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Comfort facing death

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

Dr. Pol is a retired minister of the Carman West Canadian Reformed Church in Manitoba.

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When promises hold up as well as pie-crusts...

"Promises and pie-crust are made to be broken," wrote the British satirist Jonathan Swift. Swift’s bit of cynicism seems to be aimed squarely at politicians. After all, some politicians make promises only to just as quickly break them – what they say and do are two different things. For example just before Canada’s 2006 federal elections David Emerson, a former Liberal industry ministry, promised voters that he would fight the Conservatives, calling them "angry" and "heartless." But as soon as Emerson was elected he joined the Conservatives and was given a senior government post by the new Prime Minister, Conservative Leader Stephen Harper. Another infamous example is Conservative Belinda Stronach who ran for the leadership of the Conservative Party before defecting to the Liberal Party and immediately became a member of the Liberal government’s cabinet. Hence, the generally low opinion of politicians. But how important is a promise? What does it really involve? And is promise-breaking only a bad thing to do in politics Importance of promises The keeping of a promise is a form of truthfulness in which an individual makes his actions conform to his words. A promise is an assurance one gives that he will do, give, or refrain from something to the advantage of another. It offers security for those who receive our promise that they can now count on our action. It creates an obligation: it is a declaration we will perform a certain act in the future. Fidelity to one's word is an absolute essential – without it we simply can’t get along with one another and live together in community. Therefore, the deliberate violation of a solemn promise is gravely sinful. If making promises is such a serious matter, why are they so readily broken? Typical excuses are offered by way of rationalization for breaking promises. Thus a failed marriage is labeled "a mistake," as if the promises made when they exchanged their vows were really a miscalculation and not a covenant with another person. Of course, there are occasions when a promise cannot be kept. Exceptions may be made when, for example, fulfillment would involve sin or an unlawful act. But the more flexible approach must, however, take account of the consequences of undermining general confidence in the act of making promises. After all is said and done, failure to keep a promise reveals either deception in its making or inconstancy, both are contrary to the character of God and the spirit of Christ. Ignoring the invisible The readiness to go back on one's words shows the moral illness of our times. Why do we see in our Western culture such increase in pornography, homosexual rights, and abortion-on-demand? Why the high divorce rate, the weakening of family bonds, the deterioration of citizenship and civic virtue? Why have so many Canadians lost their trust in governmental institutions? Some may say, “What else is new? Were there no unsavory politicians in the past?" Of course, there were. History has always been marred by opportunists and traitors. But Western culture used to understand the matter differently. Modern readers of the medieval poet Dante, for instance, are often perplexed by Dante’s view that betrayal and treachery are lower (and thus worse) among the circles of Hell than crimes of violence. The difference between Dante's age and ours is theological. Our modern age has lost sight of God. Lutheran theologian and preacher Helmut Thielicke (1908-1986) pointed out, "As soon as the world loses the Father of the world, as it is deprived of God, it must necessarily be stripped of the invisible. And among invisibles, naturally, are norms such as justice and also the ethical laws of value that determine good and evil." And not mincing words Marcus Honeysett in his book Meltdown: Making Sense of a Culture in Crisis said; "Our culture is in a state of meltdown because we have disposed of truth in order to live without God." We’ve let it happen We can blame society for the godless ways of our country, but really it is our fault. While Biblical Christianity is concerned with the whole of life – with public matters and with those that go on in private, with social, economic, and political matters, with all matters! – Christians leave our faith behind when we walk out our front doors. We think it normal that our faith is privatized, something we do on Sundays but no other day of the week, and certainly not at work or in public. Privatization of the Christian faith is now part of the story of Canadian religion. Our faith has become limited to a Sunday gospel. Vincent Massey, the first Canadian Governor-General, in his address to the Montreal Council on Christian Social Order in November 1953, ably described the situation as he saw it then: "In our modern world, we have suffered an un-Christian division of life into two spheres one of which is secular and public, and another which being religious, is looked upon as private." In 1971 Dr. Robert N. Thompson, evangelical parliamentarian and educator, argued then already that Christians "are by and large living on the reservations of Canada." He stated that: "Our churches have become reserves where we retreated from the life-and-death battles that must be fought against the forces of evil six days of the week. We have allowed those who would make man the measure of all things to have free rein to work out their sinful designs largely unchallenged and uncriticized in all the public place where important issues are being determined. We are limited to a Sunday gospel, for all intents and purposes." The Gospel is a promise Over against privatization of the Christian faith and secularism, which have been sapping our Canadian society for such a long time, stands Biblical Christianity. It alone provides a reliable alternative to individualist-self-created values so many use for their ethical guidance. The God of the Bible, and God alone, certifies an objective moral order. He alone provides a source of moral authority, an absolute standards for ethical behavior, and the incentive and power for character, promise-making and keeping. The idea of a promise is at the core of the Christian faith. The covenant of God with Israel may be viewed as a type of a promise. God makes promises and keeps them. And these promises were not for His own benefit. The bridge between God and mankind is built not from our side but from God's side, and this is a matter of grace. God's promises as interpreted by the New Testament were fulfilled in Jesus Christ (Acts 26:6). And those who have received Christ in faith become heirs to these promises (Eph. 3:6). We will witness the complete fulfillment of all God's promises when our Lord returns in glory. Martin Luther & C. S. Lewis If we take the Bible seriously, our model for promise-making and keeping is the Triune God Himself. And for the strength to be faithful to our promise we must depend on God's grace. For our society to survive, it must rediscover objective-eternal values. It must give serious attention to the acts of the will – promises, resolutions, covenants, laws, all of which are meant to express binding principles that rise above the considerations and politics of the moment. Two examples leap to mind of men who were unswerving in their commitment to eternal standards. In 1521 Martin Luther had to appear before Emperor Charles the Fifth at the Diet of Worms because of "his teaching and books." He did not go back on his word. Instead, he was able to say: "I am bound by the Scriptures I have quoted, and my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and will not retract anything, since it is neither safe nor right to go against conscience, I cannot do otherwise, here I stand, may God help me, Amen." Martin Luther's courageous declaration was not primarily a sign of an upright, decent character, but rather a sign of a foundation upon which that character was built. Ultimately he knew he had to give an account of his actions to his God, who He knew through Jesus Christ. Another man of integrity was C.S. Lewis, who receives much attention today due to the Narnia phenomenon. He made a promise to his friend "Paddy" Moore, who was killed in the First Word War, that he would care for his mother Janie. When he made that commitment to "Paddy" he knew to some extent the enormity of Janie's demanding nature, and of her senseless wranglings, lies, and follies. But he did not go back on his word. He told his brother Warren that he had made a choice, did not regret it, and would stick by it. Only after her death did Lewis begin to realize "quite how bad it was." He stuck to his promise because he knew the God Who made and kept promises. Conclusion Promises should not be treated like "piecrusts" which can be broken at every whim and wish. Instead, we need enduring commitments to those we love and civic friendship toward our fellow citizens. We need not only hold our elected politicians accountable in keeping their promises, but also one another. Ultimately, it is still up to us as Christians to show what it means to be a promise keeper in today's society. Rev. Johan Tangelder (1936-2009) wrote for Reformed Perspective for 13 years. This first appeared in the April 2006 issue under the title "Are Promises Like Pie-Crusts?"...

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Love your emotions by making them obey Jesus

Emotional control is a wonderful thing, but it is also much misunderstood. Whenever I say something like the quote included here above, women rush to assume that I am saying emotions (in and of themselves) are a bad thing. Or that a godly life is a life where you stoically don’t feel or express anything. Neither of these things are accurate – and there really is another way to live with your emotions that is not indulgence or suppression. Imagine a person with dogs in their house who are entirely untrained and untended – tearing up the couches, relieving themselves in the house, biting people who come to the door, and fighting with each other. Compare that to a dog owner whose dogs are well behaved, getting exercised well, fed well, trained well, and like to sleep by the fire on their monogrammed dog beds. Which owner actually appreciates and enjoys dogs? Which can truly be said to love dogs? Which owner understands the value and gifts of dogs? Clearly the second! The first is a style of ownership which we would not be wrong to call abusive. It is unkind and actually hateful. The second is characterized by love. To refuse to discipline your emotions is not loving them, but rather hating them. It is to have a worse emotional life. When we require obedience of emotions, we are actually appreciating and loving them. There are times when your emotions want to do what is right – that’s like when we take our dog on a walk and she joyfully runs off in the fields looking for pheasants, doing exactly what she was made to do. It is a delight. But there are also times when our emotions want to do what they may not – like when our dog wants to go kill one of the neighbor’s chickens. To love her is to restrain her. To appreciate her is to not allow her to do whatever she wants. Sometimes she has really terrible wants – just like us! Self-control is a good thing – it is a fruit of the Spirit! If you have been living a life where your emotions are tearing apart the couches and destroying your peace and all those around you, you need to ask the Lord to intervene and help you learn to control them. He will. Rachel Jankovic is the author of “Loving the Little Years: Motherhood in the Trenches,” “Fit to Burst: Abundance, Mayhem, and the Joys of Motherhood,” and “You Who? Why you matter and how to deal with it” which we’ve reviewed here....

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Woven Together

My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place, when I was woven together in the depths of the earth. Your eyes saw my unformed body; all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be. (Psalm 139:15-16) ***** It was a rather warm, early afternoon, if I recall properly, a long-ago day in April of 1978. Our oldest daughter was in grade one, our second daughter was attending kindergarten and the two younger ones were napping soundly. I was cleaning up after lunch and rather contemplating a nap myself when the telephone rang. Picking it up, the voice of an old acquaintance came through. "Christine? This is Anna Piller." "Yes, how are you Anna? Good to hear your voice. I haven't heard from you for quite a while." "I'm fine." There was a silence and I heard the clock ticking through it. "How are your girls?" I recalled that Anna had four daughters. She had taught at the local Christian school for a while, but had left to move south to the London area. "They are fine." There was another silence. Then Anna continued, continued rather hesitantly. "Actually, they're not fine. That is to say, Rachel is...." I tried to help her: "Is something wrong with Rachel, Anna?" "She's pregnant, Christine. And here's the thing. I wonder if she can stay with you for a while? If you would take her into your home." Rachel was the second of Anna's daughters. Anna was a divorcee. Her husband had committed adultery, had not repented and had left her and the girls a number of years prior to her teaching at our school. "Is the father of the baby," I began softly, but was interrupted. "There's not going to be any wedding, Christine." "Oh," I answered, and then went on, "and you want Rachel to stay with us?" "You have such a nice family," Anna rushed on, "and I would feel so good to know that she is with you." When someone tells you that you have a nice family, pride oozes through your veins. You instantly feel good about yourself and when Anna complimented our household, there was no doubt in my mind that I wanted to help. "How far along is she?" "She's only two months and she feels sick as a dog every morning." I was expecting our fifth and not sick in the least. But I felt instant empathy for Rachel. No husband to help her, she was probably worried about what the community would say and she was so very young. I ventured to guess she was only seventeen or so. Compassion filled me. "I'd have to speak with my husband, Anna, but I think that we could make room for Rachel." "There's something else, Christine. Rachel is going to abort the baby before coming to your house." I was knocked for a loop and honestly did not know what to say for the next minute or so. "Oh, Anna." "Yes, I know." There was a long drawn-out sigh and the clock on the wall kept ticking. "You know this is not right. Why would she...." "I've spoken with her, Christine. I've tried to persuade her to keep the baby but she won't listen to me. There are counselors.... and they say.... I just think that after the abortion she's going to feel pretty low and that she won't feel good about being here and being with you might just raise her spirits and be a good influence on her. Again Anna's sentence stopped midair. Unconsciously I had put my hand on my belly, as if to shut out the influence of the secular world from my unborn, and very much wanted, fifth child. I took a deep breath. "I'll drive down to where you live, Anna, and speak with Rachel myself. I'd like to try and change her mind. You see we are also expecting another baby and maybe I could....” In the end, after discussing it at length, my husband and I decided that Rachel would be welcomed into our home with open arms if she chose to keep the baby, if she chose to stay pregnant. We would help her, encourage her, pay for what she needed and love her. But if she chose to abort prior to coming to our home, she would have to make other arrangements. I drove to the London/Woodstock area shortly after that and had two long conversations - one with Anna and another with Rachel. Rachel almost agreed to come home with me, but in the end she changed her mind and opted for abortion. Anna, the grandmother of the little unborn, was sorry about the situation but it was obvious that she would have found it most convenient to board out her daughter. I drove home sorrowful and have never found out what happened. Both my husband and I were convinced that God would provide for Rachel through ourselves if she chose life. Perhaps, in the end, she did and we were never apprised of the fact. We pray that she did. ***** Mark Jones, pastor of the Faith Reformed Presbyterian Church in Vancouver, Canada, has recently (2019) written a book entitled If I Could Speak - Letters from the Womb. In it are fifteen chapters. Each chapter is a letter written from the womb by a tiny fetus named Zoe. Zoe begins each of her letters with a statement – statements such as "I can hear your voice," and "You and daddy put me here," or "I'd rather be adopted than aborted." The letters are obviously beyond the capacity of a little fetus. The reader is asked to overlook that and to indulge pastor Jones who in this touching and straightforward manner is arguing for life. He's making the case that abortion stops a human being from being able to laugh; from being able to give love; from being able to graduate from school; from caring for parents; and so on. He is, in effect, making the case that abortion is murder. (There is one troubling aspect in chapter 11 of this little tome in which pastor Jones begins by having the fetus say "I wish I were a baby eagle." Going on to laud the parental virtues of the eagle family, he suggests that scientists would be aghast if eagles, or other animals, would poison their offspring. He says: "We would even say a mutation has happened in the so-called 'evolutionary' process. I mean, as far as evolution is concerned, one of the main goals of animals is to leave offspring (DNA) behind in order that the stronger may survive. So to kill one's offspring is a fundamental reversal of the evolutionary process. A bit of a suspect paragraph that. Does pastor Jones believe in evolution? Just be forewarned. Evolution denies God's existence and in doing so negates the intrinsic value of human beings.) In these days when new laws are being enacted and abortion in Canada is legal at all stages of pregnancy, (funded in part by the Canada Health Act), it is good to make this a matter of much prayer. Canada is the only nation with absolutely no specific legal restrictions on abortion. Human life is sacred because we, all of us, have been made in the "image of God." God alone has authority over life because He alone is its Author. Christine Farenhorst is the author of many short story collections including “Hidden: Stories of War and Peace” which you can find on Amazon.com and Amazon.ca....

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Why we don’t evangelize and why we must

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

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There's an app for that!

Reformed Perspective's app can be downloaded for Apple and Android devices by clicking on the appropriate button below. Get it on your phone now to have ready access to our devotionals, articles, and podcasts. So click on the Apple or Android buttons below. And after you’ve downloaded and enjoyed the content, let your friends know so they can get it too! ...

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Being salt and light

Matthew 5:13-16 means hiding and fitting in aren’t options ***** Two thousand years after Jesus warned us against losing our savor or hiding our light (Matthew 5:13-16), sociologists made an interesting discovery. They found that when a distinct, separate group of people is surrounded by a larger society – say, for example, immigrants newly arrived in Canada – their different values and beliefs will cause some conflict. To reduce this conflict with the surrounding culture, this small group will react in one of two predictable ways. They will either compromise their beliefs and become like the culture around them, or they will retreat within their own camp. They can then keep their beliefs and still avoid conflict since no one outside their camp will know what they believe. In other words, sociologists found out small groups tend to either lose their “saltiness” or hide their light "under a bowl." Israel and us This was true of Israel too. In Old Testament times the Israelites consistently lost their saltiness. Though they were a nation set apart, they wanted to be just like the nations all around them and wanted to worship those gods. The Lord would rescue them, sending them a Gideon or Elijah, but once the prophet of the day was dead it wasn’t long before the Israelites were back at it, trying to fit in with the nations around them. These passages might have us thinking Israelites were among the dumbest people who ever lived – they never seemed to learn from their mistakes! Then came the exile, and that changed things. The remnant that returned from exile had lived for years in a foreign land in the middle of a mixing bowl of other cultures, and yet they had held onto God through it all. Their saltiness had been preserved. But, to riff off of Martin Luther, Satan doesn’t care what side of the horse you slide off of, just so long as you do fall. Yes, the Israelites may have stayed loyal to the one true God, but they did so by creating walls to keep others out – more and more rules and requirements were added on top of the law of God. Instead of worshipping other gods, they became isolationists – they became Pharisees! Instead of losing their saltiness, they were now hiding their light under a bowl. Salt-free While it took the Israelites hundreds of years to switch from one sin to the other, Christians today often bounce from one to the next inside of a generation. If a young man has grown up in a church that knows the Bible but is insular and closed, he goes looking for something more open. He looks for a church that is less judgmental, more tolerant, and more loving…and if the minister’s sermons have more anecdotes than scriptural insights, so be it. In Canada, one of the biggest Protestant denominations is the United Church, despite the fact that leaders have gone so far as to deny the Lord’s resurrection. So why would any Christian be attracted to this church? Because their light is not under a bushel – they’re out in the community involved with issues like poverty, gender, and the refugee crisis. Their light is plain to see, even if their Christian distinctiveness, their saltiness, is lost. Blacked out light But what use is a church that doesn’t teach Christ is risen? The United Church has been corrupted by the culture around it, and if we don’t want to end up like them then our best course of action is clear – we must retreat from culture! This is the natural overreaction and the one that the older generation might have to most watch for. Christian schools, originally started to prepare our youth to interact with the world, can easily be turned into Christian shelters, whose new purpose is to hide our kids from the world. If someone was so inclined they could fill up all their time with church activities leaving no time for friends and neighbors outside our fellowship. A job in a godly company can be a blessing, but for the flee-from-culture-Christian it can also be another way to avoid interaction with non-Christians. Head too far in this direction and we can be left knowing the good news but not knowing anyone who needs to hear it – once again, our light will be hidden. In the world, not of it Christ knows us and our weaknesses. He understands it is in our nature to gravitate to being either salt or light. But it can’t be orthodoxy vs. outreach. He won’t settle for one or the other. Jesus wants prepared Christians to bravely venture out into the world to tell others about Him – He wants salt to be light. And He wants passionate Christians who are already interacting with our secular culture to learn and know and stand by what God says about baptism and homosexuality and predestination and spanking and creation – He wants light to be salt. Our tendency to fall one way or the other is a reason God has placed us in congregations – there salty souls and bright lights can encourage and equip one another, recognizing how vital it is to be both salt and light, and how wrong it is to contently be just one or the other. Then the younger sister who knows how very important it is to reach out to our surrounding community can, in humility, recognize that while she is right about the need to be a light, there is a lot about God that she doesn’t know and could learn from studied, salty congregation members. And an older man, who knows how very important it is to stand up for the truths about God evidenced in creation, infant baptism, and our confessions, can, in humility, recognize that there are others, maybe amongst the young people, who can teach him a thing or two about being a brighter light to the world around us. Being noticeable, and passing on what’s noteworthy: it is our calling and our privilege together. May God enable and encourage his Church to this glorious task in the year ahead. This editorial is based largely on Dick Keyes’ “Chameleon Christianity,” which is highly recommended. A version of it first appeared in the Dec. 2015 issue....

