I've six moppets at home and their appetite is as large as your father is tall." Lizzie blinked and Janey smiled again. CHAPTER 2 In those days the meadowlands embracing Gloucester were dotted with farms. One of these was the Drourie farm. Comprising two hundred acres, more than half of it was arable, quite suitable for growing crops. Most of the remaining land was meadow with some woodland included. Thomas grew enough produce to feed his cattle. He also bred fine animals, made cheese, and sold what he did not need at market. It was a good way to live, he reflected, as he stroked the finching stripe of one of the cows. Feeling rather emotional because of Lizzie's birth, he preached softly to the animal. "There is a time to be born," he murmured, "and a time to die. This is Lizzie's time to live." The cow lowed softly in response and Thomas ground his foot into the hay reflecting that it was perhaps not wise to think beyond what one could know. This daughter, this brand new Lizzie, might live a long, long life, and he fervently hoped that she would, but he should not presume. She might also be followed by more children. Perhaps he would have a son in the years to come, a strong son who would take over the farm when he himself became too old. Lizzie as well, when she grew older, could help around the house and Dory could teach her to become proficient in the cheese making. He smiled to himself, and Albert, the young stable hand, watched his master aimlessly fork some hay into the loft. Albert was only twelve, but a strong, strapping lad. It was an inheritance that had conferred on Thomas the small but handsome, granite farmhouse. Endowed with demesne, land attached and retained for the owner’s use, the two-storied home had a large kitchen, a bower room, and several side rooms. The projecting porch even boasted a parvise – an enclosed area surrounded by colonnades. The porch also led into a fine hall where the family ate. There were mullioned windows, oak-paneled walls and a sizeable fireplace. The premises suited Thomas and Dory very well, and they employed five servants, all of whom loved and respected them. The district surrounding Gloucester was not only dotted with farms, it was also dotted with Articles – six articles, to be exact. Written by the king, these specific rules reminded the English who was in charge: not the Pope who lived in Italy, but Henry VIII who lived in England. Still a Catholic at heart, however, Henry's first article insisted that his subjects continue to holding to transubstantiation – the belief that the bread at Mass was converted into the actual body and blood of Christ. The penalty for not believing this was death by burning at the stake. Thomas Drourie sometimes pondered transubstantiation as he took care of his cattle. The word was as long as a cow’s tail. Why the king should care that he, Thomas Drourie, should believe this, was a mystery to him. One way or the other, would he not be the same English farmer? Stroking the side of a cow, he grimaced at the thought of church attendance. He liked not the priests that served the Eucharist and avoided going to Mass. Besides that, there were new ideas coming to the fore in Gloucester, Protestant ideas. Thomas and his fellow citizens were well aware of them. Many deep, and often heated, discussions took place in the New, the Boatman, the Ram, the Bull, the Swan, and other inns in Gloucester. There was open dissension along the English countryside and in the city. Lately a local weaver attending St. Mary de Crypt Church on Southgate Street had denied the doctrine of purgatory because he believed that the Bible did not teach it. Irritably Thomas slapped the cow's buttocks and the animal turned its head, fixing its great eyes on her master. Thomas paid no heed. His thoughts wandered on. Although he had no stomach for dissension, he liked neither the church's nor the king's ways. Was it not so that the king also had a child named Lizzie, a little maid all of four years old? And did this child not wander around all alone in the royal palace because her mother had been first divorced and then beheaded? Ah, his own small Lizzie, although not a princess, was much more blessed. Did she not have a Dory to care for her? ***** Lizzie Drourie was an only child for the first five years of her life. Strangely enough, the year after her birth, King Henry issued a royal license that the Bible might openly be sold to and read by all English people without any danger of recrimination. Another royal order was issued as well, appointing a copy of the Bible to be placed in every parish church. It was to be raised up on a desk so that everyone might come and read it. Overnight Gloucester Abbey became Gloucester Cathedral. Clergy replaced the monks not just in Gloucester, but in all the monasteries and convents throughout England, Wales, and Ireland. Disbanded, their incomes were appropriated for the crown. Any resistance was viewed as treasonable. Under heavy threats almost all of the religious houses joined the new English church, swearing to uphold the King's divorce and remarriage. Gloucester Cathedral acquired a Bible also. John Wakeman, the first Bishop of Gloucester, made sure it was placed in an accessible spot and soon citizens cautiously dropped by for a look. Thomas and Dory came as well. Those who were able bought the book from printers, booksellers, or traveling tinkers. If they could not read, and many could not, they persuaded others to read Scripture to them. How different, Thomas and Dory pondered, had been the years before Lizzie's birth. At that time anyone wishing to read the Bible had to do so secretly. It was not until just before their second child was born, that Thomas and Dory also purchased a Bible from a traveling tinker. They'd known Philip for a long time, for he was wont to stop by their farm once or twice every year. A versatile man, his cart was filled with all manner of things. Carrying a pocketful of news about current events, he was also well-versed in languages, music, and Scripture. Thomas, who could read, was much taken with his Bible. Sitting Lizzie upon his knees, in the evenings he read out loud to the child and to Dory. He did not understand all he read, but he felt privileged to be reading. Dory listened attentively from her easy chair by the fire and rubbed her swollen stomach. Another Drourie child grew large within her belly. She wondered if the baby could hear any of the beautiful words that Thomas read. Leaning back, she smiled contentedly. They had never before heard the Bible in their own language. On the day Dory went into labor, Thomas sent Albert, who was now almost seventeen, for Janey and gave instructions to the dairymaid to take Lizzie to the bower room and keep her occupied, away from her mother. Janey, arriving shortly afterward, first made sure all the doors were unlocked. She explained that it was an old custom and aided childbirth. Thomas was in two minds about this, but Janey insisted. And indeed, it proved to be an easy birth. The boy child, although tiny, appeared healthy. Janey bathed the little, red body before an ash wood fire. Afterward she had him suckle on a cloth dipped in cinder tea, water into which a coal had been dropped. When she saw Thomas staring, she explained good-naturedly that all knew this drove Satan away. "I don't recall you doing that when Lizzie was born," Thomas commented as he watched her, rather uneasy about the matter as it smacked of superstition. "But you weren't there all the time, now were you, Master Thomas," she replied calmly, “and haven’t things been well with that lass?” Speaking to himself in an undertone, Thomas strode over and lifted the newborn out of Janey's arms, pulling the cloth out of the baby’s mouth. "Enough now," he said, "there are other things you can find to do. And one of them is to tell Albert to distribute bread, cheese and ale to the poor of Gloucester. Go on with you and I'll stay with Dory and the babe." His son whimpered in his arms. The face was red and wrinkled, reminding Thomas of his old deceased father. Sitting down by the bed, he studied his wife. She had now born him two children. He was a rich man indeed. Dory was almost asleep but she opened her eyes and smiled at him. "We'll name him Thomas for you. But it must be little Thomas, for you are so much bigger." And that is how the boy became known throughout Gloucester. CHAPTER 3 During his first year, Little Thomas drank sporadically and was prone to mewling. Excessive crying caused discoloration around his eyes. Janey concocted a solution of nightshade sap, soaked a clean rag in it and laid it on the baby's eyes. "Perhaps he has cramps," Dory ventured to guess, "I've heard that laying babies down flat and pulling their legs straight can help them belch?" But Janey only smiled at her. Lizzie proved to be a most helpful and patient sister, child that she herself was. Rocking her brother for hours on end, she often changed his clout, sang to him and kissed him. "She is a better mother than I am," Dory confided to Thomas, "and has the patience of a saint. I heard her say the other day 'Little Thomas, I won't ever leave you, even if you cry for a year.'” Thomas smiled. "He will grow out of this crying and this colic, Dory," he promised, "Just wait and see." ***** It was true. By the time Little Thomas turned toddler, he was thriving; and when the child turned six, although still small, he was so full of mischief that the scullery-maid was in fear of him. Intensely curious, he was also a naïve boy. Once, after the cook had wrung the necks of several pigeons in preparation for squab pie, leaving them in the kitchen on the table, she came back to find the boy holding onto one of the dead birds. Blood all over his hands, shirt and breeches, she asked what he thought he was doing. "I thought perhaps," he answered with a child's logic, "that if you wrung the neck the other way, the pigeon might come back to life." Then he proceeded to do just that. Shocked, the cook took the bird out of his hands. “Growing chuff-headed, are you? Away with you,” she retorted, “or I’ll put you into the pie as well.” Little Thomas loved Philip the tinker and often followed him about the farm when he came to call. Because Philip was kind, exemplary of character, and learned, Thomas and Dory did not mind in the least. They hoped the tinker would nurture little Thomas in piety. The truth was that Philip was a highly educated man. Able to read and write, as well as play the viol, Thomas and Dory eventually asked him to become their son's tutor. Just prior to Little Thomas' birth, Henry VIII had founded a school in Gloucester. Previously there had been a school in the Abbey of St. Peter, but because all monasteries had been closed, that school no longer functioned. The headmaster of the new school was a solemn man and one who exacted strict obedience. But because of his impishness, misdemeanors, and disregard for authority, Little Thomas was not a favorite student. The boy was, in fact, not fitting in very well at all, and was frequently in trouble with the headmaster. This pained Thomas and Dory greatly, for little Thomas was a gifted child. His almost photographic memory enabled him not only to read well but also to quote Latin and Scripture texts at will. The boy's greatest offence had been climbing the bell tower with some friends, and swinging the clapper loudly during a service, thus bringing shame on himself and his family. He had capped that escapade by putting a duck egg under the cover of the headmaster’s bed and by hanging the man's pantofles from the branch of a tree a week later. The headmaster did not want to see him back for at least a year, or until, as he had gravely said to Dory and Thomas, such a time as the boy had learned to unquestioningly obey rules and regulations. Thomas, who had let his son feel the backside of his hand on more than one occasion, was at his wit's end. Several times neighbors had suggested that little Thomas was heading towards a wicked end and that his parents must see to it that he was disciplined or he would turn into a ne’er-do-well. It was at precisely this time that Dory and Thomas asked Philip if he would stay and tutor the child. After some careful consideration, Philip agreed to do this for a time, thus becoming a permanent resident of the Drourie farm. ***** Change was blowing through England during the children's early formative years. In 1547 King Henry VIII died and was carried to his grave in pomp and splendor. Edward VI, Henry's son, was crowned in his place. Although only nine years old, Edward had been instructed by Protestant teachers and his youthful heart was warmly turned towards the Reformation. He was a child used by God and one of the first things young Edward did was to overturn his father's Six Articles. ***** A few years after Edward’s ascent to the throne, little Thomas turned both eleven and more intractable. The boy, who attended church regularly with his father, mother, Lizzie and Philip, heard Dr. Williams preach in one of the churches in Gloucester. Dr. Williams was the city's chancellor. A recent convert to Protestantism, Williams had publicly chosen the Protestant faith over the Catholic faith. It is strange how God uses men's words to change hearts, even very young hearts. And so it was on the day on which Dr. Williams preached, that little Thomas, for so he was still known, was transformed. “The sacrament,” so Dr. Williams echoed solemnly forth from the fine pulpit as he spoke of the Mass, “is to be received spiritually by faith. It is not to be received carnally as the papists have heretofore taught.” Now these were difficult words, and yet Little Thomas repeated them verbatim to Philip, his new teacher, as they were out walking together. “What think you, Master Philip,” he asked, “that these words mean?” The tinker did not respond immediately. But after some thirty or so steps, he finally spoke. "First of all, I think that we must never in our thoughts or words, pity the Lord Jesus for dying on the cross." The child looked up at him questioningly. He did not understand. "To pity someone," the tinker went on, "is to place yourself on a higher level. Our Savior Jesus Christ, is Lord over all and never on a lower level than we are. What think you? That we can make Him bread and kill Him again and again? He died once, child, and that willingly, of His own accord." Overhead a lark, nondescript and brown, sang an extravagant melody. “I think,” Philip went on, “that it might help you to call to mind the time that Jesus was eating bread with His disciples in the Upper Room. Do you recall it?" Little Thomas nodded. "Picture in your mind then, their gathering around a wooden table, a table such as we eat from together in the great hall. Hear in your heart what Jesus said to them, and says to us now, as He broke the bread: ‘This is My body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of Me.’" As they were walking, the pair were traipsing through one of the fields adjoining the farm. Philip carried his viol case for the idea was that there was to be a music lesson out in the quiet of a pastureland. There were cattle grazing some distance away. “Jesus did not mean that He was actually present in the bread, Thomas. What Jesus meant was that whenever people would eat the bread in the future, they were to recollect, to remember, that He offered up His body. This He did on the cross shortly after that supper, little Thomas. And we are to remember this and to believe it." Again, a melodious jumble of clear notes and trills rang through the sky overhead. The boy tilted his head up to gaze after the lark. The bird sang as it flew. Little Thomas stared up at the creature. He appeared to be not listening. “To remember and believe that Christ died for you,” the tinker went on, making his words simpler, even as he stood next to the child, “is to know that you have eternal life. And then you can joyfully sing even as yonder lark.” As the boy still remained quiet, he went on slowly, probing the heart. “You are getting too old to be known as Little Thomas. I think I will call you Tom from now on. Do you believe what I have just told you, Tom?” The child nodded and followed up the nodding with a question. “Can we have a music lesson now, Master Philip?” Now it was so, that Philip was proficient in viol playing and, at Thomas’ and Dory’s request, he was beginning to pass this skill on to their son. A distant relative of the violin, the viol was a bowed instrument with frets. Flat-backed, it was played while set on the ground between a player's legs. Its tone was quiet but had a distinct, low quality. A gentleman's instrument, it was played in salons, whereas violins were more often played on streets to accompany dances or to lead in wedding processions. The Drouries hoped the learning of the viol might calm their child and stand him to good advantage. Philip concurred with Tom's wish. “Fine, child. Let us sit ourselves down on this log.” They had come to a small copse. A field lay in front of them and a forest behind them. Philip took the viol out of its bag, and both seated themselves on an old, fallen horse chestnut tree trunk lying in front of the thicket. It was quiet, except for the lowing of some distant cattle. “Hold the bow,” Philip instructed his pupil, propping up the instrument between the child's legs, “betwixt the end of your thumb and the two foremost fingers of your right hand.” Tom eagerly reached for the convex stick. He loved the music Philip often made in the front room as they sat evenings by the fireplace. The viol’s body was light and the six strings seemed to him to be magical. “Now fasten the thumb and first finger of your left hand on the stalk.” Philip knelt down in front of the boy. His hands instructed the much smaller hands – hands which worked fearfully hard at contorting fingers to meet the requirements. It was difficult and awkward because this was the first lesson. Through his concentration, Tom thought he heard a snorting sound. Looking up over Philip’s shoulder, his hands froze. One of his father's bulls, massive and terrifying, the black tips of its white horns aimed directly at them, was galloping through the meadow in their direction. “Master Philip!” he gasped, “Look yonder.” Philip turned his head and immediately stood up. Taking the viol away from Tom, he commanded the lad to stand behind him and then to quickly walk backwards towards the nearby woodland. He himself sat down on the tree trunk, calmly placing the viol downwards between his legs. Glancing over his shoulder he saw that Thomas was moving, moving slowly and woodenly. “Obey me immediately,” he ordered again, “Walk faster, Tom, walk faster, child. And find a tree behind which you can stand.” “What…. what about you?” the boy stuttered, tripping over both his words and his feet. “I believe the bull is bellowing in a B flat and I shall try to outdo him,” Philip answered and proceeded to draw his bow across the strings. The low, quiet hum of the viol resonated across the field. It met the bull’s wheezing midair. Though Tom was only some thirty feet away by this time, he stopped walking backwards at the same moment that he saw the bull stop charging. To his great amazement the boy beheld the animal shake its bulky head a few times and then peaceably turn and amble away. “Well now, you have learned two rather unique and wonderful things, Thomas,” Philip said, when the boy was back at his side. He kept playing as he spoke, sliding the bow over the strings, harmonious notes spilling onto the grass around and beyond like heavy raindrops. “What?” the boy asked, his heart still thumping as he watched the backside of the massive bovine saunter away. “Firstly that bulls do not like the key of B flat,” smiled his teacher. Tom grinned, although tremulously. "And what is the second," he demanded a moment later. "That Almighty God keeps an eye on those who call out to Him in trouble." "Oh," replied Tom, "and did you call out?" "Yes," accorded his teacher. The boy stared off into the field. The bull was still in retreat and seemed to not even remember their existence. He sighed heavily and then grinned again, high spirits returning. “I am sorry for one thing,” he joked, “and that is that Lizzie was not here to see it, for she will never believe me when I tell her what happened. CHAPTER 4 That very evening Tom fell ill of a high fever. It charged at him even as the bull had run at them with lowered horns through the field. He thrashed about so much that he woke Lizzie who slept in a room next to his, and she, in turn, woke her parents. In spite of the fact that prayers were raised and many herbal remedies applied, Tom was long in recuperating. His eyes seemed affected and discharged pus. Oozing continually, the boy could not open them. Though the fever had abated after a few days, the infection lingered. Dory, Lizzie, and Philip took turns in sitting with the lad during the day. His father, although often looking in on his son, sat with the boy at night. It became apparent to all of them, after a week or two, that the boy would not regain his sight. ***** "I have just received a small booklet, Tom." The boy was sitting up in bed. Philip, who came and went at will, regarded the boy with affection. "What is it?" "It is a catechism written by a man named Alberus, Erasmus Alberus. He wrote it in German and he wrote it for his children. I know that you are rapidly approaching manhood, Tom, but I thought you might like to learn its questions and answers if I repeat them to you." Tom nodded. "Alberus wrote the booklet so that the important parts of Scripture might be learned by rote." "Please let me learn also." Startled, Philip turned and faced Thomas Drourie who stood in the doorway. "I was not raised with Bible knowledge and often when I read I do not understand what I am reading. Perhaps I can learn with you and we can speak of these matters." It was a humble confession and Philip was moved. Thomas came in and sat on the edge of the bed. Philip smiled at him. "Well, it would be fine for us to read and memorize together and I have added some questions and answers myself." So they proceeded with simple but very direct dialogues. Do you love Jesus? Yes. Who is the Lord Jesus? God and Mary's son. How is His dear mother called? Mary. Why do you love Jesus? What has He done to make you love Him? He has shed His blood for me. Has he shed His blood only once or more than once as the Mass teaches? Jesus has shed his blood only once on the cross at Calvary. Could you be saved if He had not shed His blood for you? Oh, no. What would then have happened? We would all be damned. Is God's only begotten son, the son of the living God, your brother? Yes. So you are for sure a great and powerful king in heaven because Christ in heaven is your brother? That I am, praise God. How blessed you are! For the Lord has done a great thing for you. Yes, He has. For He saves a poor, damned child from the Devil's kingdom and gave me eternal life. The Drouries all benefited from these and other questions and answers that Philip taught them, and from the many conversations that took place around the bedside of the sick boy. ***** "Lizzie, Lizzie, I still can't see." "I know. Hush, and lay down. If you move about too much, you will just get sicker again, Tom." "Why are you calling me Tom, Lizzie?" "Well, Master Philip says you are not little Thomas any longer. You have grown so. And I have heard Master Philip call you Tom, and mother and father call you that too now. So I think I will call you Tom." "Will I never see again, Lizzie?" The question was uttered in so plaintive a tone that Lizzie sighed. "I hope you shall but I do not know." "You are just being kind, are you not, Lizzie?" She reached over and kissed her brother. "I shall always be there to be your eyes, Tom. I shall tell you everything I see." "It won't be the same." She knew that he was right but was not sure how to respond. "I heard a new pastor preach in the cathedral, Tom. His name is John Hooper." "He is not new, Lizzie," the boy replied, half-sitting up against the pillow, "he has been here for more than a year already." "Oh," his sister said, disappointed that she could not tell him something he did not know, "and how would you have ken of that?" "Master Philip has told me. He said John Hooper was called to preach before King Edward himself and that the king, who is only four years older than I am Lizzie, very much liked him and then made him Bishop of our city of Gloucester." "Oh," Lizzie repeated. "John Hooper," Tom went on, his hands fidgeting with the blanket, "is an honorable man and one who does not like to wear the rich garments that priests and other clergy wear. He says a man should dress humbly, even as your heart should be humble. So you will not see him clad in a chimere and rochet, such as other bishops wear, Lizzie." She smiled at her brother and reached over, patting his hand. "You are all about clothing now, are you, Tom?" He grinned for a minute and then teased her. "And you are not? I have seen, when I could still see, how you constantly preen, Lizzie. And I know you do it for Albert. Only I do not know if father will allow you to marry him. He is, after all, the hired hand." Lizzie blushed and was glad for a moment that Tom could not see. "But Albert is strong and a good lad," Tom continued, "And.... and I will not be able to help father plough now that I am.... now that I am.... well, now that I might be blind." "Hush, Tom." It was all Lizzie could say, for tears welled up in her eyes. "Master Philip says that John Hooper, for all that he is the high and reverenced bishop of Gloucester, is a very good man." It was quiet for a spell. Lizzie's thoughts turned to Albert, who was such a dependable young man – a hard-working man, one on whom her father could count. Indeed, she did love him and admired him more than all the young men she knew. But father might object to a marriage, that Tom had indeed said rightly. "Master Hooper," Tom's voice interrupted her contemplations, "has a wife and children, just like our father. His children, Master Philip says, are well mannered. It shames me, Lizzie, now that I lay here on this bed, to think of all the tricks and mischief I set about just a short while ago." "Oh, you mustn't," began his sister, but he interrupted her. "Why ever not, Lizzie, " Tom responded, "for ...." And then he stopped and turned his face to the wall. He did remember with great shame the sorrow he had caused his parents who had been so eager for him to go to school. If his eyes had not been painfully oozing, he might well have wept like a child, for he felt so miserable. "Tom," Lizzie's voice was soft. "Tom, you have been such a good brother to me always." Tom swallowed audibly. "John Hooper," he went on, his voice shaking a trifle, "is such a man as I would like to be. Perhaps I shall be a preacher, Lizzie. For surely people can be blind and still preach." The girl smiled. Although she had great sympathy for her brother, she could not for the life of her picture him as a preacher. "I know you are smiling," the boy said, "I can sense it, you minx of a sister! But I mean it. I have done with wasting time. I will ask Master Philip to school me more and more in Bible knowledge. And I also want to go and hear John Hooper preach. Master Philip has told me that at his home there is a table spread in the common hall with a good store of meat. It is daily beset of beggars and poor folk. Every day John Hooper eats with a certain number of poor folk, Lizzie. Is that not a great thing to do?" The girl nodded, but then remembering that her brother could not hear a nod, spoke. "Yes, Tom." "He also questions the poor folk at his table as to whether they know the Lord's prayer, and the Ten Commandments, and what they believe. And after this he sits down with them and eats." "He sounds like a good man, Tom." "Yes," her brother agreed, repeating, "and when I am better, Lizzie, you shall take me to hear him preach. I think he preaches in the cathedral and also betimes on the street." ***** It took the greater part of a year for Tom to fully recuperate. Afterwards he walked about with a cane – tapping out the space before him – amazing himself that he was able to recall the steps, the ruts, the holes, the sights and sounds of the farm and thus ascertain where he was. After a few weeks, he ventured into Gloucester. At first, Lizzie guided him. Later his mother accompanied him into town, or he would venture with Philip for a stroll into the country. The lessons continued. The boy had grown in wisdom as he lay on his sickbed, drinking in the tinker's instruction with a great thirst. "Why did you not become a preacher, Master Philip?" he questioned his tutor one day as they were strolling. "I don't know," the man answered honestly, "but I do think that God has used me to sell Bibles and to explain certain matters about Scripture to all sorts of country folk as I traveled the roads. These were good things to do and I think that God required it of me. God has tasked me with various matters over the years and right now, methinks, he has tasked me with you, Tom." "Well, I am glad," the boy replied, and then, switching the topic, "I have heard tell in town that King Edward is ill with a fever. Have you heard this also, Master Philip?" "Yes, I have," the tinker answered gravely, "and I fear it is common knowledge that our young and good monarch is dying. It is also said that there is a plot afoot to put his eldest sister Mary on the throne to succeed him." "Mary?" "Yes, and I fear that she would return the country to papistry." "What would that mean, Master Philip?" "You know what that would mean, Tom. It would mean that all the things I have taught you over the past year would be condemned as heresy." The boy stood still. He seemed dazed. "Tell me more." The tinker saw that the lad's face was serious. "Well, Tom, images and relics would come back; people would be encouraged to kneel to a piece of bread at Mass; and they would be told to confess their sins to a priest rather than to God Himself." Phlox was blooming alongside the path. Its perfume was a sugary, sweet scent and Tom recognized it. The smell vividly brought to mind the memory of the pink they were. Alongside their smell, he could detect the faint odor of carrot and knew that, white and delicate, queen Anne's lace, could not be too far off. Queen Anne's lace was more commonly called bishop's weed. Perhaps, Tom thought, if Bishop Hooper had been a plant, he might not have minded wearing queen Anne's lace. And then he grinned to himself. CHAPTER 5 In the year that followed, Thomas grew more and more accustomed to walking the roads. History surrounded him as he walked and tapped the cane in front of him. Edward VI died and the brief ten-day reign of Lady Jane Grey followed. Then Parliament, having restored her right of succession, aided Mary to the throne. The Six Articles were reinstated and the citizens of Gloucester learned that their beloved Bishop Hooper had been imprisoned by the new queen. But just before this occurred, to the dismay and horror of the entire Drourie family, Tom was taken into custody. He was thirteen years of age. Thomas' arrest happened quite suddenly. Walking across Westgate Bridge one early morning, carefully tapping out his steps, he met Father Serly. Father Serly, still short and stout had survived Edward's reign by outwardly conforming to Protestantism. However, as soon as Mary ascended the throne and papist rules were back, he emerged ready to wage war on anyone who was not attending Mass. "Thomas Drourie," he called out, as the blind boy was about to pass by him. Thomas stopped, recognized the priest's voice, but answered nothing. "I have not seen you at Mass of late," Father Serly went on, using the very same words he had spoken to the boy's father more than a decade past. "No," Tom agreed. "Have you been ill? Has there been no one who could guide you?" The words were friendly enough, but there was underlying threat. Tom perceived it. His father made no secret of the fact that he disliked Father Serly and a great many of the other priests. He was also fully aware that the Cathedral had reverted back to papistry and that many Protestant Englishmen had fled England. "Well, Tom?" As the boy still did not answer, the priest assumed that perhaps the lad did not know it was a priest he was speaking with. "I am your Father," he said, somewhat loftily. "I have only one Father," Tom then replied, "and He is in heaven." "Are you being rude, young sir?" But Tom stood quiet again, and there was no sound but the water of the Big Severn rushing underneath the bridge. Deciding not to continue in conversation with the priest, he began tapping out his steps again, walking forward as he did so. The stout cleric blocked his path. "I asked you a question, young Thomas Drourie." The boy laughed and pushed at the black robes preventing his leaving. He was young and blind, but he was strong and his shove succeeded in thrusting the priest against the side of the bridge. Not only that, but the motion caused the friar to fall down on the slats amid the laughter of some local folk crossing over from the other side. Humiliated, the priest complained to the town's guard and the result was that Tom was taken into custody for an overnight imprisonment. His father had to pay a hefty fine the next morning to have the boy released. ***** "You must not be so bold, Tom" Lizzie was sitting on a bale of hay next to her brother. "You could get father and mother into trouble by such behavior. You would not want that." Her brother shook his head. "No, of course I would not." "Well, then, you must stay at home and if you want something, either I or Albert will go with you into town." "Philip has told me that Master Hooper was arrested, Lizzie. He is being kept in Fleet Prison in London." "Yes, that is true." The girl spoke softly, knowing that Tom looked up to the man, admired him and would feel badly about the news. "He probably," Tom went on, "has no family who can set bail for him as I have heard that his wife and children have left England. The queen, Philip said, wants him dead." "Oh." It was all that Lizzie could think of to say. She was seventeen now and a beauty with long brown hair, just like her mother. She and Albert now had an agreement between the two of them. He had of late, spoken with her father. For a moment she forgot the young brother sitting next to her on a bale of hay. Albert was almost thirty now and she knew that during the conversation he'd had with father he had not been refused. Father would have to weigh the facts and these were that Tom would never be able to run the farm on his own; that Albert was an honest man who truly loved Lizzie; and that Albert also cared for Tom. She glanced at the boy sitting next to her. He was staring straight ahead. But surely it must be at something within himself, for his eyes saw nothing in the barn. Albert took him ploughing in the fields, had him walk by his side, explained what he was doing, always included him in conversations about planting, harvesting, and caring for the cattle. Could they not all live in harmony – father, mother, Albert and herself – caring for Tom and for the farm? "They say," Tom interrupted her thoughts, and speaking vehemently, "that those who put Bishop Hooper in prison accuse him of owing the queen money. But it is not true. They are lying about him." "Hush, Tom! Do not take on so." Lizzie put her right arm about Tom's shoulder as she spoke. But Tom went on, his hands striking the air in anger. "The real reason, Lizzie, is that they want him dead. They want him dead because he is a Protestant just like we are." She was slightly alarmed at his words. "The heresy acts have been revived," Tom continued, his voice somber now. "We just have to stay on the farm, Tom," Lizzie answered, "We won't get involved. Father and mother don't go into Gloucester very much anymore and we have all we need right here." "There is a rumor, but I think it is the truth," the boy went on, "that Bishop Hooper will be transferred to Gloucester at some point. When he is, I want you to take me to his place of confinement, Lizzie. Will you promise me that you will?" Lizzie did not answer. "Well, if you will not take me, then I shall ask Master Philip or Albert." "No, not Albert." Lizzie's answer was swift now. "Well, then?" "Yes, Tom. If and when Master Hooper comes back to Gloucester, I shall take you to see him, if that is possible. Satisfied, the boy leaned into her shoulder. "You are a good sister, Lizzie.” ***** Approximately two months later, in February of 1555, word came to the citizens of Gloucester that their former bishop, John Hooper, would be taken, under heavy escort, to Gloucester. It was Philip the tinker who recounted this to the Drouries at noon. "Actually," he went on, glancing at Tom's white face as he spoke, "he was taken to Gloucester today. Although the news of his coming was kept secret, it leaked out. A mile outside town, I saw crowds assembled – men and women all crying and lamenting Hooper's sorry state as he passed." "You were there? You saw him?" Tom asked. "Yes, I did, Tom. I watched as one of the queen's guards, and there were six of them for the one man, rode into Gloucester to ask for the aid of the mayor and sheriffs. These namby-pamby guards were worried that Hooper would be rescued by the people standing at the side of the road. I saw a great many officers armed with weapons come to the North Gate. They ordered the people to go home and to stay home and then conducted John Hooper to a place where he will be kept until.... " He left off and it was quiet. "Until what?" Tom finally threw out. "Until his burning at the stake tomorrow." There was quiet around the table. Lizzie, who sat across from Tom, felt his foot kick her shin. She winced slightly, but she knew what it meant. CHAPTER 6 They managed to leave the farm together under the pretext of visiting one of Lizzie's friends. "I don't know where to take you, Tom, for Philip did not say where they lodged the bishop." "You must take me to the Cathedral, Lizzie. For at that place they will know of a certainty where he has been taken." "Even so, Tom, why should they tell you?" "Because they will." "Well, I will take you. But you must promise me to be careful." The boy did not answer and they walked along in silence, the boy tapping his path all the while, his cane in his right hand and Lizzie holding his left. When they arrived at the Cathedral, the Gloucester streets lay still. The people had been ordered to stay indoors. "Take me to a side door, Lizzie, and I will knock. You need not stay. But do not go too far either." His sister brought him to a nether door and the boy began knocking almost before she had time to find her way around a corner. Tom knocked loudly and persistently and at the beginning no one came to answer. But he continued in fervor, scraping his knuckles on the wood. At length, a guard opened the door. "What do you want, boy?" His voice was not unfriendly and Tom took heart. "I want to see Bishop Hooper." The guard was taken aback for he could see that Tom was blind. "Please sir," Tom repeated, "can I speak with the Bishop to hear his last words to me before he goes to the stake." "Are you family?" "Yes, he is to me as a father." The guard, who was not a bad fellow, relented upon hearing the earnestness in the boy's plea. "Very well, then, come along." "You must give me your hand, sir." Thomas reached out and the guard took his hand, pulling him inside the building. "Come along then and tell me your name." "Tom Drourie, sir." The guard walked along a corridor, talking the whole while. "My name is Edmund Wells, Tom, and it is a sad business, this whole thing, is it not? But your name sounds familiar. Was there not a boy named Tom arrested a short time ago for...." He stopped, scratched his head, and then smiled. "Yes, now I remember. It had to do with Father Serly, a man I care little about. If I recall correctly, it was because this certain Tom had pushed him." "Yes, sir." Tom answered softly, hoping the conversation would not cost him his chance to see Bishop Hooper. "Well, Tom, if that was you, I would not take it to heart. Father Serly is.... well, he is not overly truthful and he is much concerned about himself. But be careful what you say, boy, for these are treacherous times." Tom nodded and the guard talked on. "Bishop Hooper will be taken to Robert Ingram's house later today. He's not to stay in a common gaol, that good man, but in a home where they respect him. So that is a blessing. And now we have come to his cell. I must let go of your hand to open the door with a key. There's a good lad. Just stand here." Thus speaking, the guard opened the door before returning to Tom. Reaching for his hand, he propelled him inside a small room. "Here's a young lad come to bid you good day, Master Hooper. Says his name is Tom - Tom Drourie. I believe Tom was arrested a while back as well for speaking disrespectfully to a priest. I'll collect him by and by." With that he shut the door and Tom was alone with the bishop. ***** It was a small room. Tom could feel the walls close and the ceiling low. He stepped forward hesitantly, tapping his cane carefully. "Good afternoon, sir," he finally said, his voice small and thin. "Good afternoon, Tom," he was answered by a friendly and low voice, "and what brings you to visit me here in this sad place?" "I wished to say...." Tom began, "I wished to say that I will pray for you, sir. It must be dreadfully.... dreadfully...." He could not go on and a moment later felt a hand on his shoulder. "There, lad," both Bishop Hooper's voice and hand guided him along, "Here's a chair. Sit yourself down and we shall have a talk, you and I, and find out what is in your heart." Tom breathed in deeply, ashamed that he was blubbering like a child again. "Thank you, sir," he managed. "Well, Tom," the bishop continued, putting him at his ease, "I've a lad just like you at home. Only he's left England and I don't get to see him any more. I miss him very much and so appreciate your visit for that reason alone. If I had my lad here, I would counsel him to hold fast to the faith." "Yes, sir," Tom responded, his blind eyes fixed upon the direction of the voice. "Do you believe in the Lord Jesus, son?" "Oh, yes, sir." "Do you confess His one sacrifice on the cross and deny the popish idolatry in the Mass?" "Oh, yes, sir," Tom breathed out again. "Well, lad, then there will not be a goodbye between us once the guard comes to take you back. For of a verity, we will see one another in heaven." "Do you think I shall see?" Tom ventured, "in heaven." "Yes, Tom, you certainly shall." There was a long quiet, but it was not awkward. The bishop had taken the boy's hand into his own. After a while he spoke again. "Ah, Thomas! Ah, poor boy! God has taken from you your outward sight, for what consideration He best knows. But He has given you another sight much more precious, for He has induced your soul with the eye of knowledge and faith. God give you grace continually to pray to Him that you lose not that sight, for then you should be blind both in body and soul." Tom nodded, his eyes again filling with tears. At that moment the door opened with a groan of heaviness and disuse. "Tom, time to go." It was Edmund and Tom stood up. The bishop clapped him on the shoulder. "Son, may God bless you and keep you and let His face shine upon you and be gracious unto you." Taking Tom's hand, the guard steered him towards the hall and all the while Tom was mindful of the lark in the field where he had been with Philip. And he recalled with great clarity how the bull had charged and how Philip had played the viol. Walking back towards the entrance, Tom begged Edmund for permission to hear Bishop Hooper speak prior to his being burned at the stake. For so it was that condemned men were allowed to address the crowd prior to being martyred. Without a word, the man took the boy through to another anteroom, one that led into the cathedral. Although Tom could not see it, this was the place in which Dr. Williams, the Chancellor of Gloucester, was sitting behind a desk. The registrar sat next to him and they were concentrating over some paperwork. Without waiting for permission, the guard spoke. "This boy wants permission to hear the bishop speak tomorrow before his martyrdom." "Martyrdom, Wells? "Whatever it pleases your Honour to call it," the man answered, before he turned, leaving Tom in the sanctuary. Dr. Williams, who was a heavy-set man, turned from the paperwork to peer at Tom. "What is your name, boy?" "Thomas Drourie, sir." "And you wish to see Bishop Hooper die?" "Not die, sir, but live." "Are you a good Christian, Tom?" "I try to be, sir." "Hmmh," the chancellor said, and glancing at the registrar added, "Well, suppose we ask you some questions as to ascertain that." Tom stood in front of him, cane in hand, eyes fixed on where the chancellor's voice came from. "Do you believe," the chancellor began, "that after the words of the priest's consecration, that the very body of Christ is in the bread?" Tom responded strongly with a very loud, "No, that I do not!" Dr. Williams looked keenly at the disabled boy in front of him. "Then you are a heretic, Thomas Drourie. Do you know that for this reason you can be burned? Who taught you this heresy?" Tom, the eyes of his heart bright, even though his outward sight was dull, answered clearly, "You, Mr. Chancellor." Dr. Williams sat up straight. "Where, I pray you?" The words echoed hollowly through the sanctuary. Tom replied softly but clearly, pointing with his cane towards the place where he supposed the pulpit was, "In yonder place." Dr. Williams was aghast. "When did I teach you so?" Tom, now looking straight at where the chancellor's voice was coming from, replied plainly and distinctly: "When you preached a sermon to all men, as well as to me, upon the sacrament. You said the sacrament was to be received spiritually by faith, and not carnally and really as the papists have heretofore taught." Dr. Williams looked down at the papers in front of him. He felt a certain shame in his heart. Nevertheless, his voice boomed out and resounded in the aisles. "Then do as I have done, and you shall live as I do and escape burning." Aware that the bull was charging, but hearing the viol, Tom answered calmly and firmly: "Though you have easily dispensed with your own self and mock God, the world, and your conscience, I will not do so." Dr. Williams was vexed, vexed in his soul. Although he tried for some time to convince the boy otherwise and threatening him plenty, there was no recantation. Finally, he bellowed: "Then God have mercy upon you, Tom, for I will read you your condemnatory sentence." Tom answered, "God's will be fulfilled." At this moment the registrar nudged Dr. Williams. "For shame, man! Will you read the sentence and condemn yourself? Away with you! At least substitute someone else to give sentence and judgment." But Dr. Williams would not change his mind. "Mr. Registrar!" he barked out, "I will obey the law and give sentence myself according to my office." After this he read Tom his death sentence, albeit with a shamed tongue and a twisted conscience. "Wells," he then cried out, for the guard was present once again, "take this boy to a cell." "Sir, I beg you," a small voice cried out in the back of the sanctuary, "have mercy on my brother." It was Lizzie who had been let in by the kindhearted Edmund. "Do you wish to be arrested alongside your brother?" "Sir, I would feign take his place if it would help his case." Tom felt love well up in his heart for his sister. Often she had kept him from wrongdoing in the past; often she had nursed scraped elbows and bruises; and often she had comforted him after he had been lonely. She was like a second mother. Ah, his mother! Tears sprung to his eyes. He had not thought of his parents this whole time. Lizzie slowly lifted one foot in front of the other, as if she were gathering courage in those unhurried steps, and approached the front, standing right before Dr. Williams. "He is but a lad, your honor," she haltingly began, "and his mother ...." Then she wept. Tom was at her side in an instant. "Don't cry, Lizzie," he pleaded, "please don't cry." "How can I help it Tom?" "You will see me again, Lizzie." She lifted her tear-stained face towards him, doubtful and hopeful at the same time. "Tell mother and father that I shall be home shortly, Lizzie. And tell them that I look forward to that homecoming more than anything else." Then Edmund Wells took the boy's hand in his own and led him away. ***** A true story, flavored with fiction, the blind boy Thomas Drourie (together with a bricklayer by the name of Thomas Croker) was burned at the stake on May 5, 1556. This was three months after Bishop Hooper was burned. Three years later, during the early years of Queen Elizabeth's reign, Chancellor Williams poisoned himself, thus adding suicide to his previous crimes. For Thomas Drourie, Bishop Hooper and other faithful believers, there was the light of God's countenance; for Chancellor Williams, what shall we say?...

Assorted

I Have A Son Seven Years Old; He is to me full dear...

This a short story about World War II, the immigrant experience...and much more Chapter 1.  The teacher Perhaps it is true that one's conscience is like a songbird warbling high up in a tree. Though you cannot detect its form, its notes are clear and touch your soul with their pureness and you cannot walk by for weeping. September of 1953 was a hot month in the city of Toronto. In fact, the second day of the month was the hottest day of the year, with the thermometer reaching 98 degrees Fahrenheit. The heat on that Labor Day weekend had me thinking that it did not seem to be a very auspicious time to open school doors or an auspicious moment to be a first-time teacher. I had graduated from the Toronto Normal School earlier that same year. As far back as I could remember I had always loved the idea of becoming a teacher, of being with children and imparting to them knowledge, truth and fine ideals. But when I faced my mixed class of seventh and eighth graders that first week – a medley of twenty-seven faces, all wilting with heat in the muggy, crowded classroom – my courage and commitment somehow deteriorated into nervous tension. There were names to memorize, characters to unravel, and temperaments to discern. Not that the children were rowdy or disobedient; it was just that there were so many of them and so few of me. Consequently, at the end of that initial week, I stood in front of the half-open classroom window gazing out at the silent playground after the students had been dismissed. Tired and not a little discouraged, I contemplated whether I should have opted for another vocation such as mechanic or traveling salesman. Drumming my fingers on the sill, and staring off into the horizon, I recalled the respect I'd had for teachers who had made an impact on my formative years. Mr. Kunstenaar, my history teacher, stood out in my memory. How that man had been able to tell stories! Absently, I wiped beading drops of sweat off my upper lip. Some boys had appeared on the playground. Though the weather was still hot and humid, they were running and yelling. There were four of them and the first was much younger than the rest. As they tore past, it became obvious that the boy in the lead was being pursued by the rest. The child was a good runner, but his small legs did not stand a chance against the longer legs of his opponents. By some providential quirk, if there is such a thing, the boy zigzagged back towards my window and, upon reaching it, turned, standing with his back against it. The boys stopped their chase and picked up clumps of dirt from the ground where they stood. They then began to pelt the boy with the dirt, one soft clump striking the top of his head and breaking into a hundred small grains of black on his crown. Pity flooded my heart. Stepping forward to make myself clearly visible, I stood tall behind the boy. Though I did not think he saw me, his pursuers certainly did. Neither gesturing nor saying one word, I just stood quietly. And one by one the three boys opened their fists, dropped their missiles, and disappeared. I don't know what the child thought of his attackers leaving. The back of his head pressed hard against my window. The hair I could almost touch was blond – very blond – a blond mixed with black. I had a déjà vu moment but could not place it. Then the boy turned and he smiled at me. It was a warm and radiant smile and in that instant I knew I had made the right decision about becoming a teacher. *** The following Monday morning the principal asked if I could spare a moment to talk. "I'd like to take advantage of your bilingualism," he said, by way of beginning the conversation, "of your ability to speak Dutch." "Oh?" "This year there are three children, children of Dutch immigrants," he continued, "who are attending our school. They need help with their English. It occurred to me that you might be just the man to encourage them. Can I ask for your help in tutoring some of these students for a few hours each week if I provide some extra help in your classroom during that time?" "I have no experience in tutoring," I said. "It's just to see them through an initial awkward and difficult period," he went on, almost as if he had not heard my objection, "You see, because of their lack of ability to speak English, they have been put back a year in school, and if they are able to become more proficient in English, perhaps they can be moved up to the grade level they should be in." To a certain degree, I felt cheated. It was clear to me that tutoring was something a teacher's aide should be doing; it certainly did not seem to be work for someone like myself who had just studied hard to earn a degree. Besides that, wasn't it obvious that these children would pick up English quickly enough by themselves, immersed as they were in the mainstream of school life? The principal, sensing my hesitation, stood up and patted me on the shoulder. "Mr. Anders," he said, "I assure you it would definitely help these children a great deal and it's just a few hours every week." *** So, beginning immediately, every Tuesday and Thursday morning were set aside for instructing three children. From nine until recess, two sisters – eleven-year-old twins Tina and Tonnie DeGroot – were taught the rudiments of English. Following recess, the boy with the blond hair came in, the boy who had smiled at me. Providence is a mixture of the wonderful, strange, and fearful. A truth wrapped up in seemingly discordant notes fell onto my heart when the child told me his name. "Ik heet Nico," he said, "Nico Goudswaard, and ik ben zeven jaar oud." (My name is Nico - Nico Goudswaard, and I am seven years old.) Another vague déjà vu moment occurred. "Nico," I repeated slowly, and again, "Nico." "Ja," the boy replied. I sat down rather weakly and he came and sat down opposite me. "What is your name?" he asked. I did not answer his query, instead asking him another question: "Who is your father, Nico?" "Well," the boy said, his clear eyes shining at me across the table, "that is a hard question to answer." He looked down at the table for a moment as if thinking deeply. Then he looked up and smiled again. "I do have a father though." I did not know what to say to that and waited, for clearly the child was not finished. After thinking long and hard for another minute, hands folded on the brown tabletop, he finally added quietly, "Do you have to know who my father is to help me with English?" I shook my head and grinned at him. "No, but I would really like to know. Can't you tell me?" "Well, you can't see my father. Not the way that other children can see theirs." "Oh?" I said. "Fathers are good," he continued, "When I ran to the window last week, then I pretended that you were my father. I only pretended for a minute," he quickly added, "because mother says that I must not do that – pretend that other people are my father." "But you said that you did have a father, ... or don't you?" "Well, mother says that my father is God in heaven and that He will look out for me always, no matter where I am. I almost forgot that He was there when those boys were teasing me, but then I saw you and thought that..." He stopped abruptly. "How is your mother?" Any adult would have looked at me strangely for asking such a personal question on such short acquaintance. But no one alive could have understood the absurdity of this present-day providence – even I did not understand it – this providence of me sitting here with the child of a girl I had once known when I was a young boy. "She is fine." Nico had no trouble answering familiarities. "Do you live close to the school?" He nodded. "Yes, I do. It only takes me fifteen minutes to walk to school." Our whole conversation had taken place in Dutch. I took out a reader at this point and had him sound out simple words to ascertain his command of the English language. His English was actually better than that of the twin girls. But my mind wandered continually as Nico was sounding out his words – wandered back to days long gone by. And when Nico left at lunch hour, I stayed behind in the small study room and thought – indeed, could not stop thinking – about the past. There is no accusation that tastes as bitter as self-reproach. Others can accuse – often unjustly and unfairly – and, in those cases, the accused can rest in knowing they are innocent. But people who recognize the secret dealings of their own hearts repeatedly cringe in shame and regret. And so it was with me and I began remembering. Chapter 2. The student "The White Book of Sarnen contains the earliest surviving record of the William Tell story." The speaker was Jaap Kunstenaar, and I was among the children he was addressing. We were in school, if you could call it school, for there was no bell, no principal, no heat, no recess, and certainly no list of subjects that we had to follow. There were only some thirty children or so huddled in desks, students so skinny that ribs protruded and elbows jutted out of our sweaters. We varied in age from eight to fifteen, with myself, 16-year-old Nico Anders, the oldest boy there. It was spring, 1945, following on the heels of a cold, cold winter. Jaap Kunstenaar was a retired teacher and nearing three score and ten years of age. He had offered to feed some history to the youth of our town two afternoons a week. We came not because our parents forced us to come, but because there was not much else to do, and because, somehow, listening to Jaap Kunstenaar talk helped us forget the hunger pains in our bellies as we lived the heroic tales of the past. I well remember the day that Mr. Kunstenaar told the story of William Tell for it was a day that marked a changing point in my life. "The Book of Sarnen was accidentally discovered in 1856, and is believed to be a copy of a much older manuscript written in 1426." Mr. Kunstenaar rubbed his thin and blueing hands together. The color of his hands indicated both the coldness of the room, in which the pot-bellied stove had neither wood to burn nor warmth to throw, and his venerable age. Perhaps that's why he told history so well, because he himself was almost a part of it. "More than 700 years ago," Mr. Kunstenaar began, and we all listened, already fascinated because of the intensity of his baritone voice. "More than 700 years ago," he repeated, "a local farmer and well-known hunter hailing from the canton of Uri, strode through the market square of Altdorf. A crossbow hung over his shoulder. In all of the surrounding cantons there was no one who could climb mountains as sure-footed and as quickly as could this man, William Tell, and there was no one as skilled in the use of a crossbow." The mention of a bow made me even more attentive. I knew how to use a bow and arrow myself. My father had taught me how to aim carefully, and how to unfailingly hit the mark, from the time I was old enough to hold a bow. "My father taught me and I teach you," he told me. "And, God willing," he added with a twinkle in his eyes, "you will someday teach your son." We hunted rabbits and quail together, my father and I, and grandfather had shown me how to skin the rabbits and how to pluck the quail. Mr. Kunstenaar continued: "Altdorf was one of the many small settlements in the area which we now call Switzerland. Its market square was no doubt very similar to the market square we have in town here. People strolled through it, they conducted business there, and they sat on the benches erected along its sides. But the freedom of walking through the square had been curtailed. This was because the town of Altdorf, as well as the surrounding cantons, was occupied at that time, even as we are occupied today, by an enemy. For Switzerland at the time of William Tell in the early 1300s, the enemy was Austria. Today, for Holland in this year of our Lord, 1945, it is Germany." He paused dramatically and we all breathed deeply, anticipating action before he continued. And why shouldn't we have? Stories that paralleled our situation were stories that most gripped our hearts. These were stories with which we could empathize. For example, tales about the Spaniards occupying our country during the Reformation times fascinated us, and episodes of heroism encouraged us. Mr. Jaap Kunstenaar was a wonderful well of information, and we leaned forward in our desks listening eagerly, forgetting for a while our worries, aches and trials. "The enemy agent for the Hapsburg Duke of Austria was a bailiff by the name of Hermann Gessler. He was the Austrian Duke's henchman. Strangely enough, Hermann Gessler sounds ominously like Hermann Goering, who, as you all know, is Hitler's henchman." We all nodded vigorously for we were very familiar with the name of Hermann Goering, a top Nazi, and a hater of the Jews. "Gessler was a proud man, a cruel man, and one who sadistically punished the Swiss people without reason. One day, overcome with pride, he placed his hat on a pole in the center of the Altdorf square and announced that anyone passing this hat would have to bow to it, on pain of death. Shortly after this announcement, William Tell, a patriotic Swiss man and one not easily frightened, strode through the square. He refused to obey Gessler's ridiculous command, nonchalantly passing by the cap, totally ignoring it. And he passed by it walking upright, holding the hand of his young son, Walter." We all laughed, the younger as well as the older children. We were enormously pleased that William Tell had not saluted the cap, for it seemed so obvious that to salute a hat was extremely foolish. Who would do such a thing? Our laughter was shrill, almost as if we had forgotten how to do it, but we were hungry you see, and our voices had grown weak because of the severe lack of food. I remember thinking that the red ribbon in the hair of the orphan girl Nienke Jongsma in front of me looked good enough to eat. And I remember thinking at the same time of the potatoes in Friesland, where Nienke had come from, potatoes which lay rotting but which were not allowed to be sent from that province to the other western provinces desperately in need of food. All the while, during that thought, Tom Jansen sitting next to me shook with mirth. And Ina De Wit in front of Tom put her hand in front of her mouth to hide squeaky giggles. And fifteen-year-old Lieneke, my good friend Lieneke, with the beautiful blond braids, whom I loved with all the innocent passion of my teenage heart, had a wide grin on her face, showing all her pretty white teeth. Strange that such a sweet and pretty girl was the daughter of a suspected Nazi sympathizer. Mr. Kunstenaar waited until we settled down before he continued. "Loitering nearby in the center of the square were several guardsmen. When these guardsmen noticed that William Tell had not saluted Gessler's hat, they immediately arrested him. Shortly afterwards Gessler himself rode into the square surrounded by his hunting party. 'Why is this man in custody? And who is he?' Gessler demanded from the great height of his white stallion. 'He refused to salute your cap,' the soldiers answered, 'and his name is William Tell, a fellow who by all accounts, seems to be a remarkable marksman – one who can shoot a straight arrow at a great distance and not miss his target.' Gessler remained quiet and thoughtful for a few moments. Small Walter, Tell's son and proud of it, began to boast and his words rang through the square, stopping in front of Gessler on his high horse. 'My father,' he called out in his childish voice, interpreting the soldiers' claim in his own words, 'can shoot an apple from a tree at a hundred yards!' Gessler sneered, sneered from his high perch on the horse, sneered at the boy, and sneered at all the bystanders. 'Can he indeed?' he scoffed, 'Well then he shall prove his skill to us here. Place an apple on the boy's head. And we shall see if he never misses.'" The mention of an apple brought saliva to my dry mouth – I almost drooled. If I had been in the place of Walter Tell, with the apple placed on my head, I would have taken it off and crunched into it for one bite, just one bite. I could almost taste it – a far better taste than that of the sugar beets that the town council was beginning to ration out sparingly to the families in town. We had heard of food packages being dropped out of planes flying over Amsterdam, but we had received no such luxuries. "Walter was led to a tree at the far end of the square, and an apple was placed on his head. Quite a crowd had gathered in the square by this time. Everyone was horrified. Outwardly calm, William Tell took the crossbow from his shoulder and fitted an arrow to his bow. Walter stood very still and appeared not to be afraid. The child had unconditional faith in his father's skill. William Tell took careful aim. The arrow left the shaft, and whistled through the air, finding its mark in the center of the apple splitting it into two parts." We all sighed. And then Mr. Kunstenaar quoted an old Northumbrian English ballad. He quoted it with great emotion and I remember it still. I have a son seven years old; He is to me full dear; I will tie him to a stake - All shall see him that be here - And lay an apple upon his head, And go six paces him fro. And I myself with a broad arrowe Shall cleave the apple in towe. For a moment afterwards it was quiet – the class all picturing the cleft apple lying on the ground in front of the boy Walter, who, no doubt, had a huge grin on his face. "William Tell sprinted towards his son, and as he did so a second arrow fell from his coat. Gessler, puzzled, asked him why this second arrow was necessary. And Tell replied: 'That second arrow was for you, if the first had wounded my boy.'" We were all delighted with Tell's bravery and gleefully visualized the look of helpless anger on Gessler's face. Jaap Kunstenaar went on: "A conversation reported between a Swiss diplomat and a German in 1939 at the onset of the Second World War, went thus. The German said, 'You Swiss are so proud of your 500,000 men militia. But what will you do if a 1,000,000 man German army comes marching across your border?' The Swiss diplomat calmly replied, 'That's easy. Each of us will shoot twice and go home.'" We roared with laughter, at which point Nienke Jongsma fainted and Mr. Kunstenaar and some of the older girls did everything they could to revive her. It took some time, but after she was sitting up again, pale and hollow-eyed (as indeed we all were), Mr. Kunstenaar decided that it was time to go home. "What happened to William Tell after that?" Jan Bezem asked as we filed out into the hall and from there into the street. "He led a rebellion against the invaders." "Did he win?" "Yes," Mr. Kunstenaar smiled and patted Jan on the head, "and I'll tell you about that some other time." Chapter 3. The pilot While the other students went straight home, I only passed by our house long enough to pick up an old baby carriage from our shed. My father, who would visit us once a week or less and always under the cover of darkness, had instructed me to walk to Farmer Dikkens after four o’clock. It was already close to four when I picked up the carriage. Inside it, hidden in a false bottom, were two packages of cigarettes and two chocolate bars, placed there by my father to be used in bargaining for some wheat and potatoes. Farmers didn't take kindly to people coming anymore. There wasn't much left of anything for people to barter with. But father had said that Farmer Dikkens would be expecting me. So I went, albeit reluctantly, because I knew that my bargaining powers were less than spectacular. We lived on the east edge of town. I lived there with my father, when he was home, and with my grandfather. My mother had died the first year of the war and I had no siblings. There were just the three of us. We had no other living relatives as both my father and mother had been only children. At this time we also had living with us a Canadian pilot who had shown up a few weeks earlier with a bad burn to his right arm, as well as a cut in his right leg. We doctored him as best we could. His mother was from Holland, so he spoke a decent amount of Dutch, and consequently our communication was good. Sometimes he stayed with father in his hiding place, and sometimes he came to the house. He was the one who had given us the cigarettes and the chocolate. "Nico," father had said, "these cigarettes may very well be the saving of our lives; God-given they are." So I prayed before I came to the farm. "Dear God," I said, not out loud but within my heart, "please let Farmer Dikkens be generous so that I can come home with some food for grandfather." It was quiet outside. The fields were bare and during my half hour or so of walking, I saw only one German soldier and he paid no heed to me, a skinny boy pushing a baby carriage. The Germans, very edgy now that the end of the war was coming, had dug holes the size of small rooms by the side of the road. In case of an air attack, they would have somewhere to hide. These holes appeared like graves to me, although had a plane appeared overhead I would have jumped into one without any hesitation. My walk that late afternoon was a lonely trek and I felt the atmosphere heavy with danger. Miraculously, Farmer Dikkens, a big man with a pot-belly and large jowls, was agreeable. An admiring smile on his small lips, he held the cigarette packages in his hand, turning them over and over, in his fleshy hands. "What do you want for them?" "What are you willing to give?" I inwardly congratulated myself on this answer. "Fifteen pounds of wheat." "I think not," I answered, "there are others who will..." He did not let me finish. "All right, then, twenty-five pounds and that's my final offer." Sliding my hand into one of my pockets, I produced one of the chocolate bars and put it on top of the cigarette packages in his hands, saying nothing. He studied me with piercing eyes, suddenly wary. "You're not in cahoots with the Germans, are you?" "You know my father," I answered, "how can you ask such a thing." In the end he gave me thirty pounds of wheat and fifteen pounds of potatoes. His wife, it turned out, had been addicted to chocolate before the war and would be very pleased with the treat. I walked back home as quickly as I could. It was a going against the wind and the carriage wheels, which had no rubber rims, kept digging into the many ruts in the road. There was a gnawing worry within me. Grandfather had been so tired lately. And so very thin. He rarely got up out of his chair anymore although sometimes he surprised me. Pushing the carriage past an abandoned house, I noticed some scrap pieces of wood by its door. Our woodstove had not been burning this last month. Wood was very scarce. One night, months ago, people had cut down many of the trees lining the center road in town. I'd heard that one man who had no axe had fanatically hugged a tree tearfully claiming it as his own, until a neighbor had lent him an axe with the promise that he might share some of its wood. Others had hung on low-lying branches, breaking them off, pulling the branches behind them to their homes. There was no brushwood left close to the town. Out in the country there were still woods. But few dared to go for these trees because the Germans had issued an order after that night, saying that anyone caught cutting down any more lumber would be arrested. Leaving the carriage on the road, I ran up to the entrance of the abandoned house. Picking up the scrap pieces, I decided there was just enough wood for one good fire – a fire that would surely cheer grandfather's bones tonight. As well, I thought I would be able to concoct a meal that would taste better than the pancakes I had been making out of mashed tulip bulbs and other bits of leftover food. And the remaining chocolate bar still stashed in my pocket could be our dessert. In rather high spirits, I pushed the carriage back into our shed. Who knew but that the war would be over next week. I prayed again, quietly inside my heart, "Thank you, Lord, for this food. Thank you, Lord, for this bit of wood." Leaving the wood in the shed, I carried the potatoes under one arm and the bag of wheat under the other. When I pushed open the front door, it creaked horribly. One of the first things I would do after the war was oil its hinges. No familiar call of welcome hailed me from the livingroom. Perhaps grandfather was sleeping. He slept much and sometimes, or actually very often, was rather befuddled about the situation we were in. I could see his head resting sideways against the back of the chair. It faced the east window where he could look out on the fields. "Grandfather," I called, but there was no answer. I walked through to the kitchen and deposited my bargaining trophies on the counter. Then I walked back into the livingroom, approaching to the edge of the chair. "Napping, are we?" I joked, "Sleeping while your favorite grandson is bringing you not only a good supper but also a warm-bellied stove for the evening." Moortje, our black cat, was sitting on his lap. We never fed him anymore as there was no food. Although thin, the animal was wiry and did an admirable job catching mice and rats on his nightly raids. Moortje was inordinately fond of grandfather. No wonder, for the black creature received innumerable scratches behind his ears, under his jaw and along his furry back. As I came closer, Moortje stood up and began to meow, at the same time licking the top of grandfather's hand – a hand, I now noted, that hung slack over the edge of the chair. Suddenly afraid, I pushed the cat onto the floor and nudged the still figure. But even as I put out my hand, I knew. I knew that my grandfather had died before I could make the room warm, before I could boil the potatoes, and before I could make some sort of pancakes out of the wheat. Undeterred by my gesture, the cat jumped back onto grandfather's lap and began butting his black head against the unmoving chest. I knelt down on the floor in front of the chair, resting my head on the still lap. The cat half-sat on my head and began purring. I vaguely took in the familiar smell of grandfather's pipe, for even though it had been years since he had last smoked the odor of it permeated his clothes. I did not weep, but was overcome with weariness so great that all my limbs felt as if they had turned to jelly. I sat there for an hour or more - I don't know quite how long. But eventually I heard the front door creak open. Then there were footsteps and Paul came into the room. Paul was the Canadian pilot. "Nico?" His voice showed his surprise at seeing me on my knees with my head in grandfather's lap. I stirred but very slightly. "Yes," I answered softly. "Nico," he repeated, and there was something in his voice that made me raise my head and look at him. "What is it?" "Your father," he answered, and then there was a catch in his voice that gripped my heart with fear. "My father?" Standing up I repeated his words mechanically. The cat jumped to the ground and ran past Paul's legs. A minute later we could hear the door creak – Moortje had the uncanny ability to somehow paw it open on her own. All the while Paul stood still and I knew again, for the second time within a few hours, that something devastating was going to occur. "Is your grandfather sleeping?" Paul asked. "Yes," I answered, reasoning to myself that he was asleep, for weren't the dead asleep according to the Bible? "Somehow," our Canadian pilot continued, beckoning me over to the kitchen where he was heading, "somehow the Nazis became aware of your father's hiding place in the woods." I trailed him to the kitchen, not able to say anything. He continued, speaking more slowly, leaning his left arm on the counter next to the potatoes and the wheat, his voice low and showing no emotion, "This afternoon they raided it and your father..." "My father," I regurgitated, feeling surreal and hearing my words as if someone else had said them. "He was killed, Nico." "No one knew where he was hiding," I protested then, "no one at all. There was just grandfather and myself who knew." But within me I was aware that there was another person. And my heart pounded with the knowledge that I had confided in one other person where my father was hiding and that person was Lieneke Goudswaard - Lieneke with the blond, honey-colored braids. I stared at Paul. His eyes were full of compassion. "We'll not wake your grandfather," he said, "not yet, anyway." "But he," I stuttered, "he is dead too, Paul. He is dead too." A half-scream, half-groan erupted from my heart and from my belly and Paul's arms closed around me until I stopped. I was quiet afterward but could speak no words; neither could I weep. A great weariness overtook me again as I gazed at grandfather sitting in his chair, head tilted to one side while the potatoes and the wheat stood upright on the kitchen counter. And then things went black. Chapter 4. The judge I awoke on my bed later that evening, and I awoke because the door creaked. My head was fuzzy and it was hard to immediately remember what had happened. But the realization of death, loneliness and betrayal returned full force as soon as I sat up. Candlelight shone in from the livingroom. Swinging my feet over the edge of the bed, I peered through the small hall. I could just make out the figures of three men standing in the livingroom, one of them holding a candle, standing around grandfather's chair. They were Piet Winter, Hugo Enkel and Klaas Boks – all part of father's team, all part of the underground. I must have made some sort of noise, because all three simultaneously turned to find me looking at them. "Ah, Nico," said Piet, "I'm sorry, son. I'm deeply sorry about your father and," he added, "your grandfather." The others murmured agreement and I nodded, not trusting myself to speak. "We're going to bury your father tonight," Piet went on, "and we thought perhaps it might be a good thing if we buried your grandfather and your father next to one another." I nodded again. Klaas, a big man, lifted grandfather's body out of the chair and began carrying it towards the front door. It could not have been a difficult task for him because grandfather was light as air, so thin he had become. "Where," I asked, "will you bury them?" "In the church cemetery, next to your mother," Piet said, "we've already had some men dig the holes. We can't wait, Nico, because the liberation is coming closer each day and the Germans are getting so nervous that we're not sure what they'll do. But we're pretty certain they won't take the time to dig up graves. Do you want to come?" I walked towards him rather unsteadily. "Let me come with you afterwards too, Piet," I pleaded, "I've got nothing left here." He said nothing, but held out his hand and I took it – me, a grown boy of sixteen years, hanging on to someone as if I were a toddler. When we reached the churchyard several people emerged from their hiding places behind some of the larger tombstones. One of them was the dominee. No one spoke. As one body, we all moved forward silently towards the west side of the church. This was where my mother was buried. Wasn't it just last week that I had visited her grave with my father? And now, in the moonlight, I could see that two yawning hollows had been dug next to it. I watched silently as my father's body and my grandfather's body were lowered into those black mouths. There had been no wood for coffins for a long time now. "There are three things that are never satisfied, four that never say enough! The grave..." Like arrows from the bow of a hunter, the words from Proverbs found their mark straight into my heart and a great anger overcame me so that I turned away from the small group bunched around the gravesite and ran blindly away between the markers. Reaching the metal gate, I lifted the latch eventually finding my way home. And all the while I was thinking about what I would do next, all the while I was scheming how I could avenge...and I did not leave the end up to God. *** Paul came to the house some time later. He always came and went; I did not know the full extent of how involved he was with the underground. As I lay in bed, feigning sleep, I could feel him bend over my still form. He whispered my name but I didn't answer. Then he went to my grandfather's room and I knew he would sleep there for the night. But I did not sleep. *** Even before the morning light touched the horizon, I was up and into my clothes. My bow and arrows were stashed away in the shed under an old wheelbarrow. I checked them carefully before I headed in the direction of Lieneke's house. It had rained during the night. Puddles lined the road but there was a sweet south wind – a warm wind – and I thought of how grandfather would have enjoyed this day. He might even have sat behind the house if the sun proved to be warm enough. No one was about. Certainly a year ago, or even a half a year ago, I couldn't have walked out as freely as I did now or as I had done yesterday on my way to farmer Dikkens. The Germans badly needed manpower so they had been randomly conscripting men and young boys off the street. But the war was almost over now. Or so it was said, and Germans could be seen leaving town. Every day we saw small groups of soldiers walking through our streets, heading northeast. No matter though, during this particular pre-morning hour there was quiet and not a soul was about. Lieneke lived on the opposite edge of the town and upon reaching her home I stood for a long moment under the window that I knew held her bedroom. Then, taking the few pebbles I had collected from the roadside, I began to toss them gently and steadily, hitting her pane with a soft ping each time. It would not do to waken her father who would not take kindly to seeing me. Before long the curtains parted slightly to silhouette Lieneke's form. She opened the window and whispered. "Is that you, Nico?" "Yes," I answered, making my voice bland, giving away none of the emotion that roiled around inside me. "What is it?" "I'm going for a walk. Will you come?" She was silent, and for a few moments I was afraid that she would not come. We had often gone on walks together, she and I, and had been able to talk about many things. What these things were, I can't recall now – only that our rapport had been excellent. The reality of the bow and arrow under the wheelbarrow in the shed lay heavy on my heart. I heard birds begin to sing, only just now starting to wake. "I'll be there in a minute, Nico. Wait by the road." I breathed in deeply. She would come then. Slowly I sauntered back to the road. Spring, though late, had come and almost gone. I could smell it. Ragged robins, marjoram, and wild balsam flowered, flowered while people died. "Here I am, Nico." She had come up behind me so softly that I was startled. "Lieneke." "Where shall we go for a walk?" I did not answer but began to lead the way back in the direction of my house. "I'm sorry about your father and grandfather, Nico." There was something within me, something that pushed all other emotions away except for an overriding sense of ... of something I did not know how to define. Lieneke's hand gently stole into mine. It was a very thin hand and I could feel the bones. "I am truly sorry, Nico," she repeated. No response found its way to my lips and my right hand roughly pushed her hand away. She did not seem overly hurt by the gesture, supposing that my bereavement entitled me to rudeness. Blackbirds whistled their songs in fields, mingling their voices with those of finches. A lark rose up high above our heads, strong and proud, flying straight up to heaven. It was almost morning – almost. We walked without speaking for a long while, and eventually came to my house. I turned in, walking towards the shed. "What are we going to do, Nico?" I said nothing, simply holding the door open for her. She slipped into the semi-darkness of the interior and sat down on a broken chair propped up against the east wall. The earliest sunrays faintly fell through the cracks in the wall, shining on her blond braids. I noticed that she had not taken the time to comb her hair. It was slightly disheveled, with strands escaping from the thick plaits. But it did not look unkempt to me, rather it gave her an aura of being totally caught up in my welfare. I was not happy with that thought and forced myself to visualize my father being lowered into his grave. I sat down as well, on the dirt floor straight across from her, and took a deep breath. "Someone," I began in a neutral voice, "betrayed my father. Someone informed the police where my father was hiding." She nodded, her blue eyes fixed steadfastly on my face. "There was no one," I continued, "no one except myself, my grandfather and you, who knew where he was hiding." Her eyes became clouded, as tears formed. I could see them pooling, then overflowing, and finally falling down her cheeks. "Oh, Nico," she whispered, "you don't think that I..." "It is a fact," I said, "that there is no one else who knew." She said nothing but just looked at me. Tears ran down her face. I wanted a denial, a strong denial, and hot anger flooded my being. "You," I pushed out vehemently, "You're a traitor, just like your father! You wicked girl!" I stood up then, balling my hands into fists. Backing out through the shed door, I knelt down on the wet ground and picked up a pile of dirt. Packing it into a ball, I stomped back in. Lieneke still sat in the same spot. She hadn't moved. It was as if she were frozen. I hesitated but only for a moment. Slowly coming up to her, never taking my eyes of her face, I heavily deposited the huge clump of dirt on top of her head. Part of it oozed down, down past the honey-colored hair, onto her cheeks, mingling with the tears; but most of it stayed on top of the blond pile of hair. Walking backwards, I took my bow and arrow from under the overturned wheelbarrow. Fitting the arrow into the shaft, I aimed at the apple of dirt on Lieneke's head. "Why did you tell them?" I cried the words in agony. My fingers trembled. She did not contradict me but sat so still that she could have been a painting. The sound of loud, raucous laughter coming down the road startled me – startled me so that my fingers let go of the arrow. It whistled and struck Lieneke's left cheek, narrowly missing her eye. She flinched and her hands flew up to her face at the same time as the door behind me opened revealing Paul. "Nico! What are you doing?" I could not answer. For suddenly it was as if the dam of grief within me had burst its bounds and the waters swept me away so that I no longer had any control over my body. Paul was at Lieneke's side in an instant, speaking as he moved. "There is a German patrol coming down the road. I do believe they're totally tipsy. But neither of us had better be here if they decide to check on the house, or search this shed." "Run! You must run!" The words were Lieneke's and woodenly through my tears I saw that she had stood up. Blood trickled down her left cheek even as she spoke. What had I done? "I think you're all right," Paul said, addressing Lieneke, and then coming for me, he added, "Nico, we have to make a run for it. Those Germans will shoot us on sight." "But what about...?" My words slurred and I could not stop looking at the blood running down Lieneke's face. "I will be fine." She spoke the words almost formally, the wet dirt on her head continuing to seep downwards to mingle with the blood on her left cheek. "As you know, most of the Germans in town are acquainted with my father." She lifted one of her hands in a mock salute, a hand wet with her own blood as she added, "So you need not worry about me at all." Rooted in my spot, Paul had to push me alongside him towards the shed door, talking to Lieneke as he did so. "Go to the house and wash that wound," he instructed, looking at her over his shoulder, "Don't let any of that dirt infect it." Opening the door, and peering around the corner, he next pulled me out with him and we began our escape. Our house was built on a slope and the field behind it curved downwards towards a small stream. Even now I remember the shouting, the loud voices calling us to halt. We did not halt. Miraculously the shots that were fired missed us. Slipping and sliding, we reached the water, and all the while Paul dragged me behind himself. He dragged me until I lost consciousness. It was then that he carried me. *** When I awoke, I was lying on a cot in a small room. Paul was sitting at a table, as were some other men. I recognized Piet Winter and Klaas Boks, but there were others I did not know. Shifting slightly, the movement alerted them to the fact that I was awake. Paul stood up and sat on the edge of the cot. "So how do you feel?" "Where am I?" "That doesn't matter. What matters is that you're safe." "How long have I been here?" "Well, you've been sleeping for about two days now." "Two days!" He nodded and smiled. I was struggling to remember everything that had happened and closed my eyes at the immensity of the memories that hit me. My father and grandfather were gone. There was no one at all now except for Lieneke and she... "How is...?" But I could not bring myself to say her name out loud, and repeated, "How is...?" "First I want to tell you that we know who it was who told the police where your father was," Paul said in a low voice. "Who was it?" "It was your grandfather." Paul uttered the sentence softly. He knew the words would hurt. The men at the table had gone back to playing cards, to speaking quietly among themselves. "How could he? How could grandfather?" "He didn't mean to. The Gestapo came to your house that afternoon. Only they were not dressed like officers. They were dressed like ordinary folks. They questioned your grandfather and led him to believe that they were loyal Dutch citizens and that they were friends. They promised to bring some food for your grandfather and you if he would only tell them where his son was. They said they had an urgent message for your father from the queen." "The queen?" "Yes, and your grandfather believed it, and was more than willing to point them in the direction of your father's hiding spot." Paul stopped for a moment and eyed me compassionately before he continued. "You're grandfather was suffering from aging, Nico, and did not quite know what he was doing or saying the last while. Surely you know that." I did know it. I had seen him talk out loud to the cat as if she was my mother. And I also recalled that he had told me only a week ago that Prime Minister Gerbrandy had come to call, asking for his help in fighting the Nazis. "How do you know for a fact that he really told them?" I asked the question with a sigh and moved my feet under the thin blanket covering my form. "Because one of the German officers told Hendrik Jansen. The officer thought it was a huge joke. Hendrik is one of our men, but the officer didn't know that." I knew Hendrik Jansen. He was Tom's father and I'd gone to school with Tom for a long time. "So it was not Lieneke?" Paul shook his head. "No, Nico, it wasn't her at all. "How is she? Is she hurt very badly?" He replied rather indirectly, and I vaguely sensed that he was keeping something back. "The wound on her cheek was not very bad, just a scratch really." I sighed again, partly in relief this time, but when I wanted to get up, dizziness overtook me. Paul pushed me down. "Sleep, Nico. Sleep." Chapter 5. The substitute Two weeks later the war was over. So was my life as I had known it. Our house had been burned down to the ground. There was nothing left. There were only the three graves in the cemetery and I could not bed down there for the rest of my life. But I had no other family except for those three. It was Paul who provided me with a solution of what I ought to do. "Come back to Canada with me, Nico." "Come back with you?" "Yes," he said with a warm smile on his face, "my mother and father would love you. After all, it was your family, your father and grandfather and yourself, who saved my life." I talked with the dominee, and with Jaap Kunstenaar, both of whom encouraged me to accept Paul's offer and go with him to Canada. I tried very hard to see Lieneke, but every time I knocked on the door of her home, no one answered. The windows had been boarded up and the property appeared untended, unkept. The neighbors raised their eyebrows when I asked them about Lieneke and would tell me nothing. Neither was dominee or Jaap Kunstenaar able to relate anything to me as to the whereabouts of the family Goudswaard. I was ashamed to tell anyone what I had done to Lieneke the day after my father and my grandfather had died – Paul was the only one who knew. For all intents and purposes then, it was as if that whole episode, together with the Goudzwaard family, had disappeared from the face of the earth. And so I left my village without saying goodbye to someone who had never shown me anything but kindness. But now here was the mystery. Lieneke was in Canada – not only that – but she was in Canada with a child. That child was seven years old, born the year after the war was over, so he had been conceived during the war. Echoing, loud laughter in the hallway reminded me keenly of the loud, raucous, crowing laughter of the drunk soldiers coming down the road – coming down the road that morning when the birds had just begun to sing. And it came to me that Lieneke had offered herself as a substitute – offered herself so that Paul and I could live. I groaned out loud. Someone knocked at the door. Still absorbed in the past, I stood up and opened it. Little Nico Goudswaard faced me, or was it Lieneke? His grin sang at me. "I came back because you forgot to tell me your name." "Nico," I answered, "my name is Nico, just like yours. And," I added, "I think that I would like to ask your mother..." I didn't finish the sentence. I couldn't because I was weeping. This story first appeared in the December 2014 issue under the title "I Have A Sonne Seven Years Old; He is to me full deere..." Christine Farenhorst is the author of many books including "Katherina, Katherina," a novel taking place in the time of Martin Luther. You can read a review here....