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The Healing Touch

Be not wise in your own eyes; fear the Lord, and turn away from evil. It will be healing to your flesh and refreshment to your bones. (Prov. 3:7-8) *** Chapter 1 It was a warm day, and Meggy adjusted her close-fitting cap with a sigh. Its whiteness covered thick, dark braids wound tightly across a high-held head, and enfolded the sides of a well-sculpted face. Meggy felt like itching her scalp but knew that a few steps behind them Hawys, who always walked to church with father and herself, would comment on it. Capitulating to the older woman's unspoken influence, she refrained, and merely adjusted her waistcoast with a shrug of her small shoulders. "Do not move about so much, child. It is the Lord's Day after all." Hawys' correction came swiftly. Father glanced at Meggy with a sidelong look, and smiled an apologetic smile. He was not one for arguments although she was sure he sympathized. They both knew Hawys did not mean ill and besides that, they were staying in her house, living partly on her charity. "I can hear the Sanctus Bell." Hawys, picking up both speed and her long, dark blue skirt, swept past them. Meggy automatically increased her steps as well. "Come, Father," she whispered, as she tried to pull him along, "it will not do to irritate Hawys." Undisturbed, he calmly answered, "Surely the bell ringer has only just begun and we have time to spare." Not multiplying his measured paces, he ambled on, all the while tranquilly regarding their surroundings. Meggy was unsure. Should she stay with father, or should she shadow Hawys? In the end it was the sense of father's words that convinced her. St. Mary's Church was but some ten minutes or so from where they were, and surely the sexton would not shut the doors against them? "Have you perhaps knowledge that the Archbishop himself is attending today? Is that why you and Hawys are in such a hurry, Child?" Father was teasing her. Slowing down, she affectionately squeezed his arm. "It would be wonderful," he continued, "to hear actual instruction from the pulpit. But I confess that I have not much hope for it." Meggy did not answer. Her eyes were still fixed on Hawys who, glancing back over her shoulder every now and then, was gaining great ground. "We might walk a trifle faster, Father," she suggested, but he seemed not to hear. "Your mother, although a mite argumentative, was fond of a good sermon, Meggy," he went on, "and I vow that in the long run she would not be in favor of us continuing to attend St. Mary's." Meggy could see the flint and ironstone makings of the church building coming up ahead. It was a beautiful structure and she loved it. The graveyard at the rear where mother was buried was very peaceful. Betimes she walked there and marveled at the monuments and admired the many stained glass windows that laughed at her from the grey church walls. There was one special window she favored – one with green diamond-shaped panes between its lead outlines. She often stared at that window during services. Sometimes she felt as if staring at something beautiful might reflect into her own heart and consequently make it beautiful. Is that how one was saved? "Meggy, Child, we are here." Indeed, they were. To her relief, Meggy saw that there were many folks still entering the rounded-off-at-the-top double oak doors. After quickly looking up at the top of the tower, as she always did before entering the church, she espied the signal beacon, part of an ancient series of signal beacons.  "Look Father, the beacon." She sped up her steps even as she spoke but Father pulled her back. "Easy, Child. The building will not run away." He was forever chaffing her. "Know you that the church was probably built in the 1200s, and rebuilt in 1494?" She nodded. Yes, she did know that. "Well, Meggy, now the year is 1672, and that makes this building some four hundred years old. All that time it has stood there and it will very likely outlive us." "Yes, Father." Meggy lifted her skirts and crossed over the church threshold. Her father followed close behind. The foyer was cool and quite empty. Meggy immediately walked through and on into the church proper. Standing in its wide doorway with the entrance behind her, she searched for the familiar figure of Hawys who was wont to sit in the back on the right. About to enter, a voice made her turn. It was a voice addressing Father. "Good to see you, James Burnet." It was a low, male voice. She did not recognize it immediately. But as she turned and moved back into the foyer, she saw that it belonged to Timothy Newham, a haberdasher, who lived close to Whitehall. She had never before seen him in their church or, for that matter, at a conventicle. In all probability he was not a religious man. "Hello, Timothy." Father answered the haberdasher's greeting courteously. "I had been hoping that you would come by my shop this past week, James." Father shrugged. Meggy walked back to stand by his side. There was something sad about that shrug and she sensed he needed her. "You owe me some money, James Burnet, and I am here to obtain it." "My dear fellow," the reply came softly and courteously, "perhaps you could come by my shop later this week. It seems unfitting to discuss this matter here in church." "I have waited all of a month already, James, and have seen neither hide nor hair of you." Meggy could feel the eyes of fellow churchgoers pry into her back. She put her arm through father's. "Let's go on into the sanctuary, Father," she whispered. "Is this your daughter?" "Yes, I am," Meggy answered for him, "and I beg you, Sir, do not make a scene here in the Lord's house, for that is not proper." "Is it proper then to withhold five pounds owing me? Five pounds that have been loaned out for more than three months even though the understanding was that it would be paid back in two months time?" Meggy took note of the fact that father's breathing was becoming uneven and rapid. And she minded the times of late that he had been tired. "I have followed you to church, James Burnet," Timothy Newham went on, "and I will follow you inside the church sanctuary if need be, and demand in front of all these people that you give me my money. Perhaps shame will make you pay me back." At the last words, he raised his voice threateningly and it seemed to Meggy that it reverberated off the foyer's high ceiling. "Come, Father," she repeated gently, "maybe we should go home and we will sort it all out when we get there." "There is nothing to sort out," Timothy Newham insisted, "Your father owes me five pounds, a tidy sum when you are a poor man such as I am, and I'll wager that he has that amount hidden some place here or there in his shop." "Not so, Sir," Meggy replied, "and I would ask you to do us the kindness of leaving. Please call at our home at the noon hour tomorrow and we shall receive you properly. You have our word on it." Timothy gazed at her thoughtfully, gazed long and hard. It made her uncomfortable. He was an older man, and it did not seem fitting. "Very well then," he eventually retorted, "tomorrow it is at about twelve of the hour." He swung about and disappeared through the heavy oak door before a reply could be made. Chapter 2 Oliver Cromwell (1599-1658) It had been only four years since Cromwell, the Lord Protector, had died. During his time greater religious freedom had come about for the Protestants. However, then “the Restoration” had planted a new ruler on the English throne, a ruler who did not know Cromwell. He was of the house of Stuart and his name was Charles II. Although only a youthful thirty years of age, he was well versed in the vices of the world and his skill in these vices had spilled over into the country. Countries are labeled - labeled as republics, monarchies, dictatorships or otherwise. But should they be labeled thus? He who sits in the heavens laughs, and holds nations in derision. He has all things under His control and what He desires comes to pass. England breathed laboriously while Charles II ruled and was in great need of a physician. ***** James Burnet and his daughter stood in the church foyer for a few moments after Timothy Newham had left. Then, as if by common consent, they turned and departed the church building. No words were spoken on the way home. The streets lay silent for the church bells had stopped ringing. Meggy clung hard to her father's arm. James stopped walking every twenty steps or so and reflected on the fact that he had not been able to do as much work lately as he was wont to do. By his side, Meggy wished for the hundredth time that she had been born a boy and that her mother was still alive instead of lying in the burial ground back of the church. How they would both help father. She knew that they would. James Burnet was a pewterer. Although only a trifler in the trade, there was much call for the items he fashioned, items such as inkwells, mugs, badges, and candlesticks. He was not a wealthy man but small pewter utensils were popular and he sold of his wares to traveling tinsmiths who hawked them in the countryside. The Burnet family had been able to manage. James had taught his daughter much as she was growing into a young woman. Even now as they passed through the silent streets, Meggy could hear his instruction. "Pewter into which no water has come, becomes more white and like to silver, and less flexible," and "Nine parts or more of tin with one of regulus of antimony compose pewter," and "Pewter is called etain in French." The Worshipful Company of Pewterers in Oat Lane near the London Wall, stipulated that marriage to a member of the pewter guild conferred upon a woman the rights and privileges of the business. Mother, when she was married to father, had been put in charge of the financial side of the business and she had received the payments for all the work father had done. Her receipt to buyers had always been valid. One should not speak ill of the dead, but James' wife, although a hard worker, had clearly not enjoyed the trade and had made her husband's life rather miserable because of it. But she had been capable, and Meggy sorely missed the independence their little family had enjoyed. The Great Fire of London of 1666 The Great Fire of London had come in 1666 hot on the heels of the bubonic plague, which had hit in 1665. Destroying 13,200 houses, 87 parish churches, and St. Paul's Cathedral, the Fire had also burned both Margaret Burnet and her home. The Pewterers' Hall on Oat Lane had been destroyed as well, but it was being rebuilt. James Burnet had not had the money to rebuild his home. For a short while Charles II was blamed for these disasters. Some said his wicked lifestyle had brought about God's punishment on the city; others whispered that the king himself might have instigated the fire to punish the people of London for executing his father. Although James Burnet had been able to salvage some of his tools, the truth was that he and his daughter were left homeless. Hawys, a distant relative on mother's side, had kindly offered them living quarters. Her son Roger, a great big hulk of a lad, had from the beginning of their moving in, shown great interest in helping his relations. It had become a tacit agreement of sorts that he was working an apprenticeship. But nothing had been verbally agreed upon or signed. James, who was of a very cheerful and carefree disposition, had been glad of the young man's help. Irrationally, seventeen-year-old Meggy had not much liking for Roger and avoided him. Five years her senior, he displayed affection for father and her father returned it. Perhaps she was jealous. If father were to marry Hawys, the trade would eventually revert to her and later, to Roger. And it was a fact that Father was not well. He had of late been fatigued, unable to work much. Also, Meggy had noted that her father had a small, red swelling in his neck. Was he afflicted with a disease? She shrugged her small shoulders again. She did not like to think of such things, but the fears that crept into her mind and the raising of her small shoulders did not push the thoughts away. ***** Hawys asked no questions when she came home from church but simply laid out the Sunday meal on the kitchen table. Being discreet was a virtue, Meggy mulled, as she helped put the plates and ale on the board, admitting to herself that they were blessed to have such a relative. Although always adamant that they be in church on time, on the whole Hawys was a sweet-tempered woman and a good housekeeper. Father was determined that Meggy obey her in all matters. And rightly so, for did not the household run smoothly under her guidance and were they not clean and well fed? Hawys truly seemed to care for Father and for herself. Was she not even now fixing potions for his ailments, making sure he ate enough and did she not mend his clothes? Chapter 3 It was Lent. Now is the healing time decreed, for sins of heart and word and deed, when we in humble fear record, the wrong that we have done the Lord. So rang an old Latin rhyme and Meggy had heard father recite it often. Truthfully, Meggy was not aware that she had ever wronged the Lord. After all, she was quite careful to do all that was right. She obeyed father, loved him and worked hard at the chores Hawys gave her each day. So what was a healing time? She went to sleep thinking about it. But she had forgotten the words upon opening her eyes the next morning because the early air was filled with the sound of her father's coughing. Turning over uneasily, she listened as the grating noise crept under her bed and agitated the coverlet. Next to the bed, on a chair, she eyed her stay. She only wore it each Sunday and it had been mother's. Disliking its stiffness against her body underneath her gown, Meggy was glad it was Monday so that she could safely tuck the corset away into her dresser drawer. Hawys' spinning wheel was tucked into a nooked corner The coughing stopped and, breathing easier, Meggy turned onto her back. Her truckle bed stood at the foot of Hawys' fine feather bed. Hawys always rose at the crack of dawn and Meggy could now hear her rather shrill and drawn-out singing in the kitchen. Father slept with Roger in a side-room off the kitchen. He maintained that the kitchen was too cluttered and busy for him although Hawys was sure that sleeping on a cot in the kitchen would be a great deal warmer for him than the side-room. The kitchen was a room full of pewter, kettles, and skillets, with Hawys' spinning wheel round and annular in a nooked corner. The older woman had been trying to teach Meggy the intricacies and wonders of spinning, but the girl's hands stubbornly refused to convert fibers into yarn. Stretching her fingers, Meggy sighed and sat up, swinging her feet over the edge of the small bed. It might be a very fine day indeed were it not for the dismal fact that Timothy Newham was coming to see father. Sighing again, she stood up slowly and walked over to the washbasin atop the dresser next to the larger bed. Scrubbing her face hard to wash out the sleep, she pulled on a week dress overtop of her white shift. ***** "Good morning, Meggy," Hawys stopped singing to greet the girl's entry into the kitchen. A large wooden spoon in her hand, she stood stirring the porridge in a kettle hanging over the hearth. She followed her salutation with "How silently you enter this day, Child." "I am not a child," Meggy responded petulantly. "I know. I know," Hawys replied soothingly, "but I do want to braid your hair, big as you are, so come along and stand by the table after you fetch the comb from the side drawer. Meggy obeyed. She fetched the comb and stood quietly by the table as she watched the smoke from the fire on the hearth channel up the chimney. By and by Hawys came over and began to plait Meggy's hair. "You are truly silent," Hawys said once more as she put the finishing touch on the second braid, "and now that your hair is done, I would have you wash the front steps before breakfast." "Think you truly, Hawys," Meggy answered as she stood twirling the left braid with her right hand, "that Father might be ill and that he might... that he might perhaps have the scrofula?" "He has of late complained of a sore throat," Hawys answered. "But he could simply just have a sore throat for a while and then it will be gone. That has often been the case with me and with Roger. And I know that you have given him a tonic, and such complaints are common, are they not?" "As well, there is a small red swelling in his neck," Hawys said softly, hands on her aproned hips as she contemplated Meggy, "but that also is not uncommon. Indeed it could simply be a sting or some such thing. You as well as I know...." Her discourse was interrupted by her son Roger who burst into the kitchen from the side door. Tall and gangly, he was red in the face from some sort of excitement. "I can obtain a part-time position at the Palace of Whitehall," he broke in on his mother's words. "They are in need of gentleman ushers, seeing that Lent is here and that the king will begin audiences to touch the ill." "And what about your work for my father," Meggy demanded, letting her braid fall down, even as she emphasized the word my. "Oh, but I can do both," the young man answered, surprised at her vehemence, "for this work at the palace is only during the healing ceremonies this Lent. I simply help usher the poor into the king's presence and sprinkle rose water in the aisle to offset the stench these people carry. There are a number of young men who will do so. There will be a lot of people attending the ceremonies - from as far away as Russia, it is said. Besides that the work will pay." Meggy was not listening any longer. Her thoughts had wandered back to her father. "Father needs help all the time, Roger! You cannot be coming and going to ceremonies at the palace. You should constantly be with father and make sure he does not overwork." Roger looked surprised. His loose-fitting shirt was open at the neck and his collarbone protruded. "What ails you, Meggy? I am always helping him." "We were speaking of the scrofula," Hawys helped him out, "for Master Burnet has a red spot in his neck...." Again she was interrupted. "A red spot that could easily be the bite of an insect." Meggy's voice was shrill now and both Roger and Hawys eyed her uneasily. "An insect bite is quite likely," Meggy repeated loudly, "and is it not so, Roger, that you ought to be in the workshop with him right now, at this very moment." There was a lull in the conversation. Then Roger spoke on. His voice was calm and meant to put Meggy's fears at rest. "It is true that scrofula is called the Evil by many. It is a swollen and ulcerous condition and most pitiful to the eye. I have seen many people with it. Even now the ill are gathering in the streets awaiting the time when they will be allowed into the palace. But it is also said, and I know it to be true, that the scrofula, as well as other ills like it, often disappear of their own accord." "Well, father does not have it." Meggy stamped her foot on Roger's words as she spoke and then turned, walking past him out of the side door to her task of scrubbing the front steps. ***** During the next half hour, braids swinging back and forth as she scoured the stone steps, Meggy reflected again that Hawys and Roger were both actually very kind and that she had been rude. It was Roger who irritated Meggy. He was always so sure of himself, both in his demeanor and in his words and there was no doubt that father respected his opinion. She also had to admit, as the suds flew about the steps, that Roger was a fine help to father and seemed to be learning the trade. Perhaps, she pondered on as she swabbed and brushed, she truly was jealous. But jealousy was, as preacher Baxter had often pointed out in his sermons, a foothold for the devil to come into one's heart. Meggy and her father, as well as Hawys and Roger, divided their worship time between attending the Church of England and patronizing conventicles, even though conventicles were forbidden by law. Only five people, the law said, were allowed to meet together outside of the state church. Any larger number gathering for another church service was deemed illegal. Sometimes conventicles were held in the house of someone they knew, and at other times they were held in open fields. Meggy paused, wringing out the scrub cloth with her hands. Even though she admired St. Mary's Church, she also liked meeting out in open spaces, hearing pastors fervently extol God's goodness, and singing in the fields with only the sky for a ceiling. Watching the water drip down the steps, she wished that worries would run away as easily as the water, for there seemed to be so many of them. The worst of them was the fear that Father might have the scrofula, but hard on its heels was the fretting, the worry that had the name of Timothy Newham, the haberdasher, attached to its label. ***** After brealfast, Meggy was called into her father's workshop. "I owe Timothy Newham," he began, stopping rather abruptly and averting his face from her anxious gaze, before continuing, "I owe Timothy Newham," he started again, "some money, Meggy. I'm sorry, but there's the truth of it." He bent his head in such a way that she could clearly see the small red swelling in his neck. "What are we to do, Father?" "Well," her father answered softly, thoughtfully turning over a little pewter salt-shaker in his hands, "Hawys has graciously offered to pay the sum I owe and I would like you to deliver it to him. I would rather he did not come here, Meggy." "You want me to deliver the money to Timothy, Father?" "Yes, Child." "But how are we ever to repay Hawys, Father?" "I am going to marry her, Megs." Father only called her Megs when he was very moved and she intuitively felt she ought not to say anything which could trigger more emotions in him. "Hawys is good to us, is she not?" she managed, "But five pounds is but a little to build a marriage on surely?" He nodded and emboldened she went on, "Do you love her, Father? Do you love her like you did mother?" Actually Meggy was not sure whether or not her father had loved her mother. There had been many arguments between them. And the truth of it was that she had never yet heard him arguing with Hawys. But how had it come about that father owed Timothy Newham money? Timothy was a haberdasher and dealt in thread, tape, ribbons and other such things as a milliner also uses. His wares were in demand. She had been by his shop on occasion, sent by Hawys for something or other, and she had seen that the counter and the shelves in the haberdashery were crowded untidily with many things – things such as drinking horns, knives, scissors, combs, chess men, knee spurs and even girdles. Her mind had been turned topsy-turvy with the disorder in his store. There were so many items lying about that one's eyes became confused. "Why do you owe him money, Father?" "He had bought some tin in Cornwall, Megs, and he sold it to me for what seemed like a decent price at the time and I just have not been able to repay what he lent me for it." "Oh." Roger walked into the shop right into Meggy's “oh.” After looking at them for a moment, he began oiling the pewterer's wheel. The conversation fell silent. Father handed Meggy a small linen bag. "Go, Child," he concluded their discussion and then, turning to Roger, "I have some items for you to carry to Lion's Inn." Chapter 4 It was a fine morning and Meggy enjoyed walking. Timothy Newham's haberdashery was a good stretching of the legs away but she was young and relished the long stroll using the time to both look about and to think. Father's calling was to be a pewterer. Father's calling was to be a pewterer. Timothy's, on the other hand, was to be a haberdasher. Haberdasher – she repeated the word in her mind. It was a strange word but it was Timothy Newham's calling. And what was a calling? Calling was using one's voice but it was also something else – actually two other things. “There is a general calling,” father's voice plainly rang in her head, “for everyone. And that is a calling to conversion and holiness. Are you being called, Meggy? Are you God's child?” Father had asked her this question several times and always she had nodded in response, answering, “Yes, to be sure, Father.” But father must not have been satisfied with her sincerity, because he touched on the subject again and again. Was she converted? Was she holy? Even now as she walked the road, she pondered on the question. Truly, she did all things required of her, did she not? And did this not make her holy? She heard father's words again. “All those who come to church and sit in pews, Meggy, are not necessarily converted. To sit in a church does not mean you have been touched by the Spirit of God, Child.” Meggy lifted her skirts to avoid the blackish droppings of a horse straight on her path. Although she stayed close to the buildings, the filth of the streets was difficult to avoid. She was a little nervous too about the rats that scurried through the muck and grime. Of a certainty, father had told her often enough, the accumulation of waste had helped cause the Plague. If everyone would scrub their steps, as Hawys made her clean their steps most mornings, surely the problem would be less. She lifted her skirts again. It was hard work to live and maintain a family in London. She fell back to contemplating. “There is also a particular calling,” father's voice continued on in her head, “for every person, Meggy. And that calling consists of the specific tasks and occupations that God places before a person in the course of his daily living. It might be the work a person does for a living. For me that would be the work or calling of pewterer.” “And what do you think the particular calling is for me, Father?” she had countered, leaning cozily against him as they had sat talking in front of the hearth. He had stroked her hair as he replied, “It might be that of cooking, cleaning, listening to someone's troubles, or smiling.” “Smiling?” she had interrupted sitting up straight, almost laughing at the silliness of the suggestion. “Shall I stand at a booth, Father, selling smiles for ha'pennies to passersby? How could that be?” Father had laughed as well. “You see, Daughter,” he had explained, “you are good at smiling. Quite good, truth be told and God has given you smiles to bestow as a gift to others. Pastor Baxter, whom you have often heard at the conventicles,” he went on, “says there is a difference between washing dishes, scrubbing steps and preaching God's Word; but as touching to please God, there is no difference at all. Do you understand this, Meggy?” She had nodded. ***** "Hello, Meggy." All the while thinking and walking, she had almost bumped into Timothy, the haberdasher, who was standing in front of his shop window. Timothy's particular vocation, Meggy pondered on for a moment, was being a haberdasher. Of course he was also called to holiness, called to be a child of God? But he never.... "Are you dream-walking, girl?" Timothy spoke in jest as he looked approvingly at the blossoming young girl standing in front of him. Indeed, Meggy was pleasing to the eye. Red-cheeked, shining black braids bounching on her shoulders, clear, bright blue eyes warmly embracing her surroundings, she was a picture of health and self-assertion. Yet, at the same time, there was a shyness about her that appealed to the much older man. "I've brought you your money, Sir," she responded hesitantly after staring at him for a moment, reaching into the deep pocket of her skirt. Pulling up the small linen bag with the five pounds, she added, "Here is the money which father owes you." "Well, I was ready to walk to your house, but will not deny that I am happy you came here. It saves me both time and effort. Will you not come in for a minute while I make sure that all is accounted for?" He opened the door to his shop and extended an arm downward in welcome. Although she did not want to enter, she considered that the matter ought to be settled. Passing in front of him, she entered the haberdashery. Again, as before, the cluttered mayhem of his store overwhelmed her sense of orderliness. "Please sit for a moment," Timothy said, following her into his shop and, wiping the dust off a wooden stool. He indicated that she should make use of it. Lifting her skirts once more, she obliged. "It's a bit messy, I own," he continued, "and I warrant, it could use the touch of a decent woman." He eyed her for a moment before emptying the money into his right hand. Counting it, under his breath, he quickly ascertained that the coins added up to the right sum. "Do you want a receipt?" he went on to ask, "and might I also inquire if you left your father in good health this morning? "He's a bit poorly," she responded, before calling to mind that surely Timothy did not really care about her father's health, for if he had she would not be here now with the linen bag containing the money that he had demanded so crudely in the church foyer yesterday. "Yet he is well enough," she hastily appended. "I've just had a consignment of lace come in," Timothy volunteered the information slowly, regarding the girl as she sat on the stool, "and I'm thinking that a bit of lace would look fetching on your dress, Meggy." He spoke familiarly and it made her uncomfortable so that she gazed down at her hands without responding to his words. "Well then, you must be worried about your father," he went on, "for I call to mind that it is as you say, he did look a bit unwell the last few times I saw him. "He is well enough, Sir," Meggy defended, albeit in a flat tone, eyeing both the floor and the nearby door, hoping that the receipt would be forthcoming soon. "I expect that you've heard that the king will be coming to Whitehall later this week." "Yes, I have." "Indeed, he's come for the healing ceremony during this Lent. I am glad that you have heard of it." Timothy's eyes rested so long on Meggy that she nodded and he spoke on. "I'm surprised you're not more animated by this. The practice of healing by a reigning monarch such as King Charles II assuredly is common knowledge and I've no doubt you'll be wanting to take your father." "No, Sir." But Meggy's voice was unsure and Timothy was quick to latch onto it. He went on capturing her imagination with his words. "The practice of the 'healing touch' was first recorded centuries ago by the historian William of Malmesbury, who related the story of a barren wife. This wife, whose back was covered with ulcers, dreamt she was commanded to go to King Edward for a cure. So she traveled to court. The king, who much desired to help the poor woman, touched her back with water and her ulcers began to heal within a week's time. Not only that, but upon returning home, she was delivered of twins within that same year." Timothy stopped his narrative and considered Meggy's face. During the short discourse, he noted that she had become fascinated hanging onto his every word. Pleased and flattered, he continued, his voice lowered as if confiding a secret. "There have been other tales as well, including one in which King Edward carried a beggar on his back. The beggar was a cripple. The king carried him into St. Peter's church at Westminster after which the beggar was cured." "Is this true?" Meggy asked, eyes round, "I have always been taught that only God can effect a change in disease, so is it not false to say that earthly kings are able to effect cures?" Toffee-nosed, Timothy smiled down at her. "These ceremonies are extremely religious in nature. God gives kings this gift of healing as proof positive that they are chosen by Him to rule. So you need not worry about doing something that is wrong. Now if you are worried about your father's health...." He left the sentence unfinished and seeing her face become eager with hope, he continued in a scholarly tone, "Well then, I would advise you to look into going to Whitehall tomorrow." "Whitehall? Me?" "You speak, Meggy, as if you could not go there. But you could, you know. There are many who will go there." "But Father is not ... and I'm sure he wouldn't go. Besides I don't even know how I could get in." She stopped and shook her head before going on. "And I don't even know if what you are saying, Timothy Newham, is true. It could all be false and you could be telling me a tale." "There were years, it is true, that kings did not touch anyone. And that is probably why you, being some years younger than I am, are not as familiar with it as I am. During the time of Oliver Cromwell the practice was not in vogue at all. But now that a true king rules England once again, the touching ceremony has come back as indeed it should. Parish registers are kept and miracles have been recorded. My uncle is one as who keeps such registers. That is how I know." "I do not know if I ought to believe you or not." Meggy's voice was unsure. "Well," Timothy responded, looking with pleasure at the roses appearing on Meggy's cheeks in her agitation, "all I can tell you is that I can let you have a ticket so that you can enter Whitehall to listen to the ceremonies that will take place tomorrow. If you like what you hear, perhaps the day thereafter...? " He left the sentence dangling. "How is it that you can get such a ticket?" "I told you that my uncle, Robert Newham, is a registrar and he is one who gives out tickets and he has permitted me to sell them to such as are in need of healing." "Tickets?" Meggy responded, "and pray tell how much do these said tickets cost? And the truth of it is that I myself am not in need of healing." "It would not cost you anything, for I will gladly give you such a ticket." "You would?" "It makes me glad to see a daughter care so much for her father as you do for yours, Meggy." "He is not really ill, you know," Meggy responded rather feebly, "but it would do no harm...." She stopped before she added softly, "He would not go though. I know he would not." "Perhaps," Timothy suggested softly, "you might attend with me tomorrow, might attend the first ceremony at Whitehall to see for yourself what happens. Then, I am sure you would be persuaded of the reality of the cures effected by the king's touch. And being persuaded, you could easily convince your father to go the second day." "He is not convinced easily," Meggy responded, all the time seeing the swelling in her father's neck grow. "But you could go with me," Timothy let the words dangle like a carrot in front of her, before he went on "and see for yourself what happens." Meggy did not respond. "It is not an evil thing, Meggy. Gentlemen Ushers prepare the banqueting hall over which the king will preside. These ushers usually spray a perfume of sorts so that the stench of the ill will not overcome either him or bystanders. Next the Yeomen of the Guard bring in the sick, one by one, and they stand in the aisle before the king's place of sitting. It is after this that the king enters and sits down on a chair of state. His personal confessor, the Clerk of the Closet, will be standing at his side. The Prayer Book is placed on a cushion close by. You see, Meggy, it is all very religious and honors God." The girl said nothing, but her eyes were brimful of curiosity and wonder. "The Clerk's assistant," Timothy went on, "has gold medals or 'touch-pieces' hanging on ribbons on his arm. There are also two royal surgeons nearby waiting to escort the sick from the aisle right up to his majesty so that he can touch them. He strokes their necks, you see, in a loving way as they kneel in front of him, prior to their being healed." He stopped his oration and Meggy was torn. The words sounded so very good, so very real and so very loving. "I will go," she suddenly spoke decisively, "I will go with you, Timothy Newham, if you will be so good as to take me so that I can see and hear this firsthand. But I must hide this from Father and Hawys for surely they would think it nonsense. They are not overfond of the king, as you must know, but they do think that prayer...." She stopped and looked at the cluttered counter. So indeed was her heart cluttered, for there were so many things in there that she could not quite see straight. There was something askew with what Timothy was saying, but she could not manage to put her finger on it. “Whether you are well or sick, Meggy,” she could hear father say, “tis the Great God Who brings your state about. He is the One Who prevents sickness or brings it.” She nodded to herself. Yes, here was a bit of uncluttering. Again she heard her father say “Sometimes we are made ill, or someone we know is made ill, to test our faith and patience, Meggy.” "Well, Meggy," Timothy's voice interrupted her thoughts, "if you are of a mind to go with me to Whitehall you must be here at about one of the clock tomorrow. And perhaps the next day you can persuade your father to come with you. Be here promptly and I will be glad to be of service to you and your father. What can it hurt, after all, just to go and have a look?" This was true. Just looking and listening. Where could be the harm in that? She slowly slid down from the stool and stood directly in front of Timothy. He could possibly be an instrument in the hands of God to give her opportunity to help make father better. "I will be here at one of the clock tomorrow," she returned, walking past him out of the shop, not noting that the corners of Timothy's mouth had turned up, exposing square, yellow teeth in a half-smile - a triumphant smile. Chapter 5 Meggy had to tell an untruth at the evening meal in order to be able to leave the house the next afternoon. Allyson, the chandler's daughter, she mentioned to Hawys, her mouth full of pottage, had asked her help in making soap because her mother was ill with the ague. Roger stared at her in a strange way, a sad way almost. It made her feel rather awkward and she swallowed her mouthful with difficulty, because it seemed as if Roger knew that she was lying and that he was disappointed in her. But father smiled a broad smile and commented that this was most kind of her and of course she should go and help her friend. ***** Bells marked the one o'clock just as Meggy rounded the corner of the haberdasher's street the next day. Timothy, who was just closing the door of his shop, saw her coming. A smug look appeared on his face. Turning, he offered her his arm. She stopped short, confused by the gesture. "Come, come," he said, "you are young and must be escorted. I promise I shall take good care of you." When she still made no motion to take his arm, he scratched his head with his left hand. She marked the dirty fingernails on it. Then he remarked that he had forgotten something of import in his shop which she might find appealing. Stepping back, he unlocked the door of his store. "What have you forgotten?" she asked. "Oh, something you might find interesting," he replied, "Come in and I'll show you." A tad uncomfortable, but curiosity overcoming her sense of acceptable behavior, Meggy crossed over the threshhold once more stepping towards the counter. Timothy closed the door behind them. The click of the latch and the rather musty smell of the place straight away awoke her to the impropriety of the situation. Timothy moved a few paces into the shop. Then he sidled back and stood in front of the door. Particles of dust settled down on the counter. Suddenly extremely anxious, she stood stock still, wishing with all her heart that she had stayed outside. Timothy inched a bit closer. "You know," he mouthed, "you're a very pretty young lady." Meggy stepped sideways. Even though he was still some four feet away, she could smell his sour breath. "So what I forgot to collect was a reward for helping you get into Whitehall," he went on in a rough whisper, "and that reward is just one little kiss." "No!" she whimpered. Her voice had lost its ability to speak loudly, her heart pounded and her hands had turned clammy with fear. She continued pathetically, "Open the door and let me out. I don't want you to...." She did not finish for he had moved forward, had put his hands around her waist and was pulling her towards himself. It was at this point that her voice regained its strength and a high-pitched piercing sound shook the objects on the counter. It flew through the cracks in the wall out into the street. Straightaway the hinges of the door almost flew off their frame as it was flung open. Roger's lanky frame stood tall and forceful in the opening and Meggy had never been so happy to see him. "What's going on here?" he yelled, shoving Timothy into the counter, knocking bows, ribbons, pins, needles and lace onto the ground. The girl immediately slipped past the men, and ran down the street. Her cap was askew and her cheeks were crimson. She did not know where she was going and she did not care. All she knew was that she had to get away. What had she been thinking? What had she done!? Passersby stared. She neither noted nor cared. Finally, out of breath and underneath the overhang of some roofs, she stopped. What a ninny she had been! And what should she do now? She trembled with the horror at the thought of what might have happened. A few minutes later Roger caught up with her. "Meggy!! It's all right. Timothy Newham won't be bothering you again." Without looking up, she began to cry. Roger's arms folded around her and her head leaned heavily against his bony shoulder. "He's a beast," she sobbed, "He's horrible. He ...." "I know," Roger soothed, "but you ought not to have gone in there, Meggy. It's a good thing I was due to go to Whitehall and happened to pass the shop. To tell you the truth, I followed you. Both Mother and I were worried. We knew that Allyson's mother was not ill. So we wondered...." She pulled away, her tear-stained face angry. "But I went to Timothy Newham for father, Roger. He was going to take me to the ceremony. I thought that if the king was giving out the 'healing touch' about which Timothy seemed to know so much, then I ought to find out as much as I could about it. I thought that father ought to... ought to have a chance to... and Timothy said he had tickets." Roger's face became grim. "Surely you didn't believe that chicanery. Timothy Newham is a deceitful man, Meggy. As well, he and the king are both lechers. The king wants to be popular with the people. He wants them to like him. They call him the 'Merry Monarch' but he wants to hide the fact that he is... is....." Roger almost choked on his words, incredulous that she would fall for the jiggery-pokery of such a fraudulent royal ceremony. "But you," Meggy countered, wiping her face with the back of her hand as she spoke, "would work at Whitehall at this ceremony and would thereby help people enter deceit, if what you say is true." "Yes," Roger conceded, "to make some money to help your father and yourself and, of course, my mother. But maybe you are right and I ought not to have such a job." He stood for a moment, gazing down at her, and then repeating, "Yes, I ought not to have taken the job. I was wrong. Nevertheless, I think I will take you to the palace so that you can see for yourself what it is about." "You would take me there?" "Not so that you could take your father there, but so that you can see that you ought not to trust in men, Meggy." She was silent and hung her head. Taking pity on her, Roger went on a little less vehement. "You have heard good preachers often enough, Megs. Remember, their message. We, all of us, are diseased and full of infirmities. This is not such a strange thing here in this world. If your father is indeed ill, and God forbid that it is so, we will use such means as He provides for healing. But God does not use the wiles of such men as Charles II to heal folks. The ill vagabonds that flock to him, wretched creatures such as I see in the streets, only come because Charles provides them with a coin, a 'touch piece.' That is what they call such a coin. Most sell this coin as soon as they leave the palace and use it to buy food or who knows what. Some perhaps really and truly believe that Charles is sent by God to heal them. But would God use black to make white? I think not! Oh, Megs, wake up and trust God!" Roger had unconsciously used her father's pet name for her and she blushed. He continued with a last admonition. "And do you really think that your father would go with you to such a ceremony as would belie his faith?" Chapter 6 There were many beggars lined up by the gate at Whitehall. A host of them had swellings and lesions in their necks. Meggy tried not to stare and pressed close to Roger as they walked past them. Surely Father, she thought, was not as badly off as these people. Actually, he was not like them at all. She came close to rubbing shoulders with one ill wretch who had yellowish fluid oozing down the side of his legs. Her stomach turned. "Come, Meggy," Roger said, "don't stop and don't look so scared." "I'm not scared," she answered in a small voice, even as she eyed an emaciated woman with an ulcerated mass just above her shoulders. Next to the woman, a young boy lay convulsed on the ground, his mother desperately trying to pick him up. A blind man stood behind them. "Come on, Meggy," Roger repeated, "walk quicker." The disfigured disabled her feet. Was the king, she wondered, really such a wonder-worker as to be able to perform miracles? Such a wonder-worker as to heal these unfortunates? Did he have such a closeness to God as to cure these desolates and woebegones? Was father a such a one? "We are nearing the Banqueting Hall," Roger said, "and that is the place where the king will come to touch. One by one these poor creatures will be brought before him. They will kneel before the king and he will stroke their necks." Meggy shuddered. She knew not whether it was the thought of the king actually touching the misery around her that caused her to shudder, or whether it was the thought that it seemed blasphemous on the king's part to think that he had power over illness. They had reached the entrance to the palace and Roger pulled her off to the side. The queue, of which they were not a part, lay both behind and next to them. It was filled with crutches, bandages and disfigured persons. All of them were holding certificates verifying that they would be allowed into the king's banqueting hall. A man hobbled by to the right of them. He was disfigured in an appalling way. Growths of a most horrible kind hung from his neck, dripping both greenish pus and blood. In his dirty hands he clutched a crumpled ticket of admission. The ticket had been, if what Timothy had told her was true, signed and sealed by a minister or church warden declaring that he had never before been “touched” by the king. Despite her revulsion, Meggy ached for the man. He appeared so very ill. Yet there was hope in the very manner he put his feet down, put them down steadily towards the entrance of the palace. Mesmerized, she could not take her eyes of him. It was almost his turn to be admitted. A Yeoman of the King's guard, one who conducted all the ill to a line attended by the surgeon, was also watching him and Meggy read loathing on the guard's face for this particular man. But the man himself noted nothing. His whole being was simply fixed on entering the banqueting hall. "Hey, you! Let me see your certificate." The Yeoman's voice was loud enough so that Meggy could hear each word. Startled, the deformed man handed over his paper to the guard who, after scanning it, threw it to the ground. "It's forged," he announced in a gruff voice, "and I can tell because of the blood on it. You think that you can enter by smearing blood on a piece of paper and not be caught?! You were a fool to think it! Away with you!" Meggy heard a sob catch the man's throat as he watched his paper flutter to the earth. His face ruckled and his eyes, sunken in their sockets, produced tears. What a poor wretch he was!! And it suddenly came to her that she was such a wretch too. And it came to her also that surely this was not the way it should be and not the way it was. Had she not but recently heard pastor Baxter say that you could not let yourself in at the gate of heaven, and that you could not pay your own way into the banqueting hall of Jesus? She had not really understood the words at the time but she understood them now. Pastor Baxter's voice rang clearly in her head as she continued to behold the spurned man. And she beheld herself. “Take heed to yourself,” she heard pastor Baxter say, “for you have a depraved nature. You have sinful inclinations, Meggy! You are verily ugly in nature. And think you that you can come into heaven by your own strength?” Meggy sighed a deep sigh. She recalled her jealousy; she knew that this very day she had lied to her father and to Hawys; and she remembered that her curiosity had almost caused her bodily harm but less than one hour back. Indeed, she was a wretch! Of a certainty, at this very moment she had lost her desire to enter Whitehall and kneel before Charles II. But she did have a deep desire to worship. Indeed, her heart was bowed low within her. It all depended, she thought, whom the king was. To be sure, was it not so that no one needed a certificate to come into the true King's presence. All that was needed was the blood of the Lamb of God. "Therefore, ... we have confidence to enter the holy place by the blood of Jesus ..." Was that not what pastor Baxter had spoken on the last time she heard him at a conventicle? Roger poked at her arm. "Meggy, what are you staring at? Have you seen enough, girl?" She smiled at him. It was a tremulous smile. It was a contented smile. It was the smile God had bestowed on her as a particular calling. "I have Roger.”...

Assorted

Two Trees And The Big Storm: a parable for children about COVID-19

Editor's note: Parents, what follows is a devotional, in two parts, to help explain COVID-19 to children, by assuring them of God’s continued control and care in this crisis. There are questions at the end of each part to help your children bring their own questions and concerns to you. ***** He is like a tree     planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season,     and its leaf does not wither. In all that he does he prospers. The wicked are not so,     but are like chaff that the wind drives away. – Psalm 1:3-4 Part 1 Dear boys and girls (and everyone else), In Tree-land, as you can imagine, there were lots of trees. And ruling over all the trees was Tree-lord. He had made all the trees and now he was busy making sure that all the trees grew. There were all sorts of different trees, some growing here, others growing there. Some trees looked healthier than others. Some were bearing delicious fruit, others didn’t seem to be. Among all the trees in Tree-land, there were two trees that, at a glance, looked much the same. But their names were different, very different. Mind you, they both loved their names but for completely different reasons. You see, one was called Righteous. He loved his name because it had been given to him by Tree-lord. He was truly thankful to have been chosen by Tree-lord to receive such a special name. The other one, though, was called Wicked. He loved his name too, but not because it was given to him by Tree-lord. It wasn’t. Tree-lord would never give such a name to one of the trees he had created. No, Wicked, loved his name because he had chosen it himself. He was proud of it. He thought it was a wicked name… really cool. There was something else that Righteous loved. He loved the place where Tree-lord had planted him. It was right by a stream of beautifully clear and fresh water. He loved the fact that he could suck up as much water as he needed through his roots. On a bright clear morning, he loved opening up his bright green canopy of leaves to the sun and just feeling himself getting stronger and healthier.  Between that water, the sun and the rich soil there along the stream he had everything he needed. Oh, it’s true, he did at times have to admit that he was just a little jealous of Wicked. When Righteous watched Wicked from his place there next to the stream he sometimes wished he was like him. Wicked always looked like he was having so much fun. He never stayed planted in one place for long. He’d be in one place for a while enjoying that little bit of soil, but before long he’d be up and walking around with some other tree friends. Then he’d stop wandering around and plant himself in another part of Tree-land with some other friends. But Righteous noticed something as he watched from his place by the stream. Wicked’s friends were just like him. They, too, had chosen their own names, names like Sinner and Scoffer. Their ringleader called himself a prince. It was a horrible name. He called himself the Prince of Darkness. Whenever Wicked walked around and wherever he planted himself, Wicked was always hanging around with those guys. Sure, they looked to be having fun bullying other trees, drinking water from one stream and then from another, wandering here and there. But the more that Righteous watched them, the more he realized that they never really sent their roots down deep into the soil so that they could start being proper trees and bearing some good fruit. And Righteous noticed something else too. Wicked and his friends didn’t do so well when the weather turned bad. On a windy day, their leaves blew off much quicker than his. And once, when there was a huge hailstorm and he had lost a few leaves, Wicked and his friends had almost been stripped bare. It wasn’t pretty to look at. But Wicked and his friends didn’t seem to care. After a storm, they just kept right on with their fun, games, and stupidity. Seeing all of that, it dawned on Righteous that the problem with Wicked and his friends was that they simply ignored everything that Tree-lord had told them was good for trees. He had said, “Stay close to this stream; drink this water and only this water; let your roots go down nice and deep; listen to me and obey me so that you become strong trees and bear beautiful delicious fruit.” But Wicked and his friends would have none of it. Understanding that made Righteous realize how incredibly blessed he was. It made him look up at his huge canopy of branches and leaves and fruit, and realize how beautifully he’d been made and how much he’d grown since being planted here by the stream. He felt down to his roots and was happy to tell that they went down deep into the soil. All in all, he knew that he had a lot to be thankful for. Well, In Tree-land life was going on pretty much as normal. Righteous and his friends kept enjoying the blessing of where they had been planted. They enjoyed listening to Tree-lord and his wisdom about how to live as a tree. At the same time, Wicked and his friends kept on ignoring Tree-lord and lived life the way they wanted to. But then one day, a day when no one was expecting it, a huge storm came up. It started in one part of Tree-land far away, but soon covered the whole of Tree-land. It was a storm like never before. And it didn’t seem to let up. It kept on raining and raining. The winds blew harder and harder. And the lightning and thunder made the trees really worried. It affected Wicked and his friends but it also affected Righteous and his friends. No tree was left untouched by the storm. The trees got together and gave the storm a name… a strange name… they called it COVID-19. Questions to discuss with your children: What does Tree-land represent? Who is the Tree-lord? What does the stream represent? Who is the Prince of Darkness? What do the names “Righteous” and “Wicked” tell you about those trees? If you were a tree in this story, would you like to be “Righteous” or “Wicked”? Why? Why was it important for Righteous to stay close to the stream? What do you think is going to happen next? (Parents, you can stop now to wait until tomorrow to read Part 2 with your children, or you can continue on now.)  Part 2 The trees got together and gave the storm a name… a strange name… they called it COVID-19. Not that there hadn’t been storms before in Tree-land. Of course, there had. But this storm with its strange name had the trees worried more than ever before. Never before in Tree-land had all the trees been talking about the same thing all at the same time. And the more the trees talked about it, the more afraid of the storm they became. In the meantime, it kept on raining and hailing. The thunder and lightning didn’t stop; night and day it stormed; on and on it went. The important trees in Tree-land tried to find ways to stop the storm. Most of them thought they were smart enough to work out a way to make the storm go away. But they couldn’t. And Wicked and his friends? Normally when a storm came, they just shrugged it off and kept right on living their lives once the storm had blown over. Even during a storm, they normally didn’t worry too much. But this storm was going on for so long and was so bad that Wicked and his friends couldn’t keep living the way they were used too. And that got them really worried… scared even. Wicked and most of his friends felt like they were going crazy. They could talk about nothing but the storm. They wondered where the storm came from. They talked on and on about how long it would be before the storm stopped. They kept looking at the dark grey sky. Every time there was a loud thunderclap they wrapped their branches around their trunk to block out the horrible sound. Every time there was a bolt of lightning they ducked down close to the ground, scared that they were going to get hit. What was even worse was the wind – it blew off their leaves! It was blowing so hard that Wicked and his friends were finding it really difficult to stay standing upright. They could feel that their roots didn’t have a good grip on the soil, and they kept worrying that at any moment a huge gust of wind might topple them over and blow them away. Righteous was feeling the storm too. “This sure is a bad one,” he said to himself. But because Righteous had been planted close to the stream and had spent years listening to Tree-lord’s wisdom he knew something that Wicked and his friends didn’t know. He knew that Tree-lord, the one who had made all the trees in Tree-land, and who had made Tree-land itself, was in control of the storm. He knew something else too. He knew that sometimes Tree-lord would send the storms into Tree-land. He would do that to make all the trees think about how important it was to stay planted by the stream that Righteous and his friends were planted next to. Righteous knew that Tree-lord wanted all the trees to realize that their roots had to go down deep into that soil and drink water from that stream. And thinking about that made Righteous feel especially blessed and thankful for where he had been planted. He called up his friend Holy who was planted further down the same stream. “What’s the storm like out your way?” he asked. “It’s pretty bad and it’s been going on for so long,” replied Holy, sounding a bit tired. “You standing strong?” asked Righteous. “Have you been damaged at all by the storm?”  Right then and there, a huge rush of wind like nothing Holy had ever felt before suddenly blew up against him. His leaves were flapping back and forth furiously; his branches were creaking and bending; the fruit hanging from his limbs were bobbing around like crazy. Righteous could hear it all through the phone. “Holy,” he called out, “you still there?” “Yes, I am,” called back Holy over the noise. “Aren’t you a bit worried?” asked Righteous, anxiously. “A little,” replied Holy. “But remember, Righteous, that Tree-lord has promised us that if we stay planted by his stream, if we make sure that our roots are always deep into the rich soil he has put there, then no storm, not even this one, will be able to blow us over.” “I know, it’s amazing isn’t it?” said Righteous. “We do need to remember that. And I’ve noticed something else. Even now, even though this storm has been going on for a long time, and even though I am feeling it in my branches, my leaves are still staying green. And do you know what else I’ve noticed, Holy?” “What’s that?” gasped Holy, as he strained under the power of the storm. “My fruit is still growing… even now, it’s still getting bigger and juicer! Isn’t that incredible?!” “I had noticed that too,” said Holy, “although I thought it might just be my imagination. But it isn’t, is it? It’s true! My fruit …” he paused to take a breath, given the wind… “my fruit is still growing too!” “I knew it would be,” laughed Righteous. “It’s because Tree-lord planted us next to his stream. It’s here, and only here, that trees can stay strong and have their roots deep enough to be able to stand up against the biggest of storms.” Holy laughed with happiness too. “Well,” he said, “let’s make sure that we keep drinking our water from this stream. Let’s keep listening to Tree-lord and then we don’t ever have to be scared, doesn’t matter how long this storm goes on for, or how much worse it gets.” “It’s true,” said Righteous. “We know that Tree-lord is in control of the storm and will always be there for all of us who are planted along this stream. He knows us, he knows what we are going through with this storm, and he will always give us what we need.” “Thanks for the reminder, Righteous, I appreciate it very much,” said Holy. “Let’s keep in touch and remember, never uproot yourself from next to that stream!” “Thanks,” said Righteous, “I won’t. This is by far the best stream in the whole of Tree-land and with Tree-lord’s help I’ll stay here forever.” Questions to discuss with your children: Why does God sometimes send terrible things, like disease, into our world? It sounds like Holy was having a hard time with the storm. How come he could stay standing? It’s amazing that even in the storm both Righteous and Holy’s fruit kept on growing. How was that possible? What do you think the fruit on Righteous and Holy represent? What fruit do you have in your life? Your Dad and Mom probably talk a lot about COVID-19. Are you scared? Why don’t you have to be? Right at the end of the story, Righteous says that he is going to stay next to the stream “with Tree-lord’s help.” What does that mean? Rev. Rodney Vermeulen is the pastor of the Attercliffe Canadian Reformed Church....

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On the Trinity: Augustine, the American Revolution, and my Jehovah's Witness friend

I have a friend in a nursing home whom I visit regularly. Her name is Dinah and she is a widow. We met her through providence. A few years ago, her husband came to the house carrying both a friendly smile and Watchtower leaflets. He was a tall, thin and very elderly man. As we were just in the process of slaughtering our chickens, I did not have much time to speak with him. He was Dutch too, as it turned out, and told me that he was dying of cancer and therefore trying to witness to as many people as he could before he died. A heartbreaking confession! We visited his home, my husband and I, later that month before he and his wife moved into an old-age home where he subsequently died - died, as far as we know, still denying the Trinity. We have continued calling on his wife - on Dinah - and I have great conversations with her. That is to say, we get along fine on almost every subject except on that of the Trinity. The Trinity is a difficult concept. Yet, the Trinity and the Gospel are one and the same. God saves us by sending his Son and His Spirit. As Galatians 4:4-6 explains: "But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of His Son into our hearts, crying, 'Abba! Father!'" To know God savingly is to know Him as Father, as Son and as Holy Spirit. The Hymn to the Trinity There is a hymn known as "The Hymn to the Trinity." The earliest publication of this hymn was bound into the 6th edition of George Whitefield's 1757 Collection of Hymns for Public Worship. It is not known who wrote the words to this hymn but the melody was penned by Felice de Giardini. Because Giardini was Italian, this hymn is often referred to as “The Italian Hymn.” Come, thou Almighty King, Help us thy name to sing, Help us to praise! Father all glorious, O'er all victorious! Come and reign over us, Ancient of days! Jesus our Lord, arise, Scatter our enemies, And make them fall! Let thine Almighty aid, Our sure defence be made, Our souls on thee be stay'd; Lord hear our call! Come, thou Incarnate Word, Gird on thy mighty sword - Our pray'r attend! Come! and thy people bless, And give thy word success, Spirit of holiness On us descend! Come holy Comforter, Thy sacred witness bear, In this glad hour! Thou who Almighty art, Descend in ev'ry heart, And ne'er from us depart. Spirit of pow'r. To the great one in three Eternal praises be Hence - evermore! His sov'reign Majesty May we in glory see, And to eternity Love and adore! My friend Dinah could never sing this song. As a matter of fact, because she is such a devout Jehovah's Witness, my belief in the Trinity makes me something of a polytheist in her eyes. I continually pray that God will open her eyes to the truth, beauty, and necessity of believing in the concept of our Triune God because only He can do that through the Holy Spirit. Italian, British, and American The mentioned "Italian Hymn" first appeared anonymously in London, England around 1757. It was about this time that the singing of the anthem "God Save Our Gracious King" was also coming into fashion. The "Italian Hymn" could be sung to the tune of "God Save Our Gracious King." Perhaps that is why the author of the words of the "Italian Hymn" did not want to be known. The stanzas, you see, seemed to be somewhat of a defiant substitute for the words in the anthem which praised King George III of England. Things were brewing in the war department between the thirteen colonies and Britain and were leading up to the American Revolutionary War, (the war fought between Great Britain and the original 13 British colonies in North America from 1775 until 1783). The words to "God Save the King" were: God save great George our king, God save our noble king, God save the king! Send him victorious Happy and glorious Long to reign over us God save the king! The English anthem was often used as a rallying cry for the British troops. It aroused patriotism. There is a story associated with this. One Sunday during the war, as the British troops were occupying New York City, and very much appeared to have the upper hand, a group of soldiers went to a local church in Long Island. Known to the people as "lobsters" or "bloody backs" because of their red coats, these soldiers were not welcome. For the church members it would have felt akin to having Nazis sitting next to you in a pew during the Second World War in a city like Amsterdam. People were uncomfortable, glancing at the enemy who boldly smiled and flaunted their red coats as they sat in the benches. They obviously felt they had the upper hand. No one smiled back. Children leaned against their mothers, peering around at the soldiers. The tenseness was palpable. A British officer stood up at some point during that service, and demanded that all of the folks present sing "God Save the King" as a mark of loyalty to Britain. People looked down at the wooden floor, their mouths glued shut. One of the soldiers walked over to the organist and ordered him to play the melody so that the singing could begin. The organist, after hesitatingly running his fingers over the keyboard, started softly. The notes of the "Italian Hymn" stole across the aisles. But it was not "God save great George as king" that then burst forth out of the mouths of the colonists. No, it was "Come, Thou Almighty King," and the voices swelled up to the rafters of the church and it was with great fervor that the Triune God was praised. It's nice to reflect on a story like that – to perhaps ask ourselves if we would rather erupt into singing a patriotic hymn about the Trinity than to buckle under unlawful pressure. Still, the Trinity is a mystery. “The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the things that are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law." (Deut. 29:29). Augustine on the Trinity Augustine of Hippo was fascinated by the doctrine of the Trinity. He pondered the mystery of the Trinity over and over in his head and wanted very much to be able to explain it logically. He even wrote a book on it. The book, entitled De Trinitate (which you can download here) represents an exercise in understanding what it means to say that God is at the same time Unity in Trinity and Trinity in Unity. Augustine had a desire to explain to critics of the Nicene Creed that the divinity and co-equality of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit were Biblical. We often, like Augustine, want very much to explain God's tri-unity fully to people such as Dinah. We want to convince Mormons, Jehovah's Witnesses and Muslims of the truth and need for this doctrine. This, of course, we cannot do on our own, even though we should faithfully speak of the hope that is in us. There is a story, a legend, that one day Augustine was walking along the shore of the sea, and that as he was walking he was reflecting on God and His tri-unity. As he was plodding along in the sand, he was suddenly confronted with a little child. The child, a little girl, had a cup in her hand and was running back and forth between a hole she had made in the sand and the sea. She sprinted to the water, filled her cup and then dashed back to the hole and poured the water into it. Augustine was mystified and spoke to her: "Little child, what are you doing?" Smiling up at him, she replied, "I am trying to empty the sea into this hole." "How do you think," Augustine responded, "that you can empty the immense amount of water that is in the sea into that tiny hole which you have dug with that little cup?" She smiled at him again and answered back, "And how do you suppose you can comprehend the immensity of God with your small head?" And then the child was gone. Conclusion It is wonderful to ponder on the character of God. The Westminster Shorter Catechism's definition of God is merely an enumeration of His attributes: "God is a Spirit, infinite, eternal, and unchangeable in His being, wisdom, power, holiness, justice, goodness, and truth." Indeed, the benediction from 2 Cor. 13:14, "The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit, be with you all," is a benediction that should fill us with wonder and thankfulness....