Assorted

"Yes, Virginia, there was a Santa Claus"

In 1897, The Sun newspaper was asked a doozy of a question. Eight-year-old Virginia O’Hanlon wanted to know: “is there a Santa Claus?” The little girl had first asked her papa and he, like a skilled matador, neatly sidestepped the question, telling her to write a letter to the editor. “If you see it in The Sun,” he told her, “it’s so.” You can imagine the tension that must have enveloped the newsroom when this letter arrived. On the one hand, the journalistic integrity of the paper was at stake; how could they do anything but tell the truth? And on the other... well, only a grinch would want to kill Santa Claus, so how could they possibly tell her the truth? Here, in part, is what editorialist Francis Pharcellus wrote: Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus. He exists as certainly as love and generosity and devotion exist, and you know that they abound and give to your life its highest beauty and joy.... Nobody sees Santa Claus, but that is no sign that there is no Santa Claus. The most real things in the world are those that neither children nor men can see. Thanks to Pharcellus, Santa lived on for this little girl. At least for another year. Today it seems like we have the same two options facing us: to share the fun of Santa with our children, or to tell the truth about Him. We can either be liars or killjoys. Honest killjoys? The strength of the killjoy option is readily apparent. God loves truth, and hates lies. We teach our children to love truth and hate lies. So we as parents should be truthful and not tell lies. More worrisome is how similar the mythical Santa is to the real God. Both can’t be seen, both know when we’ve been bad or good, and both administer justice. So when we tell our kids that both are real, but later admit that, yes, that Santa guy actually isn’t, we’ve given our kids good reason to doubt what we’ve told them about God. That’s big. That’s huge! Fun So does that mean we have to give up on the fun of Santa? Nope. There is a third option that Francis Pharcellus knew nothing about. In our family photo album one of the pictures is of a kid, 5 or 6, who has just been given a Sesame Street Ernie puppet. In the photo we can see Ernie talking, and the expression on this boy’s face is of wide-eyed, mouth gaping, jumping up on his tiptoes, kind of joy – he could not be more excited! And yet, this is no dumb kid. He can surely tell that where Ernie’s legs should have been, there was his brother’s arm instead. And the voice he was hearing couldn’t have sounded much like Ernie’s. The boy knew this wasn’t really Ernie... but it sure was fun to pretend! The third option is telling our kids the truth, and then playing make-believe. Keeping the good If our kids know this Santa guy is just a story, then we can keep what’s good, and ditch whatever we don’t like. We can reimagine the story, skip the crass commercialization, and keep the generosity. We can pick the Saint over the Santa, and connect the Saint to his Savior. We can pick the 5th of December, or do our Dutch heritage proud and exchange gifts after Boxing Day when everything can be had for 50% off. Zwarte Piet can make an appearance, or not... but if he does show up, he’s going to be less scary, and a lot more fun because the kids will be in on the joke. We can put out the glass of milk, and make sure that whatever cookies we place on the plate are dad’s favorites. Children can still get their pictures taken with Santa, or skip it if the line is too long – no stress, no worries, because, hey, he’s just a guy playing dress-up after all. And if the line is too long, maybe dad will have to get out the ol’ beard and pillow for some photos at home. Because it sure is fun to pretend. Pretending is awesome. But lying to little Victoria? Ho, ho ho, well, that is sure to land you on Santa’s naughty list! This article first appeared in the December 2013 issue. The author is worried he might not need the pillow....

Assorted

Merry X-mas

“Why in the world would you write that?” “What are you talking about?” “Obviously, that X in Christmas.” “What wrong with that?” “You don’t know?” “Nope. Tell me.” “Well, X stands for an unknown quantity. That’s no way to talk about our Lord!” “Whoa! You don’t have the facts straight!” “What do you mean?” “That’s no X, it’s...” “Looks like an X to me.” “Listen, the New Testament was written in Greek—which everyone wrote at that time.” X-mas isn't something new... “Yeah? So what?” “Here’s what – that supposed “X” in Xmas isn’t an English letter at all. It’s...” “Sure looks like one.” “Yes. But it is really a Greek letter standing for 'Ch,' the first two letters in “Christ.” The expression Xmas is an abbreviation – that’s all.” “Oh!” “If I were objecting to anything, and I’m not, it would be the ‘mas’ at the end of the word.” “Hmmm. You’d better explain that one too!” “Well, it’s a shortening of the word ‘mass.’” “A Roman Catholic word?” “Sorta. You see, Xmas is a ‘mule word’ – half Greek, half Latin.” “Hmmm…” “The latter part, mas, came from the Latin mitto which means ‘to dismiss’ or ‘send off.’ It was used in the early church to dismiss unbelievers before communion was served. But it has little meaning any more – it’s just an abbreviated ending. Get it?” “Think so. Uh . . . Merry Xmas” “Merry Xmas!” This article is reprinted with permission from nouthetic.org/blog...

Assorted

The Great Moon Hoax of 1835

You can download or listen to the podcast version (7 minutes) here. ***** Back when I was studying history as a graduate student, one of my profs played us an episode from the CBC Radio program IDEAS. The radio show told about a strange malady that hit Upper Canada in the 1800s. People died of a sickness, later called Sarner’s Disease, and were promptly buried. However, on one occasion a coffin was unearthed. The body inside was contorted and had clearly been clawing at the roof of the coffin, trying to get out. The person inside had been buried alive, or, at least, not fully dead. The show went on to detail how people became reluctant to bury their relatives for fear they weren’t fully dead and so held off burying them. Fear of a public health crisis mounted, with the proliferation of dead and probably dead but unburied bodies. People started hiding bodies in the barn, under the dock, and anywhere they could find until they could be sure their loved one was fully dead. The program quoted professors from important universities, and gave a logical, comprehensive account of the strange malady of Sarner’s Disease. As sophisticated graduate students in history, the class drank it all in…until the very last sentence of the program which started out “This work of fiction has been created for the CBC by...” You could have heard a pin drop. We had been duped. Our prof had schooled us and given us a good lesson in critical thinking, and, frankly, not believing everything you hear. Nowadays, we’d call that fake news – a story that’s told so convincingly that it’s possible to believe it, even though it’s simply made up nonsense. Somehow we have the idea that fake news is something new. The Russians have been taking over Facebook or Twitter, or the leftwing media is withholding information in order to make the President look bad. Maybe, maybe not. But if fake news is out there, it’s certainly not new. PT Barnum supposedly claimed, “there’s a sucker born every minute” and he might have had something there. Batman on the moon? In August of 1835 the New York Sun published a series of six articles about recent astronomical discoveries made by the noted astronomer John Herschel. The articles were initially billed as being reprinted from the Edinburgh Courant. The Sun related how Herschel had taken an enormous telescope from Britain to South Africa to do his observations. The weight of the lens was reported as 6,700 kilograms, and the magnification power was 42,000 times! The lens was said to be 24 feet wide. Since high power telescopes have trouble with proper illumination, a second “hydro-oxygen microscope” lens illuminated the view. It was a truly magnificent toy for an astronomer. And to give it more credibility, a scholarly journal was now said to be the source of the articles – the Edinburgh Journal of Science – and it said that Herschel had found planets around far away stars Tales far more fantastic than these would come out of these stories. When the telescope was focused on the moon, life was discovered. There were flowers, and forests full of food and animals including some animals resembling goats and bison. There was a beaver-like creature that walked on its hind legs and carried its young in its arms. The most fantastic thing of all was a sort of creature that appeared to have wings attached to its back – a kind of bat-man if you will. This creature was seen in what appeared to be conversation with other bat-beings, suggesting the creatures were intelligent and capable of higher thought. Ultimately there had been no further story to tell. This was because, thoughtlessly, the astronomer had left his telescope set up in such a way that it caught the sun’s rays during the day. With a magnification of 42,000 times, the observatory that housed the telescope was quickly ablaze and everything in it was destroyed, the telescope included. People were fascinated with the tale and reprint after reprint of the Sun was made. Briefly it was the best selling newspaper in the entire world. Newspapers all over the world reprinted the article because everyone wanted to know about the newly discovered moon creatures. The articles were reprinted in pamphlet form and in weeks sold 60,000 copies. Even the New York Times described the story as “plausible and probable.” Falling for fake news because we want to? There was just enough truth there to get people going. Herschel was a real astronomer. And he really had gone to the Cape of Good Hope to study the skies. The Edinburgh Courant was a real paper, as was the Edinburgh Journal of Science. Unfortunately, Herschel was not the author of the articles and hadn’t even heard about them before they were published. The Journal of Science, while real, had gone out of print several years earlier. As for the Courant, it too was real, but it had been defunct for over 100 years. As for the telescope, what’s a hydro-oxygen microscope lens anyway? So why did people fall for it, hook, line and sinker? Maybe because they really wanted to. Science was making great strides and people were prepared to believe all sorts of incredible things in the name of science. Religion was taking a beating, and many people felt their faith shaken by a science that often insisted God was irrelevant. We needed a place to belong, and someone to belong with, and if not a higher power why not bat-people? But in case you think this was an isolated incident, don’t forget how a 1930s radio play – one hundred years later – of HG Wells War of the Worlds convinced people we were being invaded by Martians. They believed it despite the radio program repeatedly reminding listeners that it was only a story. Alone in the universe, we feared the bogeymen of the night. Whatever the reason, there’s always been fake news and there always will be. We devour it ravenously because the creators of fake news have learned to do the one other thing Barnum supposedly advised: Always leave them wanting more. This article is taken from an episode of James Dykstra’s History.icu podcast, where history is never boring. You can check out other episodes at History.icu or on Spotify, Google podcasts, or wherever you find your podcasts. To dig a little deeper see: EarthSky.org's "Would you have believed the Great Moon Hoax?" Hoaxes.org's "The Great Moon Hoax" JSTOR Daily’s "How the Sun conned the world with “The Great Moon Hoax” The Irish Times’ "The Great Moon Hoax" The Smithsonian Magazine on "The Great Moon Hoax was simply a sign of its time" Wikipedia on"The Great Moon Hoax"...

Assorted

He who has ears, let him hear

That same day Jesus went out of the house and sat beside the sea. And great crowds gathered about Him, so that He got into a boat and sat there; and the whole crowd stood on the beach. And He told them many things in parables, saying: ”A sower went out to sow. And as He sowed, some seeds fell along the path, and the birds came and devoured them. Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where they had not much soil, and immediately they sprang up, since they had no depth of soil, but when the sun rose they were scorched; and since they had no root they withered away. Other seeds fells upon thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them. Other seeds fell on good soil and brought forth grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty…” *****  The passage from Matthew 13:1-9 is a very well known passage, a very well known parable. The first sentence in this parable deals with “path” people. Have you ever known “path” people? Are you acquainted with people so hard-packed that nothing seems to be able to penetrate the much-traveled surface of their hearts? A “hard path” man Ernest was born in 1899 in Oak Park, Illinois. His father and mother were solid and evangelical. They stocked their young son's bedroom shelves with good and inspiring G.A. Henty books. Morning family prayers were accompanied by Bible reading and some hymn singing. Discipline was diligently applied and if bad language came out of the boy's mouth, it was washed out with soap. When Ernest was eight, he received a note from his Dad which read: "Your Daddy loves you and prays that you may be spared many years to praise God and help your parents and sister and others about you." And when he turned sixteen, his father, who was a doctor, likewise encouraged him by writing: "I am so pleased and proud you have grown to be such a fine, big, manly fellow and will trust your development will continue symmetrical and in harmony with our highest Christian ideals. I want you to represent all that is good and noble and brave and courteous in Manhood, and fear God and respect women." However, good his father's hopes and his mother's prayers were, the immortal seed that was sown liberally during the boy's maturing years fell on a hard pathway. Young Ernest, whose surname was Hemingway, had a heart which seemed impenetrable. During his teenage years he began to write pornographic stories, used foul language, and did not feel guilty. At eighteen years of age, he had no more use for the church. He often took God's name in vain. He once stopped just short of killing his father. His mother warned him in a letter: "Unless you, my son, Ernest, come to yourself, cease your lazy loafing and pleasure seeking and borrowing with no thought of returning, unless you stop trading on your handsome face, fooling little gullible girls, and neglecting your duties to God and your Savior, Jesus Christ - unless, in other words, you come into your manhood, there is nothing before you but bankruptcy: you have over drawn." Till the day she died, Ernest's mother did not cease to pray that her son's eyes would open to the very real spiritual danger he was in. Ernest Hemingway is depicted by Wikipedia as a successful American journalist, novelist, short-story writer and sportsman. But in reality this “hard-path” man was an apostate and one who knowingly turned away from the free offer of salvation. Married four times, he died a depressed and hopeless person, committing suicide in 1961. Ernest Hemingway is one of countless numbers of children raised in Christian homes who have not allowed the seed cast on their lives to penetrate the surface of their hearts; have not been impressed by it; have become calloused to it; and have not brought forth fruit. He who has ears, let him hear. A “rocky place” woman Have you known “rocky place” people? Have you known temporary people? Have you known people who appeared genuine for a short time before succumbing to other interests? When difficulties come because of the Word, they stumble. When the promises of the Gospel do not pan out according to their desires, they change radically. Leslie was an older lady whom I met on a street corner. She was outgoing and not at all averse to having a conversation. "Do you have any faith?" I asked her. Untucked strands of hair blew about her rather thin face, and grey eyes peered almost accusingly as she stood in well-worn indigo sandals in front of me. Her left eyelid had a blue vein running straight down towards her left cheek. We, a group of church members, were evangelizing at a Kitchener intersection, speaking with passers-by. "I used to believe once," she answered, not at all put out by the question. "Why don't you believe anymore?" "There is too much hatred in the world. It's terrible what people are doing to one another. This world is a mess. We are destroying it." "So you think that you would believe if the world was a well-ordered, happy place?" "I think," she replied, meeting my eyes evenly, without any visible nervousness, "that this mess could be straightened out by God Who is all-powerful. Obviously He is not doing anything, and therefore I reject Him." "Do you know the story of Creation?" "I do." Leslie punctuated the words with conviction, straightening out her five-foot two frame as she enlightened me. "And I think the Biblical story of creation is OK for those who need a story like that. I'm not going to criticize weaker people for needing a crutch. But we both know that science has come up with a much better explanation for how this earth began." "You mean evolution?" "Exactly." Leslie was emphatic. "But where does the first cell come from? Doesn't it take as much faith to believe in the creation of a first cell, as it does to believe in creation by God?" "No, evolution does not take faith. It's a fact." "Science changes every so many years. What people hold for truth now, might change in ten years. Do you agree with that?" "Absolutely." Leslie's face glowed as she added, "That's what makes science so wonderful. The facts can change all the time. We grow towards full and perfect knowledge." "Do you know that Charles Darwin died in agony and fear?" "Yes, I do," she acknowledged, but with a smile, "and that was because he feared that he had undermined Christianity. And so he had. Good for him!" "And if you die, what do you think will happen to you." "You want me to say that I will either go to one of two places. But you see, the truth is that I will simply stop existing." "What if you are wrong?" "I will still be all right. But I have to go now." Leslie took off at a brisk pace down the sidewalk. She was a lonely figure. Her skirt flapped above the sandals, and uncombed hair trailed behind trying to forsake a thin neck. How sad are those who do not accept the full counsel of God. Temporary faith dies into futility. He who has ears, let him hear. "Thorny" people Have you known “thorny” people? Have you known people who have weeds emanating from their hearts smothering the seed? Have you known people crammed full of things which they value much more than the Gospel of Jesus Christ? There was a man who lived among believers in the times of the New Testament church. His was a familiar face during church services. He worked faithfully alongside others, was a colleague, and an accepted co-worker for the kingdom of God. And yet, suddenly, the man left the communion of saints. His name was Demas. Mentioned only three times in the Bible as a companion of Paul, Demas was, in the long run, neither faithful nor dependable. He had, as an adherent of the faith in Jesus Christ, tasted the goodness of the Word of God but then he had consciously spit out this goodness. At some point during his association with Paul and other Christians, Demas had concluded he had no desire to meet the demands of the Gospel message. Knowing full well that his life would have to change drastically into a humble obliteration of self if he committed wholly to God, he stood at a crossroads. Weighing matters on the balance, Demas arrived at the opinion that the world and its riches were more significant than the good news of Salvation. This opinion choked the seed. We never hear of him again. He who has ears, let him hear. “Good ground” people Have you known “good ground” people? People who are joyful, people who strive to understand God's Word, people who keep it and bring forth fruit? People who are compelled to share the good news of salvation? The Hmong are an Asian people who live in a remote part of southwest China. Miraculously, they heard a broadcast in their own language in the 1980s. This broadcast came through the shortwave radio preaching of a Hmong evangelist named Vam Txoob Lis, or John Lee. John Lee was stationed in California, a long way away from where the Hmong lived, and it was his joy to proclaim the Gospel in daily broadcasts. He had no idea whether or not his message was being either heard or accepted by people in whose tongue he spoke. Nevertheless, he kept preaching. One day during this season of preaching, an old Hmong man was tuning his radio. Suddenly he heard someone speaking Hmong. Surprised, he called others in his family to gather around and listen with him. For the first time, this family heard about the Lord Jesus Christ and they were astonished at what they heard. The next day the old man notified the entire village, and a great many people gathered around their radios to listen to what John Lee had to tell them. They, in turn, shared with other fellow villagers and neighbors. The old man also felt compelled to walk many miles to eighteen other Hmong villages in the valley they inhabited. As a consequence, thousands of people came to hear the Gospel each day and the eyes of their hearts were opened by the Lord. As the people in this valley were convicted, they came to the conclusion that they had to make a decision about what the preacher was teaching them on the radio broadcast. The leaders of the eighteen villages met together and debated the topic, in the end deciding that they should become Christians. Although they did not have Bibles, they consciously chose to obey whatever John Lee should preach from the broadcast. When idolatry and its sinful ways were spoken on, the Hmong destroyed all the idols in their homes. When they heard about baptism, they dug pits and filled them with water. Afterwards they baptized one another. An estimated 80,000 to 100,000 Hmong became Christians that year listening to the Far East Broadcasting Company's Manila station. Drug addicts were cured, marriages were healed, and broken fellowships restored. The amazing part is that as this was initially taking place, John Lee was unaware that this was taking place. One day he preached about the Lamb's Book of Life. The Hmong, not fully understanding this, all agreed they needed to be included in this book. According to Paul Hattaway, author of An Asian Harvest, they sent a large package to the radio ministry's California office. When this package was opened, a bundle of papers was extracted from it with the names and signatures of some 10,000 Hmong people. There was also a cover letter which read: “Dear Sir, please include the following people in the Lamb's Book of Life!" As the Gospel newscast continued, the number of Hmong becoming Christians rose to hundreds of thousands and continues to this day. “Good ground” people, they are a persecuted people and stand in need of prayer. He who has ears, let him hear. Conclusion Isaiah 55:10-11 states: "As the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return to it without watering the earth and making it bud and flourish, so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater, so is my Word that goes out from My mouth: it will not return to Me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it." He who has ears, let him hear....

Assorted

Worldviews and Dogviews: what are they?

“What’s a worldview?” I asked. “It’s a way of viewing the world,” my helpful friend answered. “Um, thanks.” ***** Long before I ever knew what a worldview was, I knew it was an important word. It was even the answer to one of the biggest questions I had ever asked: “How is it that creationists look at geology and biology and physics and other facts and see evidence of God, and evolutionists look at the same facts and see evidence of evolution?” A very wise older individual gave me a short but assuredly brilliant answer to this question. He said, “It’s because creationists and evolutionists have different worldviews.” He was a very smart man, so this must have been a very smart answer, but it didn’t help me. I had to find out what a worldview was first. The dictionary was uninformative. According to it a worldview is: “the overall perspective from which one sees and interprets the world.” Okay, but what does it mean to “interpret the world”? In the end, it turned out that “worldview” was too difficult a word for me to understand in one giant leap. I had to first learn about a smaller but similar word: “dogview.” Dogview basics If a worldview is “the overall perspective from which one sees and interprets the world” then a dogview is, of course, “the overall perspective from which one sees and interprets dogs.” It turns out everyone has a dogview and each person’s dogview can be quite different from their neighbor’s. To put it another way, a person’s dogview contains their basic core beliefs about dogs and answers all the big questions people have about dogs like: why are dogs the way they are, and why do they do the things they do? You could call it the starting point for figuring out dogs. The really remarkable thing about dogviews is that a person’s dogview can sometimes have an incredible effect on how they interpret facts. Take for example, the case of Mel and Nicky, two friends who have very different dogviews: Nicky is convinced that all dogs are nice, while Mel believes that all dogs are mean. THE FIRST DOG One day, as the two of them were out for a walk, a dog jumped out of the bushes just a few feet in front of them. Mel, of course, thought this Pit bull/Doberman-cross looked quite menacing, while Nicky was convinced it just wanted a scratch behind the ears. When she approached to give the brute a pat, it bit her in the ankle and then ran off. While this incident only added to Mel’s belief that all dogs are mean, if you thought this would force Nicky to revisit her "all dogs are nice" dogview, you would be mistaken. Nicky had a very strongly-held dogview so, rather than changing it, she reinterpreted the events to fit her dogview. “The dog wasn’t being mean,” she told Mel, “He was only giving me a love nip.” DOG NUMBER TWO As Nicky and Mel continued their walk, another dog just happened to jump in front of the two friends. With his tail wagging, the St. Bernard bounded forward and leapt up, putting his front paws on Mel’s shoulders. The dog knocked him right over and started licking Mel’s face. After a moment or two of this the St. Bernard, tail still wagging, bounded back into the bushes and disappeared. “See Mel,” Nicky exclaimed, “All dogs are nice. He liked you so much, he was licking your face!” To you or me it might seem this dog was nice and very friendly, but Mel saw things quite differently. His dogview, after all, was that all dogs were mean, so he interpreted the St. Bernard’s actions in light of that dogview. “Licking me, you say! He wasn’t licking me; he was tasting me! Fortunately, I didn’t taste very good to him, so he left to go find someone else to devour.” Mel and Nicky saw the exact same events and yet, because of their opposing dogviews, they interpreted those events very differently. They obviously had messed up dogviews – all dogs aren’t nice, and they aren’t all mean either – but because Mel and Nicky were so dedicated to their incorrect dogviews, they forced the facts to fit. So what’s a worldview? Once I understood the intricacies of what a dogview was, it became a lot easier to understand what a worldview was. As Reformed Christians we understand that God is sovereign over all of life – everything has been made by Him, and the purpose of life is to glorify and enjoy Him forever. That means our Christian faith is the “overall perspective from which we see and interprets the world.” Christianity is our worldview. To put it another way, a worldview is a lot like a dogview, except instead of being just about dogs it concerns the whole world. A person’s worldview answers the big questions that we all have about the world and the people in it like: Why am I here? What is the nature of the universe? Why is there evil or good? A worldview is a person’s starting place, or their foundation for figuring out the world and people in it. And like their dogview, a person’s worldview can sometimes have an incredible effect on how they interpret facts. Christians, for example, see the exquisite complexity of a human eye and understand it as evidence of a Grand Designer. Evolutionists, however, believe that the whole universe is the result of chance (that’s their worldview) so they look at a human eye differently. To them the complexity of the human eye is not evidence of a Grand Designer, but is instead evidence of vast amounts of time. After all, chance couldn’t produce something like an eye overnight – that takes time! Like Mel and Nicky, evolutionists force the facts to fit because the only alternative is for them to abandon their mistaken worldview and look for another. And like Mel and Nicky, most evolutionists hold on to their mistaken view too strongly for them to consider looking at the world in a different way. As Christians, we can take comfort in the fact that our worldview explains the world like no other worldview can. We can understand subjects like psychology better because we have a good grasp of human nature. Economics, as complicated as it is, is easier for Christians because we know that man is motivated by self-interest. Our worldview helps us have stronger marriages because we know that women are supposed to submit to the authority of their husbands and that men are supposed to love their wives sacrificially, as Christ loved the church. We understand events like wars and terrorism better than the world because we know that man is sinful by nature (and that it would be naive to presume all false religions are inherently peaceful). We can face illness and sickness with hope because our Christian worldview explains why illness and sickness exist. Our worldview makes the world understandable. And for that we should thank the One who gave us this understanding, and we should share His gift with everyone we know. Jon Dykstra does not own a dog and is quite happy about that. ...

Assorted

Cremation: why and why not

Three things got me thinking about cremation. One was a phone call from someone asking me if I would like an information package about funerals. This was tacky – a telephone solicitation from a funeral parlor? – but I was so surprised, I found myself saying yes. A week later the package arrived and I discovered that in comparison to how expensive funerals were, cremations could be substantially less so. The second incident was an email, with a story about a woman who organized her own funeral and asked to be buried with a fork in her right hand. Why a fork? Well, when people saw it she knew they would ask the pastor about it, and that would give him the opportunity to tell them a little story from the woman’s youth. When she was a little child she loved to attend church suppers, and she especially loved it near the end, because just as people were clearing away the dishes, one of the older ladies would always lean over and tell her, “Save your fork!” That would get her really excited because she knew something better was coming – whether it was apple cobbler, or delicious blueberry pie, or perhaps some rich chocolate cake. Whatever it was, she knew it was going to be good. So to her the fork was always a reminder that something better was coming. “When I die,” she told the pastor, “and people ask about the fork, I want you to tell them my story and then tell them the good news – that when you belong to Jesus Christ, you too can be assured that something better is coming.” I don’t know if this story is true but it got me thinking about how many non-Christians might attend my own funeral. Funerals force people to consider their own mortality, and Christian funerals naturally bring up the idea of immortality so this sort of event can’t help but be evangelistic. The woman in this story took things a step further as she tried to really drive home the gospel message. Her approach was a little strange, but the evangelistic tone of her funeral was intriguing. The third event was a visit to Arlington National Cemetery. This is the United States’ most famous cemetery, a shrine of remembrance to the country’s honored dead. But for every remembered president buried there, like John F. Kennedy, there are dozens of forgotten generals and thousands of anonymous privates. A row of large statues had me thinking of the Preacher’s cry: “Vanities of vanities” (Eccl 1). These grave markers were huge, but the men underneath weren’t special enough to be mentioned in my guidebook. The whole thing reminded me of the people today who seek after fame hoping that when they die members of the media will celebrate their life and say things like, “He’ll live on forever in our hearts” and “As long as we remember him, he’s not really dead.” Then, like the pharaohs of old, a giant grave marker will be erected over top of their bodies and their name will be engraved in stone in the hopes that this will ensure their remembrance. I left Arlington Cemetery depressed. So many people in the world seek after immortality but trade the real thing for a sham. Immortal for a different reason These three events left me leaning towards cremation. So far I had three reasons. First, it would save money. Second, getting cremated was a stark contrast to the huge grave markers that I had seen in Arlington National Cemetery. I liked that contrast. Third, cremation would be very much like getting buried with a fork – people would want to know why I did it. And when they asked, the minister could tell them a little story: “At a funeral you will sometimes hear it said that the departed has not really died because ‘he lives on in our memories.’ But if he lives on only in our memories what happens when all the people who remember him die? He’s been cremated and his ashes scattered to the wind so there isn’t even a gravestone to mark his time here on earth. In a short thirty or forty years there will be no memory of him at all, so if his immortality depends on people remembering him, what happens to him then? Well, the Bible tells us that he will still live on, not because people remember him, but rather because Jesus Christ remembers him, and has died for him. Through Jesus’ death on the cross our friend lives, now and forever. This is the real deal, the only type of immortality that endures.” The case against cremation  After bouncing this idea off a few friends and theological types I soon found out that some Christians are strongly opposed to cremation. It’s true there is no explicit command against cremation in the Bible, but there are still some texts that may apply in a less direct way. A brief look through Scripture will show that, at the very least, burial was the normal thing to do among God’s people. For example, the Bible specifically mentions that Abraham, Isaac, Samuel and David were buried (Gen. 24:9, 35:29, 1 Samuel 25:1, & 1 Kings 2:10 respectively). Additionally, when Moses died God selected a burial spot for him (Deut. 34:6). Also, when the Bible talks about fire, and specifically fire burning bodies, it is almost always portrayed in a bad light. In Gen. 38:24 Judah threatens to burn his daughter-in-law to death as a punishment for adultery. This same punishment is prescribed in Leviticus 20:14 for any man who marries a woman, and her mother. In Numbers 16 fire from God consumes 250 rebellious Israelites. The Lord curses Moab in Amos 2:1 “because he burned, as if to lime, the bones of Edom’s king.” The New Testament also links fire with punishment. In Revelations 20:15, for example, those whose names were not written in the Book of Life were thrown into a lake of fire. Jesus was buried. Combine this with God’s treatment of Moses and we have God burying someone, and God being buried. There is a lot of symbolism associated with burial that finds its origins in the Bible. For example Col 2:12 talks about how we have been buried with Christ through baptism. There are no similar passages for cremation. The case in favor While these texts do at first seem to make a compelling case for burial, there is more still that can be said. Burial may have been the custom throughout Israel, but there are many Israelite customs we do not follow. We do not, for example, wash our feet after entering someone’s house. Just because something is done a certain way in the Bible, does not mean that God commands us to do it that way today. While the Bible does talk about burning as punishment, it often refers to it as a way of killing the guilty, rather than as a means of disposing of their bodies. So this really isn’t cremation. If you do want to make the link then it is worth taking a second look at Numbers 16. It is here that the earth swallows up Korah and his household, and all his men. “They went down alive into the grave” (vs. 33). So just as “cremation” can be a punishment, so too can “burial.” 1 Sam. 31:12 recounts one of the very few examples in which cremation is specifically brought up in the Bible, and it is portrayed in a neutral, if not positive light. Saul’s body is retrieved from the Philistines and burned by the “valiant men” of Jabesh Gilead. (But, as has been pointed out since this article was first published, the next verse, 1 Sam 31:13, then recounts how their bones were buried). While fire is often spoken of as a means of punishment, John the Baptist promised that Jesus would baptize people with, “the Holy Spirit and fire” (Luke 3:16). Fire is also mentioned positively as a means of refinement (Rev. 3:18). So it seems clear then, that this is symbolic language, and that fire is not, in itself, bad. Christian stewardship can also be a consideration here since cremation usually costs substantially less than burial– the main saving is in the cheaper casket and the fact there is no plot to buy. Cost is not the most compelling reason, of course. The best case for cremation is really the case for Christian liberty: if there is no scriptural directive on this issue, then each Christian is free to follow the dictates of his, or her own conscience. Conclusion Cremation seems to be a rarity in our churches so this may not be much of an issue for us today, but when you consider that cremation has gone from 4 per cent of Canadian funerals in 1961 to 46 per cent in 2001, it’s clear we will have to think about it soon. It’s best then to discuss this issue now, rather than when it is forced on us. If you have any thoughts on cremation, or have any points or arguments you would like to contribute, please comment below. For further study, Reformed resources on, and primarily against, cremation Dr. Nelson D. Kloosterman argues against cremation here. Rev. Steve Schlissel takes a strong stand against cremation in this article. This article first appeared in the June, 2003 issue. It has been corrected, with a reference to 1 Sam. 31:13 now pointing to the previous verse, 1 Sam. 31:12....

Assorted

Losers are part of the plan

As far as many politicians and voters are concerned, “going green” is the equivalent of “motherhood and apple pie.” Typically, the “transition to a green economy” is presented as a major step toward solving issues connected with the environment. For example, on May 1, 2019, the British Parliament declared a “climate change emergency.” According to the report in Nature (May 9, p. 165): “The declaration is not legally binding and there is no clear definition of what it means, but it is taken as a signal of Parliament’s intention to act.” And what was the particular emergency or crisis that led to this declaration? There were some major demonstrations about climate change in that country in April. That may have been the emergency. In any case, there is no doubt that the U.K. politicians mean business. And the U.K. is not alone in this endeavor. Enormous costs The next day following the declaration of an emergency, a British think tank on climate change issued a major statement. This group recommended that the U.K. should aim for net-zero greenhouse gas emissions – including international flights and marine shipping – by the year 2050. That should prompt a question: how exactly can society fuel jets, and ocean transport ships, without burning high-intensity fossil fuels? The think tank recommended that Britain should spend 1-2% of Gross Domestic Product (about $26-52 billion US per year) to achieve a result where emissions of carbon dioxide from industry and transportation and domestic heating and cooling are completely eliminated. Interest and support for the “green transition” is a major concern of many governments worldwide. For example, an intergovernmental agency, International Renewable Energy Agency was founded in 2010. With headquarters in Abu Dhabi, it works closely with the United Nations to make recommendations on ways to achieve the green economy. As far as specific countries go, Germany seems particularly keen to support studies on the economic implications of adopting renewable energy on a worldwide basis. For example, the German Federal Foreign Office funds a Geopolitics of Energy Transformation project out of Berlin. Climate change as a reason to abandon democracy? Four experts concerned with the worldwide political and economic ramifications of a move towards green technology, and away from an economy based on fossil fuels, published an article on this issue on in the May 12 edition of Nature titled: “How the energy transition will reshape geopolitics.” They consider four scenarios with respect to energy use up to the year 2100. The one they favor, which they entitle the “Big Green Deal,” involves a wholesale abandonment of fossil fuels. The scenario they really don’t want to see is called “Dirty Nationalism” which really refers to the status quo. Labels are powerful things. That’s why the activists who brought us the term “dirty oil” to refer to Alberta’s production of oil from oilsands, now bring us “dirty nationalism” to disparage any emphasis on national concerns (as opposed to an international agenda).  These authors define the status quo as a situation when “Politicians want to protect local jobs and incumbent industries such as coal and manufacturing.” Note that they seem to consider that manufacturing is on the chopping block along with fossil fuels like coal. They then continue to list what they don’t like today: “Elections bring populists to power in world’s largest democracies and nationalism grows. Nation-first policies put a premium on self-sufficiency, favoring domestic energy sources over imported ones.” The problem is, of course, that voters obviously desire an economy which will allow them to make an adequate living. But, the experts declare: “abating carbon will create losers.” They take this as a given. There are few people, however, who want to vote themselves into a loser category. Therefore top-down totalitarian measures may be necessary, these people declare. For example “China has scaled up renewable energy through top-down rule and state planning.” Indeed Western support for democracies should be questioned, they insist. Causing a crisis So what kind of costs is society facing as, or if, they contemplate a transition to using renewable resources for energy production? For a start, economies that produce oil and gas could lose a total of $7 trillion US in the next twenty years. (p. 30). Some oil companies and some states could go bankrupt. Oil exporters might lose global influence whereas importers will be empowered. We see that already in regional conflict in Canada. None of this is at all appealing to voters in oil-exporting jurisdictions. There is no point crying to government that such measures will cost many jobs. That is all part of the plan! The Yellow Vests movement in France is a case in point. In October 2018 large demonstrations took place to call attention to the high cost of fuels which was making life so difficult for ordinary working people. Wikipedia calls it a “populist grassroots revolutionary political movement for economic justice.” Similarly, we can consider the controversy over a carbon tax in Canada. A headline in the June 14 Edmonton Journal read “Carbon Tax must double to meet targets.” Apparently parliamentary budget officer Yves Giroux calculates that for Canada to meet her Paris agreements (on climate change) by 2030, the carbon tax must increase to $102 per tonne compared to the present $20 per tonne and it would have to apply to all sectors of the economy. At present, large industries pay on only a fraction of their emissions. This is so that Canadian manufacturing can compete internationally. The objective of the tax, however, is to make it expensive to generate energy from fossil fuels, and that will impact anyone who drives, or wants to heat or cool their homes, or works in industries. Who are the desired losers? Of course, it is the ordinary citizens who will not be able to find jobs or pay for necessities. That is what the carbon tax is supposed to achieve. Platitudinous declarations that there will be other jobs, are not at all convincing. Alternatively, however, the zero-carbon world is not appealing either from a geopolitical point of view. A zero-carbon world does not do away with the conflict over access to fossil fuels, it merely produces different conflicts. Thus the authors point out: “In a low-carbon world, the struggle will be how to finance the infrastructure and to control the technology needed to harness wind, solar and other renewable power sources, and how to secure access to the materials required for the manufacture of that technology.” (p. 31) Significantly the rare earth metals lithium and cobalt are very important for battery manufacture and only a few countries can supply these. Even more concerning is the issue of land use under the new regime. The authors point out that “Competition over the use of land for energy production will have implications for food and water security.” (p. 30) We are already seeing some of this kind of conflict. Solar farms, for example, cover large tracts of land and yet yield quite low energy. There are no crops, no natural plant or animal communities under solar collectors. Wind farms produce their own problems including bird and bat deaths and noise. These sources of energy are so dilute and sporadic that huge tracts of land would be required. The climate modification (cooling) that natural communities provide, would be lost. This is not the way to a greener ecology! Conclusion The interesting thing is that governments are, presumably, aware of the costs of a green transition. Yet they have been so overwhelmed by the declarations of “the established science of climate change” that they press grimly onward with the green agenda, spending billions of dollars in the process. There are, however, a number of exceptionally qualified experts who deny that carbon emissions and climate are tightly linked. Let us not act like the people of the U.K. with their declaration of a “climate emergency.” Perhaps they are like the fabled Chicken Little who fooled everyone into believing that the sky was falling. It is to be hoped that more governments will display the courage needed to review the issue of climate change in a critical light.  The money saved from the green agenda would be put to much better uses. ...

Assorted

Is it ever permissible to lie?

When Reformed Perspective first started, we had regular contributions from Dutch politician and journalist Piet Jongeling.  In this article, from the October 1985 issue, he writes of his experiences during World War Two, when the Nazis arrested him and sent him  to the Amersfoort concentration camp. ***** People who are in the public eye must be prepared to face the criticism of onlookers and bystanders if they want to stay in business. I have experienced that quite often in my life as journalist, politician, and author. One of those experiences was a letter I received recently and which I would like to share with you. The letter read as follows: Dear Mr. Jongeling: Some time ago I had to do an essay on the topic of "the white lie" for a Reformed young peoples group. I would like to share part of my introduction with you. I wrote:  In a book about Dr. R.J. Dam I read that the question of the “white lie” became a vital issue during the German occupation of the Netherlands, and that Dr. Dam discussed this issue several times, and in great depth. On the one hand, he rejected the easy acceptance of lying that was so often the case during the war. On the other hand he showed a real understanding of the Biblical dilemma Christians faced here: to speak or not to speak lies, and to do so in love for God and for their neighbor. He understood how difficult it would be always to witness to the truth if he were to fall into the hands of the enemy. So as much as he hated the necessity of lying, he maintained that if he were forced to speak, he would never want to put other people's lives in jeopardy. Clear enough. How different is Jongeling! In the booklet "Called and Gone," an interview with Peter Bergwerff and Tjerk de Vries, Jongeling says: “I have lied faster than a horse can trot.” Such a statement forces me to classify Jongeling with the many people who during the war stole like the gypsies. Thus far a part of my introduction. As could be expected, your quote about "lying faster..." was brought up in the question period. I promised the young people at the meeting that I would get in touch with you to ask you to please elaborate further on that statement, preferably in the light of Dr. Dam's position. I will soon be speaking on the same topic at a men's society meeting. I could then include your explanation in my paper. Hoping you will comply with my request, etc... Discussing it in our cell Thus far the letter. Didn't someone once say: "Give me just a single line of your writing, and I'll hang you by it?" Somehow this brother letter-writer manages to use my words "lied faster..." to put me in the lineup with those who, according to him, "stole like the gypsies" during the war. Now, the issue of whether it is ever permissible to lie has been the subject of much public discussion in the past, and it is most certainly a relevant question. So let us consider what was and what was not allowed under God's law during the German occupation. First of all, it is necessary to read my "quote" in the context of the interview in which it was given. In Called and Gone I related the events surrounding my arrest in March 1942 and the interrogations that followed. A member of our resistance group had been arrested and an anti-Nazi pamphlet had been found on him. Under heavy pressure and torture the man finally admitted that he had received the document from me. That was the truth – I worked in the distribution center from which our group spread its literature. After his confession I was promptly picked up. But the search of my house yielded no evidence: everything had been quickly gathered up and hidden somewhere else. In this excerpt from the Called and Gone interview I continue recounting my experience in German custody. We were both questioned for days on end, first in the police office and later in the remand center in Groningen. It still amazes me how wonderfully well it all ended up. We were locked up in separate cells, although in the same block. Between us there was an empty cell. But we soon discovered that with a bit of effort we could talk via the large heating system pipe that ran through the back of all the cells. We were dragged out for questioning one at a time. When he returned – often after being tortured – I asked him what questions they had asked him, and what answers he had given. And later, when I faced the same questions, I made sure that my answers corresponded with his... ...for some time I shared a cell with Rev. J.W. Tunderman. He was minister in Helpman and on January 6, 1942, the Gestapo dragged him out of his home. In December of that same year he died in Dachau. Together with him I have prepared my case as well as possible in the circumstances ... I lied faster than a horse can trot. As was to be expected, the interviewers zeroed in on that last statement. They asked me: "Lied faster than a horse can trot? Did you give that any thought at that moment?" I replied: Yes, I did. But in a way one also acts intuitively in such a situation. Sitting in the cell together, Rev. Tunderman and I, we discussed the issue for hours on end. Tunderman was very straightforward. He said simply: “You must not tell them the truth. If you do, many others will perish.” Of course, one could say, as later Prof. Greijdanus did, that in such a case you should remain silent. But that doesn't work. Those hoodlums use the most inhumane methods to make you talk. Besides, there are situations when silence does not help either. Take as an example, a farmer who is hiding fugitives, as so many did in those days. "Are you hiding anyone?” "I won't tell ... I won't tell...” No, refusing to answer is not a practical solution. That’s why I believed it was my duty to lie. To this day I still believe that. They hit me, they hurt me, but I had built up a watertight story and that is why I could stick to it. There are situations like that in the Bible. Think of Rahab and her lie; think of Gideon with his torches in the empty jars. Those were well-designed ruses with only one intent: to mislead the enemy. Thus far the quotes from the interview. I maintain to this day that I acted, though spontaneously, yet not rashly, when I did not share the truth with those torturers in the Scholtenhuis prison. Had I remained silent, assuming for a moment that I could have kept that up even to death, the result would have been heavier pressure on my fellow inmate. And he had already succumbed once. He would most likely have been forced to mention more names. But now it became possible to communicate via the heating pipe, so that we could make up a story that steered their whole investigation to a dead end, so that further arrests were prevented. On the Ninth Commandment During the war hundreds, perhaps thousands, of people pondered how best to deal with such cloudy ethical dilemmas. Some preachers tried to provide Scriptural leadership on these matters. Rev. Tunderman did that for me in our cell. Rev. B. Holwerda did it in his preaching. In his collection, The Gifts bestowed on us by God, Part IV, we find a sermon on Lord's Day 43 (the Ninth Commandment), held on Sunday, January 24, 1943. That was in the middle of the war, when the matter of “white lies” was extremely relevant. And it was at a time when many ministers of the Gospel had already been dragged away into concentration camps because they had said things on the pulpit which were not to the liking of the occupying forces. This did not deter Rev. Holwerda. He let the light of God's Word shine on those points that, especially amidst the terror of war and the confusion of the occupation, most had to be clarified. Holwerda explains that the commandment “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor” brings us into the realm of the courts. These courts are in place so that the government may avenge unrighteousness in a righteous manner. To that end, proper order is to be maintained, and everyone is called upon to give his full cooperation with these courts. Therefore, when so requested, one must speak the truth. But it would be another thing altogether if telling the truth would become instrumental in the abuse of justice. Then, according to Holwerda, witnessing to that truth has become senseless. As he puts it: When the Lord asks His children to walk in the truth and to act in truth, there is something more and different at stake than simply providing factually accurate information. Communion with God and our neighbor comes first. Therefore, in the life of obedience to this Ninth Commandment the key question we need to ask is not whether we are at odds with the facts, but rather whether we are shortchanging our neighbor... If I am put under pressure to make a statement which clearly would deliver my neighbor (or myself) up to unrighteousness and render him defenseless against the brutal force of the father of lies, woe then to me if I dare speak the truth! For then I sacrifice my neighbor on the altar of the facts. But the Ninth commandment forbids me to sabotage justice. Therefore, it commands me to sabotage unrighteousness — if need be, through an incorrect declaration. If need be, I must be willing to sacrifice the facts for the sake of the urgent needs of my neighbor... Holwerda continues with examples from the Bible. And he warns against abuse. Let no one say: We may do as we please; the minister has said so... No, you shall love your neighbor, honor his rights, defend his good name and reputation, and so ensure that there is room for him within society. And you shall love him “as yourself.” You shall also protect your own rights. All this is necessary, otherwise society will collapse and sink in the mire of lawlessness. A Reformed thesis In 1979 the Korean minister Bo Min Lee was promoted to doctor of theology at the Kampen seminary. His thesis was entitled: Mendacium officiosum, with this explanation as a subtitle: "A discussion of the so-called white lie, with special emphasis on Augustine's views." Although there is quite a bit of Latin in this dissertation, it is written in a clear and readable manner. A comprehensive critique is not in place here, but a few lines and conclusions may suffice to illustrate the point I am trying to make. The concept mendacium officiosum is usually represented by the English expression "a white lie," but that does not properly express what is contained in the Latin phrase. "Officiosum" means something like: "in the service of..." According to the author, the phrase expresses the service we are sometimes called to deliver to our neighbor or to ourselves through the means of speaking an untruth. But "white lie" also indicates the critical situation in which we find ourselves and which makes the speaking of such an untruth a means of protecting ourselves and our neighbor. Augustine and many theologians after him reject any speaking of untruth, even if it results from the desire to prevent a terrible evil from befalling a neighbor; for instance, murder or rape. Bo Min Lee claims that such a radical rejection by Augustine and his followers results from an erroneous separation of the body as the lower part of man and the soul as the higher part, an idea that has its roots in the Greek world of thought. He also demonstrates that the church father could only maintain that outright rejection by following an incorrect exegesis of all kinds of Scripture passages. The Scriptures The dissertation's third chapter, entitled "Scriptural givens," begins as follows: It is as clear that Holy Writ forbids us to lie. Texts such as “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor” (Exodus 20:16) and “Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices” (Colossians 3:9) leave no doubt. And Augustine did not leave any of this open for discussion. But some passages of Scripture create problems and leave us with the question: is every form of lying at all times forbidden? The author then introduces a long list of texts of which the first is Rahab's misleading answer when Jericho's king demanded that she hand over Israel's spies (Joshua 2). The Bible praises Rahab because of her attitude towards the spies and the people of Israel, as we can read in these four passages: Joshua 6:17: And the city and all that is within it shall be devoted to the Lord for destruction. Only Rahab the prostitute and all who are with her in her house shall live, because she hid the messengers whom we sent (Joshua 6:17). Joshua 6:25: But Rahab the prostitute and her father's household and all who belonged to her, Joshua saved alive. And she has lived in Israel to this day, because she hid the messengers whom Joshua sent to spy out Jericho (J Hebrews 11:31: By faith Rahab the prostitute did not perish with those who were disobedient, because she had given a friendly welcome to the spies. James 2:25: And in the same way was not also Rahab the prostitute justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out by another way? It’s clear that nowhere in the Bible is Rahab’s lying denounced. However, many exegetes hold that Rahab also wasn’t praised for her lying, and that it was Rahab's faith that was praised. They insist that it was still wrong of her to utter lies to save those spies. Bo Min Lee rejects this form of reasoning. In an extensive discussion of the relevant passages he shows that such conclusions are based on a twisted exegesis. Rahab is being praised in the Bible for her "faithful works," and the misleading message she gave is a vital part of those "faithful works." The same holds true for many other cases where the Bible describes how misleading statements were made with a virtuous purpose and were clearly crowned with a blessing. Think of the God-fearing midwives in Egypt (Exodus 1), of Jael and Sisera (Judges 4:18-22), of the woman of the house of Bahurim (2 Samuel 17:17-20), and also of several stratagems which have only one purpose: to impart to the enemy an erroneous image of reality. The author of the dissertation then comes to this conclusion: The Bible does not prohibit what Rahab and others have done, and therefore we have no right to introduce such a prohibition now. We realize that the mendacium officiosum may never become a matter of routine. Such “lies” may only be used in borderline situations. He continues to explain then that such borderline situations are governed not only by the Ninth Commandment, but that the other commandments are often relevant as well. That, too, he illustrates with a number of Scriptural examples. Again, it is impossible in the short space of this article to relate the many arguments Bo Min Lee produces in his thesis. He also gives ample coverage to opposing views, but refutes their ideas in a most convincing manner. A forced choice During those critical days of war and occupation, many Christians were confronted with the problem of what to do if one fell into the hands of the enemy. I was one of them. What do I do if a factually correct answer can cost others their freedom or even their lives? We had no time then to have an interesting theoretical discussion on that matter. It was literally a matter of life and death. Many, and I was one of them, concluded: I must not reveal the facts. And silence, even if I could keep that up, will not help. And just as a ruse aimed at spreading disinformation by fake actions is acceptable during times of war, so misleading the enemy with words is also acceptable — even mandatory. That, in the jail cell, facing death during the torturous interrogations, was not a choice one made rashly. But it was a choice that was suddenly forced upon people, and their correct decision has saved the lives of others. It was a choice for which I in my circumstances have prayed and for the outcome of which I have given thanks to God, the Father of truth. And if someone, like my letter-writer, equates that with the activities of those who in wartime "stole like the gypsies," he should really reflect a bit more deeply on the meaning of the ninth commandment, also as it affects his own speech.  Some readers might know Piet Jongeling better by his pen name, Piet Prins, under which he wrote the children's series "Scout," "Wambu," and "The Four Friends."...

Assorted

Fossil fuels are essential to the modern world

“Magical” thinking won’t provide us with the energy we need **** Concern about climate change has reached a fever pitch with Canada’s Environment and Climate Change Minister Catherine McKenna calling it a “climate emergency.” Her motion in Parliament on June 17, which was passed overwhelmingly, 186 to 63, described climate change as a “real and urgent crisis, driven by human activity, that impacts the environment, biodiversity, Canadians’ health and the Canadian economy.” The burning of fossil fuels is considered to be a major culprit in global warming. Thus a principal thrust of climate change activism is to switch from using fossil fuels to carbon-free, renewable energy sources in order to create a “new energy economy.” Wind power, solar power, and battery technology are the key elements of this strategy. Those who support this move to “green energy” often oppose further development of petroleum resources, effectively shutting in the ground the vast energy wealth of western Canada. However, physicist Mark P. Mills of Northwestern University’s McCormick School of Engineering and Applied Science has recently completed a paper that challenges the idea that such a new energy economy is even possible. This paper, The “New Energy Economy”: An Exercise in Magical Thinking, was published in March 2019 by the Manhattan Institute, a conservative think tank based in New York. THE PROPOSED SOLUTION  Advocates of the new energy economy claim that recent technological developments are making renewable energy so cheap and plentiful, that soon the world will no longer need hydrocarbons, i.e., oil, natural gas, and coal. The modern wind turbine, commercially viable solar technology, and the lithium battery were all first created about fifty years ago. They have become much more efficient and practical since that time. As Mills points out, "Over the decades, all three technologies have greatly improved and become roughly 10-fold cheaper." PROBLEMS WITH THE “SOLUTION” 1. Fossil fuels still power modern society While there have been significant advances in renewable energy, as Mills states, there are inherent physical limitations that will prevent any known renewable energy source from displacing fossil fuels. As things currently stand, hydrocarbons supply about 84% of the world’s energy. That is only slightly lower than the 87% of twenty years ago. But over those twenty years, world energy consumption rose by 50%, which means that there was, in fact, a huge increase in overall fossil fuel usage. In comparison, wind and solar energy currently provide only 2% of the world’s energy and 3% of the energy used in the United States. And none of the renewable energy sources can hold a candle to fossil fuels when it comes to “energy density” which is the amount of energy contained in any particular unit. Mills writes, "The high energy density of the physical chemistry of hydrocarbons is unique and well understood, as is the science underlying the low energy density inherent in surface sunlight, wind volumes, and velocity." 2. Wind and solar is intermittent Besides their low energy density, wind-generated power and solar-generated power are not consistent sources because they depend upon the wind to blow and the sun to shine. The wind does not blow all the time, and the sun does not shine all the time. As a result, they produce energy only about 25%-30% of the time. This is much lower than conventional power plants. Therefore, when wind and solar power production are used, backup power plants fueled by hydrocarbons need to be available to cover the gaps. This amounts to an admission that hydrocarbons are more reliable. As Mill concludes, "The issue with wind and solar power comes down to a simple point: their usefulness is impractical on a national scale as a major or primary fuel source for generating electricity. As with any technology, pushing the boundaries of practical utilization is possible but usually not sensible or cost-effective.” 3. Batteries don’t help much, and also hurt But wouldn’t wind and solar become more practical if we could store their output via batteries? Well, tremendous progress in improving the efficiency of batteries has occurred in recent years. However, they remain vastly inferior to petroleum for storing energy. Mill writes, "$200,000 worth of Tesla batteries, which collectively weigh over 20,000 pounds, are needed to store the energy equivalent of one barrel of oil. A barrel of oil, meanwhile, weighs 300 pounds and can be stored in a $20 tank. Those are the realities of today’s lithium batteries." And batteries will never have the energy storage capacity of fossil fuels: "The energy stored per pound is the critical metric for vehicles and, especially, aircraft. The maximum potential energy contained in oil molecules is about 1,500% greater, pound for pound, than the maximum in lithium chemistry." To put this in a bigger context: "The $5 billion Tesla ‘Gigafactory’ in Nevada is currently the world’s biggest battery manufacturing facility. Its total annual production could store three minutes’ worth of annual U.S. electricity demand. Thus, in order to fabricate a quantity of batteries to store two days’ worth of U.S. electricity demand would require 1,000 years of Gigafactory production." Manufacturing batteries consumes a large amount of energy. It also creates a high volume of carbon emissions, which is what the new technologies are meant to eliminate. China produces, by far, the largest number of batteries of any nation. Mill writes, “70% of China’s grid is fueled by coal today and will still be at 50% in 2040. This means that, over the life span of the batteries, there would be more carbon-dioxide emissions associated with manufacturing them than would be offset by using those batteries to, say, replace internal combustion engines.” 4. Green energy has built-in limitations Even with more advanced technological development, wind and solar power will never be able to produce energy on the scale of fossil fuels. As Mills points out, "The physics-constrained limits of energy systems are unequivocal. Solar arrays can’t convert more photons than those that arrive from the sun. Wind turbines can’t extract more energy than exists in the kinetic flows of moving air. Batteries are bound by the physical chemistry of the molecules chosen." CONCLUSION Mills concludes that fossil fuels are essential to the modern world and won’t be phased out any time soon: "Hydrocarbons – oil, natural gas, and coal – are the world’s principal energy resource today and will continue to be so in the foreseeable future. Wind turbines, solar arrays, and batteries, meanwhile, constitute a small source of energy, and physics dictates that they will remain so. Meanwhile, there is simply no possibility that the world is undergoing – or can undergo – a near-term transition to a 'new energy economy.'" In short, fossil fuels will continue to be necessary sources of energy for the foreseeable future. Therefore, the development of petroleum resources, such as those in western Canada, must be permitted to continue. The alternative to fossil fuels isn’t clean energy – the alternative is to not have much energy at all....

Assorted

A true story of a journey from sexual exploitation to freedom

As a little girl I had big dreams of all the possibilities that would await me when I grew up. I hoped that one day I’d meet my prince who would love me, protect me, and we would live happily ever after! But unfortunately none of my dreams and hopes came true. What did come true is I did find a prince, but we or I didn’t get to have the happily-ever-after. What I did get was abuse, being violated in ways that no woman or child should ever have to feel. I was told I was nothing and that I could be replaced, no one cares about you, you’re filthy, you’re disgusting, you’re a retard, I own you, but most importantly, I can make you disappear and no one would ever find you! There are many different forms of exploitation that now I can see in my story, such as being groomed to sell drugs, or recruiting other girls to sell drugs, and if we came short we or I paid with sex or sexual acts. There was also trading sex for drugs, food, a place to stay, having laundry washed, to pay my rent, and ultimately to save my life. Sexual exploitation just doesn’t go on in other countries or in certain neighbourhoods. It’s happening in your own back yard. When I was sexually exploited, I never knew there were places such as the SA Foundation dedicated to helping women just like me. Before coming in to the SA Foundation, I never knew what love was, I had never experienced unconditional love! Love to me was violent, it was rape, confinement and forced…. The life I have today is a testament to the work that the SA Foundation and God do in each woman’s life! Today I am currently working as a staff member, valued employee, with the same men and women who helped me become unexploited and free. ***** Postscript from SA Foundation Staff: This anonymous story was written by a previous program participant, now a staff member, at the SA (Servants Anonymous) Foundation. The SA Foundation offers a front-line long-term recovery program for sexually exploited women and their children in Vancouver, BC, which also serves as the training and internship center for our international partners. For more information, you may visit www.safoundation.com. Upon the Reformed Perspective editor’s inquiry, we at the SA Foundation talked about the best way to help readers know what do with this story. What do you do with this information? How do you protect the people you love from such harm? How do we as Christ’s church reach out to and help those who have been abused, enslaved and exploited? What if you are a victim, or know a victim? Truly, digesting a story like the one we just shared with you is both hard and hope inspiring. It’s hard to hear this firsthand account of what this woman went through from the time she was a little girl. At the same time, the story gives a real sense of hope. Women and children who have suffered horrifying abuse and exploitation do not need to be stuck there forever. One of the reasons our Lord Jesus came into this world, one of the purposes for which he was anointed by God, was “to proclaim good news to the poor…, to proclaim liberty to the captives…, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.” (Luke 4:18-19) Jesus sent his Spirit at Pentecost to equip his people to carry on his work in this world. By the power of his Spirit and Word, the SA Foundation staff helps churches and Christians to fulfill their God-given task to "proclaim and bring liberty to captives." We regularly put on awareness and fundraising events for churches. These events not only educate churches and communities, but also enable them to partner with us in helping set free women and children who have been enslaved in sexual exploitation. We also offer leadership training for churches through our Servant Leadership Training Center, to further equip pastors, elders, deacons and church communities to provide pastoral care and mercy to those who have been badly hurt and are in need of extensive recovery. Although on one level no churchgoer is any different from such women and children, since we are all broken people and sinners in need of God’s grace, yet there are specific complexities and opportunities that churches ought to understand as they aim to welcome, disciple and be blessed by such women and their children. If you would like the SA Foundation to do a presentation at your church, or would like more information, you may send an email to theo@safoundation.com or info@safoundation.com. Our website also provides lots of informative reading and resources for those who would like to become more aware of the modern-day travesty of sexual exploitation and human trafficking, and better equipped to bring God’s justice, love and mercy to the enslaved and oppressed. – Theo L, Associate of Mentorship and Community Development, SA Foundation...

Assorted

Age

Editor’s note: When Dr. Adams turned 90 this year, his colleague, Donn Arms, was reminded of a prayer Adams had written back in 1978 for a book titled, Prayers for Troubled Times. Adams was nearing 50 at the time, and the prayer is one that may inspire many middle-aged readers to speak something similar to our God. And for younger readers, it offers something to consider: what would an older you wish the younger you had done more of? **** I’m tired. _____As I grow older _____fatigue comes sooner. _____This worn and weary frame _____no longer functions _____as it once did. That I may continue to serve You _____and live the rest of my days _____to their full _____is my prayer. I know, Lord, that I must learn _____to recognize limitations, _____to choose among opportunities, _____to eliminate excess baggage. But that knowledge comes hard. _____I am not wise; _____I need to understand _____much more that I now know _____of the practical application _____of your Word _____to these matters. Forgive me Lord _____for not learning sooner, _____for wasting time _____and dissipating energy _____I now wish I had. _____I see the importance _____of these commodities _____now that I am beginning _____to run short of them. I want to serve You _____to the end, _____not in a lackluster manner, _____nor in weariness of flesh, _____but vivaciously, _____conserving and wisely using _____all my remaining strength __________for Your glory, _______________Amen. This is reprinted with permission from a February 6 post at Nouthetic.org....

Assorted

Why should we study Scripture together?

It’s too easy to take for granted the blessings God has heaped on us, so let’s stop for a moment and think about several of them. We still have the blessing to freely worship. Not only on Sunday, but during the week too, we’re free to gather together for fellowship and study. We also have the blessing of God’s Word in our own language. Unlike so many believers in the history of the New Testament church, we have the Bible in a language we can understand – and these Bibles are cheap and readily available. Finally, we have the blessing of literacy. The fact that you’re reading this puts you at a far greater advantage than many believers in the history of the church. What incredible riches our God has lavished on us! Do we have a heart for searching out God’s Word? Yet it does seem that many church members take these things for granted. In every church I’ve served, there is always the mass problem of Bible study. Every consistory discussed it. It’s the problem of encouraging individual believers to study the Bible for themselves. It’s also the problem of encouraging believers to study the Bible together. I’d venture to guess that, on average, probably 25% of the communicant members in the churches I’ve served regularly studied Scripture together. Actually, 25% is on the generous side. What can consistories do about it? Here’s the problem: office bearers can badger members into Bible study groups for a time. But if their heart is not in it, typically they won’t persevere. The heart is the issue – and how do you change someone’s heart? You can’t. The Holy Spirit does that. He does it, however, through us. He says in 1 Thess. 5:14, “And we urge you brothers, admonish the idle, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with them all.” We’re to do these things with the Word of God in our hand. In this article, I want to lay out the Bible’s answer for why believers should study Scripture together. There are two audiences I want to address. The first is the office bearer who wants to encourage Bible study in his congregation. The second is the believer who may be lagging in conviction about the value of this practice. Psalm 119 as a prayer for the way we want to be So, why study the Bible together? When our thoughts turn to Scripture and our attitude towards it, Psalm 119 is a frequent destination. This Psalm extols the Scriptures in exuberant terms. It also speaks of the believers’ emotions/affections about the Bible. For example, nine times the Psalmist speaks of his delight in God’s Word. Seven times he testifies of his love for the Scriptures. He witnesses to the joy that comes from the divine writings. It’s important to read all these things with our eyes on Jesus. He is the fulfillment of all these holy emotions – he exhibited them with an unparalleled depth and consistency. Moreover, Christ did that in the place of us who often sag in our feelings about God’s Word. His love and joy in the Word are credited to us by God. When we see Psalm 119 that way, it puts it in a new light for us. It speaks of our Saviour’s obedient life for us, but also his sanctifying power in us. We look at Psalm 119 as a prayer for the way we want to be. In our new nature, empowered by the Holy Spirit, we want to be like Christ. We want to reflect our union with him – we want to love the Scriptures like he does! When we do, we won’t have to be coaxed into Bible study. It’s something we will love to do because, being united to Christ, we love God and we love his Word. Personal Bible study will come from the heart, and so will group Bible study. Then the rest of what I’m going to write will sound perfectly persuasive. Getting to know our God The chief attraction of Bible study together is a better view of the glory of God. The Scriptures are all about revealing to us the glory of the Triune God, particularly in the gospel. I’m talking about his beauty, his splendor, his magnificence, his awesomeness. Scripture reveals God to us in all his transcendent excellence. When you study by yourself, you will see it. But when you study with others, you will see more and see further than you will by yourself. One person can only see so much. One person can have blind spots. But when several Christians gather together around God’s Word, they’ll find more to be amazed at about our God. He will receive more praise and honor. That’s what we want, isn’t it? Encouraging one another However, there is not only a vertical aspect here. It turns out that what brings more glory to God is also for our benefit. When we gather together with fellow believers around God’s Word, there’s encouragement to be found. We support one another. We pray together. We enjoy fellowship. When it’s going as it should, Bible study can feel like Psalm 133:1, “Behold, how good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell in unity!” We could also think of what Scripture says in Ephesians 4. There God speaks about how Christ has given the gift of office bearers to the church. He says their work is to “to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ.” They do that work with the Scriptures. Bible study together will likewise build up the body of Christ and with exactly the same blessings described in Ephesians 4:13. Bible study together will lead to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of Christ. It will enable us to grow together in maturity. It will help pull us into the “measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ.” Two objections Some church members have keenly developed reasons for not going to Bible study. They could go (they have the health and the time), but they refuse to. Let me briefly address two reasons I’ve heard over the years. One objection is that it’s all the same: “The same people talk and they always say the same thing. It makes for a boring hour or two. So it’s just not worth the time or effort.” I’m familiar with this one because I used it as a young man. I remember saying this at a friend’s house and his mom reamed me out. She said, “If you don’t like the way it is, then it’s up to you to make it different. You lead by example. You’ll only get out of it what you put into it.” She was exactly right. Another reason comes from a darker place: “Everyone at these Bible studies is so dull. They don’t have a good basic understanding of the Bible. It’s just frustrating listening to them ramble on in their ignorance. Their lack of knowledge about the Bible is exasperating.” The essential problem here is pride. One’s pride leads to impatience with other believers. Bible study presents an opportunity to share our insights with one another. One may have to pray for growth in holiness to do that humbly and judiciously, but rather than flee from that challenge, we should embrace it. Moreover, we need to be open to the possibility that there is something to learn from other believers – perhaps we don’t have the exceptional level of knowledge we thought we had (cf. Phil. 2:3). Conclusion The Bible has famously been compared to a love letter from God. Of course, love letters are mostly a thing of the past, but the idea is still current. If you were to receive a love letter, you would treasure it and read it carefully several times. The Bible is God’s love letter to his people. Why would any recipient not want to read and study that letter as often as possible, both on your own and with other believers? If you’re part of a Bible study, stay consistent with it. If you’re not part of a Bible study, go and find one in your local church. With your meaningful contribution, God will be praised and you’ll be blessed. Dr. Wes Bredenhof blogs at Yinkahdinay.wordpress.com....

Assorted

Technology and our anxious hearts

As a pastor I get to talk to lots of people. After some conversation, I start to get a sense of where people stand. How are they doing? What’s on their mind? Anything bothering them? And maybe it won’t surprise you to hear that quite a few people are anxious. I don’t necessarily mean that in a clinical way, as a mental health disorder. But more generally, people have this feeling of unease, being unsettled, fearful and restless. It’s common, so common that probably everyone experiences it. And there can be a host of factors that contribute to our feeling of unease. If my stomach is kind of unsettled for weeks on end, then I’m going to start getting anxious. If you’re running low on money, you might be anxious. Other times there might not be a particular reason that we can put our finger on, but we still feel it: anxiety and fear. Far deeper than any one cause, it’s a basic condition for human beings, a component of who we are as a weak and sinful people, living in a world that is broken, difficult, and often hostile. Maybe you’ve heard this before, but do you know what is the most repeated command in the Scriptures? What’s the thing that God tells us to do most often? People usually think that it’s something like, “Love one another.” Or “Praise the Lord.” But the most repeated command in Scripture is this: “Fear not.” God says it to his special servants like Joshua. His angels say it to the people to whom they’re bringing messages. His prophets say it to Israel: “Do not fear.” And Jesus says it to his believers: “Do not be afraid.” More than 350 times in Scripture we find the command: “Fear not.” We need to hear that, because we do fear. It’s symptomatic of being a human. TECHNOLOGY ON THE BRAIN I’d like to unpack another factor in our daily fears and anxieties: technology. By technology I mean specifically things like the portable and connective devices that we have with us so much of the time, those devices that are always nearby and available: smartphones, laptops and other computers, and tablets. Some of us sit in front of screens all day and then, even when not at our desks, we continue to engage with technology. Also for those who don’t have an office job, so much time is spent with this technology: before work, during work, after work; before class, during class, after class. It’s hard for us to grasp how massive a change has happened in this area of portable technology. For instance, in a single decade we have rushed from a world with zero smartphones to a world with approximately two billion smartphones. We bought these devices because of what they promised to do for us, but we can be sure that they’re also doing something to us. REASONS FOR ANXIETY People have only started to think about the impact of this almost constant interaction with technology. With this relentless stimulation, the brain is not getting time to rest. And this can make us anxious for a number of reasons. Let’s look at a few of these reasons, and how we can counteract this anxiety with God’s truth. Reason #1 – FOMO One of the reasons that our use of technology can make us anxious is that it trains our brains to need a constant intake of information. Our brains are plastic and shape-able, and we are being programmed to expect continuous updates in a whole number of aspects of life. These updates are for everything ranging from significant international events in Moscow, to trivial things like what our friends had for breakfast this morning. And when we don’t get these updates, we feel disconnected and disconcerted. When we don’t have a chance to read them, or when we don’t have our electronic device on our person, it’s like the world is going by without us. It’s an affliction that is becoming widespread these days – an affliction so widespread that it has already entered the Oxford English Dictionary. What is it? FOMO. It’s a catchy acronym that stands for “Fear Of Missing Out.” According to one definition, it’s: the state of mental or emotional strain caused by the fear of missing out; a compulsive concern that one might miss an opportunity or a satisfying event. Missing the boat, missing the bus, missing an opportunity, or missing an event with friends – we’ve all experienced missing out in some way or another. So the fear of missing out is a universal experience. What does that look like in relation to our use of technology? The closeness of our phone to our eyeballs, and the connectivity of our computer to Wi-Fi or 4G networks, makes this a real struggle. We’re used to getting a constant refresh and update on things, whether about world events, or about how our life looks in comparison with others, or something else. As often as we log in and start scrolling around, there is a recharge of our fear that we’ve missed out on something. We want to know, we want to see, we want to comment. Whether it’s a breaking-news alert, a vibrating notification, or a text message, there’s an immediacy to every moment. Our phones make our lives vulnerable to that feeling that somewhere, somehow, something interesting is happening – right now! We’re addicted to anything new, and the newer the better. See whether you can relate to these scenarios: SCENARIO #1– You wake up in the morning, and what is the first thing that you do? You reach over to your bedside table, and check your phone. Who sent you a message? Who posted something? And you’re kind of alarmed to see that last night while you were getting your beauty sleep there was a conversation among your friends about something important – you missed it. There’s a twinge of regret. SCENARIO #2 –You’ve got a few minutes before you need to get going, so you head over to your favorite social media site. You see that one of your friends has been posting pictures of her amazing holiday: beautiful beaches, exciting cities, lots of artful shots of food and drink. And here you are, getting ready to clean the toilets again, or to listen to a two-hour lecture at university. Your life is unquestionably lousy. You’re missing out on fun and adventure. SCENARIO #3– You’re going to bed at night. You brush your teeth, etc. Then you lay down and read your Bible. But then, one last time, you check your phone: Any messages? Anything new? Not this time. But what about when you wake up? What will you have missed? There’s another twinge of anxiety. As you’ve probably experienced, we can get into a compulsive habit of going online. It’s not just checking social media, but other websites. What videos are on top at YouTube? Who is Kendall Jenner dating these days? What did Meghan Markle wear to the polo match with Prince Harry? What memes are trending? At one level we realize that we don’t really care about all these things, but we still choose to read and watch. We’d hate to miss out. Maybe you’ve heard about the studies that connect social media with depression. In an alarming number of users of social media, there is an almost immediate feeling of sadness when a person logs off. It’s even become a shorthand term, “Facebook depression” – or maybe “Insta-gloom.” Checking on the status of our friends often forces us to deal with people who are either more successful than we are, or more attractive, more whatever. We’ve just seen what is not ours. We’ve been reminded that our life is not as interesting. We wish people could see how good w eare, and we’re anxious to portray ourselves in a positive light – so we keep trying to set up the perfect selfie. And then we worry when it’s not possible. Response: you won’t miss out By now FOMO has become a joke and a hashtag. Yet it describes a deep insecurity that dwells inside each of us. And FOMO is neither unique nor modern, but pre-dates Wi-Fi and our always-connected phones. We can remember those days when we didn’t have a phone, but even back then, we had our fears of missing out, didn’t we? In Grade 4 there was a birthday party, and you weren’t going – that’s a pretty rotten feeling. Or you heard about the excellent business opportunity that a brother in your church received. You could’ve been part of that – why weren’t you invited? More FOMO! The problem is that our sinful natures will always say that if we could just have our idols (whatever they are), eventually they’ll be able to satisfy us. That goes all the way back to Paradise. What more could Adam or Eve want than what God had given? But Satan said, “Escape your creature-hood. Define your own truth. Keep the glory for yourself. Why miss out on becoming like God with just one bite?” Today that devilish offer still stands. FOMO smoulders in the human heart. The Bible calls it coveting, a faithless desire to possess something that doesn’t belong to us. We attach to idols our deep longing for happiness, thinking that a person or a possession or achievement or status or experience will finally make us happy. That’s why we keep searching, keep scrolling, keep buying – because we’re looking for something more. But the anxiety caused by the fear of missing out is a lie. It denies the immense riches of what we have in God and through Christ Jesus. At the heart of the gospel is the living God who sent his only Son so that with his blood He could buy for us the gift of salvation. Scripture says that we have no good thing apart from Him, that in his presence there is fullness of joy forever. As Jesus said, “Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you” (Matt 6:33). If you know Christ, you’ll never miss out. Reason #2 – bad news These days there’s a 24-hour news cycle. This means there’s never a time of day when we can’t know what’s going on around the world. It used to be that you’d find out about events only when your morning (or evening) newspaper arrived, or when you watched the 10 o’clock news before you went to bed. If it didn’t make the news by those traditional times, then you wouldn’t know until the next day, or even later. Now, however, there are networks dedicated to providing news, every day, all day. This news is on TV, and it’s online. The networks have correspondents throughout the world who are able to post stories within seconds of writing or filming. These news stories are compelling, because when we hear about them, these events are not old. In fact, sometimes the events are still happening! The technology has made it possible for us to watch these things happen live: a massive fire downtown, an attack in Paris, a shooting in America – we are watching it unfold, or we’re “on the ground” for the aftermath. Because the world community is a more-connected place, we’ve been made aware of so many more events, some of them really terrible. There have always been horrific events, but now we can see them in all their detail: terrorist attacks, mass shootings, natural disasters. Instead of still camera shots we have video footage, which makes it more dramatic, and therefore more frightening. The constant news coverage also makes it seem like these things are happening more and more. The media knows that nothing gets attention like bad news – so they tell us about all the bad news they can find. So if you connect to the news regularly, you’ve probably had the thought that the world is completely falling apart. There are wars raging in different places, and the threat of radical Islamic terrorism. There are new and unstoppable strains of disease, and catastrophic weather due to climate change. After scrolling through the news for a while, you’re sure that almost everything is crumbling. Another aspect of all this bad news is the sense that not only is the world getting worse, but that the church is under attack. Reading almost any major source of news, you realize that Christian beliefs are considered a thing of the past, and that the Bible belongs in the dustbin of history. God’s standards are being dismissed, whether that relates to marriage and sexuality, or to drug use, or gambling, or something else. Fewer people these days identify as religious, and there can be vitriolic hatred for those who disagree with progressive thinkers. With all this bad news streaming into our eyes and ears, we can feel overwhelmed. For example, when we see so much suffering because of famine or war, we feel helpless: What can I do? How can I help? We conclude that we can’t help, so we just get used to it. Or hearing about danger from the random attacks of terrorists in public places, we can become fearful: What if we’re next? What if it happens here? Or, seeing where society is going and how the church is ridiculed, we worry about the church. How can the church survive? How can Christians and our old-fashioned Bible compete with people that seem to be so intelligent, sophisticated and influential? That constant newsfeed of disturbing stories and immoral trends makes us anxious. Maybe it makes us want to check out, just withdraw and retreat to our distractions. But is that the answer? Response: God is God The answer to our fear of bad news is this: Do not fear, for God is God, in all his glorious sovereignty and unfailing goodness. When we see another natural disaster, confessing that God is God means that it’s not up to us to save the world. We can show mercy to those who are suffering, and we ought to. But realize that this world is a vast place, and you’re just one person. You can’t do it all, and you don’t need to. “What if that happens here?” we say when there’s another terrorist attack. Again we confess that God is completely in control of all things. He’s not surprised by what President Putin is doing, or by what’s happening on the Korean peninsula. Meanwhile, you and I are so limited in our awareness or control. It’s like a board game, with a big board full of squares and twists and turns. We see only the square that we’re on, and we have no idea about what is coming next, whether good or bad. But God sees the whole board. He’s not restricted in anything He does, and there are no loose ends in God’s world. All of it He works out according to his own good purpose. And the beautiful thing is that God has only good things in store for his people. When marriage is redefined, and when we hear about persecution of Christians, and when there is the defiant rejection of God’s truth, remember that God said this was going to happen. He predicted all of it. He’s not surprised, even if we are. It’s actually reassuring to see his Word being fulfilled, even as people embrace the darkness, as love grows cold, and as the church is oppressed. It’s difficult, and we should grieve for those who are lost, and we must defend our faith, but remember that Christ told us all about it. It’s a reminder that He’s in charge, and that there’s no need to fear. Reason #3 – No Time Our technology also gives the impression that time is moving very quickly. The world is changing every hour, events are happening constantly, people are always doing exciting things! All this change and development means that time is running out. You only have one life, and it’s pretty short. Technology teaches us to think that this life might be our only chance for joy. If we miss this moment, there might never be another. So we’re learning to use technology to achieve a lot of things, to access a lot of information, and to be connected to a lot of people. Using the technology on your phone, you can schedule your day to a high degree. With a calendar and automatic reminders and planning tools, you can aim for the peak of productivity. Using technology, you can know a lot these days. You can closely manage your fitness levels, keep up with fashion, music, world news, and read about all kinds of things that interest you. Using technology, you can keep in touch with a lot of people. You can text, WhatsApp, FaceTime, etc. You don’t have to spend half an hour conversing, but you can have a brief but beneficial exchange. These are good things. Being productive is an aspect of faithful stewardship. It is fitting that we try to keep informed about world events and church life, so that we can be good neighbors and a prayerful people. It is right that we maintain meaningful contact with the people God has placed around us. But the problem is that all this takes time. Always needing to be scheduled means the pressure of managing every fifteen-minute block of our day. Taking 10,000 steps per day takes time. Reading and processing new information takes time. Keeping up contact with all sorts of people takes time and emotional energy. So sometimes we feel anxious because there is no time, not for everything. Technology is wonderful and it is terrible. It has made some great things possible, but it has also made us capable of too much. And so we’re anxious. What should we do about this fear? Response: you still get eternity So much to know, so much to do, so many to people to connect with – and only one life. But here’s the good news: we have more than one life! In Christ, we have an eternal promise. All that has been lost will be found in Him. All that we have missed will be restored in Him. Peter writes, “Nevertheless we, according to His promise, look for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells” (2 Pet 3:13). It’ll be so different from now, for in the new creation only righteousness shall dwell; there will be nothing incomplete, nothing wicked, nothing to cause grief or disappointment, but only peace and perfection. That gives us a great purpose, for we know that we’re going places. We know this life isn’t just about the pursuit of earthly goals. It’s not even simply about those good things like church and family and faith. Because these imperfect things are a part of something much bigger: God’s great plan to restore His creation perfectly through the Son. Don’t worry if you can’t do everything in this life – you still get eternity! Meanwhile, give your attention day by day to living for Christ. SEVEN SUGGESTIONS As you’ve read this article, maybe you’ve had the thought that you probably should just throw away your phone. But you’re also aware that you probably won’t throw it out. So moving forward, what can you do with technology and your anxious heart? Confess your anxiety to God. Pray for Him to forgive your worrying. Pray for Him to forgive your coveting. Pray for His strength to become more content in Christ. Confess your anxiety to other people. If you have a problem, you can be sure that other people have that same problem. It can be embarrassing to talk about, but let’s challenge each other to be holy. Be mindful about what you’re doing. Honestly ask yourself a few questions: How many people that you keep contact with are actually meaningful friends? How much has your life been improved by keeping constantly up to date on social media? Do you really need to read this article, watch this video, or comment on this post? Be with people. Take time to enjoy the presence of friends and family in the beauty of everyday life. Remember that it’s not true fellowship if everyone in the room is busy tapping at their screens! Instead, enjoy the gift of being together in talking, playing a game, getting outside, or discussing a good book. Take a break. Have specific times when you shut down social media and turn off the television or computer. Try to take a “Sabbath rest” from media – and not just on Sunday! You’ll probably enjoy time away from the frantic and never-ending flood of information. And you probably won’t miss out on anything important. Remember others. A God-given cure to discontentment and covetousness is serving the people around us. Our technology has the ability to turn us inwards, to become even more self-absorbed than we are naturally. So look around and give your attention to the interests of others. Remember the good news. Today there’s lots of bad news, but things aren’t always as disastrous as they seem. God is mercifully continuing to uphold this world – for example, through his blessings in health care and food production, many people are now able to live longer and healthier lives. We should also see how God is still restraining wickedness in this world through the (sometimes unexpected!) election of conservative governments who implement pro-life and pro-family policies. And don’t forget the best news of all: the truth of God’s Word and the good news of salvation and peace through Christ. We shouldn’t be so busy with everything else that we can’t get into the Scriptures. We probably have the Word on our phone, now let’s put it on our mind. CURES FOR ANXIETY Fear of missing out, the helplessness of hearing bad news, the pressures of having no time – we really can’t blame technology for any of this. This is because all sin originates inside the human heart, and because we’re a fundamentally weak people. But God graciously helps us and gives us his peace. As Jesus says in Matthew 6:25-27: Therefore I say to you, do not worry about your life… Look at the birds of the air, for they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? Which of you by worrying can add one cubit to his stature? Jesus’ words are consistent with the command which is found more than any other in the Scriptures, “Do not fear.” May these beautiful ancient words speak directly to our modern anxieties about technology! Dr. Reuben Bredenhof is pastor of the Free Reformed Church of Mount Nasura, Western Australia. This article first appeared in two parts in Una Sancta, the denominational magazine of the Free Reformed Churches of Australia....