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Prince Jonathan on showing up

JONATHAN AND HIS ARMOR-BEARER TAKE THE FIGHT TO THE PHILISTINES Israel’s very first prince lived at a time when God’s people were facing a foe that was large, powerful, and in control of their country. If this description strikes you as all too familiar then it will be instructive to consider how Jonathan responded to such a foe. For the first prince of Israel was a godly man. Right from the first time we read about him in the Bible, this young man captures our admiration.  We admire him because he's such a firm believer in Yahweh. He was also a stark contrast to his father. The first king of Israel was just a regular political kind of a guy. For Saul, politics and power was one thing, and faith in the LORD was something separate from all of that. At crucial moments it was apparent that Saul was more about Saul than he was about God. It’s not that Saul completely forgot about God but rather that God was never central for Saul. God was a factor in his life but only that – just one factor among many others such including the pride of Saul and the personal opinion of Saul. When God is only a factor in our lives and not everything to us, then we’re not really letting Him be God, are we? God does not allow Himself to only be one factor among many. He wishes to be supreme in our lives and He desires that his Word would be pre-eminent over our own human opinions. WITHOUT FEAR Jonathan, however, is so strongly aware of the presence and the power of God, he’s not fearful of the Philistines who are controlling Israel. In 1 Samuel 14 we read about Jonathan setting out accompanied only by his armor-bearer. When he spots a Philistine garrison on the hillside, he doesn’t see a hopeless situation. Instead, he sees an opportunity. Why? Not because Jonathan thinks he’s pretty good with the sword but because Jonathan thinks God is amazingly powerful! Jonathan isn’t awestruck by the Philistines but he’s very much in awe of God! Jonathan looks at the Philistine garrison at the top of the pass and he figures that with God's help they can take it out. Listen to his words in verse 6: Come, let us go over to the garrison of these uncircumcised. It may be that the LORD will work for us, for nothing can hinder the LORD from saving by many or by few. Jonathan knows if the Lord desires to rescue his people, He can do so. God can do that with a thousand men, or a hundred, or one, or none at all. Focusing on God's amazing power gives Jonathan an audacity that people who have not faith can't understand. Instead of being paralyzed by fear, Jonathan decides to put himself out there, to think big and try big things for the Lord's people. VICTORY ISN'T PROMISED However, it's important to see that Jonathan's audacity is tempered by humility. This Old Testament brother of ours is ready to try big things for the Lord and his people but he does not presume on God. It's not as though Jonathan thinks this little raid he's planning on the Philistines has a guarantee of success. He doesn't say, "The LORD will for sure work for us..."  Instead, he says, "It may be that the LORD will work for us." That's a really big difference, don't you think? Faith has confidence in God but faith never presumes on God.  Faith realizes that there can be failures in the wars of the Lord. It may be that our plans don't coincide with God's plans. He may allow us to experience setbacks instead of victory. The fact is that we just don't know beforehand how things will turn out it in any venture that we undertake for the Lord and his church. So when you know that God is Almighty but you don’t know God's plan in detail how does this affect your life?  You know what it means? It means that you will put yourself out there. You will take on challenges. You will accept risks. You won't be easily intimidated by the powers of evil in the world and in your life. Instead of just living passively and accepting failure and defeat, you will say, "It may be that the LORD will work in me and through me if I try this." Yes, it may be! How will you know if you don't try? Nothing ventured, nothing gained!  The important thing is to put yourself in a place where God can use you. “IT MAY BE…” My neighbor may be a fervent atheist, but I know that God can conquer even the most stubborn heart, so when I have a chance, I will speak a word to him of witness. Who knows what God will accomplish through my words of faith? The American public may be quite indifferent to the recent Planned Parenthood scandals, but I know that if God wishes to renew our society, He is fully able to do so and therefore I will keep bearing witness to God as the author and Lord of human life. People of faith are not intimidated by the culture. They say, "We will work for changing the culture and changing the law. We will work sacrificially and relentlessly for the honor of God. For it may be that the LORD will work for us – whether through many or through few. A few years ago, in the B.C. Supreme Court, there was a hearing involving Trinity Western University and the B.C. Law Society. Here we have a small Christian university standing up against the spirit of the age on the issue of homosexuality. It seems like a no-contest. How can these few Christians stand up against the cultural juggernaut that is sweeping over our nation? And yet, there they were in court.  There were lawyers, including an ARPA lawyer, standing up in a courtroom, making the arguments to defend Christian freedom in this nation. What drives these people – and their supporters - if not the audacity of faith? There is no guarantee that God will bring success in this particular venture. But that doesn't matter. What matters is that we put ourselves out there, that we make the case, that we fight the fight, for "it may be that the LORD will work for us, for nothing can hinder the LORD from saving by many or by few." SATAN WANTS OUR SILENCE Our culture has changed very rapidly. It’s no longer possible to be a comfortable Christian in Canada or the United States. Powerful forces and currents in our society press us to be ashamed of the gospel – ashamed of what God teaches about origins, about the sanctity of life in all stages and conditions, about gender and about marriage being the union of man and woman as husband and wife in a life-long bond. These cultural powers insist that the Church’s teachings are out of date, lacking compassion, that in fact they are bigoted and even hateful. We all feel the pressure to yield. We are threatened with consequences if we refuse to call what is good evil and what is evil good. We are commanded to conform our thinking to the orthodoxy of our culture – or else keep silent. Jonathan looked up the cliffs and saw the Philistines controlling the pass. We look around in our society and we see that enemies of Christian values are sitting in the gates. They control the media, the universities, the courtrooms, the boardrooms and apparently, the law societies. How do we feel when we look at these things? Do we feel overwhelmed? Do we want to run away and hide? Or do we feel stirring in us the audacity of faith? If Jonathan could demonstrate audacity of faith long ago, how much more should that be the case for us? Jonathan lived in the age of promise and waiting. Israel and the world were waiting for the Messiah to come. Today we live in the age of fulfillment. Jesus has come, and He has conquered. He has defeated death and sin and Satan. The outcome is not in doubt. Satan is a defeated foe. The world has been reclaimed by God. The enemies we face are defeated enemies. The power they seem to have is but an illusion. Thus we are not the servants of a Christ who is still trying to get dominion over the world. He is already the Lord of lords and King of kings. THE BATTLE IS WON So we don't have to achieve victory. That's already been done. We only have to stand where Christ has placed us. We stand fast. We use the shield of faith. We wield the sword of the Spirit which is the Word of God. And we keep saying: "Let us do this thing.” “Let us try this project.” “Let us speak to our neighbor.” “Let us talk to this unbeliever.” “Let us remind politicians they are accountable to Christ the King.” “Let us write our letter to the editor.” “Let us take indeed take the sword of the Spirit which is the Word of God out of its sheath and let us show the world its sharp edge.” For it may be that the Lord will work through us. Sometimes, of course, we will be disappointed. We will try something new for God's Kingdom. We'll put ourselves out there, take the risks, tackle the challenge, only to see our work seemingly come to nothing. That happens quite a lot in our Christian lives. It can tempt us to be quitters. But God says: keep trusting me, keep moving on in faith, keep taking those risks. Be ready to get out of your comfort zone. Don't try to live a safe, carefree life where you never could get into trouble. Look for new ways. Keep trying. Keep looking. You may get hurt in the process of bearing witness to Me but don’t let that silence you. Just keep bearing witness. Do that until you die! God was pleased to use the faith-initiative of Jonathan to accomplish an amazing deliverance. The Philistines at the top of the pass were not really expecting anything from the Hebrews. They were probably playing cards and drinking beer and eating pizza to pass the time. What was there to be worried about? Their people were completely in control of the situation. Israel was in complete subjection to the Philistines. The pagans were complacent in their power. Nonetheless, Jonathan and his armor-bearer went up the steep wall of the pass and attacked the Philistines. Twenty Philistine soldiers were soon dead and pretty soon a general panic ensued among the enemies of Israel. The enemies of Israel thought they were getting attacked by a large fighting force and they ran away in terror and confusion. Before long, Jonathan was joined by his father Saul and his 600 men and now the battle really went against the Philistines. The Lord saved Israel that day. Do you see what can happen when people act in faith? When you really believe in God, when you expect great things from him and just set out to do whatever your hand finds to do, then amazing things can happen. God can give you victory and that can inspire the rest of God's people to join you in the great struggle against sin and Satan and the world. Just when the enemies of the church seem most in control, the Lord can give deliverance. WE WIN IF WE SHOW UP  It may seem that we Christians are on the wrong side of history. That’s what our unbelieving neighbors will tell us. The people who pay big fines for not wanting to bake a cake for a homosexual wedding, the lady who goes to jail because she doesn’t want to validate a gay wedding, the grandmother in Toronto who has been in jail for ten years because she keeps protesting abortion in a place where the law says she can’t – all of these folks are on the wrong side of history. So the media tells us with confidence. But we know that they are not. We know that they are fighting the good fight of the faith. And we don’t know yet what God will accomplish through them and through thousands of others who are standing firm. They have audacious and tenacious faith. They are not ashamed of the gospel. It may be that God is using them to advance his Kingdom in amazing ways. What matters congregation, is not whether God gives us victory in this present age. What matters is that we put ourselves out there. If we do, it may be that God will graciously bless our endeavors. It may that our stance will prove to be a turning point – as was the courageous initiative of Jonathan. One thing you can be sure of: when you act in faith, God’s name will be honored and his kingdom will come through you. Your testimony will not be in vain. CONCLUSION  When the final victory of Christ comes, at the end of this age, one thing alone will matter: was I a faithful witness to the gospel? Did I do everything in my power to promote the truth? We will all stand before God’s only begotten Son and He will want to know whether we sought the truth with a pure and sincere heart. He will inquire whether we sought to live the truth authentically and with integrity. He will ask whether we stood up for the truth, speaking it out loud and in public, even when there difficult consequences. Let us reflect on these matters and pray for the grace to demonstrate in our lives the audacity of faith. Rev. Schouten is the pastor of Aldergrove Canadian Reformed Church. It first appeared in the November 2015 issue under the title "It may be..." The illustration is by Ben Humeniuk and used with permission....

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Love is...

Love is a mostly misunderstood word – it’s mistaken for sex, for sentimentality, for some sort of chemical thing that just happens, or doesn’t, and either lasts forever, or doesn’t. Some think it’s effortless. Some even think it can be bought for money. Christians too, are confused. We know love is more than sex, more than sentimentality, and more than chemistry, but most of us are still trying to figure out whether love is a feeling or an action! So what is love then? God tells us that love is… sacrificial “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her” (Eph. 5:25). Some misunderstand love as a math formula, where things are supposed to work out even on both sides of the equation: if you give a friend a thoughtful present, you should be able to count on getting one in return; if you give your spouse a backrub, they should get up and make you coffee; tit for tat, back and forth, even-steven. But Christ demonstrated the complete inequity of real love – He loved us, so He gave himself up for us, even though, in return, we can offer him nothing. Loving is giving with no thought of getting. something you do “Let us not love in word or in tongue but in deed and in truth” (1 John 3:18). Love is more than a feeling, more than an attraction, more than arousal or sentimentality. Love is expressed in what we do for one another. We can say we love our brother, but if we won’t visit him when he’s lonely or help him when he is troubled, there is no love. Love is an action. not a duty to be performed “If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing” (1 Cor. 13:3). Doing is not enough – it’s not enough to give to the poor, go to church twice each Sunday and read the Bible regularly if we are not doing this out of our love for God. A daughter can take her aging father to medical appointments, help him with his shopping and pop by regularly for a cup of coffee, but this, by itself, isn’t love – the very same tasks could be done by hired staff. Love is more than just a verb. A husband can play the part of a loving spouse – he can do all the right things, but love is more than just action, more than just duty. It is an attitude... Love is a feeling. not God “Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love” (1 John 4:8). The Beatles got it backwards when they sang, “All you need is love.” All we need is God, and while God is indeed love, that doesn’t make the reverse true – love isn’t God. The Beatles aren’t the only ones to get it backwards though. Our society is in love with love – they insist it's the only way to bring meaning to our lives so it must be pursued no matter what the cost. Affairs, naturally, have become commonplace; if love is god, nothing should stand in the way of it, not vows, not spouses, not family. Instead of pursuing the God who is love, our society pursues love itself had has made an idol of it. But love is not God. from God “In this is love, not that we loved God, but the He loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins” (1 John 4:10). God commands us to love our neighbor, and it’s a command most of us find easy to do. Or at least easy to do with old Mrs. Todd, our next-door neighbor who bakes cookies for us every Thanksgiving. But this command isn’t as easy to obey with that neighbor two doors down, who always steals our parking spot. Or the guy right next door who leaves beer cans on our lawn. Love these guys? Maybe we would if they were only a bit more lovable. But of course, the love God is commanding here is of a more godly sort – the love that comes from Him. We need to humbly remember that we love, only because God loved us first. He, after all, didn’t love us because we had first in some way earned or prompted his love. No, He loved us first, sending his Son to die for us even while we were his enemies. And it is because He loved us first, that we can now love Him, and our neighbor. Love comes from God....

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"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....

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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...

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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"...

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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....

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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....

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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...

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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....

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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....

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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)...

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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."...

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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....

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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....

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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. ...

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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, 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....

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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....

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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....

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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

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. ...

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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.” ...

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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....

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"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....

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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.  ...

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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....

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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....

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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....

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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....

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4 reasons to remember your Creator in your youth

Our enemy says, “Youth for pleasure, middle age for business, old age for religion.” The Bible says, “Youth, middle age, and old age for your Creator.” But as it’s especially in our youth that we are most inclined (determined?) to forget our Creator, it’s especially in these years that we must work to remember our Creator (Ecc.12:1). Remember that He made you, that He provides for you, that He cares for you, that He watches you, that He controls you; and remember that He can save you too. That’s a lot to remember, but it’s much easier to start memorizing when we are young!  1. Energetic years However, that’s not the only reason why God commands us to remember our Creator in our young years. It’s also because these are our most energetic years. Why wait until we are pegging out, until we are running down, until our gas is almost empty, before serving our Creator? The God who made us deserves our most active and healthy years: our bodies are strong and muscular (well kind of), our minds are sharp and clear, our senses are receptive and keen and sensitive, our enthusiasm is bright and bushy, our wills are steely and determined. Remember Him in your energetic years. 2. Sensitive years Why do far more of us become Christians in our youth than in our middle or old age? It’s because youthful years are sensitive years. Without giving up our belief in “Total Depravity” we can say that it’s “easier” to believe and repent when we are younger. It’s never easy, but it’s easier. And it’s easier because as we get older our heart is hardened thicker, our conscience is seared number, our sins root deeper, our deadness becomes deader. Use youthful sensitivity and receptivity to remember your Creator before the evil days of callous indifference set in. 3. Teachable years We learn more in our youth than in any other period of life. That’s true in all subjects, but especially true in religious instruction. All the Christians I’ve met who were converted to Christ late in life have expressed huge regrets about how little they know and how little they can now learn. I encourage them to value and use whatever time the Lord gives them, but they often feel they have to study twice as hard to learn half as well. 4. Dangerous years Young years are minefield years: hormones, peer pressure, alcohol, drugs, pornography, immorality, testosterone, etc. Few navigate these years without blowing up here and there. Dangers abound on every side – and on the inside. How many “first” temptations become “last” temptations! How much we need our Creator to keep us and carry us through this battlefield. Remember to remember Let me then give you some helps to remember your Creator during these best of years (and “worst” of years): BE PERSUADED THAT YOU HAVE A CREATOR: Get well grounded in a literal understanding of Genesis 1-2 and shun all evolutionary influences. GET TO KNOW YOUR CREATOR: Study his Word using sermons, commentaries, and good books. But also study his World using microscopes and telescopes and any other instruments he gives. JOIN WITH YOUR CREATOR'S FRIENDS: Build friendships with other creatures that love to remember and respect their Creator. FOLLOW YOUR CREATOR'S ORDER: He set and gave the pattern of six days work followed by one day of rest for contemplation of His Works. ASK FOR YOUR CREATOR'S SALVATION: Even if your rejection of your Creator has broken you in pieces, he’s willing to re-create you in his image. And while we’re on the subject of salvation, I don’t want older readers to be discouraged. Compared to the eons of eternity, you are still in your “youth.” It’s not too late to remember Him, before these evil days come even nearer. Dr. David Murray is Professor of Old Testament and Practical Theology at Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary and pastor of Grand Rapids Free Reformed Church. This article first appeared on his blog HeadHeartHand.org and is reprinted here with permission....

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"And behold, I come quickly" - the dying need to hear the gospel

He that is unjust, let him be unjust still; and he which is filthy, let him be filthy still; and he that is righteous, let him be righteous still; and he that is holy, let him be holy still. And behold, I come quickly; and my reward is with Me, to give every man according as his work shall be. (Rev. 22:11-12)  ****  Many people harbor the delusion that when they will die, they will simply continue in the state they are in. They exhibit no visible doubt, no terror, about the passage from this brief life to eternity. Nearing the end In the fall of 2015, during the course of a sunny morning, my husband, daughter, and daughter-in-law were beginning to slaughter fourteen meatbirds by our chicken coop. They were skinning and gutting with gusto, each heartily approaching their respective jobs, when the dog began to bark and bark. He generally only barks when people approach. As it was my job to wash and bag the birds, and as none were ready yet, I took it upon myself to investigate. Following the sound of the barking, I walked past the side of our house towards the driveway. There was a small car parked at the very end of the driveway, close to the road. My first thought was that it was the mailman who sometimes personally delivers packages. As I began to approach the car, thinking the man might be a little worried about encountering our still barking canine, a voice spoke behind me. "Hello there." Turning, I saw an older fellow emerge from our garage. He rather startled me. Very well-dressed in a grey suit, it occurred to me immediately that our mailman had changed, had grown older, and had discarded his usual tee shirt. But it was not the mailman. I observed this in the second instant as I noted the Bible and a Watchtower tract clasped in the gentleman's veined hands. He smiled, exhibiting wonderfully white dentures, reminding me strongly of a friend we had a long time ago – a Dutch gentleman who has since died. It's strange how many thoughts can pass through your mind in the space of a few seconds. The old fellow extended his hand and I shook it, admonishing Spurgeon, our faithful watchdog, to stop barking. (But the truth was that he was being a faithful Spurgeon.) "You are a Jehovah's Witness," I said. He nodded in agreement. Perhaps I should have given him time to get into his spiel but thinking of the chickens to which I had to return, I immediately followed with, "I'm sorry, but you and I are going to disagree on a very basic truth - the truth that Jesus Christ is God." He nodded happily and enthusiastically in apparent total agreement. "Jesus was a good man," he smiled, “and a god." There is a certain amount of sadness about disagreeing with pleasant people. It is much easier to disagree with nasty people. Here was a feeble, old man, possibly 90 plus, with one foot in the grave, willfully denying the Savior. There is nothing more dismal. "Yes", I replied, "I know that you believe that He is a good man, but He is also God. I do respect your zeal in going door to door, but your zeal is not based on the right knowledge." "The doctor has only given me a year to live," he responded, "I have cancer." I was totally caught off guard and shocked at this revelation and asked what kind of cancer he had. He told me it was bone cancer and prostate cancer. "I've stopped taking the radiation and chemo treatments," he said, "and feel so much better since I have stopped. And now I spend time doing this." I told him he had done well to stop the treatments and passed on some information about natural treatments he could look into. I also asked him over for supper some time in the future as he lived in a town not too far from our home. And, guess what? He was Dutch. He said he'd check it out with his wife who was waiting in the car. He was, humanly speaking, such a very nice gentleman. I patted his arm, gave him our name, and said, "Before you leave I have to tell you once more that Jesus is the only way. He is truly God and our only Savior." And there he went, smiling affably, thin as a rail, cheerfully on his way to hell unless God opened his eyes. Unsure of the end The next day there was another strange encounter as I was waiting in the line-up at the TD bank. It was raining outside and leaves were swirling around on the sidewalk. The sixty-plus lady waiting in front of me turned around. She was very talkative. "You look happy," she said to me, "Why is that?" Not waiting to hear an answer, she went on to conduct a diatribe against the weather. I interposed by saying it was rather cozy and that when she went home, she could turn on the lights and curl up in a comfy chair with a good book. She thought this was a good idea but then, jumping from one thought to another, said she was sorry she was getting older. "Well," I replied," you wouldn't want to not get older." "Yes, I would," she said, "I don't like getting older.” She was a well-groomed woman, a trifle shorter than I was, with an immaculate hairdo and tailored clothes, and she repeated emphatically, "I don't want to get older." "Well," I countered, "you know what the alternative is." For a minute she gazed at me, wide-eyed, and then I asked her if she was a Christian. The immediate response was “Yes.” "Well, in that case," I smiled, "you know where you are going in the long run." She broke up laughing at this statement, as if I had told her a joke. "Heaven or hell," she chortled. I nodded and then, again changing the subject, she asked if I didn't just love the pope? Wasn't it marvelous how he identified with the poor, and wasn't he a wonderful example? I responded by saying that we should all be examples, but that we couldn't be unless our hearts were changed. She eyed me a little warily now, and I added that I would like to hear the pope say that people's hearts should be changed instead of hearing him speak about climate change. She pondered this, clearly at a loss for words for a moment, but then was called to the bank wicket. "Nice chatting," she said. What a strange bank visit! **** We did visit the Jehovah Witness gentleman and his wife several times. We were received graciously. He died several months later, confident that he had no need of Jesus as God at all. In pursuit of exceptions It is a sobering thought, as Octavius Winslow, (1808-1878), pointed out in one of his devotions, that human character, …which time has been shaping for years, yields to the demands of eternity in the precise mold in which it was formed. Death hands over the soul to the scrutiny and the decision of the judgment exactly as life relinquished it. , the “king of terrors,” has received no commission and possesses no power to effect a moral change in the transit of the spirit to the God who gave it. Its office is to unlock the cell and conduct the prisoner into court. It can furnish no plea, it can suggest no argument, it can correct no error, it can whisper no hope to the pale and trembling being on his way to the bar. The warden must present the criminal to the Judge precisely as the officer delivered him to the warden, with all the marks and evidences of criminality and guilt clinging to him as at the moment of arrest.... Do not men die mostly as they have lived? The infidel dies in infidelity, the profligate dies in profligacy, atheists die in atheism, the careless die in indifference, and the formalist dies in formality. There are exceptions..." We will, all of us, have encounters each day with neighbors and strangers, on driveways and in shopping malls, encounters in which possibly we might be allowed to address that exception.   Christine Farenhort’s new devotional The Sweet Taste of Providence is available in Canada at www.Sola-Scriptura.ca/store/shop and can be ordered by phone 1-800-563-3529....

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Afterward...

Then David crept up unnoticed and cut off a corner of Saul's robe. Afterward David was conscience-stricken for having cut off a corner of his robe (1 Sam 24:4b-5). **** We all have a conscience, and whether we acknowledge it or not, we also all have an afterward. David certainly did, not just in the incident of cutting off a piece of Saul's robe, but also in the incident of the census taking (2 Sam. 24:10). Only the Holy Spirit can so direct the conscience of a person that after accusing him, that person can be led by Him to the comfort of confession, peace and knowledge of forgiveness. David is a prime example of being conscience-stricken by the Holy Spirit, giving way to an amazing confession and experiencing the peace of being forgiven. Just read Psalm 51 written after his infamous adultery with Bathsheba and his murder of Uriah the Hittite. And examples of the Holy Spirit nudging consciences are found throughout history. **** A command often repeated in the Old Testament, the command to honor the Sabbath, is one about which God is very particular. And yet there is no longer a great deal of respect for the Sabbath, for the Sunday. It used to be that when my family drove to church in the late 1950s in Toronto, that the streets would be bereft of most vehicles and that the stores we passed were closed. It was a quiet drive and you could sense it was the Lord's Day. Sad to say, that is no longer the case. There is the story of a gravestone cutter who resided in Wakefield, Yorkshire. An amiable and jolly fellow, he was a pleasant man, one who had been born and raised in the area. Well known and well-liked for his endearing character, he also held the post of sexton, taking care of the church premises and faithfully ringing the church bell to call people to worship each Sunday service. A lettered man, he served as clerk for the area as well, keeping records and undertaking administrative duties. A practical man, he was not at all superstitious and much enjoyed inscribing words and texts on tombstones. It was on a Saturday evening in March of 1790, that Peter Priestley, for that was his name, kissed his wife goodbye and set off for some unfinished work, the work being the touching up of an epitaph on a gravestone. Intent upon being done sooner rather than later, he walked briskly, whistling as he strode through the dark. He carried a lantern and had his bag of tools slung over his shoulder. It was rather late and the church clock struck eleven as he traveled on. He should have begun his work earlier, but he reasoned that there were only a few letters in the epitaph which remained to be chiseled out and he was quite confident it would be done quickly and easily. Arriving inside the church, which place he had been using to give him shelter in the still chilly March weather, Peter Priestley put down the lantern and lit his candle which was set inside a hollow potato. Placing the potato-candle on the tombstone, he began work. However, as he bent over the flat gravestone, hammer and chisel in his hand, a noise stopped him short. It was a strange sound – more like a hiss actually – and one he had never heard before. He straightened up, gazed about, but all was silent. Neither seeing nor hearing anything untoward in the next minute, he concluded that he must have imagined that he heard something "I am a little deaf," he grinned to himself, "as my wife often tells me." Shrugging lightheartedly, he picked up the mallet and chisel once more, bending over again with great care to concentrate on the matter at hand. But, although not immediately, the noise returned. "Hiss." It was very marked. Not only that, there was a smell which accompanied the sound - a rather unpleasant smell. Peter straightened up slowly and peered around. He walked over to his lantern, relit it and began a search of the premises. But he could find nothing – nothing unnatural, nothing strange – all was as it should be. Nevertheless, strange thoughts began to huddle about in his mind, and uncertainty hovered over his shoulder. Sighing, he contemplated the stone. There were only a few letters left to be touched up. He could do it quickly. Setting down the lantern once more, he returned to the table where the stone lay. Once more, chisel and mallet in hand, he bent over. "Hiss." Peter's body jerked upright even as the clock in the church steeple began to strike twelve. Then the awful truth hit him and fear took over. He had almost profaned the Sabbath; he had almost broken one of the Ten Commandments. He dare not waste any more time. Blowing out his potato-candle, and throwing his instruments into his bag, he picked up his lantern with a trembling hand. Heart beating wildly, he left the church premises and trotted home in what resembled a gallop. Bursting through the door, Peter was sufficiently disoriented for his wife to be concerned. "What is wrong, Peter?" He would not tell her for he could not speak to her of a matter so troubling his conscience. His wife coaxed sweetly by making him a hot toddy, rubbing his back and stroking his cheek, but he offered no explanation. Eventually they retired to bed, Peter tossing and turning most of the night. When first morning light dawned, Peter's wife happened to glance over at the chair where Peter had cast his wig. "Why, Peter!" she exclaimed, "What have you been doing to burn all the hair off one side of your wig?" "What did you say, woman?" "I said," repeated his wife, "what have you been doing to burn all the hair off one side of your wig?" It is an amusing and supposedly true story. The fact is that God uses all sorts of means to probe and sear consciences. **** Conscience stories abound and we should learn from them and praise God for them. In January of 2018 a man by the name of Brian Hawkins walked into a KRCR-TV station in Redding, California startling the crew by saying that he wanted to confess to a murder. The station agreed to tape and air his conversion on the condition that he turn himself in at the police station. A conscience-stricken man, he confessed: "God and Christ and these things that have happened over the course of twenty-five years have pushed me and pushed me to do the right thing. I know the wrong can't be changed but this is the closest I can come to doing the right thing." In 1993, Hawkins and two accomplices murdered a twenty-year-old young man by the name of Frank McAlister, after robbing him of his money. Stabbing him to death, they left his body in a wood, and dumped his car in a Costco parking lot. Police had never been able to solve the murder. Calvin once said, and rightly so: "The torture of a bad conscience is the hell of a living soul." Hawkins confirmed this statement when he added this to his confession: "Horrible, horrible, horrible, absolute horror, absolutely horrible since that day. Every minute of every day has been a nightmare. It's kind of weird, Frank never got to have a life, but we were teenagers and now I'm forty-four and still haven't even had a life and now most likely won't anyway. I've been through hell my whole life because of this. There hasn't been a moment that I have not been remorseful for what I have done." Centuries before, Athanasius, (328-373), said, "The Saviour is working mightily among men. Every day He is invisibly persuading numbers of people all over the world, both within and beyond the Greek-speaking world, to accept His faith and be obedient to His teaching. Can anyone, in face of this, still doubt that He has risen and lives, or rather that He is Himself the Life? Does a dead man prick the consciences of men...?” There is a hopeful afterward for Brian Hawkins; there is a hopeful afterward for all of us. But only if we repent and are baptized, every one of us, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of our sins (Acts 2:38). 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....

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It's necessary: use words!

I hadn’t expected to meet a witch on the bus, what with their alternative form of transportation. Yet there she was, not a wart to be seen, sitting across the aisle. She had started the ride buried in a book, but her head came up when my friend and I discussed a particular point of theology in a slightly louder than normal fashion. This friend was on his way to becoming a minister, and theological topics always had the effect of cranking up his volume. I suspected that this was a conscious decision, rather than just an outburst of enthusiasm, since he always talked about how Christians had to be more of a light to the world. And he was a light: a roaring, exploding bonfire of light that could not be ignored by anyone within earshot. Whether we were sitting in a steam room, or hanging out at a coffee house, or sitting on the bus, he provoked obviously unchristian people into talking with us. This time around it was the witch. A few minutes into the ride she interrupted us to ask us what religion we followed. My friend was happy to explain, and then asked her what church she went to. “Oh, I don’t go to a church,” she said, “I worship my personal goddess at home.” The way she explained it, witches (or Wiccans) sounded a lot like New Agers. They did try and cast the occasional spell, but only love spells, and the central tenet of their religion was a respect for all of nature. It was just mumbo jumbo, nothing shocking or new for us, until she started talking about her personal goddess. After listing all sorts of benefits that came from having a goddess on call, she admitted it was nothing but a fabrication. That admission left both me and my conversationally-endowed buddy at a loss for words; we just couldn’t understand how someone could knowingly choose a delusion over a real, caring, and powerful God. So we asked. They don't understand The question surprised her. “You guys have to understand,” she blurted, “You pray and that makes you feel better, right? So what’s the difference between what you do and what I do?” The basic fact she didn’t understand, the thing no one had told her before, was that we Christians serve the one real God. This woman had never heard that before. Her Wiccan experience with religion was an openly delusional one, so she, quite logically, assumed that all other religions were similarly based. I found her ignorance surprising, but since then I’ve found it isn’t unusual. In fact, I had a similar sort of encounter less than a month later. This time my friend and I were making our semi-regular pilgrimage to a display sponsored by our university’s pro-choice club. I always went to pick up as many free brochures as possible, which, once I was out of sight, I would gleefully destroy. It was a small thing – a very small thing – but I thought it was at least as good an approach as the one my friend tried time and time again. He always debated with the pro-choicers. But what was usually a waste of breath turned out a differently that day. After a heated five-minute exchange one of the young ladies at the table asked for clarification, “Do you mean you really, honestly think it’s a baby?” “Of course,” my friend replied, “Why else would we even care?” Well, that just didn’t fit with what she had been told, “I thought you religious types were just using this issue to try to control women.” Her friend nodded in agreement. They didn’t understand – they were utterly ignorant. Conclusion I’ve always wanted to believe that evangelism was as simple as living a good Christian life. I wanted to believe I didn’t actually have to talk about God as long as people could see His presence in my life. Actions are louder than words, right? The problem is, in this post-Christian age people don’t have the background – they don’t know the basics of Christianity – to understand our actions. A Christian who doesn’t work on Sunday is just a guy who gets the day off. No sex before marriage becomes the rational act of someone who’s scared of sexually transmitted diseases. Action against abortion is understood as a power grab against women, and even prayer can be explained away as nothing more than a type of meditation or some psychological self-talk exercise. Actions only speak louder than words when the reasons for the actions are understood. And the world doesn’t have a clue anymore. So, as John MacArthur once put it, we need to “Preach the Gospel and always use words.” The world doesn’t understand so we all have to start talking and explaining. If you already are, you may have to start talking a little louder. And if you’re uncomfortable with cranking up the volume maybe you can just hang out with a conversationally-endowed buddy who isn’t. A version of this article first appear in the January 1999 issue under the title "Dumb, but not deaf"...

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On the Truth, and the cost of lies

"Remember: one lie does not cost you one truth but the Truth" - Hebbel **** It seems that truth is bendable - it has become elastic during the last decades. People can twist and turn it any which way they want, especially if they have a good lawyer. "Guilty or not guilty?" "Not guilty." "Have you ever been to prison?" "No, this is this is the first time I’ve been caught stealing.’ Surely truth is a question which has plagued mankind for centuries. The question of what, exactly, truth is, has been particularly in the headlines during the last year. There are those times in which we do not speak the truth in order to shield others from something. The Bible records incidents in which people did not speak the truth and two incidents immediately come to mind: the first deals with the protection of the small Jewish babies by the Hebrew midwives (Ex. 1:15-21). The second recounts the hiding of the Jewish spies sent to search out the land for the Israelites (Joshua 2). Incidents such as these remain relevant to the present times. We have only to think of the Second World War during which time many Christians hid Jewish refugees. **** My husband and I had such an incident in our lives as well. It had not nearly the magnitude of life and death to it, but it does illustrate the fact that things are not always black and white. A few years after my husband’s graduation from the Ontario Veterinary College, we had our third child. An aunt of my husband’s, Tante Til, had come over from Holland to help me out for a week or two. She was cheerful, lively and a bastion of cleanliness. We enjoyed having her around. Tante Til had a wonderful sense of humor but she also had a passion for sterilizing whatever came within her reach. Perhaps this was because she mistrusted my husband’s close daily contact with stables and their inhabitants and distrustfully eyed the mud caked to his large rubber boots. Tante Til was “proper” and would never dream of letting a soup bowl function as a cat dish or using her handkerchief to wipe away a cobweb. Tante Til was not extremely fond of animals and the kitten, dubbed “Little Grape” by our two girls, had to stay out of her way. The litter box was vies (dirty), and my husband was delegated the task of cleaning it while I was in the hospital. He gladly did so. We had, I am ashamed to say, acquired the habit of cleaning out the litter box with something I had never found much use for – a silver salad fork – somehow failing to inform Tante Til of this rather disreputable habit. The fork lay in a secluded corner on the kitchen counter. It was a dirty black because I hated cleaning silverware, finding it a useless chore when it would only get dirty again. Besides that, we had lots of stainless steel. One of my first nights home from the hospital, Tante Til cooked us a special dinner - mashed potatoes, vegetables, pork chops, applesauce and salad. It looked and smelled delicious. As we sat down and bibs were tied around the girls’ necks, Tante Til shone with goodwill. "Nou, eet maar lekker, jongens! (Eat hearty, guys!)" We prayed and then began to put the food on our plates. It never hit us until my husband began scooping some lettuce onto his plate. He suddenly realized that he was holding the silver salad litter fork. Only the fork was not holding cat litter but green salad. His second scoop, therefore, hung in mid-air. He caught my eye and I grinned at him. He didn’t grin back. "Good salad, isn’t it, sweetheart?" I said wickedly. "Dank je (Thank you)," Tante Til beamed. "Zal ik jou ook wat geven? (Shall I give you some too?)" "No, thank you," I answered virtuously, "it might give the baby gas." My husband ate around the salad on his plate as Tante Til explained in detail how she had cleaned the fork she had found on the counter and wasn’t it nice and shiny now? "Je moet je zilver wat vaker poetsen hoor, kind (You should polish your silver a little more often, dear.)" She gave me a sidelong glance but smiled tolerantly for wasn’t I a young mother with a great deal to learn? I cannot recall whether or not my husband ate the salad on his plate, but I do know that we never told Tante Til what the salad fork had actually been used for. "I speak truth, not so much as I would, but as much as I dare," said Montaigne. **** Most incidences in daily life, however, call for plain, unadulterated truth - truth you should never shy away from. A number of years ago, during a snow-infested January day, I noticed a car slide to a stop behind a snowbank in front of our house. Our driveway was engorged with snow and I watched to see if the driver of the car would wade her way into it or head for our neighbor’s house. She turned into our driveway. It was a slow process, getting to our door, but it gave me time to put the kettle on, arrange some cookies on a plate and finally, wipe a few hands and noses while giving instructions on good behavior. When I looked through the window again, the woman was only about three quarters way up the driveway. I walked to the door, opened it and smiled a welcome. The woman was small and carried a briefcase. I did not know her. She smiled back and her funny, black hat tilted in the wind. "Why don’t you step in for a minute?" I said, fully confident that this tiny lady was lost and in need of directions and a hot cup of tea to warm her up. "Bad weather." The short, terse statement was carried by a strong voice, albeit a strong voice with a quaver. I nodded, agreeing wholeheartedly. She pulled off her gray, leather gloves and began opening her briefcase in the kitchen. A watchtower tract fell on the ground. I bent simultaneously with her and we almost bumped heads. She reached the pamphlet first and picking it up, held it out towards me. "No, thank you." My words came automatically. The pamphlet quivered. The hand that held it was blue-veined and old. "It’s free," she said, mistaking my refusal to take it with fear of having to pay for it. I shook my head. "I know." She put the tract back into her briefcase. The kettle was boiling and I turned to unplug it. Her voice followed me to the counter. "The world has many problems." My oldest son toddled into the kitchen and smiled at her. I walked past him and said, "It’s a good thing that Jesus Christ came into the world." She nodded, her little hat nodding with her. "Jesus was a good man." I both agreed and disagreed. "He was a good man," I said, "a perfect man, yes, but He was and is also God." She smiled and answered, "How could He be both at the same time?" Shaking her head, she laughed at what appeared to be a foolish and impossible notion. And when I persisted in speaking of the Triune God, she gave up and put her gloves back on while two of my children fingered her briefcase. With her gloved hands she pulled the small, black hat firmer onto her wet, gray hair and then opened the door. The wind blew swirls of snow into the foyer as she stepped back outside. I watched her go, the snow filling in her plodding steps almost as soon as she lifted her feet. And a few minutes later there was no trace to show that she had been by. Pascal said, "Contradiction is not a sign of falsity, nor the lack of contradiction a sign of truth." **** Providentially not only the liars are in the news. The January 30, 1999 issue of World magazine records that a man by the name of Daniel Crocker confessed to murder. Daniel Crocker, who at that time was thirty-eight years old, was sentenced to twenty to sixty years in prison. He will be eligible for parole in ten years. The unusual aspect of Mr. Crocker’s case is that he was living free and easy, with a wife and two children in Chantilly, Virginia. He had committed the murder twenty years previously, smothering a nineteen-year-old girl with a pillow following an attempt to rape her. However, his Christian conscience, following his conversion later in life, would not let him alone. Compelled by the Holy Spirit, he confessed his murder and was consequently tried and convicted. Mr. Crocker and his wife, Nicolette, reportedly were able to pray together twice before the sentencing. Mrs. Crocker said that their two children, Isaac, 6 and Analiese, 9, who were not at the trial, "know what Daddy’s doing is right." Mr. Crocker apologized tearfully to his family "for embarrassing and shaming them" and to the relatives of Tracy Fresquez, his victim. Mr. Crocker submitted, at this point in his life, to the Truth. And that Truth, even though he is a murderer, will set him free. **** According to the NIV Exhaustive concordance, the word truth is used 224 times in the Bible. One of the phrases recurring throughout Jesus’ ministry reads, "I tell you the truth." When the truth of the Bible is compromised, there is no sweet, roundabout way to avoid conflict. Emerson aptly said, "God offers to every mind its choice between truth and repose. Take which you please - you can never have both." Although in this phrase the word choice smacks a bit of arminianism, the fact remains that you cannot have both truth and repose. A lot of people today, however, are convinced that you can have both, never realizing that they have thereby lost their hold on Truth. Although they might agree with Mark Twain’s quote, "Truth is the most valuable thing we have", they subconsciously go one step further with him when he adds, "Let us economize on it." But there is no way to economize on the Truth of creation; there is no way to economize on the Truth of headship; there is no way to economize on the Truth of God’s judgment on homosexuality; and there is no way to economize on the Truth of being servants of one another in love and compassion. Because to economize on one principle does not cost merely one truth but the Truth. And only if you believe this Truth in your heart and confess this Truth with your mouth, shall you be saved. This is an abridged version of an article - "Remember: one lie does not cost you one truth but the Truth" - that first appeared in the June 1999 edition of Reformed Perspective....

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One week in: Facebook isn't for everyone

It's been nearly a full week since I deleted my Facebook account. My thoughts so far? Why didn’t I do this before?!? I made my decision to exit social media circles carefully. I first joined Facebook when I turned 15, and have slowly become more and more dependent on it and other social media outlets since then. Facebook, Instagram, and in a lesser way, Snapchat have caused too much damage in my mind and heart for me to justify continued use. Not for me Let me be clear: I do not believe they are evil creations! It is simply that I am not meant for social arenas. The Apostle Paul tells us that all things may be lawful, but they may not be helpful; he urges us to do all things in moderation, and herein is where I think the evil in social media might be found: the temptation to addiction. I don’t presume to tell you that social media is good or bad for you. But I do want to challenge you to ask that question for yourself. Are you able to use it in moderation? It is certainly lawful, but is it helpful for you? Like many others, I am a person with intense convictions, feelings, hopes, dreams, desires, sorrows, and fears. When I see beauty I experience joy, and when I see ugliness I feel sadness, anger, and if not treated carefully, that sadness and anger can begin to cross into the murky waters of depression and hatred. In the early Facebook days there was much more to enjoy on Facebook, and it was much more personal. These days most of my newsfeed isn’t even posts from my friends. Usually it’s posts from my friends of friends, from ads, and from viral strings (which are usually filled with hateful interactions between people who don’t even know each other!) I have found that being addicted to scrolling social medias is not just a mindless thing. It’s very mindFUL. I see hateful social justice posts regarding racism, sexism, classism, religion, or politics, and my head seethes with frustration at the world I live in. From the ignorance and folly, to the intentional hatred and violence, I find that the personality and heart that God built into me can’t handle such a constant diet of that well. Some people can! And I am grateful for their ability to present goodness in that world. But it’s not me. I’m not called to that. A diet of such negativity has brought more and more worry to my heart, and less and less joy. How did I get here to this choice? I did not want to make a rash decision to leave social media circles, just to re-enter them a week later, so I have spent months in prayer, bringing my symptoms of depression, frustration, and cynicism to Him and asking Him to show me the true source. I felt sure the root was in social media, but I didn’t want to rule out other possibilities, which is why I took my time.  I found my answer one morning when I felt the Spirit calling me to come be with Him. I opened my bible unintentionally to Psalm 37; as I read through it I found each next verse convicting me more deeply that I had to give up this addiction of social media completely in order to restore the joy in life and the control over my daily habits. "Fret not yourself because of evildoers; be not envious of wrongdoers! For they will soon fade like the grass and wither like the green herb. Trust in Yahweh, and do good; dwell in the land and befriend faithfulness" (vs. 1-2). There are a couple of things in this Psalm that addressed so poignantly the decision I was facing, and the effect that social media was having on my life. First, I find that whether I’m dealing with stupid drivers on the road, or observing hatred via social media viral strings, I get angry. I see ignorance, stupidity, folly, and evil and I feel worried, anxious, joyless, and sometimes even hatred. The very first verse in Psalm 37 says: “Fret not yourself because of evildoers.” And second, I find that the complicated busyness of life, feeling spread thin from being aware of hundreds of people’s lives via social media, and having an appalling amount of useless information running around in my head makes me feel worn out emotionally all the time. The second verse in Psalm 37 spoke to me of the beauty of a simple and quiet life, saying: “Trust in Yahweh, and do good; dwell in the land and befriend faithfulness.” From negative to positive After reading that Psalm I made the final decision to go cold turkey on the addiction that social media had become, and immediately felt such abounding peace in my heart. Peace and joy like I haven’t felt in a long time. I deleted (not just deactivated) my social media accounts, and discovered more wholesome and thoughtful ways of communicating with friends and family, by way of iCloud Photo Sharing, and Blogging. So why do I ask "Why didn't I do this before?" It's been a week filled with so much beauty, creativity, and positivity. Something I've learned to value highly through the ups and downs of life is to surround yourself with positivity. Or, as my favorite band Switchfoot puts it: "Is this the world you want? Is this the world you want? You're making it, every day you're alive. You start to look like what you believe... What you say is your religion; How you say it's your religion; Who you love is your religion; How you love is your religion; All your science, your religion; All your hatred, your religion; All your wars are your religion; Every breath is your religion, yea! Is this the world you want? Is this the world you want? You're making it, every day you're alive." For years I surrounded myself with the voices of negativity and with the feelings of failure and worthlessness that comes with addiction to screens and social media. It marred how I lived, how I loved, how I spoke, how I thought, even how I felt. When I removed myself from the chronic negativity spawned by so many of the voices on social media, I found that I no longer had a confusing veil of shadow keeping me from appreciating the good things in life. Exiting social media tore down that veil; it was as though I saw real sunshine for the first time in years. Time to spare Without having my time eaten up by the pointless pursuits of the internet, I've found that my days are far longer, with far more potential. Instead of putting off every errand, chore, or project till the last possible moment, it's been myriads of happy busyness. The week began with some thoughts in my mind of a project of redoing our guest room. Up until now it’s been a workout/study/guest room containing a loft bed for the occasional guest; underneath it, a desk and a dresser of drawers for workspace and storage; and a workout tower for my husband. My goal was to transform it into a real guest room, suitable for putting real guests up in, while keeping some room available for my husband's workspace. I did some cleaning, organizing, and preparatory errands during this week, utilizing all my coupons and rewards points to obtain what I needed to put together a good-looking, color coordinated guest room and bathroom. It was a week-long project with hard work, but the final result is just beautiful. My husband saw a new side of me today. I was geeking out over the excitement of being able to decorate beautifully, and take a messy unkempt place where we didn't like to be, and turn it into a soothing, warm, and comfy room. What I love about the day we had today, was that instead of quite literally wasting a day of our lives by instead living the lives of the characters on TV, was that we created. We worked, we sweated, and we created. We lived today to the fullest, by being and doing exactly what God created us to do: to be like Him! Our work today was a story of His work - taking something unlovely and useless, and redeeming it through His own hard work into something beautiful and worthy! Joy comes in many ways, but in my life, joy comes most in the creation of something beautiful. A little excursion to Bibles for China Thrift Store with a ton of loft bed hardware bungee corded down and sticking halfway out of my trunk turned into a fun and sunny adventure with my husband, enjoying the open windows, the fresh cool air, and the blue skies. (And a new all time low, driving down the road to the dumpster holding an old ratty twin mattress to the top of my car with our arms extended up out of the windows... but we don't talk about that.) So a week in and here's what I'm thankful for: I'm thankful for more time to do fulfilling work and errands; I'm thankful for more time to relate to friends on a deeper level than a "like" on a post; I'm thankful for time to read books, and do constructive crafts; I'm thankful for time to THINK: I've had a lot of thoughts and ideas and arguments brewing in my mind, and I've enjoyed the quiet luxury of focused thought. I'm thankful for beauty from ashes. And now I'm excited to go to the house of the Lord in the morning and worship with the beautiful community that Jesus has been so kindly building around us. Grace Pitman blogs at ThePitmanCorner.com where a version of this article first appeared....

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

Contrary to popular opinion, love and truth don’t stand in opposition to one another. In fact, you can’t really have one without the other. To love truth, you have to be committed to love, and to love love, you have to be committed to truth. The most loving person who ever lived, so loving that he died a cruel and bloody public death for crimes that others committed, was at the same time the most forthright and honest truth speaker that the world had ever known. It was not just that the love of Jesus never contradicted his candor and his candor never inhibited his love. No, there was something more profound going on. His commitment to truth speaking was propelled by his love. The biblical call to love will never force you to trim, deny, or bend the truth, and the biblical call to truth will never ask you to abandon God’s call to love your neighbor. We see this graphically displayed in a very well-known moment in the life of Jesus Christ. It is recorded in Luke 18:18–30. A rich ruler comes to Jesus to ask him about eternal life. It is a very good question that gets a very hard and honest answer. As you read the conversation, it doesn’t look like Jesus is engaging in very successful evangelism by modern standards. In a moment of complete honesty, Jesus doesn’t work to make the gospel attractive. Rather, he hones in on and exposes the central idolatry of this man’s heart. Jesus tells this man the bad news he needs to hear if he is ever to want the good news he desperately needs. So Luke is recording something very important for us. In the face of Jesus’s honesty, the man walks away, and as he does, Jesus looks at him with sadness. You see, Jesus isn’t being cold and indifferent. He doesn’t lack love. The hard words are motivated by love, and Jesus’s sadness at the end of the conversation exposes the love that motivated the words he had said. There is no mean-spirited condemnation in the words of Christ. Those hard words are words of grace, spoken by the Savior of love, spoken to redeem. Truth isn’t mean and love isn’t dishonest. They are two sides of the same righteous agenda that longs for the spiritual welfare of another. Truth not spoken in love ceases to be truth because it gets bent and twisted by other human agendas, and love that abandons the truth ceases to be love because it forsakes what is best for the person when it has been corrupted by other motives. Today you are called to loving honesty and honest love. You will be tempted to let one or the other slip from your hands. Pray for the help of the One who remained fully committed to both, even to death. His grace is your only hope of staying true to his righteous agenda. For further study and encouragement: 1 Corinthians 13. Taken from “New Morning Mercies” by Paul David Tripp, © 2014, pp. August 6th Entry. Used by permission of Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers, Wheaton, IL 60187, www.crossway.org....

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Jacobus Arminius: professed the confessions even as he opposed them

The baby, baptized Jacob Harmenszoon, lay contentedly in his mother's arms. Warmth, food and love sheltered his small physical being. Even though his father was only a poor man who made knives for a living, the little one snuggled in his sleep. It was 1560 in the Dutch city of Oudewater and there was much trouble in the land – Spanish trouble, church trouble – and before long young Jacob would have and make his share of them. When Jacob was only a little boy his father died. He was taken from his mother's home to live with a former pastor of Oudewater in the city of Utrecht. The small boy mourned his father's death and he missed his mother, (and only brother), very much. But this is what had been deemed best for him. Times were not easy for a widow with two sons to provide for. The old pastor tried to raise the lad as his own. However, when Jacob was fourteen this foster-father also died. Fatherless a second time, he returned to his mother in Oudewater. The reunion was not to be for long. Shortly after arriving home he was taken to Marburg, Germany by a friend. From there he received the news that the Spaniards had attacked and murdered all the inhabitants of Oudewater. Jacob Harmenszoon, whose name had been Latinized to Jacobus Arminius, was an orphan at the tender age of fifteen. It is difficult to imagine exactly how young Jacobus felt. He was not a child anymore, and yet not a man either at this point. It is Biblical to suppose that suffering can produce a steadfastness in the sovereignty of God. For Jacobus this was not the case. He did develop an intense dislike of any fighting or quarreling – and yet, strangely enough, the false doctrines he later came to espouse have brought about fighting and quarreling to this day. Early schooling When the teenager Jacobus Arminius was orphaned, several pastors took pity on the young man and one sent him to the recently established University of Leyden. Jacobus was at an impressionable age – the age that most of today's students leave for college or university. This is why it is so crucial that teachers at this point in life are solid and impart true knowledge. Unfortunately, in Jacobus' case, this was not to be. One of his professors taught, with power and conviction, man's “free will,” as opposed to God's divine election and reprobation. He taught so ably that Jacobus became both convinced and adept at convincing others. He was a good student. His thirst for knowledge plus his excellent study habits earned him a bursary which enabled him to further his studies in Geneva. Here he heard Beza, friend and successor of Calvin, lecture on election and reprobation. But it was too late. His young mind and soul had already totally absorbed “free will” and found it to be an attractive doctrine. Jacobus also traveled to Italy where he met the famous Jesuit priest Bellarmino (1542-1621). Impressed by the man's great knowledge, Jacobus was subconsciously strengthened in his desire to stretch atonement to include more than just the chosen sheep specified by Christ Himself in John 10:25ff. After all, this man Bellarmino was kind, generous, extremely knowledgeable, active in good works, and surely God could not reject him? “Free will” consequently whispered in Jacobus' ear that atonement was not limited but universal. A teacher of men In 1587, at the age of 27, Arminius returned to Holland. One year later he was installed as minister in Amsterdam. In 1590 he married Elizabeth Reael, daughter of one of the rich regents of that city – a regent, one might add, who was quite liberal in thought – and whose daughter was likely of the same frame of mind as her father. This marriage seemed to encourage him in verbalizing the wayward thoughts he had already been harboring. A series of rather unreformed sermons on the book of Romans was begun. Although he was a popular man, soft-spoken, cultured, good-natured and of impeccable character, these sermons stirred up a great deal of unrest in his congregation. He surmised, among other things, that death had not come into the world through sin but through nature. In chapters 8-11 he concluded that the reason God elected some and not others was because God knew beforehand what they would choose. Although Arminius was accused many times of preaching heresy, he continually maintained that he agreed with the Church's forms of unity, (which at that time were the Heidelberg Catechism and the Belgic Confession). The years passed and the regents, (of which his father-in-law was one), protected Arminius. In 1603 Arminius was appointed as professor of theology in the University of Leyden. It had become the most important university in Holland – the university from which the state church called its ministers. The appointment gave Arminius the opportunity to sow seeds of heresy throughout the entire Reformed community. He won approval of the students easily enough, for he was a congenial fellow and an able teacher. Between classes he gave private lectures at his house and criticized Calvin, convincing a great number that there were errors in the confessions. A sad end Understandably, there was quite a bit of discord within the university halls and in the church pews. There was a civil court in 1608, and again in 1609, at which these problems were discussed. It was obvious from these sessions that Arminius led a minority and would certainly lose out at a proposed synod. This is why the government, which looked on Arminius as a protégé, refused to call one. By the time the Synod of Dordt finally did take place, (1618-19), Arminius had been dead for almost ten years. The final months of Arminius' life were marked with physical distress. Ill with tuberculosis, he also suffered a stroke, paralyzing one side and blinding him. Popularity had waned and was seen in the fact that people applied Zechariah 11:17 to him: “Woe to the worthless shepherd, who deserts the flock! May the sword strike his arm and his right eye! May his arm be completely withered, his right eye totally blinded!” Jacobus Harmenszoon, alias Jacob Arminius, died in 1609 before the age of fifty. When the Synod of Dordt finally did meet, the Arminian point of view was eloquently defended by Episcopius, student and very able successor of Arminius. For six months issues were debated. The doctrine of sovereign grace was at stake. Representatives from Reformed churches all over Europe were present. In the end, Synod roundly condemned the views of Arminius in five canons, (or statements). These statements can be shortened into the acronym TULIP: Total depravity, Unconditional election, Limited atonement, Irresistible grace and Perseverance of the saints. Christine Farenhorst is the author of the just published Katharina, Katharina, about the times of Martin Luther. This article first appeared in the January 2006 issue. ...