Assorted, Church history

Henry VIII’s reformation, Big Bird, and the end coming to us all

Komm, süßer Tod, komm selge Ruh or "Come, sweet death, come, blessed rest" is a melody Johann Sebastian Bach composed in the 1700s. Through this wonderfully harmonious composition, Bach evokes in Christians the desire for death, heaven and the Lord Jesus. The words, by an anonymous author, are these: Come lead me to peace Because I am weary of the world, O come! I wait for you, Come soon and lead me, Close my eyes. Come, blessed rest! Just recently we heard some neighbor children express the desire to see and speak with their grandparents, both of whom died this last year within weeks of one another. The children were four and six years old. "Can't I just send them an e-mail," the four-year-old piped up, as his mother smilingly shook her head. The other one stated, as he raced a toy car along the floor, that he preferred to get in an airplane and soar up into the sky to say “hi” to Nana and Grandpa. Such anecdotes make us smile, but they should also make us aware that most children, as well as many adults, have no idea about what death actually is; that they have no inkling that it is a stepping-stone to an eternity that never ends. Big Bird’s lament Many of us who had or were children during the 1970s, were acquainted with Mr. Hooper on the children's program Sesame Street. (This is a program, by the way, which children should not watch any longer.) Friendly Mr. Hooper, who ran the grocery store on the program, was well liked. When he died during the 1982 season the dilemma for the producers of Sesame Street was what to tell their audience, composed of children, about Mr. Hooper's demise. They came to the conclusion that the show’s adult actors should tearfully and emotionally explain to one of the favorite characters, Big Bird, that Mr. Hooper had passed away and would never come back to Sesame Street. Big Bird reacted tearfully and became very upset. He was both confused and sad. The adults continued to reassure him that they were still there and loved him and that they would take care of him. Death itself was not explained, although Big Bird pointedly did ask his adult friends, "Why does it have to be this way? Give me one good reason!" One of the adults answered him in a vague sort of way: "Big Bird, it has to be this way ... just because." It was a very unsatisfactory explanation of death leaving the viewers with a void – ignoring both the promise of heaven and the reality of hell. Another Mr. Hooper To offer contrast, there is the story of the death of another Mr. Hooper, a Mr. John Hooper who lived and died in England during the 1500s. And intertwined with his passing there is the story of a child who accepted and believed that John Hooper's death was triumphant and not at all the end of his life. Although not much is known about this English John Hooper's childhood, it is a fact that he was the only son and heir to a well-to-do English family and was brought up as a staunch Catholic. To tell his story, or what we know of it, we must focus on Gloucester, the city where he died. By our standards, Gloucester, England, was not, at the time of John Hooper, a big city. Four thousand citizens lived and worked in the small metropolis. They had various occupations; the sun rose and set on them daily; and they lived and died within its boundaries without traveling elsewhere. There were the coopers, friars, bakers, carpenters, and there were the rich, poor, blind and maimed people. The streets were lined with inns, several monasteries, and between them were hidden both wooden and stone houses. Four main roads led in and out of Gloucester, all meeting at a main intersection where the town's high cross stood. They were named from the gates by which they entered the town. Thus there were the Eastgate, Northgate, Southgate and Westgate streets. Northgate led to London; Southgate to Bristol; Eastgate to Oxford; and Westgate to Wales. People walked, rode in carts, and journeyed by horse on these unpaved roads. Gloucester was a little world within the world. The Roman Catholic Church held sway in Gloucester. Henry VIII had ascended to the throne of England in 1491 and was a loyal servant of the Catholic Church. That is to say, he was a loyal servant of the church until he wanted something the church would not give him – an annulment to his marriage. His disagreement with the Pope on this matter led him to establish the Church of England. God uses all things for His glory, both good and bad. The Church of England was thus born partly out of lust, and it was a church that, although free of papal authority, had a man as its head. In Gloucester, pamphlets had been distributed and copies of the Bible were sold by tinkers and booksellers prior to Henry's divorce. People read comforting words by candlelight and many were convinced by the Holy Spirit of the truth of the Gospel. In 1538 Henry issued a royal license that the Bible might be openly sold to and read by all English people without any danger of recrimination. He then issued another decree appointing a copy of the Bible to be placed in every parish church. It was to be raised upon a desk so that anyone might come and read it. Henry VIII died, as all men must die, and was buried with great pomp and ceremony. His son Edward, who was only nine years old, became king after him. Young Edward had been fed the Solas of the Reformation by Protestant teachers and his youthful heart had been convinced of their truth by the Holy Spirit. It was during his brief reign that Gloucester was blessed with a Bishop who diligently and openly began to feed its citizens God's Word. His name was John Hooper, and he was no longer Roman Catholic. Another Paul John Hooper was a Paul. He was a faithful pastor. At times preaching four or five times a week, both on the streets of Gloucester and inside the Cathedral, he truly loved and felt compassion for the people. He fed the poor, explained the Gospel and was diligent in visiting his flock. Consequently, John Hooper was much loved by the people of the city. A boy by the name of Thomas Drourie also lived in Gloucester at this time. He was a local lad and was blind. Whether he had become blind as the result of an accident or an illness, or whether he was born blind, is not known. It is not recorded that he was a beggar, so very likely he had a supportive family. Perhaps he had been educated in the school which Henry VIII had established in Gloucester, or perhaps he'd had a tutor. In any case, Thomas Drourie was well acquainted with the Bible. During those blessed years of young Edward VI, Protestant teachers and pastors were safe from the charge of heresy. But these were only a few years – the years of 1547 to 1553. The very youthful monarch, providentially placed by God on the throne of England at this time, died of tuberculosis when only a teenager. His half-sister, Mary, succeeded him. Mary was a dyed-in-the-wool Roman Catholic, and she had no regard for the John Hoopers and the Thomas Drouries of her realm. After Mary's ascent to the throne, John Hooper was immediately arrested, tried for heresy and found guilty. Because he had been pastor in Gloucester, he was eventually brought back to that town in February of 1555, to die there at the stake. As preparations were being made for the burning of this faithful pastor, the boy Thomas Drourie found his way to the place where he was held prisoner. Thomas knocked loudly at the door and a guard opened it to see who was making all the noise. Thomas, after a long conversation with the guard, who took a liking to the boy, was taken to see the Bishop. Upon entering the Bishop's cell, Thomas was overcome with love. He himself had been imprisoned just a few weeks prior for his faith but had been released with a warning. After all, he was only a child. Bishop John Hooper asked the boy why he had been imprisoned. Thomas candidly confessed his faith in Jesus and in His atonement. Upon hearing the child's earnest words, the bishop began to weep. "Ah, Thomas!" he said, "Ah, poor boy! God has taken from you your outward sight, for what consideration He best knows; but He has given you another sight much more precious, for He has induced your soul with the eye of knowledge and faith. God give you grace continually to pray unto Him that you lose not that sight, for then you should be blind both in body and soul." Thomas hid the bishop's words in his heart and begged the guard who led him out of the prison cell to be permitted to hear the bishop speak prior to his being burned at the stake. The guard took the boy to the cathedral sanctuary where the Chancellor of Gloucester, Dr. Williams, was working together with his registrar. Now Dr. Williams had the distinction of having had two “conversions.” Originally Roman Catholic, he had 'converted' to the Protestant religion during Henry VIII's later years. And now, under Mary, he had “converted” back to Roman Catholicism. When the boy was brought before him, Dr. Williams examined him on some minor matters, but then he questioned Thomas on transubstantiation. "Do you believe that after the words of the priest's consecration, the very body of Christ is in the bread?" Thomas responded strongly with a child's assurance: "No, that I do not." Dr. Williams peered at the boy in front of him. "Then you are a heretic, Thomas Drourie, and shall be burned. Who taught you this heresy?" Thomas, the eyes of his heart bright even though his outward vision was dull, answered: "You, Mr. Chancellor." Dr. Williams sat upright. "Where, pray, did I teach you this?" Thomas replied, pointing with his hand to where he supposed the pulpit was, "In yonder place." Dr. Williams was aghast. "When did I teach you this?" Thomas, looking straight at the place from where the Chancellor's voice came, answered clearly: "When you preached there a sermon to all men, as well as to me, upon the sacrament. You said the sacrament was to be received spiritually by faith, and not carnally and really as the papists have heretofore taught." Dr. Williams felt a certain shame in his heart. Nevertheless, his voice boomed out through the church. "Then do as I have done and you shall live as I do and escape burning." Thomas did not hesitate. "Though you can so easily dispense with your own self, and mock God, the world and your conscience, I will not do so." Dr. Williams, unable to threaten or cajole or convince the boy to recant back to Roman Catholicism, as he himself had done, finally said: "Then God have mercy upon you, for I will read your condemnatory sentence." Thomas, showing no fear, responded: "God's will be fulfilled." The registrar stood up and walked over to the Chancellor. "For shame, man! Will you read the sentence and condemn yourself? Away! Away! Substitute someone else to give sentence and judgment." But Chancellor Williams would not change his mind. "Mr. Registrar," he barked out, "I will obey the law and give sentence myself according to my office." After this he read the sentence, albeit with a shamed tongue and an even more shamed conscience. Knowing that death was but a stepping stone to life, the blind boy, Thomas Drourie was burned at the stake on May 5, 1556, almost three months after Bishop John Hooper was burned. The end that comes to all Chancellor Williams came to a sad end, or rather, a horrible end, about three years later. Having dined with a William Jennings, a representative of the newly crowned Queen Elizabeth I, a queen who had much sympathy for the Protestant cause, he was asked by Jennings to meet with some royal commissioners. Whether he was worried about his colorful “conversion experiences” is not known, but it is a fact that he did not want to go to this meeting. Consequently, Mr. Jennings rode off alone. Later Jennings was overtaken in his journey by a servant who informed him that the Chancellor had become ill. It was afterwards conjectured that the Chancellor had poisoned himself, so worried was he that he would be ill-treated by the Queen's commissioner. However, upon receiving a courteous and friendly message from the commissioner shortly after he had downed the poison, the Chancellor tried to recover from his lethal dose by taking some antidote. It was too late. The poison took its course. Heaven is real. Hell is real. And children die as well as adults. But those who die with the eyes of their hearts opened, confessing the Lord Jesus, can sing with a hope that shines eternally: Come lead me to peace Because I am weary of the world, O come! I wait for you, Come soon and lead me, Close my eyes. Come, blessed rest! For the rich man, there was eternal torment. For Bishop John Hooper, there was the bosom of Abraham. For Chancellor Williams - what shall we say? For Thomas Drowrie there was the light of God's countenance....

Assorted

Mental illness: responsibility and response

Back in Grade 6 my twin daughters came home talking about that day’s lesson in Health class. They were learning about something called “the blame game,” and why it’s not an appropriate response to the difficult situations in which we find ourselves. THE BLAME GAME Probably we all know how to play the blame game. We are criticized by our supervisor at work, and we’re quick to point to the circumstances that led to our poor performance. Or I’m in a tough conversation with my wife, and she’s making some accusations, but I’m throwing them back with some of my own. Sometimes the blame game is played in the church too. A person blames his lazy attitude on the way that he was raised as a child. Someone blames his lack of church contributions on his high load of debt. I suspect that we don’t usually have patience with this kind of blame-shifting, and we want to hold people to account. But what about some other scenarios? Can we excuse certain sinful behaviors because of the presence of a mental illness? Should we make allowances and exceptions because of how a person is afflicted in his or her mind? What is the balance of a person’s responsibility and their illness? As fellow members in Christ, how can we respond in a way that will not only help the person, but also honor the holy God? TWO SCENARIOS Ponder a couple of scenarios so that you can understand what I mean, and so that you can also appreciate the challenge of sorting out a fitting response. There is a sister in your congregation who is only very rarely in church on Sundays – maybe once per month, sometimes less. It comes to light that she has an intense anxiety about coming to church. She fears almost everything about it: being surrounded by other people, having to speak with other people, being in an enclosed space for more than an hour. She agrees that God wants her to gather with his people, and that it’s important for her faith, but she can’t do it. Is she is breaking the fourth commandment, and should she be under discipline? Or does her illness – this extreme phobia – excuse her lack of attendance? There is a brother who is struggling with addiction to pornography. He has admitted that for the last five years he has viewed pornography on an almost daily basis. Some accountability has helped, but the brother admits that he still finds ways to access sexually explicit material. As the months go by, he seems to be growing more entrenched in his sin, and he is less open to the guidance of fellow members. He recently said that the fault for his sin is in his brain, that his addiction to sex means that he is incapable of resisting. Is this a clear cut case of unrepentant sin against the seventh commandment? Many more scenarios can be described. But the critical question is this: Are there times when, because of my brain, I am not responsible for my behavior before the Lord? ENCOUNTERING MENTAL ILLNESS We’re speaking about mental illness, but it’s good to back up for a moment and offer a definition and then list a few examples. First, a loose definition: A mental illness is a clinically significant health problem that affects how a person feels, thinks, behaves, and interacts with other people. Second, in our life together as believers, what mental illnesses are we likely to encounter? There is depression, dementia, obsessive compulsive disorder, anxiety, bi-polar disorder, panic disorder, attention deficit disorder, anorexia, bulimia, post-traumatic stress disorder, and various extreme phobias. We might also encounter mental health difficulties that arise because of addictions to drugs and alcohol. BLAME THE BRAIN? 1998 / 204 pages So here’s the question: How much can we blame the brain? Now, if you’re hoping for black-and-white, binary approach, you won’t read it here. If you’re looking for a formula or equation that you can use in these kinds of situations, you’ll have to look elsewhere. And there surely isn’t one! As already noted, this is a complex area to navigate. No two situations are the same because of the individuals involved, their predispositions to developing mental illness, the particular illness, and the history and context of each situation. Still, we can take into account some important considerations. I want to acknowledge that I’m relying on many of the insights from the book called Blame it on the Brain? by Ed Welch. Welch explains that there is a view today that almost everything begins in the brain. All our behaviors are caused by brain chemistry and physics: “My brain made me do it.” As a consequence of viewing the problem as strictly physical, the answer is often strictly physical too, as in: “I have a chemical imbalance in my brain, so how can I level that out?” Or, “My child is being hyperactive at school and disrupting the class, so what medication can he take to help him behave?” SOLUTIONS IN SCIENCE? Sometimes it’s very tempting to conclude that it is“all upstairs,” a matter of the brain. For example, when someone is in the darkness of depression, we can talk to them at length; we pray with them; we read Scripture to them. There are months of intensive spiritual effort, and nothing seems to work. Despite our best efforts, the person’s faith is struggling mightily. They say that they feel “dead” inside, and miles away from God. Then they go to a psychiatrist... he prescribes some medication, and in weeks the depression starts to lift! The person begins to talk about church in a more positive way, and to read the Bible again, even enthusiastically. So was it all in the brain? Did a dose of medication really solve it? Does the brain – a biological entity – really have so much influence on our spiritual life? The same thinking is applied to other areas of behavior. Some people argue for a biological basis of homosexuality. They also argue for a biological basis for anger, and disobedience to parents, and worry, drug abuse, and stealing. These are all brain problems, they say, not sin problems. Sometimes they can even point to evidence which suggests, for example, that the brains of pathological liars are actually physically different from the brains of “normal people,” people who are wired to (usually) tell the truth. As Christians, we have to sort through this. We acknowledge that science can help by teaching us something about how the brain works. Yet science is not just raw data. It is data that has been interpreted by fallible humans, people who have their own worldviews and weaknesses. Science too must be made subject to the Bible. WHO WE ARE So to help us, we need to consider what the Bible says about who we are. The LORD created us as complex beings, as a natural organism that is at the same time being indwelled by a supernatural spirit. In 2 Corinthians 5:21, for instance, Paul describes us as spiritual beings who are clothed in an earthly tent. This two-fold composition is seen throughout the Bible, and we notice it particularly at death, when the soul or spirit goes to the Lord and the body stays behind and is buried in the ground. Despite the separation that happens at death, when we’re living we are one person, an intimate unity of spirit and body. So how do spirit and body relate? How do these two substances function together? At a minimum, we can say that they are mutually interdependent. We know this from experience: the way that your body feels very much affects your spirit; the activities that your spirit chooses are worked out in the body, both good and bad. Ultimately, though, the spirit or the heart is the moral captain, the “wellspring” of our life (Prov 4:23). It’s the heart that empowers, initiates and directs. And the problem is that our heart is inclined to evil. DIRECTED BY THE DOCTRINE OF SIN So when it comes to questions of responsibility and response, the Bible’s teaching about sin is essential. Our position on this doctrine will affect everything that follows, and it will shape the answers that we give to these tough questions. I understand that mentioning sin in the context of mental illness can make people uneasy. You’ve probably heard the horror stories about people telling those who are struggling with depression, “You just have to pray more. Try to read the Bible more.” That’s a response which essentially says, “You’re feeling so miserable because you haven’t done something that you need to – it’s because you’ve sinned.” I certainly don’t advise that approach, in general. Yet it’s true that sin is a reality, and it’s our deepest problem, one that affects absolutely every aspect of our life. The Scriptures teach that all human beings are born as sons and daughters of Adam. Without the Holy Spirit’s intervention, we are dead in trespasses and sins, without any inclination to seek God or do what is good. It’s not that we don’t understand right and wrong, it’s that we choose not to live according to God’s truth. So if sin is a deeply rooted problem, if it’s as deep as our very nature as human beings, we need to conclude that the brain itself is unable to make a person sin or to prevent a person from following Christ. The Scriptures teach us to say that any behavior which does not conform to God’s commands or any thought which transgresses his prohibitions, is something that proceeds from the sinful heart. And it is sin. CREATED AS RESPONSIBLE That’s not how God made us, of course. When God created us in the beginning, He made us in his image. Part of that means that we were created with the ability to make moral decisions. Consequently, as God’s creatures we are responsible for our behavior – whatever that behavior is, and whatever the circumstances. This idea of our responsibility before the LORD is seen, for example, in the laws of Leviticus. There it says that even if a person sinned unintentionally, without meaning to, they needed to present a sacrifice of atonement (Lev 5:17). They weren’t excused because of a lack of intent, but they were held to account. Upholding this sense of responsibility actually shows respect for a person. Holding them to account is something that recognizes their dignity as human beings, made in the image of God. As an example, say you have a son who continually breaks your household rules. Because you’re a nice person, you always excuse him, and you find reasons not to punish him: he’s young, he’s immature, he has a lot of pressures at school. It feels like you’re being merciful. But ultimately, you’re not treating your son with respect for his dignity as one created in God’s image. You’re implying that he’s too weak to handle the consequences, or too dumb to figure out a better alternative. You’re not helping him to grow in his sense of responsibility, while the loving thing would be to let him experience consequences. In the same way, we are responsible before God our Father. He doesn’t give us a free pass for any sin, because He made us to serve and obey him in all things. Next we’ll see how this truth relates to the way that we try to help our brothers and sisters who are struggling with mental illness. THE LIMITS OF THE BRAIN To this point, we’ve said that the brain itself is unable to prevent a person from following Christ. The Scriptures teach that any behavior that does not conform to God’s commands, any thought that transgresses his prohibitions, is something that proceeds from the sinful heart. God created us as responsible beings but through our own fault we have been deeply affected by sin. Yet there is more that must be said. An over-simplified answer doesn’t help us. In his book Blame it on the Brain? Ed Welch speaks about three categories: When the brain can be blamed: There can be mental illness that affects brain functioning in a way that leads to sin. For example, people who are suffering from dementia might say and do very hurtful things. A person with dementia might make sexually suggestive comments to women, or she might be sinfully demanding toward family members. We are right to be immensely patient in these cases because of the obvious illness and impairment of the brain.Having said that, we know that brain problems can expose heart problems. The damaged brain is not generating sin. It’s simply taking the cover off things that were previously hidden in the heart, like a poor attitude toward women, or a demanding spirit. When the brain might be blamed: A physical change in the chemical levels of our brain can lead to certain conditions, such as depression or ADD. This is why medications that address the imbalance can have such an effect on behavior.Even so, while psychiatric problems can have this physical cause, there can be a spiritual element too. Most mental illnesses are hybrids, a combination of physical and spiritual problems. For instance, an anxiety disorder can arise from factors that are outside a person, such as living in a world that is fallen and under the curse, or dealing with a very difficult work situation and many demands at home. Combine that with a biological predisposition to anxiety, and you’d say a person is almost destined to suffer with it.Conversely, a depressive disorder can also be a consequence of sinful choices that the person has made. A person might be living in the misery of unconfessed sin, living far from God. In a sense, we shouldn’t be surprised that they have no rest (see Psalm 32 or 38). This is a heart problem that is manifesting itself in the brain. When the brain cannot be blamed: There are behaviors that are physical, and they definitely have a mental component, but they cannot be blamed on the brain. Take homosexuality as an example, which some will say is biologically determined. This is unclear, but even if there was evidence for the gay gene, we must respond in a biblical way. And that is to say that homosexual activity is forbidden by the Lord. We can be influenced by our genes, but that’s much different than being determined by them. At most, our biology is like a friend who tempts us into sin. Such a friend might be bothersome, but he can be resisted. We don’t have to go along with him.Alcoholism is another example. It’s called a disease, and in the secular setting it’s often spoken of in those terms. Sometimes an alcoholic will say, “That’s the disease talking.” There could even be a genetic predisposition towards alcoholism, yet the Bible states that drunkenness is a sin, and in the end we also have to treat it as such. WHAT ABOUT ADDICTIONS? “Addictions” is a much-used term today. The difficulty is that it is a very elastic and ambiguous category, and it covers everything from frivolous activities (being addicted to certain shows on Netflix) to far more serious (being addicted to drugs). While the term is misused, it is true that an addict can feel that he is trapped and out of control. While the Bible doesn’t directly mention addictions, it does talk about our motivations and desires. It recognizes that there are forces so powerful they can overtake our lives. Yet our addictions are more than self-destructive behaviors; they are violations of God’s law. An addiction is about our relationship with God much more than about our biology. When we see the spiritual realities that are behind our addictive behaviors, we find that all people serve what they love: either our idols, or God. As for the question of responsibility, we must be clear that an addiction begins with a choice. Idols exist in our lives because we invite them in and love them. Once they find a home in us, they resist leaving. They change from being servants of our desires, to being masters. Like James writes in his first chapter, “Each one is tempted when he is drawn away by his own desires and enticed.  Then, when desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, brings forth death” (1:14-15). When we repeatedly choose to do evil, these decisions can also be accompanied by changes in brain activity. It doesn’t mean that the brain has caused the decision, but the brain renders the desires of the heart in a physical medium. Welch says that “it’s as if the heart leaves its footprints on the brain.” That helps us to understand the research which suggests that the brain of an addict is different from the brain of a “normal” person. What has been going on in the heart, month after month, year after year, is being represented physically, with changes in the way the brain operates. This doesn’t prove that the brain caused the thoughts and actions; rather, brain changes can be caused by these behaviors. Once again, it started with sin. AN APPROACH FOR HELPING It’s time to draw some of this together in an approach to the question of responsibility and response. Bear in mind that every situation is different, and there is not a one-size-fits-all approach. But I hope that some of these guides can be helpful. Distinguish between symptoms: When there is mental illness, there can be a host of symptoms. And it’s important to distinguish between spiritual and physical symptoms and to consider whether the Bible commands or prohibits this behavior.For example, with depression, the spiritual symptoms are feelings of worthlessness, guilt, anger, unbelief, and thanklessness. These are heart issues which need to be addressed with Scripture and prayer. But depression also has physical symptoms, such as feelings of pain, sleep problems, weight changes, fatigue, problems with concentration. This set of difficulties requires a different response, but they do need a response. We are not our genes: There are genetic problems, and even genetic predispositions toward things that are sinful. But we are not our genes. The Scriptures teach that we are born as sinners, and that sin arises naturally in our heart. We enter the world as slaves of sin, but we are still blameworthy for surrendering to sin. So even if it were discovered that we are predisposed to certain sinful behaviors like alcoholism or homosexuality, this would not eliminate our responsibility for such sinful actions. Our individual makeup and background provide context for sin, and may fuel the craving for sin, but these things don’t take away the accountability for our sin. Don’t rush to medicate: We mentioned earlier that psychiatric disorders sometimes respond to medication. There can be a real benefit, so this becomes our reflex response: we assume a prescription will fix the situation, and we advise a visit to the local psychiatrist. Yet we shouldn’t rush to medicate. It can be effective with some people, not all. There can be adverse effects to almost every tablet, and there can be a danger of over-medication. More to the point, we have to remember that medication cannot change the heart; it cannot remove our tendency toward sin, revive our faith, or make us more obedient. Maintain a sense of responsibility: God created us as responsible beings, for we were made in his image. This means that He holds us to account for what we do. We diminish a person’s God-given dignity by looking at them and seeing only their infirmity, and not their responsibility. If we write people off because they have depression, it doesn’t help. The person concludes, “This is what the church thinks of me – I’m a screw-up, I’m damaged goods, and I’m not going to get better.”Scripture directs us to this principle of responsibility too. Think of Jesus’ words in Luke 12:48, “For everyone to whom much is given, from him much will be required; and to whom much has been committed, of him they will ask the more.” We can almost always require of people that they give an account of their conduct. The same text teaches us that not everyone is the same. Some have received more blessing, others less. One person’s situation in life is far more difficult than another’s. It doesn’t mean they aren’t responsible, but it means we have to weigh their responsibility in the light of everything else we know about them. Be patient: Trying to help people with mental illness can be frustrating. If we haven’t experienced anything like it ourselves or among those who are close to us, it is hard to relate. We might get exasperated with their constant struggles, their ups and downs, and behaviors that seem inexplicable. Sometimes we want to give up, but we need to be patient.Think of what David says in Psalm 103:14. He says, “The LORD knows our frame; He remembers that we are dust.” That’s a mark of loving and attentive parents: they know their kids, “they will know their frame” – what they’re made of. Parents can see pretty quickly when their kids are tired, or when they’ve had a rough day at school. And so parents will try hard to fight against their own impatience, and try to cut the kids a little slack. God is a Father who sees the weaknesses of his children from a mile away. He knows our frame: the Father knows exactly where we’re come from in life, and He knows the good and the bad that we’ve gone through. The LORD also understands what we’re made of, and that no matter how we seem on the outside, we’re weak: physically, emotionally, spiritually weak. We don’t have it together, so He is patient with us.  CONCLUSION In conclusion, let’s be reminded of our goal as fellow members of the church: we want to care for each other in a Christ-like way (Phil 2:1-4). Our desire is to see our fellow members enjoy life in God’s grace and service. Helping them effectively requires us to take into account the full picture of who they are, including when there is the presence of mental illness. We don’t let them blame it, and we don’t ignore it, but we try to help them be faithful to the Lord even in the midst of their struggles of spirit and body. Dr. Reuben Bredenhof is pastor of the Free Reformed Church of Mount Nasura, Western Australia. This article first appeared in two parts in Una Sancta the denominational magazine of the Free Reformed Churches of Australia...

Assorted

Little white lies and why we tell them

Your wife discovers some flowers in the kitchen and thanks you with a hug and a big kiss for “such a thoughtful surprise!” You bought the flowers for your secretary in honor of “Secretaries Day” at the office. You can either take the credit for thoughtfully buying your wife flowers or you can tell your wife that they weren't intended for her. Do you tell her the truth, yes or no? *** This question was part of very odd but interesting game. To win it you had to successfully predict what your friends would do in different moral dilemmas. Almost everyone in the room (both the men and women) thought that in this case a little white lie would be the best idea. But the question was directed at Glenn and he thought differently. Lying to his wife wasn't an option to him; this was his most important earthly relationship so marring it with dishonesty seemed silly to him. Yes, when he told her the truth his wife wouldn't be as happy with him at that moment. However, if she knew she could count on him to always be honest, even in the small things, then she would know she could count on him in the big things too. And wouldn't that benefit his marriage far more than a little extra undeserved credit he might get from saying the flowers were for her? A more realistic test  When Christians debate the issue of lying it’s most often in the context of whether we should always tell the truth – should we, for example, tell the truth if Nazis come to the door and ask us if we are hiding Jews? But in her book Anatomy of a Lie, Diane Komp notes that very few Christians are confronted with this sort of extreme situations – few of us are ever faced with a circumstance in which telling the truth might put someone else’s life in jeopardy. Instead, she notes, we lie for a far more trivial reason: because it just seems easier. Telephone solicitors get the “we can’t talk right now” response whether we can or not; the waitress asking “How are you?” is given a “good” whether we are or not; children who want to play with Mom or Dad are told “later” whether there will be time then or not. We lie because it seems the quicker thing to do, because the “half-truths” we’re telling seem harmless enough, and because we doubt the sincerity of the people around us (“He can’t really want to know how I'm doing, can he?”). Eventually, we’re lying simply because we've gotten into the habit. Then we do it so often we don't even notice ourselves at it anymore. The scariest part of Komp’s book was the chapter in which she suggested the reader, over the space of a few days or weeks, record “every time you lie, or are tempted to, and ask yourself the question ‘why?’” Try this and I think you’ll be startled by how often you “stretch” the truth for no reason at all, without even thinking. Of course, not all lies are motivated simply by habit. We also lie to protect ourselves, to either cover up something we've done or failed to do. Would the husband at the beginning of this article feel any temptation to lie if he regularly remembered to get his wife flowers? Of course not; then it would be only a minor thing to tell his spouse that this time these flowers were for someone else. But because he’s neglected his wife for so long there is now a temptation in these circumstances to take credit for thoughtfulness the husband hasn't had for his wife for quite some time. Harmless? So the more important issue is not whether it is right to lie to Nazis at the door – that’s not the issue for us – but rather whether it’s right to “stretch the truth” again and again. The Bible is, of course, quite clear about the need for honesty and the value of truth in our day-to-day lives (Col 3:9, Lev. 19:11-12). We find that the very character of God prevents Him from lying (Num 23:19) and indeed Christ is so inseparable from honesty He is called “the truth” (John 14:6). So if we want to imitate Him then we too should be concerned about honesty. Still, there is a temptation to dismiss the “little lies” we tell as harmless. So let’s consider some everyday examples: how many parents make a habit out of lying to their kids, making promises they can’t keep and making threats they don't carry out? When a parent’s “no” doesn't really mean “no” how can they be surprised when their children don't accept that as the final word? Experience has taught these kids that Mom and Dad’s “no’s” are at best half-truths, because half the time a bit more badgering will result in a favorable “yes.” And how many wives can expect an honest answer from their husband when they want his opinion on a new dress. It’s become almost a game for some, ferreting out the truth. In some cases, experience has taught the wife that when she wants an honest answer from her husband it’s best to look at his eyes rather than rely on the words that come from his mouth. She has to look to his body language for an honest reaction because she can’t count on it verbally. So when he tells her she looks beautiful she’s never quite sure if that’s what he really thinks because that’s what he says all the time. This husband will find it hard to offer his wife any encouragement because even his genuine efforts will be met with skepticism. These are just the effects that are most evident. In some circumstances we may not be able to deduce the harm caused by a bit of deception – who gets hurt when we lie to a telephone solicitor? – but perhaps the harm comes simply from the fact that if we are not habitually honest we all too easily become habitually deceptive. And sin, even small sins, separate us from God (and would do so permanently but for the grace of God) so we should never dismiss any sin as inconsequential. The first step to a more honest life is to start off by keeping track of your deceptive impulses. Give it a try and do as Komp suggests, even if only for a day: record every time you lie, or are tempted to lie, and ask yourself “why?” Then, when you become more aware of your sin, and the misery you may be causing, you can go to God in prayer and ask him for forgiveness, more aware than before about your desperate need for it. And then, after that, maybe you can think of your wife and go buy her some flowers! A version of this article appeared in the May 2015 issue....

Assorted

Remembering the head nurse and other people

I remember the days of old; I meditate on all Your works; I consider the work of Your hands.  (Ps. 143:5) *****  Hope deferred, Proverbs 13:12 says, makes the heart sick. There are none who know this better than those who have hoped for a child month after month, only to be disappointed again and again. It is a sad thing to see young couples, when first married, opting for time to get settled, opting for the “security” of two jobs, opting for the “want” of more things, before they finally think they can opt for a family. Sometimes this family does not happen – the timeline they have posited is not the timeline which has been designated by God. The second half of Proverbs 13:12 tells us that “a desire fulfilled is a tree of life.”  No one understands this second part better than a Hannah, a woman who has prayed for a little one and who finds out one day that she is indeed to be a mother. We had been married for two years when our desire was fulfilled.  Suspecting for a week or two that this was perhaps the case, but having been disappointed before, we did not really think that the rabbit test would prove to have joyous results. For those unfamiliar with the term, a “rabbit test” was a pregnancy test that would surely be strenuously objected to by the extremist PETA-type people today. It was a test in which a female rabbit was injected with a woman's urine. If the woman was pregnant, her urine would cause the rabbit's ovaries to develop temporary tissue structures.  A doctor, or lab technician, could check this out after the rabbit was euthanized. We were visiting my Dad and Mom in Fruitland, Ontario, at the time of the rabbit's demise.  It was December 1971.  My husband was outside shoveling snow from the small sidewalk before tackling the long parsonage driveway. I was inside, doing some dusting for my Mom.  She was in the kitchen.  My father was in the study. It's strange how some details stick in your mind. The phone rang and since I was standing right next to it, I picked up the receiver.  It was the nurse from our doctor's office in Guelph.  My husband and I had been half expecting the call, half not expecting it. "Could I speak with Christine," she said. "Speaking," I answered, beginning to sweat. "Your test has come back positive," she went on, and then stopped speaking. Positive, I thought, and the word appeared as a foreign language to me. I dared not hope that positive meant pregnant. So I merely repeated the word, adding a question mark. "Positive?" I stroked the colorful runner on top of the dresser next to the phone.  My Mom had made the runner and it felt warm underneath my fingers. "Yes, positive. And the doctor would like to see you for a check-up sometime in January." "You mean I'm ...." I let the sentence dangle unfinished. "Yes, you are pregnant.  There's no doubt about it.” "Are you sure?  I mean...." Again I could not finish the sentence. "Yes." Her answer was short.  No doubt she had more work to do, possibly more phone calls to make. "Thank you." I half-croaked the words, meaning to say "Thank you for the phone call," but the sentence would not come out in its entirety because of the thickness in my throat. And oh, there are hardly words to describe the thanks I felt welling up inside me to God.  Tears coursed down my cheeks. Special insight into God’s character The truth is that God has allowed mothers a special glimpse of His character, of His all-encompassing love, in permitting them and giving them the capacity to bear children.  “As one whom his mother comforts, so I will comfort you,” the Lord says to His people in Isaiah 66:12.  There is a well of love which springs up naturally within a woman; there is a depth of nurture which was always there, as woman was in the beginning made to be the “mother of all living.” It is a sense which is good and true.  That is not to say that this innate sense cannot be suppressed.  Indeed, many women do suppress it, to their own detriment.  Like the miser who died in penury while his money was buried unused in his backyard, these women will die in poverty while their motherhood lies buried underneath abortion, careers, self-fulfillment, day-care centers, nannies, TV babysitters, computer games, and multitudes of outside-of-the-home programs. Walking over to the window, I tapped on the pane. The tears were still running down my cheeks.  Anco turned around at the sound, leaning on the snow shovel.  He looked at me and raised his eyebrows in a questioning glance. I nodded and sobbed.  His eyebrows went down and he smiled.  My mother came out of the kitchen and I told her that the doctor's office had just called and that we were going to have a baby. She called my father out of the study and he stood in the livingroom doorway and just looked at me.  All he could say was "Well, well!!" and again, "Well, well!!"  Then he disappeared into the study only to reappear shortly afterwards with a Dutch book entitled Moeder en Kind, that is to say, Mother and Child.  He put it on my lap, as I was at this point sitting in a chair in the livngroom drinking a cup of tea with my mother.  Anco had come in, had hugged and kissed me and had gone back out to shovel snow. "This book," my father explained, "greatly helped your mother when she was expecting you and your brothers and sisters." "Oh, Louis," my mother smiled, "that's a really old book.  They have different books now with a great deal more information." I laughed and thanked my Dad. The book became a treasured part of my library and I read it carefully. Beer barrel bassinet It was a providential thing that there was no morning sickness.  The only “abnormality” I developed was a strong craving for peanut butter and banana sandwiches, as well as a constant desire for hard-boiled eggs.  Also, if I stood for an indeterminate amount of time in one spot, a lightheadedness took over.  Nevertheless, I was quite able to continue my job as secretary in the Political Studies Department of the University of Guelph until two weeks prior to the baby's birth.  Anco was, at this time, a second-year student in the Veterinary program at the University and carried a full slate of subjects which often required cramming late into the night.  In spite of that, he was able to craft a cradle - a cradle fashioned out of an old beer barrel which we salvaged from someone's garage.  It turned out to be a most beautiful piece of work until he inadvertently took off one of the iron bands around the barrel nearly causing all the pieces of wood to spill off.  Angie Traplin, our seventy plus landlady, was most gracious in that she permitted us the use of her garage as a woodworking shop, and she and her bachelor brother, John, followed the progress of the cradle with great interest.  They had no children in their lives and shared in the excitement we so obviously exhibited. People are unconditionally kind to you when you are pregnant.  They often offer you their chairs, thinking your condition requires you to sit down all the time, and frequently ask if there is something which you would like to have. Neither Reformed nor unReformed, being pregnant is, in a sense, like having a “get-out-of-jail free card.” If you land in a ticklish situation, it is possible to use your “condition” to get you out of this situation. For example, no matter at what hour you are tired, you will be allowed to take a nap; if you don't want to play charades, you will be excused; if you don't want to eat your spinach, that will be tolerated.  And the list goes on. A "model" student In Holland, my mother had born all her children at home and my father had always been right there by her side, (except one time when she had delivered the baby all by herself while he was still running for the doctor). During the early 1970s in Canada, however, husbands were reckoned taboo in the delivery room. But Anco stood a chance of being permitted in to see our child born if he attended pre-natal classes.  So we enrolled together in one of these classes. There were approximately ten other couples in the class. Companionably we watched a film on childbirth, oohing and aahing at all the right spots; and together we received pep-talks on exercise, nutrition, and relaxation.  Into the third class we were told to select music that we really enjoyed and to use it as we were practicing simulated labor pangs. Lying flat down on the floor on a blanket, as Vivaldi's Winter or Beethoven's third piano concerto played, Anco, sitting next to me on the floor, would squeeze my right arm softly, indicating the onset of a simulated pain.  I would then have to take a deep, cleansing breath and begin to relax my whole body. The woman who ran the pre-natal class would come along checking each prostrate couple to see if the mother-to-be was thoroughly relaxed.  Legs, knees and arms would need to be floppy enough to fall right down again if she lifted them.  As Anco squeezed my arm tighter and tighter, my breathing was to become shallower and shallower, using only the diaphragm, and my whole body was supposed to become as relaxed as a bowl of jello.  This was difficult and though I don't think I ever totally reached the jello state, I did achieve a sort of pudding-like easement before our final class. This class included a tour of the hospital as well. In the class we were also taught how to walk and not “waddle,” in the words of the instructor.  We were shown how to pick things up properly, not bending over double but bending down through the knees.  We were also told how to stand properly – belly tucked in, back straight. "You. Yes, you, Mrs. Farenhorst.  Can you step to the front of the class, please." It was not a question. So I stepped out of the group line and walked towards the front. "This class," the instructor said as I stood next to her, "is a perfect example.... (I think I began to smile proudly here, until she continued) ...a perfect example of how not to stand." Fatherly advice As the months crept on, much advice was proffered on what to eat and what not to eat.  My father-in-law constantly told me not to use salt, whereas my own father told me to eat more and brought me pieces of Gouda cheese, hard-boiled eggs and fish.  And while I grew in girth, Nixon became president of the United States, Trudeau continued on in Canada, my mother sent for reliable cloth diapers from Holland, and God reigned supreme. That summer of 1972, Anco obtained a job with the Grounds Department of the University of Guelph. This was a wonderful blessing because we could continue to travel in to work together as well as eat lunch together.  We often sat in the shade of the campus trees at noon or we would walk over to our little blue Datsun and eat lunch in it after which I would have a small nap. There was an active mother kildeer on the parking lot.  She had built a nest somewhere on the gravel.  Feigning a broken wing, the bird would try to lead us away from the nest, emitting a shrill, wailing killdeer, killdeer sound.  Although it would only take twenty-four to twenty-eight days for her eggs to hatch compared to my nine months, I felt a great affinity with the protective mother as she ran helter-skelter across the parking lot. It was a warm summer.  I had begun knitting that previous December.  As the little stack of booties, sweaters, and blankets grew, so did my stomach.  Gaining between forty-five and fifty pounds, I felt there was much more to me than met the eye.  Although I spoke to the baby continually, and she kicked fiercely in response, it was still difficult to imagine that a little flesh-and-blood baby would actually occupy the beer barrel before too long. Beyond amazing But on Sunday, August the fifteenth, we definitely knew that something was up, or rather down.  We were also extremely thankful that it was a weekend.  After all, Anco was home and what a relief that was to me!  But aside from a heavy, low backache, and intermittent pains, nothing happened – even though we stayed up all night, nothing happened!  The doctor told us, the next morning, that we ought to check into the hospital by supper time and that I ought to eat nothing for supper.  Anco went to his landscaping job, poor fellow, with rings under his eyes. And that evening we checked into the hospital. After registration and an enema, (from the last two letters in that miserable word, I have surmised that an enema is a Frisian procedure), a nurse confirmed that I was, without any doubt, in labor.  At this point, I had somehow begun to doubt that I was actually pregnant, so I was quite happy to hear her confirm the fact. After being installed in a room, Anco was finally allowed to join me.  He looked a little nervous. I assured him that I was fine and so I was for the rest of that evening.  We had brought along a book entitled The Joys of Yiddish, and Anco read me jokes, talked to me and we had a relatively peaceful time of it.  As a matter of fact, the obstetrics nurse, who was in and out of our room, joked that I might be one of those unusual mothers who give birth with relative ease. Our doctor came in to check me around midnight and Anco was asked to leave the room.  The doctor was a tall, thin man with a pale complexion and a wispish smattering of reddish hair.  Blue-eyed, as well as slightly cross-eyed, he peered at me from the foot of the bed after he had examined me. The nurse, who had become an exceptionally close friend by this time, had held my hand throughout the procedure. "Well, Christine," the doctor informed me, "I'm going to break your water." The nurse squeezed my hand very hard but said nothing.  The doctor then produced a mile-long needle out of nowhere and without wasting any more words, proceeded to break my water. As he was leaving the room, he commented to the nurse, "This one will be an all-nighter." It was a very uncomforting thing to say and to hear, but I did not have much time to reflect on it.  The next eight hours plus were hard work.  It was what my mother had told me when I had asked her what labor was like. "It's hard work, Christine.  Just plain hard work and you have to roll up your sleeves and do it." Well, I couldn't really roll up my sleeves.  The hospital pajamas were too short.  But I did remember the breathing exercises and together with Anco's help became as relaxed as I could.  My poor husband was so weary.  It was the second night straight that he was not getting any sleep. Yet the words "Weeping may tarry for the night, but joy comes with the morning" (Ps. 30:5) flowed around us and rang true for at approximately 8:20 the next morning when little Emberlee Kristin lustily cried her way into the arms of her smiling father and mother. From the labor and delivery room I was wheeled into a ward – a ward which three other mothers already occupied.  Snug in a corner, I considered myself blessed to be next to a window. I had seen and held the baby for a moment, but had not really studied her closely as yet. When a nurse brought her in to me a bit later, I was absolutely amazed. Actually, amazed is too small a word. I had the feeling that, through God's help, I had achieved something which nobody else in the whole world had achieved before. This baby was incredibly beautiful! And although I thoroughly believed the doctrine of “conceived and born in sin,” I was convinced that she was perfect.  Anco totally agreed with me before he went home to sleep.  Then the nurse took the baby to the nursery and I also drifted off to sleep - a wonderful sleep, a sleep in which I conquered both Mount Kilimanjaro and Mount Everest and had energy to spare. Four at a time The head nurse of the obstetrics department, a woman whose name escapes me but whose militant figure will always remain embedded in my brain, was a dragon.  A short lady with grey, tightly curled, hair and glasses perched on the end of her nose, she breathed fire on any mother who did not explicitly follow the rules of her ward. When it was time to feed the babies, she would carry them in - all four at the same time, two under each arm.  We were always fearful that she would drop one, but she never did. Depositing the babies on the beds like so many loads of diapers, she would bark: "Make sure you begin on the side you finished on at the last feeding. Time yourselves carefully!  And remember, not a minute longer than designated!" The afternoon of the day I had the baby, the head nurse came in to inquire if I had as yet showered. When I shook my head, she regarded me balefully and clapped her hands. "Up, up then, Mrs. Farenhorst! No shilly-shallying mind you!  Up you go! The shower is just around the corner down the hall." I was a trifle lightheaded and actually had the gumption to tell her so.  She clucked at me disapprovingly. "Come, come! Don't be a baby. I'll be back shortly to check whether or not you've had the shower." There was nothing for it but to get up, put on my bathrobe and take a towel from the adjacent bathroom I shared with the three other women. Walking down the hall, holding on to the wooden railing attached to the side, I could feel that I was not quite up to the stroll. Then everything went black and the next thing I knew was that I was lying flat on the linoleum and a nurse was bending over me. "Are you all right?" Perhaps it was this small episode that earned me demerit marks in the eyes of the head nurse.  In any case, she had me pegged as a failure. No exceptions! Visiting hours were strictly adhered to.  My parents were in Holland and Anco's parents were in Australia that August, so visiting hours were poorly attended.  But my oldest brother and his family drove down all the way from Collingwood to Guelph, a good hour and a half away, to visit me. They did not, however, arrive during the specified hours allocated to visitors.  Sneaking up the back stairs, all five of them peeked around the corner of my room and grinned at me, lifting my spirits. "Hi, Christine", and "Hi, Tante Christine". Immediately after the greeting, my spirits sank again and terror struck me with the thought that the head nurse would see my brother, his wife and their three children and proceed to pulverize them. I fleetingly thought of hiding them all in the bathroom, but they had stepped into the room and were around my bed before you could recite the proverbial phrase “Jack Robinson.” The hugging and kissing prevented me from properly formulating a plan.  And then the dragon appeared behind them. "What are you doing here?" If there was one thing about the head nurse, it was that she kept a sharp eye out and hardly anything went by her unnoticed. "Er .... this is my brother and his family." My brother, ever the chivalrous gentleman, walked up to the dragon without any trace of fear, and extended his hand. "How do you do?" She totally ignored the hand and wagged a finger at me. "You know the rules. No one is to visit during the day!! No one!!" "But they drove all the way from ...." She did not let me finish. "Visiting hours are in the evening." "That's all right. We'll leave," my brother soothed, "but perhaps we could see the baby?" The dragon, however, had turned around and left, muttering to herself as she went, and his question remained unanswered. "The nursery is just down the hall," I said, "and Emberlee is lying on the left side right in front of the window. If you walk out that way, you can see her." They kissed me again and waved goodbye.  I accompanied them to the door of my room and watched them pace away down the hall eager to admire the baby.  But the dragon had preceded my brother and his entourage and, just as they reached the nursery window, she closed the curtains. They turned around to wave to me again, shrugging as they did so, and left. Close to tears, I was about to get back into bed, when the head nurse made another appearance. "Do you realize, Mrs. Farenhorst," she remarked, hands on her hips, face right in front of me, "how many germs you are now carrying because you kissed your relatives?" It was an interesting question, but one to which she did not really want an answer. "And you will pass," she went on  shrilly, "all these germs on to your baby." "Oh," I said, rather lamely. Then she was gone.  The other mothers comforted me and when Emberlee was brought in for her afternoon feeding, together with my germs I held her tightly. Conclusion Years later I found out that this particular head nurse's retirement, which had taken place not too long after the birth of our first baby, had been lauded by the entire obstetrics staff.  No one had mourned her leaving.  And she had died alone, in relative obscurity, a few years later.  What a sad life hers must have been!!  "The wisest of women builds her house, but folly with her own hands tears it down", Proverbs 14:1 tells us.  Was there some bitterness, some sadness, some secret anger that this woman had harbored in her heart which I might have sweetened with some kindness?  God knows.  There is time to keep silent and a time to speak, and perhaps I ought to have spoken. These things all happened many years ago.  Our little first-born Emberlee is now a godly mother with seven children of her own. I remember the days of old; I meditate on all Your works; I consider the work of Your hands. (Ps. 143:5)...

Assorted

Come now, let us reason together

They say that the optimist sees the glass half full, the pessimist sees the glass half empty, and that the alchemist sees the glass completely full - half in liquid state and half in vapor state. So what is alchemy?  The dictionary defines alchemy as the medieval forerunner of chemistry, based on the supposed transformation of matter.  It was a preoccupation with transmuting a common substance, one of little value, into a substance of great value. Alchemy was accepted from the Middle Ages on, until some time in the 1600s.  It was based on the belief that all metals, indeed all matter, contained one common element, of which the purest and most perfect form on earth was gold.  Wealthy patrons often hired alchemists to conduct research on their behalf, or better put, to make money for them.  The fact that they never saw returns on their investment, did not stop their inborn desire to obtain something for nothing.  Perhaps it was like buying a ticket to the lottery today with the hope that maybe, just maybe, your "lucky" number will come up. In 1463 Edward the Fourth of England granted a Sir Henry Grey of Codnor in Derbyshire authority to labor for the transmutation of metals.  This permission for research was given at Sir Henry Grey's own cost provided that he answer to the king if there was any profit.  The ensuing years showed no profit at all. The king, however, must have desired to make some money because thirteen years later he again granted a license to two other men, a David Beaupee and a John Merchant, to "practice for four years the natural science of the generation of gold and silver from mercury." There are other records of such dealings or authorizations.  Presumably, the need for such license was based on a royal claim to mines and other precious metals.  But regardless of royal license, all experiments led to nothing. Last of the alchemists James Higginbotham was one of the last alchemists.  Born in London, England in 1752, his surname was changed to Price following the wishes of a relative who bequeathed him some money.  And perhaps, in the long run, this new surname proved rather apt for him.  Attending Oxford University, James Price seemed to be a bright young man.  He obtained his M.A. at the age of 25, was made a doctor of medicine a year or so later, and became a member of the Royal Society when he was 29. James Price was an able, but amateur, chemist and certainly not an adventurer looking for wealth or power.  A rich man in his own right, he had a family and possessed a good name.  His portrait shows the face of a rather serious, handsome young man, perhaps somewhat introspective, wearing a well-groomed wig. As a member of the Royal Society, James had already distinguished himself as being reputable in the field of chemistry. He loved science, and according to records, was an amiable, well-respected man and one with no skeletons in his closet. In the year 1781, James Price believed he had succeeded in compounding a wondrous powder, a powder capable of converting mercury and other inferior metals into gold and silver.  He wavered before making his "discovery" public. However, he could not help but speak of it with a few friends and they had animated discussions together.  At long length, Price decided to conduct some experiments in front of a select group of men – men of rank, science and public renown.  This he did from the 6th of May, 1782 to the 25th of May, 1782 – a duration time of almost three weeks. There were seven experiments in all and these were witnessed by peers, baronets, clergy, lawyers, and chemists. All the experiments resulted in gold and silver, in great and small quantities, and were apparently produced from mercury. Some of this "resulting gold" was presented to George III who received the gift graciously. The University of Oxford, where Price had been a student at Orial College, bestowed the degree of M.D. on him; and his work, containing an account of his experiments, ran through two editions in a few months. The general public, reading of these experiments, was enthusiastic.  People saw them as the beginning of an era of prosperity for England. This discovery would surely wipe out poverty; introduce a wonderful economy, and usher in a society of peace. There were those who doubted and were sure that  Price was mistaken. Conflict ensued between various groups of Englishmen. Do it again At this point, the Royal Society, of which Price was a member, felt bound to intervene. They asked James to prove to his fellow Society members the truth of his transmutations and to repeat the experiment in their presence. Price, who had initially been very positive about his work, was evasive in responding. He remonstrated that he did not want to repeat the experiments on the grounds that the preparations had been difficult and harmful to his health. Besides, had he not already demonstrated the veracity of his work in the presence of other witnesses, and should that not be enough? Arguing that the result of the experiments had not been financial gain, (though the public supposed it was so), Price went on to say that it had cost about seventeen pounds of sterling to make one ounce of gold. The questions about repeating the experiments went on for some time. Price would not agree to meet with the Royal Society. Yet the honor of this first scientific body in the world seemed to be implicated. It had been founded in 1660, granted a charter by Charles II, and named the Royal Society. It was the oldest national scientific institution in the world – promoting science, recognizing excellence in science and providing scientific advice. They more or less insisted that he repeat his work. Price was hurt. "Would you treat me evilly and not believe me?" he said. "My wealth, reputation, and position in society should free me from suspicion." At long last James Price agreed to make another powder and satisfy the Royal Society. In January of 1783 he left for his laboratory in Guildford, promising to return in a month's time. Upon his arrival, he distilled a quantity of laurel water - a quick and deadly poison also known as prussic acid.  Then he wrote up his will beginning: "....believing that I am on the point of departing from this world...."  After this, he commenced working on the powder. Six months later, he reappeared in London and formally invited as many members of the Royal Society as wanted to meet him at Guildford on August 3rd of 1783. There had been a change in public acclaim. Whereas before people had expressed great faith in James Price and his transmutation of base metals into gold, they now were no longer supportive or interested. Only three members of the Royal Society arrived at the laboratory on August 3. Price received them warmly but could not have helped but feel their air of skepticism.  Excusing himself and stepping aside for a moment, he swallowed a vial of the laurel-water he had prepared. The three men who had come into his laboratory immediately noted a change in his appearance. The man suddenly appeared very ill.  They did not guess why and called for a doctor.  But within minutes James Price was dead. He was only thirty-one years old. There have been many speculations as to why James Price would take his life! Had he deceived both himself and his spectators with his first experiment? Had he been willfully ignorant of this deception? Had he discovered an error? Had he been unable to bear the consequences of mocking? Did he not have the moral courage to confess or own up to a mistake? After his suicide, the Royal Society refused to carry out any further investigations into Price's claims. It is a mystery and upon reading of it we can only speculate. Getting rich, for real People crave quick wealth. In the US approximately 183 million people play a lottery at least one time each year. In England, James Price's homeland, 70% of the population takes part in a lottery on a regular basis (Lottery Demographics, April 2018).  It seems that most people think a change in their lives from perceived hardship to wealth is the answer to their troubles. Thoughts travel on. There is Someone Who can transform base materials into gold. There is One who can transform red into white. Not many people, however, walk into His laboratory to behold the truth of His claim. Strange that the One Who can transform dirt, that is to say, sin, into the golden crown of eternal life, was admired one day and much sought after, and killed the next. His laboratory was Golgotha, and Isaiah 1:18 invites many to come, believe and be transformed: “Come now, let us reason together, says the LORD: though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool."...

Assorted

Singleness: on being active and included in the body of Christ

Singleness. I often think there should be some kind of thunderclap after that word. This word and what it entails has caused unnumbered tears from the people of God. But while there are prayers and sermons for children, mothers, fathers, seniors, spouses, and young people, I have yet to hear a sermon on singleness. It is very possibly the most forgotten aspect of Christian living within the Church. Christ and the Church When we talk about singleness, as in everything, we need to start with Jesus and what He has done for us. Christ’s death removed our sin, ended our separation from God, and changed forever our status to one another. This is one of the first things that Nancy Wilson touches on in her book, Why isn't a Pretty Girl like You Married?…and other helpful comments. Because of Christ reconciling work, singles are not on their own: "Our individualistic culture wants to label unmarried people as singles, but in the covenant community of God, there are no singles. God calls us family." Family. Our Trinitarian God is not individualistic. God does not save us and then declare "every man for himself." We are family. Just as every family contains members of differing ages and abilities and is not complete when someone is missing, so it is with the family of God. You need the Church and the Church needs you. You do not become a member of the Church after marriage vows, you become a member at your baptism – married and single we are all parts of the body, which is something we would all do well to remember. With that thought in mind, I would like to discuss some of the struggles in singleness and how singles and the rest of the Church can face these things together. When one member of Christ's body hurts we all hurt (1 Corinthians 12:26), so this is important for all of us. Feeling Incomplete Singles can struggle with not meeting their own and others’ expectations. People in our churches typically get married in their early twenties so this is the expectation we place on ourselves and others. Then, when marriage isn't part of the picture, we wonder what's wrong with us, and start to realize that others are probably wondering the same thing. With this combination of our own and others’ disappointment means that some questions and statements can impact us quite painfully. "How can it be that a nice young man like you still hasn't found a wife?" "This will be good practice for when you're a mom." "Maybe if you weren't so picky you wouldn't be alone." For a long time I felt (and sometimes still feel) like I wasn't meeting everyone's expectations for my life, that I was not on par with the rest of the world. It wasn't until I realized that I didn't need to meet the expectations of others – my only requirement is to live before God as He commands – that I started developing a gracious attitude towards things some said that used to bother me. (I still have a long way to go.) Jesus' blood makes us complete – through Him, we now measure up to God's standards. And since this is so, then why does it matter what requirements others place on you? This is why we need to forgive other’s thoughtless comments. Some people are sincerely clueless and don't realize that questions like "why are you still single?" hurt. Pray for a gracious spirit every morning when you get up, smile, and respond with kindness. And tell your hurt to God. The rest of the Church can do better here. Comments like “why isn’t a nice man like you married?” rarely come across as a compliment, but rather a reminder to your single friend of what is not there. He would probably like to be married, but God has written his story a different way. We get it that you want us to be happy. Thank you. But reminding us of what we are missing is not helpful. Rather than say such things please encourage singles where they are at now. Did a single someone bring you a meal after your baby was born? Instead of saying how lucky her future husband will be, express your thankfulness and compliment her cooking. Loneliness Singles struggle with loneliness, which is partly their own fault and partly everyone else's. "How is it my fault? I can't help being alone!" you ask. Well, you are part of a church family, so go fellowship with them! Not just with the other single people around your age but with the widows, children, older people, married couples – all of them. As a member of the Church, you are responsible for its edification and wellbeing. Don’t be self-centered. Don’t presume others need to reach out to you first. Be hospitable by inviting people into your home (yes, single people can invite entire families over for Sunday lunch) and by being willing to go to their homes, even if it means going by yourself. Be brave. But what about the rest of the Church? Remember, a single person cannot be his or her own companion. Being on their own all the time is not healthy or wise (no lone rangers), so the Church body needs to embrace singles. Embrace them in your hearts, conversations, homes, and families. This means being interested in each other and not envying each other. The single person may need to ask a young mother if her new baby is sleeping through the night and the young mother may need to ask what the single person did on the weekend. One thing that has greatly endeared my pastor's family to me is that when my brother (who I lived with for almost two years) got married, my pastor told me that I should feel free to come over, whenever. Some times during the week can be more lonesome than others. Ask. Maybe Friday nights are hard – try to get together and do something. Being known Now, being lonely as a single person is not just about sitting at home alone on a Saturday night with a bowl of popcorn, a Hallmark flick, and a box of tissues (though that can be part of it). It's also about no one knowing you. This is something we tend to forget. God gave Eve to Adam as a helpmate because he was alone (Genesis 2:18) and she not only helped him physically but also spiritually and emotionally. Single people don't have that. Our souls get lonely. This is a struggle that I don't believe will leave us until we reach Heaven, which is actually a good thing. My soul's loneliness has caused me to reach out to God more than any other reason. God understands your heart and He is closer than you can imagine – so bring all the sorrows and struggles to Him. He is the only One who can fill up the lonely hole in your heart to overflowing. Preach His promises to yourself even when the emotions don't agree. I understand that everyone has this kind of loneliness to one degree or another, but with singles it can be a bit different. If you are married, you have your spouse to relate to in a deep way. With single people, it’s the feeling that no one has your back. Not every day is a lonely one, of course, so don't assume the singles you know are in dire need of a heart to heart chat over a cup of cocoa. Just be aware that the struggle is there. Please pray that Jesus will be the One who fulfills us and that we would be content in Him. Grace is key It doesn’t matter what church you attend, it’s going to be full of sinners. That means there will be people who annoy you and hurt your feelings, and you will do the same to others. So before you jump into the mix after the service, take a deep breath and pray for grace. Then decide to be interested in others. Rejoice in their joys and try to understand their struggles. Ask questions. Care about their lives. While on the subject of fellowship, let me put in a quick plug for hospitality. The commands of the Bible are given to the Church, and so hospitality is a requirement for single and married persons alike. This is where singles need to be brave. Inviting people into your home is intimidating. I recommend that you have more than one family over at a time. I know, that's more people to seat and feed – but the more people there are, the more they can talk amongst themselves while you prepare the food or do whatever you have to do. Going to someone else's home also requires you to be brave. Since I moved out of my parents' home, I have done a lot of things by myself, from sitting in church to going to weddings, and these things can be very daunting. Something I do is remember that Jesus is with me and I am not alone. I talk to Him in the middle of an awkward conversation and smile with Him at a young family's craziness. Where we end One day the entire Church – made up of countless generations and people of differing age, mental ability, race, and marital status – will comprise the Bride of Christ at the marriage supper of the Lamb. The Church, this wonderful thing we call family, our Lord calls His Bride. As we look forward to His return may He grant us the grace to live together in unity and love. And may He bless us with joy as we seek to serve each other and our King....

Assorted

The destiny hermeneutic

We confuse ourselves focusing only on the here and now ****  What in the world is a hermeneutic? You might be familiar with the term if you took any classes at a seminary or if you study the Scriptures with commentaries. But hermeneutics isn’t a discipline that should be reserved just for academic Christianity. No, hermeneutics is something we all use in our everyday, street-level walk with God. So, what in the world is a hermeneutic? In a word: interpretation. Hermeneutics is the science of interpretation. We each carry around our personal life hermeneutic; that is, our particular way of making sense of life. Most significantly, our hermeneutic is what gives direction and motivation to our behavior. For example, if I believed that achieving X led to happiness, then I would pursue X. If I concluded that consuming Y resulted in cancer, then I would avoid Y. “I was envious of the arrogant” In Psalm 73, we discover that the writer Asaph has a defective hermeneutic. It’s a dysfunctional perspective that you and I carry around sometimes, too. Everywhere Asaph looked, it seemed as if the bad guys were winning. The arrogant, proud, and lawless appeared to thrive, living with wealth, health, pleasure, and ease. It didn’t make sense. How could a just and holy God allow the wicked to prosper and the righteous to suffer? Asaph began to wonder if it was worth obeying the Lord. He became so embittered that he was like a beast before him (read the entire Psalm, but see verses 21-22 specifically). Yet Asaph had made a devastating interpretative error - one that you and I are prone to make as well. His everyday life hermeneutic had no destiny included in it. Without eternity, Asaph would have been right. If our present, physical world is all we have, then all of life should be about what we can experience, acquire, and enjoy in the here and now. If this life is all that there is, then you would expect a good God to immediately and obviously bless those who follow him and curse those who mock him. “But God is…my portion forever” But this life is not all that there is. So, you and I must live with a preparation mentality - and with a destiny hermeneutic. You can’t interpret personal suffering and societal brokenness without remembering that God is not satisfied with the world as it is. The Creator – who made this world and rules everything in it and who is the definition of goodness, wisdom, love, and truth – has promised to one day make all things new. Your street-level hermeneutics must also include this essential interpretative perspective: the fallen world is meant to drive us to the end of ourselves. It will take us beyond our autonomy and self-sufficiency. It will push us beyond our righteousness, strength, and wisdom. Why would God allow us to be frustrated in this world? Why would he leave us here to groan? Because in so doing, he’s molding and preparing us for eternal glory. This broken world was never meant to be our paradise ≠ it’s a preparation for our final destination. So today, if you look around and believe that those who have defied God are experiencing blessing, apply your destiny hermeneutic and look again. If you think that God has forgotten about you by allowing you to experience frustration and suffering, revert to your preparation mentality and think again. Grace has given you something better than they are now experiencing. Grace has given you eternity - a destination so glorious that the most eloquent words on a page couldn’t do it justice. God bless. REFLECTION QUESTIONS How often do you consider the amount of interpretation that you do every day? Or do you move through life without much reflection? Why is it beneficial to regularly review your street-level hermeneutics? How would your interpretation of life change your behavior? Apply this to at least one specific example. Look at the evidence of your everyday life: what are you pursuing and what are you avoiding? How does your interpretation of X and Y lead to this behavior? In what ways have you neglected to apply “the destiny hermeneutic” to your everyday life recently? What desires, words, and actions have resulted? How can you view this broken world as a preparation for a final destination this week? How will that be spiritually helpful to you? This article first appeared on PaulTripp.com and is reprinted here with permission....

Assorted

The Christian job description

When I was a young seminary student, I had to read an extensive commentary by a Dutch theologian. I had never studied Dutch writing before, and I really struggled to understand the syntax. I asked an older student for help, and he directed me to an annotated outline of another theologian who had dissected the work of my Dutch theologian. But when I picked up this outline, I discovered it was longer and more complex than the original work I was studying! Keeping it simple During my years of academic study and pastoral ministry, I've found that it's natural for us to overcomplicate the stunningly simple faith to which we've been called. Is theology and doctrine important? Of course it is – I would never minimize its value – but I think we've interpreted the Christian life as more complex than the Bible describes. Today, I want to go back to the basics. I'm not suggesting that we do anything radical, like trash all our commentaries, but I just want to read Scripture verse by verse and see what it says about the way we're supposed to live. The text that I love to go back to again and again is 1 Peter 2:11-12. Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul. Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation. (ESV) How are Christians supposed to live? There are three key attributes to what I call "The Christian job description." 1. Exist as aliens "Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles..." A sojourner is one on a journey or pilgrimage, moving towards a final destination and temporarily pausing at a location. An exile is a person residing in a location that's not his or her original and desired homeland. That's me and you. This earth is not where we, as Christians, should call home. Eternity is our home. Forever is coming. But here's the problem: you and I have grown too comfortable in our temporary home. We like the materialism and pleasure-orientation of Western culture. We measure success by the square footage of our house, the number of options on our luxury vehicle, the size of our retirement package, the quality of our cuisine and the letters after our name. If we want to live like true, Biblical Christians, we'll live like aliens. That doesn't mean we'll be anti-social and live in monasteries, but we'll exist with a different set of values. We'll think long-term – 10,000 years into eternity long term. Our good days will be good days because the Kingdom of God is advancing, not because we're experiencing a little more temporary pleasure than yesterday. Are you living like an alien? Do you wake up every morning and long for Forever? Or have you grown too comfortable in this temporary sojourn? 2. Fight as soldiers "Abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul..." I don't know if you feel it or not, but there's a war of desire raging on the turf of your soul every day. Whether it's in your marriage, with your kids, at your workplace, with your neighbor or during the privacy of your personal entertainment choices, there will be two desires competing for control of your heart, which in turn will affect your words and actions. In the mundane moments of everyday interactions, the passions of the flesh (sin) will fight to control your heart. Simultaneously, the indwelling presence of the Spirit of God will be battling for the purity of your soul. These battles won't be won in dramatic Hollywood fashion with swords and shields, but by saying "No!" ten thousand times to your sinful desires. If we want to live like true, Biblical Christians, we'll live like warriors. I don't mean aggressive and violent, trying to overthrow any external authority figure that doesn't believe the Bible. No, with humble and perseverant abstinence, we'll take seriously the sin that exists inside our hearts and not allow it to control of words and actions. Are you living like a soldier? Do you wake up every morning and get ready to do battle? Or have you grown too passive, surrendering to the passions of the flesh?  3. Represent as ambassadors "Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable..." The job of an ambassador is to consistently and intentionally represent a leader who isn't physically present. In the same way, you and I are always "on call" - there's never a moment in life, whether its on vacation, at work, in your neighborhood, shopping at the store, working out at the gym, or whatever, where we aren't called to live with a ministry mentality and an ambassadorial attitude. We are Gospel plumbers, Gospel teachers, Gospel lawyers, Gospel doctors, Gospel musicians, Gospel salesmen, Gospel moms and dads and Gospel neighbors. We're motivated by a single passion: that somehow and in some way, God would use our lives to accurately depict the truths of the Gospel and lead people to saving and liberating faith. If we want to live like true, Biblical Christians, we'll live like ambassadors. We'll speak carefully with God-honoring words. We'll live admirably with Christ-honoring actions. We won't treat our lives as our own, but live instead for the King of Kings. Are you living like an ambassador? Do you wake up every morning and consider that your words and actions represent Christ? Or have you taken your life in your own hands, representing occasionally and on your own terms? Not qualified Let me confess something to you. I don't always live with a destination mentality; I don't always live with a wartime mentality; I don't always live with an ambassadorial mentality. I indulge too much in the pleasures of this world and measure my success by earthly standards. I grow too comfortable with my sin and think it's not as destructive as it is. I don't step out in faith as often as I should and share the Gospel with those God has placed in front of me. If I had to apply for the job of Christian, it wouldn't take Human Resources long to see that I'm not qualified! But being a Christian isn't about applying for the job; it's about receiving the gift of grace, living in obedience and following the example of Christ. In every way, this passage points to Jesus. He was the ultimate exile; foxes have holes and birds have nests, but the Son of Man had nowhere to lay his head (Luke 9:58). He was the ultimate soldier, valiantly sacrificing his life to conquer sin and death (Colossians 2:15). He was the ultimate ambassador, coming down from heaven to do the will of the Father who sent him (John 6:38). What about you this week? Will you live like a true, Biblical Christian? This article was originally posted to www.PaulTripp.com and is reprinted here with permission of the author....