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God wants young men to be brave, not crazy

Bravery, like most things in life, is learned. To develop it, one must practice. However, it is the very rare young man who wants to practice being brave. Many will be eager to prove that they are already brave, which is why young men do crazy, dangerous, reckless things – to prove to themselves and others that they have no fear. So they drive motorcycles too fast, and drive cars too fast, and drive motorized vehicles of various other sorts and sizes too fast. But this isn't brave. Brave and reckless both involve confronting danger, but there is a difference. The brave man confronts danger because he must, or because he should. There is a reason to do it: a damsel to be defended, a child to be saved, a principle to be upheld. Brave is daring all because it will honor God. A reckless young man risks life and limb for no reason at all. It's courageous vs. crazy. And no matter how many times a young man might do wild dangerous things, it won't help him learn how to be brave. Bravery has a purpose to it, and to develop bravery a young man must confront danger with the right aim in mind. This is bravery  So how can a young man practice being brave? By doing brave things for the right reasons. God wants us take risks, so long as they are the right sort. He wants us defending what is true, and beautiful, no matter the opposition. So a young man can practice being brave by asking out that godly girl he's always been interested in. She might say no, and that is quite a danger to face. But she might say yes, and that's reason enough to risk it. He can tell his friends he isn't going to go drinking with them this weekend, but that if they want to come over they can shoot hoops. Or go rollerblading. Or watch the game together. Or watch the game and then at halftime play an epic match of rollerblade basketball (being brave can involve some creativity too). Proposing ideas risks having them shot down and labeled "lame." That could happen, because being brave doesn't mean everything will go your way. A brave man understands that failure is possible, and sometimes even likely. He knows there might be a cost. But he also knows that his peers' wrath doesn't compare to God's pleasure. A young man could also practice bravery by wearing an explicitly Christian shirt on his secular campus. This is provocative, but not foolhardy. Some students and professors are sure to hate it, but other Christians will be encouraged to learn they aren't alone on campus after all. Maybe he could volunteer as a firefighter. I know two young men who are ready to put their lives on the line for a very good reason indeed: to save the lives of others. And a young man who wants to grow and develop his bravery could volunteer at a public pro-life event. In recent years dozens of young men have been among those setting up massive pro-life flag displays across Canada. They know abortion is an issue that gets some people angry, yelling, and hysterical. It takes courage to be involved. But they understand this is important. They are ready to risk anger to advocate for the defenseless. Conclusion We want our young men to learn how to be brave, but we don't want them to be reckless with the life and limbs God has given them. So to foster their bravery let's encourage our young men to do dangerous, risky, important things. A version of this article first appeared in the October 2014 issue...

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What should we think of withdrawals?

Revisiting church membership and excommunication Dealing with withdrawals is one of those difficult issues that eventually every consistory faces. All the more vexing is the fact that our church order appears not to address it at all. How do we account for this and what procedure should be followed? I hope to give some guidance on these matters in what follows. A brief historical overview Reformed history in cases of withdrawal shows that two points are of importance. It comes down to: How we understand the character of church membership - is it something that a member may take up and put down, or is it the responsibility of the consistory to bestow and take away? How we understand the function of the church order's procedure for excommunication - is the procedure of excommunication intended to be used in cases where a member wants to leave? In the 16th and 17th centuries the procedure for excommunication in the church order was applied to those who withdrew for no good reason – it was even applied to those who declared that they were joining another church. It was understood that a church member did not have the right to terminate his membership.1 This same excommunication procedure was also followed by the churches of the secession (1834), except when members left for another Reformed church. For those members the consistory instead made a declaration that their membership in their original church was terminated. It wasn't until the 1860s that synods received proposals to acquiesce in a withdrawal. The idea was that the consistory, rather than exercise discipline on a member who withdrew, would instead simply let him withdraw. After heated debate, spread out over three synods, it was decided that in cases where a member withdrew consistories would be allowed to choose between the procedure of excommunication or to read off a simple declaration of withdrawal. The entire faculty of the Theological School at Kampen sharply objected to the introduction of this second option – they didn't believe a member should be allowed to withdraw. The churches of the Doleantie (1886) gave in to withdrawals from the beginning. This had to do with Abraham Kuyper’s view of church membership, which, as he taught, begins and ends by an act of the free will of the individual. This contrasted with the historical position that the responsibility for church membership rests with the consistory, not the individual. But Kuyper's view prevailed, and church discipline after withdrawal was therefore considered incorrect. This issue was raised again at several synods rather soon after the union of 1892 and the decisions favored Kuyper’s ideas – especially because of the strong influence of his colleague Prof. F. L. Rutgers. After the Liberation (1944), not a single general synod has dealt with the issue of withdrawal. It would appear that in practice the customs existing before the war were generally followed, with the exception of inferring withdrawals from circumstantial evidence. Previously this had been forbidden, but the practice has become widespread within the Liberated churches. Some in the Liberated churches even defended Kuyper's view that it is a church member’s self-determination which ends his membership. It looked as though the triumph of Kuyper over traditional Reformed polity on the character of church membership was complete. However, the 1990’s saw a reversal of this trend. In this respect, advice given by Professor M. Te Velde on June 14, 1997 to the Reformed Churches of New Zealand is very interesting. Te Velde defends the premise... ...that to belong to the church is not a matter of man’s absolute free will and free choice. He who withdraws himself from the church ought to receive a response from that church. And (unlike with various other societal relationships) not a response that is neatly neutral and bureaucratic or perhaps with regret and in impotence concludes and records what the departing individual is doing, but appends to it an authoritative judgment and explicitly declares that, for that person, entitlement to the privileges and promises, bound up with church membership, has ended. Brother "N" cuts the bond with the congregation. The church affirms this (after admonition and appeal) by declaring from its perspective that Brother "N" no longer belongs to the congregation. We are not used to referring to this declaration by the church as "censure" or "discipline." But it is related. After all, it pronounces judgment, it has a judicial character.2 Here the perspective is no longer that of Kuyper and his colleague Rutgers, but that of the Reformed Churches from the time of the Reformation. Only the practical implementation is different. Te Velde believes that church membership The one area where Te Velde and Kuyper's colleague Rutgers both agree is that the disciplinary procedure we find in our church order is intended for those who must be evicted from the church despite the fact that they themselves are determined to remain – it is not meant for those who want to leave. The form for excommunication in the liturgical forms is derived entirely from the discipline procedure prescribed in the church order. Where that procedure is not followed – where the steps of church discipline have not occurred – the form for excommunication clearly cannot be used. However, in cases of voluntary withdrawals – cases where the formal steps of discipline are not involved – Te Velde does make the suggestion that, several weeks prior to the final declaration, the congregation can be notified of the brother’s desire to withdraw and asked to admonish and pray for him. The character of church membership A key question to understanding how we should treat withdrawals concerns where the ultimate responsibility for entering into and being removed from membership in the church of Christ belongs. Can a church member of his own free will terminate his membership? In what follows I mention a number of considerations which show, in my opinion, that the responsibility for church membership rests with the consistory. There is, of course, a correlative. A consistory cannot use force to compel someone to remain a member of Christ’s church. We begin with the much quoted text of 1 Corinthians 5:12. What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church? Are you not to judge those inside? Paul has admonished the congregation of Corinth to excommunicate a particular sinner. He then tries to clear up a misunderstanding. In verses 9-13 he writes that he had told them “not to keep company with sexually immoral people,” but he did not mean immoral people in the world. It was never the intention that church members would not be allowed to associate with notorious sinners among the general public – for then they would have to go and live on another planet. No, he says, only brothers who remain in their sins (and for that reason are placed outside the fellowship of the church) must be avoided. The distinction Paul makes between “the people of this world” and a so-called “brother” is not between actual members of the Christian congregation and non-members, but between those who once were part of the fellowship in Christ and those who never had any connection with that fellowship. In our form for excommunication we also continue to call someone who has been expelled a brother. And this is appropriate, for the evicted person remains a brother – although a brother who is excluded from the benefits in Christ because of hardening in a certain sin. In this regard we can see that it is impossible to break the bonds of fellowship once joined – even though membership in the church is terminated. However, this text gives no answer to the question as to whether a church member can terminate his own membership. Lord’s Day 31 of the catechism can provide some clarification. Someone who has left the church remains a brother, but he is a brother of whom it is publicly stated that he is no longer admitted to the sacraments and that he has so hardened himself in sin that the consistory can no longer bear official responsibility for him. This is the second key of church discipline. In the highest sense, the final responsibility for the taking up and laying down of membership in the church of Christ rests, of course, with Christ himself. That perspective leads directly to the premise that here on earth the shepherds of the church, appointed by Christ, would bear that responsibility in his name. According to Hebrews 13:17 they will be held to account on judgment day for their rule. The keys of the kingdom of heaven are given to the office bearers to bind and loosen from sins (cf. Matt.16:19 with John 20:23). For that reason this binding and loosening is restated after the procedure for church discipline in Matthew 18:15-18. The responsibility for making a pronouncement regarding this does not belong to the church member, but to the office bearers who have charge over his soul. There is a direct parallel between defection from the church and admission to church membership. As we confess in Lord’s Day 21, Christ gathers his church throughout the ages. He establishes faith in people’s hearts by his Holy Spirit. Because of that faith there is a desire to follow Christ and join his church. People who have come to faith are admitted to Christ’s church by means of profession of faith and baptism (cf. Acts 2:41). This baptism is administered by office bearers of the church, ruling in the name of Christ. Someone who joins the Christ’s church does this voluntarily and may never be coerced. For its part the church has that liberty as well and can never be forced into baptizing people indiscriminately. The final responsibility for baptism rests with the consistory. A person who by faith and the administration of baptism is admitted to Christ’s church also shares in his promises, including the promise that God includes his children in his covenant. Hence infant baptism. If having reached adulthood, these children do not want to accept this baptism and rebel against the church of God, they are to be admonished and (if unrepentant) must be excommunicated. As the form puts it, adult children, who obstinately deny communion with Christ, are excluded from his fellowship. They are declared to have no share in his benefits as long as they do not repent. In summary, Scripture continues to view those, who have been put out of the church in some sense, as “brothers” who are not to be equated with those who have never been a member. A different ethic applies to excommunicants than applies to those outside the church. Furthermore, Scripture makes clear that determination of membership is a matter for those whom Christ has placed as shepherds over his flock. If a sheep strays, this does not automatically release the shepherds from their duty to go after that sheep! The use of the steps for excommunication Although the Reformed churches originally intended that the procedure of church discipline (based on Matthew 18) be used in all cases of church defection (i.e., for those who wished to remain a member as well as those who wanted to leave the church) there are sufficient reasons for holding to Rutgers’ premise, that the steps for excommunication in the church order are more suited to people who must against their will be placed outside the church. In such cases the safety valve provided by the scrutiny of a classis make sense. Indiscriminate expulsion of people from the church, against their own intentions, must be guarded against. We must also ask whether it is appropriate to undertake a lengthy disciplinary procedure against someone who no longer wishes to remain a member. Although we do not concede to him the right, nor the authority, to discontinue his own membership, his case is in its nature different from that of someone who despite hardening in sin, desires to retain membership. Paul says in Titus 3:10-11 “Reject a divisive man after the first and second admonition.” It would therefore be a mistake to apply Matthew 18 to all cases of church discipline. The church order rightly states that public sins are not intended here. When our Lord gave his disciples guidelines on how to deal with sin within their circle, He did not give them a detailed church order. The object of Matthew 18 is a private sinner from within the circle of the disciples. Essentially this case has little in common with someone who openly declares that he no longer wants to belong to that circle (i.e., the church). Therefore to propose an approach other than the one prescribed here does not have to be unbiblical. There is much in favor of a consistory acquiescing to the wish of someone who no longer wants to be a member. The desire must not be a sudden urge but a well considered position to which someone is clearly committed. In that case the consistory can proceed with making an appropriate announcement about the membership of that brother. The nature of the announcement will depend upon the circumstances of the withdrawal. Differentiation in withdrawals It is obvious that withdrawals differ in nature. At least three different circumstances can be considered: A) Withdrawal for reasons that do not warrant discipline Someone may withdraw because he is moving to a country where we have no sister churches. This person, however, fully intends to join the church of Christ there. Under those circumstances we would wish that person God’s blessing. We never say that our sister churches are the only true churches of Christ in this world! The consistory in its announcement will say only that brother "X" is no longer a member of the church. Depending on circumstances something could be added regarding his/her destination. B) Withdrawal for unclear reasons There will always be cases which are difficult to assess. For instance, someone moves suddenly without notification and sends a letter of withdrawal. If further contact is impossible, the consistory should not resort to guessing his motivation. No one may have motivations imputed to him. Before a withdrawal is deemed deserving of discipline there must be certainty. The withdrawing member must be given the benefit of the doubt. In a statement about such cases the consistory must be careful. The statement cannot go beyond an announcement that the brother involved is no longer a member of the church. Any expression of “regret” should not support the suspicion that that person was necessarily deserving of discipline. C) Withdrawal for reasons which warrant discipline By far most cases in this category are of people who withdraw themselves during disciplinary procedure. The brother may already have been suspended from the Lord’s Supper. In that case the consistory has already informed the brother that, without repentance, he will end up outside the kingdom of heaven. That message is clearly explained in the form for the Lord’s Supper, which warns members to withhold themselves if they become hardened in certain sins. It states: “we declare to them that they have no part in the Kingdom of Christ.” That pronouncement remains in effect “while they persist in their sins.” The pronouncement is provisional. If the disciplinary procedure does not end in withdrawal then the declaration in the form is simply a public confirmation of this provisional judgment. It was conveyed to the person long ago when he was first suspended. The public declaration that this person stands outside the kingdom of Christ is of significance to both him and the congregation. He must repent and the congregation is exhorted to act in such a manner that this message reaches him.3 What must be done then when someone, while under discipline, withdraws? Such a person says that he does not intend to repent. His act of withdrawal is in this instance a public sin. In an announcement to the congregation his name and his desire to withdraw can be made public, and the congregation exhorted to admonish the brother. Because of his declared desire to leave the church, the approval of the classis is no longer required before his name can be made public. If, after some weeks, the conclusion must be drawn that he has hardened himself in this desire, the consistory will have to announce that the efforts of the congregation did not turn this brother from his sinful way and a declaration is made that he is no longer a member of the congregation. The congregation may already know the standing of this brother from the announcement of his name in the second step. The congregation is then exhorted to exert itself on his behalf so that he may come to repentance. In the implementation of the excommunication mention is made of the fact that the elders and congregation have tried everything to bring him to repentance and that their responsibilities – in the ecclesiastical sense – have come to an end. The judgment, however, remains conditional. A person who has been excommunicated can always return if he shows remorse. But until he does, he remains excluded from the office bearers’ care for the church. For this reason there can be no objection to making an announcement in the final declaration of the consistory by which his membership is terminated and the sinner’s standing with regard to the kingdom of heaven is stated. On the contrary, there is every reason to make clear to the sinner, as well as the congregation, the seriousness of the matter. Proposed resolutions In conjunction with the preceding I propose that the following decisions be taken:  The consistory decides that in all cases of withdrawal a judicial declaration be made by which the membership of the person concerned is terminated and in which the consistory shall give a clear explanation of its responsibility for this. The consistory decides in cases of withdrawal for reasons which warrant church discipline to: make an announcement to the congregation several weeks before the judicial declaration. In this announcement the desire of the person involved to withdraw shall be made known and the congregation shall be exhorted to pray for him and to admonish him in a brotherly manner. announce in the judicial declaration that, if the person involved does not come to repentance, he will remain outside the kingdom of Christ, according to the form for the Lord’s Supper celebration.4 Endnotes 1 For detailed case studies and relevant decisions see my paper “Reformed Church Polity concerning Withdrawal of Church Membership” 2 Professor M. Te Velde's Advice to The Reformed Churches of New Zealand, June 14, 1997., Par. 8. 3 See my article, "The Sinews Of The Church, Biblical Principles Concerning Church Discipline" 4 p.593 Book of Praise “we declare to them that they have no part in the kingdom of Christ”  Rev. Dr. R. D. Anderson is pastor of the Free Reformed Church of Rockingham, Western Australia. This article is an abbreviated version of a much longer article on his website: "Reformed Church Polity concerning Withdrawal of Church Membership."  ...

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Some cultures are better than others

Is it arrogant to say that all cultures are not created equal? It might feel that way; but it isn’t that way. To say some cultures are better than others is not only not bigoted, but biblical. One story can serve to illustrate: while working in India, the British general, Sir Charles James Napier (1782-1853), was confronted by Hindu priests who were complaining about the British prohibition against Sati (or suttee). This was the custom of burning a dead man’s widow alive on his funeral pyre. To this complaint Napier reportedly replied: "Be it so. This burning of widows is your custom; prepare the funeral pile. But my nation has also a custom. When men burn women alive we hang them, and confiscate all their property. My carpenters shall therefore erect gibbets on which to hang all concerned when the widow is consumed. Let us all act according to national customs." The world has taken Christ's warning in Matthew 7:1 not to “judge lest you be judged” and twisted into an admonition to never make judgments of any kind. But that is relativistic nonsense, as becomes clear when we continue to verse 2: “For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.” God isn’t calling on us to withhold from all judgments; his warning is against making arbitrary unfair judgments. We need to be sure we use significant criteria when we make our evaluations – the sort that, were the roles reversed, we would be happy to have used against us. This is why racism is wrong. Racists base their judgment of a person’s worth on an inconsequential criterion. Would a Ku Klux Klan member want the same standard he uses, to be used against him? “Sorry, but you don’t have enough melanin, so you can’t sit at this counter.” This is also why it is biblical to say some cultures are better or worse than others. When we evaluate them in light of biblical standards we can say with confidence that a culture that threatens death to anyone who converts from Islam is inferior. When it comes to immigration we could still welcome people from such a culture, but only if they are ready to acknowledge the inferiority of this and other aspects of their native culture....

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The End was near

They’ve probably been predicting the end of time since the beginning of time. Recently, we’ve had predictions it would end in 2012, due to some Mayan calendar related prophecy. And in 2011, Harold Camping, a prominent, and formerly Reformed, radio host made news predicting the universe’s destruction for October of that year. And, of course, cults all around the world were expecting the end in the year 2000, and countless individuals were predicting Western civilization would grind to a halt as the Y2K computer bug shuts down all the computerized systems we depend on. While computers may be a recent invention, predictions of the end are not. For numerous orthodox and not-so orthodox Christians, predicting the end of time has been a pre-occupation for as long as anyone can remember. The reasoning behind most of the predictions has often been creative, and of the sort of logic that could come up with almost any date. It often goes something like this: the world is going to end in 1998. Why 1998? Well, all you have to do is take the number of God - 3 - multiply it by the number of the beast - 666 - and you get 1998. (Since you’re reading this in 2017, you might’ve noticed a flaw in the reasoning.) Other examples abound. John Gribben authored a book in the 1970s arguing that an alignment of the planets in 1982 would bring on the end as the combined gravity of the planets caused massive earthquakes, tidal waves, and other disasters. Though by 1980, even Gribben had disowned his theory, some religious groups continued preparing for an end that didn’t arrive. Jehovah’s Witnesses Charles Russell, founder of the Jehovah’s Witnesses cult, took a unique approach to forecasting the end. He predicted Christ’s return in 1874, but he predicted this after the year had passed. According to him, Christ had returned secretly that year. In the closest thing to success in a doomsday prediction, Russell expected the final battle between God and Satan would take place in 1914. While it wasn’t the final battle, World War I did start that year. In fairness to the Jehovah’s Witnesses, after repeated failed attempts to predict the end of the world, they gave up on that in 1996. Now they focus on being “watchful” rather than failing to predict the end of time. The End through the ages For those trying to anticipate the end, the year 1666 was an obvious year to expect it. After all, the year itself contained the number of the beast. If anyone was expecting judgment that year, it only arrived in London, where The Great Fire burnt much of the English capital to the ground. Some had predicted the end of time to fall in 1657. The very important Council of Nicea was held in 325. Two times the number of the beast - 666 - plus 325 and voila, you’ve got 1657. The Black Plague swept Europe from 1338 to 1349, returning for a second outbreak between 1357 and 1362. This rat-borne disease wiped out from 20 to 30 million people, anywhere from one quarter to one third of Europe’s total population. With this sort of catastrophe sweeping the continent, predictions abounded of the anti-Christ’s imminent arrival. He was expected to come in 1346, 1348, 1375, and 1400. If those dates didn’t produce the expected result, those peering into the future simply tried again and guessed another date. Though they thought they could see Armageddon coming, they miscalculated, repeatedly. One of the predictions that seemed to catch a lot of people’s imaginations was that the end would come in 1260. The monk, Joachim of Fiore (1135-1202), developed an elaborate theory of history to back up his expectation. Based on Biblical genealogies, there are 42 generations from Abraham to Christ. If a generation is 30 years on average, that’s 1260 years. He reasoned that there would also be 42 generations after the birth of Christ, and thus, the world would end in 1260. What made Joachim’s system so much more enticing was that his whole history of time was based on the number 3. The first period, the period of the law or of God the Father, took place until the birth of Christ. The period of Christ would last until 1260, and the third and final period of the Spirit, when the world would be converted, would take place immediately after that. Though Joachim was consulted by popes, and wined and dined by kings and princes, he was still wrong. Time kept marching on. Year 1000 scare The most widely believed date for the end of time was the millennium. No, not the year 2000, but the year 1000. At that point, there was considerable panic that the end was near. In 950, the monk Adso wrote to Gerberga, sister of the Frankish king, Otto I, saying that the anti-Christ would come when the last Frankish king died. This Frankish dynasty ended somewhere between 987 and 991, inspiring fear that the end of time was fast approaching. This fear was reinforced by Adso’s one-way pilgrimage to Jerusalem. The arrival of Halley’s Comet in 989 was seen as a sign of the coming apocalypse. These indicators were backed up by the preaching of Aelfric, the Abbot of Eynsham, who delivered apocalyptic sermons in the 990s, hinting at the end of time in the year 1000. Dooms-dayers are nothing if not flexible. The year 1000 was seen as a reasonable date for the end of time since it came 1000 years after the birth of Christ. When the world failed to end in 1000, the next logical choice was 1033, 1000 years after the death of Christ. In the case of both the year 1000 and the year 1033, society changed in noticeable ways. Peace councils were formed to try to stop the violence and war of the period. In the resulting peace, parishes and villages were organized. Not surprisingly, new prosperity resulted. In preparing for the perceived end, the peasants and aristocrats drew together in a new spirit of cooperation and friendship. As the cynic might expect, when the end did not come, these advances quickly fell apart. Conclusion So what are we supposed to make of all this? Try as we might, we just don’t know the day or hour of the end, not even the angels in heaven know that. Since we’re still here, in time, having to use our talents to God’s glory, that means that we have to trust that God will take care of us. Eventually, those predicting the end are bound to hit the mark. If you make enough predictions one of them eventually has to be right. However, when that last day comes, for us it’s not something to fear or to make us panic. When the Master returns and finds his servants doing what he has asked, He will richly reward them. The end of time is something to be eagerly expected, not eagerly predicted. A version of this article first appeared in the May 1999 issue. For more information on End Times predictions see Richard Abanes’ “End-Time Visions: The Road to Armageddon?” and Bernard McGinn’s “Visions of the End: Apocalyptic Traditions in the Middle Ages”...

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What does God's "favorite" Bible verse tell us?