Assorted

God gives rest: On the 4th Commandment

Years ago I blew my first shot at university. I goofed off, got lousy grades, and ending up with a one-year academic suspension. When I came back I didn’t want to mess up my second, and also last, chance. So I studied hard. It wasn’t quite 24/7, but close, and if I had an exam on Monday I would review all my notes the day before. I would be highlighting and cramming into the wee hours of Sunday night. And then my dad found out. I’d really disappointed my dad when I got suspended and didn’t want to disappoint him again. I wasn’t going to no matter how hard I had to push myself! So here’s my dad, popping his head around the corner to wish me “Good night!” and he sees me hard at work. He sees me stressing. He sees a young man in a near constant panic. I was not going to blow this. And here’s what he told me. God gives rest.  He doesn’t expect more Yes, I had to work hard those six other days of the week, but come Sunday, God said I could stop. Instead of work, we can be with our family, together, worshipping our God. Instead of stressing, we can recover. Instead of work we can play, and nap, and go to bed on time. But what if that makes me fail my Monday morning exam? My dad spelled it out very clearly: then I fail. But I fail in a very different sort of way than the first time. The first time I was lazy, and not using my God-given talents. But if I use what He’s given me, and it turns out I simply don’t have what it takes to make it in university while studying only six days a week, then so be it. Then I can fail knowing I do so to God’s glory.  That’s what my dad told me, and I am very grateful he did. It lifted a weight off my shoulders. I could stop clenching my teeth and just breathe again It also turned out that a day off can make you a lot more effective Monday through Saturday, so resting didn’t impact my grades. I did pretty well my second go around. A few years later I was a part of a political campaign that never had enough time to get things done. We worked from 6 AM until midnight every day for 6 weeks, 6 days a week. On Sundays I stopped. And we lost. What might have happened if we had gone just that little bit harder and campaigned on Sunday too? I never wonder. God didn’t require it of me, so I never had to consider it. And when we lost, I knew that this was the very best thing that could have happened. Better to fail God’s way than to succeed any other. We campaigned to God’s glory, rested to the very same end, and in losing, honored Him. Take the gift! We sometimes see the Fourth Commandment as a restriction imposed on us, but Jesus tells us it is a gift: “The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath” (Mark 2:27). The Sabbath rest is for us. We’re allowed to take it. What God is saying here is if the only job you can find requires Sunday work, then you don’t need to do it. You can take your Sunday rest, even if it means being unemployed. You can honor Him in turning to the deacons. If you need to work Sundays to get ahead, God says there is no need to climb the corporate ladder. You can take your rest and honor Him more by staying that one rung further down than you could ever do so by rising higher while rejecting His Sunday gift. And here’s a radical thought for all the procrastinating students out there. If you really should have been working on your project all week, but didn’t, and now it’s Sunday and the project is due the next day* and you’ve barely started,…you know what? You can still take your day of rest. Yes, you need to ask God’s forgiveness for all the laziness of the last week. But you don’t do Him any honor in starting to work hard on the day He’s given to you as rest. Take your day. Fail your project. Understand that the reason you have a lousy mark is because of all the time you wasted during the week, and it has nothing to do with the rest you took on Sunday. Then ask God to help you fight your procrastination so you don’t make this same mistake again. Embrace the gift, not the exception Sometimes there are reasons to work on Sunday. We know there are all sorts of jobs that may require some Sunday hours. We know that Jesus healed on Sunday, and encouraged taking kids and oxen out of pits even if they happen to fall in on the Sabbath (Luke 14). Police officers, farmers, ministers and the odd chemist or two, will need to work on Sunday. But the principle remains the same: God gives us rest. Taking a day off, once per week, is not only a gift from God but also a matter of, in humility, trusting Him. Each week God provides this reminder to make it clear that yes, the world can get by without us. So if your vital job keeps you from the occasional worship service, then you should still take God up on his gift of rest. Take a breather on Monday, or Saturday, and discover how you’re not quite as vital as you thought. Then stop trying to figure out a way to evade God’s generosity. Just enjoy it. In a world filled with endless work – laundry that never ends, homes that don’t repair themselves, and office work that you have to take home with you in the evening – what a wonderful gift it is to be able to stop working. Guilt-free. What a relief! Why would we ever say no? **** * One way Christian schools can encourage students to take Sunday as a day of rest is to ensure that they don't have tests, or big assignments due, on Mondays....

Assorted

How important is "nothing"?

My Grandmother found me in the pantry of her house and demanded, “What are you doing?” My quick response was nothing. “Oh, you must have been doing something," she said. "No, I wasn’t. I was doing nothing,” I declared. And so goes the process of getting caught with my hand in the cookie jar. “Nothing” is so easy to say and usually doesn’t mean “Nothing.” I’ve met with multiple Christian leaders heading into retirement. When I ask them what they are going to do next, I get a quizzical look and often the erudite answer, “nothing.” Now sometime it comes out as I don’t know, or I don’t know yet, or I haven’t figured it out, or I’m going to take some time off. Seldom is the answer definitive or part of a new life’s direction. It’s mostly a response suggesting what is being left behind, and not what is ahead. The allure of nothing? Kind of strange, isn’t it, that a large majority claim nothing as their goal in retirement. Instead of a move from success, or even meaningful existence to significance, it's a move from something to nothing. A quick look in Webster’s suggests the following about nothing: not any being or any particular thing, a state of non-existence, worthlessness, or unconsciousness. This eruption of nothing has exploded to the point where January 16 is identified as our National Day of Nothing. If more people were aware of it, less would get done. A lot of nothing for sure. The more or less official description of the goal of the day is to provide Americans with one national day when they can just sit without celebrating, observing or honoring anything. Raise the flag for nothing? No, that would be doing something. I thought I’d see what else I could learn about nothing. In the Biblical book of Ecclesiastes, Solomon takes about all of man’s desires as meaningless, or nothing compared to the majesty of God. The word is used to describe the lack of value as in Proverbs 13:7 where Solomon again opines, one person pretends to her rich, yet has nothing; another pretends to be poor, yet has great wealth. Nothing and “naught” are often used to portray the nothing of man compared to the wealth of God. Interestingly, in John 1 Jesus says that without a relationship with him, you can do nothing. Following the logic, if you are doing nothing, you will not have a relationship with him. Not only no relationship but no meaningful action either. So why in our culture, our faith-based culture, have so many bought into the cultural priority of doing nothing in retirement? The allure of making every day a Saturday is certainly there when you have worked at a job for 30 years. But 30 years of Saturdays leaves much to be desired. Made for more than golf Part of the cultural allure, even deception, comes from the desire to escape from work and then tie leisure to value. Thirty years of playing golf won’t bring meaning or purpose to the Christian who realizes that we are called to be faithful for a lifetime. Another subtle meaningless thought is that church, bible study, etc. alone reflects God’s plan for your life. God does have one, you know. And it does not stop when you retire from your job, sell your company, or even leave the pulpit. There is more to be done, perhaps interspersed with a bit of nothing thrown in. But nothing as a goal, as a reflection of God’s plan for the rest of your life? Absolutely not. Here is some encouragement to move beyond nothing. It’s from a 1981 United Technologies Corp. ad that appeared in the Wall Street Journal, likely written by their CEO Harry Gray, who was close to retirement at the time: Retirement doesn’t have to be a red light. It can be a green light. Othmar Ammann would agree. After he “retired” at age 60, he designed, among other things, the Connecticut and New Jersey Turnpikes; the Pittsburgh Civic Arena; Dulles Airport; the Throgs Neck Bridge; and the Verrazano Narrows Bridge. Paul Gauguin “retired” as a successful stockbroker and became a world-famous artist. Heinrich Schliemann “retired” from business to look for Homer’s legendary city of Troy. He found it. After Churchill made his mark as a world statesman, he picked up his pen and won the Nobel Prize for Literature at age seventy-nine. Don’t just go fishing when you retire. Go hunting. Hunt for the chance to do what you’ve always wanted to do. Then go do it! Shifting gears is different than stopping I had a conversation with a man on the plane. He’d sold his companies 6 years prior. When asked what he’d been doing, he answered, nothing! How is that working out for you? I asked. Not so good. As a matter of fact, I think I’m about at the end of nothing. God did not prepare him for nothing. That’s true for you and me too. Too often we make nothing into all-or-nothing. Either I’m working, or I’m doing nothing. We don’t leave any room for shades of gray. I’m convinced we need to change how we think about the nothing we call retirement. Need to find meaning and purpose. The meaning and purpose God intends for us during these last three stages of life. A comedian used this phrase to define the word “nothing”; “Nothing” is an air-filled balloon with the skin peeled off. A graphic description don’t you agree. Nothing is not anything until we think or reflect on it, then it becomes something. Starting to think about our next life stage of nothing, is important, valuable, encouraging, and yes, exciting. Every little kid has asked, “what are we going to do next?” Their voice is full of anticipation; ours should be to whether we are in our 50s, 70s, or 90s. Here is some accumulated wisdom from those who should know: Edmund Burke said, “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.” Robert Schuller, “I'd rather attempt to do something great and fail than to attempt to do nothing and succeed.” Helen Keller, “Life is either a great adventure or nothing.” “There is a definite cost to doing nothing.” Edward Livingston And here is the thought that challenges me the most: The hardest work of all is to do nothing. I’d rather be excited about the day, week, and months ahead. How about you? So how important is nothing? Victor Hugo said, “Doing nothing is happiness for children and misery for old men." Stay with us as we journey together. Don’t disturb me either, as I am very busy doing nothing. Bruce Bruinsma champions the emerging Retirement Reformation Movement along with other key members of the Retirement Reformation Roundtable. The Retirement Reformation Manifesto is an initial step to encourage Christians to radically change the way they think about retirement. For the last 30 years he has given leadership to a financial services firm providing retirement plans to ministers, missionaries, churches, and faith-based organizations. He lives in Colorado Springs with his wife of 56 years, Judy. This is reprinted, with permission, from his blog at www.BruceBruinsma.com. ...

Assorted

Saturday Selections - March 9, 2019

How a bird is built (5 minutes) The creation of a bird is "an elaborate dance, it's like a ballet taking place on a stage with thousands of cast members, all of them doing everything they are supposed to on cue, in the right order...and the right time." Should we ban billionaires? The Tenth Commandment says that our neighbor's wealth is none of our business. But the world is encouraging us to make it our business. As one columnist opined: “No one needs a billion dollars. No one deserves a billion dollars.” But the interesting thing about God's law is that not only is it a roadmap for pleasing God, but, because God loves us, obeying is also good for us. And, conversely, disobeying it will cause us harm. And as this article details, if we were to ban billionaires – if we were to covet their wealth and take it from them – we'd all be poorer for it. Drafting our daughters? - Forcing women into combat is wrong The US hasn't used the military draft in 40 years but it still requires men, when they turn 18, to register. And now a court has ruled women need to too. But, as John Piper notes, God doesn't call women to be frontline soldiers (and He hasn't equipped them to this task either; in fact, "the average male has a greater total muscle mass and strength than 99.9 percent of females.") Is there a gene for marital happiness? To the materialist, we are simply the sum of our parts. But the Christian knows we are more than biological computers - we are more than our genes. Government is always religious... Bob Dylan noted, we all "gotta serve somebody." As Gary DeMar explains, the question is not, whether we will bring up God in politics, but only which god? Are we going to justify our policies on the basis of them being popular? Then democracy is our god. Are we going to anchor our positions on how much money they will save? Then a balanced budget has become our god. But what might it look like if God was our God...even in politics? Mr. Indifferent (3 minutes) Here's a fun one, on kindness, to watch with the kids. ...

Assorted

Reformed Harmony: a new tool promotes friendship…and sometimes marriage

"We’ll love you until somebody else does.” This light-hearted, rather amusing slogan belongs to the Facebook phenomenon known as Reformed Harmony (hereafter RH). It is a group of Reformed Christian singles over the age of 18, including members in their 30s, 40s, and 50s, who have been introduced to one another through the technology of the Internet. It is considered by Facebook to be one of the most active sites that they have. It started as a joke 4 years ago with about 30 people, and currently brings together approximately 1,100 people from the USA, Canada, and around the world. FRIENDSHIPS, FELLOWSHIP, AND GLORIFYING GOD “RH exists,” as former member and Administrator (or Admin) Sarah Wolfe of Florida stated, “to provide friendship and fellowship to Reformed Christian singles over 18 and to glorify God.” Despite the name “Harmony,” which immediately evokes thoughts of the well-known dating website e-Harmony, Wolfe noted: The group is not a dating site. You are not there to “sell” yourself or impress anybody. You don’t just browse through available people - it’s about friendship and fellowship and supporting each other. She adds: “it’s wonderful and a blessing when two people meet on RH and get married, but it’s not by any means the only reason.” She knows of people whose deep friendships have led them to join a friend’s church or even move to another city to become roommates and build stronger godly relationships that encourage them to serve the Lord. Some find themselves in very small and isolated Reformed communities, leaving them floundering socially, even while surrounded by excellent preaching and a few families who love them. Even those who are surrounded by hundreds of other Reformed singles, sometimes find it difficult to actually connect on a deeper level. They feel too old to attend Youth Conferences and Bible Study weekends. So how can they meet like-minded Christian singles? Members of RH revel in the fact that they can find other Reformed Christian singles who are serious about their faith in Christ. Joe Tenney, of Virginia, was an Admin until he married in October 2018. He encountered singles who had bought into the devastating view that they really haven’t started their lives until they get married. He said: Our identity is not wrapped up in who we marry - it’s wrapped up in Christ, and we are all promised the wedding of Christ and the Church. In a lot of ways, RH is kind of a foolish thing, but sometimes God uses foolish things. RH accidentally hit a niche and became something that has filled a need: a safe, healthy community where people can work out their issues and hurts. No church started it; the Lord in His grace allowed this kind of ridiculous group to form that’s been used to help so many people. “Loneliness is one of the forefront struggles of single Christians in their 20s,” states Taylor DeSoto, of Phoenix, Arizona, one of the original brains and organizers of RH. And Tenney told of specific members who overcame depression and of some who returned to worshipping in church as a result of participating in RH. POSSIBLY FINDING YOUR BELOVED Some people do find their spouses through RH, as well as friendship. DeSoto states that, “While many RCS may put the thought aside verbally, the brutal reality is that getting married is definitely on their minds.” DeSoto adds: There’s just not the pool of Reformed Christians in local Reformed churches that maybe there used to be, so people end up marrying non-Reformed Christians and then having to teach them. Or arguing about the differences, one might add. DeSoto met his wife Laura, of Johnstown PA, through RH. They held “structured Skype dates” for three months, were engaged for three months, and then married. Both are in their mid-20s. The “structured” dates were partly the idea of Laura’s father, Rev. Bob McKelvey, an Orthodox Presbyterian minister in Pennsylvania. (Please see this list of 10 questions DeSoto suggested on RH that couples discuss when they are seriously considering one another.) Sarah Wolfe is another who was blessed to meet her spouse on RH. She joined this Facebook page fairly early in its 4-year history and became one of the Admins. She enjoyed building quality friendships for two years and then she hit it off with her husband David, of California, who actually met her online on his very first day on RH! The twain did meet. Both in their early 30s, their discussions grew from “Hi, welcome to RH” in April 2017 to deep chats about important subjects, to daily conversations, phone calls, and visits. They were engaged in November of 2017, married in January of 2018, and are now expecting their first child. RH statistics show that in the 4 years of its existence, thus far 85 couples have met through RH and married. The Wolfes count three couples in their own congregation. Some of the marriages have been within “local” distances, but many have crossed state and even international lines, with some people either moving to or from the United Kingdom, Netherlands, or Australia. Some couples are in their 40s or 50s, though the majority are younger. DeSoto says that most seem to prefer shorter engagement periods. He believes this works out well because the couple spends more time getting to know each other well on numerous topics and it’s more intentional than if they were local and just dating to a baseball game or dinner. HOW DID IT ALL BEGIN? So how did the group first get started? There’s a Facebook group online called Reformed Pub that was started in 2013. It’s described on its page as The place to be when you want to kick back, have a beer, and talk about the important things in life with like-minded brothers and sisters... but above all we want to see God glorified through Jesus’ name being lifted high. As of March 2019, it has nearly 21,000 members worldwide. In January 2015, a large number of single members decided to post personal ads as a joke, some of which were described as “over the top.” After a few days, the Admins suggested to these single members that perhaps they should go and make their own group. A member named J. T. Hoover took the initiative to start the group as a light-hearted endeavor, and about 30 single people joined. For the first few months, it was called Reformed Pub Harmony. Taylor DeSoto reached out to several of the Admins with his ideas, asking to be on the Admin team, and permission was granted. About 6 months later, differences of opinion with Reformed Pub regarding rules and procedures arose, and so Reformed Harmony became its own organism around December 2015. DeSoto believes he’s the one who came up with their slogan: “We’ll love you until somebody else does.” He devised many of the rules, and in many other ways shaped the culture of the group. There were often themed posts for each day, and members were encouraged to post info about themselves, to help people interact and get to know one another. Once people started meeting and getting married, the enrollment increased a lot. About 50 marriages happened within the first two years. Membership grew from 200 in the first year to 600 by the end of the second year. At 4 years, there are now approximately 1,100 members. One RH rule is that, upon marriage, the couple ceases to be members of RH. But many continue to nourish the deep friendships that they built there, but now communicating outside of RH. Admins are single members as well, to protect existing marriages. It’s not a good idea, for instance, for single women to be contacting married men with their concerns. GROUP "HANGOUTS" RH quickly expanded to include Google Hangout chat groups. These chat groups involve a member inviting others to join in on a separate discussion group on any number of shared interests, from political and theological topics to interests in food or movies. Sometimes groups are formed by geographical proximity. It is in these smaller groups that people really get to know one another as they share their thoughts and experiences. Member Laurel Bareman of Washington says: I’ve enjoyed the way the discussions have really challenged me to think about my beliefs. I’ve seen the diversity that exists among churches/peoples in the Reformed faith. RH has brought home how diverse and broad the spectrum of Reformed is. There is a solid foundation of people our age who seek to honor the Lord and follow Him. RH has provided fellowship and friendship and been a great blessing to my life. If you are seeking the fellowship and friendship, just like with a local church, you will get what you give. You have to be involved with the discussions, go to some Meetups, be involved in group chats, and put effort into it. Some people have questioned whether RH interferes with church membership. On the contrary, Sarah Wolfe stated: RH has never intended in any way to take the place of one’s own church. It’s not a church, and people don’t treat it as if it was. Women can be in leadership here too because it’s just a website. There is constant exhortation to go to your own pastor and elders, and to seek to serve in your local church.” Meetups can be organized around shared interests...including hiking! MEETING OFFLINE, IN PERSON Face-to-face “Meetups” have been a part of RH from the very beginning. Any member of RH can plan one just by setting the dates, and organizing activities, food, and sometimes lodging for those who come from afar. Meetups have been held in British Columbia, Florida, Kentucky, Georgia, New York City, California, Colorado, Washington State, and other places. It’s a “Y’all come!” sort of gathering that draws anywhere from 5 to 80 people, mostly from the USA and Canada. It’s a whole lot of fun mixed with Bible devotions and getting to know other believers. My son, Kevin Bratcher, attended his first Meetup in Phoenix, AZ with some trepidation. About 30 people were expected, of whom he had interacted with about 5 online. He said: I discovered that while we had many different backgrounds, the sense of family and fellowship was so clear to everyone there. I had hours-long conversations with people I'd never talked to before, played games, joined a local charity event with several friends, and left with a profound sense of awe and gratefulness at the common connection we had.” He added: Later Meetups reinforced these emotions, particularly when I attended them with the express intent of only making friends. Wherever you go - whether it's splitting an Airbnb with 5 men you haven't met for a conference in Atlanta, or piling 60 people into a couple homes in Seattle, or just a handful of folks for a retreat in the Grand Tetons and Yellowstone . . . you’re at home with family. Wolfe hosted three Meetups in her Florida home and attended one in New York City. Bareman said that she loved both Meetups she attended, discovering that the people she’d interacted with online “were even more amazing that I thought they would be.” She has found it to be affordable travel too, sharing costs with others. Helping to plan the Meetup with a new RH friend was a lot of fun for her and it helped to cement the friendship. Scott Vander Molen describes an RH Meetup thus: It’s like a foretaste of what life will be like on the new earth. Everyone is so welcoming and accepting of each other for who they are. You can really feel the Christian love and by the end of the weekend you feel very close to your new friends. My RH friends have really helped me to improve my attitude towards women and marriage; I’ve learned that our focus should be on friendship, and the relationship will come when God decides that it should. I had to learn that important lesson before I could find contentment in my singleness and truly be ready for marriage.” He met his fiancée Mary – who lives in South Africa – in 2018, and he adds that “RH has been a tremendous blessing to me.” A FEW CONCERNS On an average day in January 2019, there were 98 notifications on RH. These are comments that people have posted on various topics, and sometimes there are even more. If we let it, Facebook could end up taking up a lot of time, causing us to neglect service opportunities, or family, or the existing friendships in your life; but that’s a choice. To deal with the flood of RH comments some members change their Facebook settings to ensure they don’t get notified every time someone says something – instead, they can go to the RH page when desired. Sometimes there are arguments in the group, and some members shared that they didn’t want to find themselves stressing out over Internet discussions with people they didn’t even know; it didn’t seem to be a very good use of their time. Sometimes referred to as “dumpster fires,” these are the most controversial discussions, and usually draw the most comments. Some people enjoy the debates; others do not. And just like with any group, there can be silliness and pettiness, with people saying things it would have been better that they not say. And there’s a wide circle within the title of “Reformed”, so there may be differences of belief on issues such as baptism, creation, and even eschatology. That means that at times the Admins have their work cut out for them, with Wolfe describing her Administrator role as being like a part-time job. Admins will discourage guys who keep messaging any and every girl they find attractive even though the girls are not really interacting back. As Wolfe put it, “RH is not a meat market!” There are rules as to what can and cannot be posted, and members told me they feel that the Admins do a great job of stopping inappropriate posts. Early on, it was arranged that there would always be female Admins as well, because female members might feel more comfortable reporting problems to them, and sometimes even seeking counsel. When problems happen, Admins will usually begin by advising those with the problem post to stop their bad behavior, and then, if the person does not comply, he or she will be removed from membership. There was a situation, for instance, where a man was very actively pursuing two women at once without either of them knowing about the other. When it was discovered, the Admins removed him and informed the women. In another serious situation, they even contacted the member’s elders and family to report what had taken place. CONCLUSION Reformed Harmony is a connecting tool that helps Reformed Christian singles to locate like-minded people who love the Lord as sincerely as they do. Once they have found these folks, they can put in the effort necessary to build deep friendships. And for approximately 200 individuals thus far (counting currently engaged couples as well), God has used it to bring together men and women to marry and establish homes that seek to further His Kingdom. If you are single and want more information, open up a Facebook account and just type in “Reformed Harmony” in the search bar. Sharon L. Bratcher is the author of the devotional book “Soup and Buns: Nourishment From God’s Word for Your Daily Struggles” and “Bible Overview for Young Children, 2-year lesson plans.”Contact her for information at sharoncopy@gmail.com. ...

Assorted

Ready Christian answers to life's deepest questions

There’s no end of mysteries to explore in this weird, wacky, and wonderful universe. How is it that light can be both a particle and a wave? How is it possible that the complexity of a single cell surpasses that of the largest city? And how come there’s no synonym for thesaurus? Among life’s many questions there’s a small collection that garners special attention – they are the deepest and most unfathomable of them all. Or, at least to secular sorts. It turns out that God has given clear and ready answers to any who have the ears to hear. Q. Which came first, the chicken or the egg? A. The chicken. How can you have one without first having the other? But when we understand that God created everything in just six days then we can conclude that, just as He created Adam full grown, He probably started chickens off with their adult versions too. Q. If a tree falls in the forest, and there’s nobody around to hear it, does it make a sound? A. Yes. Is sound the vibrations in the air, or do those vibrations only become sound when they are heard? Before you answer, consider how there are other vibrations in the air – too low or too high for us to hear – that we consequently don’t regard as sound. However, the problem here is that the premise of the question is wrong: Christians know there is always Somebody around. Q. How did life begin? A. With a word. Evolution has no explanation for the origin of life since evolution's two mechanisms – natural selection, and random mutation – require an already living, already replicating organism to exist before they can act on it. Just as there is no possibility of selecting until there’s a pool of candidates to select from, there can be no mutation until there’s an original to mutate from. While secular sorts have no answer to give, Christians can read all about life’s origins in Genesis 1 and 2. Q. Is my glass half empty or half full? A. Half full. Nothing we have in life is deserved so if we’re given a glass that’s got water right up to the midway point we should view that gratefully, happy for the gift given. Q. If God can do anything, can He make a rock too heavy for Him to lift? A. No. God can’t do everything. Specifically, He can’t do anything contrary to His own character. That’s why He can’t ignore sin – His character won't allow it. And that's why, to offer us mercy, Jesus had to come to Earth to take our sins on Himself – God could only offer mercy in a way that still satisfied His need for justice. It would also be contrary to His character, as a God of order, to make rocks too heavy for Him to lift...or to make square circles, or any number of other nonsensical things. Q. Is there life after death? A. Yes! Unbelieving sorts will speculate about there being something after life, but Christians don’t have to. That Jesus died and rose again is the assurance of our own resurrection. He’s beaten death! Q. What is the purpose of life? A. To glorify God and enjoy Him forever. Money, fame, power, status, and even family bring only temporary joys. What Man was created for was an eternal relationship with our infinite God. **** Bonus: Did Adam have a belly button? A. No. Belly buttons are scars from our umbilical cord connection to our mothers, and since neither Adam or Eve was born, neither of them would have had this scar. Double Bonus: Who did Cain marry? A. His sister (or possibly his niece). While we aren’t supposed to marry relatives now, that prohibition came 2,000 years after Cain's time (Leviticus 18:6). So why could he marry a close relation and we can't? The explanation probably comes down to genetics. We all have genetic defects - damaged information in our DNA - but so long as we marry someone unrelated, the effects of those errors won’t generally be seen in our children, as the most serious effects of the error are likely to be countered by the corresponding and error-free section in our spouse’s genes. But close relatives may share the exact same defects, and were they to marry, their children would be more likely to have genetic diseases. This didn't apply to Adam and Eve, because they started off with perfect genes, and when their children married, they still didn’t have many errors to pass on. It was only after a couple thousand years that genetic errors would have so accumulated that close relatives had to be barred from marrying....

Assorted

Maintaining the motivation of elders and deacons

https://youtu.be/Oj29rx4ELFs The following is a rough transcript of Rev. Moesker's 45-minute presentation above. **** I've been asked to speak here and I was given some suggested topics including one about motivation.   According to the dictionary “to motivate” is to spur, or stimulate to action. Actually, there's a whole field of psychology connected with motivation. I confess I have a Costco card, and I have shopped at their stores on a number of occasions. They set up their store strategically to motivate people to buy the stuff that's in the store, and to motivate them to buy what they actually, probably don't need. Electronic stuff and jewelry are near the entrance – you’ll notice every store is the same that way. Clothing and dry goods are in the middle, with the food items toward the back. Most people go for the food items but they have to pass through all the other stuff to get there and their carts fill up with more stuff as they go on. It’s a motivation thing – it’s psychology. There's a whole field of business management that has developed theories of motivation in the work goals context. They have a list of psychological factors that can stimulate people's behavior – desires for: money, success, recognition, job satisfaction, teamwork, etc. Companies will hire motivational speakers – makes me think of the motivational speakers who said, “Whatever you do, always give 100%...unless you're donating blood.” There might be some psychology connected with the motivation of office bearers in Christ’s Church too. I wouldn’t count that out. But I’m no psychologist and I believe the topic has to be approached spiritually rather than psychologically. That doesn't make it less practical, not at all. Looking at things spiritually has always got to have practical implications. Serving the Lord concerns real life, also as office bearers. It's strange – I have a number of books for, and about, office bearers. I checked them all out for some direction for this presentation but none of those books gave practical encouragement and direction on how to stay motivated as an office bearer. So I didn't have a lot to go by. But that's what I was asked to think about. Now being an office bearer can be an emotional and spiritual rollercoaster ride. Hopefully, this presentation and discussion will be helpful for present and future office bearers as far as staying motivated in their work, and staying on task. So my approach is first, as mentioned: Consider how office bearers can become demotivated pastorally and personally. And then think about how to stay motivated, personally, and together as counsel. We’ll look at how we can help each other as office bearers too. DEMOTIVATION So we’ll look first of all at demotivation. In your pastoral work you can become demotivated. The Bible actually talks about demotivation, on the part of office bearers. The Apostle Paul talks about being anxious for the churches, and of frustration with church members, in his letters. But I think the most clear mention of office bearers becoming demotivated is in Hebrews 13 verse 17. And it was mentioned there: Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you. Consider that last line “Let them do this with joy.” Now often that word this is connected to give an account– that they give account to the Lord, not with groaning but joy – but that’s not what the this here is referring to. While it is true that office bearers have to take to heart that they have to give an account for their work to the Lord, that's not what this refers to. According to Johann Bengel – he wrote Exegetical Annotations on the New Testament– the word this dramatically refers to the leaders watching over the souls of the church members. So “let them do this with joy and not with groaning” – let them watch over the souls of the church members with joy and not with groaning. It can be that office bearers watch over the souls of those under their care with joy. They do the work – they see growth, repentance, correction, change, submission. But it can also be that they are watching over these souls with a lot of groaning. And that groaning is because they do their work and they don't see any change. They don't see growth, repentance, correction, or submission. And they can end up groaning because their work as elders or deacons is not respected, not accepted. Their bringing in, and applying of, God’s Word doesn't bear positive fruit in church members. Maybe there is a hardening of the heart even, or a refusing to listen to the correction given by deacons. In any case, there's groaning, frustration, and sadness on the part of the office bearer. That's also how John Calvin approaches this passage. He has a few interesting statements about the last part of the text where the Spirit adds for that would be of no advantage to you. Calvin says in connection with that, “nor is it a wonder how few at this time are found who strenuously watch over the Church of God.” He's referring to this text, and he says that it's no wonder that office bearers are demotivated too if they have to groan. He adds, “we suffer the punishment of our own perverseness when leaders grow cold in their duty or are less diligent then they ought to be.” In other words, if church members cause their leaders to watch over their souls with groaning, they shouldn't be surprised that those leaders aren’t motivated to look after their souls. In fact, God gives them over to those kinds of leaders. Hebrews 13 shows us that office bearers can groan and be demotivated due to dealing with disobedient unsubmissive church members. Now, it is possible for elders and deacons to do their work with joy but also groaning. In fact, Bengel says in his commentary that a truly good office bearer will actually, besides rejoicing, also groan in his work. He's going to find that he will have times he has to groan in his work – it is part of being an office bearer. I'd like to look at some of the practical things that can cause an office bearer to groan in his work. Situations we might not understand While in church office, men will meet with people who are abused, addicted, suffer from mental illness, like depression, maybe sometimes even schizophrenia, and you want to understand them to help them. But you have a hard time with that. Half the story You want to love them as the Lord’s people but they often make it hard for you, to give them care, show them love. Sometimes even though you try to win their confidence, you only get half the story of what they're dealing with, probably because they're ashamed of the whole story. That makes it very difficult to understand or support them. I always say to people when you're trying to find out what they're dealing with, it's like playing cards. You want to play cards with me but you want to give me five and you have ten, and I can't play cards that way – you have to give me the whole story. So it makes it difficult to understand and support them if they don't tell me everything. Then you keep pushing for that and then eventually they'll just refuse to talk to you anymore. They want another elder or they want other deacon to come. Sometimes church members can almost seem unpastorable – you don't know how you can help them. They seem to block you every time you want to help them. They block that. Very frustrating. Ongoing struggles Every ward usually has at least one very difficult personal or family situation or deaconal circumstance to deal with, that can claim a lot of your precious time and attention. And sometimes those difficult situations have gone on for years. You’ve spent a lot of time and effort trying to guide, to support, but things don't just seem to go forward at all. You end up completing your term in office after the three years, and maybe after a couple years you end up back in office again and it's still there. And maybe even you get it in your ward again. That can be just very, very frustrating that way. Conflict Conflict situations among church members can be extremely difficult to deal with. It's often difficult to understand what in the world is going on here; what is the big point here. Sometimes it doesn't seem like there's a good reason for a conflict but what happens is all kinds of side issues enter into the picture over time. And it becomes hard to see the forest for all the trees. It can be very hard to understand either side of a conflict like that. You can't give direction either; you try to mediate and don't want to take sides. But both sides end up thinking then that you're supporting the other side. Then conflict situations can be very difficult for office bearers to deal with. Discouraging! Denial of authority Most office bearers have experienced how people sometimes don't recognize the responsibility and authority of office given by Christ. You try to follow up on something, and you end up being accused of harassment – “you're harassing me – what don’t you leave me alone.” Then you come to the door and it’s “oh you guys.” They talk about “you guys” and so on. We all know how problematic it can be to arrange a home visit with certain families. Sometimes it can be very difficult – no time, they just can't fit you in anywhere to meet with the office bearers. Sometimes you get no respect and that can be very discouraging to as an office bearer. Fruitless meetings You start off thinking, the Lord has given me this task, but it's not accepted by other people in the congregation who you are trying to help. Consistory and council meetings aren't necessarily a night out, right? As office bearers you are required to deal with all kinds of matters, some which are difficult to make decisions about. Maybe you propose something and fellow office bearers don't see your point. You think it really important and that can be frustrating too. Possibly every time I propose something they're not in favor of that. Or a matter gets put on the council table again which has been turned down many times over the years and it seems that somebody just can't let it go. There it is again – we've dealt with that in the past and it's been rejected then, so how come it comes up again? That's frustrating. Or consistory meetings and council meetings drag on and are disorganized. It's hard to steer a discussion – that's a hard task to steer a discussion in a good way. And when it becomes disorganized, things just don't seem to want to move forward, and it drags on. Meetings that go on until midnight are difficult for office bearers. Sometimes a meeting takes a long time to get over – you might have a hard time getting to sleep afterwards. You’re mulling things over in your mind yet, and you worry about situations going on in the congregation, or in classis or even in the Federation. You think where in the world are things going? Doubt All demotivators. So that's in your work. And that can have a personal effect – I’m talking about personal demotivation. Sometimes it seems as if your work has so little effect. Then you wonder about the power of the Holy Spirit. Does He really work and change lives? You have your doubts then. And then you have to deal with those personal doubts, and cynicism. You might be thinking, I don’t know about this whole setup. Especially when your work of trying to bring about a financial or spiritual correction brings angry response and maybe causes people to stop attending church or withdrawing from church. When that happens then you almost inevitably, at first, take that personally and then you feel it reflects negatively on your work as an office bearer. It's good to ask yourself did I do my work as best as I could but you can't take that personally all the time. That becomes a really big burden, and it weighs you down. You think maybe I'm no good for this task – I work for the Lord and I don't look forward to giving account to Him for my work, as it says in Hebrews 13, that we have to give account. Guilt As an office bearer you have to deal with a lot of personal guilt. As a brother said, you have to deal with that you're never finished with your work. It's a tough thing. I had to get used to that – I was an autobody spray painter and I finished my job, and then we go to the next one. But in the Church it's never done, finished. It seems to go on and on; one issue is settled down, and then there's another one. It just keeps going on, never finished, and it seems as if it's actually a full-time job, sometimes. There's always this to-do list hanging above the heads of office bearers - I should do that, could do that. It can happen, if you are enjoying an evening at home, or time off with your family, you feel guilty because actually I should be doing that, or should be visiting there, or should be reading up on this. It can be difficult to balance family, and your task as office bearer, and not just time-wise but also brain-space wise. It's hard to balance that. Your responsibilities as office bearers seem to want to use up a lot of space in your head. ELIJAH AND MOTIVATION Now you listen to all the discouraging and frustrating things about being an elder or deacon and I mention these things not to depress you if you’re a novice right now or to discourage others who might be future office bears. No, this is just to show that the need to think about motivation because there is much that can drag down an office bearer in his work. Even though they know that they’ve been called to office by the Lord, office bearers can become demotivated and can groan a lot in the office. So they can be demotivated, and then they need to be motivated. There are examples in the Bible of church leaders who were demotivated and who were re-motivated so I'd like to use an Old Testament example this time, Elijah, after the confrontation with the prophets of Baal on Mount Carmel in 1 Kings 19. Queen Jezebel heard what he had done and she swore that she would have killed, so obviously not a whole lot changed in Israel after what happened on Mount Carmel. It was a miraculous, wonderful thing, fire came down from heaven and consumed everything on that altar and the altar itself, even though everything had been made wet, and yet it didn't impress the people to any great extent, and especially not Jezebel. So Elijah had to flee into the wilderness of Beersheba, and he sat down for under this broom tree here and he said, “It's enough Lord, it's enough. I'm done, take away my life because I'm no better than my father.” So he was feeling pretty down about his office as a prophet. Despite what happened on the mountain, there was no wave of repentance. You might remember how the Lord twice sent an angel to Elijah there in the wilderness, and brought food and water.And on the strength of that food and water, he traveled for forty days without anything else. He ended up in a cave on Mount Horeb, and the Lord told him that He was going to appear to him there. There was a great windstorm, there was an earthquake, there was fire on the mountain but the Lord was not in those things. After the fire Elijah heard a little whisper and he realized that the Lord was there in that low whisper. So he stood at the entrance to the cave and he covered his face and the Lord asked him again “What are you doing here Elijah?” And he said, “I've been very jealous for the Lord, the God of hosts, but the people of Israel have forsaken your covenant, throwing down your altars, killing your prophets with a sword, and I even I alone am left and they seek my life to take it away.” He was downright sick and tired of it. The Lord God tells me to go and anoint Hazeal king over Syria, and Jehu king over Israel and He assures him that the ungodliness of Israel would be punished in the future, and then He also adds, “Yet I would leave 7,000 in Israel, all whose knees have not bowed to Baal.” God’s Church endures So what does that tell us? That the Lord God makes sure that the Church continues. Even if it seemed that Elijah's work as office bearer wasn’t bearing any fruit at all, apparently, on the outside, the Lord was still busy gathering and keeping His Church. Article 27 of the Belgic Confession takes that incident with Elijah as evidence that God preserves his Church, even though it may look small, in the eyes of the world, because Christ is our “eternal King who cannot be without subjects.” I love that little statement: “the eternal King who cannot be without subjects.” That's something to think about after Ascension Day. He reigns and therefore the Church will not die. It will not be wiped out. He will keep His Church. And the fact that the Lord wasn't in the storm, that powerful storm with a mighty earthquake, or the dangerous fire, but in that small whisper, says something about how the Lord works. It is about the Holy Spirit, not you So how does this passage help with motivation for office bearers in their task? When your work to a bring and apply the Word of God doesn't seem to show much effect, remember that it is the Lord who gathers, preserves, and defends His Church by His Spirit and Word. We confess that in Heidelberg Catechism Lord Day 21. The Lord does that. Calvin, when he talks about the offices, emphasizes that too, and then he says, the Lord works via small, sinful men. He's just amazed that the Lord uses people who are no different than other people in their human nature, their sinful human nature, that He uses them for His purpose. In other words, you can't give people faith. You can't make people repent. As office bearers, you can't do that no matter how hard you try, no matter which techniques you might think of using. People come to faith and repentance only through the working of the Holy Spirit through the Word and your task and is to bring that Word, to apply it to the best of your ability. You need to leave the outworking of what you bring to the Holy Spirit. You can't do the Spirit’s work for Him, no matter how much you'd love to do that. You'd love to change this person but the Spirit has to do that, and you know that He works quietly in His time via the Word. So that's what you need to focus on – bringing applied Scripture to the people in your care. I want to emphasize that: the Word is your tool. It is the only tool that you have to use, and to the best of your ability then. That passage in the Old Testament shows that office bearers have to accept too that this word is a two-edged sword. It cuts two ways. It has a two-fold effect when you bring it. It can bring to faith and repentance and growth, but that same Word can also bring to hardening of heart, to alienation, to hostility. God has chosen to use sinful people to work His will Sometimes that can bring elders and deacons to feelings of frustrations and inadequacy, as we mentioned. You lay it out for somebody as best you can – it's right here in the Bible, you know, and, logically, you show it to them. This is how that works out. And they just don't want to accept it; they just don't want to see it. And after the meeting with that person, you drive home and you think I should've said this or I could’ve said that and I could've done this different and whatever else. Just leave your imperfect work, leave it up to the Spirit. As long as you have opened the Bible and let the Spirit work, and you never know how that can happen. The Spirit knows God's elect from eternity already, and He uses the imperfect words of God's office bears to work out His purpose in His time to salvation or to condemnation. Another thing that passage about Elijah in 1 Kings 19 shows beautifully is, it can be hard for an office bearer to see gross sins taking place in the Church, and ongoing resistance to the admonitions of the Bible. I think he can be greatly encouraged, if he figures, well, I've done my best and I have to leave that in the Lord's hands. The Lord came to Elijah in that little tiny whisper. It's not my might, but by his Spirit that He works. God gave you a helpmeet I also think – I haven't touched on that – but I think office bearers, when they go out, can be greatly encouraged if they know that when they are doing their best out there, that their wife is also at home and able to keep the home fires burning. Because that's a hard thing to figure out, how much can I be away from home? You're preoccupied with other things, and a supportive wife is a huge motivator for an office bearer too. God uses Church discipline Elders should be willing to admonish and apply biblical discipline where there's obvious and continuing disobedience or indifference to what the Lord says in His Word. Do your best to understand and empathize with the person you're dealing with. Certainly, sometimes people might be dealing with a mental disability, or mental illness – you have to give them more time and leeway. Every person is different, every person is unique, but if there outright continuous rejection of any part of the Word, then elders should not be afraid to apply discipline on the basis of that Word. Admonishing and applying church discipline is ultimately a redemptive act; it's calling them back to the Lord. And when these things drag on and on, it's demotivating for office bearers, for a consistory. Discipline applied is very motivating too, when it's applied properly. Then it's very motivating. Not that you like to apply it. But applying it when there's continued walking in unrepentance can be a relief and encouragement for office bearers, and it's evidence that the consistory is really watching over the souls of the members of the congregation. God gave you your office Finally, office bearers are chosen by the congregation and they're appointed by the council and they're given their offices by God Himself. It says in the questions addressed to the elders and deacons at their ordination in the form for ordination: “First, do you feel in your hearts that God Himself through his congregation has called you to these offices?” God Himself, calls elders and deacons to their respective offices. Maybe a brother thinks, “that sounds kind of high-minded. You know, I've been asked to do this work and so I'm doing it but don't make more of it than it is.” Whereas modesty is good – I understand that – when a man says “I do” to the questions of the form then he has to accept that God has given them that responsibility to watch over the souls of the people under his care. God will equip you And nobody should live in continual disobedience to his Word. Nobody should live in continual need without having mercy shown, uncomforted, and uncared for in the congregation. And if God has called you, He promises that He will stand by you when you work. The more you do your best in office, the more you'll discover He does that too. I have to say that sometimes you have those times of cynicism, that you think is God really working there? But when you dive into things and you push through and you realize yeah He is at work. I can accept that. I see that. He works in tiny increments; He doesn't work necessarily very quickly, all at once, changed hearts – very, very small increments. You mentioned, sometimes you feel inadequate about stepping into the office again, being ordained. I read somewhere about somebody being ordained to office. He said to the minister, “I feel like a soldier and I’ve been put on the front line but I don't have a gun.” And then the minister said, “The Lord will give you the gun you need.” Some points there to think about. That that's more about personal motivation – things to think about you are personally doing your work to keep you going. NEHEMIAH AND MOTIVATION Also, as to counsel motivation, I mentioned long and disorganized meetings as demotivators for elders and deacons. Poor cooperation, poor organization, in a consistory are a discouragement. My wife and I are reading through the book of Nehemiah at this time. Nehemiah was really instrumental in rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem after the exile. The temple had already been built, partly. The walls were still in ruins. He was cupbearer of King Artaxerxes. After hearing about sad state of affairs in Judah, he got the king's permission to go back to Jerusalem and rebuild the city and its fortifications. A lot of resistance came from non-Jews like Sanballat the Horonite, and Tobias the Ammonite. But Nehemiah got the leaders of the Jews together on the same page so that despite the threats and resistance they got together and rebuilt the walls of Jerusalem in 52 days. That was a huge project in 52days – now the walls were only half the height they were before. But 52 days for those people. He implemented quite a few reforms – if you go through the book of Nehemiah – including the provisions for the temple, and the priests, and the hallowing of the Sabbath Day, the feast days again. The thing is, Nehemiah had to get the leaders on board every time again. We know of one instance where he didn't get it them on board and they didn't join in rebuilding the wall. But for the rest he was able to get them organized – their names are all listed in the book of Nehemiah, at various times. Also, when they renewed the covenant with the Lord the leaders were there. And then, because of resistance from outside and even from within there had to be ongoing encouragement to keep the building and the reorganization going. It is wonderful to read how so many were able to keep working at the rebuilding of Jerusalem, and the reformation of worship. Imagine how those leaders had to keep encouraging and also admonishing each other, while Tobias the Ammonite and Sanballat the Horonite were resisting them. They had to work with weapons at the same time as they were building the walls. Brotherly admonition So yeah, that's an encouragement to each other. How do we encourage each other to keep building? Every consistory and council has a matter of censura on the agenda – censura morum or censura fraterna, which I think is the better term: brotherly admonition or brotherly censure. It's right near the end of the agenda usually. That's in line with article 73 of the church order, which says the following: The ministers, elders, and deacons shall mutually exercise Christian censure and shall exhort and kindly admonish one another with regards to the execution of their office. So every meeting of officer bearers needs to include the item of censura. Also the deacons’ meetings need to include that item on the agenda. I'm afraid that this is underutilized in our churches. I have to admit, myself too, that you get to the end of a meeting and you open your eyes and see the brothers there and you think, okay let's just get this over with. All the important stuff has been dealt with, and this is just an extra thing on the agenda. But it isn't. At the end of a meeting, you might not want to get into exhorting and admonishing one another with regard to the execution of their offices anymore. But it's an important part of motivating one another to the work of the offices. You get a good leadership and the work gets done as happened in Nehemiah’s day because Nehemiah had to go there to those leaders and he had to tell them every time “this is what we need to do” and some of them doubted him sometimes, but no, he would tell them “this is what we need to do.”  It was a form of cenusura. This article 73 ought to be used to encourage one another in the execution of office, especially when there are difficult matters to deal with, and a brother is having a hard time. Then is the time to speak up: “Are you having a difficult time with this brother?” Can we time to redistribute the tasks in in the consistory or among the deacons? Or it is a time to kindly admonish one another if it was apparent that a brother isn't fulfilling his task as he should. Sometimes that needs to be done. I know one council we had an office bearer who was just busy with something else – he was getting some instruction, going to classes, and he just wasn’t on task. We had to remind him, this is your first task, and you might have to put other things on hold for a while. It can be difficult to talk about it, but it's a matter of watching over the souls and the well-being of the congregation members because that's what you're responsible for together… together as consistory and as council. Brotherly encouragement I believe censura fraterna could be made use of in every meeting as a means to motivate all the office bearers in the duties of your offices. And also to exhort. You can raise encouraging points: “Brothers I think we need to think about this” or “Let’s keep this up” “Let's do this” or “Let's look at that.” In fact, I would recommend that a council on the basis of this article of the church order could do what I noticed some of the Free Reformed churches of Australia do. Those churches set aside time at four meetings a year for an evaluation of the work of the minister, elders, and deacons. They have four sessions and they evaluate the work of the office bearers. They have a list of what they deal with in each of those four sessions and I believe that such an evaluation of the work being done by the office bearers would help the brothers stay on task, and encourage them to fulfill their task too, and motivate them. I could send a copy of those evaluation questions to each council if you wish. I kind of separated them – they have a handbook I think a handbook is a beautiful thing for organized work at in a council – but they also have the list of those questions that they ask in each of these four sessions. Sermon evaluation is part of it – I think that could be separate – it also covers the work of the elders and the deacons and the minister too. So I could, if you wish, sent that to each council. CONCLUSION That's my presentation. I hope that I've been able to give present and future office bearers some things to think about in order to stay motivated. We can discuss that here yet. The ultimate motivation, though, is of course what the Apostle Paul says motivated him and his fellow workers in their task as bringers of the gospel. In 2 Cor. 5 he mentions that. He's always defending his office, by the way, to the Corinthians. He wrote three letters to the Corinthians: first Corinthians, and then he wrote a sorrowful letter which we don't have anymore, and then he wrote 2 Corinthians – what we have is 2 Corinthians, which is actually 3 Corinthians. But he wrote those three letters and Corinthians is a difficult situation for him. There was a lot of things happening in Corinth. It was a tough, tough haul for the Apostle. And he had to keep encouraging them, and also the brothers in discipline. Remember 1 Cor. 5, there was somebody living in sin in the church there, and living with his father's wife. We don’t know the exact situation but he said that person needs to be put out of the Church, and he has to tell the office bearers in Corinth, put them out, because this one sin is like yeast – it leavens the whole lump. Everybody's affected by that in the church. When you look at that church, it's like a basket of apples. One rotten apple in there will affect all the other apples too eventually. So he tells them that they need to do that. So there were a lot of issues. There was a lot of strife in the church – groups against one another. So this is nothing new, all the things that you can deal, all that's has been going on. It's the fight against the devil who wants to destroy the Church all the time. In 2 Cor. 5, the Apostle Paul says, I'm not commending myself and the other office bearers to the Corinthians – not boasting about themselves and saying you have to listen to us. No, Paul says in verses he says in verses 14 and 15, “for the love of Christ compels us.” That that's the biggest motivator of all. “The love of Christ compels us” because, he adds, we have concluded this “that one has died for all.” See congregation, the Lord has died for these people. “So that those who live might no longer live for themselves, but for Him who for their sake died and was raised.” And that’s your task. That they live for Him. And that’s your calling as office bearers – that you exhort your people and admonish them to no longer live for themselves but for Him who for their sake died and was raised. So the love of Christ is the ultimate motivator that we need to keep in mind as office bearers. If we know his love for his people we will want to make sure that we watch over their souls. Thank you. Rev. Jack Moesker is Minister Emeritus to the Owen Sound Canadian Reformed Church....

Assorted

On tidying up with and without Marie Kondo

Marie Kondo has been famous in Japan for almost a decade, but only gained fame in North America in 2014 when an English translation of her book The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up was released here. Then at the beginning of 2019 Netflix released an 8-episode series Tidying Up With Marie Kondo, and since then her name has been everywhere. I started watching the series mostly out of sheer curiosity. I saw articles floating around the Internet back when her first book came out, and again when the Netflix show aired, so I decided to see what all the hype was about. After two episodes, here’s what I learned. Don't hoard I’m really glad I watched this show at this particular season in my life. I just got married a few months ago, and I am in the fun and overwhelming process of setting up our home. I’m organizing, decorating, and decluttering. I am making a lot of decisions that are going to impact the way that our family is run in the future. I can so easily see myself accumulating a house full of stuff over the years and then feeling overwhelmed. Getting to step into the lives of the people on the show for a few minutes was a wake-up call for my own life! I want my possessions to serve me, not for me to serve them – that’s why I don’t want to have too many things, disorganized things, or be a slave to the idea of a perfect home. Things really do spark joy Marie Kondo says her tidying approach is inspired in part by the Shinto religion. So when she speaks about keeping possessions that “spark joy” that might sound a little too mystic. But some things really do spark joy and that’s okay! God gives us good gifts to enjoy. Every morning, I make my espresso and drink it from mugs that I got from Target. They are from Joanna Gaines’ Hearth and Hand collection. I get a little spark of joy every time I get to use one.  God delights in our delight, just as we delight in a small child’s joy over a silly toy. We don’t care much about the toy itself, but we love taking part in their delight. Folding I learned how to fold my shirts in a really cool way, so they all stand upright in my drawer. Boom. Be grateful As a Christian, I have to evaluate what Marie does through God’s perspective. I don’t believe in “greeting” a house, thanking items of clothing, or even living as minimalistically as possible. These ideas come from Marie’s worldview of Eastern mysticism. However, I still found those scenes powerful. Marie thanked an inanimate shirt, with no ability to hear or appreciate her (Ps. 135:17). But what she got right, and what I too often forget, is that a shirt is something to be grateful for. What would it look like for me to thank God for the house I live in? What would it look like for me to thank God in prayer when I throw something out? Gratitude changes our hearts from feeling discontented when we have to leave Joanna’s cute home décor at Target, to feeling grateful for the things God has abundantly given. As Charles Spurgeon said: “It is not how much we have, but how much we enjoy, that makes happiness.” Love the Giver Taking that idea a step further, we need to lift our eyes to the One who has given us these gifts. What if God gives you these gifts as a reminder of His love, to draw your affections to Him? John Piper says that God gives us good gifts… “to be with us as our all-satisfying Treasure and Father and Friend and Savior.” We all would cringe at a story of a man who proposed to a woman, and the woman’s response was to fawn over the ring and never thank and love the giver! We get that concept on a human level, but do we believe it about God? Pray for what I need One of the things I want to grow in, is the discipline of praying for items I need. Instead of having constant feelings of want, what if I learned to wait expectantly for God to provide? I would not only be more grateful for the things God provides, but I would be more likely to link those blessings to the Giver Himself. As Augustine once said, “God could have bestowed these things upon us without our prayers, but He wished that by our prayers, we should be taught from where those benefits come.” Rachel Tenney and her husband blog at bytesizedtheology.com where a version of this article first appeared. It is reprinted here with permission....

Assorted

The good lie? Calvin vs. Luther

During World War II, when my dad was just three, the Nazis came to his house looking for my grandfather. My grandmother, in a very convincing fashion, told them they had just missed him, and that he had headed out to the next house a quarter mile or so away. Well, my dad knew this simply wasn’t true and so he tried to be helpful and let everyone know where my grandfather really was. All he got for his efforts was a hard cuff to the head from my grandmother who, fortunately, cut him off in time. But that left him confused, as he realized my grandmother wasn’t just mistaken but was actually lying to the Nazis. And as every little kid knows, lying is always wrong. Or is it? Is there ever a time when lying can be the right thing to do? Most people seem to think so, and would, like my grandmother, lie shamelessly in a similar situation. At first glance, Scripture seems to back up this position. Rahab and the midwives In Exodus 1:15-22, for example, Pharaoh commands the Hebrew midwives to kill all the male Israelite babies as they’re being born. The midwives refuse. When Pharaoh asks them why they disobeyed they lie to him and tell him that the Hebrew women were so strong they gave birth before the midwives even got there. The midwives are then rewarded by the Lord with families of their own. Another relevant passage occurs in Joshua 2. Two Israelite spies hide on the roof of Rahab the harlot’s house. When the king of Jericho asks her if she knows where the spies are, Rahab lies to him and tells him that he just missed the spies. She too, is rewarded by the Lord. So the midwives lied, and Rahab lied, and they were both rewarded. Case closed? Not so fast! Calvin vs. Luther In his commentaries, John Calvin writes about both these passages and insists the women were rewarded despite their lies, not for them. As he puts it, “those who hold what is called a dutiful lie to be altogether excusable, do not sufficiently consider how precious truth is in the sight of God…..God is truth.” While it might seem the women are rewarded for their lies that isn’t actually what the Bible says. In Exodus 1:21 it states that: “because the midwives feared God he gave them families.” Their fear of God was the basis for their reward. In Hebrews 11:31 Rahab is praised for giving “friendly welcome to the spies” and for her faith, but her lie is not mentioned. James 2:25 similarly praises Rahab for receiving the spies and sending them back another way, and again her lie is not mentioned. In fact, nowhere in Scripture does it ever say the women were rewarded for their lies. It’s worth noting, however, that nowhere in Scripture are the women ever admonished for their lies either. And while Calvin thinks lying is always wrong, another Reformation heavyweight disagreed. Martin Luther once told a supporter, “What harm could it do, if a man told a good lusty lie in a worthy cause and for the sake of the Christian Church?” Now, the context of this statement was a messy, complicated situation, and, Luther's political and religious battles also made it pressure-packed. So Luther was dealing with a lot and it might not represent the man at his best. A key supporter had pressed Luther to sanction his bigamous marriage and Luther agreed, justifying it on the basis of there being no explicit condemnation of bigamy in the Bible. But the law of the time made it a capital crime. So when this second marriage was discovered, Luther urged the man, Philip of Hesse, to lie about it...for the sake of the Church. This is quite the contrast to Calvin’s hard-line stance. Two thoughts So can lying ever be good? We can say confidently that 99 percent of the time it will not be. Luther's lying certainly wasn't and got him in a lot of trouble. Though this lie was supposed to do no harm, it cost him supporters and credibility. We can learn from Luther’s life and see his approach to lying is not one we want to imitate. At the same time, I think lying might sometimes be necessary and my grandmother did the right thing. There are two different reasons. First, the Ninth Commandment forbids bearing false witness against our neighbor, and I do wonder if God stated it just so for a reason. My grandmother was lying, yes, but not to the harm of her neighbor – she was, in fact, bearing false witness for her neighbor. This, too, was what the Hebrew midwives and Rahab did. They lied, but in the service of their neighbor. A more current example of this would be the undercover work of the Center for Medical Progress (CMP), where they exposed that Planned Parenthood clinics were selling aborted babies' body parts. This undercover work involved CMP members posing as interested buyers and secretly videotaping the conversations. Lying was involved, but this was also done, not against, but for their unborn neighbors. Of course, the Ninth Commandment isn't the only condemnation of lying in the Bible. But if we read the others in the context of the specific wording of the Ninth Commandment, then there is an argument to be made for this type of lying done in service to our neighbor, and, in the case of the CMP, even done in the service of uncovering the truth. (Luther justified his lie as being in the service of something good – the good of the Church. But this was very different; this was only an excuse. Hesse had done wrong and Luther was involved in it. The lying here would be done, not in service of the neighbor, or truth, but simply to cover-up evil done.) Second, I think there is an argument to be made that when my grandmother lied it was the Nazis who were at fault. They put her in a situation in which she had to break one of God’s commands. She had to choose between either her husband’s life or the truth, between God’s command to love her neighbor as herself, or God’s admonishment not to lie. One of God’s laws was going to be broken. And by putting her in that situation, the Nazis were the ones sinning. We said earlier that Rahab and the midwives were never commended for their lies, nor admonished for them. You’d almost expect something to be said, one way or the other, and yet there is nothing. Could that be because the lies weren’t really theirs? Will Pharaoh have to bear the responsibility for the midwives’ lie, and will the King of Jericho pay the penalty for Rahab’s lie? Maybe Calvin was right and lying is always sinful...but God may not always hold the liar responsible for the lie. If there was sin involved when my grandmother misdirected the Nazis, then I think it is these Germans soldiers who will be called to account for the lie....

Assorted

The Bible and Alcoholics Anonymous

The following is a transcript of a Feb. 21, 2016 Truth in Love podcast produced by the Association of Certified Biblical Counselors (ACBC) and used here with permission. ***** Dr. Heath Lambert: Addiction is a common problem, in fact, for me it has been more than a common problem. My mother who died several years ago battled alcohol addiction for most of her life; she was enslaved to alcohol for over twenty years. As a little boy on up into my teens, I have been to dozens and dozens and dozens of meetings of Alcoholics Anonymous (AA). I am thankful for all the good things that AA brought into my Mom’s life to cause her ultimately to stop drinking, but it raises the question, what is a biblical response to addiction? What is a biblical understanding of AA? To help us address this very important issue, I have invited to the podcast this week, Mark Shaw. Mark is the Executive Director of Vision of Hope and a pastor at Faith Church in Lafayette, Indiana. He is also an ACBC certified counselor and is the author of The Heart of Addiction. Mark, we are glad you are with us and as we think through this issue of addiction and AA, the word addiction is really not a word that we find in the Scriptures. How should Christians think biblically about that idea? Mark Shaw: I think words are very important and they are like signposts; they point us in a direction. I think about 1 Corinthians 2:13 that says, And we impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual truths to those who are spiritual. So with biblical language in regards to words like “addiction,” – I use that in my book title – and words like “relapse” and “alcoholism”; I use those words sometimes to help people know what the problem is. Then, when I write about it in my books like The Heart of Addiction I talk about a biblical, habitual sin nature problem and one of idolatry and of sin rather than as the world characterizes addiction. Dr. Lambert: How does the world characterize addiction that is different than what the Bible understands as a habitual sin? Shaw: These words are signposts and so they point people, I think, to a disease outside of themselves; to a problem that is not me, it is not really who I am, it is my disease. It is this thing outside of them rather than recognizing it as their own sinful problem that they need Christ to forgive them of and to begin the transformation process in their own hearts. Dr. Lambert: Ok, so if that is what a biblical understanding of addiction is, then help us understand Alcoholics Anonymous; what is AA? Shaw: AA is a program that started in the 1930s by a couple of guys: Dr. Bob and Bill Wilson. They started this program and really watered down some biblical teaching and biblical truth; no other way to say it than they just watered it down to make it more appealing to other people. So, you will hear some people who say that there are biblical truths in AA and in the organization’s Big Book, and that kind of thing, which undoubtedly are true; there are some biblical truths there but they don’t go far enough. For example, one is that you admit that you are an alcoholic or you admit that you have a problem. Admission is good but confession is what the Bible says we should do. That is admission plus taking it the next step further of confessing it to a holy God that you have sinned against Him, that you need Christ’s forgiveness, and that you need this transformation to work in your heart by the Holy Spirit. There are words that they use that are good like “admission” and “making amends” and that kind of thing, but biblical truths are more excellent. Biblical truths point to the whole wisdom of God and so I think half-truths in AA can be dangerous for people. Dr. Lambert: Ok, so let’s talk about that for a little bit because there are going to be a lot of people listening to this podcast who have had some kind of experience with AA. This is an organization that has affected and impacted untold millions of people. I mentioned at the top of the podcast that my mother went to AA for years and years and years. I have been in more AA meetings than I know how to count. “Keep coming back, it works.” “It works if you work it.” “One day at a time.” I have been there; I know the stuff. I am thankful, as many who are listening to this are thankful for the good fruit that has come into the lives of people through their interaction with AA. Yet, as biblically minded Christians, we want to have concerns about AA. Why should biblically minded Christians be concerned about AA? Shaw: AA sets itself up as a spiritual program. So right there I have a moment of pause; ok this is a spiritual program, but if you read the Big Book and what it teaches, the only higher powers that it mentions are like an enlightenment and something other than Jesus. By the very definition of the program it is a higher power of your own choosing, well, that is the very definition of idolatry. If I can choose a higher power, then I can make anything my higher power and that is idolatry. Those are super huge concerns from my perspective about being careful to send people to this so-called spiritual program that says any god will do; we know there is only one true God. Then when you go to meetings, and you have been, they say things like, “we are spiritual people, but those people who go to church, they are religious people.” “We are spiritual they are religious.” It is characterizing you and me as though we are Pharisees; we are the rule-followers without the compassion and love of Christ. That is just unfair. My concern for biblical counselors is when you send people to these programs, don’t assume that this is a Christian program and that the teachings and the writings – the Twelve Traditions, the Twelve Promises, the Twelve Steps – are going to point them to Christ because, as I said in the beginning, the words that they choose really point people away from Christ to more of a medical solution and to more of just a worldly, secular mindset. Those are some of the dangers and concerns that I have with the program. Dr. Lambert: Many Christians have come to see that there are imperfections and significant problems in AA and so there have been efforts to try to rehabilitate AA with some kind of Christianized version; we think of programs like Celebrate Recovery. Should Christians try to rehabilitate or rescue Alcoholics Anonymous by getting rid of the bad parts and trying to insert some Christian elements into it? Shaw: Yeah, I had a friend once tell me, “When does a lie, ever added to truth, make the truth better, and when does the truth, ever added to a lie, make the lie into pure truth?” Well, it doesn’t happen. So, I like to start with truth, I like to start with the Scriptures, I like to proclaim the excellencies of Christ and point people to the riches of the Bible. I understand there are well-meaning people that are in these programs and they are doing their best and maybe it is all that is out there in their minds. I would rather just start with teaching Scripture, teaching the Word, teaching about idolatry, sin, ruling heart issues and address those matters with these people who struggle with addiction rather than using programs that kinda mix them; the world's teaching with the truth of God’s Word. I don’t think oil and water mix, I don’t think it can be done; it confuses people and it may lead them down the wrong path. Dr. Lambert: So I mentioned that my mom went to AA. In my memory as a little boy, I think she started going to AA about the time I was seven and finally was sober for what would turn out to be the rest of her life by the time I was twelve. So it took about five years for the things that were working in AA to be able to take hold. I am very thankful for that. When she went to the last rehab center they all said she was at death’s door; she nearly drank herself to death. It was interesting because from the time I was twelve to the time I was twenty-five, my mom was a miserable person. She was what her friends in AA called “a dry drunk.” She was angry; she was sad; she was promiscuous. She was one of just the nastiest people I have ever met. She was able to keep a job, she was able to keep a roof over her head unlike when she was drinking, but she wasn’t a better person. In fact, me and my brothers use to seriously wish that she would go back to drinking because you could at least live with her. When she wasn’t drunk you couldn’t live with her when she was this way. The reason I mention that is because what happened when I was twenty-five was I share the gospel with my mother for the umpteenth time...but she believed. She repented of her sins and believed, and heart change began to happen. She began to be a qualitatively different person. So for me it was this powerful demonstration – I am thankful for the good things that AA did, but really AA didn’t take my mom very far; it taught her to go to hell more efficiently. It cleaned up her life but she was still going to hell; she was not a changed person. It was the power of Jesus Christ in the Word of God that really brought her the rest of the way. What is it that the Bible adds that is so superior to the Twelve Steps? Shaw: Well, the Bible talks about our sin, our need for Christ, and that the transformation process is progressive; that we become like Christ. You know, transformation, we have been transformed in justification, we are being transformed and in sanctification, we will be transformed in glorification and in the AA program, in the Twelve Steps, you won’t hear anything about Jesus Christ, you won’t hear anything about confession of sin. You admit you are wrong but you don’t confess sin, certainly not to a holy God, because you are picking a god of your own choosing and of your own understanding. If I choose God, then who is really God? It is me; I am in that position of authority. So the Bible gives us lots of biblical truth that moves us and grows us in a deeper way and in an eternal way rather than the Twelve Step program. Which, I agree has some helpful teaching and some things in it that can really help people to be clean and sober, but our goal is not to be clean and sober, our goal is to be like Jesus for God’s glory and that part is missing in the program of Alcoholics Anonymous. Mark Shaw is the author of "The Heart of Addiction" and "Addiction-Proof Parenting." This article first appeared in the Sept. 2016 issue....

Assorted

...but I have a couch

Rosaria Butterfield's The Gospel Comes With A House Key came highly recommended, and after reading it I understand why. Rosaria is honest and insightful. She shares examples of hospitality gleaned from her own experiences, from feeding popsicles to the neighborhood children, to squeezing as many people as possible into their home on a snowy Sabbath when church was canceled. It seems that there are extra people in the Butterfield home so often that they expect to see non-family members at their dinner table and regularly make too-large meals to accommodate the guests. Upon finishing the book I felt inspired to be more hospitable, to invite all my neighbors over for chili and Bible reading. So I put down the book and looked up – up at the small kitchen/living room of my one-bedroom apartment, and my heart sank because there's no way I could fit fifty people into my home, and this truth became incredibly clear: I cannot do hospitality like the Butterfields. So what do you do, when you feel convicted and inspired to obey God but you just don't know how to do it? You pray. Well, I prayed, and as I sat on my couch, asking God how to do hospitality for Him, a new concept came to me. There is a reason I cannot do hospitality like the Butterfields. God has not put me in a house with a husband and given me the occupation of a stay-at-home, homeschooling mom. He has put me by myself in a one-bedroom apartment with a schedule that requires me to work at least two evenings a week. In short, I can't do hospitality like the Butterfields because I'm not a Butterfield. But God's command to be hospitable does not say "be hospitable like the Butterfields" (nor does Rosaria say that in her book) but simply "show hospitality" (1 Peter 4:9). The question we all have to answer is how? Perhaps the most helpful and practical thing to do is to look around and recognize what you have, and then be intentional about using what you do have to obey God. For example, I don't have a large space, but I do have a couch. So, I now invite women to come share a pot of tea and sit on my couch and talk. That couch is just an ordinary, everyday thing, but it has become a tool to enhance the Kingdom of God. If it could talk it would tell you stories that would make you weep and laugh and weep again. When we take the daily things God has given us and deliberately use them to serve Him, they cease being plain objects and start being tools consecrated to generate heavenly treasures. We get intimidated by hospitality thinking that it has to be big and fancy. It doesn't. It can be as simple as Oreo cookies and water, along with ears that listen. It can involve folding laundry and making soup, along with ears that listen. It can be shown around a campfire in your backyard or on your front patio or around your kitchen table or sitting on the floor…with ears that listen. People don’t care much where you are or what you serve them, as long as you prove yourself to be a safe person that they can share their lives with. Sharing life usually doesn't happen over the first cup of coffee, but it's a beginning, and we'll never get anywhere if we don't start. Hospitality requires you to be intentional and loving and available, and it needs to be shown to fellow saints and neighbors and the least. Jesus showed hospitality by making people sit on the grass and by divvying up five loaves and two fish among them (Luke 9:10-17). His first concern wasn't physical comfort or meeting social expectations, but to show people the Father. By His Spirit, may we follow His example and bring the living Savior to our dying world....

Assorted

Song of Songs (A Christine Farenhorst Christmas story)

Where were you when I laid the earth's foundation? Tell me, if you understand. Who marked off its dimensions? Surely you know! Who stretched a measuring line across it? On what were its footings set, or who laid its cornerstone – while the morning stars sang together and all the angels shouted for joy? – Job 38:4-7 Chapter 1 There are innumerable, worthy symphonies which have been composed over the ages. Think of Beethoven's Eroica symphony, Handel's Pastoral in his great work The Messiah, Mendelsohn's Scottish symphony, Haydn's Clock symphony, and many other amazingly wonderful works of music. But the oldest and most beautiful of all symphonies is often forgotten. Entitled Ephesians 1, it was written by the Trinity. An orchestration wrought before the beginning of time, it is a harmony par excellence. Its arrangement, which is found in the Holy Book, sings of the chosen ones, the ones who are blessed in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ. Its first performance took place in eternity. Preludes resound. **** When little Marsha Tennison enthusiastically raised her hand towards the ceiling to ask a question, even her thin pigtails danced with earnestness. “Pigtails,” Jason Brook mused, even as he nodded his head that she might speak, was a strange term. Little Marsha was anything but a piglet. The wispy curls which escaped from both her red barrettes were auburn; red freckles jumped about on her cheeks; and her bright, blue eyes were filled with joy at being allowed to talk. "If the stars," the child began clearly in a well-modulated voice, "are the work of God's fingers, then He must be really big. But my eyes are not big enough to see all of the stars at night." She stopped for a moment and caught her breath before continuing. "I was thinking that it would be a wonderful thing if you could catch a bus and climb up into the sky to get closer to the stars. You know, like Jacob's ladder." Her voice petered out. Some of the children were giggling. The sound subdued her somewhat. "We will see God, I know," she added in a much lower tone, "when we die." Samantha, one seat over from Marsha, gasped audibly. She was a sweet child too, but one steeped into supposing that a person could climb into heaven on a Ten Commandments ladder, certainly not on a bus resembling a Jacob's ladder. It was well-nigh three thirty and almost time to go home. Bible was the last subject on the agenda. "It's a good thought, Marsha," Jason encouraged "And anyone who has ever looked at the multitude of stars at night will understand what you were saying." Marsha beamed and settled back in her desk. She held one of her long, thin braids between the fingers of her right hand. A trusting eleven, as were most of the children in his Bible class, she was a dreamer. Jason smiled at the sea of upturned faces. Half of the faces were focused on him; the other half were focused on the clock. "If any of you think God is small, then surely you will not expect Him to be able to do great things. But if you think, or rather know, that He is big, " he added, "and that the stars are the work of His fingers, then you will believe He can do mighty things. When we die," he went on, "we will see Him as He is. Even though we can't understand how that will be, Marsha, we know it is true because the Bible tells us so." Samantha raised her hand and spoke quickly, almost before he could nod permission. "But God is not a person, pastor Brook, so how can anyone think of Him as, well, as just plain big? Isn't that wrong?" "Well, you are right in one way, Samantha. God Almighty is not a person as we are, although we should never forget that He took on our flesh in the Person of Jesus Christ. I think though, that what Marsha meant by her question was that God is mighty beyond what we can physically see and understand? I think she tried to say," and here he looked straight at Marsha who moved her head up and down vigorously all the while clasping one of her brown braids, "that it is amazing that the stars which are so high above our heads, were formed by the words of God's mouth and that the Bible actually calls the stars the work of His fingers. And how can it be possible that we, little and sinful people that we are, will eventually be able to see such a mighty and holy God." Marsha blushed. They were fine words, the words of pastor Brook. She felt them inside but could not always iterate them clearly. But he had read her question rightly. Those were matters she thought about a lot. She would like to ask him to explain more things, but she dare not ask them now lest Samantha criticize that as well. Perhaps later. Her teacher winked at her and she blushed again. "We have a very mighty God, Marsha," he added, "and He does not mind what we ask, as long as we ask questions on our knees, full of reverence." "Can we ask Him anything?" Samantha suddenly said, not even raising her hand. "Yes," Jason responded quietly and confidently, "anything at all as long as we ask sincerely and according to what He wills." Another hand shot up. This time it was Penny, a twelve-year-old going on eighteen. When she had been given permission to speak, her truculent voice struck the wooden desks with a certain amount of bravado. "Well, I'd like to ask Him to give you a wife, pastor Brook." A stillness descended on the classroom. Little Marsha stopped fidgeting with her braid and anxiously scanned her teacher's face for his reaction. Samantha turned around to raise her eyebrows at Penny. But Penny, unperturbed, went on. "I'd like to ask Him to give you a wife who doesn't mind that you limp. You need some looking after and your mother is getting older. Besides, everyone says a pastor shouldn't be a bachelor." Jason held up his hand at this point to stop the inappropriate waterfall of words gushing out of Penny's mouth. He smiled at her even as he grimaced inside. "Thank you, Penny, for your concern. That's very kind of you." Everyone stared at him - the girls sympathetically and the boys uneasily. He closed in prayer and then they trooped out. **** It was mid-June and nearing summer vacation. Jason Brook taught two Bible courses at the local Christian academy every Friday afternoon. His first class consisted of the fourteen and fifteen-year-olds whereas the second class was comprised of eleven through thirteen year olds. "Pastor?" He startled and then smiled broadly. It was little Marsha who had returned to the room. There was no denying that she was one of his favorite students. She lived in his neighborhood and he often spoke with her. "Thank you for teaching me.... for teaching me that you can talk to God about anything. You are so helpful. And you know what," she added softly, "I never notice that you limp." She flashed a grin at him and then she was gone, brown braids spindling behind her. Jason stood still for a moment, a small frown on his face. Even coming from a sincere child, a child who meant to comfort and build him up, the words hurt somewhat. He was thirty-six years old and in the sudden stillness of the classroom after Marsha's departure, he could hear his mother's voice, could hear it as clearly as if she were standing next to him. "You have a false sense of pride, son." She'd said those words to him just last week, just before informing him that Gena Ardwick, the daughter of an old friend, had been invited by her for a few day's visit. His face must have shown dislike and apprehension because that's when he had been reproved. "You immediately suspect I'm setting you up and you retreat behind that shell of yours. There is no sin in having friends, Jason, and you need not look for me to be matchmaking behind every tree." "You are right, mother," he had sighed, "and I apologize. I'll be a good host, I promise. **** Later, after straightening out his desk and cleaning the blackboard, he picked up his briefcase and began his walk towards the bus stop. People, he reflected, as well as adults, were often most comfortable with the status quo, with the way things were always done. There was no denying that he sometimes fell outside the accepted status quo. Perhaps his childhood polio endowing him with this uneven gait, or perhaps the early loss of his father, had marked him. Yet these events had not been bad, he mused on, but rather had worked for his good, for had they not made him depend on His Creator more and more? He breathed in deeply. Sure he prayed for a wife, prayed punctually as one might pray for good weather. But if it rained, the truth was that he was quite content to sit at home and read a good book, or to take a walk under an umbrella. He vaguely remembered Gena Ardwick, the girl who would be stopping in to see his mother today. She had lived next door to his family years ago when he had been a boy about the age that little Marsha was right now. Gena had been a snippy, self-willed girl, if he recalled correctly, and he had not cared for her. She'd always been ready with an opinion and she had not liked either dogs or cats. Strange that he should remember the part about pets. Unconsciously he shrugged as he walked. In spite of his mother's protestations to the opposite, there had been questionable female visitors in the past: a far-off distant cousin afflicted with a slight stutter; the organist's older sister over for holidays from Amsterdam; and the neighbor's orphaned, sewing pupil. He suddenly laughed out loud, switched the briefcase to his other hand and chided himself for brooding. **** There were no other people waiting at the bus stop. Setting down his briefcase, Jason unashamedly stretched his tall form. Friday afternoons could prove to be long, even trying, but he enjoyed them - enjoyed the teaching and the interaction which he had with his students, even students like aggressive Penny. Glancing at his watch, he expected that the bus would be along shortly. He'd known the bus driver for years. Sure enough, rounding the corner right on time, the front end of a grey bus turned towards him. Automatically he picked up his briefcase with his right hand while his left hand reached for a bus token in his pants' pocket. The bus smoothly slid to a stop in front of him and the door opened. "How're you doing, Jake?" "Great! And yourself, Jason?" "Fine." Smiles were exchanged and Jason habitually walked towards the seat where he was wont to sit. Only…someone else was sitting there. It was a woman wearing a dark blue hat, a light blue sweater and a grey skirt. He saw this all in one glance. She nodded slightly when he caught her eye, moving past to a seat behind her. It miffed him a trifle that she was sitting in his spot, but he knew this was bordering on the ridiculous. Public transport was just that, public transport and the public could sit wherever they pleased. Ten minutes later he stood up. His stop was next. He'd always counted it a blessing that he lived only a few houses away from the bus stop, especially during bad winter weather. The woman stood up with him simultaneously. She picked up a small leather suitcase from the floor and eased into the aisle in front of him walking towards the exit door. He could smell a faint scent of jasmine exuding from her person. The bus came to a halt. Stepping down, the woman turned in the direction of his house, leather suitcase dangling from her right hand. It came to him suddenly, as he followed her steps, that this woman could be Gena Ardwick. But his mother had gone to pick her up at the train station in South Hanker. Maybe mother had missed connecting with Gena and the girl had taken matters into her own hands. Sure enough, she was slowing down and peering at house numbers. Then, before Jason's very eyes, her heel caught in a crack of cement causing her to stumble and fall. The incident occurred right in front of his home. The small suitcase flew out of her hand and landed neatly at her side, but as he hobbled up behind to reach her, the girl had already scrambled back to her feet. "Hey, are you all right?" She nodded, but he noticed a shining in her eyes - unshed tears just like the ones his students blinked back after they had been given a very low mark or had inadvertently tripped over someone's feet in class. Reaching over to pick up her suitcase and putting her full weight on her left foot, the woman gave a small cry of pain "I think you better lean on me." Unquestioningly she took the arm he offered, reinforcing his notion that she was indeed Gena Ardwick. A surge of protectiveness washed over him. Shuffling up the sidewalk as she held on to him, she didn't say a word. "What providence," he said, glancing at her as he spoke, "that I was just behind you, Gena." She stared up at him. But then another tremor of pain passed over her face. "I hope you didn't break anything," Jason went on, "We'd better get you to sit down quickly so we can have a look." **** It was quiet in the hallway and the cat ran down the stairs to meet them, rubbing up against Jason's legs. "This way to the living room, Gena," Jason spoke softly, "and I hope you don't mind cats now. Harry is a people cat and hates it when I'm gone. " She shook her head as he led her through the hallway door into the living room, carefully sitting her down on the edge of the couch. Resting back, she smiled up at him wanly, her face very white. "I think I'll put on the kettle for a cup of tea. Just sit for a minute before we have a look at that foot." Propping up a pillow behind her back as he spoke, Jason expertly pushed a footstool in front of the couch. "There you are. Can you lift your foot up on it?" She obliged and Harry jumped onto the couch next to her. It brought a tiny smile to her face and somehow this pleased Jason a great deal. He disappeared into the kitchen and pondered his next move. Hopefully, mother would be home soon and that would take the onus off himself. The situation was a bit awkward. She hadn't said a word so far and she was also a bit chunky or, as his mother would say, pleasingly plump. The doorbell rang. Now who could that be? Striding back to the front door, he was surprised to see little Marsha standing on his steps. Grinning broadly, she was holding a tray of cookies in her hands. She lived only a few doors down from him. "My foster mother made these for you, pastor Brook, because you taught me all year and because you visit all the time." "Well, thank you, and please thank your foster mother. That's very kind of you both." A luminous idea struck him. He gestured that she step inside and when she happily obliged, he walked her past the closed living room door leading the child into the kitchen. Once there he spoke in a low tone. "Marsha, I have a visitor in the living room and she's hurt her ankle. She's my mother's friend and will be a guest here for a few days. Would you mind helping me with her for a little while?" The girl was all smiles and nodded eagerly. "No, pastor Brook, I wouldn't mind that at all." "Thanks, Marsha, I appreciate that very much." He pointed towards the living room and she immediately stepped back into the hallway, making her way to the living room. He followed her. Opening the door, they could see Gena bending over, trying rather unsuccessfully to take off her shoe. Marsha lost no time. She was by the couch and on her knees in a trice. Assisting nimbly, her small fingers undid the buckles, even as she spoke in a low tone. "My name is Marsha, but most people call me little Marsha because I'm not as big as I should be. What's your name?" "Gena." It came out softly and it was the first word Jason heard her say. So he had been correct then in surmising that she was his mother's guest. "Gena's a real nice name," Marsha went on, "and look, your shoe's off and that's good because I think your foot's a bit swollen. I can see it through your nylon stocking. Hope it doesn't hurt too much." Arnica, thought Jason who was still standing in the hallway door, mother's arnica in the medicine cabinet would help right now. Turning, he made his way to the bathroom and checked cupboards until he found the arnica tube. To his disappointment, it was almost empty. He'd have to go to the pharmacy for a new tube. Maybe he should also offer aspirin with the tea for pain? He slowly walked back into the living room. "Her foot's not broken, pastor Brook," Marsha called out cheerfully from the couch while stroking the cat's head, "You can wiggle your toes, can't you Gena?" Gena nodded. "That's fine," Jason said, very much relieved, "but I think I'll walk over to the pharmacy anyway to pick up some arnica. It's a good remedy for bruising and swelling. I can see from here you might have a bit of a bruise." Gena shook her head. "There's no need for you to do that," she protested weakly. "Not a problem," Jason waved away her protest, "Little Marsha, can you stay here until I come back? You can put the kettle on for tea and you know where the mugs are. You can also serve some of the cookies you brought along." The girl nodded eagerly. "Sure thing. And I'll phone Aunt May to let her know I'm helping out." Chapter 2 The symphony of Ephesians 1has a recurring theme. The consonance which weaves through its melody is that of predestination. With singleness of purpose, the notes, again and again, point to children adopted through Jesus Christ in accordance with His pleasure and will. We don't always hear a theme until it is pointed out. But the truth of it is that election reverberates throughout Ephesians 1. **** After little Marsha had telephoned her foster mother, she asked Gena if she wanted a cup of tea and a cookie. The woman smiled at the child standing in front of the couch. "You are eager to help. You're a very kind, little girl." Marsha dimpled. "Any friend of pastor Brook is a friend of mine. And I'm sorry you hurt your foot. Shall I put pillows under it?" The doorbell rang. "Excuse me," little Marsha said. She got up from the couch and stepped back into the hallway, leaving the door to the livingroom half-open behind her. **** There was a coolness in the foyer and the child shivered before she opened the entrance way which Jason had locked behind him. Two women stood on the doorstep. They smiled at Marsha. "Hello, it's a nice day isn't it?" One of the women, portly but gracious, extended the greeting. "Yes," Marsha replied. "Is your mother at home?" "Yes," the child answered for the second time and without hesitation, "She is." On the couch in the living room, Gena, who could hear each word, winced. The girl was lying. That was a whopper. "Can we speak to her?" "No, I'm afraid you can't." The second of the two women coughed delicately into a hanky. "And why will you not let us speak to your mother?" "Because she's in heaven with the Lord Jesus." There was silence on the doorstep for a long moment. Shifting her position on the couch slightly as she leaned forward, Gena strained her ears. "I know," Marsha's voice reached her, "that you are Jehovah Witnesses because you come down the street a lot and start by saying that the weather is nice. Pastor Brook has told me to be careful about you." There was another silence and then one of the women opened her purse, taking out a small tract. "Well, I'm sorry to hear about your mother, honey, but maybe I can leave this little booklet with you." Little Marsha put her hands behind her back. "No, thank you," she answered clearly, "Jesus would not like me to do that. Pastor Brook told me that too. You see you don't know.... that is, you don't believe...." She stopped and took out her right hand, fingering one of her braids thoughtfully. "We don't know or believe what?" Both of the women responded almost simultaneously, talking through one another and eyeing little Marsha with a mixture of both disdain and interest. "That Jesus is God," little Marsha said, finishing her sentence carefully. "He is a god," this time the women spoke in unison, the back one trying to read the girl's face as she stood in poised in the doorway. Unfazed by their scrutiny, Marsha responded once more. "No, He is not a god. He is the only God there is and we can't say lies about Him. You see, God says, and I forget where He says it, ‘I am He and there are no gods with Me.’" The two women looked at one another. "Pastor Brook told me that too," little Marsha added as an afterthought, "and you might like to think about that. But now I have to stop talking to you because I'm helping out a friend who has a sore foot." The two women turned and began to walk away, the first one shrugging as she left. But the second glanced back over her shoulder, giving Marsha a smile and a little wave. Closing and locking the front door carefully, Marsha made her way back to the kitchen. She plugged in the kettle and leaned against the countertop as she waited for the water to boil. When it did, she pulled the plug and made tea. Carrying a stone mug into the living room, she saw that Gena had taken her foot off the footstool and was gingerly bending over, rubbing it. "How does it feel? Does it hurt a lot?" she asked sympathetically. "A little bit, but it'll be all right, I think." Marsha deposited the mug on the end table. "Would you like some sugar and milk with your tea?" "No, that's fine. Thank you for your help and for making the tea." Marsha sat down on the floor in front of the couch, resting her back against it. "Tell me about yourself, Marsha." Turning her face, Marsha stared up at her. "About myself? There's not much to tell." "Why did you tell the women who came to the door that your mother was home when .... well, when you don't even live here?" Gena put her foot up on the footstool again as she spoke and reached for the tea. "Well, my mother is at home. Only her home is in heaven. I did tell them that." The clock ticked and Gena folded her hands cautiously around the hot cup of tea. "I'm sorry, Marsha," she eventually said, as she put the cup back on the end table, "not having a Mom must be hard." "No," Marsha answered rather matter-of-factly, "you needn't feel sorry for me, Gena. You see, I'll be seeing her soon." Gena picked the cup up again. "What do you mean?" "I've got.... I mean, I'm sick and right now I'm OK, but the doctor says...." She stopped and Gena could not take her eyes off the child, wispy braids dangling disconsolately on her thin shoulders. "I'm sorry," she began again rather lamely, and then stopped. "No," little Marsha repeated rather earnestly, "You don't have to be sorry." "Can I comb and braid your hair, Marsha? I used to have long hair myself and I miss doing the braids. Maybe you can borrow a comb out of the bathroom. We just won't tell anyone." Marsha smiled. No one ever offered to braid her hair for her. Her foster mother was too busy and her own fingers were a little messy. She got up and disappeared down the hall, reappearing shortly with a long blue comb. "That's great. Now come and sit in front of me." Marsha sat on the floor, eyes wide with expectation. Gena had moved the footstool and had positioned her sore foot at its side. Taking a tiny sip of her hot tea before undoing Marsha's braids, she began untangling the knots in the child's hair. Marsha blissfully shut her eyes as she leaned her shoulders against the gray skirt. Gena massaged the little scalp with the auburn hair, and listened to the clock ticking as she worked at fashioning a French braid around Marsha's head. "Why," she suddenly heard herself saying, "Why are you not sad, or scared, or well, upset. You don't seem to be upset, Marsha." The girl smiled, her eyes still closed. "Sometimes I am. I really am, "she admitted candidly, "But then I try to remember a story that pastor Brook told me. He heard it, or read it somewhere and then he told it to me." "What was the story?" The child stretched out her legs in front of her and took a deep breath as if she was about to plunge into a pool of water. Gena stopped braiding and listened, her hands resting on the child's head. "Well, in the story there was a little girl. Maybe she was my age. This little girl was out on the street, sitting on the doorstep of a house in the middle of the night all alone. Someone came along the street and asked her, 'Little girl, why are you sitting there? Do you not have a house to live in?' She said, 'No, sir, I don't. I have no home.' 'Where is your mother?' 'My mother is dead,' said the little girl. 'Where is your father, then?' 'I have no father,' she replied. 'Have you no home at all to which you can go?' 'No,' answered the little girl, and she shivered. You see, Gena, it was night and she was shivering with the cold." Marsha stopped and unexpectedly turned her head, causing Gena to cluck in distress as auburn strands of hair flew out of her hands. Marsha apologized, even as she spoke. "I'm sorry to have moved, Gena, but are you not very sorry for this little girl?" Gena moved her head up and down even while she was trying to sort out the wisps of hair that had broken loose from the French braid. She was, indeed, both puzzled and fascinated by Marsha's account. Satisfied that her audience was paying attention, Marsha positioned her head forward again and went on. "Well, I was sorry for this little girl too when pastor Brook told me this story. It was so sad. I think I even cried. Then pastor Brook said to me, 'In a way many people in the world are like that little girl, Marsha. Although they have a home for their bodies, they have no home for their souls. And at night they sit on the doorsteps of the world and their souls have no place to go.'" It was quiet for a bit. Gena was intrigued. She prodded the child with her good foot. "Go on, Marsha. There must be more to this story." And Marsha continued. "Then pastor Brook said, 'I know you love the Lord Jesus, Marsha, and because you love the Lord Jesus, your soul does have a place to go. You have God for a Father and His Son Jesus has made a home for you in heaven where there are many, many rooms for His children.'" Marsha stopped her narrative again and rubbed her right hand along the carpet. "Is that the end of the story?" Gena asked in spite of herself. "No, it isn't. Only when I get to this part, I often cry, you see, and I don't like to do that in front of other people. But I'll tell you the story to the end." Marsha's right hand stopped caressing the carpet and she pushed her shoulders back so that they touched Gena's stomach. "Yes?" Gena encouraged. "Well, I'm guessing you think that I'm the little girl in the story, sort of. But actually, my story is just a bit different. In my story I'm sitting on the doorstep of heaven. An angel stops by and asks me if I have no house to live in and I answer him, 'Yes, sir, I do have a house. It is my Father's house and He is making a room ready for me in His house.' And after I tell the angel that I believe that Jesus is God and that He has died for me on the cross, he smiles and opens the door for me behind the doorstep and tells me that he knows that my room is quite, quite ready." Marsha's voice trembled with the telling of the last sentence and after she stopped speaking there was only silence again and the constant ticking of the clock. "I see." But Gena didn't see. Her hands came away from the hair and rested in her lap. The flat-bosomed, trusting eleven-year-old sitting on the floor in front of her, with a tiny French braid crisscrossing her head, suddenly seemed lovely beyond comparison. Inexplicably she was jealous. She could not fathom it. "Maybe you will get better," she offered, "and then you will not...." But she didn't finish the sentence, because she didn't know how to finish it. Marsha turned and looked up at her. "Are you all right? Is your foot throbbing?" "No, actually it is feeling quite a bit better and I should be going now. I've stayed way too long as it is." "Stayed too long?" Marsha's voice was surprised and she scrambled to her feet even as she continued to speak. "But you just got here. And pastor Brook's gone to get some medicine to put on your bruise to help you. And his mother is not even home yet." "But I think I can walk now," Gena answered, and to prove it she stood up as well. Indeed, her leg was able to bear weight and she took a few steps. "But where are you going? Are you not supposed to stop and visit here for a few days?" "No, whatever made you think that?" "Pastor Brook. He told me you had come to visit his mother for a few days. She should be home soon, I think." "His mother! But I don't even know his mother and I don't know pastor Brook either." "But you came into their house!?" Marsha could not comprehend the way things were going. She watched in amazement as Gena slowly but purposely limped towards the front door. "But why did you come in if you didn't know who lived here?" Gena's fingers were wrapped around the door handle. "I don't understand it myself, little Marsha. I think it was because he knew my name." "Your name?" "Yes." Gena winced even as she spoke. "And now, little girl, perhaps you can call me a taxi." Chapter 3 Sometimes the Ephesians1 theme appears to be lost. Raucous notes and cacophony seem to drown out the sweeter airs. But, as in many musical compositions, there is frequently a coda, a conclusion, a postscript, a postlude as it were. And the Ephesians1postlude is praise – praise of the glory of the grace of God. Listen carefully. **** It was only a half a year later that little Marsha's funeral took place. Conducted by pastor Brook, it was in the church he shepherded. There were not very many people who came to the funeral. The school Marsha had attended, the same school at which Jason taught Bible every Friday afternoon, did come out in full number. The children and teachers had been given leave and they sat in the front pews. As well, a few members of the congregation showed up. Some had known little Marsha; others were curious. The coffin stood in front of the pulpit. It was a small coffin. Made of white pine, smooth and shiny, it would not be very heavy for the pallbearers. It was snowing lightly outside and Jason's text fell with the snow: "For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God." "Little Marsha had faith," Jason said and his voice faltered. It faltered because even as he spoke he could not fathom why this child, who had been so wholly trusting in her Lord, might not have lived a longer life, might not have had the possibility of being a mother in Israel. Of such, indeed, they had much need. He studied the young faces in front of him, and he preached. He preached the Gospel of Jesus Christ. He always did. But the why of the coffin continued to confound him even as he spoke. And through his sentences he saw a little girl with two wispy, auburn braids dancing her way up his sidewalk to tell him some new wonder that she had thought of during that day. **** Afterwards, when the “amen” had fallen, opportunity was given for classmates and others to speak. Jason issued the invitation and waited. A long silence hung over the sanctuary. He did not think it likely that any of the children would come forward and certainly did not expect any of the adult members to speak. So few had really known little Marsha. But just as he was about to conclude the service, a figure at the back of the church stood up and began a lonely trek towards the front. Jason strained his eyes. It was a woman and he did not know whom it was. He did not recognize her and neither did any of the people in the pews. They all watched her advance. She was uneasy. Everyone could sense it in her uncertain gait and yet she continued her walk to the pulpit. Having reached it, she sighed, glanced upward and proceeded to climb the steps. The lectern seemed to give her some measure of security, for she gripped the wood with both hands. It was only when Jason handed her the microphone and caught the scent of jasmine, that he remembered her. "Hello," she began, addressing the people in the pews. The voice took Jason back to a summer afternoon earlier that year, an afternoon in which someone had taken his seat on the bus. "You don't know me," her voice went on. Jason sat down in the chair behind the pulpit. He could see that the woman was taking a deep breath before continuing. "I had the pleasure of meeting Marsha, or little Marsha, as she told me people called her, a number of months ago." In a row of children on the second bench, Penny nudged Samantha. "She's a nice looking lady." "Shh," Samantha whispered back. The woman's voice stilled both of them. "I apologize if my story seems a bit stilted, but I'm not a trained speaker like your pastor here behind me." Jason looked down at the floor. "I'll introduce myself and hope that you won't all leave after I do. My name is Gena and my second name is not important. I am, or I should say, I was," and here her voice faltered, "a prostitute." A palpable hush fell on the sanctuary. Penny pinched Samantha. "Do you know what a prostitute is, Sam?" Samantha pinched her back. "Quiet." "About a half a year ago, I hurt my foot in front of your pastor's house. Summer had just begun. It was a beautiful day. Your pastor did not know me, but when I hurt my foot in front of his home, he took me inside and ...." She stopped speaking. Someone coughed in the back of the church, but on the whole it was deathly quiet. Only the coffin spoke through the stillness proclaiming that little Marsha was dead. "My parents divorced when I was about Marsha's age. My father left and my mother was given custody. Not that it meant anything. She was always gone. When I came home from school every day there was no one." Both Samantha and Penny listened with rapt attention. Indeed, the whole church was fixated on the figure in the pulpit. Gena was wearing a blue coat. Open at the collar, a grey scarf covered her neck. Jason's eyes had lifted from the floor and were now riveted on the back of Gena's head. "I'll spare you the details of my tumultuous teenage years. There were parties, drugs and boyfriends. I know now that I was looking for love, for some semblance of acceptance. I wanted someone who was interested in me, someone who would...." Samantha and Penny without being aware of it, were leaning into one another. "My mother eventually threw me out when she came home one day and found me drinking with several boys." The silence into which Gena's words were spoken became louder. "The day that I spoke of, the day that I hurt my foot and your pastor took me in, that was the day I was on my way to have an abortion. Only I had gotten the address mixed up and had gotten out several stops too early." Gena took a kleenex out of the pocket of her blue coat and blew her nose. Jason felt an incomprehensible bond with the girl. He did not know why. Everything he stood for had been repulsed by her. And yet here she was on the pulpit, confessing sins. "Little Marsha came to the door to bring your pastor some cookies. She came inside and introduced herself to me. When he left to buy some ointment for my foot, the child made me some tea and then, well then we talked together." Jason could see his mother in the fourth row. Her eyes were lifted attentively towards the girl, the girl whom he had supposed was Gena Ardwick. The real Gena Ardwick, it turned out, had not shown up at all because she had caught influenza. Strange that this girl's name had also been Gena. "Little Marsha told me that she was ill and that she would probably not live much longer. She was right, wasn't she?" Everyone's eyes automatically shifted to the small, white coffin in front of the pulpit. Samantha remembered with a pang of conscience that she had ridiculed Marsha when she had asked Pastor Brook how she could see God when she died, because God was so big that He had made the stars with His fingers. She shivered a little. "Marsha was a very special girl," Gena's voice broke over the sentence and Jason could see that her right hand clenched the kleenex which she still held. "She had a gift - and that gift was faith. She believed with all her heart and ...." Her voice broke again and Jason fought the urge to go and put his arm around her. "The truth is," Gena went on, "that God used little Marsha in my life. When I told her that I was leaving and that it was only by chance that I was there in pastor Brook's home, she called a taxi for me. Then she persuaded me to sit down on the couch again and she sat next to me." Penny and Samantha and the other children held themselves rigidly quiet, waiting for Gena to finish a story of which they could not guess the ending. "I say she sat next to me, but the actual truth was that she leaned into me. 'I like you, Gena,' she said, 'and I wish you could be a foster mother to me. I've had about six, you know.' 'Six?' I asked her. 'Yes, six and some of them were quite nice. But I'm always moving to another place. I guess it's hard to have someone like me who is in the hospital a lot.' And then Marsha added something else. She said, 'I think you will be a good Mom to this baby you are having, Gena. That is a really lucky baby to have you for a Mom.'" A child cried in the back of the sanctuary and was shushed by its mother. Gena stopped for a moment and blew her nose again. "I said, 'Marsha, how do you know I'm expecting a baby?' And she lifted her head from my shoulder and looked up at me. 'I felt the baby kick,' she said, 'when I leaned against you and you were doing my hair. My shoulders felt your stomach and I felt a little kick and I thought the baby must be so nice and cozy and safe in there. My last foster mother was expecting a baby too and she let me feel her tummy.' " Samantha felt a tear slide down her cheek. She let it slide right down to her chin. Then she took the back of her right hand and wiped it off. Penny cast a sidelong glance at her and then put her hand on Samantha's knee. "I told Marsha that she was right, that I was expecting a baby. 'What will you call it?' she asked. I told her that I didn't know. 'Perhaps, you can call it little Gena,' she suggested." Gena shifted her position behind the pulpit. Bending over, she put her elbows on the lectern, supporting her face with her hands for a moment. Then straightening up again, her gaze went up and down the pews. "Then Marsha asked me the most important question anyone has ever asked me. She said, 'You do believe in the Lord Jesus, don't you Gena? Because if you don't, I'll never see you again.'” She stopped and looked down before she continued."I have to tell you all very honestly that I did not believe in God at that time, let alone His Son Jesus. And I told her so." The ceiling lights flickered on and off and back on. In the distance a car honked its horn and white snow still fell past the sanctuary windows. "Then Marsha did what no one has ever done for me before. She wept for me. Curling into my side, she sobbed her heart out. I hugged her but she would not be consoled. She kept on crying. Eventually she managed some intelligible words and these words were: 'I don't want you to be lost, Gena, I want you to come to the doorstep of God's house just like me.'" And Jason thought of all the sermons he had preached, of all the benedictions he had given, and he knew that not one of them came even close. "The taxi driver came to the door then, and I stood up. My shoulder was wet, wet with little Marsha's tears. I never saw her again." Gena was finished. She stepped back from the lectern and moved towards the pulpit steps. But then, as if she had forgotten something, she returned. It was for the postlude. "Oh yes," she said, "I do want you all to know that I will see her again. And so will Faith, my little daughter. Faith, who was born the day little Marsha died."...

Assorted

When should we unwrap presents?

Should we open our presents on Christmas Day? No one asked this question during the panel discussion at the 2016 Always Reforming Conference, but two panelists decided to answer it, and though their disagreement was very civil, disagree they did. And because their disagreement was also illuminating we will share it below. Let’s set the context first. The panel was asked about joy, and whether Christians could manage to misuse even joy. Can a man, for example, so enjoy his wife, that his enjoyment can cause him not to thank God, but forget Him? Yes, the panel agreed, this was possible. But, they added, a more common danger in our circles might be harmful introspection. It is possible for a Christian to become so self-obsessed, so focused on navel-gazing, that we lose all joy in our lives. If we are always fearful about whether our joy is “pure” enough we can rob ourselves of the joy-giving gifts God showers on us. And here is where the discussion turned to presents and when they should be opened. DR. TIMOTHY EDWARDS: Let imagine this situation. It is Christmas Day, and I give my son a present. And for the rest of that day he’s sitting on my lap, or running around, saying, “Dad thank-you for that present, thank-you for that present, that’s just a great present, I just love that present, thank-you for that present. It’s so kind.” And he’s saying that all day, and the present lies there in the corner. I’m thinking “He doesn’t like the present.” if he says, “Thank-you for that present!” and spends the rest of the day just loving it, I’m thinking, “That’s a wonderful thing.” So when I say, you enjoy Christ…it’s not simply a spiritual thing. When I’m eating a nice meal, and enjoying a fine wine, I’m enjoying the gifts God has given me. When I’m loving my wife, when I’m playing with my children, when I’m studying a Hebrew text, or reading, doing some research and three hours goes by, these are gifts Christ has given me, and by enjoying them, Christ is looking down going, “That’s my boy. That’s what I want him to do.” Now we all know there are people who have enjoyed the gifts so much they have forgotten the Giver. But, again, if we are afraid of doing that, and therefore we never enjoy the gift, that’s a problem. The Jewish rabbis say that when you stand before the judgment seat of God you will not only be judged for the wrong things you did, you will be judged for the good things you refused to enjoy. When I first heard that, I thought, "Oh my, there is a lot of truth in that!" God has created this incredible world and He has given it to us, and He has given us Himself. And we are now able to, in Christ, to love Christ and enjoy His gifts to us. There are lots of gifts out there I would like to enjoy. Not for their own sake, but because they have been given to me, just like my son enjoying his present. And that is enjoying Christ. I remember back in England we’d talk about celebrating Christmas, and there would always be this attempt to remember what it is about. Don’t get distracted by the presents, don’t get distracted by the turkey, and all the food, and don’t get distracted by all those things. You are teaching people to sit there and feel sort of bad about the celebration, and constantly trying to remember, “Oh, it’s about Jesus, it’s about Jesus. I have to think about Jesus in my heart.” When actually, celebrating something biblically, involves tearing the presents open, enjoying them, eating the food, drinking the wine, laughing around the table. And that’s rejoicing in the Lord. DR. JASON VAN VLIET: Aren’t you being a little bit too optimistic about the level of sanctification in our midst? To make it practical, my wife and I have always separated the gift giving and the end of the year, from the actual day, Dec. 25th. We have a concern that if we start Dec. 25 with opening up all these presents, they may say, “Thank you, thank you, thank you!” and go off in a corner and just enjoy it, and that’s correct. then we go off to church and the sermon is about the birth of Christ, and the blessings from that, and my nine-year-old boy is sitting there, and all he is thinking about is getting back to that LEGO set and finishing what he started. Don’t we have to take measures that ensure ? I don’t deny what you are saying – to enjoy the gifts the Giver has given is part of the joy – but we are still a long way off from full sanctification. So at certain times we have to take measures that are going to ensure that we don’t just focus on the gifts and forget about the Giver. DR. TIMOTHY EDWARDS: ….One of my favorite passages – in Jewish it is called the second tithe – is Deuteronomy 14. If it was too long for you to go to Jerusalem you had to exchange it for money – take a percentage of your flocks and herds, sell it and take the money to Jerusalem. Verse 26 – this is a command: “And you shall spend that money for whatever your heart desires: for oxen or sheep, for wine or similar drink, for whatever your heart desires; you shall eat there before the Lord your God, and you shall rejoice, you and your household.” So in the ordered, commanded, worship – Old Testament worship – probably three times a year, if they were obedient – take a considerable sum of money, go to Jerusalem and party. And rejoice. Now, there’s all sorts of dangers attached to that command. "You mean you want me to spend that much money?" ….There’s an element that…how will my children learn to rejoice in the good gifts that the God has given them, if I never give them an opportunity to enjoy the good gifts God has given them? If I’m always telling them, don’t trust that enjoyment…. Yes, my son might struggle on concentrating on the sermon because of the big pile of presents at home.….So I want to train them in that. I want them to think that as they are enjoying this gift they are enjoying something that God has given them. And when they enjoy that, it delights God. It’s a good thing. And I want him to know there are times when he will have to repent at the end of the day....

Assorted, Church history

Santa Claus at Nicea

As we continue to celebrate Advent, we need to deal with a competing story. But it would probably be more accurate to say that we have to deal with a godly story that has been encrusted with many layers of foolishness. But let us take away those layers, and ask – who was the original Santa Claus? St. Nicholas of Myra (a city in modern-day Turkey) was a fourth-century bishop. He was renowned for his kindliness to the needy and to children. He inherited a large fortune which he gave away, establishing orphanages, hospitals, and hostels for the mentally infirm. Legends spread concerning his generosity, which included him delivering gifts secretly by night. During his day, the famous Council of Nicea was held and, according to one legend, the orthodox Nicholas slapped Arius in the face for his blasphemy. Following the legend, Nicholas was then defrocked for this breach of decorum, but was later reinstated as the result of a vision. It should be obvious to us Protestants that some of the medieval follies concerning veneration of saints were already at work here. The man became a bishop, the bishop became a saint (in the medieval sense), and stories spread concerning his ability to continue on with his generosity, even though he had long been with the Lord. The stories all had many variations, but generosity was at the heart of all of them. These different European stories came to America from many directions, and they all went into our famous melting pot. The Scandinavians brought their conception of him as an elf. The Dutch brought their name for him (Sinterklaas). In 1808 Washington Irving wrote a story of him as a jolly Dutchman. In 1822, a poet named Moore gave us the Night before Christmas getting rid of Irving’s horses and wagon, and subbing in reindeer and sleigh. Then in 1863 the famous cartoonist Thomas Nast gave us the popular conception we see all around us today. The issue for us is not stockings by the chimney, or other harmless customs. But we must learn from this that if we do not tell our stories faithfully, they will gradually change over time until they become quite unrecognizable. With a story like this – one that has in the minds of many supplanted the story of the Christ child – we have to remember that St. Nicholas probably would have slugged somebody over it. Pastor Douglas Wilson’s “God Rest Ye Merry: Why Christmas is the Foundation for Everything” is a wonderfully curious book that not only explains how Santa once punched a guy in the face, but ”why nativity sets should have Herod’s soldiers.” If the yearly repetition has you less than enthused about Christmas time coming yet again, this book is for you, to help rekindle your understanding of, and enthusiasm for Advent and Christmas. This excerpt has been reprinted here with permission of the publisher Canon Press....

Assorted

Beyond Monopoly - They’ve taken the bored out of board games

When it comes to traditional board games the joke about bored games holds a certain amount of truth. Everyone knows that Risk is usually won by the person lucky enough to get property in Australia, or that in the original Trivial Pursuit your best guess is always either Shirley Temple or Gary Cooper. And either games are entirely luck driven (think Chutes and Ladders) or else they favor those who have turned a pastime into a course of study – the professional Scrabble or bridge players, the chess masters, or those malodorous individuals known as war-gamers. It’s sometimes hard to believe that in the old days games – especially those with dice or cards – were often taboo, as they might lead to gambling and other vices. So in this article I’d like to diverge from my usual focus (literature) and write something about the value of board games. Of course, not everyone likes games – and that’s perfectly fine – but I think often we’re not aware what a positive form of entertainment board games can offer. In addition, many are simply not aware that there are different and more interesting games out there then what they’ve grown up with, or what they might see on the shelves in Wal-Mart. NEW GAMES ON THE BLOCK In 1995, a German game designer called Klaus Teuber came out with a board game called The Settlers of Catan. The game has sold over 18 million copies and was revolutionary in making specialty games popular in North America. You see, specialized games with unique themes, interesting mechanisms, and deeper strategy had always been more popular in Europe, and especially in Germany. As hockey is to Canada, or chocolate to Belgium, so board games have long been an intrinsic part of German culture. The Settlers of Catan succeeded because it was a kind of cross-over game, mixing luck and strategy brilliantly. It had enough complexity to lend itself to repeated plays, yet not too much to be off-putting to newcomers. Yet while Settlers was successful, twenty years later it’s still only the occasional specialty game that breaks through to the mass market. For instance, my local Chapters bookstore has recently started to stock rare games like Agricola (a complex game about farming set in the 17th century) and Pandemic (a game where players work together to save the world from the outbreak of an epidemic). To most these remain esoteric curiosities, and people seem happy to buy the odd TV-show trivia game which gets played once and then collects dust. The result is that finding good quality games is almost a game in itself: you have to know where to look. So further on in this article you’ll find some practical advice to help you along. THE USES OF BOARD GAMES Last year I came across an interesting little game called Ten Days in Africa. It’s basically a Racko variant, but with a much more interesting theme. The idea is that you collect cards that represent either a country in Africa or a plane or car. Your job is to chart a 10-day journey by having the cards in a correct order. The game is not incredibly strategic, but what I found remarkable is how well it teaches geography. After playing it a few times I once more had all the countries memorized along with not a few of the capitals (it’s especially fun to say “Ouagadougou”). Even my six-year old daughter quickly learned the rules and could recite many of the countries off by heart. It strikes me that this is exactly the type of game that should be a staple in the classroom. It makes learning fun, and allows the mind to retain information at a deeper level than rote learning often does. Aside from the educational benefits of board games (many more of which could be used in the classroom), here are some other positive aspects (this is by no means an exhaustive list): 1. Board games support social interaction They create memories, induce laughter, and simply allow families and friends to enjoy being together. In addition, board games are great for breaking the ice with newcomers, strangers, or people of different ages. For example, I know of a minister who frequently uses board games with his pre-confession students (after the lessons of course!) as a way to get to know them more personally. 2. Board games are cross-generational Games make it easy to get people of different ages around the same table. This can be especially true in the teenage years, when children feel this strange need to dissociate themselves from their elders. The only people who are not allowed to play games are those past the age of 99. 3. Games help teach manners Losing graciously is one of the hardest lessons to learn, and not only for young ones. Board games teach courtesy, patience (esp. if the turns are long), cooperation, and so forth. 4. Games develop mental skills For younger kids they are great for teaching simple addition and subtraction. In addition, they help children develop better attention spans. For adults they teach problem solving, among other things. There have also been an increasing number of studies that suggest that as we get older it’s important not only to keep our bodies fit, but also to challenge our brains. Puzzles like Sudoku are often used as examples of brain games that can help prevent Alzheimer’s, but the same can be said for anything that taxes our mental faculties. 5. Games provide a healthy outlet for competition This is also where specialty games provide more variety than traditional North American fare. In Monopoly, for instance, you thrive when others land on your properties and go bankrupt (it really is a rather grim depiction of capitalism!). By contrast, specialty games frequent include catch-up mechanisms that allow players who have fallen behind in the scoring to get back into it. Monopoly only provides Free Parking and an occasional lucky dice roll. In addition, specialty games include an entire subgenre of games where players work together to succeed. I’ve mentioned Pandemic as an example of a cooperative game. Another in the genre is Shadows over Camelot, where players work together as the Knights of the Round Table. However, there is a twist: one of them may be a traitor, plotting against them... 6. Games are a relatively cheap form of entertainment I own some games that I’ve played over 50 times. When you think of how much a round of golf costs, or a nice dinner, board games are really not that expensive. SOME GENERAL ADVICE I’ve played a lot of different games over the years, so let me share a few tips for making your board game experience more enjoyable: Never read through the rules of a new game together. This is one of the most tedious things you can do. Instead have someone read through the rules carefully and then explain the game to the rest of you. In general, it takes much longer to read rule sets then to explain them orally. Don’t be afraid of a challenging game. I’ve met many people who don’t like it when a game has more than two rules: roll your dice, move your piece. Games are supposed to be a form of recreation, they say, not an IQ test. True enough – but these same individuals have no problem mastering equally complex hobbies. Take pleasure in seeing others do well. Know who you’re playing with. There are some games that allow for a great deal of cutthroat behavior – if you play with newcomers or relatively inexperienced gamers, you may want to pick out a friendlier game. Don’t force anyone to play against their will. Never trust your spouse in a board game. AVAILABILITY As mentioned, your average Wal-Mart has a fairly small selection of board games, most of them geared towards small children. Even the fact that they’re usually stocked among the rest of the kids’ toys suggests that there’s nothing here for adults. If you want to find more than Battleship or Candyland you’ll need to either go to a specialty store (those are hard to find and often expensive), or go online. To that end, let me direct you to a few websites to help you out. Please note that I’m not personally affiliated with any of the stores listed, but I know that these are very reputable companies with great customer service. One of the biggest is BoardGameGeek. Don’t let the name of this site put you off! This massive, sprawling site has millions of users, and is the largest database of board games in the world. You can search for games by theme, mechanics, publisher, etc. In addition, you can read reviews, have your rules questions answered, and much more. It may take you a bit to navigate the site, but it’s well worth the effort. For Canadians, Great Boardgames is probably the best online store in terms of selection, price, and ease of use. If you’re just interested in finding better games for children, in general, one of the best game companies for children’s games (esp. the very young ones) is called HABA (they also make other high quality children’s toys). RECOMMENDATIONS Part of the difficulty with buying specialty games is that you often cannot try them out before you buy. So here are some games I highly recommend. I’ve tried to represent a range of interests, themes, mechanics, and ages. FITS This is basically Tetris the board game, but everyone I’ve played it with has loved it, and many have bought their own copies. Pandemic In this great example of a cooperative game, you must try to save the world from the outbreak of an epidemic. Can you beat the game? Agricola If you think The Farming Game is complex, try again. This is one of the best strategy games out there. The title is Latin for “farmer” and you get to build up a farm that looks nicer than those of your neighbors. The game can be played on two levels of difficulty, and the easier “family” version can be played from 7 or 8 years and up. Memoir ’44 This World War II simulation is a two-player game that is not just for boys who like to play with army toys. You can watch a video demonstration of how the game is played at www.daysofwonder.com/memoir44. Zooloretto Build your own zoo and attract tourists to come see the animals! Zooloretto is a well-produced game that is especially geared towards families. Dominion This is one of the strangest and most addictive card games you’ll come across. It has a medieval theme that may not be for everyone, but every game is both different and highly competitive. Bohnanza This quirky little card game lets you collect income for planting bean fields! It’s easy to learn and quick to play. If you’re tired of your old camping favorites, try this one out. Ticket to Ride: Europe This family-oriented train game is a great game to start with if you’re unfamiliar with specialty games. Our copy has been played so often we’ve had to replace the cards! You can watch a video demonstration of the game here. Animal upon Animal Made by HABA, this game is like Jenga in reverse. Players have various animals that they have to try place on the back of a crocodile. This one is great for very young ages (and it teaches dexterity), but will also produce laughs in adults. Ten Days in Africa If you’re an educator, check out this series. It’s great for teaching geography as there are also versions for the USA, Asia and Europe. CONCLUSION Let me end on a slightly more theoretical note. The Dutch historian Johan Huizinga once wrote an intriguing book called Homo Ludens: The Play Element in Culture (1944). In it, Huizinga asks whether all culture is not ultimately a form of play or playfulness, and whether we should speak of Homo Ludens (Man the Player) rather than of Homo Sapiens or Homo Faber. From ceremony to ritual to storytelling – culture is about stepping out of our ordinary lives and participating in an act of imaginative creation. Of course, this argument can become reductive, for it suggests (as such anthropological perspectives often do) that even something like religion is a form of play. Yet Huizinga is right in demonstrating that play is not something confined to children, something to be outgrown. At the very least it is an intrinsic aspect of culture, and as such it’s nothing to be ashamed of. Reformed Christians sometimes have an antipathy towards that which seems escapist or fantastical. But our imagination is an important faculty in its own right and not something to be repressed. Thus hobbies and pastimes are not things we do when we’re not busy being serious with kingdom work, but are a natural product of Christian culture. This article first appeared in the June 2010 issue....

Assorted

Wax on, wax off: the world’s increasingly shaky understanding of tolerance

A man who says he is a woman is using the BC Human Rights Tribunal to make life difficult for Vancouver-area estheticians. “JY” (the Tribunal has prohibited the publication of his real name) has approached female estheticians who only offer services to women, and asked them to give him a “Brazilian” bikini wax – a hair removal treatment for the groin area. When they’ve refused he’s filed complaints against them with the Tribunal. To this point, JY has done this to 16 different estheticians. Lawyer John Carpay and the Calgary-based Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms has been helping two of the women, free of charge. In an article, he wrote for The Post Millennial Carpay noted legal representation could otherwise have cost the women $20,000 to $30,000 each. A bill that size could put a small business out of business. But, as Carpay explained, with at least one woman, “JY was willing to withdraw his complaint in exchange for $2,500.” That’s quite the motivation to settle – either spend $20,000+ on legal fees with no assurance you won’t be found guilty and also fined, or settle for $2,500 and the problem goes away. If he made a similar offer to the 14 other women, JY would look to make $35,000 from his human rights complaints. However, with the Justice Center backing her, Shelah Poyner decided not to settle. In September, they informed JY, that they were going to call in an expert who was going to note the treatment JY was after – known as a “Manzilian” wax – is very different than a Brazillian, involving a different wax, and using a different process that this estheticians didn’t know and didn’t want to do. Once JY understood he was in for a fight (and not simply a payout) he withdrew his complaint. This highlights a huge problem with the Human Rights Tribunal: its process has become the means by which a complainant can extort cash settlements: pay up now, or, whether guilty or innocent, you’ll have to pay much more later. But the bigger issue here is how we are going to treat those we disagree with. This dispute is over the question: “What sort of tolerance do we believe in?” Christian tolerance God calls on us to love our neighbor as ourselves (Mark 12:30-31) and to do to others as we would like done to ourselves (Matt. 7:12). That’s the Christian basis for tolerance. We would like to enjoy the freedom to act as our conscience demands, so we give that freedom to others so much as we are able. Under this Christian understanding of tolerance, we would allow conscientious objectors to avoid military service, let Sikhs wear kirpans, and try to ensure Jews weren’t called to Saturday work, even though we think their views are mistaken or wrong. Another basis for Christian tolerance is that we know we can’t make anyone Christian. God hates hypocritical worship (Matt. 23:27-28) so there is no point, then, in forcing people to go to Church or forcing them to, in other ways, outwardly observe the Christian religion. Christian tolerance has limits – if we could, we'd ban abortion or euthanasia no matter how sincerely the practitioners might believe in it. But Christians are willing to tolerate other religions, philosophies, and beliefs that we disagree with, so long as they aren’t harming others, because we understand the alternative – coercion – won’t yield the inward heart-change that God is after. The secular version The West's Judeo-Christian heritage means that the godly type of tolerance will still pop up from time to time. But in rejecting God, our society has had to come up with a new basis for tolerance. And the best secular justification is relativism: there is no single Truth true for everyone, and since there is no truth, no idea can be better than any other idea, and we should, therefore, tolerate them all. The irony here is that the world only tolerates those who agree with them that there is no one Truth. Christians who think there's a real right and wrong are denounced as arrogant. And, of course, the world isn’t willing to tolerate our arrogance! We can see this worldly "tolerance" in how JY isn't willing to let these 16 estheticians alone. He’s demanding that they treat him as if he really were a woman with only woman parts….despite the fact he still has all his male bits. This sort of tolerance doesn't accommodate those who think differently, but demands, “Do what the guy in the dress says, or else!” And while God hates hypocrisy the world is happy to have us say what they want to hear, whether we believe it or not. Oh yes, they’d love it if we truly believed men can become women, homosexuality is fantastic, and abortion empowers women. But so long as we’re willing to wear a rainbow lapel pin when the office celebrates Pride Week, and we keep our Bible in our desk, not on it, they’re willing to let us continue thinking our secret thoughts…if we keep them to ourselves. They aren’t much worried about a mere show of outward compliance because outward compliance is all they have to go on. The Devil also isn’t put off by hypocrisy. He knows that we are either for God or against Him. So if we bow a knee to the gods of political correctness, sexual freedom, career advancement, homosexuality, sexual freedom, and more, it doesn’t matter if our hearts weren’t really in it. Our outward compliance to these gods is an inward denial of the supremacy of Christ in our lives, because we are placing job security, status, our income, or our business as more important to us than God. Conclusion Understanding the Devil's strategy makes it clear what we need to do. It's what we've always needed to do, and the blessed opportunity God has given us to have a part in the spreading of His Gospel. Instead of bowing the knee to the world's gods, we need to profess the Name of the one True God. And one way we can do so is by showing our friends and neighbors and coworkers and family how Christianity's tolerance compares and contrasts with a worldly tolerance that would have these women either agree to give an intimate treatment to a man's private parts or have to pay up one way or another. It comes down to this: whereas Christians are willing to tolerate other religions, philosophies, and beliefs that we disagree with, the world only tolerates those who agree with them that there is no one Truth....

Assorted

When we have to parent our parents: help and hope for caregivers

Paul pulled the car into the driveway. “Okay, Dad, now stay there and I’ll come around and help you out of the car.” “Okay.” Paul put the car into Park, turned off the lights, and opened the door. He rounded the back of the car planning to open the passenger side back door to retrieve Dad’s walker. But there was Dad, door open, lying face down in the gravel already. Paul was not amused.  **** Aging parents want to be independent. They want to continue living the way that they always have. They don’t want any help from strangers, and they certainly don’t want to give up their beautiful home and move into “one of those places.” What they want...may be impossible. What they have to choose between...is sometimes a choice too impossible for them to make. Dealing with one’s aging parents is like walking barefoot down a long series of gravel roads branching in every direction. It’s painful, uncomfortable, and confusing. Sometimes suddenly, and sometimes over a period of a couple of years, offspring are thrust into the position of having to parent their parents. It’s a role reversal that doesn’t please anyone. **** “You are NOT my mother - I am YOUR mother!” Mom yelled angrily. “I know that,” Susan said. “Then STOP bossing me around all the time!” Mom shouted. Susan sat down hard on the dining room chair and put her head in her hands. “You need to take your medicine now, Mom. Please?” **** The coming months, or years, will at times strain the relationships between the siblings, their spouses, and the aging parents. Who will help them? How often? Should someone quit a job to do so? Cancel a vacation? Who will pay the bills? Who will make the decisions that they won’t like? For those who know very little about medicine, caregiving, diseases, Alzheimer’s, or even the best way to deal with a doctor’s visit, it may be even harder. In 2018, it’s very common to hear both the aging and their younger family members say that parents really don’t want to live any longer if they cannot live independently as they used to. They would rather die. They don’t want to be a burden. Our culture has become so health-and-happiness oriented that the Right To Die (or euthanasia) movement grows stronger every year, not only in the Netherlands but here in Canada and the United States as well. It seems that the general public can see no purpose for an imperfect human being to exist. So when is it time to step in and step up? Each case will differ but according to one doctor, Mark Sawka, everyone always waits too long to make their decisions. Usually, by the time the senior citizens move into independent living, it should have been done sooner, and by the time they move to assisted living, they would have benefited greatly from going there sooner than that. We all want to maintain the status quo, keeping life as much like it has been as possible. Many older folks do not want to “face the music,” accepting their new limitations, and being grateful for what they are still able to enjoy. **** “Mom, you have fallen several times lately. We are worried about you living here in this house by yourself. Please...you can come and live with Susan and me, or you can go and live with Betty and Randall. Either of us would be happy to have you,” Paul said gently. “Oh, no, I could never do that. I won’t be a burden, and I don’t want to move away from my home.” Paul and Betty exchanged glances. What Mom didn’t understand is that since her children lived 3 hours away, she was being much more of a burden by living in her own home than she would be living with one of them. **** “Dad,” Susan began. “Your balance is not good. Your eyesight is nearly gone, you need constant help with your hearing aid, and to be honest, you need help with everyday things like bathing and dressing.” “Naw, I don’t need any help.” “Yes, you do, Dad.” “Mum can help me, can’t you, Mum?” Mom nodded her head, but had a weary and wary look about her. She was 82, used a walker, and took about 15 prescriptions a day, mostly to deal with back and shoulder pain. “I can help you if you stop being so stubborn!” Mom said. Susan tried again. “You either have to move into an apartment where people can help you, or you have to have people come to your house and help you here.” “I don’t want anybody coming into our house. I don’t need any other help.” “What if Paul and I moved in with you?” Susan offered. “No. Now you know that wouldn’t work. We would all end up fighting with each other. It’s hard enough for two of us to decide things, let alone having four opinions in the house,” Dad said. “Okay, then can we get some help through the Senior Citizens agency in town?” “We’re staying in our own home. And we don’t need any help,” Dad said with finality. Three lessons to learn  The first lesson to learn is that the best way to make your way through it is to view caregiving as a ministry given to you by God, instead of as the burden that your parents never wanted to be. There will have to be a lot of Scripture reading and prayer for patience and guidance. In her book entitled Ambushed by Grace: Help and Hope on the Caregiving Journey, Shelly Beach says: When I began caregiving six years ago, I did not expect to embark upon a journey of grace. I expected to learn of service and sacrifice, to explore new facets of patience and tolerance, love and forgiveness, but I did not expect to be changed at the core of my being. I did not know then what I know now — that caregiving, by the power of God ’s grace, can be a work of redemption powerful enough to reverberate into the hearts of those around us…. To make caregiving simply a task is a distortion of its purpose; rather, it is a divine appointment, a redemptive encounter, and an act of worship…. It wasn’t until I learned to relinquish my stride to His, to abandon control of my direction, and to match the rhythm of my pace to His that I discovered He was carrying me like a child standing upon her father’s shoes, clinging to his legs as she stared into his face, waiting for the next step. The second lesson is that none of this is going to be easy. It is very difficult to explain to your dad that he simply must let a staff member (read: stranger) help him to bathe, or tell your mother that she definitely must quit driving. It is difficult for siblings who have grown apart to mesh their ideas and agree on a plan of action. It is exhausting to add to one’s already busy work and home schedule the long days of research, packing and moving, doctors’ visits, cleaning, searching for lost dentures and wedding rings, meetings, and regular visits to these loved ones. **** “Mom, you drove 15 miles past your apartment building the other day and couldn’t find your way back. And last week you turned the wrong way and ended up going ten miles in another direction. You need to stop driving and give up your car.” “I need my car. I can still drive just fine.” “What if you have an accident?” “If I die I’ll go to Heaven, and that’s fine with me.” “Yeah, well, what if you crash into another car and hurt a woman and her baby, what then?” “I haven’t crashed into anybody and I’m not going to.” ****             The third lesson is that there is a lot of critical information that one or more of you must learn. Information such as: What is your parents’ financial situation? Is Assisted Living an option (at anywhere from $3000-10,000 per month!) or will they move in with someone or have someone move in with them? Or, how do you find an affordable assisted living apartment that will give your rapidly declining father all of the care that he requires and let your parents live together in more than one room? How many days will the insurance company or social benefits pay for your parent to stay in rehab, and will he be released earlier if he doesn’t cooperate in physical therapy? When should you contact the patient advocate in the hospital to intervene when your parent is not being treated well, discharged from the hospital as promised, or given the correct medication? How do you sign up for financial assistance from the various government or social agencies? For example, in the U.S. the Veteran’s Administration may send a monthly check if your parent served in the Armed Forces during a war. This research and application may take many hours, but it is well worth it. How do you accurately and safely hook up an IV with Vancomycin antibiotic to a port in your mother’s arm every single day for 8 weeks, or give your father his daily insulin shot? What is the purpose of the medications that they are taking? Four recommendations I will leave you with four recommendations. The first would be to read. Read books such as the aforementioned book by Shelly Beach and The Overwhelmed Woman’s Guide to Caring for Aging Parents, by Julie-Allyson Ieron. You may also find encouragement in John Calvin’s Golden Booklet of the True Christian Life. Second, contact people who have gone through this and ask a multitude of questions. Ask for one of them to be a prayer partner. It’s helpful if you know someone in the medical field who is able and willing to be consulted on occasion. Third, it's very important to involve all siblings in decision-making, even those that are reluctant to participate. They will have opinions. If possible, encourage everyone to be involved in the care, whether it is hands-on, financial assistance, regular visits, letters in the mail and regular phone calls, doing research online, shopping, or driving a parent to one of many doctors’ appointments. It is often the case that some step forward quickly and others hang back hoping not to have to do very much. Clear communication, understanding on all sides, and forgiveness may prevent anger and bitterness from occurring. Finally, encourage your parents in their faith in God as they live out these difficult days, and give them love in every way that you can. Remember that these loving parents cared for you when you were young, and it was not always convenient, exciting, or fun to do so. This ministry may go on for numerous years, but someday they will be gone, and you will miss them. This is your opportunity to be used by God to serve them. Conclusion Shelly Beach writes: Caregiving teaches us to see what is precious and valuable in life. It teaches us what it means to live out commitment and honor. It gives us the opportunity to love someone better who we may have struggled to love in the past. It gives us the opportunity to demonstrate God is sufficient and that He is a God who redeems. Caregiving is the hardest work we will ever do because it demands that we love as Christ loved, sacrificing our time, our jobs, our commitments, our friendships, and our health, while standing against the tide of culture.…It is a call to suffer, to sacrifice, and to serve. It is a call to abandonment and tears, to hardships and difficulties. It is a glorious call to be conformed to the image of Christ and join the God of the universe in ministering grace and mercy to one of His image bearers. There will be difficult terrain ahead, and you will likely feel fear and dread about walking this road. Remember that God is sovereign and in control of all parts of life, including this next part which can not be avoided. This, too, is part of His will. Unlike our culture around us, we who follow Jesus Christ can know that God has promised to care for us all of our lives – even as we watch our parents get old and feeble, and then walk that path ourselves. If He didn’t have a purpose for them to still be here on the earth, He wouldn’t have left them here. Your caring for them, in whatever way you are involved, is a part of that purpose. Sharon L. Bratcher is the author of Soup and Buns: Nourishment From God’s Word for Your Daily Struggles which is available by emailing sharoncopy@gmail.com....

Assorted

Living out Lord’s Day 1: a Cuban story

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” – Jeremiah 29:11 ***** We make plans, many plans and yet God has other plans for us. For 14 years, Luis had laid on his bed. He had broken his back in a motorcycle accident and now spent his days just lying on this bed in an eight-by-eight-foot room, built out of concrete blocks, in the back of his parents’ property. Some years ago my husband Andy and I had made a trip to Cuba, and we became aware of the great need for Bibles and study books for the pastors there. So we began to make regular visits, providing those things, along with other much needed articles. We’d been told about Luis – we knew he had a Bible to read, but we were told he needed glasses. We had glasses for him, but could not find Luis. We had been told his house was within one kilometer of the hotel that we would be staying in. We asked every one if they knew Luis, the man with the broken back. It took us three trips to Cuba before we met someone who remembered him and took us to his "forgotten prison." He was overjoyed with his glasses and asked for his Bible to loudly read to us. His dirty mattress had no sheets. He wore rags. Just him, his Bible, his cot and one chair in this room. But his joy shone out of his eyes. Andy and I just cried, for him, and for his joy. Two years later, someone gave us a copy of the Heidelberg Catechism….in Spanish! We decided to give it to Luis. We also took him four more books we had found at Value Village. How happy he was with those books. Then he opened the Catechism at Lord's Day 1 and started to read. What is your only comfort in life and death? That I am not my own, but belong with body and soul, both in life and in death, to my faithful Saviour Jesus Christ. He has fully paid for all my sins with his precious blood, and has set me free from all the power of the devil. He also preserves me in such a way that without the will of my heavenly Father not a hair can fall from my head; indeed, all things must work together for my salvation. Therefore, by his Holy Spirit he also assures me of eternal life and makes me heartily willing and ready from now on to live for him. Luis started to cry. Tears were flowing down his face and he was praising God at the same time. "This is what I believe!" he kept saying. We cried too. We had sometimes thought and said that all those old writings and confessions were so out of date and no longer applicable to our lives. And now this! We prayed together being so very aware of the hand of God. Two years later we again stood at his bedside. Again we had more books and sheets for his bed, plus clothing for him. He could hardly contain his joy when he saw us, not because of us, but because of what he had to tell us: "I have studied this book and all that is explained to me in this Heidelberger. I also explained to the only friend who has visited me all those years!" And he went on to tell us that this friend now had completed the study and was attending church, for this friend had become a believer. He told us that he now understood the plans God had had for him. That he had been privileged to help bring a friend to faith. It was not to harm him, but to strengthen him and others in their faith. A year later, shortly after we visited him and knew his time on earth was coming to an end, he succumbed to bedsores. Thankfully, we had a chance to say goodbye to this faithful child of God. For now, he rejoices before God's holy throne. A Portuguese translation of this article can be found here....

Assorted, Parenting

Is recreational marijuana sinful?

God says we should honor the governing authorities (Romans 13:1-6) in as far as they don’t require us to violate God’s law. So, before today, one big reason that Canadian Christians should not have smoked marijuana is because it was illegal. But as of Oct. 17, 2018, that's changed, with the possession of recreational marijuana now legal throughout the country. So does that change things for Christians? When it stops being illegal, does that means it also stops being sinful? If Romans 13:1-6 doesn’t apply anymore, are there are other biblical principles we can look to for guidance? There are indeed. While the Bible never speaks directly about smoking marijuana recreationally, God has guidance to give. 1. God calls us to honor our father and mother We can begin with the Fifth Commandment. In an article on cigarette smoking, Pastor Douglas Wilson made a simple argument that is just as applicable to marijuana: The Fifth Commandment (Ex. 20:12) tells children to honor their parents. No parent wants their children smoking cigarettes (or cannabis) Therefore, to honor mom and dad, children shouldn’t smoke As Wilson writes: “in all my years of being a pastor I’ve never met a kid who took up smoking because he was really eager to honor his father and mother.” 2. God calls us to self-control It’s no great leap to extend God’s condemnations of drunkenness (Ephesians 5:18, Proverbs 23:20-21, etc.), to anything that impacts our self-control (1 Peter 4:7, Titus 1:8, etc.). 3. God calls us to discern the world as it really is We’ve compared marijuana usage to cigarette smoking and drinking. In Jeff Lacine’s article “Marijuana to the Glory of God" at DesiringGod.org he makes another comparison: to drinking coffee. He notes that while there are similarities between cannabis, and alcohol, cigarettes, and coffee – all have psychoactive compounds – there are notable differences too. As Christians, our goal is knowing and experiencing the full and undistorted reality of the glory of God in our resurrected physical bodies (1 Cor. 15:12–49; Phili 3:20–21; 1 Cor. 13:12). This is our trajectory as Christians. This is our aim…. We want to see things as they really are. The Christian use of any kind of psychoactive substance should always align with this gospel goal of looking to see things clearer. We do not want our vision of reality distorted. Consider this principle in terms of a psychoactive substance most American adults use every day: caffeine. Why do people drink coffee in the morning? To help them to see things as they really are, rather than through the fog of grogginess. The right and proper use of this God-given substance helps us see things as they really are. He goes on to note this is why people drink and weddings but not funerals – at weddings “moderate lubrication…can be in keeping with reality” since it is a time to celebrate. In this setting “proper and moderate use of alcohol can be a clarifier and not a distorter,” whereas at a funeral alcohol use might well be obscuring reality. But what then of weed? Lacine argues, “both from research and personal experience” that cannabis use distorts and numbs a person’s perception of reality. We might expect a regular user to argue that it doesn’t numb their thinking but, as Lacine notes, if marijuana is numbing their thinking, that’s going to also impact their ability to perceive its impact on their thinking. There is a reason that marijuana has long been associated with the couch, a bag of chips, and a television remote. Put another way, marijuana has never been associated with engaged parenting…. studies have shown a high correlation between regular cannabis use and the clinical diagnosis of Amotivational Syndrome. 4. God calls us to ask a better question Perhaps the most important biblical principle is found in Hebrews 12:1. There we read: Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us In a 1997 sermon titled “Running with the Witnesses” John Piper explained that this verse calls us to do better than ask, “Is it a sin?” In verse 1 there are a couple of things said here as a means to running. It says, “Lay aside every encumbrance and sin which so easily entangles us.” Now I remember as a boy the effect a sermon on this verse had on me. And the only thing I remember was the distinction that the preacher made between – he was preaching from the King James at the time – weights (translated encumbrances here) and sins. And he looked out on us and he said, “Not just sins. Don’t just lay aside sins to run this race. Lay aside every other weight that gets in your way.” As a boy, it had a revolutionary effect on me. Because what it said to me was – and I speak it now especially for young people – kids, if you can get this, but especially young teenagers and teenagers, though it applies to everybody – what this says is: Don’t just ask, “What is wrong with it in life?” Don’t just say about your music, about your movies, about your parties, about your habits, about your computer games, don’t just say, “Well, what is wrong with it?” Don’t just ask, “Is it a sin?” That is about the lowest question you can ask in life. “I am going to do it if it is not a sin. So tell me, is it a sin to do this?” “Well, not exactly.” “Okay, that is all I wanted to know. I am off to do it.” And the preacher said – and I am the preacher now saying it – this text says, “Look to Jesus and lay aside sins for sure and lots of other stuff, too.” Now that is a different way to live. Well, preacher, as a 13-year-old or 14-year-old what question should I ask if it is not, “Is it a sin?” And the answer is, “Does it help me run?” That is the answer. “Does it get in my way when I am trying to become more patient, more kind, more gentle, more loving, more holy, more pure, more self-controlled? Does it get in my way or does it help me run?” That is the question to ask. Ask the maximal righteousness question, not the minimal righteousness question. That was the difference it made in my life. And I have been asking it this way ever since then, though I didn’t always live up to it. I am not making any claim that from age 12 on I did some great spiritual thing. But oh, I had a trajectory that was so much better than the minimalist ethic that merely asks, “Well, what is wrong with it? What is wrong with it?” I don’t even want to talk about what is wrong with it. Let’s ask, “Does it help me run?” You know why that question isn’t very often asked? Because we are not passionate runners. We don’t want to run. We don’t get up in the morning saying, “What is the course today? What is the course of purity? What is the course of holiness? What is the course of humility? What is the course of justice? What is the course of righteousness? What is the course of love? What is the course of self-control? What is the course of courage? O God, I want to maximize my running today.” If you have that mentality about your life, then you will ask, not, “How many sins can I avoid?” but, “How many weights can I lay down so that I am fleet-footed in the race of righteousness?” Conclusion Now that recreational marijuana usage is legal (though still with some limits) across Canada, there may be Christians looking for guidance on this issue. If they’re asking, “Is marijuana use sinful?” then the answer is, “It certainly can be. It can be a violation of the Fifth Commandment, or God’s prohibition against drunkenness.” But Pastor Piper’s point is the more important one. If we are God’s children then our concern isn’t simply with obeying Him, but loving Him. Then the right question isn’t “Is it sinful?” but rather, “Does this bring me closer to God, or push me further away?” and “Is it helpful?” Those are better questions, and maybe more uncomfortable questions. As John Piper says, we are not always passionate runners. Whether it’s the shows we watch, the music we listen to, the friends we hang out with, the career we pursue, the people we date, or the psychoactive compounds we ingest, there may be favorite “weights” we just don’t want to throw off. If so, let’s pray then that God will so change our hearts that we want to make our whole lives pleasing to Him. The excerpt from John Piper’s sermon is used with permission and the whole sermon, “Running with the Witnesses” can be found at DesiringGod.org. He directly addresses the topic of marijuana use in an Ask Pastor John audio segment which can be found here. For the sake of clarity the title of this article has been changed from the original, which read "Marijuana: is it sinful?" This article was first published Nov. 17, 2017, when marijuana was still illegal in Canada, and has now been updated to reflect the change in the law as of October 17, 2018. https://youtu.be/6nhRjGCvpfI...

Assorted

Eve: the mother of all living

“…she said: ‘God has appointed for me another child…’” - Genesis 4:25 How sad the reflections. Hunched down in front of her tent, she stared into the fire that had to be kept alight to keep at bay the hostile animals which at one time had been friendly. Her heart melted inside her as she remembered how once she would shiver with delight when the rustling in the treetops announced the presence of God the Creator. Now noises in the treetops or in the undergrowth spelled only danger. Among the trees all around, like heavy drapes, hung the somber forebodings of new unknown perils that could afflict their scarred family on this now-cursed earth. Terrible had been that day, when God angrily asked them to give account. The man who had once jubilantly embraced her, bone of his bone and flesh of his flesh, had pointed his finger: "that woman You gave me made me do it." There was no solidarity in guilt, no comfort in huddling together. Huddling? How solitary began the life after the fall! It still thundered in her ears: "That woman." Coming from her husband, her glory, her king! That woman. She was indeed the one who had taken the first evil step. They had been warned: the day you eat of that tree you shall die. They had eaten, and now the lifeline, through which the energy of love flowed between man and his Maker, was cut off – cut off by themselves through their willful disobedience. They moved about like before, but they were dead. Everything was lost through guilt. Her guilt. His guilt. Their guilt. But was there not the promise of the renewal of life, through the seed of the woman, that would eventually crush the head of the serpent? Yes, they had heard and believed the promise. And they looked forward to its fulfillment. They were not unlike the flowers and the trees early in the year: buds begin to swell, and there is the stirring of new life, a looking forward to friendly sunshine, mild summer showers and buzzing insects. And expectations began to grow, but as yet undefined and without specific contents. Then came the day when she began to feel the stirring of new life inside her own body. It was something totally new. Animals gave birth to their young, and buds burst open on the twigs to allow the tiniest little leaves to unfurl and show their brand-new foliage to the sun. But to man, no children have been born as yet. And therefore, what longing, what looking forward! Will this be the seed that was to crush the head of the serpent? **** The woman, who was called Eve by her husband because she was to be the mother of all living, carried her first child. And she talked to him, and she prayed for him, and she sang for him the lullaby for the unborn (as women would do for centuries after her), and she felt him thrashing around inside. Her husband would put his ear against the taut skin of her belly, which was round and hard as the bellies are of women who are great with child, and in his ear sounded the thud, thud, thud, of a forceful heartbeat, and he laughed, because the LORD had given cause for laughter. Advent had come; the firstborn who was to open the womb was about to be delivered. Yes, and the day came that those mysterious feminine powers of her body took over because the child that had been so intricately wrought in the depth of the earth was now full-grown, and wanted to see the light. Her husband had to act as instant midwife, because there was no one else about. How strong the power of her contractions, wave after wave! The world was startled with an entirely new sound, the crying of the firstborn child. And above the chortling baby noises, there sounded the victorious song of an exhausted mother: "A man! With the help of the LORD I have gotten a man!" The mother promise have been fulfilled. **** And another son was born, and daughters; a family was being formed on the face of the earth beyond the gate of Eden, but yet before the LORD. Their children, conceived and born in sin, were nevertheless children of the promise and they brought them up in the knowledge and the fear of the LORD of the covenant. They were actively expecting the day of the fulfillment of the promise... But when the lads attained manhood, the robust tiller of the soil stood up against his brother and killed him. He killed him, because his works were evil and those of his brother were righteous. The motivation for his deed came from the depths of depravity. Their mother still remembered how they had found Abel's dead body and seen what bodily death looks like. They discovered how rigor mortis sets in after a certain length of time. Dust they were, and here was the first one to return to dust. How they had wailed and lamented! Even years later, she could not hold back her tears as she remembered all that had passed. The man that she had gotten with the help of the LORD: a murderer, a marked man, who had chosen the camp of the evil one, East of Eden. Her second son: a martyr, dead and buried, the first soul under the altar to call for justice. Is that then the way in which God fulfills his covenant promises? Instead of the presence of God rustling in the treetops, there seemed everywhere the triumphant snickering of Satan, with his mock salutation: Ave Eva, are you the mother of all life? The LORD has left you; Cursed are you among women, And doomed is the fruit of your womb! **** It was the year one hundred and thirty, from the start of the world. The years that had passed had taught them to walk in faith, not by what meets the eye. What they observed was a broken line. The sum total of their experiences looked very much like a dead end road. But they had in their way, through suffering, learned obedience. Their tribulation had worked endurance, and endurance had produced character, and character did produce hope. And in hope they were not disappointed, because again God granted life. Her arms, which had been empty, were again graced with the moist warmth of a new son. He drank from her, and as he smiled, as children do, nestling against their mothers’ bosom, his mother repeated over and over: "Seth, Seth, for God has appointed me another child instead of Abel, for Cain slew him…” It was the profession of her faith in Him who after much distress because of sin still provided friendly sunshine, and a new hope. "Seth, Seth,” she hummed as gently she rocked him to sleep. Sleep, Seth, sleep; The ways of God are deep. Gone are your brothers two. The promise now must come through you; Sleep, Seth, sleep. **** In her confession she praised God who in his elective love had opened the door, there where human flesh could only perceive a blind wall. Through this door could prosper and continue the flow of the generations – the seed of the woman – until the Servant of the LORD, the Righteous One, would come. There was happy laughter again in Eva's tent, as the suckling grew to manhood, ready to carry on the torch, as his name implied. And the Genesis account hardly gives us a chance to catch our breath as it hurries on: to Seth also a son was born, and he called his name Enosh. No time for stalling now; things are happening; history is on the move! Then, with the growth of the different family units among God's people came the time to turn the house congregation into an instituted church and to praise God's holy name in public worship. **** Is not remarkable that the historical account of those early days, brief as it is, contains two narratives about the birth of Seth? The beginning of Chapter 5 looks like a fresh new start: Adam was created in the image of God, and Adam fathered Seth in his image and he gave him his name. It is introduced as the account of the generation of Adam, in the same manner as later there would be a book of the generation of Jacob. God created a new thing, a turning point in history. But praised be his name, He did not cut off the continuity from the beginning. The promise had been given to the woman. Adam fathered Seth, true. But it was also in the continuity of the paradise-given mandate that Eve mothered him. Eve mothered again. She brought forth a replacement. A sword had gone through her heart, but this replacement brought healing; she accepted it in faith. Therefore let all generations honor her name: Ave, Eva, mother of all the living; The LORD is with you. Blessed are you among women, And blessed is the fruit of your womb, Whose name is Seth, replacement. **** Abel's blood was shed, and although dead, through his blood, he still speaks today. From Seth would come forth the final Replacement, not of Abel whose blood was shed, but of Adam. That second Adam, the Christ, has shed his blood for Adam, for Eve, for Abel, and for all of us. And we are called to attend to that sprinkling of blood, which spoke more graciously than the blood of Abel. Yes, blessed are you, Eve, because blessed is the fruit of your womb, Jesus. In this reflection the author wants to direct us back to the text to look at it with new eyes – an oh-so-familiar story startles us once again when viewed under this different light. But like any commentary on Scripture, it shouldn’t be read instead of the text itself. Read on its own, it could become confusing as to what are the author’s thoughts, and what the text actually says. So an important follow-up then is to look up Genesis 3-5. John de Vos was Reformed Perspective’s very first editor and this article was first published in the October 1993 issue as part of a series of articles (and later a book) on "women in the history of salvation."...