We all have our own favorite books, chapters, and verses in the Bible. I love the last 5 chapters of Job, where God answers Job and his friends. In a confusing world, I find this such a comforting passage - I may not understand why things are happening, but God does, He is in control, and I can trust to leave things with Him. My grandfather loved Ps. 23 for similar reasons – reading through it was a source of comfort for him. Other passages are favorites for different reasons. When it comes to the verse we most often share with the world, it must be John 3:16, written up large on poster board and displayed at football, baseball and soccer stadiums around the globe. In 2009 this was the most read verse on BibleGateway.com. The world's favorite verse has to be Matthew 7:1a: "Do not judge." They don't want it in context - half a verse is more than enough Bible for them. God's favorite verses? But what is God's favorite Bible verse? In the last couple of months two Reformed authors have shared their thoughts. Dr. Joel McDurmon noted that, according to the number of times it is quoted in the New Testament, the clear second-place finisher is the latter part of Leviticus 19:18: "You shall love your neighbor as yourself." McDrumon writes: "This shows up in seven different places in the NT the vast majority of other verses quoted appear a couple times, or only once." Of course, it may not be quite right to think of this as God's favorite – it might be better to think of this as a passage He knows we really need to hear over and over again. So if that's second, what's first? Reformed Baptist pastor Jeff Durbin suggests it must be Psalm 110:1: "The Lord says to my Lord: 'Sit at my right hand, until I make your enemies your footstool.'” This passage is cited or referenced nearly two dozen times in the New Testament, or three times as often as Leviticus 19:18. An instructive contrast What we read here is a proclamation of Jesus' sovereignty - the focus is on His reign. But when you google "favorite verses" the passages that often come up have a different focus. Spots 2 through 4 on the BibleGateway.com 2009 most-read-verses list had these familiar passages: Jeremiah 29:11: "'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.'" Romans 8:28: "And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose." Philippians 4:13: "I can do everything through him who gives me strength." Like my grandfather's favorite, and my own, these passages are a source of comfort to many (though the Jeremiah and Philippians passages are often misapplied). While they do speak of God, the focus isn't so much on Him as what He can do for us - the focus is largely on us. Our loving Father knows what we we need, and so provides us with text after text that assure us of his goodness and power and love. It's no wonder these are among our favorites – they are a gift from Him. But the difference between our favorites and God's "favorite" is instructive. God wants us to understand that Jesus has triumphed. He wants us to realize that Jesus has won every battle, beaten every enemy, and rules over all. This is so important for us to understand, that God tells it to us again and again and again. Are we listening? And do we believe it? As the Westminster Shorter Catechism explains, our purpose here on earth is to glorify God, but we are so often scared and too timid to even mention His name. How can we glorify Someone we don't dare name? God wants to embolden us, telling us that Jesus already reigns. When we are intimidated by our professors, boss, coworkers, classmates, or political caucus, we can be assured that Jesus is king. He is Lord of our university classroom. He rules the business world and our job site too. And while government might seem to be spirally ever downward we can rest secure in the knowledge that God appoints both Prime Ministers and opposition leaders. His domain extends to everywhere and everything. "The Lord says to my Lord: 'Sit at my right hand, until I make your enemies your footstool.'” Whether we're looking for comfort or courage, can it get any better than that?  ...

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Is our curiosity controlling us, or are we controlling it?

Curiosity can be downright lethal... and not only to cats. In our Internet age, curiosity can quickly take us where we must not go. But curiosity can also be a force for good. This investigative itch can drive us to discover more about God, digging deep into His Word, or heading out into His creation, magnifying glass in hand, to see all there is to see. In Curious: the Desire to Know and Why your Future Depends on It Ian Leslie makes a useful division between two main sorts of curiosity – epistemic and diversive. There isn’t simply “good” versus “bad” curiosity but more a matter of “focused” versus “unfocused," though as you might guess, the focussed sort is generally the more helpful sort. DIVERSIVE CURIOSITY “Diversive curiosity” is, as Leslie puts it, an “attraction to everything novel” and it “manifests itself as a restless desire for the new and the next.” Leslie explains: The modern world seems designed to stimulate our diversive curiosity. Every tweet, headline, ad, blog post, and app at once promises and denies a satisfaction for which we are ever more impatient. This quest for the “new and next” isn’t necessarily bad – this is why new questions get asked, new interests are discovered, and new people are met. But Leslie argues that while “unfettered curiosity is wonderful; unchanneled curiosity is not.” What problem is there with unchanneled curiosity? It doesn’t fix itself on anything. It lacks purpose or discipline – diversive curiosity might start off well intentioned, but if it has nothing to focus on then a search for “Calvin’s thoughts on art” can quickly turn into hours spent on “The art of Calvin and Hobbes.” Leslie recounts a question that was posted to Reddit: “If someone from the 1950s suddenly appeared today, what would be the most difficult thing to explain to them about today?” The favorite answer was: “I possess a device in my pocket that is capable of accessing the entirety of information known to man. I use it to look at pictures of cats and get into arguments with strangers.” We have access to an inexhaustible source of knowledge, right in our back pocket. Want to study Economics, or read Calvin's Institutes, or learn how to change the oil on your Toyota sequoia and it's all just a few key taps away. And when it comes to collaborations, we can call on people in the next town, the next state, or the next continent! But so long as we let our curiosity run free – flitting from one tweet, one game, one photo, one video to another – then this incredible potential will be unrealized. CHANNELED CURIOSITY Here is where the second sort of curiosity comes in. “Epistemic curiosity” is curiosity with a purpose. Leslie describes this as a “deeper, more disciplined, and effortful type of curiosity.” This sort of curiosity pushes us after reading an intriguing blog post headline to go seek books on the same subject. It’s sustained curiosity. It’s directed curiosity. It’s the sort of curiosity that drives a boy to collect beetles and butterflies, and then when he wants to know more he heads to the library for books. It’s this sort of curiosity that has a girl trying out crayons and pens and pencils and paints to figure out how best she can draw a horse. To get good she’s going to need to sustain this appetite for paper and pen, but more importantly she’ll need to steer clear of the constant stream of YouTube cat videos and other curiosities that are competing for her attention. GODLY CURIOSITY IS FETTERED While Ian Leslie values unfettered curiosity, God expects our curiosity to be not only channeled but fettered too. There is every reason for Christians to be curious – God is infinite, and He’s given us a near infinite universe to explore. But there are corners of it that we should not investigate. Article 13 of the Belgic Confession warns that we should not: …inquire with undue curiosity into what God does that surpasses human understanding and is beyond our ability to comprehend. Some of what God has done is too great for us to understand (election, for example) and when it comes to those matters we need to actively constrain our curiosity. We need to put on some fetters. There are also more earthy matters that we need to not investigate. We need to fetter our curiosity when it comes to: gossip – whether about people we know, or celebrities we don’t our rich neighbor's income sexuality – within marriage epistemic curiosity about sex can be a very good thing, but outside of, or before marriage, it can only cause trouble In other words we shouldn’t be curious about matters beyond us, or matters that should be beneath us. FREEING US FROM DISTRACTIONS When it comes to diversive curiosity – the attraction to the new and next – there are no biblical texts telling us how many cat videos in a row are too many in a row. God hasn’t told us how many times we can check our Facebook newsfeed in an hour, or what time of night we need to turn off our phone. There are no stated limits as to how many tweets we can read, how many Instagram pictures we can view, how many blog posts we can click on, each day. So how can we know how much is too much? The Westminster Shorter Catechism gives us a clue when it explains that Man’s purpose here on earth is "to glorify God and enjoy Him forever." How does that help? Well, if we’re too busy to pray, too busy to read the Bible, too busy to be a part of the communion of saints, too busy to act as God’s hands and feet here on earth, too busy with all sorts of distractions to glorify God, and too busy enjoying these distractions to enjoy God, then wherever the line might be, we can be sure we’re way over it! So how can we free ourselves from these distractions? Part of it will involve putting down the smartphone, tucking away the tablet, and turning off the computer. We could consider: Putting tight limits on family members’ screen time each week, with more severe constraints for the very young (many doctors suggest children under 2 shouldn’t watch TV at all) and for out of control kids. Shutting down the Internet for the evening (which still allows kids to use their devices to read) or the afternoon, or only having it on for weekends or for homework. Going on a month-long technology fast to allow your family to get proper priorities back in place – this is an option that most children will hate (and many an adult) but the more passionate the resistance, the stronger the case for this intervention. While these practical suggestions will be helpful they also aren’t enough. We need to address this as the sin problem that it is. When we can’t control our curiosity, when it controls us, we’re enslaved. When our curiosity doesn’t direct us to God, but distracts us from Him, we’re committing idolatry, making YouTube videos and Instagram pics our first priority. Instead, we can seek ways to direct our curiosity in a God-honoring fashion. Our God is infinite, so there’s no shortage of wonders to explore, whether that’s God Himself, His Word, His world, the bodies He gave us, the family He placed us in, the talents He chose for us, the friends He provided, or the communion of saints He surrounded us with. There’s no shortage of wonders to wonder about. May God help us control our curiosity, so that in this too all we do can honor Him....

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Overpopulation is a myth, and we should have known

While overpopulation fears aren't causing the same panic they once did, this bogeyman hasn't disappeared entirely. The United Nations still has their Population Fund, advising nations on how to handle, as their mandate puts it, "population problems." While China has moved away from a One-Child-Policy – couples were fined, or even forced to have abortion if they had a second child – the government still has a Two-Child Policy. And while India's Supreme Court shut down that country's mass sterilization camps just this past year, the country is still committed to population control. So why does the myth persist? Two reasons: Most aren't familiar with the current state of the world. We don't hear about how things are improving, and how poverty is decreasing even as population is growing. Many still trust these doom and gloom prophets because they aren't familiar with the predictions that were made back in the 60's and 70s. The younger generation, especially, doesn't understand just how outrageously and how disastrously wrong these experts were. The world today Last year Japan’s birthrate fell below 1 million for the first time, while 1.3 million deaths were recorded. Since 2010 Japan’s population has shrunk by approximately 1.2 million (or roughly 1%). And they aren’t the only country shrinking; Russia has roughly 4 million less citizens than it had in 1995. We can see in Europe that population has leveled off, with deaths exceeding births for the first time in 2015, so growth is due only to immigration, not procreation. In Canada, too, we are not having children at replacement levels – whereas we would need 2.1 children born per woman to maintain a stable population (this number is slightly over 2, to account for children who don’t survive childhood), our birthrate is only 1.6. The United States, Australia, and the Western world in general are all under 2. There are problems that come with this, as an aging population doesn't have enough young people to care for it. The overall world population does continue to grow, with the growth focussed primarily in the developing world. For example, Africa's population has just passed 1.2 billion, up from roughly half that in 1990. But even as world’s population increases, we’ve seen not a shortage of food, but an increase in our ability to feed the planet. And poverty continues to decline worldwide – by one measure, extreme poverty has been more than halved over the last 30 years, even as the population has grown from 5 billion to more than 7 billion. Starvation does still occur, but that is due more to government corruption and war than to an inability to produce enough. The predictions of the past But how can things be getting better even as the world population increases? As one of the best known population alarmists, Dr. Paul Ehrlich, noted, a finite planet cannot sustain infinite growth – at some point the Earth is going to run out of food, room, and resources. That seems to be a matter of basic math. And it's this basic math that had Ehrlich make this prediction in his 1968 book, The Population Bomb: "The battle to feed all of humanity is over. In the 1970s hundreds of millions of people will starve to death in spite of any crash programs embarked upon now. At this late date nothing can prevent a substantial increase in the world death rate..." People under 40 may not understand the scope of the disaster population alarmists were predicting. Ehrlich said England wouldn't exist by the year 2,000 – this was end-of-the-world-type rhetoric, and people were taking it seriously. This New York Times video does a good job of capturing just how scared people were. https://youtu.be/W8XOF3SOu8I Clearly Ehrlrich was wrong. But to many it is less than clear as to why. One reason is a revolution in agriculture that was deemed "the Green Revolution." Even as Ehrlich was making his doom and gloom predictions, an American innovator, Dr. Norman Borlaug, was developing new strains of wheat and new farming techniques that dramatically increased crop yield. As Henry Miller wrote in Forbes: "How successful were Borlaug’s efforts? From 1950 to 1992, the world’s grain output rose from 692 million tons produced on 1.70 billion acres of cropland to 1.9 billion tons on 1.73 billion acres of cropland." Ehrlich was about as wrong as wrong can be. The world has not ended; things have dramatically improved. And lest we attribute it simply to luck – Norman Borlaug just happening to come around just when we needed him to save us from disaster – we need to view this from a Christian perspective. Ehrlich, and population alarmists viewed each new baby as being a drain on the planet. They didn't see them as human beings given a task to develop the planet. They didn't recognize that while each human being does come with a mouth that needs to be fed, we are also gifted by our Creator with a brain, and with two hands, with which we can produce. We not only consume, we create (and in doing so reflect our Creator God). That's how more people can mean more, not less, resources - that's why food production has gone up, and poverty down, even as population continues to rise. Not just wrong but dangerous Overpopulation alarmism isn't just wrong, it's dangerous. This end-of-the-world rhetoric had a role in the Roe vs. Wade decision which legalized abortion in America. It has been used to justify government-funded abortion, forced sterilizations, and actions like China’s One-Child Policy, and now Two-Child Policy, under which tens of millions of Chinese babies have been aborted, many against their parents' wishes. Meanwhile, in Africa, where the population is growing, the first annual Africa-China Conference on Population and Development was just held in Kenya and hosted by the Chinese government and the United Nations Population Fund. Mercatornet.com’s Shannon Roberts shared how some of the speakers pointed to China’s coercive population controls as worthy of imitation. And at least one Kenyan media outlet thought that wasn’t such a bad idea. The Daily Nation commented: “With a controlled population, the Chinese economy boomed, benefiting from cheap labour from its many people and rising to be the second largest after the United States. Should Kenyans do the same?” Population controls are not just a problem of the past – they exist and are still being advocated for today. That's why we need to bury the overpopulation bogeyman once and for all, before it kills millions more. Christians falling short The Bible doesn't speak to all issues with the same degree of clarity. But when it comes to the population alarmism, God couldn’t be clearer: children are not a curse to be avoided but a blessing to be received (Gen. 1:28; 9:1, 9:7, Prov. 17:6, Ps. 127:3-5, Ps. 113:9, etc.). Back already in the 1960s Christians could have spoken out against overpopulation alarmism, based on the clarity of these texts. And some did. But the Church is so often impacted by what we hear from the world around us. We let ourselves be muted, we let ourselves become uncertain. We start to ask, "Did God really say?" And then, like the watchman on the wall who failed to give warning (Ez. 33:6) we become responsible for the deaths we might have been able to prevent, if we'd only spoken out. It's back? While the overpopulation hysteria has died down in recent years, this bogeyman is primed for a resurrection. Global warming and concerns about CO2 emissions have some questioning "Should we be having kids in the age of climate change?" The argument, so it goes, is that people can't help but have some sort of carbon footprint, so the only sure way of reducing carbon emissions is to have less people on the planet. Once again we are being urged to have "one and be done." Once again children are being portrayed as a problem rather than as a blessing. The Bible doesn't address climate change as clearly as it does overpopulation alarmism, but what we can be certain of is this: obedience to God is not going to destroy our planet. While obeying God doesn't always lead to a smooth life for Christians here on Earth – following God can lead to a loss of friends, or business opportunities, or result in persecution – when we as a society turn to God then prosperity follows. Then we end slavery, open hospitals, develop Science, create industry. This obedience doesn't even need to be of the heart-felt sort to still reap benefits – even unbelievers, when they follow God's commands for marriage, sex, and parenting will have better results (for a book-length treatment of this thought, see Vishal Mangalwadi's The Book That Made Your World). Our disobedience can be destructive – our self-centeredness, greed, jealousy, and hatred can cause real harm. But not our obedience. That's why the begetting of many children is not something we need feel guilty about, or refrain from, out of concern for the climate. We can be certain that the world’s doom will not be caused by us, in obedience, listening to God and having children. God has spoken out against overpopulation alarmism, so we need to. The next time you hear someone talking about overpopulation, point them to the Bible and share how spectacularly incorrect all the doom and gloom predictions have been. We need to bury this bogeyman....

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Am I a fanatic?

In 1957 Billy Graham came to a crowd of 3,000, in Urbana, Illinois with a rebuke. These young people had come from all over to attend an InterVarsity conference so these were engaged, interested young Christians. But it was precisely their interest and engagement that Graham was questioning. They served the one true God. Their Savior had triumphed over death, and secured for them eternal life. They had every reason to be zealous, to be fanatics. But were they? In 2 Samuel 12 the prophet Nathan tells a story to King David about a heartless rich man, and reveals to David at the end, “You are that man!” At the conference Billy Graham read an excerpt from a letter – a letter by a true fanatic – to reveal to his listeners that, “You are not this man.” It was by a young convert to communism, who was explaining to his fiancée why he was breaking off their engagement. We Communists don’t have the time or the money for many movies, or concerts, or T-bone steaks, or decent homes and new cars. We’ve been described as fanatics. We are fanatics. Our lives are dominated by one great overshadowing factor, the struggle for world communism. We Communists have a philosophy of life which no amount of money could buy. We have a cause to fight for, a definite purpose in life. We subordinate our petty, personal selves into a great movement of humanity, and if our personal lives seem hard, or our egos appear to suffer through subordination to the party, then we are adequately compensated by the thought that each of us in his small way is contributing to something new and true and better for mankind. There is one thing in which I am in dead earnest and that is the Communist cause. It is my life, my business, my religion, my hobby, my sweetheart, my wife and mistress, my bread and meat. I work at it in the daytime and dream of it at night. Its hold on me grows, not lessens as time goes on. Therefore, I cannot carry on a friendship, a love affair, or even a conversation without relating it to this force which both drives and guides my life. I evaluate people, books, ideas, and actions according to how they affect the Communist cause and by their attitude toward it. I’ve already been in jail because of my ideas and if necessary, I’m ready to go before a firing squad. This zealot worshipped a false god. In comparison, our God in infinitely greater – the one true God who made all of reality: the Earth, the stars, the animals, everything. And He sent his very own Son to die for us. This, then, is a God worthy of all honor! Yet, are we willing to make everything – our ego, our ambitions, our business, and our relationships – secondary to Him? Do we love Him like that? How do we compare to this young zealot? In Revelation 2, God congratulates the Church at Ephesus for their toil, their perseverance, and their discernment. But there was a problem: "I have this against you, that you have left your first love. Therefore remember from where you have fallen, and repent and do the deeds you did at first..." The Christians in Ephesus had a lot going for them but they had stopped being fanatical. After what God has done for us – He made us, and He saved us – He deserves so much better than a lukewarm love. So here's a question for us all: am I a fanatic? Would anyone say that about me? Or do I need to repent?...

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A hill to die on

A couple of weeks ago, I attended a public lecture by Dr. Jordan Peterson at the University of Western Ontario. For those of you who don’t know, Dr. Peterson has found himself the target of transgender activists, some of whom actually claim that his refusal to use recently-invented “transgender pronouns” constituted violence. Labeling someone a perpetrator of violence for refusing to use the words you just made up, of course, also allows you to begin perpetrating real violence in response, and this has resulted in Peterson’s lectures being shut down by angry mobs. After the lecture, one student asked Peterson an interesting question. You’ve articulated at great length the dangers of post-modernism and political correctness, the student pointed out. But why this issue? Why choose transgender pronouns as the proverbial hill to die on? Peterson’s response was striking. “Why not?” he replied. When you’re fighting a war, there’s very rarely a compelling reason to die for the next yard of soil – but that’s how wars are won, and that is how the line is held – yard by yard. You have to pick something, and this is what I chose. His response reminded me of something I wrote about at length in my own book The Culture War: the tendency of Christians to count the cost and decide to opt out of fighting. Secular progressives are willing to fight a bloody war of attrition for every crimson inch of soil, from prayers at city council meetings to nativity scenes in public to launching cyber-lynch mobs on little old ladies who don’t want to bake cakes for gay weddings. Christians, on the other hand, often cave at the first sign of pressure. Douglas Wilson commented wryly on this habit on his blog in 2015: Whenever we get to that elusive and ever-receding “hill to die on,” we will discover, upon our arrival there, that it only looked like a hill to die on from a distance. Up close, when the possible dying is also up close, it kind of looks like every other hill. All of a sudden it looks like a hill to stay alive on, covered over with topsoil that looks suspiciously like common ground. So it turns out that surrendering hills is not the best way to train for defending the most important ones. Retreat is habit-forming. Now granted, as I’ve written before, Christians are often too busy raising their families and trying to live their lives to take a stand in the culture wars. For every baker or florist who gets targeted by gay rights activists, you can bet there are hundreds of others who quietly knuckled under to avoid becoming the center of a noisy lawsuit. But we need more men like Dr. Jordan Peterson. He may not be a Christian, but he is, as one writer so eloquently put it, “the frog that wouldn’t boil.” Each yard of ground we give up without a fight is another step closer to being backed into a corner. Dr. Peterson was willing to take a stand. He was willing to stop, look around, and say “Here. This is where I fight.” Each of us will have to make that decision sometime in the near future. And better now than later – it is easier to defend territory than it is to reclaim it. Jonathon Van Maren is the author of The Culture War and blogs at The theBridgehead.ca...