Assorted

C.S. Lewis on real happiness and real Christianity

So who does not want to be happy? We all do, but wanting something is not the same as finding it. We all strive after happiness, but how many people actually find true, lasting happiness? Of course for the Christian, we know this is a foolish quest. Search for joy and it will elude you. Search for God wholeheartedly and you will be found by Him and happiness will be thrown in as a by-product. This is basic Christian teaching, yet sadly even most Christians today seem to get this wrong big time. So many sermons we hear today are all about your own happiness and peace and satisfaction and having all your desires met. How can I be successful and happy and satisfied and prosperous? That is what we hear so often: it is all about self, self-satisfaction, self-fulfillment and personal happiness. Instead of the biblical emphasis on the denial of self, we get plenty of self-centered foolishness by church leaders who should know better. We expect the world to get it wrong here, but Christian pastors? Consider folks like Joel Osteen, the guy with the biggest church in America. This is what he said: “To find happiness, quit focusing on what’s wrong with you and start focusing on what’s right with you.” Um no, Joel, that is not the way it works at all. That is not even remotely biblical. We are to focus on God and God alone, and seek after holiness (without which no one will see God – Hebrews 12:14) and as a by-product, peace and happiness may well follow. But we are never told to seek after it, put it first, or to believe that we can somehow find it by focusing on our self. The real nature of happiness, and why it should not be our central concern, is something C.S. Lewis spoke often about. He wrote much about happiness, or joy. Indeed, he called his autobiography Surprised By Joy. In his many well-known works he speaks much to this. Here I want to look at some of his lesser-known writings as I discuss this issue. He wrote about these themes throughout his life, and even in his very last writing before his death in November 1963, he was discussing this. His essay “We Have No ‘Right To Happiness'” (later published in God in the Dock) speaks directly to this. A superficial happiness So what did he say in his last known writing? He mentions a woman who claimed a “right to happiness,” and says: “At first this sounds to me as odd as a right to good luck. For I believe – whatever one school of moralists may say – that we depend for a very great deal of our happiness or misery on circumstances outside of human control. A right to happiness doesn’t, for me, make much more sense than a right to be six feet tall, or to have a millionaire for your father, or to get good weather whenever you want to have a picnic.” He goes on to say that this woman meant primarily “sexual happiness.” He concludes his piece with these words: “Though the ‘right to happiness’ is chiefly claimed for the sexual impulse, it seems to me impossible that the matter should stay there. The fatal principle, once allowed in that department, must sooner or later seep through our whole lives. We thus advance toward a state of society in which not only each man but every impulse in each man claims carte blanche . And then, though our technological skill may help us survive a little longer, our civilization will have died at heart, and will – one dare not even add ‘unfortunately’ – be swept away.” Another essay, also found in God in the Dock, is entitled “Answers to Questions on Christianity”. Question 11 asks this: “Which of the religions of the world gives to its followers the greatest happiness?” To this he gave this now famous reply: “While it lasts, the religion of worshipping oneself is the best. I have an elderly acquaintance of about eighty, who has lived a life of unbroken selfishness and self-admiration from the earliest years, and is, more or less, I regret to say, one of the happiest men I know. From the moral point of view it is very difficult! I am not approaching the question from that angle. As you perhaps know, I haven’t always been a Christian. I didn’t go to religion to make me happy. I always knew a bottle of Port would do that. If you want a religion to make you feel really comfortable, I certainly don’t recommend Christianity. I am certain there must be a patent American article on the market which will suit you far better, but I can’t give any advice on it.” No abiding happiness apart from God But perhaps some of his most-well known comments about happiness come from his classic Mere Christianity. As he says there: “The moment you have a self at all, there is a possibility of putting yourself first – wanting to be the centre – wanting to be God, in fact. That was the sin of Satan: and that was the sin he taught the human race. Some people think the fall of man had something to do with sex, but that is a mistake. (The story in the Book of Genesis rather suggests that some corruption in our sexual nature followed the fall and was its result, not its cause.) “What Satan put into the heads of our remote ancestors was the idea that they could ‘be like gods’ – could set up on their own as if they had created themselves – be their own masters – invent some sort of happiness for themselves outside God, apart from God. And out of that hopeless attempt has come nearly all that we call human history – money, poverty, ambition, war, prostitution, classes, empires, slavery – the long terrible story of man trying to find something other than God which will make him happy. “The reason why it can never succeed is this. God made us: invented us as a man invents an engine. A car is made to run on petrol, and it would not run properly on anything else. Now God designed the human machine to run on Himself. He Himself is the fuel our spirits were designed to burn, or the food our spirits were designed to feed on. There is no other. That is why it is just no good asking God to make us happy in our own way without bothering about religion. God cannot give us a happiness and peace apart from Himself, because it is not there. There is no such thing.” And the very last paragraph of his book says this: “Give up yourself and you will find your real self. Lose your life and you will save it. Submit to death, death of your ambitions and favourite wishes every day and death of your whole body in the end submit with every fibre of your being, and you will find eternal life. Keep back nothing. Nothing that you have not given away will be really yours. Nothing in you that has not died will ever be raised from the dead. Look for yourself, and you will find in the long run only hatred, loneliness, despair, rage, ruin, and decay. But look for Christ and you will find Him, and with Him everything else thrown in.” Conclusion Exactly right. This is indeed the basic Christian understanding, yet we have an entire generation of Christian teachers and preachers who have totally lost this, and are preaching a me-centered gospel which must disappoint. A focus on self, our wants, our desires, and our lusts is exactly what Satan wants us to do – but not God. Jesus made the secret to happiness absolutely plain in the Beatitudes (Matthew 5:1-12). Blessedness or happiness consists of being poor, being meek, mourning, being persecuted, and the like. That is the path to happiness. It is about denial of self, as Jesus spoke about so often. It certainly is not about being fixated on self, seeking your best life now, or aiming for material wealth and possessions. What Lewis said about happiness is just the simple Christian gospel. How can so many believers and preachers today miss this so thoroughly? Bill Muehlenberg blogs on culture daily at BillMuehlenberg.com where this first appeared. It is reprinted here with permission....

Assorted

Stepping into the story: Hamlet with a happy ending?

It all starts with an invitation from the Grade Twelve English teacher, Tom Van Swift, to come and enjoy the final field trip of the year, just before graduation. When the students meet in the school foyer at the beginning of the school day, Mr. Van Swift tells them to take the elevator to the second floor. When the seven students, along with Mr. Van Swift, arrive at the second floor, they find the room (which should be the library) to be pitch-dark. “Where are we?” asks Adam. Mr. Van Swift answers, “I made a few minor modifications to the elevator. You’re now in some other dimension – of sight, of sound, of mind.” The track star of the bunch, Barbara, replies with a wit just as quick as her feet, “It’s a little too dark in here for The Twilight Zone. Can we please get some light?” "Lights… and action" So, Mr. Van Swift calls, “Lights… and action,” and that is the last the class sees or hears of him for some time. What they do see, in fact what they are standing on, is the battlements of a medieval castle, in the dying light of early evening. They themselves are dressed in Elizabethan clothes, and the man standing before them looks very familiar… “Hey, wait a minute, you’re William Shakespeare!” exclaims Cedric. “Yeah,” says Isaac, and adds, “and this is a re-creation of one of your plays. Hamlet, right? ” Suddenly, Johanna speculates, “Is this, like, a time machine?” “Forsooth, forsooth,” laughs Shakespeare. “Hinder me not, and I will repay your queries with what wit I can muster, in proper order. First, I am indeed the Bard of Avon, William Shakespeare. And this is – as you have truly divined – what you call a… re-creation of part of my own favorite play, Hamlet. Howe’er, as to whether this is a… time machine, I know not what thou dost speak of.” “Well, that’s a little hard to explain,” says Muriel. “But… why are we here?” “Fairly asked, young maiden, and ’twill be fairly answered,” says Shakespeare. “Over the centuries that my plays have been performed – and studied – in your schools, I have oft heard complaint and protest (methinks, too much) over the ending of my favorite play. It seems that people, especially students, bewail the death of my sweet prince Hamlet as much as I often do.” “Yeah, why should he die?” asks Oliver, who played the Emperor in the school production of The Emperor’s New Clothes. “My character’s vanity was a tragic flaw, just like Hamlet had… but he didn’t die from it.” “Aye, but your play was a comedy, was it not?” counters Shakespeare. “In a tragedy, as oft in the real world, life must, alas, be lost when once we leave law’s limits. There is a way to save my Hamlet, but first let us scan this closely: What brings Hamlet headlong to his deadly destiny?” “Well, some say Hamlet’s weakness was indecision,” rejoins Oliver confidently, “but Mr. Van Swift says that he read a Christian book that said his real flaw was being too vengeful.” “Well, if what thou sayest be truth,” Shakespeare replies, “it is certainly clear that vengefulness deserveth death. Still, do you wish to seek to save my Hamlet? Is our quest to be, or not to be?” Muriel hesitantly answers, “To be, I guess. What do we need to do?” Shakespeare explains, “Paint for me how my Hamlet was too vengeful.” “I think I know,” replies Johanna. “Is it partly that he resents his uncle Claudius for getting married to his mother so soon after his father’s death? That makes Hamlet only too ready to believe that Claudius poisoned his father for his throne, right?” “Yeah, that’s right,” says Isaac. “And then Hamlet doesn’t accuse his uncle publicly, but starts acting like he’s some kind of private eye.” “Yeah, and he doesn’t even tell his best friend what he’s thinking, but goes on a personal vendetta against Claudius and his servants,” says Barbara, who also quickly accuses Hamlet of fleeting love toward his girlfriend: “He even treats Ophelia badly ’cause he thinks all women are like his mother – disloyal to their true love.” “Don’t forget that Hamlet won’t kill Claudius when he thinks Claudius is praying, because he wants to send his uncle not just to death, but to hell. Now that’s vengeful!” concludes Adam. “And thou hast not even mentioned that Hamlet hath innocent blood on his hands, either by mistake or by malice, when he killeth Polonius, Rosencrantz, and Guildenstern,” says Shakespeare, “because he believeth they are working with Claudius against him.” “I know,” says Mr. Van Swift finally, stepping out from behind a pillar. “And this battlement is where it all starts, when Hamlet sees his father’s ghost on a moonless night just like this one. But now, how about changing the ending?” “Well, as I wrote the ending,” Shakespeare replies, “Hamlet dieth when Laertes, the son of the old man Hamlet killed, stabs Hamlet with a poisoned sword in a fencing competition arranged by Hamlet’s uncle Claudius.” “We know that,” says Mr. Van Swift. “However, because this is not a time machine, but a mind machine, you simply have to rewrite this original manuscript I just found in my hand, with this quill pen I just found in my front shirt pocket, and the ending of every copy of Hamlet in the world will be changed.” “O brave new world, that hath such cunning wonders in it,” says Shakespeare. “There is only one way in which thou hast overleaped thyself, Mr. Van Swift. My play is, and should be, a tragedy. If Hamlet doth not die for his tragic flaw, then someone else must die willingly in his place.” Startled, the class hears Mr. Van Swift say casually, “So write somebody in to step in the way of the poisoned blade. How about that pompous Osric guy?” “But, Mr. Van Swift,” pleads Shakespeare, “how can I ask one of my characters to die willingly for the sins of another? That is not right. Besides, Osric has his own faults to be punished for. He cannot stand in for another. No, there is only one person who can save Hamlet – his maker… me.” A quick rewrite Now it is Mr. Van Swift’s turn to be dumbstruck. “You? You’re willing to die for Hamlet? But you’re a person, created in God’s image. He’s only a character.” “Be not so hasty in thy reasoning. The person of Shakespeare is not in peril. My soul is not here. Its destiny rests in God’s hands. What I would lose is my reputation, my glory. If I write myself into the script to save Hamlet, the name of Shakespeare will disappear. No-one will ever again know who really wrote Hamlet or Midsummer Night’s Dream or any of my more than thirty other plays. In fact, no-one will even know whether or not all my anonymous plays were written by the same person. In the public mind, my sweet prince Hamlet will live on, as he should, but Shakespeare will vanish.” Mr. Van Swift is paralyzed in horror as Shakespeare takes the manuscript and quill and begins to insert some lines for a character named… William of Avon… who overhears Claudius’s plot; is captured; escapes; and at the last minute warns Hamlet, but is stabbed by the poisoned sword himself. Even as Shakespeare writes, his features change. His face grows younger, more like his earlier actor self. Then he begins to fade as the scene in the mind machine changes to a royal palace in the middle of a fencing match between Hamlet and Laertes, with a roaring fireplace at one end of the room, and the rewritten manuscript lying near it. The class sees a new character, a sort of young-looking Shakespeare, rushing in to warn Hamlet. Just before “William of Avon” can step in between Hamlet and his opponent, Mr. Van Swift screams, “No!” and hurls the rewritten manuscript into the blaze in the fireplace. The flames seem to fill the room for a moment, and everyone’s eyes close against the glare. The last act When the students open their eyes, they are back on the castle walls, with the “old” Shakespeare chuckling as he rebukes their teacher: “Really, Mr. Van Swift, I hope thou hast learned something from all thy meddling with literature. Art thou not a Christian? Yet thou art shocked when I am willing to treat one of my sinful characters, whom I had made, as a friend. Doth not God do the same for His people? Jesus said, ‘I no longer call you servants, but friends.’” “Yes, but to have Shakespeare’s name disappear!” says Mr. Van Swift. “It’s unthinkable! There is glory and majesty in that name!” “The Son of God had far greater glory and majesty,” counters Shakespeare, “but He did not count His equality with His Father as something to be greedily held on to. Rather, He gave up His glory and humbled Himself unto death. He was willing to step into the story He had written as one of the Persons of the Tri-une God, rather than let it simply perish in the flames – as you were only too willing to let happen.” “But what good is all this to our Grade Twelve students?” replies Mr. Van Swift. “I was trying to show them how they have the power to change things, and you’ve just shown them that everything stays the same.” “Actually, Mr. Van Swift, thou shewest them that when thou did not let me change the play. However, thou also revealed what a great and terrible thing it is for the Maker to step into His own story. Meditate upon that for a while, as thou ponderest also how to respond to the love of the Divine Storyteller.” “This all reminds me,” says Mr. Van Swift, slowly, “of Philippians 2. One way to respond to a God who steps into His own story is ‘with fear and trembling,’ as we ‘work out’ the roles he has set for us in the story He has written for us.” “Now that, forsooth, is an ending worth keeping,” says Shakespeare, as both he and the castle begin to fade. “Remember me,” he says faintly, with a ghostly grin, as the students find themselves in their own school library. “So, class,” says Mr. Van Swift. “Not what I meant to teach, but remember this as you graduate from our school. God the Son, who with God the Father and the Spirit is our Maker, gave up His glory and stepped into His story to save us, calls us His friends, and now enables us to carry out, with fear and trembling, the parts He has given us, in His-Story.” Jeff Dykstra admits that C. S. Lewis thought of making Shakespeare a character in his own play first – as a symbol for the Incarnation. However, Jeff wrote it as a story first....

Assorted

A history of Healthcare...and why Christians have done it different

Within a short time span hospitals and medical care have greatly changed. In fact, today a man of seventy can justly claim that more medical progress has been made in his lifetime than in all of previous history. This medical progress forces us to cope with issues our forefathers never faced. The most common and most pervasive issue is how new medical science has transformed medicine: it used to be about caring for a person; now it is about curing a disease. According to this new philosophy, when someone is faced with a medical problem, everything that can be done ought to be done, no matter what – they are treated as an object to be fixed, rather than a person to be helped. That’s why it is important to understand the Christian origin of hospitals, and the Christian view on healthcare. We have an important message to share with the world. We can show them what true compassion is about. HEALTHCARE MENTIONED IN THE BIBLE The medical profession is an old one and physicians were unquestionably a visible part of society in Bible times. Scripture refers to the medical practice both favorably and disdainfully. Job gives a passing reference to doctors when he refers to his comforters as "worthless physicians" (Job 13:4). Charlatans, magicians, and witchdoctors were to be driven from society and avoided at all costs (Lev. 19:31; Deut. 18:10). However, doctors like Luke (the author of Luke and Acts) were respected men (Col. 4:14). In the New Testament Jesus is the Great Physician. He was concerned not only with humanity's spiritual condition but also with its physical state. He did not teach that we should accept suffering stoically; He saw it as an enemy which must be fought. He was also involved in the lives of people who were in a situation of distress. All four Gospels reveal that along with his teaching, He healed many. He showed compassion to the multitudes (Mark 8:2) healing the sick, opening the eyes of the blind, and making the lame walk, and the deaf to hear. When Jesus healed a woman on the Sabbath, his reply to the criticism was: "Should this woman... not be set free in the Sabbath day from what bound her?" (Luke 13:16). Jesus expected his disciples, along with their teaching, to also heal: "He sent them out to preach the kingdom of God and to heal the sick" (Luke 9:2). He told his disciples when they looked after the sick, they were caring for Him (Matt. 25:36). HEALTHCARE IN THE EARLY CHURCH This exhortation of our Lord did not go unheeded. And as the early Christians were dispersed throughout Asia Minor, largely as a result of being persecuted, we find them engaged in healing in addition to their preaching and teaching. History shows that these early Christians did not only oppose abortion, infanticide, and the abandonment of infants, but they also nurtured and cared for the sick, regardless of who they were. Christian or pagan, it made no difference to them. Bishop Dionysius (approximately 200-265 AD) tells us that Christians, when it came to caring for the sick and dying, ignored danger to themselves: "Very many of our brethren, while in their exceeding love and brotherly kindness, did not spare themselves, but... visited the sick without thought of their own peril... drawing upon themselves their neighbors' diseases, and willingly taking over to their own persons the burden of the sufferings around them."  HEALTHCARE IN PAGAN GREECE AND ROME The world the Christians entered during the Greco-Roman era had a colossal void with respect to caring for the sick and dying. The Greeks built large temples in honor of their numerous gods and goddesses, fashioned statues of all sorts, and wrote a wide variety of illuminating literature but never built any hospitals. The Romans were subject to most of the same illnesses and ailments which afflict us today but diseases which are minor problems today were often life-threatening then. Because cure rates were low, they distrusted doctors or even scorned them. And their skepticism is easily understood. Anyone could call himself a doctor – there were no licensing boards and no formal requirements for entrance to the profession. The Roman scholar Pliny the Elder (23-79 AD) said: "Medicine is the only profession, by Jove, where any man of the street gains our immediate trust if he professes to be a doctor; and yet surely no lie would be more dangerous. But we don't worry about that; each one is lulled by the sweet hope of being healed." The key difference between the early Christians’ attitude toward the sick and the Greco-Roman attitude is their conflicting worldviews. The American church historian Philip Schaff summed it up well when he said, "The old Roman world was a world without charity." Dionysius vividly described the behavior of non-Christians toward their fellow sick human beings in an Alexandrian plague in about AD 250. The pagans he said, "thrust aside anyone who began to be sick, and kept aloof even from their dearest friends, and cast the sufferers out upon the public roads half dead, and left them unburied, and treated them with utter contempt when they died." No wonder the pagan world took note when the early Christians appeared on the scene and started caring for the sick and dying. THE HISTORY OF HOSPITALS Hospitals in the Western world owe their existence to Christian teachings and Christian culture. Charity hospitals for the poor did not exist until Christians founded them – these Christian hospitals were the world's first voluntary charitable institutions. Out of compassion for the sick and suffering, Christians felt that something ought to be done. It is very important that we should keep this point before us. Secularism, which has such a negative and condescending attitude toward Christianity, should be reminded of this history. The first ecumenical council of Nicea in 325 AD directed bishops to establish hospices/hospitals. Although their most important function was to nurse and heal the sick, they also provided shelter for the poor and lodging for Christian pilgrims. They were prompted by the early apostolic admonition by Christ's command that Christians be hospitable to strangers and travelers (1 Pet. 4:9). The first hospital was built by St. Basil in Caesarea on Cappadocia about 369 AD. It was one of a "large number of buildings with houses for physicians and nurses, workshops, and industrial schools." The rehabilitation units gave those with no occupational skills opportunity to learn a trade while recuperating. Deaconesses worked as nurses, visited the sick and the poor, and contacted pastors for spiritual care when deemed necessary. Christians searched for the sick in the city, and the latter were brought to the hospital. In about 390, Fabiola, a wealthy widow and associate of St. Jerome (347-419 AD), built the first hospital in Western Europe, in the city of Rome. By the sixth century, hospitals had become independent of bishops and were linked with monasteries. For many monasteries the hospital was as much an essential part of the complex as a dining room, sleeping quarters, and the church. Monasteries without a hospital usually had an infirmary and herb garden which also enabled them to tend to their sick brethren and members of the general public. The love for Christ was their motivation. "Care of the sick," states the Rule of St. Benedict, who founded the great Benedictine Order in 527, "is to be placed above... every other duty, as if indeed Christ was being directly served by waiting on them." In our time when so much is said about the "glorious past of Islam," it is interesting to note the impact of Christianity upon Islam's health care. In Under the Influence: How Christianity Transformed Civilization Alvin J. Schmidt observes that nearly four hundred years after Christians began erecting hospitals, the practice drew the attention of the Arabs in the 8th century. Impressed with humanitarian work of Christian hospitals, the Arab Muslims began constructing hospitals in Arab countries. This demonstrates once more that Christianity was a major catalyst in changing the world, even beyond the boundaries of the West. In the course of time Christian hospitals were founded in many countries across the world. I will mention only a few. St. Bartholomew's, the oldest British hospital, was started in 1123 by Rahere, Court Jester to Henry I, when he founded a religious order. St. Thomas's Hospital, the second oldest, was opened in 1213 by Richard, Prior of Bermondsey, against the wall of his monastery. Most of the work was performed by monks and nuns. In 1524 Hernando Cortes, the Conquistador, founded Jesus of Nazareth Hospital in Mexico City, which is still operative today. As early as 1639 Ursuline nuns established a hospital for French colonists in Quebec. In 1801 there were only two hospitals in the United States. The one in Philadelphia was founded by the Quakers in the first half of the 1700s.  NURSING When Christians introduced hospitals, it was, of course, necessary that the sick be nursed. But little is known about those who first took on the nursing role. Most of the evidence, though sparse, indicates that widows and deaconesses commonly served as nurses in early Christian hospitals. They can be compared to social workers and home care nurses of today. Paula (347-404), a female associate of St. Jerome, was essentially a nurse. But in 533 the Synod of Orleans abolished the office of the deaconess and her functions were taken over by the monastic orders. In the 12th century the Knights Hospitalers of St. John, a military order of the Crusaders, recruited women to serve as nurses to care for leprosy patients in Jerusalem. The physician and medical historian Fielding Garrison once remarked, "The chief glory of medieval medicine was undoubtedly in the organization of hospitals and sick nursing, which had its organization in the teaching of Christ." In 1822 a young German pastor, Theodor Fliedner in Kaiserwerth, tried to revive the function of deaconesses by recruiting women from the middle and upper classes who were willing to work with the spirit of Christian sacrificial love. They were carefully selected and trained. This ministry led to the establishment of deaconesses hospitals, which provided spiritual and physical treatment for the whole person. When Fliedner died in 1864 thirty-two Deaconesses houses and 1,600 Deaconesses were spread throughout Germany, Asia Minor, and the USA. Florence Nightingale, the "Lady of the Lamp," making her rounds at night. Florence Nightingale (1820-1910), known as "the Lady of the Lamp" became a reformer of hospitals and the founder of modern nursing. Her interest in medical matters horrified her mother, who frustrated her attempts to gain nursing experience at Salisbury Hospital in 1844. Nevertheless, although nursing was considered unsuitable for a woman of respectability, she spent three months at Kaiserwerth in 1853. In the same year she visited the Sisters of Charity in Paris. These visits made a deep impression on her. She became famous for her work in the 1854 Crimean war. She was invited by the British government to take a team of nurses to aid wounded and soldiers. She selected thirty-eight middle-aged nurses from several religious orders and included eight who had nursed cholera cases in the Plymouth slums. This small number of willing workers were sent to the huge base hospital at Scutari across the Bosporous from Constantinople. To this hospital came boatloads of sick and wounded. The conditions in this military hospital, which was no more than a collection of dirty barracks lacking all medical equipment, defies description. But with scant resources Nightingale and her assistants did their utmost to change the awful unsanitary conditions for the better. Nightingale developed new treatments, made ward rounds daily, even if it meant being 20 hours on her feet. The stricken soldiers – upwards of 5,000 at one time – soon regarded her as a saint, an angel sent to save their lives. Upon her return from the Crimean War in 1856 she became a national hero and an authority on hospital care. The money the grateful nation gave to her was mainly used to found a school for nurses in the St. Thomas Hospital in London. Her Notes on Hospitals published in 1859, were widely read, as were her Notes on Nursing published the same year. The two books recommended better sanitation, construction, and management of hospitals. Her prime aim in life was to secure the effective training of nurses. By the 1880s and the 1890s nursing had established itself as a suitable and respected career. WHY DID CHRISTIANS TREAT THE SICK DIFFERENTLY? So it was clear Christians treated the sick differently… but why? There are two reasons. 1. IMAGE BEARERS OF GOD The way doctors answer one key question will have a large impact on how they approach medical care. The question is: Who are we? Or, What is Mankind? Secularists see people as things, maybe treasured things but things nevertheless. They don’t regard man as having an eternal destiny. They value people in terms of status and productivity, good looks, credentials, income and wealth. But we are not merely animals, objects, consumers, or spirits. God's attitude about the value of a human being is far different from that seen in the secular world. Each human being is precious in God's sight. After the fall into sin, man has not ceased to be man. We are still God's representatives in his world. We are made in his image (Gen.1:26; 1 Cor. 11:7; James 3:9). The high view God has of human beings is clearly demonstrated through his Son's Incarnation. His Son became one of us, but without sin. Furthermore, in contrast to the view of the secular and pagan world, our Lord's teaching provides a clear picture of our value in God's sight (Matt. 6:26; 12:12). In fact, the cross of Christ is the ultimate proof of the value of mankind (Mark 10:45). The Bible also teaches the importance of the unity of body and soul. We may never separate the soul from the body. We may not say, "winning souls for Christ is more important than the ministry of healing." We love the whole man, not just his soul. Man is a unity of soul and body, indivisible, and this is also true for the medical patient. The body is not a neutral thing. Paul set it firmly in place as a "temple of the Holy Spirit." (1 Cor. 6:19). The body belongs to the Lord. To treat it as an object for medical experiments is sacrilegious. It will also have a dehumanizing effect on the patient. The Christian worldview leads us to see the sick and distressed from a totally different perspective. Therefore, it is not strange that the commands of love taught in the Scriptures make Christians concerned about the whole man in all of his dimensions. 2. LOVE The atheist British philosopher Bertrand Russell, famous for his book Why I Am Not a Christian, later wrote "What the world needs is Christian love or compassion." I am sure Christians agree with his observation. But to show Christian love is easier said than practiced. How can we love those who persecute or hate us? The love standard revealed in Scripture goes against our human nature. What is love? True love is from God: "Love is of God, and he who loves is born of God" (1 John 4:7). Consequently, we are the instruments of God's love (2 Cor. 5:14). Our helping someone in need is the same as helping the Lord Himself (Matt. 25:40). How did the early Christians view love? The Church father St. Augustine had much to say about love, but it had nothing of that oozing, sentimental, sensual feeling promoted by our modern culture. He observed that love is always preferential; it gives of itself voluntarily, not because the giving is legally due another. What is not loved for its own sake and its own right is not actually loved at all. Love, or compassion, is a relationship between persons. But love is not limited to one's friends. Love is desiring and doing the good of the other (1 Cor. 13:4-7). It is self-sacrificing for the other. Jesus said, "Love your neighbor as yourself" (Matt. 22:39). Our neighbors are people in need, whoever they are and wherever they may be. For example, Jonah discovered that even the wicked Assyrians were his neighbors (4:2). So Christians treat the sick differently because we recognize them as being made in God’s image, and because we have been instructed to seek after the good of our neighbor. CONCLUSION The Christian origins of hospitals and the nursing profession seem almost forgotten. But the precedent the early Christian hospitals set not only alleviated human suffering but also extended the lives of multitudes of people, whether rich or poor. These institutions did not treat patients as objects. They reflected Christ's love for the whole person. In our technological age, the Biblical concept of love is lacking more and more in the medical sector, and unfortunately also in the caregivers. That's why the Christian perspective on healthcare has an important message for today. Love is concerned about the whole man with all of his needs. The hungry need food. The sick need to be healed (James 5:14). The lost need to be told the Gospel. Today's Christian healthcare giver has a great responsibility. Going against the flow, he/she is called to offer priestly and prophetic healthcare. Rev. Johan Tangelder (1936-2009) wrote for Reformed Perspective for 13 years and many of his articles have been collected at ReformedReflections.ca. This article first appeared in the July/August 2007 issue....

Assorted

What are we to make of gambling?

And He said to them, "Take heed and beware of covetousness for one's life does not consist in the abundance of the things he possesses. (Luke 12:15)  ***** The thesaurus defines the Victorian Age, (1837-1901), as a period in British history during the reign of Queen Victoria. It is said that her character and moral standards restored the prestige of the British monarchy but also gave the era a rather prudish reputation. Strangely enough, however, a number of happenings recorded during this time period were wagers – bets which certainly cannot be defined as prudish but which can be defined as coarse and as lacking in compassion. Strange wagers For example, once when a passer-by collapsed in the street, a number of aristocrats inside the building into which the poor man was brought, bet on whether he would live or die. Another example is that of rich Lord Alvanley, (1789-1849), a gambling dandy, and a member of the Prince of Wales' circle, who triflingly bet on a race between two raindrops slowly trickling down a fancy club window. The amount he put down on the raindrop he favored was a whopping 3,000 pounds, an amount 300 times the annual earning of a general servant. Many of these inappropriate wagers were minutely recorded in a book published in 1892. There were other ridiculous bets placed during this era – bets which indicated a desire for fame and attention. In 1891, in Bristol, a sixteen-year-old boy named John Magee, wagered that he could swallow fifty-three marbles. Why fifty-three? Perhaps those were the number of marbles the other boys standing around owned between them. John Magee proceeded to swallow all fifty-three of the marbles, and apparently seemed none the worse for the swallowing, although perhaps a little heavier in weight. A friend, a little anxious about possible repercussions, took him to a hospital where he was kept for observation and where doctors later extracted forty-three of these marbles. Again, with the desire to appear strong and to become famous, in 1899 a High Wycombe citizen placed a bet during the town's Christmas fair that he could enter a cage of lions and emerge unscathed. Perhaps this in itself was not so spectacular, but he actually vowed that he would sit down in the cage, smoke a cigar and drink a bottle of champagne to the health of his friends, all the while in the company of the large cats. This he did, while a crowd of onlookers gaped and wondered what would happen. The lions, part of a circus, left the man alone during this suicidal feat and he descended from the cage amid wild applause. Victorian England was not the only place in which strange bets were made. In 1896, and again in 1900, in the United States, William McKinley ran against William Jennings Bryan for president. In 1900, McKinley won for the second time. Prior to the voting, a Henry Winsted of Kinkley, Indiana said he would engage in a butting match with a full grown ram if McKinley was elected, whereas a John Burns, of the same town, said he would drink three pints of hard cider while standing on his head in a barrel, if Bryan was voted in. Another fellow, a Samuel Carpenter of Wisconsin, who was an ardent supporter of Bryan, said he would wear all his clothes backwards for four years if McKinley won the election. What are we to make of gambling? How people love attention, and how they are apt to magnify themselves! So what are we to make of gambling? We can chuckle at the above stories and anecdotes and tell ourselves we would never go this far and that such ridiculousness would never touch our lives. Leland Ryken, who served as professor of English at Wheaton College for more than 50 years, wrote in his book World Saints: the Puritans as they Really Were: It is true that the Puritans banned all recreation on Sundays and all games of chance, gambling, bear baiting, horse racing and bowling in or around taverns at all times. They did so, not because they were opposed to fun, but because they judged these activities to be inherently harmful or immoral. My father, a man who loved to play games, was very opposed to his children playing card games upon our first moving to Canada from Holland. He had seen, in his youth and later in his ministry, too many people who had lost their paychecks because they played card games in local pubs – card games in which wagers and money bets were all too common. The Bible actually contains no specific command that says: You may not gamble. But it does contain principles for walking in a way which is pleasing to God. The tenth commandment, for example, clearly speaks of the sin of coveting. And coveting is one of the reasons people gamble and play the lottery. We had some pleasant neighbors, Bob and Jane, in a previous home in which we lived. During the last years we knew them, the wife took a job as a waitress and Bob and Jane decided together that they would use her tips, for fun they said, to visit a casino and place some bets. They would only use the tips – no more and no less. Sometimes they won a little and sometimes they lost it all. But before they knew it, they were hooked. As a matter of fact, the husband became so hooked he gambled away his home, his mother's home and his marriage. Governments hooked on gambling In 2014, the Quebec government made over $1.2 billion in gambling profits. Almost 70 per cent of the people in Quebec gamble – mainly on lottery tickets. It seems to be a popular pastime. It has been studied and recorded that 0.6 per cent are pathological gamblers, and 1.2 per cent are at risk of becoming so. There are sad consequences for families as seen in the case of our erstwhile neighbors. Before gambling was legalized in Canada and before lottery corporations were set up, it is said that these things were run by organized crime. On the defensive, the Quebec government has set up treatment programs for pathological gamblers with free accessible services. As of 2016, the province of Ontario has 33 casinos containing more than 25,622 slots and gaming machines. There are a whopping total of 651 table games through which a person can lose lots of money. In the United States, land-based casinos made approximately $315 billion dollars in 2015. Meanwhile, Macau, China, is the largest casino market in the world, the gaming industry contributing significantly to the economy of Macau. Its gross gambling revenue in 2014 was $44 billion. Staggering amounts of money! Wasting God-given resources 1 Timothy 6:10 states: "... the love of money is the root of all evil." It is a clear statement. It is a statement which calls gambling sin. The talents given by Jesus to each and every believer are to be used by us. These talents include time, money and witnessing ability. We are going to be asked how we, as servants, have used our talents. If they have been wasted, gambled away, we need only look to the end of the parable told by Jesus in Matthew 25 to find out what happened to the man who was wasteful and abused his talents. Our time and our resources belong to God Who bought us with a price (I Cor. 6:20). We may not fritter away His resources. General Cadwallader Colden Washburn, (1818-1882), an American business man, politician and soldier who was the governor of Wisconsin from 1872-74, said in his annual message to the state in 1873: Some law seems to be required to break up the schools where gamblers are made. These are everywhere. Even the church, (unwittingly, no doubt), is sometimes found doing the work of the devil. Gift concerts, gift enterprises and raffles, sometimes in aid of religious or charitable objects, but often for less worthy purposes, lotteries, prize packages, etc., are all devices to obtain money without value received. Nothing is so demoralizing or intoxicating, particularly to the young, as the acquisition of money or property without labor. Respectable people engage in these chance enterprises, and ease their consciences with the reflection that the money is to go to a good object. It is, therefore, not strange that the youth of the state should so often fall into the habits which the excitement of games of hazard is almost certain to engender. Perhaps we never will and do not even contemplate disgracing our persons by crossing the threshold of a casino. But are we making correct choices in all the areas of our lives? It is good to recall how godly men in times past have exhorted others in matters of living godly lives. One Joseph Alleine, an English noncomformist pastor (1634-1668), and one who was imprisoned several times for his steadfast perseverance in ministry, wrote these sound words: The unsound “convert” takes Christ by halves. He is all for salvation, but not sanctification. He is all for the privileges, but neglects the person of Christ... Many men do not love the Lord Jesus in sincerity... they desire salvation from suffering, but do not desire to be saved from sinning. They would be saved and keep their lusts; they are content to destroy some sins, but cannot leave the lap of Delilah. They cannot be cruel to the right eye or hand. O be infinitely careful here, your soul depends upon it! One of Webster's definitions of gambling is "to risk losing (something valuable or important) in order to do or achieve something" Mind what you do with your time, money and daily witness. This article was first published in the October 2016 issue under the title "Beware of covetousness." Christine Farenhorst is the author of many books, her latest being Katherina, Katherina, a novel taking place in the time of Martin Luther. You can read a review here, and buy it at www.sola-scriptura.ca/store/shop....

Assorted

Which bits of the Bible would you walk around with?

The end of the movie Fahrenheit 451 closes with a curious scene. Due to a governmental decision to eliminate all books, the only way any of history’s great literature will be kept is if some people remember it – that is, if they memorize it. And so it is that the closing image of the film pictures individuals walking around with whole books inside of them – which they can speak at the drop of a hat. After watching that movie, my wife, Carrie, and I asked each other: “If you could memorize only one book, which one would you choose?” Recently I attended a seminar that encouraged me to answer that question with, “The Bible.” It was titled “Keeping and Talking the Word” and our Seminar Leader, Tim Brown of Western Seminary in Michigan, set out to convince us that memorizing Scripture is very – very – profitable. I came away convinced. Convinced enough that, for the next year at least, I’m altering my personal devotional pattern as well as my preaching preparation. Why memorize? To be sure, we were presented with some compelling arguments. I would like to suggest, though, that what’ll convince you best is if you try it. Spend two weeks memorizing what for you is a significant chunk of Scripture (ten verses? a Psalm? a chapter?) and I believe it’s more than likely that the author of those words will work in you and the work begun will be the best evidence you will ever have of the profitableness of memorizing Scripture. That said, here are a few “arguments” my seminar leader suggested: Scripture commands it: “Keep these words in your heart” (Deut 6:5). Not in a book on the shelf, not on a cassette tape in a drawer. In your heart. It guards us from sin: “I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you” (Ps. 119:11). It is much harder to think covetous thoughts while I’m memorizing the opening words of Psalm 24: “The earth is the Lord’s and everything in it,” or to think lustful thoughts while I’m memorizing “Search me, O God, and know my heart” (Ps. 139). The Word of God in me is forming me. It fructifies your soul. Yes, “fructify” is a real word; it means “make fruitful” – Scripture memorization is one superb way to meditate on the law of the Lord “day and night” (Ps. 1:2) and such meditation produces fruit in such a person (verse 3). See Galatians 5:22-23 for a list of the fruit you can expect to harvest. Scripture quiets and slows us down. In a culture of noise and speed, when and where do we pay attention to God? How about taking those empty times we don’t know what do with – which can be aggravating – and turning them into Scripture memory opportunities? My seminar leader recently faced a 13-hour flight to Taiwan. Most people groaned when they heard about its length. His reaction? “Yikes, that’s not enough time!” He had a load of Scripture he could go through in that half-day. Personal reason: Here’s where you come up with a reason. Was there a time you wish you had a godly reply to someone (Lk. 21:15)? Was there a time you needed words of comfort which this world simply couldn’t provide? Would the right passage keep your eyes fixed on Jesus (Heb. 12:2)? Answering a question of this nature will give you the reason you need to begin memorizing Scripture. How memorize? Frankly, there isn’t a lot of mystery to memorization. Here are some predictable tips: Be a broken record. Say a line, say it 10 more times. Say the second line, say it 10 more times. Say both lines 10 times. You getting this? The key is to do this out loud. Draw pictures. You don’t have to show them to anybody, but stick-animals and poofy clouds are going to be the way to get through Genesis 1. Make acronyms. My seminar leader memorized the Sermon on the Mount with this cryptic phrase: “JW DAO’s Golden Rule on the EBN Network starring Roxanne House.” It only makes sense to him but, hey, that’s the point. Write it out. For some people this is the way to associate the words on the page with something more tactile. Make a move. Appropriate gestures and motions will bring the words back to mind later. As I speak my way through Psalm 146, for example, my hand starts moving up after saying “the Lord gives sight to the blind,” triggering me to say, “the Lord lifts up those bowed down." The Difference Memorizing Scripture has already made a difference for me. Here are two differences I’m making: Personal Devotions: rather than read several passages in one day, I will memorize one. As one who grew up Christian, I find this a realistic way for me to pay attention to passages which, by now, are too easy to gloss over, due to familiarity. The new or young Christian may find memorization a way to love the strangeness of these new and very countercultural words. Preaching Preparation: I will first memorize the passage I’m preaching before I crack open the 15 commentaries I have on it. I will put the word close to my heart before I save everyone else’s thoughts about it on my hard drive. The last point may seem irrelevant if you’re not a minister. However, if you are a follower of Jesus Christ, the Holy Spirit has gifted you for some ministry. Therefore, “let the word of Christ dwell in you richly” (Col. 3:16) – consider memorizing bits of the Bible. If you could only memorize one of its books, which one would you memorize? This article appeared in the July/August 2005 issue....

Assorted

Communism’s ongoing influence

The Berlin Wall fell in 1989 and many thought that Communism was over and done with. But even today its influence can still be felt, and as far more than an economic system. Communist and Marxist thought has shaped our culture. How so? Well, consider how the far left has long desired to overthrow the traditional concept of the family. Already in 1848, one of the planks of the Communist Manifesto called explicitly for the abolition of the family. Abolition of the family! Even the most radical flare up at this infamous proposal of the Communists.  on what foundation is the present family, the bourgeois family, based? On capital, on private gain.  Karl Marx divided the work into two classes: the ruling “bourgeois” class, and a servant “proletariat” class. The Communist Manifesto used this same terminology and claimed that: In its completely developed form, this family exists only among the bourgeoisie. But this state of things finds its complement in the practical absence of the family among the proletarians, and in public prostitution. The bourgeois family will vanish as a matter of course when its complement vanishes, and both will vanish with the vanishing of capital. The Communists were saying that a family made up of mom and dad and gaggle of kids is an elitist notion, and when the elites are taken down, this type of family will disappear too, to be replaced by the communal education and raising of children. The evolution of left-wing thought on how to destroy the family is chronicled by Paul Kengor, a professor of political science at Grove City College in Pennsylvania. His book Takedown: From Communists to Progressives, How the Left Has Sabotaged Family and Marriage shows that the left originally saw heterosexual sexual freedom as the channel for undermining the family, and only came to accept homosexuality as a key plank later on. Russian Communism The Communism of Karl Marx and Vladimir Lenin viewed the traditional family as an oppressive capitalist institution that exploited women. They saw women as being confined to their homes taking care of children, while the men had jobs earning money. It was their view that under the capitalist system women were dependent on their husbands for survival and were stuck in their marriages as virtual slaves. The Communists had a solution. All children would be raised in government daycares and women could go to work in the factories. With such jobs, women would be financially independent of men and also free from the drudgery of taking care of children. They would be truly liberated from their bondage to man and child, since children would be raised by the state. As part of their “liberating” program, when the Communists took over in Russia, they removed the Russian Orthodox Church’s prohibition against divorce. A large number of divorces quickly ensued. Kengor notes, “The divorce rate skyrocketed to levels unseen in human history.” Besides making divorce easy, the new Communist government made obtaining abortions easy as well. The abortion rate skyrocketed just like the divorce rate. But after a few years it became apparent that the long-term stability of the Russian population was thus threatened. According to Kengor, “The toll was so staggering that an appalled Joseph Stalin, the mass murderer, actually banned abortion in 1936, fearing a vanishing populace.” He also banned homosexuality in 1934. Stalin’s abortion ban was lifted after he died and the Russian abortion rate quickly rose again. “By the 1970s, the Soviet Union was averaging 7 to 8 million abortions per year, annihilating whole future generations of Russian children. (America, with a similar population, averaged nearer 1.5 million abortions per year after Roe was approved in 1973.)” Communism USA The desire to abolish the family was embraced by Communists everywhere. In the United States, for example, many Communist Party members lived lifestyles that reflected their hostility towards the traditional family. Frequently this manifested itself in sexual promiscuity. Divorce and libertine views of sexuality were common among the Communists at a time when American society frowned on both. One of the earliest founders of the American Communist movement was John Reed. He is still a popular figure on the American left, and a laudatory 1981 movie about him called Reds was nominated for Best Picture. He lived a lifestyle in keeping with his anti-family beliefs: “The Communist cad and philanderer hopped from bed to bed, woman to woman, torpedoed marriage after marriage, and disseminated the venereal disease that made him urinate red and left at least one of his temporary girlfriends with inflamed ovaries requiring surgical removal.” The sexual promiscuity of most American Communists, however, was heterosexual because the Communist Party considered homosexuality to be bad. The new Communists This negative attitude towards homosexuality by Communists began to change due to the development of a related school of thought called the Frankfurt School. Originally known as the Institute for Social Research, it began work at the University of Frankfurt, Germany in the early 1920s. However, since many of the intellectuals involved were Jewish, they left Germany to set up at Columbia University in New York after Adolf Hitler came to power in the 1930s. The Frankfurt School intellectuals were Marxists who realized that Marx’s original prediction (that workers would revolt against capitalist society and create a socialist utopia) was not working. They developed a new or neo-Marxist theory that focused on cultural factors rather than economic factors as the key to revolution. As Kengor puts it, “The Frankfurt School protégés were neo-Marxists, a new kind of twentieth-century communist less interested in the economic/class-redistribution ideas of Marx than a remaking of society through the eradication of traditional norms and institutions.” The key to revolution, in this view, was the destruction of traditional Christian morality. Christian morality repressed people’s natural sexual appetites, and only by liberating sexuality from such moral constraints could people be truly set free. “The hard fact for these Communists was that at the core of Western civilization was a pesky morality derived from the Old and New Testaments, from the traditional family, and from tradition itself, an embedded understanding that freedom was not the license to do anything a person wanted, and the realization that one’s passions needed to be occasionally checked.” The change in emphasis from economics to culture also changed the focus on who was most important to reach with the new message. Early Communists focused on organizing the working class against business owners, but they were no longer relevant. Kengor writes, “Marx and Engels had organized the workers in the factories; the neo-Marxists would organize the professors and students in the universities.” Communists on campus Wilhelm Reich was one of the key intellectuals of the Frankfurt School. He was the person who invented the phrase “sexual revolution.” Prominent periodicals labeled him the “Father of the Sexual Revolution,” although he shares that title with infamous sex researcher Alfred Kinsey of Indiana University. Reich considered the traditional family, especially its patriarchal authority, as the chief source of repression in society. “For Reich, full communist revolution required full sexual license, including homosexual sex.” Another key Frankfurt School intellectual was Herbert Marcuse. Marcuse’s book Eros and Civilization: A Philosophical Inquiry into Freud is considered by some to be “the Bible of the New Left movement.” Kengor summarizes the thought of Reich and Marcuse this way: “Both comrades-in-arms battled the ‘repression’ represented by traditional notions of morality, especially cumbersome sexual restraints. They felt that erotic desires needed to be unleashed rather than inhibited. Both men saw religion as repressive, though Marcuse went further, arguing that modern Judeo-Christian society had become ‘totalitarian’ in its suppression of man’s ‘natural’ sexual instincts.” Herbert Marcuse was very popular among university students in the 1960s and 1970s and his influence extended neo-Marxist thinking into segments of Western culture. In particular, leading feminist theorists of the 1960s and 1970s were imbued with Frankfurt School ideology, and feminism also considers the patriarchal family to be the main oppressive institution of modern society. The homosexual rights movement also fits naturally with the view that traditional Christian morality is repressive. Kengor writes, “The Frankfurt School cadre sought to reshape cultural views of sexuality via education, and… they have succeeded and continue to make astonishing progress.” Conclusion While many other groups have built on, borrowed from, and extended the family-undermining work of the Communists, their influence shouldn’t be overlooked. So how can we combat the cultural decay that these neo-Marxists and others have fostered? Well, we can sing the praises of the traditional family. Numerous academic studies have demonstrated that the ideal environment for a child to grow up in is a traditional family. Kengor writes, “Research has confirmed time and time again that the best situation for a child is a two-parent home with a mother and a father, which should always be the goal of any culture or polity.” However, as Kengor shares, “Nothing short of a major religious revival will save .” Political parties or leaders cannot bring back Christian morality to any of the Western countries. It appears that only a widespread repentance and return to God can restore the traditional family model in the West....

Assorted

On a wife deciding to leave her husband

Dear Janelle, I received your letter yesterday, and had already heard from your brother and sister-in-law. They confirmed for me the very difficult and challenging situation you are in with your husband, and they said that they had encouraged you to write to me with your question. I was glad to hear from you. From what you wrote, and filling in details from them, you really are in a terrible spot – and I hope this letter is a real help. One of the things I like to do, if you don’t mind, is repeat back the presenting problem when I am asked about something like this. I do this to make sure that I have understood properly and, if I have, I want the person I am counseling to know that they were heard. This is often a problem that people in horrific situations have – they don’t feel like anybody could possibly be listening. You know that you need to leave your husband, but you don’t want to find yourself leaving God behind also. You know that your husband is behaving like a domestic tyrant, and so leaving him seems straightforward. But you have certain questions about some passages of Scripture, because you want to leave, if you leave, as an act of obedience. And that’s what it needs to be – obedience. If you leave your husband, you want to do so in the will of God. You don’t want to settle for some level of tolerated disobedience, or some Protestant version of venial sin. Two and three witnesses That said, your problem is that your husband is well-respected in your Christian community. He is an elder in your church. You believe that if you just “up and leave,” everybody is going to demand an accounting from you, and not from him. You have good reason for thinking that everybody would sympathize with him, and not with you. He is well-connected and well-liked in your church. You are not, and nobody knows that this is because of the insane restrictions he has placed on you. Now you know your Bible well enough to know that if you were to bring charges against your husband, the threshold to convict him would be two and three witnesses (Deut. 19:15, Matt. 18:16, 1 Tim. 5:19), and you don’t have that. Your brother and sister-in-law would be willing to testify, because they have seen a small portion of all this, but you believe that they would simply be dismissed. They don’t live in your town, they are related to you by blood, the elders who would be hearing this testimony are your husband’s close friends, and so on. In short, the deck is really stacked against you. But then, on the other side of the coin, you are not sure how much more of your husband’s heavy-handed hypocrisy you can take. Some days you feel like you are going to crater under his brow-beating, and other days you are simply exasperated by the two different faces he presents – to you on the one hand, and the world on the other. Sometimes you think you can go for two more days, tops, and other times you think you can manage it indefinitely. It all depends. He has never struck you, but there are times when you think he might. His fits of anger are unpredictable, and seem to you to be getting worse. You think that he is out of control, but if he answers the phone in the middle of one of his rages, he can turn off the anger like a switch. That indicates to you that there must be an element of deliberate malice in it. He is requiring more arbitrary and very difficult things of you, and you think it might be because he is trying to provoke you into doing something that is manifestly ungodly so that you will clearly be the one in the wrong, and will give him something to point to if the whole thing eventually blows up. Have I got the problem right? You know what his problem is, and it is an intolerable one, but you are not in a position to prove an accusation against him. Because you are dedicated to the authority of the Word, the fact that you can’t meet the standards for public charges (that justice requires) troubles you. Does that mean that you are not allowed to leave until you can prove it? The testimony of just one So this issue revolves around what justice requires in bringing a formal charge against someone, as distinct from what justice requires when a victim is simply getting out of range. But think about this for a minute. If you were attacked by a mugger or a rapist, you wouldn’t be thinking about the trial, and whether you had two or three witnesses available. You would just be thinking about getting away. Let me take an illustration from a law in the Old Testament concerning runaway slaves. “You shall not give up to his master a slave who has escaped from his master to you” (Deut. 23:15). While the circumstances are obviously not identical, they are comparable – close enough to provide us with an a fortiori argument. If this principle applies to slaves, and it does, then how much more would it apply to a Christian wife? So here it is. Suppose for a moment you lived in ancient Israel, in a time when slavery was practiced. A runaway slave shows up on your doorstep, and he tells you a horror story about what caused him to run away. The law here is straightforward. You may not return such an escaped slave to his master. Suppose a couple days later the master shows up and demands that his slave be returned to him. He says that the charges and accusations made by the slave are entirely false. The master denies them all, but even if he does this, the law nevertheless requires that the slave not be returned. This is the case even if it is just one person’s word against another. The escaped slave does not need to show up on your doorstep with two or three witnesses in tow. And this is where things get “curiouser,” as we might read in Alice, and this is where I want to derive a principle that we should apply to your situation. Suppose the slave wanted to press charges against his master, and let us suppose further that all the abuses he alleges against his master were in fact against the law, even against slaves, and were very serious – felonies, in fact. The slave still does not have two or three witnesses, and so this means that he cannot bring a charge against his (former) master. The master cannot be charged with crimes apart from independent corroboration, but it is nevertheless possible for the master to have a pay some kind of penalty for his behavior—that penalty being the loss of the slave. Now let’s translate. Your brother told me that they have already told you that you are welcome to come and stay with them. You have a safe place to go. Your kids are both away at college, and so you don’t have to worry about leaving anyone behind. You show up on your brother’s doorstep, and you say that your husband’s behavior has been ungodly and intolerable. According to this principle found in Scripture, they have every right to take you in, even though they have not heard your husband’s side of it. Let me say that again—there is a lower bar for a reception of a refugee than for charges to be filed against someone. This is not because we suddenly don’t care about Proverbs 18:17, about which we’ll have more in a minute. One of the first things that will happen – given what I know about your church’s practices in these things – is that one of the elders will contact you and say that you need to return. If you feel you need to bring charges against your husband, he will say, they will schedule a meeting for you to do so, and so on. At this point you should say that Scripture prohibits entertaining a charge against an elder if you don’t have two or three witnesses (1 Tim 5:19), and in fact you don’t have two or three witnesses. You are the only real witness. If you were to come back to charge him, it would simply be your word against his, and you know that they would be scripturally bound not to convict him, not to excommunicate him. You would support them in not convicting him. Because of your commitment to justice and due process, you have no intention of bringing a charge against anyone that cannot be independently verified. You also have no intention of putting up with it any further. Now if your departure shakes him up, and your husband acknowledges his fault, acknowledges what he has been doing, then your position has been independently verified, and it might be worthwhile returning in pursuit of some kind of marriage counseling and reconciliation. But if he does not humble himself, and simply denies everything, and you know that he is denying what you know to be undeniable, you are in no way required to return. But let me include something else here that really needs to be emphasized. Because I am saying that a wife in your position can simply “go,” then it follows that all any woman needs to do is just say she is in your position (whether she is or not), and there she has her automatic “get out jail free card.” What is to prevent a woman from applying this principle in a way that grotesquely wrongs an innocent husband? This is a fallen world, which means we must take risks. This is one of them. The biblical approach is that it is always to be preferred to allow a guilty person to go free, a guilty person to “get away with it,” than to ever penalize an innocent person. This is what necessarily happens whenever you insist upon two and three witnesses. What happens when just one person sees a person do some awful thing? You have to let it go; it is not actionable. You cannot convict anyone for anything on the basis of just one person’s say-so. It is the same kind of principle here. It is far better to let one lying wife go free without penalty than to keep an innocent wife in the penalty of living in a terrible situation. In the worst-case scenario, an innocent man loses a wife, but keep in mind it was a lying wife. When one person knows But let’s take that one-person-as-witness situation one step further. I am going to make up a very unlikely scenario simply in order to highlight the principle. Suppose I get called out in the middle of the night – as sometimes happens to pastors – in order to fetch somebody out of a place he ought not to be. I do so, and am escorting a straying sheep out of some nightclub and back to the parking lot. It is 2 am, and the nightclub is attached to a hotel. As I am helping him down the hallway, a room door opens and I see another one of my parishioners standing there behind a woman who is very much not his wife. He reaches over and slams the door. I know that I did not mistake him for somebody else. I go to confront him the next day, and he denies everything. In the interim he has lined up some other people to lie on his behalf. He was someplace else. His word against mine, and yet I know he is an adulterer. Would I have a problem serving him communion the next Sunday? No, I would not. He should have a problem with it, but I do not. I have no authority as a pastor to act publicly on the basis of individual knowledge that I cannot independently verify. But there is more to the story. While I cannot excommunicate anyone on the basis of one witness, even if that witness is me, there are any number of other things I can do. I have the authority to arrange my personal relationships on the basis of personal knowledge. I can refuse to go fishing with him. I can leave his employment. I can decline to go into a business deal with him. I can configure my own decisions on the basis of what I know. Someone might guess that there is something disrupting my fellowship with this man, but not because I am making a public charge. The person who guesses is drawing an inference from personal decisions. Application and misapplication This is what your elders will do if you leave. They will say that even if you are not making a formal charge of “abusive tyrant” against him, people will infer that you are alleging something very serious against him, and this is why they say you must come back and make your allegations in some public way. And they will say that if you can’t prove your allegations, such that he is excommunicated, then you have a responsibility to remain with him. But this doesn’t follow. It is possible that they will move to discipline you for leaving him without adequate biblical grounds. This is why I think they would be unjustified in doing so. “To the married I give this charge (not I, but the Lord): the wife should not separate from her husband (but if she does, she should remain unmarried or else be reconciled to her husband), and the husband should not divorce his wife.” – 1 Cor. 7:10-11 If you could prove that your husband were unfaithful (Matt. 19:9), or that he was utterly unwilling to have you as a Christian wife (1 Cor. 7:15), then the scriptural permission to divorce carries with it the permission to remarry. The innocent party is not bound in such circumstances. A brother or a sister is not under bondage in such cases. But if you cannot prove either infidelity or a rejection tantamount to divorce, then your circumstances vary accordingly. If he were proven to be guilty of either of these sins, and either unrepented sin would result in him being excommunicated, and declared not a believer, then that would leave you free. But if you cannot prove this against him, then the full extent of the action you can take is that of simply leaving. But, with that said, you can leave with your head held high. Your only options at such a point are to remain unmarried or to be reconciled to your husband. It is interesting here that Paul advises a woman not to leave if she can help it – “the wife should not separate from her husband.” That is his apostolic counsel, but it is clear from the context that it is merely advice. If she sees that his generally good advice is not pertinent to her situation, she is left free to leave without being hassled about it by the apostle. So if he would leave you alone in this decision, then so should the elders of your church. It is also interesting that Paul does not here get into the grounds for the separation. If there are not grounds for a divorce that allows for a subsequent remarriage, the church doesn’t adjudicate it. If the parties are willing, the church must provide pastoral counsel, but if there is simply a separation over intractable differences, Paul just allows for the separation, even though it may be one that has gone against his counsel – he did in fact urge the wife not to separate from her husband. Note also that it is the wife he is exhorting in this passage, meaning that in the larger scheme of things, he is assuming that wives could have plausible reasons for thinking they had to go. Husbands can be brutal, as the apostle knew. At the same time, I have known situations where the wife thought her husband was her central problem in her walk with God, but then after she left, her walk with God really fell apart. It turns out in that the husband wasn’t the big problem after all. You should also know that there is a cottage industry of busybody counselors, bitter women, who will want to swoop in order to enlist your grievances into their causes, whatever they are. Beware of them. Steer clear of them. One of your biggest challenges will be that of staying free from resentment and bitterness, and not only is their counsel usually bad, their resentments are contagious. That is the last thing you need. Running it by objective eyes One last thing. The Westminster Confession, in its teaching on divorce, says something profound and wise that I believe applies to your situation. They say that the corruption of man is such that we are liable to “study arguments” that would justify ungodly divorce, and they then go on to repeat the two standard justifications for a divorce – those being adultery and willful desertion. The word used in Corinthians for an unbelieving husband being willing to remain with his wife, or an unbelieving wife being willing to remain with her husband is suneudokeo – “pleased to be together with.” The semantic range of that word does not include your reports of what your husband does – constant anger, outbursts of wrath, sexually degrading behavior, ongoing manipulation and gaslighting, treating you like a slave, total control of all things physical and financial, and so on. You have no biblical obligation to put up with things like that. In a situation like yours, they say “the persons concerned in it not left to their own wills, and discretion, in their own case” (WCF 24.6). I believe you are in a position to leave – you have run it by others who are outside the circumstance, and who have an objective set of eyes. You have done this with both your brother and with me. Having done so, you should make a plan, and then pack your bags and go. The plan should include a list of your husband’s ongoing offenses against you, a list that should be shared with your counselor/s, and with the elders of your church when they contact you. Because you can’t prove them, you should share them with no one else, and above all you should not publish them online in any way. And so, given what you have described, my counsel would be for you to go. If you are concerned for your husband’s salvation – as you should be – you are far more likely to be used as an instrument to bring him to repentance as you pursue obedience to God this way. For the rest, leave the consequences to God. “For what knowest thou, O wife, whether thou shalt save thy husband” (1 Cor. 7:16). We will be praying for you, and God bless. Cordially in Christ, Douglas Wilson This a fictionalized account, which first appeared on Pastor Wilson’s blog dougwils.com and is reprinted here with permission. It addresses some of the issues raised by readers after the article "Justin Trudeau, and what the need for two witnesses would have us do" appeared earlier this month....

Assorted

Report of a meeting which was never held

What I am going to tell you is pure fantasy, but it might be useful to pause a moment, because it can teach us something. It was some years after our Lord and Savior had risen from the dead, and the congregation of Jerusalem had already become quite large. One evening there was a meeting, held with the elders of the congregation, and as was usual, also the apostles who were resident in Jerusalem. Even though it was a dangerous time, and the enemies were keeping a sharp lookout, the brothers had gathered from all parts of the city. No one was absent when the chairman, James, the brother of the Lord, opened the meeting. The matter to be discussed that evening was of vital importance, hence the full attendance. In those days none of the four gospels, as we know them, had yet been written, but various accounts of events that had occurred during the Master's time on earth had been recorded. These included accounts of miracles He had performed, accounts of discussions He had held with the young men and accounts also of some of His speeches both at Jerusalem as well as in Galilee. At that time, they were still short, loose notes; they had not yet been put together into one book. It stands to reason that these written accounts were extremely valuable to the congregation. They were eagerly read by the members in the city and they were even beginning to be distributed outside Jerusalem. They were also starting to be used during the worship service, here and there. Well, the issue, the question that was before the meeting of the elders and apostles this evening, concerned these loose notes. The question was, should these bundles of loose notes be accepted as trustworthy reports of what had taken place and could they be recommended for use in the worship services. All present appreciated the importance of the decision that had to be made. If these accounts were officially accepted and openly used then they would spread far and wide, and give direction to the life of the congregations. After the chairman opened the meeting with prayer, he outlined the great importance of the decision that had to be made and then asked if any of the elders or apostles had any objection to the written accounts in circulation. They were all amazed that it was Philip who requested the floor first of all. "If you ask me if I have objections," he said, "then I can only say that the notes before us are totally trustworthy. I have not found anything in them that has not really happened. “Another question to ask though, is whether it is desirable to use them in this form. Is it really necessary, brothers, that in these writings there is such extensive attention paid to how Peter, more than once, did deeply grieve the Master? I think of the occurrence, also related in these writings, when they were going to Caesarea Philippi. The Master turned round and said to Peter, ‘Get behind me, Satan!’ “I know that is what happened. I was there myself and I heard what was said, but I have to ask, is it really wise to air this happening for all and sundry? I think of that terrible night when Jesus was condemned and how Peter denied Him three times. It is true, it did happen, but again I ask myself is it really necessary to air these things openly? We here in Jerusalem, we know Peter and have a high regard for him, but if these papers spread to other countries where they have never seen Peter, wouldn’t this give an entirely wrong impression of Peter? Aren’t these really matters of an intimate nature, which concern only Peter in his relationship with the Savior? Considering how well everything has turned out, shouldn't we just forget what happened in the past?" When Phillip finished speaking those present couldn't help but look in the direction of Peter. They expected Peter to jump to his feet and say something. But that didn’t happen. Peter sat silent, frowning and looking at the table, and not saying a word. The sides of his mouth trembled, and from the way he held his hands, with his white knuckles showing, it was clear that he was extremely moved and was involved in a severe internal struggle. For some moments everyone in the meeting was absolutely silent. Not one of the apostles spoke. In the end it was one of the elders of the congregation who broke the silence. "I am entirely in agreement," he said, "with the previous speaker. I would like to go even further. I have noticed in all the writings the apostles really play a rather sad role. It repeatedly says that they did not understand the Master. It is told once, when they came back from the north to Capernaum, that they had a serious tiff between themselves about who was the greatest among them. It is written that, even in the Passover room, when the Master instituted the Holy Supper, the apostles were at loggerheads about who should take the place of honor. The story is also told of how three of the apostles, our beloved Peter, James and John, were asleep in that terrible moment when our Savior fought His most bitter struggle in Gethsemane. "Is all this necessary, do we really want to broadcast this throughout the world? “Won’t this cause a lack of respect, which we all owe, to our office bearers? Can we really expect that the people who will read this, who will see how the first disciples often didn’t acted as faithful servants of the Master, can we really expect that they will have great reverence for the founders of the Church? Is it not rather to be feared that such stories will lead to damage in the congregations? I ask myself would it not be wiser if we kept all such stories to ourselves and didn’t to pass them on to others." Again it was one of the apostles who now began to speak. He also judged that there was a dangerous aspect to such stories. He reminded his listeners that one of the accounts related that the brothers of Jesus did not believe in Him and that they were even at enmity with Him. "Is it right," he asked, "to broadcast this story? We all know that the chairman of this meeting, James, the brother of the Lord, also belonged to them, but that after the resurrection he repented. Does his dark past have to be revealed to all eyes? Might that not lead, in time, to a deterioration of the relationships within the congregation?" When this third speaker had finished there was a painful silence in the meeting. One could feel that most of those present labored under a great strain. The chairman who otherwise was quick to encourage the members to deal speedily with the matters at hand now sat silent. It was obvious that he also had a struggle within himself. The silence lasted for some minutes. It came as a great relief when finally Peter stood up and started speaking. It was clear he was extremely moved; while he spoke he time and again had to hold the table, as if he needed its support. The words that he spoke came as if pushed from the deepest part of his heart. "Brothers," he spoke, "humanly speaking I am thankful for all that has been said this evening, but I also realize, that these words are at the same time a dangerous temptation for me. It is true that years ago the Master once said to me, 'Get behind me, Satan.' I therefore feel that tonight I must say it myself, 'Get behind me, Satan.' How could I ever make my Master great if I am not prepared to make myself thoroughly small? How could we apostles ever proclaim the glory of Jesus Christ throughout the world, if we did not at the same time tell of all our foolishness and cowardice and all our egotistical and self seeking deeds and thoughts with which we made the suffering of the Master so much heavier? Only in that way can our message become the Gospel, the happy tiding for the people of all nations and of all ages. Then they will see that we, the young men of the Master, are just as weak, dumb and self seeking as they are themselves, and that we are only what we are today because He with His love surrounded us. “You ask me, if by these stories the respect for the office will not suffer? That could well be so, if the respect for the office depended on our status as great men. But the glory of the office does not lie therein that we are great, but that the Master, who had mercy over us, is so great. "When I remember how the Savior told us that this Gospel should be preached to all people, then I know that gospel should also include how I with my self conceit often deeply hurt my Lord. It should include how we, young men, often argued among ourselves as little children about the place of honor, that we slept when He struggled His fight to the death, and that I, in a terrible way, three times denied Him. That should all be included, but this one thing more should also be included that the Master said: ‘On this petra I will build My church, tend my sheep.’ “Though there is nothing nice to say about us, nevertheless we may do something, we may serve in God's Church, and that is only because He never for a moment abandoned us and prayed for us right to the end. Brothers, let us not hesitate for a moment, but let this Gospel, as it lies before us be distributed throughout the ages to all the people in this world. Then we diminish, but He is made all the greater". When Peter had finished speaking a deep holy peace descended on the whole meeting. The chairman, who for the whole time had just stared straight ahead, looked up. "Brothers," he asked, "shall we act as proposed?" And although no one of those present answered aloud, it was more than clear that this word was agreeable to all. And so these loose papers were distributed, later they became the Gospels as we have them today. Dr. J.H. Bavinck (1895-1964) was a Dutch minister, missionary, and theologian. This article first appeared in the October 1999 issue of Reformed Perspective. It has been translated by Rene Vermeulen and is reprinted with permission from 15 Paasverhalen, no 18 Zaklantaarnserie, published by Voorhoeve/Kok, Kampen, The Netherlands. ...

Assorted

“Did God answer her prayer?“

To my dear niece and namesake: First of all, thanks for your letter. It's great to hear from a niece. The pages you wrote were so full of news, so full of thoughts that I am not privy to as we live such a great distance away from one another. So thank you again for that. I loved holding your thoughts in my hand.  I was so sorry to hear that your friend's mother is in the early stages of Alzheimer's. She is obviously someone of whom you are very fond. I was also very sad to hear that things are not going well at all in your church - dissension and quarreling and people with the loudest mouths obtaining positions of authority. And then you went on to bemoan the world situation. You wrote of mass shootings, of persecution against Christians and of lawsuits being filed against those who refuse to give in to liberal agendas. Indeed, we live in a world full of hatred and ill-will against our Lord, don't we!? You wrote something as well that makes me extremely glad. You wrote that you pray constantly for God to intervene. But then you worry about the fact that perhaps you do not have enough faith and do not pray correctly, for all the changes you pray for do not seem to come about. If you will bear with me, let me just recount a small story, a true story, from my past. I had a good friend when I was a teenager. She was a married woman who loved the Lord dearly and spoke of Him often. She and her husband had a beautiful little hobby farm in the Niagara Peninsula. She was a teacher and her husband was a worker in one of the steel mills. There was. however, a great sadness in their lives. Grace, which was her name, had been married to Bill for almost fifteen years and they had not been blessed with children. Like Sarah, Grace was rapidly approaching the age where it would no longer be possible to have them. When she spoke of this, her eyes would cloud over and often she would weep, not only before me but also before the Lord. She begged Him for children. On her knees she would beg Him over and over and she would promise to raise up her children in the fear of the Lord. It was a good prayer and one, I am sure that pleased the Lord. There was one thing that I left out. Grace's doctor had advised her and Bill not to have children. You see, Grace had diabetes and the doctor thought it would aggravate the disease if she became pregnant. A few years after I became her friend, Grace did indeed become pregnant. She was ecstatic. Bill immediately paved their gravel driveway because he envisioned a little child roller-skating on it. Their conversation was now totally colored by this coming child, this coming birth. The sad part is, that after she carried this little baby for three months, Grace miscarried. Not only that, but her diabetes became much, much worse. She lost her eyesight. Bill had to comb her hair, do the cooking and clean the house. In less than a year, she was hospitalized and when I went to visit her with my father, who was her pastor, it was difficult to recognize her. Her body was puffed up with water retention and she was in and out of consciousness. I wept at the ugliness, the havoc wreaked by sin. Although Grace did not recognize me and died almost a week after my visit, my father recounted that in her conscious moments she testified of her love for God and her desire to be with Him. Now did God answer her prayer? There are so many “Grace” stories out there and I think you mentioned a number of them. Perhaps there are different ways of looking at these stories. But there are several truths we must never forget. First of all, we may ask God anything in His name. God is not only a God of great things that happen in the world – things such as wars and famines – but He is also a God of the little things in the world – things such as falling sparrows and the number of hairs on our heads. We must never think that God is so busy with the great things that He forgets the everyday things in which you and I are constantly immersed. Remember Psalm 103: "As a father has compassion on his children, so the Lord has compassion on those who fear Him. For He knows how we are formed; He remembers that we are dust" (vs. 13-14). So, as a little child comes to its mother for comfort, we also may run to our heavenly Father and He will comfort us. And we may come to Him with anything. If we approach God constantly with every little event in our lives, then we will feel more confident to approach Him with the bigger things as well. Grace and Bill came to God with their desire for a child. Christians in Nigeria come to God with a plea that persecution might be stayed. The wife of an alcoholic comes to the Father asking that her husband would stop drinking. The child of a mother with insidious cancer fervently pleads that her mother's life would be spared. Another aspect of such situations is not to dwell on the perceived strength of the devil. Remember, he is a creature and a fallen creature at that. If he is active, and seemingly winning in his activities, it is only because God, in His omnipotence, permits this. It is a precious gift, and one for which we should plead, to know that all things – all things – come from the hand of God and are within His control. Even things such as Alzheimer's, cancer, persecution and barrenness will eventually work out to His glory. Easy to say, I know, and more difficult to accept when you are in the middle of such a battle. Psalm 139 emphasizes that God knows us in every aspect of our living, small and great. It is a good thing to be known. Psalm 139 shouts joyfully about being known by God when it iterates: "You know when I sit and when I rise; You perceive my thoughts from afar. You discern my going out and my lying down; You are familiar with all my ways. Before a word is on my tongue, You know it completely, O Lord" (vs. 2-4). How terrifyingly beautiful those words are and how they wrap about us as loving arms. Difficult as it may be, consequently, there is no need to ask certain questions. Questions such as: Why is there barrenness in this godly household when their neighbor has eight children and does not care for them properly? Why is this Christian mother afflicted with multiple sclerosis and the blasphemer so amazingly healthy? And, why does God withhold marriage from this wonderful girl whereas the atheist down the street celebrates his fiftieth anniversary? God will not tell you all His reasons for doing things. But never doubt that all is well in His hands and be comforted that there are some things that He does tell you. He does tell you that His yoke is easy and His burden is light; He does tell you that He is a Wonderful Counselor, an Almighty God and an Everlasting Father; He does tell you that though you walk through the valley of the shadow of death you ought not to fear evil, for He is with you; and He does tell you that when your body lies in the grave He will call you out of it with the sound of His trumpet. Well, my dear, I have gone on and on haven't I! But these things are near to my heart. I wish you well and hope you come to visit the next time you pass through this area. Give my love to your parents and your siblings, Your loving aunt...

Assorted

Hull humanity

“Hey, here’s your sandwich,” I called across the lunchroom to Caldwall, the kid we picked on. He was fat and unathletic, and we kept him in his place. Right in style, I threw the sandwich I had swiped from him. He reached, missed, and the waxed paper burst apart against the lunchroom window. A smear of mayonnaise streaked the glass, a flap of bologna hung over the back of the desk, a lettuce leaf and a tomato slice lay on the floor. I smiled triumphantly, the boys’ lunchroom laughed adoringly, and then we heard Mr. Leonard’s voice. He had stepped in without our noticing. “Caldwall, here is my sandwich. Enjoy it. Sietze, May I see you out in the hall?” “OH oh.” “Naughty Sietze.” “Now you’ll catch it.” I was afraid. In the hall, Mr. Leonard said quietly, “People throw food only at animals.” “Yes, Mr. Leonard,” I said. He did not need to tell me to go for Mop, cloth, and soapy water. From then on Caldwall was different for me and I was decent to him. Once or twice later I have felt as alienated as Caldwall must have then. Depressed, I can always find comfort in how efficiently a waitress pours my coffee, in how a check-out girl smiles as she makes change, in how you, dear, ladle me a bowl of cheese soup and wipe the inside of the rim so that the line of yellow-green soup will be sharp against the brown pottery, and I remember that people throw food only to animals, and I tell myself, “Sietze, you're not such a dog as you think you are.” From Sietze’s Buning’s “Style and Class,” copyright the Middleburg Press, and reprinted here with their gracious permission....

Assorted

That cloud of witnesses....

Mina and Marco in Egypt Open Doors is a non-denominational mission working in over 60 countries where Christianity is socially or legally discouraged or oppressed. The mission recently reported that last year during Ramadan, two young boys from Egypt watched in horror as their father and other faithful believers were brutally murdered because of their faith in Jesus. The children were passengers on a bus carrying pilgrims on their way to the monastery of St. Samuel. Their father, a security guard at the monastery, was also on the bus. "Deny Jesus, or die," was the choice given to each person. The younger boy, Mina, said: They forced our father to get out of the bus first. The terrorists shouted that he had to convert to Islam. But my father said “no.” Then they shot him. Although the lives of both of the brothers were miraculously spared, the tragic death of their father still plays through their minds on a daily basis. The older son, Marco, vividly recalled his last moments of his father: My father was still breathing. He couldn’t talk anymore, but he wiggled his fingers, signing us to go away. But we didn’t want to leave him there. I leaned my father against my chest. Soon my clothes were soaked with his blood, but I didn’t care. The father of Mina and Marco was a persevering father, a father training his children in the way they should go. It is not at all unusual for parents in North America, or anywhere else in the world, to be concerned about their children’s physical welfare. Moms and dads want their little ones to be warmly dressed, and to have nutritious meals. It is not unusual either for parents to want children to have things to which they themselves did not have access when they were little. These might include piano, flute or violin lessons, or swimming, karate, and soccer practice. As well, and most importantly, parents can, or should be, concerned about the spiritual welfare of their offspring. This encompasses teaching a child to pray, to have personal devotions and to participate in family devotions, to attend church, to understand and practice fasting and to have discussions on, and knowledge of, life after death. Siao-Mei in China Sometimes, strangely enough, it is the other way around – sometimes children encourage parents to be faithful. There is a story told by a man named Amelio Crotti, about the persecution of Christians in China in the 1960s. A mother and her daughter, a child of five, were imprisoned by the Chinese authorities because the mother had protested the arrest of her pastor. Other prisoners in the jail were indignant at seeing a little five-year-old within the confines of the prison especially because the little girl often cried because she was cold and hungry. “Have pity on your small daughter,” they reprimanded the poor mother, “It is quite reasonable for you at this point to agree that you will not go to church any more. There is no doubt in our minds that you must say that you will stop being a Christian so that your child will not have to suffer the degradations which are imposed upon all of us here in prison.” The mother, after listening to the other prisoners for days on end, and beginning to feel very guilty at depriving her child of food, clothing and proper shelter, finally gave in to them. She recanted her faith and was released. Two weeks after her release, however, she was forced by the authorities to stand on a stage in front of some 10,000 people and shout, “I am no longer a Christian.” The little daughter was in the audience when she shouted this denial. Afterwards, on their way home from this horrific and humiliating public confession, the little girl spoke to her mother. “Mother, today I think that Jesus was not too happy with what you said.” Her mother replied, “I only said those words because I love you. You wept in prison because you were hungry and cold. I wanted you to be warm. I wanted to take you away from that misery.” The little girl, whose name was Siao-Mei, smiled as she answered at her mother, “I promise you that if we go to jail again for Jesus’ sake, that I will not weep.” Ashamed that she had denied her Savior, the mother went back to the prison and told the people who had arrested her that she had acted wrongly, that her love for Jesus was greater than anything the earth could offer, and that her daughter had more courage and strength of character than she herself had. As a result, both mother and child were imprisoned again. Only this time the little girl did not cry at the cold and the hunger. Both mother and child persevered and trusted God. Leah Sharibu in Nigeria There are other stories. On the evening of February 19, 2018, just a few short months back, more than one hundred girls were sitting down together for a meal at a secondary school in the town of Dapchi, Nigeria. As they sat around the dining table, gunshots were heard outside. It was very frightening for the young girls, especially when a bullet hit the front of their building. As the sound of the gunshots increased in volume and frequency, the Christians among the girls decided to hold hands and run away. They were very aware that they were probable targets. Teachers saw them running and tried to stop and reassure the frightened girls. But the sound of the gunshots was growing closer. Continuing their escape, the girls made for the dormitory of a Christian friend – a girl named Leah Sharibu. Upon reaching her building, they called out loudly for her to come. Leah was caring for a sick roommate. Aware of the danger, however, both for herself and the roommate, she heeded her friends’ warning. Not willing to leave her sick friend alone, Leah tried to carry the girl. Running with her burden as best she could towards the fence surrounding the school, she often tripped and fell. The sick girl eventually persuaded Leah to put her down, and managed to make it to the staff quarters on her own. But Leah herself, and some of the other students, continued to head for the fence gate through which they hope to obtain safety. Unfortunately, this was precisely the place where the Boko Haram truck was parked. Leah was one of the girls captured and put on the truck. Many of the other girls hid in the thick bushes behind the school. They hid throughout the night until a teacher found them the following day. By then the terrorists, with Leah and other young captured women, were gone. Many parents arrived to ascertain the safety of their children that morning. There were both tears of happiness when parents embraced the daughters who were at school, and tears of anguish for those parents whose daughters had been taken prisoner by Boko Haram. Leah’s mother, Rebecca Sharibu had also come. Rebecca lived in the town of Dapchi. It had been a very long night for her as she had been informed by a friend that some of the students had been abducted. As soon as she was able in the early morning hours, by the light of a torch, she walked to the school. And she prayed as she walked. When she came to the school, she stood among a crowd of other parents. She silently watched ecstatic reunions as girls who had hidden were joyfully embraced. Leah was not one of those girls. The school chaplain took roll call and Leah was the only Christian girl missing. At this point, mixed messages began to come in and government officials confessed that they were really not sure where exactly the kidnapped girls had been taken. It was not until about a month later, on March 21, 2018, that Rebekah was told that Boko Haram had returned the girls they had stolen from the school. But at the hospital where the released girls had been taken for treatment, Rebekah could not find her daughter. Speaking to some of Leah’s classmates, she learned what had happened. Knowing she was a Christian, the terrorists had ordered Leah to recite some Islamic incantations before she would be allowed onto the truck to be taken home. The girl adamantly refused and said: “I will never say these things because I am not a Muslim.” Becoming angry, the captors had threatened Leah that if she wouldn’t denounce Christ, she would remain a prisoner. This threat did not daunt her faith. She steadfastly refused to deny Christ. The other girls watched as Leah was left behind, a prisoner of Boko Haram. They cried and waved to her until they could not see her any longer. When Rebekah heard how her daughter had been left behind, she fainted and was taken to the hospital. Yet there was a joy in her as she recovered from the shock. For years she had led Leah in devotions each morning, instructing her daughter in the Word of God. Her daughter was now bearing the fruit of these devotions – fruit for the Lord. Rebekah consequently said: I am so proud of my Leah because she did not denounce Christ. And because of that, I know God will never forsake her. When she went away to school, I gave her a copy of the Bible so she could have personal devotions even when I am not there. As her mother, I know her to be an obedient daughter, respectful and someone who puts others before herself. Leah surely epitomizes Proverbs 22:6 made flesh. “Train a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not turn from it.” There are, and due to God's grace there always will be, many persevering fathers, mothers and children – many who cause us to remember that: …. since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the Author and Perfecter of our faith, Who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider Him Who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart. (Hebrews 12:1-3) As of June 23, Leah continues to be a captive in the hands of cruel Boko Haram. Please pray for her....

Adult non-fiction, Assorted

Reflections on "12 ways your phone is changing you"

The phone has had a huge impact on our way of life. This was true already, back in the 1920s, when the coming of the telephone to rural New Zealand made a huge difference to isolated farmers’ wives, allowing them to communicate daily with friends. “Party lines” – which involved several homes sharing the same line – meant calls were not necessarily private…but if you needed to chat, then you could. By the time I was a child the family telephone was a fixture on the wall, either in the hallway or in the kitchen. That meant it was in a public place where anyone could answer it and know who was calling you – or at least hear your end of the conversation. Cutting the cord When I was in my early adulthood cordless phones arrived. You could now take the phone into the privacy of your bedroom, and carry on a conversation unheard by anyone else. This began to worry parents, who knew the phone was somewhere in the house – but where? And what was being said on it? Then came cell phones, when suddenly, calls could be made and received way outside the house, and when instant communication was, for the first time, privately accessible to all. You could speak to anyone – seemingly anywhere. I remember my astonishment at a call from Paul while he was on the top of a mountain in South Canterbury helping on an autumn muster. It was revolutionary to think of the possibilities of limitless accessibility. Now, since 2007, and Steve Jobs’ introduction of the first iPhones, smartphones are everywhere. More than simply telephones, they are portable, computer-like devices that enable us to be online, all the time, and wherever we go. We can browse, we can post, we can keep up with the news – in short, do most things possible previously only at home. What’s not to like? Cautions to consider Well, lots, actually. As DesiringGod.org’s Tony Reinke has argued, our phones are changing us more than we know. I’ve just finished reading his book 12 Ways Your Phone Is Changing You and found it just as full of insights as all the reviews had promised. Everyone who owns a smartphone would likely benefit from a long, slow consideration of Reinke’s conclusions. He has thought hard about the implications of many of our common phone habits. In general, Reinke finds that phones are causing us to disengage from the kinds of person-to-person interaction that love requires of us. We are becoming more detached, more isolated in our own little worlds, less caring, more frivolous. Despite the fact that technology is a gift from God – the product of our inventiveness as creatures made in God’s image – our use of this particular piece of technology is making us less like Christ. It’s time that we took a good look at ourselves and reclaimed the use of our phones for good purposes. 1. Always available distraction One of the most obvious problems with smartphones is their capacity to distract us. Beeps, buzzes, and tunes of all sorts destroy our concentration when we ought to be attending to work – or to someone in our proximity who deserves our attention. I’m sure you’ve noticed the way vast numbers of people walk down the street with their heads down, thumbs tapping at their phones. (You’ve probably almost collided with more than a few). Not so long ago I was in a café and noticed a sign on the counter: “Sorry, the wireless is down today. You’ll just have to talk to each other.” Shock, horror! The girl serving the coffee thought it was exciting – and I don’t blame her. Our phones are also distancing us from our flesh and blood – the people right in front of us, our families, our friends, and the people who need our help. Every time we flop on the couch for 15 minutes of mindless scrolling and skim-reading, we could be ignoring an opportunity to edify, encourage, correct, love – and even learn from – a human being for whom God has given us responsibility. Those 15 minutes will never be given back, either. While some still think that our smartphones can end loneliness by connecting us to others, Reinke believes (and I agree) that face-to-face interaction cannot be replaced by screen-to-screen communication. We were created to respond to facial expression, tone of voice, and physical touch. Neither texts nor Facebook messaging can match what can be expressed face-to-face. Of course we can communicate with many more people at far greater speed than is possible if we’re limited to where our bodies can be at any given time. But perhaps God has intended us for fewer, more meaningful friendships than Facebook could ever cater for. 2. Ever present peer pressure I have never been a consumer or user of social media, mainly because I feared the distraction and time-wasting, but Reinke suggest there are other reasons these media are harming us. He explains that we are becoming something like peacocks, preening and arranging our personas for the admiration of an online audience. Learning how others carefully shape their profiles to appear interesting, successful, witty, and up-to-date, we inevitably desire to be seen the same way. So Instagram, Facebook, Snapchat etc become platforms from which we can project the same attributes. I had not realized the full extent of this, but Reinke notes that many a person wakes in the morning to check how many comments or “likes” their posts from the night before have generated. It’s obvious that young people sensitive to peer pressure can fall for this, but many a lonely adult person who lacks security in Christ can be equally susceptible. It’s time to get off social media, on our bikes and start visiting lonely people face-to-face! 3. Distance diminishes consideration Another effect of the distance our smartphones can put between us and others is the impunity with which we criticize and demean others, via our screens. Apparently people feel less sense of remorse for what they say to others online than for what they might say in person. Clicking “send” has nowhere near the consequences (they think) that saying something in personal conversation does. We’ve all seen the horribly offensive things people say, apparently without compunction, on Twitter or in the comments section beneath news articles. It seems that if the recipient of your spite is not visible through your screen, then guilt about how we make them feel is lessened. I can’t quite understand that, since each of us is capable of imagining how it would feel to be on the receiving end of vindictive words on a screen. But certainly, increased use of screens for communication seems to be hardening us. We are getting accustomed to this unkind and demeaning discourse-at-a-distance, and it appears to be imitated by others. For instance, last month I read about our Minister of Foreign Affairs referring to our Leader of the Opposition as “simple Simon.” Does that kind of epithet sound vaguely familiar – on Twitter, perhaps? 4. Privacy brings temptation Much has been written about the danger of what Reinke calls “secret online vices” like pornography. The scary thing is that this kind of vile material is available, on phones, any time and any place. Many people think they are able to view it without anyone else knowing; and therefore without consequence. Christians need to remember that God sees everything we do: nothing is hidden from him. God has made our eyes and our ears, but he expects them to be used with discretion. How can we use them to pollute ourselves? Reinke would not be the first to suggest that in the end, if your eye is causing you a problem, pluck it out. Smartphones are indeed disposable, and certainly able to have their contents blocked and curbed. The consequences of addicting yourself to such vices are too awful to contemplate. 5. Algorithms feed us just one side (Prov. 18:17) There is one final way that our smartphones are changing us, and it concerns me more than the others because it affects our ability to distinguish truth from error. We are so overloaded with online input (resulting in what Solomon called a “weariness of the flesh”) that we are inclined to retreat to bubbles of like-minded communications, dismissing all the rest as biased, wrong, or simply doubtful or unverifiable “noise.” The result is that the world is becoming an increasingly partisan place consisting of groups of people who, day by day, shout at each other, distrust each other, even hate each other – intractably. Being constantly online and fed a continuous diet of news we agree with is light years away from an older world. Once upon a time (maybe 20 years ago) people read a range of news sources, mindful of the biases of each, in order to arrive at some semblance of the truth. In those days discerning readers knew that if one news source got things wrong, the others would pounce and correct it. The truth prevails in the end, as historians generally know. Nowadays there is little true dialogue, and a cynicism about anything other than the source I read. All else is “fake news,” we hear. This is really scary, since unless we are willing to expose even our most deeply-held views to scrutiny, we will lose the power of discernment. And that is what tyranny thrives on. Conclusion So I’d suggest, along with Tony Reinke, that it’s high time to take a close look at our uses of our smartphones. Are they changing us? Yes, and in ways that we might not realize. This is an edited version of an article first printed in the May 2018 issue of Faith in Focus www.rcnz.org.nz where it was published under the title “We and our phones.” It is reprinted with permission. Sally Davey is a member of the Reformed Church of Dovedale, Christchurch, New Zealand. You can download a 40-page preview of Tony Reinke's "12 ways your phone is changing you" here. ...

Assorted

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 ReformedReflections.ca. This is an edited version of a two-part article that first appeared in the 2004 November and December issues. ...

Assorted

The conceited apple-branch: a Romans 12:3-8 fable?

Was Hans Christian Andersen thinking of Romans 12:3-8 when he wrote this? Perhaps not…. but he could have been. ***** It was the month of May. The wind still blew cold, but from bush and tree, field and flower, came the whisper “Spring has come.” Wildflowers covered the hedges, and under one little apple-tree, Spring seemed especially busy, telling his tale to one of the branches which hung fresh and blooming, and covered with delicate pink blossoms that were just ready to open. Now the branch knew well how beautiful it was – this knowledge exists as much in the leaf as in our blood. I was not surprised when a nobleman’s carriage, in which sat a young countess, stopped in the road right by. She said that an apple-branch was a most lovely object, and an example of spring at its most charming its most charming. Then the branch was broken off for her, and she held it in her delicate hand, and sheltered it with her silk parasol. Then they drove to the castle, in which were lofty halls and splendid rooms. Pure white curtains fluttered in every open window, and beautiful flowers stood in shining, transparent vases. In one of them, which looked as if it had been cut out of newly fallen snow, the apple-branch was placed, among some fresh, light twigs of beech. It was a charming sight. Then the branch became proud, which was very much like human nature. People of every description entered the room, and expressed their admiration. Some said nothing, others expressed too much, and the apple-branch very soon came to understand that there was as much difference in the characters of human beings as in those of plants and flowers. Some are all for pomp and parade, others are busy trying to maintain their own importance, while the rest might not be noticed at all. So, thought the apple-branch, as he stood before the open window, from which he could see out over gardens and fields where there were flowers and plants enough for him to think and reflect upon, it is the way of things that some are rich and beautiful, some poor and humble. “Poor, despised herbs,” said the apple-branch, “there is really a difference between them and one such as I. How unhappy they must be, if that sort can even feel as those in my position do! There is a difference indeed, and so there ought to be, or we should all be equals.” And the apple-branch looked with a sort of pity upon them, especially on a certain little flower that is found in fields and in ditches. No one gathered these flowers together in a bouquet; they were too common. They were even known to grow between the paving stones, shooting up everywhere, like bad weeds, and they bore the very ugly name of “dog-flowers” or “dandelions.” “Poor, despised plants,” said the apple-bough again, “it is not your fault that you are so ugly, and that you have such an ugly name. But it is with plants as with men, – there must be a difference.” “A difference?” cried the sunbeam, as he kissed the blooming apple-branch, and then kissed the yellow dandelion out in the fields. All were brothers, and the sunbeam kissed them all – the poor flowers as well as the rich. The apple-bough had never considered the extent of God’s love, which reaches out over all of creation, over every creature and plant and thing which lives, and moves, and has its being in Him. The apple-bough had never thought of the good and beautiful which are so often hidden, but can never remain forgotten by Him – not only among the lower creation, but also among men. However, the sunbeam, the ray of light, knew better. “You do not see very far, nor very clearly,” he said to the apple-branch. “Which is the despised plant you so specially pity?” “The dandelion,” he replied. “No one ever gathers it into bouquets; it is often trodden under foot, there are so many of them; and when they run to seed, they have flowers like wool, which fly away in little pieces over the roads, and cling to the dresses of the people. They are only weeds. But of course there must be weeds. Oh, I am really very thankful that I was not made like one of these flowers.” Soon after a group of children came to the fields, the youngest of whom was so small that he had to be carried by the others. And when he was seated on the grass, among the yellow flowers, he laughed aloud with joy, kicking out his little legs, rolling about, plucking the yellow flowers, and kissing them in childlike innocence. The older children broke off the flowers with long stems, bent the stalks one round the other, to form links, and made first a chain for the neck, then one to go across the shoulders and hang down to the waist, and at last a wreath to wear round the head. They all looked quite splendid in their garlands of green stems and golden flowers. It was then that the oldest among them carefully gathered the faded flowers – those that were going to seed in the form of a white feathery crown. These loose, airy wool-flowers are very beautiful, and look like fine snowy feathers or down. The children held them to their mouths, and tried to blow away the whole crown with one puff of their breath. “Do you see?” said the sunbeam, “Do you see the beauty of these flowers? Do you see their powers of giving pleasure?” “Yes, to children,” scoffed the apple-bough. By-and-by an old woman came into the field, and, with a blunt knife, began to dig round the roots of some of the dandelion-plants, and pull them up. With some of these she intended to make tea for herself, but the rest she was going to sell to the chemist, and obtain some money. “But beauty is of higher value than all this,” said the apple-tree branch; “only the chosen ones can be admitted into the realms of the beautiful. There is a difference between plants, just as there is a difference between men.” Then the sunbeam spoke of the abundant love of God, as seen in creation, and seen over all that lives, and of the distribution of His gifts to all. “That is your opinion,” said the apple-bough. Then some people came into the room, and, among them, the young countess – the lady who had placed the apple-bough in the transparent vase, so pleasantly beneath the rays of the sunlight. She carried in her hand something that seemed like a flower. The object was hidden by two or three great leaves, which covered it like a shield, so that no draft or gust of wind could injure it. And it was carried more carefully than the apple-branch had ever been. Very cautiously the large leaves were removed, and there appeared the feathery seed-crown of the despised dandelion. This was what the lady had so carefully plucked, and carried home so safely covered, so that not one of the delicate feathery arrows of which its mist-like shape was so lightly formed, should flutter away. She now drew it forth quite uninjured, and wondered at its beautiful form, and airy lightness, and singular construction, so soon to be blown away by the wind. “See,” she exclaimed, “how wonderfully God has made this little flower. I will paint it with the apple-branch together. Every one admires the beauty of the apple-bough; but this humble flower has been endowed by Heaven with another kind of loveliness; and although they differ in appearance, both are the children of the realms of beauty.” Then the sunbeam kissed the lowly flower, and he kissed the blooming apple-branch, upon whose leaves appeared a rosy blush. This is a lightly modified/modernized version of Andersen's “The Conceited Apple-Branch.” ...

Assorted

Go to the ant, you sluggard…

"Go to the ant, you sluggard consider its ways, and be wise! It has no commander, no overseer or ruler, yet it stores its provision in summer and gathers its food in harvest."  – Proverbs 6:6-8 ***** Often when we go shopping on Tuesdays we pass men who stand at intersections at various parts of the city of Kitchener. Usually wearing a hat, mittens and some sort of great coat, often a dog seated at their side, these fellows are shamelessly panhandling. With their hands they display a sign which reads something like "No Job - Anything will Help," or "Hungry and Homeless, Thanks so Much." One of my daughters sometimes takes a lunch bag with her in her car prior to going out. She will put a sandwich in there, a piece of fruit and a tract and will hand that out. On December 12, 2016, the Dallas Morning News published an article about a new initiative to recruit panhandlers for day labor. The job program which was being proposed would pay people $10.37 an hour for cleaning up litter or working in parks. This particular program, however, did not work out, the article went on to say, because some panhandlers were reportedly making more than 50 dollars an hour just by begging. The city of Bloomington, Indiana recently installed 28 signs downtown that read, “Please help. Don’t encourage panhandling. Contribute to the solution.” The sign has a large "no panhandling" symbol in the middle and a web address at the bottom that links to a webpage which lists several organization combating homelessness. One of these organizations is Shalom. Shalom Community Center is an all-inclusive resource center in Bloomington for people who are living in poverty and experiencing hunger, homelessness, and a lack of access to basic life necessities. Last year, Shalom's re-housing program helped nearly 200 people, a third of whom were children, move off the streets and into homes. Although concerned with bodies rather than souls, Shalom's effort to help the homeless, does seem to be a laudable effort. Work is a blessing There have been both workers and sluggards throughout history. British Field Marshal George Wade, (1673-1748), was an enterprising man and one who would have been ashamed to stand on British street corners for a hand-out. An officer who served in several wars, he worked hard to attain the rank of Field Marshal. (The rank of Field Marshal has been the highest rank in the British army since 1736.) Between 1725 and 1737 Wade oversaw the construction of some 250 miles of road, plus 40 bridges. Roads linking Perth, Inverness, and Fort Augustus appeared where previously there had been tracks suitable only for single file passage of men or horses. Wade was popular with the British people and is the only person mentioned by name in the English national anthem. It's not a stanza with which people are familiar or one that is often sung. Lord, grant that Marshal Wade May, by thy mighty aid, Victory bring. May he sedition hush And, like a torrent, rush Rebellious Scots to crush. God save the King. Field Marshll Wade did have a sinful weakness. He loved gaming, which is a polite way of saying that he really enjoyed gambling. When he was occupied in this pursuit, he was not greatly concerned about the company he kept and could so totally lose himself in the moment of concentrating on his cards, that he became oblivious to all else. Gaming houses, or casinos, for that matter, are not mentioned in the Bible. God does, however, warn against temptations associated with gambling. There are numerous verses which warn against the love of money. One evening as Wade was totally absorbed in a card game, he noticed that his valuable gold snuff box was missing. Snuff, a smokeless tobacco, is made up of pulverized tobacco leaves. It is inhaled or "snuffed" into the nasal cavity, delivering a shot of nicotine. These pulverized leaves were usually kept in a snuff box. As Wade absently reached for the box in his pocket, his fingers could not detect the coveted container – a container which had diamonds set into its frame. "Stop the game!" he cried in a booming voice, suddenly very much aware of his rank and military prestige, "and no one shall leave this room without being searched!" Every eye was on him and quiet descended on the gaming room. There was a rather destitute gentleman seated next to Wade at the table. Dressed very shabbily, he was a soldier as well. The man had lost several times at the games and with great politeness had asked that Wade back his bets. When the problem of the missing snuff box emerged, and Wade insisted that everyone be searched, he alone objected. "You will not search me," he repeated several times rather vehemently, "I'd rather fight a duel to defend my honor or die in the attempt." His challenge was accepted with alacrity by Wade, who thought to himself that the fellow was obviously the thief. The two men retired to an anteroom with two other men who had volunteered as seconds and the duel was about to take place. Upon reaching for his sword, however, Wade suddenly detected the snuff-box in a secret pocket compartment – a compartment he had completely forgotten to check while searching. Stopping short, he walked over to the other soldier. "Sir," he began, and his voice did not boom quite as loudly as before, "Sir, I have every reason to believe that I need to apologize to you and ask your pardon. And I hope that in the morning you might do me the honor of having breakfast with me." The other man looked surprised, but agreed to the arrangement. The next morning, as they were eating together, Wade posed the other man a question. He was intensely curious. "Why, friend, did you refuse to be searched?" "Because, sir, being upon half-pay and alone, I am obliged to watch every penny. Yesterday I had little appetite; and as I could not eat what I had already paid for, nor could afford to lose it, the leg and wing of a chicken were wrapped up in a piece of paper in my pocket. I would have been mortified had these been found on me and I preferred fighting a duel rather than facing that embarrassment." Wade stared at the man opposite him at the table, weighing him, before exclaiming: "Enough said! You, sir, will also dine with me tonight. And afterwards we will talk about what to do regarding your dilemma." That night Wade presented the shabby-looking soldier who had been reduced to penury, with a commission, and a purse to enable him to join the regiment. The man who had attached such a great value to his dignity, received the commission with gratitude and began work immediately. How best to help? For Christians, work ought to be a great blessing especially when it is pervaded with gratitude to the Creator God. Work alone, however, will not open the gates of heaven for someone. Only the perfect work of the Lord Jesus Christ can do that. Nevertheless, Christians have a working God. In creation God worked for six days and rested on the seventh. Our days, which have for the most part been reduced to a five-day work week, should reflect God's work ethic. We see and read of many people who are unemployed. There are those who truly want to work and can't find employment, but there are also welfare recipients who prefer to remain welfare recipients. The Biblical welfare system, as described in Lev. 19:10 and Lev. 23:22, was a system of work. Panhandling was never prescribed for Israel. The Bible is quite clear in its condemnation of those who are sluggards – those who are lazy. The Christian work ethic is straightforward. In I Tim. 5:8 we are taught: "If anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for his immediate family, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever." Should we give money to panhandlers? The desire to give is a good one. Generosity is a virtue and should proceed from a heart which knows it has been given all by Jesus Christ. To give money to someone on the street is a personal decision with both positive and negative aspects. Perhaps satisfying an immediate relief that you have helped someone, the truth is that you will not know whether or not your gift will be used for alcohol, tobacco or drugs. It might be better to search for a Christian organization, so that you can be assured that your money will go towards definite needs. Or it might be better to take the panhandler out for a sandwich and a cup of coffee. It is true that we presently labor among thorns and thistles and in the sweat of our brow. Yet our attitude should be the same as that of our Lord Jesus, whose food was to do the will of the Father Who sent Him and to finish His work. Someday, in the new heaven and the new earth, the sweat, thorns and thistles will be gone. Christine Farenhorst is the author of many books, her latest being "Katherina, Katherina," a novel taking place in the time of Martin Luther. You can read a review here, and buy it at here....

Assorted

Is the Proverbs 31 wife an unrealistic supermom?

A line in yesterday's article "On being a Titus 2 young woman" may have had some readers blinking in surprise. Rev. Bouwman says of the Proverbs 31 woman: "This woman is not the proverbial 'super-mom' but simply a God-fearing woman..." Not a super-mom? Simply a God-fearing woman? Really? That runs counter to the popular understanding of her as so pure, so selfless, so hard-working as to be a completely unrealistic example of what godly womanhood looks like. Sure, it'd be great to be like her, but then again it'd be great to be able to leap tall buildings in a single bound. But is either goal attainable? So who has it right? Is this woman simply unreal, or "simply a God-fearing woman?" To find an answer it will be helpful to grab our Bibles, turn to Proverbs 31 and then look at the passage in a more modern light. We could ask, "What would the Proverbs 31 wife be up to if she was around today?" and update the many tasks she takes on. If we do that, then what we find is a wife: who has her husband's trust at home and in business matters too (vs. 11,16) who honors that trust (vs. 12) who knows how to use a sewing machine (vs. 13) who makes regular trips to Safeway and Costco (vs. 14) who rises each morning, and before her kids are even awake, making their lunches and getting breakfast ready (vs. 15) who has arms grown strong from scrubbing pots, cleaning floors and hauling her children in and out of car seats (vs. 17) who has her own Etsy store, selling good she makes in the evenings (vs. 18-19,24) who makes meals for those in need and, after her kids were all in school, began volunteering at the local crisis pregnancy clinic (vs. 20) who finds good clothing for her family, for every season, and who dresses herself attractively (vs. 21-22) whose her hard work makes it possible for her husband to have the time to be an elder or deacon (vs. 23) who is wise, and confident about the future because she recognizes God is in control; and she is able to share her wisdom with others over coffee (vs. 25-26) who manages her household and doesn't spend her afternoons watching the soaps (vs. 27) whose children and husband can't contain their pride in her (vs. 28-29) who is praised not for how she looks, but for the God-fearing woman she is (vs. 30-31) This is certainly a remarkable woman. But doesn't she sound familiar? Isn't this someone you know? While this woman is amazing, we shouldn't dismiss her as unrealistic. That would be a mistake for two reasons. First, because it would be ignoring the God-pleasing example He outlines here – this is an example given precisely for instruction. That Christian women will regularly fall short of this standard doesn't mean it can be ignored. It only means that they – like their husbands – need to regularly go to God in repentance, and ask Him to continue to mold them and shape them to better take on the good works He has laid out for them to do. And, second, dismissing the Proverbs 31 woman as unrealistic would be to overlook what God has given us in the many women we know who bear a striking resemblance to the woman of this passage. As we read in verse 10, their worth is far beyond jewels! So we should never overlook the enormity of the blessing God has given us in these women! Jon Dykstra is the father of three and the husband of one, who is worth far more than jewels....

Assorted

On being a Titus 2 young woman

Older women train the young women to love their husbands and children, to be self-controlled, pure, working at home, kind, and submissive to their own husbands, that the word of God may not be reviled. Here in Titus 2:4-5 the Apostle Paul gives instructions to young women that fly in the face of today’s accepted western wisdom. These instructions will strike many as ridiculous, laughable, outdated, even patronizing. Surely, this can’t be God’s will for young women in our modern, western society! Actually, it is. Paul here is not stating something new – his instructions didn't come out of the blue. What he writes here is built on God’s abiding revelation as first revealed in Paradise. When we look back through Scripture we see that Paul is simply echoing what God has said in the Bible many times before. Consider the following passages. Genesis 2 wives From the beginning God has given young women the important task of being wives, and in this role being a help to their husbands. The Lord God put the man He created in the Garden of Eden, with the mandate “to work it and keep it” (vs. 15). The Lord observed the man-by-himself in the Garden, and determined that “it is not good that the man should be alone” (vs. 18). On his lonesome the man could not image adequately what God’s love and kindness and holiness and patience, etc., were like, for these qualities come out primarily in relationships. To overcome this lack that the Lord observed, He did not set beside Adam a penguin to be his companion, nor did He create a second male as a companion. What He did instead was fashion a new being, a woman. Paul in the New Testament explains the significance of this divine act: “woman for man” (1 Corinthians 11:9). We also read that God ordained the married state (Genesis 2:24) with the divine intent that the man be the head and leader, and the woman be "helper" to her husband in his God-given task in daily life (see vs. 15). The woman was not created to be a lone ranger, living independent of man or for her self. To the degree that today’s way of thinking encourages women to be independent of men (or, for that matter, men to be independent of women), today’s thinking is simply not biblical. Of course the fall into sin complicated the wife's helping role greatly, if only because selfishness has now come to characterize every person (Ephesians 2:3). In fact, part of the curse on the fallen woman was that she would attempt to dominate her husband (Genesis 3:16b), something distinctly contrary to the ordinance of the beginning and therefore not tolerable among God’s people (see Ephesians 5:22ff). Genesis 1 mothers We also learn in the very beginning of the Bible that young women have been given the vital role of being mothers and teachers of the next generation. The Lord God created male and female to, together, image what God was like. And, together, they were also to be fruitful so that they would produce more people on Planet Earth who could image God (Genesis 1:27,28). However, the children that would be born to Adam and Eve in Paradise would not have some sort of instinctive knowledge about how they were to image God. No, they would need to be taught. Inasmuch as Eve would give birth and nurse the child, she would play a vital role in the child’s early physical, mental and emotional and, most importantly, spiritual formation. Mothering, we all realize, is much more than nursing or feeding; mothering is first of all training the child how to live in God’s world, how to image Him. Even in Paradise training on that level was not to start when the child was a toddler or of school age or became a teenager; had infants been born in Paradise, they would have needed concerted instruction from day one on how to image God’s characteristics of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, etc. This much is clear, then: as Eve busied herself with her tasks beside Adam in the Garden, she was at the same time to be diligent to mold her children, speak to them of their Maker, and show them what imaging Him was like in life’s changing circumstances. Again, the fall into sin made this task so very much more difficult – if only because both the child and the mother were now inclined to any and every sort of evil. Even so, the task given at the very beginning remains. No mother is to permit evil, selfish attitudes to grow in the heart of her little one; from the day her child is born a mother is to show what love is, and demonstrate kindness, patience, self-control, etc. In fact, exactly because of the sinfulness of the child’s heart, the task is much bigger and more vital than it would ever have been in Paradise. To say it in Moses words: "You shall teach diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand…" (Deuteronomy 6:7f). Mothering is full-time commitment! Proverbs 31 household managers Proverbs 31 works out in practical terms the roles given in Genesis 1 & 2. The “excellent wife” (vs. 10) is busy in so many things – buying, selling, importing, helping the poor, etc. A young woman should not think of her household task as a limiting one. The way the world portrays it a young woman can either become something... or stay at home and manage the house. However, when we look at the woman of Proverbs 31 what we see is a capable, talented, ambitious woman. We see a woman who is certainly not limited in what she does. But she is also not career-driven. It isn't self-fulfillment or a spirit of independence that drives her; instead her agenda revolves around her household: “the heart of her husband trusts in her…. She does him good, and not harm, all the days of her life” (vss. 11f) so that “her husband is known in the gates when he sits among the elders of the land” (vs. 23). More, she recognizes her role with her children so that “she looks well to the ways of her household…. Her children rise up and call her blessed; her husband also, and he praises her” (vss. 27, 28). This woman is not the proverbial “super-mom,” but simply a God-fearing woman (vs. 30b) who takes the principle of Genesis 1 and 2 seriously, and works them out in the economic context of her day. Titus 2 young women Now let's return to our passage in Titus 2. This letter is written to the believers in Crete, where the gospel had only just come, so Paul saw need to list for Titus the bits and pieces required to build up church life (Titus 1:5), including instructions to the “young women” of the congregation. The older women (see "Older Woman have a lot to give") were to train the young women to live in a particular way - and that training happens, of course, with the book of Genesis (and the rest of the Bible) laying open on the kitchen table. "love their husbands" The first thing the older women are to impress upon the younger is the need to “love their husband.” It’s striking: Paul’s opening instruction is not that the younger wives are to submit to husbands and serve them; it’s instead the command to love. The term the apostle uses has nothing to do with erotic love, but everything to do with the love of the gospel. The same word appears in John 3:16, “for God so loved the world, that He gave His only Son...” It’s the same word the Spirit uses to describe Jesus’ work on the cross: Jesus “loved them to the end” (John 13:1). He who was with the Father in glory from eternity laid down His life for His own, even though He knew that they would desert Him and deny Him. The good news of Jesus’ self-emptying for sinners had come to Crete and for that reason the believers of Crete were expected to act in a certain manner (Titus 2:11). Specifically, because the gospel of Jesus Christ had come to Crete, the pious were to “renounce ungodliness and worldly passions” (2:12) – and that includes that they were to love their neighbor as themselves. The closest neighbor God gave to the “young women” was obviously their husband, the man with whom she was “one flesh” (Genesis 2:24). Younger women, then, were duty-bound to love their husbands as Christ had loved them; how else could they image what God was like? Christ laid down His life for the ungodly (Romans 5:8); that was the depth and color of His love. Since his people are to do the same Paul does not mention whether these young women’s husbands are deserving of love or not; the young women are simply to do to their husbands as Christ has done to them. To fail to love in that self-emptying manner is to send a signal into the community that prompts the community to speak ill of God’s Word – and the apostle won’t have that (vs. 5b). "love their... children" The people next closest to the young women are the children the Lord has entrusted to their care. It’s not surprising, then, that the apostle next instructs the women to love those children. Again, the point is not that these mothers are to be nice to their children or to feel emotional about them; the point is that they empty themselves for their children’s benefit as Jesus Christ emptied Himself for these women. Again, that self-emptying for the children’s benefit images what the Lord God is like. The young women of Crete were undoubtedly as affected by the fall into sin as anyone else. In their midst will have been mothers who would have preferred to be in the workforce, who would have felt more fulfilled by whatever amounted to an "office job" back then, who loathed housework, or who didn’t have a "feel" for children. But Paul’s word is categorical; they were to empty themselves as Christ emptied Himself, and so show love for their children. Paul wasn’t so much encouraging particular feelings for the children as actions; the children should see from Mom what Jesus’ love looked like. "be self-controlled and pure" The next two terms Paul uses to describe what the younger women were to be, appears in our translations as “self-controlled” and “pure” (NIV and ESV). The first of these terms appears elsewhere in Scripture to mean “being in one’s right mind” (Luke 8:35) or exercising “sober judgment” (Romans 12:3). Right-minded and sober judgment implies that one include all necessary facts in ones decision-making process. That includes the facts mentioned a few verses later in Titus 2:11: “the grace of God has appeared” in Christ’s birth, death and resurrection, “bringing salvation for all people.” The “young women” of the church are to factor that good news into their decisions as they set about loving their husbands and children. Including the gospel in one's decision-making processes is being "right-minded," thinking with "sober judgment." The term “pure” is used in pagan literature to describe the need to be chaste/pure when you enter the temple of your idol. The term, then, echoes the instruction of vs. 3, where Paul told the older women to act in a fashion "befitting a temple." The younger women have also received the Holy Spirit, and so are temples of the Lord God; they demonstrate that reality by loving their husbands and children as the Lord of the temple loved them. "working at home, kind" With the underlying attitudes made clear, the apostle again comes back to what outward conduct Genesis 1 and 2 requires of New Testament women. He uses a phrase that translates well as “working at home.” The point of the phrase is not that these younger women always have their hands in the sink; that is a devilish caricature not at all in agreement with God’s intent. The Lord's intent for the younger women is laid out in Genesis 1 and 2, and is drawn out clearly in passages of Old Testament Scripture like Proverbs 31. As mentioned earlier, everything that mother does (whether at home or at the market or in the office) is geared to what’s good for her household, be it first her husband and then her children. That’s taking the principles of Genesis 1 and 2, and working them out in the economic realities of the day. That’s "homeworking," where all her activity is directed to what’s good for her family. The point is again: not selfishness, but service to the family as Christ served you. The next term Paul uses dovetails neatly with the instruction to be “working at home.” In her "kindness" or "goodness," she images God’s goodness and kindness to His children in Jesus Christ. So she “looks well to the ways of her household and does not eat the bread of idleness” (Proverbs 31:27). "submissive to their own husbands" The last instruction the apostle gives to the young women of the congregation is caught in the phrase “submissive to their own husbands.” We realize that here is again a distinct and clear echo of God’s instruction in Genesis 2. Though the fall into sin has made submission so infinitely more difficult than it was for Eve in Paradise, this posture has remained the will of God despite the fall. It’s God who once placed a particular woman beside a particular man, and it’s now His will that a woman in faith accept the head God has placed over her and submit to him. After all, “the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people” (2:11); in life’s multiple brokenness there is salvation from the torment of sin through the blood of Jesus Christ. So we’re made able to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions (2:12), including the desire deep within women to resist submission (Genesis 3:16b). So a woman who knows Christ's victory is real demonstrates her conviction by submitting – in obedience to God’s ordinance – to the man God gave her. As a temple of the Spirit she has been made able to obey – and know herself safe in the hands of her faithful God and Savior.  "that the word of God may not be reviled" Our modern western culture scoffs at the apostle’s instruction to younger women; it’s so archaic, so demeaning, so sexist! We’re inclined to say it’s precisely instruction such as this that makes God’s Word ridiculous, and if we could get rid of this throwback to an outdated culture, the gospel of Jesus Christ would be more acceptable to modern people. In response we need to note two things. The first is that the cry for female freedom is not so new: cultured folk of Paul’s day called for the same thing. I mention this because Paul was definitely aware of the thinking of his time, and so very aware too that his instruction in Titus 2 was distinctly out of step with the finer tastes of society’s movers and shakers. Yet he dared to write what he wrote – and the reason for his daring is simply that he knew he was unpacking, for his modern time, God’s unchanging Word as first revealed in Paradise. Secondly, we need to note how the apostle concludes his instructions concerning the young women. They are to behave in the way he describes, he says, “that the word of God may not be reviled” (2:5b). It’s a statement we’re surprised at. Isn’t it precisely those instructions of Scripture that have a young woman work at home, submitting to her husband and devoting herself to her children that make the Word of God look silly? How, then, can Paul say that obedience is necessary lest the Word of God be reviled? The point here is simply that anyone, whether godly or pagan, who reads the Word of God beginning at Genesis 1, can figure out for himself that the woman was created for the man, that her husband is her head, that she has responsibility for her children, and that her place is in the home. Any honest reader of Scripture can figure out that Paul’s instruction in Titus 2:4-5 is not new material, but simply summarizes what God had earlier revealed. If these Bible readers, then, see that you, a Christian who claims to treasure the Word of God, ignore God’s instruction in relation to younger women, then you give the unbelieving reader of Scripture reason not to take the rest of God’s Word seriously either. If you insist, as it says in Titus 2:11, that “the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people,” and if you encourage the people you meet to believe in the good news of Christ crucified for sin, you would be shooting yourself in the foot if you then decided not to take Genesis 1 & 2 seriously. For if you don’t take God’s instruction in Genesis 1 & 2 about the place of women seriously, why should you expect somebody else to take seriously other passages of Scripture that describe Christ’s death for sin and His resurrection from the dead? If you don’t take Titus 2:4-5 seriously, on what grounds can you still take Titus 2:11 seriously? The result? The word of God is reviled. If any word of God is to be taken seriously, it must all be taken seriously. Value beyond measuring Let's tie it all up. Paul had left Titus on Crete with the mandate to “put in order” details of church life on the island (1:5). The fact that he, in that context, included instructions about “young women” can only mean that these sisters have an invaluable role to play in church life. And while the world doesn't like the supportive role that God has given women, the popularity of the adage "behind every successful man is a good woman" shows how even they recognize how vital this support is. Young women's husbands have a leadership role to play in society (Genesis 2:15) and to fulfill that task they need a helper (Genesis 2:18). Similarly, the behind-the-scenes (no big plaudits or public praise) support and love mothers give to their children is what allows them to grow in wisdom and knowledge. As another adage explains, “the hand that rocks the cradle rules the world.” There is no way we can overstate the importance of the role God has given to young women. Young women, then, are not to think of marriage, mothering, and working at home as drudgery. Of course, keeping it from being so can be a distinct challenge in our fallen world. But the fact that it’s a challenge is no reason to flee from the task. Instead younger women, redeemed as they are in Jesus’ blood and renewed by His Spirit, are to lift their eyes above the snotty noses and the piles of laundry, above their tired husband and their own preferences, and fix their attention on what God is doing. He intends wives and husbands, in relation together, to image Him, and train the next generation to do the same! To be allowed to be involved in His church gathering work is such a privilege! That church gathering work happens first of all in the home, where young women have been given such a critical role. Neither money or business makes the world go round, and it isn't education either; rather, the home is where it’s at. How privileged the position of the young godly woman! Rev. Bouwman is a minister for the Canadian Reformed Church of Smithville, Ontario. This article first appeared in the February 2013 issue....

Assorted, Book excerpts

10 QUOTES: On technology and the family

We need to control our technology; it can't control us   “…it is absolutely completely possible to make different choices about technology from the default settings of the world around us….it is possible to love and use all kinds of technology but still make radical choices to prevent technology from taking over our lives.” – Andy Crouch, author of The Tech-Wise Family “The essential question we must constantly ask ourselves in the quickly evolving age of digital technology is not what can I do with my phone, but what should I do with it? That answer…can be resolved only by understanding why we exist in the first place.” – Tony Reinke, author of 12 Ways Your Phone is Changing You “Am I entitled to feed on the fragmented trivialities online? In other words, am I entitled to spend hours every month simply browsing odd curiosities? I get the distinct sense in Scripture that the answer is 'no'.” – Reinke Your family may need to restrict technology “There is a better way. It doesn’t require us to become Amish, entirely separately ourselves from the modern technological world, and it doesn’t require us to deny the real benefits that technology provides our families and our wider society. But let me be direct and honest: this better way is radical. It requires making choices that most of our neighbors aren’t making. It requires making choices that most of our neighbors in church aren’t making. Let me put it this way: you don’t have to become Amish, but you probably have to become closer to Amish than you think.” – Crouch Parents need to be examples “Can we really tell our kids, ‘Do as we say, not as we do?’” – Delaney Ruston, doctor and the documentary filmmaker of Screenagers “The kids know we need help too….An awful lot of children born in 2007...have been competing with their parents’ screens their whole lives.” – Crouch Parents need to act sooner than later “Many parents fear that if they approach certain topics too early it will give their kids ideas about those things before they actually need to face them. Let me ask you some questions…. Do your kids ride the school bus with older kids? Are there older kids in your neighborhood? …. You may shield your tweens from talk of dating and teen relationships, but what about the eleventh graders making out in the back of the bus? You might supervise Internet activity, but what about the computers at friends’ houses?” – Nicole O’Dell, author of Hot Button Topics: Internet Edition “An astonishing 62 percent of teenagers say they have received a nude image on their phone, and 40 percent say they have sent one.” – Crouch We need to be parents, not policemen “Research shows that parenting with rules and boundaries but with love and caring promotes better everything; better grades in school, better relationships with their friends and family, everything!” – Ruston “Our children need to feel love, not condemnation. They should trust that we’re an ally, not the enemy. You’re not fighting against your kids in hopes of coming out victorious over them; you’re in a battle for them.” - O’Dell...

Adult non-fiction, Assorted

"The Devil’s Delusion" and the baseless confidence of the certain atheist

Some atheists, such as the late Christopher Hitchens, were very certain about their doubt. This sort of sure skeptic will argue that society should make a clean break from religion of every sort and instead embrace science and all its implications. But their assertions about science – that it proves God is not – don’t approach anything close to the truth. It was to counter such ridiculous claims that mathematician David Berlinski wrote The Devil's Delusion: Atheism and its Scientific Pretensions. Berlinski is as interesting as his book. He is not a creationist or even a Christian. This self-described “secular Jew” doesn’t oppose atheism and mindless evolution on any religious grounds. He just wants to pop the bubble of pretentious atheists, and as such the purpose of his book is not to determine whether God exists “but whether science has shown that He does not.” It has not, as Berlinski humorously, shows. BIG BANG THEORY Secular science has a very different origin story than the one we find in Genesis. According to the Big Bang theory view, billions of years ago something of incredible density suddenly started to expand, leading to the universe as we know it today. The Big Bang theory is relatively new – from the 1920s – and, from its start, it made atheists very uncomfortable. As Berlinski writes, If the Big Bang expresses a new idea in physics, it suggests an old idea in thought: In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth. Christians don’t have to agree with the Big Bang theory to be amused by the implications – even this secular theory suggests the universe had a starting point. And that prompts the unavoidable question: Who or what caused it to start? While atheists insist “Not God!” they have no scientific reasons to be so insistent. The Big Bang theory hardly requires an atheistic conclusion. APPEARANCE OF DESIGN Many aspects of the universe are precisely ordered to sustain life on earth, and Berlinski shares several, beginning with the “cosmological constant.” The cosmological constant is a number controlling the expansion of the universe….And here is the odd point: If the cosmological constant were larger than it is, the universe would have expanded too quickly, and if smaller, it would have collapsed too early, to permit the appearance of living systems. Very similar observations have been made with respect to the fine structure constant, the ratio of neutrons to protons, the ratio of the electromagnetic force to the gravitational force, even the speed of light. Why stop? The second law of thermodynamics affirms that, in a general way things are running down. The entropy of the universe is everywhere increasing. But if things are running down, what are they running down from? This is the question that physicist and mathematician Roger Penrose asked. And considering the rundown, he could only conclude that the runup was an initial state of the universe whose entropy was very, very low and so very finely tuned. Who ordered that? “Scientists,” the physicist Paul Davies has observed, “Are slowly waking up to an inconvenient truth – the universe looks suspiciously like a fix. The issues are the very laws of nature themselves. For 40 years, physicists and cosmologists have been quietly collecting examples of all too convenient “coincidences’ and special features in the underlying laws of the universe that seem to be necessary in order for life, hence conscious beings, to exist. Change any one of them and the consequences would be lethal.” Those arguments are very much of a piece with those that Fred Hoyle advanced after studying the resonances of carbon during nucleosynthesis. “The universe,” he grumbled afterwards, “looks like a put-up job.” Creationists often point to additional features, not specifically mentioned by Berlinski. Some examples include: The earth’s orbit is precisely in a zone where it is not too close to the sun (which would cause water to boil) and not too far from the sun (which would cause water to freeze). The earth’s rotation helps to regulate the planet’s temperature, preventing one side from becoming too hot, and the other side from becoming too cold. The tilt of the earth’s axis is perfectly aligned to result in regular seasons that are necessary for many forms of life to thrive (think of trees in the fall and spring, for example). The earth’s atmosphere is a thin layer of nitrogen and oxygen held in place by gravity and indispensable to maintaining life. The list goes on and on. Atheistic scientists have proposed speculative theories to explain this unlikely string of coincidences. Berlinski demonstrates that these theories are not at all convincing, which poses a big problem for the atheists, because if their theories …do not suffice to answer the question why we live in a universe that seems perfectly designed for human life, a great many men and women will conclude that it is perfectly designed for human life, and they will draw the appropriate consequences from this conjecture. In other words, the reason the universe appears designed to support life is because it has been designed. But by Who? One answer is obvious. It is the one theologians have always offered: The universe looks like a put-up job because it is a put-up job. That this answer is obvious is no reason to think it false. Nonetheless the answer that common sense might suggest is deficient in one respect: It is emotionally unacceptable because a universe that looks like a put-up job puts off a great many physicists. They have thus made every effort to find an alternative. Did you imagine that science was a disinterested pursuit of the truth? Well, you were wrong. DARWINIAN EVOLUTION Everyone is familiar with Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution. Over long periods of time, mutations occur in various organisms. Some mutations help the organisms to survive and even to thrive. As this process continues over millions of years, different species emerge. This is called “speciation.” One species evolves into another through a series of small and gradual developments. Unfortunately, for its proponents, the fossil record does not show this gradual advance. Body types appears in the fossil record fully developed. Evidence of transitions from one species to another has not been found. Yet such evidence is precisely what Darwin’s theory requires. Besides the absence of fossil evidence, Berlinski points out that there are no laboratory demonstrations of speciation either, millions of fruit flies coming and going while never once suggesting that they were destined to appear as anything other than fruit flies. This is the conclusion suggested as well by more than six thousand years of artificial selection, the practice of barnyard and backyard alike. In short, there is no genuine scientific evidence that any species has gradually developed into another species. ATHEIST WORLDVIEW So if science doesn’t back unguided evolution, why do atheists insist it does? This is where we really get to the crux of the matter. Berlinski writes, If Darwin’s theory of evolution has little to contribute to the content of the sciences, it has much to offer their ideology. It serves as the creation myth of our time, assigning properties to nature previously assigned to God. It thus demands an especially ardent form of advocacy. Like everyone else in the world, atheists have certain presuppositions about the nature of the world, life, and reality. They have a worldview. When they try to explain the existence of life and the universe, they interpret everything through the lens of their worldview. Because they begin with the presupposition that God does not exist, their worldview rules out certain conclusions right from the very start. Berlinski understands this and points out that behind the current wave of aggressive atheism “is a doctrinal system, a way of looking at the world, and so an ideology.” Atheists formulate arguments using science to make it appear that science supports their beliefs. But as Berlinski writes, Arguments follow from assumptions, and assumptions follow from beliefs, and very rarely – perhaps never – do beliefs reflect an agenda determined entirely by the facts. ATHEISM AND MORALITY Interestingly, Berlinski discusses the implications of atheism for morality. Many atheists like to assert that their beliefs pose no problem for ethics. Atheists can still make moral judgments. The problem is that if they do make moral judgments, those judgments cannot be based on their atheistic beliefs. Atheism provides no basis for ethics aside from subjective personal preferences. Berlinski writes, If moral imperatives are not commanded by God’s will, and if they are not in some sense absolute, then what ought to be is a matter simply of what men and women decide should be. There is no other source of judgment. Morality is either determined by God or by man. If God does not exist, there are no external ethical restraints on man’s behavior. CONCLUSION So does science prove “God is not”? No, and atheists who claim otherwise are only showing their willingness to look past the evidence. They’ve started with atheistic assumptions and arrived at atheistic conclusions that are dictated by their worldview. Berlinksi is not a Christian and he accepts many aspects of the secular worldview, including a long age for the universe, and, seemingly, aspects of evolution. But even in accepting these secular tenets he can’t look past the overwhelming evidence for design, and thus some sort of Designer, apparent in the world around us. Michael Wagner’s book, "Leaving God Behind" about Canada’s Christian roots can be purchased here....

Assorted

Older women have much to give

Our church has a sizable number of older women. Why? What task would the Lord give these sisters in His church? Like the older men, the older women of the congregation are a God-given resource for building up the congregation. This is what Paul draws out in his instruction in Titus 2:3-4a when Titus is told to ensure that: “older women likewise are to be reverent in behavior, not slanderers or addicted to much wine. They are to teach what is good, and so train the young women…” Who is Paul talking to? The term "older women" directs our thoughts to those sisters in our midst who have been around more years than many others. By virtue of the time they’ve already spent in God’s school-of-life, they have the life experience to be able to touch others in a helpful manner. We do not know whether the “older women” Paul speaks about on Crete were married, single or widowed. Undoubtedly, as with us, some were married, while others were single – be it that they had never married or were now widowed. In any case, Paul does not speak here about the “older woman’s” role in relation to a husband; he speaks instead about their role as “teachers.” So it’s this role we need to draw out now. A teaching role The Lord God in the beginning created two people, a man and a woman, to image Him, and He gave them the command to “be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it and have dominion over” all creatures (Genesis 1:28). God’s intent was that the earth would be filled with people who, in the way they interacted together and cared for God’s world, would reflect what God was like. Yet the children to be born would not know from instinct how to image God; they would need to be taught. This was, of course, the parents’ task, with Eve as mother to play a central role. The longer Eve spent in the school of life, the better she would get to know God – and so the better equipped she’d be to teach those who came after her what service to God ought to look like. This task would, of course, be true not just for her, but also for her daughters in the coming generations. Older women, wizened by years in God’s service, have a vital role to play for the benefit of those less schooled in life. The fall into sin complicated the task profoundly, but did not alter God’s intent for the older women. It’s no surprise, then, to find Miriam teaching the women of Israel. She’s Moses’ older sister (cf. Exodus 2:7), and Moses was 80 years old when the Lord sent him to Egypt to deliver His people (Exodus 7:7). With the exodus now behind them, Miriam led the women with tambourines and dancing to sing the Lord’s praise on account of His redeeming work (Exodus 15:20f). Similarly, the “excellent wife” of Proverbs 31 “opens her mouth with wisdom, and the teaching of kindness is on her tongue” (vs. 26). And in the New Testament we read of Anna at 84 years of age speaking readily of the newborn Savior “to all who were waiting for the redemption of Jerusalem” (Luke 2:36ff). Examples such as this form the foundation upon which Paul builds his instruction to Titus concerning what needs to be done to build up church life on Crete. Titus must ensure that “older women… teach what is good” – an instruction fully in line with God’s earlier revelation. Yet to be effective in teaching, these older sisters need particular behavior, ie, they need to walk the walk before they can credibly talk the talk. So Paul tells Titus to ensure that the older women are “to be reverent in behavior, not slanderers or slaves to much wine.” "Reverent in behavior" The term translated as “reverent in behavior” is literally: “in behavior befitting a temple.” It’s a formulation full of gospel, and hence of grateful obligation. The Lord God had told His people at Mt Sinai to build a house for Him, so He could dwell with them. The tabernacle Israel built had the Holy of Holies in the back and the people outside, with the altar for sacrifices in between. The altar spoke of the work Jesus Christ was going to do; He’d sacrifice Himself on the cross to atone for our sins so that sinners might be reconciled to God. Years later Christ Jesus actually did come to pay for sin, and triumphed too; the curtain preventing access to the presence of God in the Holy of Holies was torn at the moment of His death (Mt 27:51). After His ascension into heaven, Christ poured out His Holy Spirit so that in Him God might dwell in sinners’ hearts. The result is that Paul can say that believers are temples of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 3:16; 6:19). That was a reality that was also true for the saints of Crete, including the older women. That’s the force of Titus 2:11: “For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men.” It’s obvious that if you are a temple you need to live a lifestyle befitting that status. That’s what Paul wants Titus to impress on the older women; they are to act the part. Of course, others of the congregation are to act the part too, but Paul is now concerned specifically that the older women be what they are, because God has entrusted a teaching role to them. What does that look like? What might a lifestyle “befitting a temple” look like? Here I need to refer to Leviticus 10. As you’ll notice from what follows, themes from Leviticus 10 come back repeatedly in Paul’s instruction in Titus 2:3. The book of Leviticus assumes the completion of the tabernacle God wanted Israel to build. The first 7 chapters detail how the sacrifices on that altar-between-God-and-the-people had to be done, while Leviticus 8 explains who had to perform the sacrifices on that altar. Chapter 9 describes the ordination of the priests, and then ends with Aaron blessing the Israelites and the glory of the Lord appearing to the people. What an exciting day: God and sinners living together in harmony – something of Paradise is restored! And then the sons of Aaron got caught up in the excitement of the moment – so says Leviticus 10 – and in their enthusiasm they volunteered a sacrifice on that altar. Bam: “fire come out from before the Lord and consumed them, and they died before the Lord” (vs. 2). How tragic! And the lesson is clear: God is holy. Somehow, spontaneous sacrifice was behavior not “befitting the temple.” Now that the Holy Spirit has been poured out on Pentecost, the point is even truer for New Testament temples. The older women, teachers (and hence models) that they are, need to adopt behavior “befitting a temple,” that is to say that in their service of God they are to be even more particular & careful than the priests of Leviticus 10 (and hence of the Old Testament). For God remains God! That’s why can Paul can work out in Titus 2:12 what this looks like. “The grace of God that brings salvation has appeared” and it “teaches us to say ‘No’ to ungodliness and worldly passions” – including the inner urge to serve God in a self-chosen way. Instead, our identity as "temples" teaches us – Paul continues - “to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age.” That "teaching" happens through the example of the older women – and Paul is happy to flesh that out in further detail still. "Not slanderers" Paul follows the instruction to live in a fashion “befitting a temple” with the command “not to be slanderers.” The word translated here as "slanderers" is actually the same word that appears repeatedly in the Bible as the name of the Devil, Diabolos, a word that describes the notion of sowing confusion. Slander does exactly that to someone’s reputation, and so is evil and ungodly. The older women of Titus’ congregations were to avoid it. One wonders, though, why Paul feels the need to tell Titus to teach the women not to slander. Were the Cretan ladies excessively guilty of this evil? The fact that “Cretans are always liars, evil brutes, lazy gluttons” (as Paul affirmed in 1:12) leaves room for that understanding. Yet I suspect that more is involved here. In Leviticus 10 the Lord God responded to Aaron’s sons’ spontaneous worship with heavenly fire and death. One could understand if Aaron was tempted to respond to God’s deed with some serious criticism of God’s high standards. Moses, however, reminded Aaron of God’s holiness, with the result being that “Aaron remained silent” (Leviticus 10:3). He did not slander God’s good name despite the anguish he undoubtedly felt at the death of his boys, nor did he sow confusion among the people about what kind of a God they had. Since God had come to live among the people in the tabernacle, the people needed to conduct themselves as persons “befitting the temple” – and by his remaining silent, not slandering, Aaron exemplified precisely that sort of behavior. The older women of Crete, now, were to adopt behavior befitting a temple. Part and parcel of that behavior was that they would not slander God’s good name, be it through their own misconduct or through giving someone else occasion to think or speak evil of God. In fact, their words were always to be inspiration for others to think highly of God and of His deeds in our daily lives, and so to praise Him. "Not addicted to much wine" Wine (and it’s true of all alcoholic drink) is a gift from God. God told Adam and Eve on the day of their creation that, “I give you every seed-bearing plant on the face of the whole earth…” (Genesis 1:29). God also told them that they were to “rule over” all creation (Genesis 1:28) – and that obviously means that they were to see to it that no created thing ruled over them. To be ruled by alcohol, then, is sin. That’s true in terms of addiction, and is true too when one is "under the influence." Hence the Bible’s repeated instruction to use wine in moderation (cf. Prov 23:19-21; 1 Tim 5:23). The older women of Crete were to take this Biblical instruction to heart. Again, though, one wonders why Paul would mention this matter to Titus. Did the older women of Crete have a problem with alcohol? That “Cretans are… lazy gluttons” (1:12) could suggest it was so. But again, Leviticus 10 sheds some other light on the matter. For after the bodies of Aaron’s two dead sons were carried away from the tabernacle, “the Lord said to Aaron, ‘You and your sons are not to drink wine or other fermented drink whenever you go into the Tent of Meeting” (vs. 8f). As the priests labored at the altar in God’s presence, they should be clear-headed and in full control of their faculties; God, after all, was holy. Given that the older women of Crete – teachers as they were to be - were to behave in a manner befitting temples, it follows that nothing should becloud their judgment; they should always be clear-headed. "Teach what is good" Good judgment, of course, is what one requires if one is to “teach what is good” and so “train the younger women” (2:3,4). We’ve already drawn out that the Lord assigned a teaching role to the women, with its focus on the coming generations. Strikingly, though, this again is an echo of Leviticus 10. For after the Lord had forbidden Aaron and his sons to “drink wine… whenever you go into the Tent of Meeting,” the Lord added this instruction: "You must distinguish between the holy and the common, between the unclean and the clean, and you must teach the Israelites all the decrees the Lord has given them through Moses" (Leviticus 10:10,11). In chapters 11-15 the Lord expanded on clean and unclean foods, animals, fish, clothes, houses, etc. The point of the instruction was that Israel was to know that they were holy, and therefore different from the nations; they were to tolerate no sin in their lives. This point required teaching, and that task fell to the priests as they labored in the tabernacle – and they, for the sake of teaching clearly, had to be alcohol free. Again, the priests were to “teach the Israelites all the decrees the Lord had given,” and that includes instruction about all the main points of doctrine as the Lord taught it through the laws. This teaching function belonged to the priest. But Paul in Titus 2 harks back to Leviticus 10 to undergird how the “older women” are to teach. Their conduct is to be consistent with the Christians’ identity as temples of the Holy Spirit, they are not to slander God’s works and words, and they are to be consistently clear-minded as they join Titus in teaching the younger women the implications of the faith. Let no one misunderstand. Paul is not saying – and I am not either - that the older women are to receive a place of leadership in the church. The Holy Spirit moved the apostle elsewhere to write, “I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she must be silent” (1 Timothy 2:12). Yet Paul would not have women pushed into a corner as if they have no role in the congregation! Very deliberately Paul uses language in Titus 2:3 that is borrowed from Leviticus 10, about the priests’ role as teachers, and applies that instruction to the older women. As Paul seeks to build up church life in Crete, he would have the older women play a vital role! Yet that vital role is not directed to the congregation in its entirety, but is directed to the younger women of the flock. These younger women also have a critical role to play but Titus can’t reach them so easily. So, in relation to these younger women, the older have that position of teaching – as a clear echo of God’s intent in Genesis 1. Value Paul would not have the older women of Crete – or of today - cloistered in some seniors’ club, or perhaps forever away on a cruise. He sees the women playing a vital role in the growth of the congregation. These sisters – they’ve spent years in God’s school of life - are a rich resource in the church of Crete, for the congregation’s edification. The same is true today. The Lord God has left a goodly number of older women in the congregation. Why? Because God says that we need them! There are so many younger women in the congregation, from mothers of busy households to mothers of small households to sisters with yet no children or even no husband yet. These younger women are, by God’s ordinance, helpers to (today’s and) tomorrow’s office bearers, school board members, businessmen and fathers; these young women are also mothers to the next generation of church leaders. Obviously, these young women play a pivotal role in the church life. That is why they need all the guidance, encouragement and help they can get. By God’s ordinance, it is the role of “the older women” to give that help. The older are under divine obligation to speak with their daughters (in-law), their children’s friends, and other “young” sisters of congregation. Certainly, women’s society is one forum where that conversation can happen. But be honest: when the older sisters were younger years ago, they didn’t commonly open up on life’s real burdens to a virtual stranger, let alone in a public meeting. Asking for help takes privacy, and the openness that comes with familiarity. Point: let the older sisters get into the homes of the younger; nothing beats a coffee together. Instead of lamenting how younger mothers struggle to cope with the challenge of keeping their children under control, invite a couple of these mothers over for a visit (ah, yes, let the husbands join the ladies…), and share some nuggets on childrearing as you’ve learned it over the years. Encouragement Older sisters: the Lord God has not put you out to pasture! On the contrary, you have received the Holy Spirit in full measure. Pentecost is reality: “Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days, and they will prophesy” (Acts 2:38). In the confidence that the Lord gives a task and equips to carry it out, search for ways to touch the younger of the congregation. So you can “still bear fruit in old age… proclaiming, 'The Lord is upright; He is my Rock'” (Ps 92:14f).   Rev. Bouwman is a minister for the Canadian Reformed Church of Smithville, Ontario. This article first appeared in the January 2013 issue.  ...

Assorted

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, because I had questions, and because answers were not always at the ready, that meant we should do away with all these practices. But 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”) 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....

Assorted

"Othercott" – like a boycott but better

Some years ago a particularly blasphemous movie, The Da Vinci Code, hit theaters and a number of prominent Christians called for a boycott. Even the Vatican favored a boycott – Archbishop Angelo Amato noted that the film’s portrayal of Christ as both a secret husband and father was little more than anti-Christian propaganda. But do boycotts work? Archbishop Amato pointed to a 1988 boycott of the infamous The Last Temptation of Christ that seemed to have had an impact – the film bombed, barely recouping its costs. But a more recent boycott was ineffective. Disney’s 2017 live-action version of Beauty and the Beast featured a brief inclusion of homosexual romance, prompting some Christian leaders to call for a boycott. But the film performed spectacularly at the box office, taking in $1.25 billion worldwide. Boycotts can also backfire when they bring more attention to a film or product than it would otherwise have received. An ill-conceived 2015 boycott of Starbucks (for plain red Christmas-time cups that were not Christmasy enough for some hyper-sensitive Christians) got millions talking. But even “boycotters” continued buying coffee at the store, though they then added Christmas messages to their own cups and posted pictures to Twitter. If boycotts aren’t effective, what’s the alternative? Is the only option just to quietly ignore what's objectionable? No indeed, said Christianity Today's Barbara Nicolosi. In a column about the Da Vinci Code boycott, Nicolosi proposed another possibility. Instead of meekly paying no attention to the film, or loudly boycotting it, she suggested Christians “othercott” it. “On The Da Vinci Code’s opening weekend… you should go to the movies. Just go to another movie. That's your way of casting your vote, the only vote Hollywood recognizes: The power of cold hard cash laid down on a box office window on opening weekend…. The major studio movie scheduled for release against is the DreamWorks animated feature Over the Hedge. The trailers look fun, and you can take your kids. And your friends. And their friends. In fact, let's all go see it. Let's rock the box office in a way no one expects - without protests, without boycotts, without arguments, without rancor. This soon became an organized campaign, with its own webpage and articles about it in USA Today and The New York Times. And on the opening weekend of both films, while The Da Vinci Code did still finish on top, Over the Hedge took second place. Other othercotts This was supposedly the first ever “othercott” organized and it did have its problems – The Da Vinci Code still made $750 million worldwide, and even the movie alternative Nicolosi selected, Over the Hedge, was far from perfect, taking God’s name in vain. That said, there is something here worth considering. Bible-believing Christians can so often seem negative – we are always coming out against things: from gay marriage to Sunday shopping, Christians are seen as no-fun, finger-wagging, sorts. But that’s not who we are, and that’s not who our God is. Yes, He has prohibitions, but He isn’t a killjoy. He is showing his love in those prohibitions – many act like guardrails to keep us from harm. That’s why it would be great if, instead of simply opposing evil, we could “othercott” it. It would better reflect our Heavenly Father if we were known for pointing people to positive alternatives. Sure, we’re against gay marriage, but we’re for kids having a mom and a dad. And we may be against Sunday shopping, but we’re for families having one day out of the week when they can all be together. One of the first articles I wrote was about how the Christian grad parties that my high school friends and I were attending often denigrated into drunken bush parties. Some of these evenings started out with a strict alcohol ban, but this was the equivalent of a liquor “boycott,” not a liquor “othercott.” The kids knew they weren’t allowed to drink, but they didn’t have anything else planned and so, as the night dragged on and people got bored, eventually the scotch, whiskey, vodka and beer appeared. The "boycott" failed. Meanwhile at my cousin’s Christian high school, drunken bush parties had been “othercotted” in favor of white water rapid trips. And as a result alcohol was rarely a problem. There is an old saying that “you can’t beat something with nothing.” The Apostle Paul says something similar in Ephesians 4. There he calls on us to “put off your old self” with its sinful desires. But he doesn’t want us to stop there. If we stop there we might find ourselves in the same situation as the man spoken of in Matthew 12 who was freed from the power of a devil for a time, but didn't pursue God, and soon after found himself under demonic power again, seven times worse than before! It is not enough to put off our sinful selves; we need to replace the bad with good and “put on our new self created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.” Paul also tells us: “Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable – if anything is excellent or praiseworthy – think about such things” (Phil. 4:8). Any old curmudgeon can say he hates this or that. We should go further and focus on what good, or fun, or positive things we can do instead. Conclusion Of course, that is easier said than done. This othercott approach takes work and thought. For example, earlier this month Reformed Perspective published an “othercott” list of fun movies and videos that don’t take God’s name in vain. I was trying to encourage not just a boycott of bad films, but an othercott of them with 150 proposed alternatives. It was a fun list to create but it represents years worth of research. And to use this list parents will have to find them on Amazon, or check them out of the library; few are going to be found on Netflix, so it will take some effort to track them down. Othercotting can be very time consuming. Still, it is worth the effort. How many of us can remember the way we used to view Sundays as kids? It was the day we couldn’t do things – we couldn’t go to the mall, or buy a slurpee at the corner store, and some of us weren’t allowed to go biking or play basketball. Those were activities that were “boycotted” that day. It was a no-fun, finger-wagging sort of day. But now what if instead of boycotting these things we othercotted some of them instead? What if instead of being a day in which we couldn’t do things, Sunday became the day in which we could go to church, we could play a game or go biking with our dad, we could put our homework aside and pull out our crayons, we could watch a movie together, or we could make that puzzle with mom. God gave us this day of rest as a gift – we should never let it become a dreaded day. We all know we have to oppose evil, but sometimes we forget that we should also actively support good. So while this term “othercott” may not be catching on, it is an idea well worth remembering. A version of this article first appeared in the June 2006 issue....

Assorted, Parenting

What my grandma taught me

My grandma died at the age of 93, more than 25 years after her Henk died. And during those years she often wondered why God hadn’t taken her too – all her children were grown up, so what did she have left to do? She hadn’t exactly forgotten about her grandchildren, but like many grandparents, she did underestimate how much she had to offer the younger generation. She didn’t understand how much her grandchildren still needed to learn from her. 60’s – Hello! Grandma was already in her 60’s when most of the grandchildren first got to know her, and the lessons began immediately. The very first lesson she taught us was that it was important to eat all the food on our plates. The second lesson? That whether we ate all the food on our plates or not, our grandma loved us. She modeled and taught us about unconditional love – the exact type of love God gives us. Parents practice this love too, but it isn’t always as clear. Parents are, after all, the ones who have to punish, and prod, while grandparents can simply adore, spoil and hug. 70’s – Learning never stops There are other lessons, too, that are best learned from a grandparent. Grandma taught us that purity can be funny – that one can get laughs without being crude or rude. She was a very elegant lady but she wanted us to know her generation had the secret to good clean fun; they knew that the very best type of humor was silly humor. So even though she had the regal bearing of a queen, she never passed up a chance to model the large fuzzy slippers she got one Christmas. And when we picked her up at her apartment she always took a moment, with a sly grin, to quickly say goodbye to her collection of stuffed animals. Even in her 70’s she had an innocent child-like sense of humor. A favorite example is of the time when she was out with one daughter and a couple of grandsons. The foursome was out walking when they came upon a set of revolving doors. Her daughter, our dear mom, went first, followed by little James. But then it was my turn… the grin on my face let my mother know in advance what her urchin child had planned. But just as she was about to give me a stern warning, in stepped grandma. The two of us, urchin child and tiny, elegant, 70-something-year-old grandma, started going round and round and round again in that revolving door until we both got so dizzy and weak from laughing we tumbled out. 80’s – She’s seen it all before By the time grandma hit her eighties, her grandchildren were just about all grownup. But she still had a lot to teach us. We were leaving our Christian schools, entering university and experiencing for the first time just how depraved the world could be. Our gentle, delicate grandma knew all about it – in her eighty years on this earth she had seen it all. One story she often told to encourage us, was about the day the Germans invaded her native land of Holland. That day she had looked up to see so many German paratroopers floating down to earth they blotted out the sky. The sight convinced her that the end had come, that the world must be over – how could it ever get worse than this? But it wasn’t the end, and though German power seemed invincible, God brought liberation. Her point was clear: don’t despair – our God can overcome any evil. 90’s – Last but not least In her nineties grandma start showing signs of Alzheimer’s, and began getting confused about what decade it was, and what country she was in. She soon lost the ability to speak English, and in her last months couldn’t walk further than a few dozen feet without huffing. Her body was gone, and her mind was failing her too. On her better days, when her mind was clear enough that she could understand what was happening to her, she got very frustrated. Once again she wanted to know, why was she still here? What did the Lord still have left for her to do? The truth was she wasn’t able to do anything for anyone anymore. But she could still be helped. This wasn’t an easy time for grandma and sometimes she vented her frustration on her children. But she loved to be helped by her grandchildren – anything we did for her would be met with a smile or a pat on the arm. She was once again teaching us about unconditional love – Christ-like love – this time, how to receive it. She responded to us, as we should respond to our giving, gracious God. Conclusion  Grandma lived to be 93, and while she sometimes thought that her job here was done long ago, her grandchildren are very grateful God gave us these many more years with her. Grandparents are such a blessing....

Assorted

Older men still have a job to do

Faithful children of God may look forward to sharing Jesus’ glory in the presence of the Father. “To live is Christ; to die is gain.” Why, then, does the Lord God not take people home to Himself as soon as they become empty nesters or, perhaps, when their spouse dies? Why does He let the older become old? The question is important, if only because there are numerous older men in the churches who feel they have no task to do, are out to pasture. In this article we will consider Paul’s instruction concerning the “older men” as he words it to Titus 2:2: “Teach the older men to be temperate, worthy of respect, self-controlled, and sound in faith, in love and in endurance.” To give you the punch line right away, God keeps older men on earth because He uses them to build up His church. Men are not women God created two genders in the beginning, but did not make them at the same time. He first made a man, and placed him in the Garden with the command to work it and take care of it (Genesis 2:15). He was, in other words, responsible, and commissioned to take initiative in fulfilling his duties before God. The Lord saw that it was not good for the man to be alone, and so made a “helper” (Genesis 2:18) to be with him. In the relation between the man and the woman in Paradise, he was the leader and she was not; she was the helper and he was not. So when God came to the Adam and Eve after their fall into sin, he sought out the man: “where are you?” (Genesis 3:9). Similarly, when the Lord sought to call a family from Ur to go the land of promise, He did not call Sarah to take her husband and leave her mother’s household, but He summoned Abram to take his wife and leave his father’s household (Genesis 12:1). The point is that the man is, by God’s ordinance, the leader in family and society. As leader, the man invariably gives leadership, whether active or passive, where positive or negative. When Paul, then, tells Titus what to teach the older men, he’s instructing him in relation to that part of the human race commissioned to take responsibility and give leadership. How we view older men The men Titus must teach are "older." The term "older" is, of course, relative, and really depends on how old Titus is and perhaps depends too on the average age of the congregation where Titus ministered. Paul uses the same word to describe himself when he was some 60 years old (Philemon 9). Irrespective, though, of what age one wishes to peg to the term "older," the term certainly describes a person who has been around the block a few times. The "older" have, in other words, spent years in the school of life and so are in a position to show others how to do life. Now, our Canadian culture says that “older men” deserve the opportunity to kick back, enjoy life and play with the toys they’ve accumulated. But beneath this seemingly generous attitude is the thought that the older men are actually out of touch, can’t keep up with the fast pace of the younger, and are beyond their "use by" date, so they should be retired from any leadership roles. There is an echo of this thought in the church, to the effect that the older men (are made to) feel passed by and even uncertain about their purpose. The result is that they retreat into their seniors’ circle... and become an untapped resource. Their role This was not the intent of the Lord God. He created the first man (and woman) in His image, and gave the command to “be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over...” (Genesis 1:27f). Children born in Paradise, however, would not know by instinct how to rule over God’s world in a way that imaged God; the older generation was to teach the younger how to do this. Of course, the longer Adam lived, the better He’d know what God was like, and so the better equipped he’d be to teach coming generations how to “rule over” God’s creatures in a way pleasing to God. Clearly, as the God-appointed leader, the responsibility to train those after him was primarily Adam’s. The fall into sin obviously complicated the task enormously. But it didn’t change the expectations God had for Adam as he grew older, or for the subsequent generations of older men. So God told Moses that He poured the plagues on Egypt “that you may tell your children and grandchildren how I dealt harshly with the Egyptians... that you may know that I am the Lord” (Exodus 10:2). Moses, we need to know, was more than 80 years old (see Exodus 7:7) at the time God gave him this instruction. Talk about the role of “the older men”! Fully in line with this command is the prayer of the psalmist: “Even when I’m old and gray, do not forsake me, O God, till I declare your power to the next generation, your might to all who are to come” (Psalm 71:18). Because of this God-assigned role of the aged, the Lord commanded the youth of Israel to respect the seniors (and not just the grandparents). As an older man approached them, the youth were to “rise” and “show respect for the elderly” (Leviticus 19:32). Here was recognition that the older have learned so much in God’s school-of-life and were a reservoir of experience and wisdom for the younger to tap into. Sadly, not all older men speak only wisdom. Job’s three senior friends spoke the language of fools in their reprimands to Job (cf Job 42:7; 32:6ff). Solomon advised older folk not to say, “Why were the old days better than these?” (Ecclesiastes 7:10). Young people live in the present (not the past), and in the challenges God gives today they need encouragement – and not the signal that today is too hard. Older men, in other words, need to make it their business to be careful how they analyze the present in relation to the past; their analysis requires ongoing Bible study and thought. All this Old Testament material comes along in Paul’s instruction to Titus. For the benefit of the churches of Crete, Paul draws out the implication of the role God has assigned to the “older men.” Given that role, Paul says these older men are to be:: temperate worthy of respect self-controlled 1. Temperate The term “temperate” in Titus 2:2 translates a word that appears elsewhere as “sober” or “sober-minded.” The term is often used in relation to drink and so becomes instruction in being moderate in how much you drink. Yet Paul’s point is not that older men are simply to exercise moderation in drinking. Rather, in all of life one is to be moderate, not indulgent, not extravagant, not into excess or glut. Herein the “older men” of the church would contrast with the typical attitude of the Cretans around them, who were “always... lazy gluttons” (Titus 1:12). What, though, is wrong with excess? Why must Titus make a point of telling older men to be moderate? Older men (should) have learned the truth of Solomon’s words in Ecclesiastes 2, when he tried all sorts of excess in his attempt to make sense of life. As many young men do, Solomon sought fulfillment in wine, houses, gardens, women, song, parties, and more. But the more he tried, the more he realized that things do not lift us out of the thorns and thistles of a life outside Paradise. His conclusion was this: “when I surveyed all that my hands had done and what I had toiled to achieve, everything was meaningless, a chasing after the wind” (Ecclesiastes 2:11). That was the advantage of older age: Solomon could tell the younger of his realm that he’d been there, done that... and they should take instruction from him and not repeat his futile search. This is the message Titus was to instruct older men to convey to the younger. Those older men had been around the block, had tested the value of more and more stuff, and so were in a position to vouch for the truth of Ecclesiastes 2. These “older men” have “fought the good fight,” “have finished the race” (2 Tim 4:7), and now await the summons of the Lord to enter the presence of their Father. So their lifestyle was to model that life is not about food, property, looks, degrees, music, chocolate, gin or women. Instead, their lifestyle should reflect the delightful fact that “the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared” (Titus 2:11); Christ has come to redeem sinners, take away the cause of our eternal hunger and misery, and through His self-emptying on the cross restored sinners to Paradise. Since that’s so, one needs to be consistent and say “no” to ungodliness and worldly passions (2:12), “no” to more toys, more drink, more "buzz," etc, and live instead “godly and upright lives in the present age, while we wait for the... glorious appearing of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ” (2:13). When a "temperate" lifestyle is in place, a man will be moderate in his demand for food and drink, for wealth and holiday. “Older men” have learned through the school of life to get their priorities right, so that their emphasis lies on service to the neighbor, a service that reflects God’s love for us in Jesus Christ. 2. Worthy of respect Titus is also to instruct “older men” to carry themselves in a dignified manner. Again, the point is not so hard to grasp. Older men have buried parents, and perhaps also a spouse or a child. They have been through war, sickness, fire, flood, drought and more – and so learned through the hard knocks of life that life is not a joke. They’ve learned that trials come from God as so many divine teaching moments whereby the heavenly Father would train us in the school of life for further service and to be more fruitful for His glory. Older men (ought to) know this, and so take God’s reality seriously in the hard knocks of life; always the question presses on their minds: what is God teaching me through this? No, this does not make the older boring or gloomy (as if life is not enjoyable). On the contrary, living every step of life in the awareness that you live every moment in God’s school makes life exciting and fun. Older men model this awareness – for the benefit of the rest of congregation. That’s the sort of leadership they are to give. 3. Self-controlled Finally, Titus must tell “older men” to be disciplined. They, after all, ought to have learned how to get the passions and instincts of youth under control. As a result, they act less out of impulse, with decisions more thought through. They’ve learned to live life sensibly, seriously, and so with fitting restraint. So their lives displays good health (not necessarily in body but) “in faith, in love and in endurance…” The same need today This, then, is what Titus was to encourage the older men to exemplify among the Christians of Crete. But the sort of lifestyle this behavior encouraged, contrasted with the excess that Cretans typically celebrated. Recall again Paul’s summary of what Cretans were like: “Cretans are always liars, evil brutes, lazy gluttons” (Titus 1:12). We can imagine the “lazy gluttons” of the island; we know the type: shrunken biceps and ample waistline assembled in the coffee shops and beer parlors, talking about the latest horse race, hockey game, cruise, property deal, woman. How thoroughly North American; truly, there is nothing new under the sun. The new Christians of Crete were raised in that culture, and remained greatly influenced by what was accepted around them. How tempting, then, to adopt the same attitude; “eat, drink, and be merry...” Hence Paul’s instruction to Titus: since older men are by God’s ordinance to be leaders, instruct them to be temperate to be examples for the women and younger men to follow. This, Paul figures, is necessary to build up congregational life (1:5a). Value The Lord has prepared a glorious future for His (older) children, yet leaves older brothers on this earth for a purpose; they remain here to be examples for rest of congregation. So, older men, take up the task with confidence! You’ve been through the school of life, and so know that neither things nor pleasures give fulfillment, salvation, or purpose; by faith you know that Jesus Christ has restored us to God. That being so, model the gospel for the benefit of the rest of the congregation: be moderate, dignified, self-controlled in a manner that the younger of the flock can see. This is the service to which you remain called, until such time as God Himself relieves you and gives you the crown of glory. Conclusion There is definitely so very much in the congregation for which we may be thankful. That includes the large number of older brothers in our midst. They are here, by God’s providence, for a reason. My conviction is that they are under-utilized. No, I’m not thinking now of consistory work; it may be that the Lord is no longer calling the (much) older brothers to this task anymore. I’m thinking instead of how the older, without exception, have a role to play in relation to the younger. Let the older men take their mentorship role seriously, being deeply aware that God leaves them in this life in order that they might model the gospel for the benefit of the younger and even seek out the younger to speak to them of the works of the Lord as they experienced them over the years. It’s a privileged fact: the younger need your leadership, example, and instruction. Recall Psalm 92:14f “...the righteous...will still bear fruit in old age...proclaiming, ‘The Lord is upright; He is my Rock, and there is no wickedness in Him’”   Healthy church life needs the continued involvement of the older men.   Rev. Bouwman is a minister for the Canadian Reformed Church of Smithville, Ontario. This article was first appeared in the December 2012 issue.  ...

Assorted

"So what you're saying is..."

In January Jordan Peterson was interviewed by journalist Cathy Newman, on Britain’s Channel 4 News. The exchange quickly went viral, with more than 9 million watching the half-hour interview, and millions more watching clips from it. Why did so many watch? Because here we had a battle of heavyweights – a politically incorrect professor who wouldn’t let his words be twisted vs. a mainstream media journalist who wouldn’t stop trying. Her favorite trick was to restate whatever Peterson had said in her own words. But every time she did so – each time she led with a “So you’re saying…” – what followed was never an accurate summary of Peterson’s position. A clip from this interview gives a good illustration of why so many Christians admire the courage of this man. He was bullied and unfairly treated, just as Christians often are by the mainstream press, but he never let it bother him, and he never let her get away with it. Newman: Is gender equality desirable? Peterson: If it means equality of outcome, then almost certainly it’s undesirable! That’s already been demonstrated in Scandinavia. Because in Scandinavia, … Newman: What do you mean by that? Equality of outcome is undesirable? Peterson: Well, men and women won’t sort themselves into the same categories, if you leave them alone to do it of their own accord. We’ve already seen that in Scandinavia. It’s twenty to one female nurses to male, something like that. It might not be quite that extreme. And approximately the same, male engineers to female engineers. And that’s a consequence of the free choice of men and women in the societies that have gone farther than any other societies to make gender equality the purpose of the law! Those are in ineradicable differences! You can eradicate them with tremendous social pressure and tyranny! But if you leave men and women to make their own choices you will not get equal outcome! Newman: Right, so you’re saying that anyone who believes in equality, whether you call them feminists, call them whatever you want to call them, should basically give up, because it ain’t gonna happen! Peterson: Only if they’re aiming at equality of outcome. Newman: So you’re saying give people equality of opportunity, that’s fine? Peterson: Not only fine, it’s eminently desirable for everyone, for individuals and for society. Newman: But still women aren’t gonna make it! That’s what you’re really saying…. This is a sidebar to Dr. Joel McDurmon's feature article on Dr. Jordan Peterson that appeared in the March/April issue. The top picture is one of the many memes that quickly appeared all over the Internet soon after the interview concluded....

Assorted

Seniors: Florida does not exist

Some seniors have a phobia about aging. They see their retirement years as a curse of boredom and uselessness. Others see them as an opportunity for the pursuit of leisure. During the winter some seek a warmer climate, away from their family, friends, and their local church. But the Church is the kind of community that insists that those who have grown in years are not relieved of moral and spiritual responsibilities. They cannot move to Florida and leave the Church to survive on its own. For Christians, there is no "Florida" even if they happen to live there. Tell it to the next generation From the Biblical perspective, seniors are a significant resource God can use for His Kingdom in these critical times. 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. Use what strength you have In old age, as throughout our lives, we must continue to pursue the way of service, conforming our own lives to the self-giving pattern of Jesus. The Christian practice of growing old is shaped by the example of Jesus, who emptied himself and became obedient, even to the point of death, for our sake (cf. Phi.2:1-13). Our Lord never promised His followers an easy path to tread. The way of discipleship leads to the cross (e.g., Mark 8:34-38; Luke 14: 25-27). Seniors can still do so much in reaching a spiritually dark world for the Lord. Some retirees are engaged in volunteer work for a mission agency. They spend time overseas assisting in some building projects. Others volunteer for city mission work in one of the big cities in North America. The volunteers I have met over the years have all testified how blessed they felt in Kingdom service in their retirement years. They still considered themselves useful soldiers in the Lord's army. Spiritual warriors too Of course, not every senior is able to volunteer for mission or church work. Some have multiple health problems. Their physical disabilities limit them in their activities. Yet seniors can still be brought specific prayer requests. The persecuted church requires constant prayer support. Our covenant youth need intercessory prayer. Seniors can engage in spiritual warfare as they pray for the advance of the Gospel around the world. Millions of unreached people are still held captive by the strongholds of Satan. Multitudes are blinded by the "god of this world" (2 Cor. 4:4). So why not encourage seniors to think of the great ministry of prayer available to them? The younger generation can tell them, "You are able to spend more time in prayer than us! You know more about the ups and downs in life than we do. You can pray especially for missionaries on the field.” Seniors, we need your prayer ministry! As an old hymn says: Prayer is the Christian's vital breath, The Christian's native air, His watchword at the gates of death; He enters heaven with prayer. Rev. Johan Tangelder (1936-2009) wrote for Reformed Perspective for 13 years and many of his articles have been collected at ReformedReflections.ca. This is excerpted from a two-part article that first appeared in the 2004 November and December issues....

Assorted

John Piper on debating moral issues in the public square

“…in your public involvement, don’t conceal the roots of your convictions about what is right and wrong. Don’t try to get a better hearing through downplaying your dependence on Christ and his Word and the gospel. “This is where many Christians, it seems to me, lose their saltiness and their light. Advocating for behaviors that are Christian is not the light of the world. Advocating for restraining behaviors is not the light of the world. There is nothing gospel in it. The light of the world is Christ and all that God is for us in him, all his gospel, and all his promises. If Christians become practical atheists in public, but simply advocate for behaviors that correspond to Christian ethics, they may see a little more political acceptance and affirmation in the short run, but they will lose the larger battle for the eternal good. “Do we really want to invest in a society whose outward behaviors are moral while everybody goes to hell?” SOURCE: John Piper, interviewed on DesiringGod.org April 26, 2016 on the question “Should Christians partner with non-Christians on social issues?” Picture is by Micah Chiang, and used under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license. A hat tip to ARPA Canada, Lighthouse News, and Al Siebring...

Assorted

To be known

It is a good thing to be known, that is to say, to be familiarly recognized. When someone greets you by your first name and gives you a smile, it is generally an indication that this particular person knows you and is fond of you. My mother-in-law, who knew a great many people, had the strange knack of addressing people whose names had slipped her mind by saying, "Hello, Mr. _____," filling in the blank with something unintelligible. That something unintelligible could be interpreted as a possible pronunciation for their name. It was very amusing, but something which I've never attempted to pull off myself. Sheep know their shepherd There are several amazing videos on YouTube which feature sheep which come running to their master's voice – a voice they know and recognize. Consequently, when a shepherd comes to the door of a sheepfold where his sheep are bedded down together with other sheep and he calls out, his sheep will stand up, come towards him, and follow him. They will only follow his voice. They will not follow someone else's voice. J. Douglas MacMillan, (1933-1991), had twelve years of experience as a shepherd before he became a pastor. In his excellent book on the twenty-third Psalm, The Lord Our Shepherd, he wrote: I remember one day, almost three years after I had left my shepherding to go to Edinburgh to study, that I was back home for summer holidays, and working with my brother. We were looking at lambs in one sheep pen that had been separated from their mother in another pen, and I was standing with my hands just dangling idly by my side, admiring some of the lambs and despairing of others. Suddenly I felt a sheep's nose nuzzling into my hand. I looked down, and there was a sheep almost five years old – a sheep that for six months I had looked after as a lamb, taking it home to the farm and feeding it with a bottle every so often. Although it went back to the hill after six months, that sheep would always come for me. The other sheep knew their shepherd, but they would not come as close as that to him. But this one would. That sheep had not seen me for almost three years. She was in from the hill, and she lived on a part of the hill that was almost three miles away from the farm. I was standing with my brother, and he had been the shepherd for three years. Yet I looked around and here she was! I was thrilled. Why? Because she knew me; and she was letting me know that she knew me." Forgotten Conversely, it is unpleasant not to be known. More than a century ago, in 1884 to be exact, the Bristol newspaper, The Western Daily Press published an interesting article about a case of mistaken identity, a case of not being known. A rather frightening piece, it describes a visit to a lunatic asylum by an unnamed woman. It appears that this woman, whom we will name Susan, travelled to the town of LIttlemore, a small hamlet some four miles from Oxford, to visit a friend who had been committed to the Littlemore Asylum. The Asylum had been founded in 1846. From its onset its buildings were criticized as being inadequate (but it remained open until 1996). Throughout the nineteenth century, Oxford received payments from other counties for looking after their patients. As ill people arrived from a number of other boroughs throughout the year, Littlemore Asylum was often overcrowded and treatment was at times not what it ought to be. Confinement, restraint, padded cells, and rough handling were all par for the course if patients proved recalcitrant. So, in any case, Susan found out. Susan knocked at the door of the Asylum hoping to visit and find her friend on the road to recovery. The porter admitted her cheerfully enough when she told him she was to “visit a female patient” and called one of the matrons. The matron, however, perhaps being somewhat hard of hearing, only caught the latter part of the porter's words as he introduced the visitor - those latter words being “female patient.” Susan was escorted, quite unaware as to what had been established in the matron's mind, to one of the top floors of the Asylum, in the belief that she was being led to see her friend. When she and the matron, rather out of breath from the long climb up the stairs, entered a room empty of everything save a bathtub and a bed, Susan was a trifle taken aback. Perhaps she thought the room was a waiting room, although the tub and bed were strange, and she walked into it with a puzzled expression on her face. "Where is...?" she began, turning to face the matron whom she believed to be behind her. But the matron was gone and Susan perceived that the door to the room she had entered was closing. As a matter of fact, she could hear the click of a key turning the lock. She was perplexed, and walking back towards it, she turned the handle, becoming rather distraught when it would not give. "Excuse me! Please open the door!" But no one came and thinking the situation rather ridiculous, Susan strode over to the window, gazing out at grounds below. She was on the fourth or fifth floor. She could not remember which. A number of stone buildings comprised the Asylum and she appeared to be at its center. She clutched her purse and turned back towards the door. She tried the handle again, but it still would not give. Her voice, when she repeatedly cried out to be freed, appeared weak and ineffectual. It echoed somewhat freakishly against the whitewashed walls of the room. There was no chair on which to sit down and Susan meandered over to the window again. What should she do? After some ten minutes of waiting, minutes that seemed like hours, the door handle finally turned, the door reopened and a nurse entered. "Oh, I'm so happy to see you," Susan exclaimed, stepping quickly towards the rather heavy-set woman, "You see, there's been some sort of mistake. I was..." The woman did not speak. She was a trained professional, used to handling inmates. The door had once more closed behind her and she proceeded to begin to undress Susan. "What are you doing?" the distraught girl called out. "Calm down," the nurse soothed, "it's all right." Another nurse came in. Helping the first one, who was a strong woman, they brooked no opposition. All Susan's protestations were hushed gently but firmly and Susan ended up being placed in the bath. She was in a frantic state of alarm. She knew no one in this place except the woman whom she had intended to visit. It only took two signatures to get someone admitted to a lunatic asylum. Some of the reasons for admission were, interestingly enough, hereditary predisposition, hysteria, dissolute habits, epileptic fits, imaginary female trouble, opium habit, overstudy of religion, snuff eating, etc. There were, in effect, four classifications for lunacy: mania, melancholia, dementia and paranoia. Treatment was mostly restraint, seclusion and sedative drugs. Lunacy institutions were not pleasant places to be and they were not easy to leave once a “patient” had been admitted. One third of the patients who entered the hospital, never came out. After the bath, Susan was forcibly put to bed. Her nerves were fraught with fear, her hair matted, and her demeanor very much shaken. Overcome, she gave up her struggle and lay quietly. Providentially, the mistake was discovered later that day – whether it was through a talk with the porter who noticed that Susan had not exited when visiting hours where over, or through the initial matron's perusal of admission papers. In any case, she was taken out of the bed, dressed with care and apologized to profoundly and abundantly. It was to her credit that Susan did not lodge any complaint against the hospital. She had not been known and she had not known anyone in the asylum. To know that you know Him It is indeed a good thing to be known, that is to say, to be familiarly recognized. At the same time, it is also a good thing to know. In that same wonderful, little book on Psalm 23, Pastor MacMillan wrote about the Shepherd knowing the sheep as well as the sheep knowing the Shepherd. He said: It is a great thing to have personal assurance in the Christian life. Now, that personal assurance of David's is not ill-founded: he knows the Shepherd, and he knows that he knows Him. That is where the Christian's assurance rests - not only in the fact of knowing that we are redeemed by the precious blood of Christ, but in the fact that we know we know. I say that because I believe it is possible for grace to come into a life, and for that life to go on without always knowing it for certain. I have met people who seem to lack Christian assurance, and yet I and others see the grace and the work of God's Spirit in them. They know the Saviour, but they don't always know that they know Him. It is a great blessing not merely to know the Saviour but to know that you know Him, so that you can say, "The Lord is my Shepherd." Goodness and mercy all my life Shall surely follow me; And in God's house for evermore My dwelling-place shall be. - Scottish Psalter, 1650 This article was first published in the Sept. 2016 issue, under the title "Recognition."Christine Farenhorst is the author of many books, her latest being Katherina, Katherina, a novel taking place in the time of Martin Luther. You can read areview here, and buy it at www.sola-scriptura.ca/store/shop....

Assorted

Why doesn't the OT say more about what happens after death?

Questions are powerful things: absolutely vital for anyone who wants to be wise, but also a way for the foolish to try to tear down. So let's pretend, for a moment, that this was a hostile question. "We're going to live again after we die?" the mocker asks, "Then why doesn't God didn't tell anyone in the Old Testament about the afterlife?" A good rule of thumb, when faced with someone trying to tear down the Bible, is to question his query. We shouldn't assume that a fool is going to fight fair. So before we try to find an answer to his why we should back up, and first see if his accusation is true: was God silent about the afterlife in the Old Testament? And, as is often the case when someone is trying to take down the Bible, things aren't quite as they've presented them. While God doesn’t give the same detail as in the New Testament, we do find in the Old Testament too, that God is repeatedly pointing to a future hope – one that will occur after the hearer’s death. Some examples include: The promise to bruise the serpent’s head in Genesis 3. The conclusion of the book of Ecclesiastes of coming justice: “For God will bring every deed into judgment, with every secret thing, whether good or evil.” Daniel 12:2 echoes this thought: “And many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt.” Job speaks of seeing his coming Redeemer in chapter 19: “For I know that my Redeemer lives, and at the last he will stand upon the earth. And after my skin has been thus destroyed, yet in my flesh I shall see God, whom I shall see for myself, and my eyes shall behold, and not another.” In Psalm 16 David speaks of knowing that the Lord “will not abandon my soul to Sheol” (Sheol being the realm of death). Psalm 110 speaks of a future judgment – the day of wrath – in which the Lord will execute judgment among the nations (and this “day of wrath” pops up in many places too). Hosea 13:14 speaks of God being able to take the sting from death. There are others texts, and maybe even some clearer than these. But there was enough in the Old Testament for most of the Jews of Jesus’ time to know that there was going to be a resurrection. The Sadducees denied it, in part because they held only to the first five books (the Pentateuch) of the Bible. However, Jesus pointed out that even they should have known better because in the Pentateuch God describes himself as “the God of Abraham and the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob” (Gen. 28:13, Ex. 3:6, 4:5) repeatedly. Jesus continues: “He is not the God of the dead but of the living” so if He remains the God of these men, though they died long ago, then they must have experienced a resurrection from the dead. If we’re paying attention there are more than hints in the OT. Now let’s return to our question: why didn’t God tell the Old Testament saints more about what comes after death? No certain answer is available to us – God doesn’t spell it out in his Word – but here’s a possibility to consider. Even though God gave us more information in the New Testament, that hasn’t been enough to quell Christians thirst for more and more detail. Books about supposed visits to Heaven (and even visits to Hell) are bestsellers, and one has even been made into a major motion picture. Many Christians are already far too obsessed with Heaven, so perhaps God has been sparse on the details to keep our focus on what’s going on in this life here on Earth. You’ve heard the saying “Don’t be so heaven-minded that you are of no earthly good.” Well, God has given us a planet, and everything on it, to have dominion over, to care for, and develop to His honor. We have stuff to do – children to raise, poor to feed, orphans and widows to care for, friends to encourage, and talents to develop – down here! But wait, you might say, doesn’t God warn us against being too Earth-focused? True – we are supposed to build up treasures in Heaven, rather than here on Earth (Matthew 6:19-20). But even passages like this point us back to what we are to be busy doing here on Earth. Storing up treasure is out, but loving the Lord your God and showing that by loving your neighbor as yourself? That is definitely in. More importantly still, the Bible reveals what God was planning for right here on this Earth – the Bible is His story, His grand narrative, His rescue plan. So perhaps the reason God didn’t tell the OT saints, and even us today, more about what comes after death, is because that isn’t nearly as important as what He is up to, and what we should be up to, here on Earth. In the past RP had a column called "Short and Simple" in which we tracked down brief answers to questions that were sent in. Do you have questions? You can send them to the editor via a form here....

Assorted

On being separated

"For this reason the Father loves Me because I lay down my life in order that I may take it up again. No one has taken it away from Me; on the contrary, I lay it down of my own accord." - Jesus, in John 10:17-18a **** It is a sad thing to be separated from the ones you love. I distinctly remember being separated from my parents after my father had a serious car accident and my mother had to leave to be with him in the hospital. The separation introduced a number of difficult months. It was a time of loneliness and grief. I was thirteen years old and desperately missed both my mom and dad. But not as much, I suspect, as one little girl did back in the 1700s. Separated by revolution Charlotte Haines was born in 1773 in New York. She was the daughter of an extremely zealous American patriot. As a matter of fact, father Haines was so zealous that during the Revolutionary War, he strictly forbad his little daughter to see her cousins, all of whom were Loyalists. But for a ten-year-old child, such a prohibition is incomprehensible. When you have played with, laughed with, and eaten with friends all your born days, how can you suddenly ignore them? Consequently, when the Loyalists were evacuated from New York, it was in Charlotte's heart to bid her dear cousins farewell. Instead of going to school, she ran to her uncle's house and spent a wonderful day of fellowship with her cousins before heading back to her parents' home. Her father was waiting at the door. Demanding to know where she had been, she confessed that she had disobeyed his orders – that she had visited with her cousins for one last time. Enraged, and perhaps not thinking clearly, John Haines pointed his finger towards the door through which she had just come in. "Leave," he barked, "and don't come back." The child was devastated, and begged his forgiveness. But he would not listen to her words and insisted that she abide by his decision. There is no record, strangely enough, of Charlotte's mother interfering. Without anything except for the clothes on her back, the little girl returned to her uncle's house where she was received with love. Although David Haines, the uncle, used all his power of persuasion to reason with his brother, it was no use. Unreasonably and stubbornly, John Haines insisted that Charlotte was a traitor and that she was not welcome in his home any longer. Consequently, when the David Haines family sailed for what later became New Brunswick, Canada in May of 1783, they took with them a surrogate orphan of sorts. Little Charlotte Haines grew up in her uncle's household and at the tender age of seventeen, married a young fellow by the name of William Peters. They had fifteen children and eventually more than a hundred grandchildren. There is no historical data, to my knowledge, to indicate that Charlotte Haines was ever reconciled with her father and mother. Separated by conscience Sometimes stories relate that older people are exiled from beloved surroundings. In the year 1527, at Easter and during the Reformation, Elizabeth of Brandenburg, wife of Joachim I, Elector of Brandenburg, received communion in the Protestant manner. This was a strange matter, at least to some, as she had been a staunch Roman Catholic her entire life. Forty-two years old, she was of an age where she knew her own mind, where she was fully aware of what she was doing. How her conversion to the Protestant faith came about, is not known. Perhaps tracts written by Luther had fallen into her hand; perhaps her brother, King Christian II of Denmark had witnessed to her; perhaps evangelists disguised as merchants had sung Protestant hymns which had found their way into her heart; or perhaps, and this is the most logical conclusion of all, she had simply read Luther's translation of the Bible. After all, God's Word will not return to Him empty. Whatever the case, Elizabeth through some means, was moved by the Holy Spirit to become a Protestant believer. Her husband, Joachim I, and father of their five children, was not at home. When Elizabeth received the Lord's Supper for the first time, her teenage and married daughter, also named Elizabeth, was very much aware of what her mother was doing. Whether hiding in the background, or listening to servants' talk, she knew. And she did not at all approve. When her father came home, she immediately reported to him what her mother had done. Consequently, her mother's life began to manifest hardships. She was given a year to repent. Towards the end of that year, mother Elizabeth, aided by her brother, escaped from Brandenburg to Saxony, to the realm of her Protestant uncle John of Saxony. Her husband, who was and had been unfaithful to her, raged and ranted. He wanted her returned. She was indeed willing to return but only on her own conditions: that she be guaranteed safety of body and goods, that marital relations should be resumed, that she be allowed to have a preacher of her own choice; and that she be allowed to partake of the sacrament of communion in the Protestant manner. Her conditions were rejected by her husband and she did not return to him. Elizabeth of Brandenburg could forgive Joachim his adultery, although it pained her deeply, but she would not compromise on her faith. She therefore lived in exile for most of her remaining days. There were many years of poverty, worry and loneliness. Joachim refused to send her money. For a while she lived with the Luthers before traveling on to Lichtenberg. In the end, she turned into a crusty, and rather complaining elderly lady and was not easy to host. Her husband, Elector Joachim I of Branderburg, died in 1535. It was not until ten years later, in 1545, that Elizabeth finally returned to Brandenburg. Her son John brought her back, paid her debts, agreed to support a minister of her choice and granted full freedom of conscience to her and her household. She wrote to him: I cannot conceal from you, out of motherly love, that the dear God, our heavenly Father, has laid upon me a heavy cross with sickness, poverty, misery, trouble and terror, more than I can tell. I would not have believed that such trials could be on earth and would comfort myself with the words of Job, "The Lord has given. The Lord has taken away. Blessed be the name of the Lord." You should know how long I have lived in misery and great sickness and have had to suffer such shameful poverty in my old age as not to have a penny on earth, nor a bit of sausage in my mouth. If God in His especial grace had not upheld me, it would have been no wonder if my heart had broken in two for sheer misery. Just before she died, Elizabeth expressed the wish and recorded it in her will, to be buried without ceremonies in a grave beside the husband from whom she had been exiled twenty-seven years before for the sake of religion. Sacrifice of family, of being exiled, of being hurt, can do many things to a person. Loneliness, bitterness, weeping, tears of anger – all these can dominate lives to such an extent that everything else is secondary. Separated by war There is another story dating back to the First World War – a story which concerns a young French soldier who was badly hurt in battle. His arm was severely damaged and when he was brought in to surgery there was no choice but that it be amputated. The surgeon, a caring man, felt very badly that this young fellow would have to go through such a procedure and had a difficult time relaying this to the soldier. "I am so sorry," he began, "that after all you have gone through, you will have to lose your arm." "Doctor," the young patient replied, "I did not lose my arm – I gave it – for France." Separated from His Father This last story illustrates, to some small degree, what it actually meant when Jesus, the greatest Example of suffering and pain, voluntarily left His home in heaven to give His body as a sacrifice. Of His own accord, he lived a human life; of His own accord, He was despised and rejected; of His own accord, He suffered an excruciatingly painful crucifixion; and finally, of His own accord, He experienced the agonies of hell as He bore the Father's wrath for our sins before He died. He did that all – for us. "A new commandment I give you, that you keep on loving one another; just as I have loved you, that you also keep on loving one another," Jesus said in John 13:34. Of His own accord - what a phrase on which to meditate. Of His own accord - what a phrase on which to pattern our attitudes, actions and relationships towards one another. Of His own accord – for us. This article first appeared in the October 2013 edition under the title "Of my own accord." Christine Farenhorst is the author of many books, her latest being Katherina, Katherina, a novel taking place in the time of Martin Luther. You can read a review here, and buy it at www.sola-scriptura.ca/store/shop....

Assorted

Help wanted: Prophets

Our leaders, and neighbors, need to hear God’s Word from us **** God’s Word cuts. We acknowledge that is “living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword” (Heb. 4:12). It may even be that it's because we know it can have such strong and contrasting reactions that we don’t often hear God’s Word directly referenced or quoted, even by Christians, in our work places, the mainstream media, our legislatures and courts, or other places in the public square. Ready reasons come to mind for our silence. “I’m just a grandma / just a laborer / just a teen / just a _______ .” Or, “I’m not gifted with words.” When it comes to speaking God’s Word to the world, we might like to leave this job to our pastors, missionaries, or maybe people who get paid to bring a Christian perspective to our secular leaders. Another common hurdle is our concern of throwing the pearl of the Gospel before the secular swine, resulting in a mess we would rather avoid. Nothing new under the sun So God's Word is generally excluded from the public square, and not by governmental dictate, but by Christians' own reluctance to speak it. What might happen if we decided again to speak God’s Word out loud, in public discussion and debate? Well, we can’t control how our neighbors will respond to God’s Word, but we can have a hand in determining whether they are even exposed to it. Two remarkable Old Testament stories illustrate this well, and serve as good lessons for today. They feature two kings of Judah who lived shortly before the kingdom was conquered and the people exiled to Babylon. A king with ears to hear The first king, Josiah, assumed the throne at age 8. According to 2 Kings 23:25, “Before him there was no king like him, who turned to the LORD with all his heart and with all his soul and with all his might, according to all the Law of Moses, nor did any like him arise after him.” When we think of righteous kings, David and Solomon often come to mind. But neither compared with Josiah. When Josiah was 18, he made orders to make repairs to the temple. Then something strange happened. Apparently when renovating the temple, Hilkiah the high priest found the Book of the Law. He proceeded to give it to the king’s secretary, who passed it on to the king with these rather uninspiring words “Hilkiah the priest has given me a book.” I call this strange because it suggests that the Book of the Law was lost and forgotten – even by the high priest and in the temple! What does it say of the spiritual health of the covenant nation of Judah when the Book of the Law is forgotten? There may have be a form of spirituality in the land, but clearly there was little faithfulness. When Josiah heard the words of the law, it struck him to the heart. He immediately tore his cloths and asked the priest, and others, to inquire of the LORD, recognizing that he and the people had not been faithful. After hearing God’s response of judgment and grace, Josiah demonstrated true leadership. He gathered all the people together and “he read in their hearing all the words of the Book of the Covenant that had been found in the house of the LORD” (2 Kings 23:2). He then covenanted before the LORD, “and all the people joined in the covenant” (23:3). These were not just words and good intentions. In the following weeks, Josiah proceeded to reform the entire nation. He destroyed the idols, broke down the houses of the cult prostitutes, eradicated child sacrifices, and went from place to place removing the high places and shrines. After this he commanded the people to celebrate the Passover, “for no such Passover had been kept since the days of the judges who judged Israel or the of the kings of Israel or of the kings of Judah (23:22). Based on what we know of Josiah, it seems he stayed faithful in his leadership till he died in battle. A king who loved darkness rather than the Light As was so often the case with the kings of Israel and Judah, a faithful father did not at all mean a faithful son. Josiah had a son named Jehoiakim, who became king after his younger brother Jehoahaz’s very short three-month reign ended in captivity. Jehoiakim had no use for God’s Law or his father’s reforms. Rabbinical literature describes him as a very evil man, guilty of much incest, murder, and adultery. But for those familiar with the Bible, most of us will better know Jehoiakim as the king who burned God’s Word, as recounted by the prophet Jeremiah. God instructed Jeremiah to write down all the words that He had told him. He added “It may be that the house of Judah will hear all the disaster that I intend to do to them, so that every one may turn from his evil way, and that I may forgive their iniquity and their sin” (Jeremiah 36:3). Through his scribe Baruch, Jeremiah wrote all the words down on a scroll. Since he was banned from going to the temple, Jeremiah had Baruch go there instead, and he read God’s Word to the people. Word made its way to the government officials, and Baruch was ordered to take his scroll and read it to them. God’s Word filled them with fear and they decided “we must report all these words to the king” (36:16). Eventually king Jehoiakim had the scroll read to him. When he would hear three or four columns “the king would cut them off with a knife and throw them in the fire in the fire pot, until the entire scroll was consumed in the fire” (36:23). Unlike his father Josiah’s response to the finding of the law, Jehoiakim was not fearful or repentant. Rather he ordered that Baruch and Jeremiah be captured. God’s word still cuts Repentance and reform, or fire and persecution. Two kings, two generations, and two very different responses to God’s Word. Both kings responded with conviction. But the conviction went in two very different directions. Western society today likes to be nice. We are known for wanting to avoid controversy. Christians aren’t immune to these societal trends. We generally don’t like to rock the boat of culture. And citing Scripture tends to do just that. It is one thing to quote the Bible at a Bible study or in the privacy of our home. It is another to bring it to our civil leaders, our business associates, or community friends. The temptation we all face is to avoid using Scripture in public discourse. Out of a desire to reach a secular and pluralist audience, we stick to language that doesn’t turn people off. There are indeed times when it is appropriate to communicate biblical truth in a way that our neighbors will listen. If we don’t know who our readers or listeners are, there can be wisdom in not triggering them before our point is made. For example, a hardened atheist or jaded ex-Christian may read our letter to the editor, see a reference to Scripture, and immediately stop reading. If it is possible to communicate the same truth without directly quoting Scripture, there may be wisdom in doing so. There are also times when we simply are not the gate-keepers of communication. If we know that those gate-keepers will not allow their publication to become a forum to communicate Scripture, there again may be wisdom in putting that Scripture into our own words. For example, when staff from the organization I work for contribute articles to large secular newspapers for publishing, we have learned that Scripture may not be welcomed. If we want to still get published, we have to show some creativity. But that said, we may be surprised by a new generation that is far more open to considering a faith-based perspective than their baby-boomer parents. Whether it is through direct quotations, or by means of rephrasing it to be appropriate for the context, the bottom line is that the communication of Scripture is not only still acceptable, it is absolutely necessary. We know that hearts are changed by the Holy Spirit through the Word. And it is our job to communicate that Scripture. Lord’s Day 12 of the Heidelberg Catechism asks what it means that we are called Christians. We confess that it means we carry the three-fold office of Christ: Prophet, Priest, and King. That means that every Christian is called to “confess His Name.” Prophets carry the words of God to those who need to hear it. This country is full of people who need to hear God’s truth. This isn’t a job we can pass off. It is an integral part of the job description of every Christian. We don’t know whether the person we speak to will respond like Josiah or Jehoiakim. But changing hearts is not our job. It is God’s. God calls us to be His agents. We really are modern-day prophets. None of us can do this well in our own strength. Let us constantly pray to “set a guard, O LORD, over my mouth, keep watch over the door of my lips” (Psalm 141:3)! We can also ask God to open our eyes to see opportunities to testify to Him, and embolden us to seize those opportunities while we still have them. As with many difficult things, the best way to learn is by simply trying, and not giving up. Let’s encourage each other to shine the light of God’s Word across our nation. Mark Penninga is the executive director of ARPA Canada.  ------- SIDEBAR: Citing Scripture doesn’t give us immunity: Two cautions Although we need God’s Word shared, it is also important to remember that the way we share it should reflect the grace and truth that Christ exemplified. There are two common and related mistakes to avoid. First, simply because we quote Scripture does not mean that we are in the right. The Pharisees knew Scripture well, and quoted it endlessly. But they lost perspective and didn’t recognize God Incarnate, right in front of them. If we are wrong, or simply misguided, adding a Bible text doesn’t change that. In fact, it can reflect very poorly on Christ Himself. Second, even if we are communicating truth, if it doesn’t come alongside grace it isn’t faithfully representing Christ. Christ never communicated truth without grace, just as He never communicated grace without truth. We humans naturally don’t do that. Some of us tend to want to always get to the truth of the matter. And people get hurt in the process. Others emphasize grace, and compromise truth in the process. There are no shortage of examples of Christians who throw out Bible texts in their letters and meetings, while showing little love and grace to those who they are addressing. We need to realize that the person we are speaking with likely does not share our belief about the authority of God’s Word, nor do they understand its context. And this will be compounded if we never actually meet (e.g. if our communication is written). Put ourselves in the shoes of our readers. What happens when we hear a Muslim referencing the Koran and urging the West to submit to Mohammed? Not only do we disagree, we end up not listening to anything else they say. We write them off. So it is so important that our communication makes it clear that we too have to measure up, and we too struggle and fail when trying to do so. God’s Word is for us as much as it is for the people we are addressing. Truth without grace and love is a clanging gong. This world doesn’t need more noise....

Assorted

What's next? The growth of Statism in Canada

Last month I attended a particularly moving live stage production called Solitary Refinement. The play is based on true stories of persecution. It focuses on the suffering of Romanian pastor Richard Wurmbrand, imprisoned and tortured for 14 years – including two years in solitary confinement – for placing his faith in Jesus above his allegiance to the Communist government. (The play is currently on tour, and I encourage you to attend or have it come to your church. There is also a movie of Wurmbrand’s story that came out this month) In the play Wurmbrand recounts a refrain that reverberated continually between the loudspeaker and the concrete prison walls: “The State is Progressive. Christianity is Regressive." This same mantra was dogmatically drilled into all the students attending the mandatory State-run schools. In the weeks that followed, the play moved me to think about three things: First, the damage and terror inflicted by communism, socialism, and other totalitarian governments Second, how particular episodes in Canadian political drama of the last few months have an eerie similarity to the first experiences of Wurmbrand with communism Third, how unprepared Western Christians are to face such totalitarianism It's simple; just comply In present-day Canada, two government institutions require citizens to affirm State ideology in order to enjoy the equal benefit of the law or government programs. The first is the Law Society of Ontario. It announced several months ago that all licensed Ontario lawyers are now required to affirm that they will: abide by a Statement of Principles that acknowledges my obligation to promote equality, diversity and inclusion generally, in my behaviour towards colleagues, employees, clients and the public. All that lawyers have to do is “just check the box.” Then, right around Christmas, the Hon. Patty Hajdu, Canada’s Minister of Employment, Workforce Development and Labour, announced that citizens applying for a Summer Student Jobs grant had to “just check the box” to affirm that: the job and the organization’s core mandate respect … the values underlying the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms as well as other rights. These include reproductive rights…  Thousands of Canadian Christian charities doing wonderful work in refugee resettlement, summer camps for underprivileged kids, poverty relief, addictions help, and assistance for at-risk youth, must “respect” “reproductive rights” (which include unfettered abortion, according to the government’s explanatory manual) or risk losing out on thousands of dollars. When pushed on this, the Minister said it’s no big deal to “just check the box,” even if you do believe that the pre-born child is a human being worthy of protection in law. So, what’s the big deal? Is checking a box really the end of the free world? Let’s look at the communist regimes of not so long ago to understand what is at stake. When the power of the State is unrestrained Václav Havel was a dissident writer in communist Czechoslovakia. His plays ridiculed communism. As Havel became more politically active, he fell under surveillance of the secret police. His writing landed him in prison multiple times, the longest stint lasting almost four years. He later became the president of the Czech Republic (which formed shortly after the fall of the Soviet Union). His most famous essay is The Power of the Powerless – well worth studying as statism increases in the West and the terrors of communism fade from memory. Rod Dreher, in his book The Benedict Option, describes a central point of Havel’s famous essay: Consider, says Havel, the greengrocer living under Communism, who puts a sign in his shop window saying, “Workers of the World, Unite!” He does it not because he believes it, necessarily. He simply doesn’t want trouble. And if he doesn’t really believe it, he hides the humiliation of his coercion by telling himself, “What’s wrong with the workers of the world uniting?” Fear allows the official ideology to retain power – and eventually changes the greengrocer’s beliefs. Those who “live within a lie,” says Havel, collaborate with the system and compromise their full humanity. That is what’s happening with these check boxes today. It’s so simple – by design – to affirm the State ideology of “inclusion” and “reproductive rights.” Just check the box. And yet what’s actually happening is a wearing away or a numbing of our convictions. Like the greengrocer in Communist Czechoslovakia, we fear the trouble of dissenting. We need the funds. We want to keep our license. As Dreher further explains, Every act that contradicts the official ideology is a denial of the system. What if the greengrocer stops putting the sign up in his window? What if he refuses to go along to get along? “His revolt is an attempt to live within the truth” – and it’s going to cost him plenty. He will lose his job and his position in society. His kids may not be allowed to go to the college they want to, or to any college at all. People will bully him or ostracize him. Someone needs to speak up But we must dare to dissent. We need to live within the truth. We have a better and deeper and richer understanding of “diversity” and “inclusion.” We know what murderous lies are hidden behind the euphemism of “reproductive rights.” Because we love our neighbours as ourselves, we dare to dissent because we know what is true, good, and beautiful. And it’s worth fighting for. As Dreher says, channeling Havel, when we do dissent, “by bearing witness to the truth, accomplish something potentially powerful. said that the emperor is naked. And because the emperor is in fact naked, something extremely dangerous has happened: by action, addressed the world. enabled everyone to peer behind the curtain. shown everyone that it is possible to live within the truth.” And so, when I filed my annual report at the end of 2017, I declined to check the box. I wrestled for a long time about whether to check the box. I rationalized checking the box. After all, what’s so wrong with a statement on “diversity and inclusion”? But I concluded that what was motivating me to check the box was fear: fear of professional consequences, fear of the hassle, fear of what others might think of me. And while I do fear the State in a Biblical sense, I can’t do what it is asking of me because I’d ultimately be lying. My statement of principles in not what they are actually looking for. So I checked no, and then explained myself. I wrote: The Law Society of Upper Canada has no clue what the words “equality” “diversity” or “inclusion” mean as demonstrated in its unequal, exclusive and intolerant treatment of Trinity Western University graduates. I hold to an ethic that is deeper and richer and more meaningful than any superficial virtue-signalling that the law society cobbles together. However, the law society has no authority, constitutional or otherwise, to demand it of me. I, therefore, refuse on principle to report such a statement to the law society. It’s not the most eloquent thing I’ve written. But I dissented. What's next? So where do these check boxes take us? What’s next? I can’t help but think that the check boxes are a trial balloon of sorts. If the current government can get away with enforcing moral conformity as a condition for receiving summer job grants, can it do the same for charitable status? Will the other regulated professions (medicine, accounting, engineering, etc) include check boxes? Will all charities in the next few years have to check the box each year to affirm the “Charter values” of inclusion and non-discrimination and reproductive rights in order to keep their charitable status? And after that, will our Christian schools have to check the box to keep the doors open? Will we as parents have to check the box to access medical care for our kids? What’s next? Are we prepared for what comes next? I’m not saying this is the way it will go. I am optimistic that when Christians stand up for what is right, good things happen. God blesses faithful witness. So I hope and pray for a revival in Canada and I know it is possible, by God’s grace. But if the trajectory we are on continues downward, are we prepared? How much Scripture have we committed to memory for those lonely days in a prison cell? (There are no Bible apps in prison.) How often do we practice the spiritual discipline of fasting, as Jesus expected us to do? If nothing else, it trains us to cope with hunger. Do we practice the discipline of tithing, which develops a willingness to part with material blessings? Are we prepared for whatever comes next? André Schutten is the Director of Law & Policy with the Association for Reformed Political Action (ARPA) Canada. A version of this article was originally published on the ARPA Canada blog, is reprinted here with permission....

Assorted

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 and eye color and skin color, and in interests, and 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....

Assorted

Election

Nobody would tell who had written the naughty word inside the door of the boys' toilet. The six girls in our one-room country school were dismissed, and the five boys – two older and two younger than I, and I in fifth grade – were left behind. "Write on a piece of paper," the teacher said, "the name of the person you think did it, put the paper on your inkwell, and put your head down on your desk." Teacher's footsteps from desk to desk, the unfolding of paper, and afterwards: "Sietze, you will stay to write five-hundred times 'I will be pure in thought, word, and deed.'" Elected but not guilty, I ran home, the copying done, and cried in outrage. "But who," said Dad, "put the tiddlywinks in the collection plate on Sunday? The deacons found them and they're missing from your set." So much for outraged innocence. "Poor teacher," said Dad, "what can she do with lying foulmouthed boys? No wonder she makes mistakes." So much for my mistrial. "And now you know," Dad said, "a very little bit about how Jesus felt being punished for sins he didn't do." So much for self-pity. Dad gave me the tiddlywinks from his overall pocket: "I'll see the teacher, though. Whoever did it shouldn't get away with it." Next day my friend Ted was washing the toilet wall. "Hey, how did your dad know I did it?" To this day I do not know how he knew.   From Sietze's Buning's "Style and Class," copyright the Middleburg Press, and reprinted here with their gracious permission....

Assorted

Is Jordan Peterson the champion we've been looking for?

Christians, it’s time to think a bit more deeply about the Jordan Peterson moment.1 Unless you’ve been asleep and on a different planet for the past several weeks, you’ve probably seen a video clip of the increasingly popular social commentator Dr. Jordan B. Peterson. Most recently, Peterson was rocketed to the precarious and perhaps not-what-one-bargained-for, but nevertheless real, spotlight of internet stardom by brilliantly handling an aggressive feminist interviewer with raw logic, facts, and truth. She was literally speechless. Scores of memes followed. Dr. North wrote up the exchange under the heading, “Bambi vs. Godzilla,” which it surely was. Peterson is popular for a real reason, too. He’s speaking the hard truth about personal responsibility, and right into the teeth of the beast of leftist safe spaces, spin machines, blizzards of snowflakes, and the like. That stand on that issue alone, when executed well (and it is), is enough to win you a nice fan base. But Peterson adds yet another dimension. He’s leveling liberal academics from within their own fortress—the sacred groves of academia. Even better, he’s doing it from within one of the more rabidly liberal of disciplines. He’s a psychologist. Conservatives everywhere are lining up to hear him. He puts his class lectures online and also posts several more casual and intimate Q&A style videos. His audience is overwhelmingly made up of young men, most of whom are hearing a positive, challenging, and inspiring message for young men for the first time. The war on boys ends here, and millions of viewers and students are lining up for something that sounds manlier than what they get anywhere else—certainly any of their other liberal arts classes. Each video he posts gets tens or hundreds of thousands of views, and he, smartly, is receiving donations to a reported tune of something like $60k per month. If his liberal colleagues didn’t hate him enough for repeat-blasting feminism and the LGBT political agenda like an intellectual jackhammer, they could hate him for just being such a greedy capitalist alone. Meanwhile, conservatives have found a new hero. He’s brilliant, fairly well-read, and even better, he spends a ton of time explaining Bible stories from Genesis and the like in profound, engaging ways. Conservatives are cheering a new champion, young men are in love with the father they never had, and Christians are mesmerized by what seems like a new prophet of international proportions. At least one conservative Reformed conference ushered Dr. Peterson past any number of theologians to the front of the keynote speaker line. The more I listen to Dr. Peterson, the more I like him and think maybe some genuine progress could be made with him from a biblical Christian perspective. He often exegetes material that most pastors don’t get, and applies it in helpful ways that I sense most pastors would be afraid, even if they recognized the application. And that kind of gets us to the “but” in this article, and it’s a “but” that every Christians needs to consider next to everything Jordan Peterson says and does, because it’s a very big “but.” In a nutshell, it is this: For all of his toppling of great idols of humanism in our day, Dr. Peterson’s thought, from their presuppositions right through many of his conclusions, is as thoroughly humanist, autonomous, and thus ultimately dangerous, as anything any leftist every said. Christians need to be aware of the depths of this problem in Peterson’s thought, and the implications it has for their discernment of his teachings. Our happy blindness Conservatives and Christians in general, however, don’t see it, due, I think, to a very regular historical occurrence. They have never really developed and taught their own thoroughly biblical psychology and social theory. They have a few snippets of beliefs from the Bible, and a few beliefs from Bible stories, and enough of an idea of Christ to have a lot of well-developed theories about individual salvation — at least, in the sense of answering “how do I get to heaven”? But social theory? Social dynamics? Personality, vocation, self-improvement, discipline, meaning, power versus authority, law, justice? We’re not only virtually empty here, but when even a few of us have tried, they are usually pilloried by the rest for daring to say the Bible speaks to such issues that are outside of individual ticket sales to heaven. No wonder there’s a market for strong words about personal responsibility to young men today. As I said, this has often been true in history. Christians have consistently failed to develop a distinctly biblical social theory. So, they wander like sheep with no shepherd; and when the next major social, moral, or intellectual crisis hits, they have usually found themselves sidling up to the strong, unifying voice of some secular moralist who is saying some of what the church should have been saying all along. More often than not, too, the Christian intellectuals cannot line up fast enough to parrot the new hero and present mildly-baptized versions of his thought. Only, in the process, they end up carrying water for paganism, and bringing it right into the baptismal fonts of their sanctuaries. Christianity, and especially Christian social theory, suffers for a generation until the next crisis hits. To prevent this problem, it would of course behoove us just to go ahead a develop a biblical social theory from the bottom up (there’s a good start on it already, by the way). It would also help to quit fawning over every bright and engaging pagan that momentarily captures our hearts in the meantime. Even if we were to take a “chew the meat and spit the bones” approach (not out of the picture), it would certainly be incumbent upon us to learn, to know, and to know what the bones are—to understand the paganism of the particular unbelievers we invite to dinner, and to make sure the other guests are aware just how deep that rabbit hole goes. Now, Jordan B. Peterson is the latest of such pagan heroes. Even if we were to decide he has a good benefit to offer to those with a biblical Christian worldview, when analyzed from that perspective, we need at least to talk about the presuppositions from which he is working, and what that means for us, and some of the things they, so to speak, don’t tell you in the brochure. The depths of depth psychology Jordan B. Peterson is sometimes called a Christian, and some have said he calls himself a Christian. But from any orthodox or historical definition of that term, nothing could be further from the truth — his interesting grasps of Bible stories notwithstanding. Peterson is a clinical psychologist by trade and by academic profession, but in terms of worldview, he is a full-blown, unapologetic, enthusiastic Jungian humanist, with a twist of Nietzsche in there, too. This means, first, you need to know a little bit about Carl G. Jung. Jung early on was a parallel figure to Sigmund Freud, but eventually developed certain ideas into something more complex and fantastical than Freud, by wedding forms of ancient pagan, mystic, occult, and other esoteric philosophies into his theories of the primitive drives and instincts, sexual and otherwise, of the human libido which make up the core of our unconscious being. Jung was a strong disciple also of Friedrich Nietzsche, and many Nietzschean themes such as the Übermensch (“super-man”), death of God, and the transvaluation of all values find new expression in Jung’s theories. To this Jung further added völkish religion, Aryanism, UFOs, alchemy, and virtually all forms of occultism (emphasis on all). There was a tremendous push and enthusiasm in Germany at the time for all such things, and one popular understanding of it all was that Germans, in order to become truly all they were destined to be (whether naturally, through evolution, or mystically through some kind of cosmic evolution), needed to push beyond all the impediments Christianity had forced upon German civilization and engage the true roots of ancient German folk religion, which predated Christianity and had within it all the secrets, mysteries, and savage power in a sort of mystical, cultural DNA that would make Germans be all Germans were ever intended to be—fulfilled, transcendent, powerful. And if you sniff a bit of Hitler and Nazism in that, that’s because it’s all the stuff they were made of. But there is even more to it. This also came on the heels of two generations of developed higher criticism of the Bible (much of it led by German scholars) — the kind that far surpassed merely denying inspiration, and said the Bible must be treated like any other book, then proceeded to deconstruct it into fine slices with razors of all kinds of criticism, historical, literary, philological, textual, linguistic, etc. The result was a near-total denuding of the faith of the German people, and many more besides. In this milieu grew up the likes of Nietzsche (not to mention Marx), but also a whole new denigration of traditional Christianity, and on top of that, a whole new appreciation for all things pre-Christian and not-Christian. Into the void flooded, among other things, a great interest in the ancient mystery religions — especially those which were supposed to have the deepest, purest of Persian/Aryan roots, for these were the ancient roots of the Germans. By the time Jung arrives, there is a developed body of scholarly literature on all of this. One of the mystery religions which most captivated Jung, for various reasons, was the Roman cult, allegedly of Persian origin, of Mithraism. This was a blood-sacrifice cult centered on a Sun god named Mithras and featuring also a lion-headed god. These things were not fringe or side interests to Jung. They were the core of his very being and of the psychology, philosophy, and methods he developed. It was around 1913 that Jung, through dabbling in spiritualism and psychic trances (which he called “active imagination”), achieved his own personal version of Nietzsche’s Übermensch. He had a vision in which he met Elijah and “Salome” in a “Druidic sacred place.” Salome approached Jung and began to worship him. When he asked her why, she said, “You are Christ.” A snake approached him and coiled around him. Soon, he could feel that his face had transformed into that of a lion. Jung explained to an audience in 1925 that through this experience, he had been mystically initiated into the Mithraic mysteries, and had undergone “deification”—personally transformed into the very lion headed God, named “Aion” by Jung, featured in the ancient cult. Jung believed he had been deified, identified with Aion the Persian/Aryan sun God, and immortal. The one thing on which all of this was built, and with which all the major players were consistent, was the need to find something to replace the razed religious foundations and superstructure of traditional Christianity. Jung himself embodied this critique. He agreed with that vast critics of Christianity at the time and saw Christianity as a great historical distraction to the true development of the human race. If history had only gone differently, we would have not had this sad affair, but been more thoroughly enlightened by Mithraism and the mysteries instead of impeded by Christianity. Instead, he said, “In the past two thousand years Christianity has done its work and has erected barriers of repression, which protect us from the sight of our own ‘sinfulness.’ The elementary emotions of the libido have come to be unknown to us, for they are carried on in the unconscious; therefore, the belief which combats them has become hollow and empty.” A couple paragraphs from one popular Jung scholar will tie this all together, explaining Jung’s worldview and teachings: Within each native European there was a living pre-Christian layer of the unconscious psyche that produced religious images from the Hellenistic pagan mystery cults or even the more archaic nature religions of the ancient Aryans. The phylogenetic unconscious does not produce purely Christian symbols but instead offers pagan images, such as that of the sun as god. If the sediment of two thousand years of Judeo-Christian culture could be disturbed (as in psychotic mental diseases with a psychological component, such as dementia praecox), then this Semitic “mask” might be removed, and the biologically true images of the original “god within” could be revealed: a natural god, perhaps of the sun or stars like Mithras, or matriarchal goddesses of the moon or blood, or phallic or chthonic gods from within Mother Earth. . . . To Jung, the mystery cults of antiquity kept alive the ancient natural religion of human prehistory and were a corrective antidote to the poison of religions—like Judaism and Christianity—that had been forged by civilization. . . . Jung regarded Christianity as a Jewish religion that was cruelly imposed on the pagan peoples of Europe. . . . Semitic cultures, cut off from the primordial source of life, did not have mysteries in which a direct experience of the gods could be attained through initiation rituals. They were, therefore, cut off from the renewal and rebirth that such mysteries offered the Aryans. . . . Jung often referred to the ancient mysteries as the “secret” or “hidden” or “underground” religions and their social organizations as the secret or hidden churches that kept alive the divine spark from the dawn of creation. This leads us to an obvious conclusion. When Jung became one with Aion in his visionary initiation experience, in his imagination he was not only becoming a full participant in the mysteries of Mithras; he was experiencing a direct initiation into the most ancient of the mysteries of his Aryan ancestors. . . . Here’s the part that is the most crucial summary for our purposes: His new science of psychoanalysis became the twentieth century vehicle of those mysteries. Most important, as his initiation experience also entailed assuming the stance of the crucified Jesus as he metamorphosed into Aion, Jung thereby became the figure that fueled the fantasies of thousands of Volkish Germans and European and American anti-Semites at the turn of the century: the Aryan Christ. Much more could be added to this, and in fact is in the books from which these paragraphs came, The Jung Cult and The Aryan Christ: The Secret Life of Carl Jung (see esp. pp. 121–147), both by award-winning author and clinical psychologist Richard Noll.2 I want to be clear here: while there are obviously strains of antisemitism in all of this, and Jung did briefly give a favorable glimpse to Nazism, the point here is not to play the anti-Semite card and try to discredit Jung in that way. The point here is to show the radical break with all things Christian, the reinterpretation of even Jesus himself in terms of mystical, occult mysteries, and the projection of such occult practices into a thoroughly scientific-sounding method of “psychoanalysis” as a way of, among other things, transforming the collective imagination of the West from Christianity to a new paganism (same as the old). All of this was Jung’s answer to Nietzsche’s “death of God” proclamation. Nietzsche was not just dancing on the grave, he was alerting the world to a need for something to fill the void left behind, because “God” had been performing some pretty important services in regard to meaning and morality and all, so those who killed him had to pick up the slack. Nietzsche’s answer to this, in a nutshell, was that we had to become powerful autonomous actors who from now own determined our own values for ourselves. Or as Peterson has put it in his lectures, men must become creatures who can autonomously create their own values. But this looked like trouble. So what Jung added to that answer was to examine people’s fantasies to determine their drives and motives, and supply some kind of collective unity that could tie these many autonomous actors to something common. He added the dimension of mythology across history as a guide to interpretation and meaning. These last few explanations are notes directly from Peterson’s own lectures. In short, Jung mainstreamed the most famous doctrines of the atheist Friedrich Nietzsche, and also mainstreamed virtually every kind of ancient paganism and occultism right into the heart of twentieth century secular humanism, and it makes a huge core of what makes modern humanism what it is. This is what Christians should consider when they listen to Jordan Peterson, because this is precisely, and quite squarely I would add, where he is coming from when he says what he says, even when it seems to comport with Christianity. Peterson’s Jungian worldview Some will be quick to object that I am merely poisoning the well. All of this, I admit, could indeed be seen as one big genetic fallacy, or series thereof. We could understand Peterson’s association with Jungian psychology as little more than incidental, like a kind of professional vestige, long since watered down and papered over with many layers of more modern, scientific clinical theories. Except, Peterson says things like this: “Jung, I would say, was the most serious thing for the twentieth century.” And he says such things with passionate verve. And he lectures with enthusiasm on how great Jung was and he weaves Jung’s theories and ideas into his own. He speaks openly of Jung (and Nietzsche, too), his admiration for him, and quite often will drop phrases and ideas from Jung’s methodology that show Peterson follows the same path: for example, the interpretation of people’s “archetypal dreams” and “the mythological underpinning of them” in his psychological practice. Consider teachings like this: For Jung, not only are the substructures of your thought biological, and so therefore based in your body, but your body was also cultural and historical.... You’re an evolved creature, so 3.5 billion years worth of weirdness that you can draw on, or that can move you where it wants to move you.... But also, you’re being shaped by cultural dynamics all the time.... Part of what every single person is constantly broadcasting to every other person is how to behave.... Then he discusses the archetypal “savior figure” as the distillation of a thousand people’s ideals, and says if someone comes along who is close to one of these figures, you have a religion. So, the story of Horus and Isis kept Egypt civilized for millennia. Then that story “sort of transmuted into Judaism and then turned into Christianity, so it’s not like the ideas disappeared.” Peterson says You’re just as possessed by those ideas as any ancient Egyptian, you’re just more fragmented, because what your conscious mind assumes and what your unconscious mind assumes are different things, and you’re always at war with yourself; that’s why you’re attracted to ideologies. These ideologies he calls “idols” and destructive to your soul (I wondered if he would include the ideologies of Jung and Nietzsche in that. Don’t know.). He concluded the section by mentioning what is so terrifying about Jung: “there’s no escaping the realization of the nature of the forces that are behind the puppets that we are.” Scoffing at people who said Jung started a cult, Peterson says he is “so much more terrifying than a cult!” No, Jung was “trying to bring the primordial imagination back into the world and to make people conscious of it.” And there’s more. If there’s any single thing Peterson’s become known for, it’s his emphasis on taking personal responsibility. Here, it would seem, there’s at least some overlap with the discipline, responsibility, and sanctification found in Christian teaching. But not really, this is Jungian too. Peterson himself teaches, “The thing that is instantiated in Jungian psychotherapy, the Jungian model, is, it requires personal responsibility above all else.” It’s not Christian. It’s Jung’s answer to Nietzsche’s superman. It’s humanism, human autonomy, self-help, or in Peterson’s personal brand, “self-authoring.” Peterson comes across as conservative, mainly because he takes such an uncompromising stance against “cultural Marxism” and “postmodernism” (which he says is just Marxism under a new name), but his own roots in Nietzsche and Jung not only conflict with that stance in theory (who, after all, is a greater granddaddy of postmodernism than Nietzsche?), but some of his own ethical wranglings show those roots in practice as well. One lesser known, but certainly not surprising, aspect of Jung is his sexual immorality. He counseled some of his clients to have affairs, and himself had women in addition to his wife. Peterson is certainly more prudish personally (his assessment), yet himself from his worldview has a hard time addressing homosexual marriage. Yes, he would oppose such a law if it were only cultural Marxists using it to destroy western civilization, but he’s also supportive of it because “it’s a means whereby gay people can be more thoroughly integrated into standard society, and that’s probably a good thing.” Likewise, on abortion. He has no problems calling it morally wrong, though on pragmatic and anecdotal grounds. But the question of its legality is a whole different thing. Some morally wrong things should still be legal. This discussion, he said, is nested inside a larger discussion, and in discussing it, Peterson reveals how he once counseled a 27-year old female virgin to address her personal timidity by going out and having some sexual “adventures.” After all, “You can’t just say to people in the modern world, ‘No sex until you’re married.’” Even in his “self-authoring” theme, Peterson is Jungian-Nietzschean to the point of being postmodern himself. In speaking of self-improvement in metaphorical terms, he says this: then if you create an ultimate judge, which is what the archetypal imagination of humankind has done, say, with the figure of Christ—because if Christ is nothing else he is at least the archetypal perfect man and therefore the judge—you have a judge that says get rid of everything about yourself that isn’t perfect. The thing that’s interesting about this, I think, is you can do it more or less on your own terms. You have to have some collaboration from external people; but you don’t have to pick an external ideal. You can pick an ideal that fulfills the role of ideal for you; you can say, OK, if things could be set up for me the way I need them to be, and if I could be who I needed to be, what would that look like? You can figure that out for yourself, and then instantly you have a judge. Maybe he would explain these points, or the context, a little more satisfactorily given the chance, but as it is, this is nothing less than the very moral relativism one would expect from his inspirations (yet which he himself decries). Jung with a stiff upper lip Somehow, however, this Jungian depth psychologist has adopted a conservative-ish streak along the way. But even these are humanistic. The following excerpts of Peterson quoted in David Brooks’s recent article are very interesting: All of life is perched, Peterson continues, on the point between order and chaos. Chaos is the realm without norms and rules. Chaos, he writes, is “the impenetrable darkness of a cave and the accident by the side of the road. It’s the mother grizzly, all compassion to her cubs, who marks you as a potential predator and tears you to pieces. Chaos, the eternal feminine, is also the crushing force of sexual selection. Women are choosy maters. … Most men do not meet female human standards.” Life is suffering, Peterson reiterates. Don’t be fooled by the naïve optimism of progressive ideology. Life is about remorseless struggle and pain. Your instinct is to whine, to play victim, to seek vengeance. Peterson tells young men never to do that. Rise above the culture of victimization you see all around you. Stop whining. Don’t blame others or seek revenge. “The individual must conduct his or her life in a manner that requires the rejection of immediate gratification, or natural and perverse desires alike.” When I hear “struggle” and “suffering,” I hear the ancient Greek philosopher Heraclitus. When I hear the advice to rise above these and face them like a man, I hear classic stoicism (which churchmen of the era loved). The two are far more similar, by the way, than most histories of philosophies catch. These ideas connect historically also in Nietzsche, but also in classic British conservatism. In the face of calamity and chaos, keep a stiff upper lip. Don’t bend, don’t’ change. Edmund Burke could have written those paragraphs. Above all, a Burkean Conservative would say, don’t touch the ancient institutions. Don’t mess with the fundamental foundations of society that have served us well for so many years. Don’t changeanything. If you do, you don’t know what the consequences will be. This is exactly Peterson’s message, too. Don’t be fooled by naïve optimism. Accept traditions, etc., even if you have to embrace the pain. Sure enough, what we are getting in the conservative and Christian flocking to Peterson is the same thing we saw with the classic conservativism centering on Edmund Burke. Never mind that he was every bit as much a humanist and natural law proponent on social theory as Robespierre himself. It was the Right Wing of the Enlightenment, and Christians loved it, mainly because it said some things Christians weren’t getting in a fully biblical form from their pulpits—weren’t getting at all, really. Christians don’t realize that the Enlightenment had two wings, one right and one left. When we think humanism, we only think left wing humanism, but the right wing was every bit as humanist. One could go on to say, in fact, that the right wing of the enlightenment is even more dangerous than the left, because it teaches humanistic principles on humanistic foundations, but often with common conclusions Christians like to hear, and often in language that sounds amenable to Christianity. Here are the Isaac Newtons, Adam Smiths, Edmund Burkes — all guys Christians tend to love. It is often through these relationships and their influence that humanism enters the church to the detriment of all. Analysis from a Biblical Worldview The point with Peterson should not be to have to do something so obvious as to go through Peterson’s lectures on biblical narratives critiquing every point from the perspective of orthodox theology. Rather, it is to look deeper at the presuppositions that underlie his interpretations and methods, and what, while it may sound profound (and in a way, is), is little more than the same type of humanistic repurposing of the texts to which we would strenuously reject and decry if we heard a liberal doing it. But since this guys seems to be on our side, we give him a more passive treatment. Cornelius Van Til provided a very helpful multi-point review of the psychology of religion which not only nicely critiques humanistic attempts (which would subsume Jung), but also establishes biblical presuppositions from which to do so.3 A biblical worldview of souls (“psychology” is the study of the soul) must begin with the Creator-creation distinction. Man is not God, and man cannot become a god. Second, the fall of man is the source of all our brokennesses. All of them. We will not be saved by creating a distillation of archetypes from the collective imagination of fallen man, or any projection from that which is already broken. Nothing derived from us either horizontally with other men, or vertically up from ourselves, can save us. The cure of souls must come from without, not within fallen humanity. Psychology, therefore, that proceeds on any other ground, certainly including Jung’s program, is a rival plan of salvation to that of the Bible and Christian tradition. These basic ideas have severe implications. First, as we have seen with Jung and Peterson above, the rival views are hardly neutral. This is because there is no neutrality. Our views of psychology and “Self-help” are either in covenant with God, or covenant breaking with Him. Second, humanistic psychologies assume that man is his own autonomous being — autonomous from God, that is, because they will call him everything but subject to the God of the Bible, even going so far as to call him subject to the impersonal forces of the universe, or a collective consciousness of humanity. He is autonomous from God, nonetheless. But man is totally dependent upon his creator. For the Bible, man is created in the image of God. For the Jungians, God is created in the images of glorified men. Third, since man is dependent upon the Creator for his being, and totally subject to Him, this means man is also dependent upon Him morally. The whole concept of establishing our own values, then, whether per Nietzsche, Jung, or Peterson, is unbiblical and humanistic. For the humanist, man must be saved on his own terms, setting his own values. For the Bible, man must return to the ethics God created for him. When we follow the humanistic models, like Jung’s, but any of them, really, we can trace several steps of the destruction of the foundations of civilization. First, the intellect is dethroned in favor of irrational, forces — thus the emphasis on paganism, spiritualism, and all things occult. Second, man is eventually reduced to little more than a holistic corpus and product of such forces. Third, comes a focus on the psyche developed in childhood. The child becomes the most meaningful part of the psyche, and thus of the person. The adult is soon interpreted in terms of the child. Fourth, emphasis is placed upon the unconscious and subconscious forces. Fifth, emphasis is placed upon abnormal psychology. Since there is no fall in humanism, the abnormal and normal are both natural, and thus both normal in a way. Thus, for example, homosexuality is just as valid as hetero. In ethics, this means homosexual marriage must be given some space as valid in the mix. Sixth, the emphasis next becomes primitive and primordial man. Jung obviously exemplifies this in reaching back to our earliest pagan roots for archetypal patterns and foundations. Seventh, we go from primordial man to animals. The key to the human psyche will then lie somewhere deep in our evolutionary history. Not the men, not the abnormal man, not the child, not the subconscious, but the chimpanzee and the rat, will explain our woes and its cures. And if you can recall Jung standing there, snake-wrapped, with his own face replaced by that of a lion, perhaps you can see that this is no joke. In virtually every one of these areas, we can easily refute Freud and the humanistic traditions, whether Jungian, behaviorist, or whatever. But such refutations also just as earnestly critique the humanistic foundations from which Peterson works, as well as many of the points he would emphasize from them. We don’t need another lion-headed Aryan would-be Christ, or any other humanist stretch of the imagination. What we do need is to return to the God-man that our Creator sent to rescue us in our fallen condition. Here we can find true representation, manhood and womanhood, ethics, meaning, and a future outlook. And in that outlook, we’ll be much better equipped to discern the problems that appear in even the good-speaking humanists. Conclusion When you boil it all down, the weightiest contributions coming from Peterson are actually quite limited and easily procurable from sources with less intellectual baggage and less-deceptive packages to truth-and-practice-hungry Christians. His weightiest contribution on social theory is a repeated historical lesson that communism lay behind the slaughter of millions of people, and we don’t want to return to that. Ok, fine. But we’ve got plenty of help on that message already. We just need pressure on the teachers to teach it more. We need simply an effort to get the word out better on that. His weightiest contribution on personal life is the emphasis on personal responsibility and self-discipline. Don’t buy into the lure of victimhood and entitlement. Ok, fine, too. But that’s the message of the mind of Christ in the New Testament (Phil. 2), in which version it is far more meaningful and profound. It’s the most fundamental lesson of sanctification in the Bible. It’s where Christians should begin and never depart. So why don’t we begin with the Bible and not depart from it? It contains, Peter says, “all things pertaining to life and godliness.” No detour through Mithraism or the Übermensch is needed here. So, why do we allow ourselves to become enamored with the pseudo-profundities of Jung and depth psychology, and with their fundamental deceit that the answer lies inside of ourselves, in humanity, in a collective unconscious, in humanity’s evolutionary being? What improvement is this over any other humanism? Why, I ask you Christian, would we want to trade one humanism for another? I am speaking of intellectual presuppositions and foundations. Why does it matter if we try to build Christian-sounding ideas on top of Right Wing Humanism or Left Wing Humanism? Ultimately, beneath both, are the same ideas: we are evolved beings, the universe is impersonal, we are products of our environment, our instincts, drive, and urges rule us, etc., etc. The only good that exists in Peterson’s talks is when he departs from these basic presuppositions and happens to echo biblical ones, and that should tell us all we need to do next: go to the source of the