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Sliver Mustard's journey

Perhaps as many as a million people lived in Noah's Grove. A thriving community, it had begun small but had grown over decades and centuries. Children were born, grew up and had more children. Farms dotted the surrounding countryside and buildings edged the skyscape. Markets with fresh produce were held every Tuesday and Friday. Housewives milled about stands filled with round cabbages, bright yellow carrots, leafy greens and the like. And there were, as in all towns, the rich and the poor, the beggars and the bag ladies as well as the ones whose pockets were filled with clinking coins, the shy and the forward, the meek and the proud. The mayor of Noah's Grove was a portly man. Well-fed and financially secure, he possessed the gift of persuading people he was the right man for his job. Amiable, he ambled through the cobble-stoned streets greeting both children and adults alike. He wore a great, heavy golden chain about his neck, a chain much admired by the younger population of Noah's Grove. The head of the police in Noah's Grove was very much respected and recognized by all. Perhaps it was due to the fact that muscles rippled through the lining of his shirt. He wore a star on the lapel of his blue jacket. His broad jaw embosomed law and order and commanded obedience. Then there was the local judge – a man venerable and full of years. Grey-headed, thinning hair partly covered by a fur-lined beret, he walked upright - shoulders erect. His green eyes were so piercing that people avoided his glance. They were convinced that his eyes might ferret out every little misdeed they had committed. But he was only a human as they were human - and, as such, he was also prone to sin. There were also the bankers, the bakers, the butchers and the candlestick makers; the soldiers, the sailors and the craftsmen; and the list of Noah's Grove citizens could run on and on and on. An honest man Sliver Mustard, a street cleaner, was also a resident of Noah's Grove. A tiny seedling of a man, shriveled and old, he resembled the broom he perpetually held in his hands. It was his job to sweep some of the sidewalks and the streets of the town. He didn't look up much while he was cleaning, as he was always searching the ground for dust, for dirt, for any sort of refuse. He was a kindly type of fellow, an honest man, for whenever he found anything he considered to be of value, he would pick it up and knock at the door of the house in front of which he had been sweeping. "Pardon me. Have you lost this?" he would ask, holding up the particular object he had just found. Mostly people would glance at the item for an instant before shutting the door in his face. The recovered items were mostly trinkets, baubles, and in Sliver Mustard's rough, grimy hands they usually appeared rather dirty and worthless. Sometimes a small child would remember and recognize a lost necklace, or a toy and a smile of happiness would cross a little face as an eager hand reached for the article the sweeper held up. And in these rare moments the street sweeper felt as if he had performed a singular service which somehow outshone the stars he so admired at night. He sometimes wondered at the possibility of a star falling down from the sky into his gutter. Would he then be able to knock on the gate of heaven and ask God if He had lost it? Then, pondering upon this possibility, he would smile to himself, smile almost shyly, knowing in his heart that such a thing could not be. Who was he to return a thing to the Creator? For were not all things His? Invitations go out The letter carrier brought invitations one day - invitations from His Majesty, the King, for all the citizens of Noah's Grove. The content of these invitations was the same for everyone and commanded citizens to present themselves to be painted by the greatest artist of all times - Mr. Potter. The envelopes containing the invitations were deposited into the various mailboxes around town. Slipped into the black, open-mouthed slots, they were retrieved first by one person, then by another. Word traveled quickly. "You'll never believe who contacted me...." "I received a personal word from ...." The street sweeper heard the town's folk talk, listening as he swept out the gutters and cleaned the grey-mouthed cracks in the sidewalks. He was glad that the widow on the corner of Church Street had received a notice. She frequently smiled at him and was a kind woman. Sliver Mustard also rejoiced when a simple-minded fellow, a lad who helped the blacksmith at the forge each day, was ecstatically waving about an envelope. Sliver Mustard did not expect an invitation for himself. In the first place, he had no mailbox, and in the second place, what interest could Mr. Potter possibly have in him? Indeed, even if Mr. Potter did know him, why would he want to paint an old, grizzled geezer like himself – dusty, dirty and quite, quite unattractive? Yet there it was when he came home that evening. Outlined white and pure on the faded blue tablecloth of the kitchen table, it made every object in the one-room shanty flow with warmth. Sliver Mustard gingerly wiped his right hand on his pants, thereby making it even dirtier than it had been. Picking up the envelope between his thumb and forefinger, he carried it over to the chair and sat down. For a long while he did not move. He simply held onto the unexpected pleasure. It seemed to him this was enough. That he had been remembered - this was beyond belief. Finally, mustering up all his courage and strength, he opened the envelope. Or perhaps, the envelope opened itself in his hands. Later on, he could not quite remember. Fully expecting the note to read along the lines of "Sliver Mustard, perhaps next time I come to town...." or "Sorry, Sliver Mustard, but you do not meet the qualifications as I have set them...." But he read no such lines; he didn't read anything of the sort. The words that Sliver Mustard read were these: "This is to ask Sliver Mustard to present himself as he is, tomorrow afternoon, at three of the clock, at the hill." One shirt, no dryer Sighing deeply, Sliver Mustard leaned back in his chair. He had sat up straight for the reading of the letter but the words overwhelmed him. He stretched out his feet in front of him. He only owned one shirt, a shirt which he rinsed out every Saturday night, hung out to dry and put on again on Sunday morning. He bathed weekly in a nearby creek. There was hardly time to perform these ablutions now. As he contemplated his options, he knew that he had none. Sliver Mustard both longed and feared to go. He sat in the chair all of that night, dozing and waking at intervals. He sat as the dark hours crept by and as the light of morning dawned through the small window in the kitchen. Sliver Mustard still swept the streets that morning. It was his job after all. It was what the town was paying him to do and it would not be proper for him to neglect that job. Promptly at twelve he stopped, and, carrying the broom over his shoulder, headed home. He brushed his hair, regretted the ownership of a hat and rubbed a rag over his shoes. Then he washed his hands at the sink and ran a washcloth over his face. It was time to go. There was no doubt about it. It would never do to keep Mr. Potter waiting. Force of habit made him pick up his broom. Outside, Sliver Mustard trailed, by several miles, all the other people from town also going in the same direction. They were far ahead and he could just make out the glint of the mayor's chain as it shone in the noonday sun. He did appear to be last for when he turned his head, he could see no one behind him. As he walked, he noted with a bit of alarm, that it was later than he had thought. Picking up his steps, he pondered on the pitiful figure he must cut. Perhaps the invitation had been a mistake. But it had read, in unmistakably clear printing, "This is to ask Sliver Mustard to present himself as he is.... With a flower in his buttonhole The sun shone down hotly on Sliver Mustard's body and he began to sweat. Trudging on through what appeared to be endless stretches of road, he felt his shirt cling damply to his body. What a wretched figure he was! He sincerely wished that he was wearing a chain such as the mayor had. Not a gold chain - that would be a presumptuous thing for which to wish. But a metal chain, an inexpensive chain, one that would also glint and shine a bit. Surely the mayor, leading all the folks in Noah's Grove towards Mr. Potter, was a fine sight to behold - dapper and upright. He glanced at the fields around him and noticed a broken lily at the side of the road. Undoubtedly someone from town in his haste to see Mr. Potter had trampled on it. Stooping down, he picked the flower up. There was no door on which to knock and ask if someone had lost it. There was only a field of flowers. For a moment he was enthralled. How beautiful these flowers were! Dressed as the Creator had seen fit to dress them. "Have you lost this...?" He smiled and carefully put the lily in the buttonhole of his dirty shirt. No chain, but surely this was just as good. But as Sliver Mustard trudged on, the thought that Mr. Potter would be unimpressed with him weighed him down more and more. Surely, he would have to be! He fingered the frayed cuff of his sleeve. And for a moment he coveted the star embroidered jacket that the head of the police would be wearing. Still, he reflected a minute later, it would be hot walking in such a uniform jacket today. Sliver Mustard stopped to contemplate. And as he stopped, a bird alighted in his shoulder. It was a sparrow. A lily and a sparrow! What strangeness was this? There was no house here – no house at which he could ask "Excuse me, but have you lost this sparrow?", and he was secretly glad of it. Sliver Mustard kept on walking, embellished with a flower and a bird. "Clothes make the man." That's what people were wont to say and he understood that saying and sentiment. But was it true? Mr. Potter had not said it in his invitation. The words in Mr. Potter's invitation read, "This is to ask Sliver Mustard to present himself as he is, tomorrow afternoon, at three of the clock, at the hill." Clothes make the man? As he pondered, Sliver Mustard almost tripped over several clods of earth in his path. His scuffed shoes kicked the mud unintentionally and they flew ahead of him. Surely, most of the town's people had reached the hill by this time – had reached it clean and well-dressed. Would Mr. Potter be able to paint all of them simultaneously? He sighed and bent down, taking a rag out of his pocket as he did so, fully concentrated on rubbing a bit of a shine back onto his shoes. The lily touched his face as he bent and the sparrow chirped. "Why, Sliver Mustard?!" Startled, he looked up, finding himself face to face with the mayor, flanked by the police chief and the judge. How could he not have seen them coming? "On your way to the hill, Sliver? He nodded. The mayor's chain glinted, glinted so that it hurt Sliver Mustard's eyes."You need not bother, Sliver," the mayor went on in a kindly sort of way. "You need not bother to go on to the hill." Sliver Mustard was puzzled as he stood up, stuffing the rag back into his pocket. What did the mayor mean? "Mr. Potter," the mayor continued, his voice heating up, "wanted me to take off my chain and my robe of office. Can you believe that? He wanted me to be painted without the symbols that define me. He told me to take them off." Dumbly Sliver Mustard shook his head. The police chief and the judge had walked on without bothering to speak and the mayor began to follow them. **** For a long time Sliver Mustard watched them - he watched them until they disappeared around a bend in the road. Then he turned. He smelled the lily and it was a sweet smell to him. He heard the sparrow on his shoulder sing and it was a song of fullness. In his heart he believed the words of the invitation, and he could see the words as clearly as if they had been written across the wide, wide overhead sky. "This is to ask Sliver Mustard to present himself as he is, tomorrow afternoon, at three of the clock, at the hill." So Sliver Mustard went on and on. At three of the clock he reached the hill. The watchman at the gate opened the gate and drew him in. And Sliver Mustard was painted as he was. Christine Farenhorst is the author of many books, including a short story collection/devotional available at Joshua Press here. She has a new novel – historical fiction – coming out Spring 2017 called “Katharina, Katharina” (1497-1562) covering the childhood and youth of Katharina Schutz Zell, the wife of the earliest Strasbourg priest turned Reformer, Matthis Zell....

Assorted

“You too?” What friendship is, and why it’s so hard to find

Finding good friends can be a daunting process. Oh, sure, some people seem to slide quickly and easily into friendship in only a matter of days. But for the rest of us there’s questions and more questions. How do good friendships begin? At what point do acquaintances officially become friends? How can you quickly move to that “comfortable stage” where you can just relax around each other? And, why is making friends so hard? When I thought about my own approach to friendship, there was something very specific I was looking for in the initial stages of meeting a new person. I was searching for some sort of magical moment of “connection.” C.S. Lewis put into words what this connection feels like: "Friendship is born at that moment when one person says to another: “What! You too? I thought I was the only one.” You know what it feels like when you’ve been acquainted with someone for years, and done all sorts of activities with them, but still don’t feel like you really know them? And then there are others you feel connected to right away? That’s because with some people you reach that “You too?” moment right away, and some people you never do. When it happens, this connection is such a gift. Who doesn’t feel lonely sometimes? And who wants to face life’s ups and downs by their lonesome? So it comes as unimaginable relief to find out other humans know what you’re talking about. About your deep loneliness despite being constantly surrounded by people. About your guilt at not being as good a parent as you thought you would be, or not being as patient a husband or wife. About your spiritual doubts that you wrestle with. To walk side-by-side with another through anxious times can make the path appear a little smoother. Too much emphasis? However, it is possible to put too much emphasis on this connection. I’m making it sound like the discovery of common ground is essential to friendship, so how can a person place too much emphasis on it? The answer is, yes. It’s easy to think you don’t have anything in common with someone before you reach this “You too?” moment. I certainly feel this way at times. When I’m staring at a stranger, I can’t imagine what possible experiences we might share that could lead to a conversation. It’s too easy to give up before ever reaching the stage of a relationship known as “friendship.” And I don’t think I’m the only one who overemphasizes finding this moment of connection. It’s been stated more than a few times that, despite having more technologies to connect us than all generations before us could have dreamed of, we are one of the loneliest and most isolated generations. And it’s not only that technology discourages us from meeting face-to-face – it also teaches us to seek out that “You too?” moment. We join groups of comic book fans, narrowing them down to the most obscure character in them all. We connect with like-minded cooks, sharing recipes with others who are passionate about our non-GMO, paleo, carb-free diet. Or we discuss the narrowest point of Calvin’s Institutes on message boards of people who agree with us. But in real life, facing real people, we can’t imagine what on earth we might share in common. Christian connection As Christians, perhaps we should consider if our friendship is really meant to rely solely on an ability to relate to each other. The first reply to this thought might be that with brothers and sisters in Christ we obviously have Christianity in common, and we need to keep that at the forefront of our minds. But this neatly sidesteps the issue of searching for this moment in general. There may be a reason the Bible talks more about our neighbors than our friends. We are not meant to only interact with those we find something in common with. We are to seek this connection with everyone we interact. We may not connect with everyone on a friendship level (and we know even Jesus had closer relationships with some of his disciples than others), but our knowledge that each of us is created in the image of God demands we give such a relationship a chance. And, perhaps, even if we're not feeling it, the least we can do is treat each person we meet as a person with unique experiences that are shared with at least some human beings, and relatable in a way that could add value to some other person’s life, even if not ourselves. We may not be able to be friends with every single person, but we do know who our neighbors are supposed to be (Luke 10:25-37). It does take work Think about a friend you now know well. When you first met them, did you realize they would one day be one of your closest friends? You may have at least one friend that, if you‘d focused on only the easily discoverable similarities, you would have missed out on them. When Christians talk of love, they often talk about going beyond the externals to seek unfading qualities inside a person. In friendship – which is a type of love that isn’t recognized enough – we do similarly, in going beyond our initial impressions of “they’re so different” to seek out all the ways that they’re not. The upshot of all of this is that building a friendship will require work, and you'll sacrifice time perhaps on a level similar to that time you invest in family relationships. There may be long, tedious, awkward moments spent with a human being who feels as distant from you as if they stood across a canyon opposite you. They may not feel safe enough yet to expose the vulnerable experiences that you might discover they shared with you, and you might need more time before you’d share such an experience with them too. It may feel like hard work. But that should not surprise us, because we already expect to be called to sacrifice for each other. Conclusion This does not necessarily make building friendships appear less daunting. I still sit here intimidated by it, or perhaps even more intimidated than before. But there is freedom in knowing your weaknesses, and in knowing Who to turn to for help. After all, there is someone who promised us friendship even when we’re at our very worst. “No longer do I call you servants,” Jesus says in John 15, “for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you.” We have a friendship that strengthens us to reach out and make friends with others. A version of this article was first published on HarmaMaeSmit.com and is reprinted here with permission of the author....

Assorted

To appear before the Lord

A young lawyer had a dream. He found himself one morning before a judge at court in a T-shirt and crumpled shorts. The judge asked him how he came to be so inappropriately dressed. “But your worship”, the lawyer answered, “I go to church in this manner.” The judge replied, “Young man you might appear before the Judge of judges in this manner, but not in my court.” Does it really matter how we dress for church? After all, isn’t the important thing that we go to church? Well it is indeed true that the important thing is to go to church and that we appear before the Lord in worship. He calls us there. And therefore we ought to be there when He calls. There is no difficulty with that. I also think that most of us would agree that there can be circumstances where, what at other times may be considered inappropriate, can be accepted. I think here of someone who has been hurt and cannot wear "normal" clothes. I also think of people new to the gospel who may well wear clothes which at other times would be considered not right for church. We are not going to write about those things. Those are the exceptions. But what should be the rule? How should brothers and sisters in the faith appear before the Lord? How they used to dress In olden days – say, when your grandparents were young – it was considered normal for the women to wear dark clothes, a hat and, in some instances, gloves to church. Men wore a black suit, a hat or cap, which was removed before they entered the church building. Without a doubt this was a tradition, because nowhere in the Bible will you find exactly how we should dress for church. The question is, does such a tradition have any value? Does it make any difference to how we experience the church service? I could answer these questions with a simple, no. There is indeed little value in tradition for tradition’s sake. And it may well be that those people long ago did not really experience a church service much different to today. But is that really the questions we should ask? I don’t think so. Why did they dress this way? The question that is much more important is, why did our grandparents consider the way they dressed important? The answer to that question lies in how they regarded church and church going. When they went to church they recognized that they were going there to meet with the Lord. They recognized the importance of this event. They wanted to show in their outward appearance that their hearts were reaching out to the God of their salvation. Someone may, at this point, ask me the question, did they really think about these things? Or was this simply the way they dressed for any important occasion? Again I would have to agree. People in those days were much more inclined to dress up. That has indeed changed. During hot summer days there are not many who would go to a meeting wearing a coat and tie. If you need to sit in a stuffy room for some hours you want to be comfortable. We can also note that our grandparents lived – most of them – in a different climate. They lived in Europe, most probably in the Netherlands which has different climatic conditions from those experienced in Canada or Australia. So all these things need to be taken into account when considering how we should dress. I also recognize that many today would say that no one can tell someone else what is appropriate. We live in a time that is sometimes called the ME generation. You know, "if it feels good, do it!!" That is what we are told by the various influences which surround us. Also in the church we are being influenced by this attitude through the media, the press, TV and magazines. Whereas once one would only see Christian magazines in our homes, today that has changed somewhat. The world has come into our homes. We need to be aware of these bad influences. We are in the world but not of this world. All of us need to examine ourselves with regard to these matters. But is there a standard of dress that is acceptable in church? Can we lay down some rules to which everyone should adhere? Yes and no. Let us look at some very general rules. Climate I recently had an e-mail sent to me by someone who was responding to a comment I had made in an online Reformed forum about the weather in Australia. He wrote to tell me that where his brother lives, somewhere in central Canada, it is always 40 degrees, either plus or minus. I have for some time held the view that the way we dress in English-speaking countries has largely been determined by the way the people in the cold and clammy English isles dress. Hence we wear a suit for formal occasions and inevitably a tie around our neck. That may not be the best way to dress when it is extremely hot. I notice that in the state of Israel people attend cabinet meeting without a tie. Just an open necked shirt, either short or long sleeves. It is only sensible to dress for the climate – I do not think it essential to wear a suit with shirt and tie at all times. That does not eliminate my concern with some of the outfits seen at church. There is such a thing as too informal, or too casual. Therefore I do not consider it right to appear in church with t-shirts, or sports attire and similar clothing Another interesting observation. When sports stars receive their annual awards it is inevitably done at a formal occasion where dinner suits and bow ties are the order of the day. Modesty While this is an area which should really be addressed by a lady, I guess even men can be dressed in an immodest way. There is little doubt that our ladies need to consider modesty when dressing, and not only for church. It seems to me that some ladies have little idea how their form of dress affects the opposite sex. It is not for nothing that Paul writes in 1 Timothy 2:9 “I also want women to dress modestly, with decency and propriety, not with braided hair or gold or pearls or expensive clothes.” Why did Paul write this? Because he was an old stick in the mud? I don’t think so. Paul wrote this because he recognized the dangers in such immodesty. Let our ladies be aware of it and remember it when they clothe themselves. Conclusion I mentioned at the beginning of my article the dream of a young lawyer. Weekly we appear before the LORD of hosts, before Him who is far greater, and much more important than any judge or ruler on earth. He is obviously much more important than any sports star or star of the stage or the big screen. Each week we may appear before our LORD who owns us, body and soul, but who at the same time is our Father, who has bought us with the blood of His Son, our Lord and Savior. Shall we then, not consider these things when dressing for church on Sundays? Or for that matter, whenever we appear before Him in worship? I realise, of course, that we are never out of His sight. He sees us wherever we are, He sees us at work, at play, at home and away from home. And at all times He wants to be proud of us. After all we are His children. Maybe each of us should ask ourselves this question: will our Lord, our Savior, our Father in heaven be proud of us in the way we dress, in the way we act, in the way we talk? He is, when all is said and done, far more important and should be far more important to each of us, than any person or group of persons on earth! Let that be reflected in all we do and say. Having reached the end of our article let me ask one question again. Is there an appropriate way of dressing for church? Our way of dress should reflect the importance of the occasion. It should reflect that we come into God’s presence. Worship is a joyful, that indeed, but also a very solemn occasion. Joyful because we meet with our Savior, solemn because this Savior is also far greater than any person on earth. He is after all GOD. A version of this article first appeared in the March 2000 issue of Reformed Perspective. Rene Vermeulen was a regular columnist for the magazine from 1984 to 2010....

Assorted, Culture Clashes

Did Adam have a belly button?

Why we need to clarify Article 14 of the Belgic Confession In the fourth century a big battle was fought over a one-letter difference. The Church professed that Christ was homoousios – “of the same substance” – as God the Father, while the Arians argued that Christ was homoiousios, or merely “of a similar substance.” The two Greek terms used differed by only a single iota (the Greek “i”) but what was at stake couldn’t have been bigger: the Arians said Christ was like God but was actually a creature. Today we’re contending with an issue that seems quiet small: our battle is over a belly button. On the side are those that profess Adam had no belly button, because he had no mother and because he was never born. As the Belgic Confession Article 14 puts it, ...God created man of the dust from the ground… On the other side or those who say Adam may well have had a belly button and a mom, and ancestors, and may have shared one of those ancestors with the chimpanzees. So this belly button battle quickly shows itself to be about matters much more important. It comes down to whether Adam brought death into the world through the Fall into sin, or whether God used death – millions of years of creatures evolving up from the primordial slime – to bring about Adam. The issue here is every bit as big as Christ’s nature: it’s about the character of God. That’s why Hamilton’s Providence Canadian Reformed Church has proposed amending Article 14 of the Belgic Confession to clarify that Adam has no ancestors. They propose that the Article begin with these two new lines: We believe that God created the human race by making and forming Adam from dust (Gen. 2:7) and Eve from Adam’s side (Gen. 2:21-22).  They were created as the first two humans and the biological ancestors of all other humans.  There were no pre-Adamites, whether human or hominid. Their addition would add about 40 words to the confession, and remove any doubt as to what should be believed. But is the change needed? Is there really anyone in our church circles that’s confused about Adam’s origins? Yes, and yes. Not only is there confusion in our churches, this same confusion exists in other Reformed churches including the OPC. Canadian Reformed confusion One prominent member of the Canadian Reformed Churches, Jitse Van Der Meer, was asked how he could square man and chimpanzees having a common ancestor with what we confess in the beginning of Belgic Confession Article 14 about man being made from the dust. Prof. Van Der Meer answered: I am not sure why you think there is something to square between Article 14 and the idea of a common ancestor for chimpanzees and humans, but let me make a guess. Some have taken Gen. 2:7 to mean that God acted like a potter. If you take that literally you might see a contradiction with the idea that chimpanzees and humans have a common ancestor. But other biblical scholars reject the literal “potter” interpretation because they see this as coming close to disrespect: Did God fashion the liver, the lungs of clay? My conclusion is that the text neither justifies nor excludes the possibility that humans and chimpanzees had a common ancestor for the obvious reason that it is not a scientific text. Prof. Van Der Meer manages to take both Genesis 2 and Belgic Confession Article 14 and read them in such a way as to allow for the possibility that humans and chimpanzees had common ancestors. According to this perspective, Adam may have been crafted from the dust, but may still have had a belly button, a mom and dad, grandparents, and much, much more. Confusion in the Christian Reformed churches The Christian Reformed churches also hold to the Belgic Confession. But it hasn’t served as a sufficient safeguard against evolutionary inroads. Almost 25 years ago, in the CRC’s 1991 Statement on Origins they wrote in “Declaration F”: The church declares, moreover, that the clear teaching of Scriptures and of our confessions on the uniqueness of human beings as image bearers of God rules out the espousal of all theorizing that posits the reality of evolutionary forebears of the human race. That sounds good, right? But this was part of a minority report. The majority had recommended that there be no statements made about human evolution because, “much research remained to be done in that area.” So the majority of the committee, even back in 1991, didn’t want to go as far as to rule out ancestors for Adam. Synod did adopt Declaration F, but attached two notes which rendered the Declaration meaningless. Note 1: Of course, private research, theorizing, and discussions are not addressed by this declaration Note 2: Declaration F is not intended and may not be used to limit further investigation and discussion on the origin of humanity. In other words, even as the 1991 Synod of the CRC took a stand against Adam having ancestors, they specifically allowed for their academics to talk about Adam having ancestors. What the right hand giveth the left taketh away! In 2014, the CRC did away with Declaration F altogether. They still hold to Belgic Confession Article 14, but that is not being understood as an impediment to speculation about Adam having ancestors. Confusion in the OPC Closer to home, confusion about Adam’s origin also exists in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church. Our sister church was running into trouble way back in 1992 in a case that involved a Calvin College biology professor by the name of Terry Gray. Dr. William VanDoodewaard gives an account of Gray’s case in his book The Quest for the historical Adam: Terry Gray…proposed that both the increasingly accepted hermeneutical alternatives to the literal tradition and what he viewed as the realities of the record of natural history should allow for the possibility that Adam and Eve were created through a process involving primate ancestors. How did Gray address Genesis 2:7, where we are told “…the LORD God formed a man from the dust of the ground…”? Disagreeing with John Murray’s literal reading…Gray argued that the “dust of the ground” was “a non-technical term” that simply referred to “the physical-chemical constituency of the human body” and that the verse did not address the process by which God formed man. When complaints were first made about Gray’s stance, his session (the OPC term for consistory) “held that the charges were unwarranted.” Fortunately his Presbytery (similar to our Classis) ruled against Gray, and the 1994 OPC General Assembly also ruled against Gray. So the OPC stood strong, right? Not so fast. Gray was suspended from his office as a ruling elder, but as he explained in a blogpost titled “Being an Evolutionary Creationist in a Confessionally Reformed Church” he was restored in 1998 after he admitted “…I did not know how to hold my views about human evolution together with the uniqueness of Adam as taught in the Confessions and in Scripture.” Gray found that what Scripture taught conflicted with his views about evolution. But that did not lead him to reject evolution. Instead he simply stopped trying to revolve the conflict, continuing to hold to evolution, but no longer suggesting as to how it could be fit in with Scripture. That the OPC thought this an acceptable resolution to the issue underscores the need for clarity. If something is found to conflict with Scripture then it needs to be rejected, not sequestered! That’s what it means to live by God’s Word. Gray eventually left the OPC, joined the CRC, and worked with others there to get Declaration F rescinded. Conclusion In the fourth century you can be sure that many wondered what all the fuss was being made over. Just one letter! But the fight was about the very identity of Christ – Who He is – so it wasn’t possible to compromise. The same has to be true today. Some want to position this as only a minor matter. Maybe Adam had ancestors; maybe he didn’t. Can’t we all just get along? But the issue of Adam’s origins impacts every aspect of what we know about God. If Adam had evolutionary origins then he came about through a process of death, disease, and dead ends. Then, rather than Adam bringing death into the world via the Fall, it was death that brought about Adam. If God created using the tooth-and-claw, survival-of-the-fittest, process of evolution which He then called “good” and “very good” that completely changes our understanding of what good is. It changes how we understand our good God. What’s at stake here is our understanding of God’s. So no, we can’t all just get along. We need to help the confused and stop those who are causing the confusion. One very good way to do so would be to adopt Providence’s proposal to revise Belgic Confession Article 14. This article first appeared in the June 2015 issue of Reformed Perspective....

Assorted

Confirming what we've always confessed

On March 11, 2015, Classis Ontario West adopted an unusual proposal from Hamilton’s Providence Canadian Reformed Church: Providence wants an addition made to the Belgic Confession. As they explain in their proposal, our confessions differ from Scripture in that they aren’t perfect or sacred…so they can be amended or edited. That has happened in the past: for instance, at the 1905 General Synod of the Reformed Churches in the Netherlands a number of words were deleted from Belgic Confession Article 36 “in an effort to better conform to biblical teachings on the role of civil government.” But why would a change need to be made now? Because “the Canadian Reformed Churches presently face a significant doctrinal challenge in the area of origins.” What change does Providence propose? They want to replace the first line of the Belgic Confession’s Article 14 with the following to clarify “our confessional and biblical stance on human origins” (new wording is italicized): We believe that God created the human race by making and forming Adam from dust (Gen. 2:7) and Eve from Adam’s side (Gen. 2:21-22). They were created as the first two humans and are the biological ancestors of all other humans. There were no pre- Adamites, whether human or hominid. God made and formed Adam after his own image and likeness, good, righteous, and holy. As the proposal notes, many believe that our confessions are already quite clear on this topic. However, the fact is some Canadian Reformed academics have joined together to argue that the confessions leave room for a great diversity of views on how mankind came to be. This group, Reformed Academic, includes some very prominent figures: Dr. Arnold Sikkema, Dr. Jitse Van der Meer and Dr. F.G. Oosterhoff. They have a diversity of views amongst themselves, and it can be hard to figure out just what they each believe about Man’s origins. On the group’s blog they have allowed their most outspoken (and clearest) member, Dr. Jitse Van der Meer, to outline what he considered strong evidence for the possibility that man and chimpanzees have a common ancestor. Does that mean Dr. Van der Meer is affirming the evolution of man from some relation of chimps? Well, there is a nit that can be picked here: relating strong evidence for evolution is not necessarily the same thing as affirming evolution. As Dr. Sikkema noted in a response to the proposal, even a creationist like Dr. Todd Wood has acknowledged that there are strong evidences for evolution. But, of course, there is acknowledging and there is acknowledging. While both Reformed Academic and Dr. Wood acknowledge the evidence for evolution only Dr. Wood acknowledges that God created Man over six literal days and not via a process that involved pre-Adamites and millennia upon millennia of death, disease, and disaster, which He thereafter declared “good.” Context is key. In his response to the proposal Dr. Sikkema argued that Providence Church had misrepresented him in supporting materials by labeling him a “theistic evolutionist”: I don’t “believe in evolution.” It’s not about belief. I don’t believe in Einstein’s theory of gravity either, but I do believe in a good, loving, and covenantally faithful Triune God… Dr. Sikkema uses the term “belief” here in the sense of “place my hope in.” In that sense he believes in God, but not evolution or Einstein’s theory of gravity. However, no Christian anywhere “places their hope” in evolution, so if that is what it means to “believe in evolution” it is not surprising Dr. Sikkema rejects the label “theistic evolutionist.” As he has redefined the term it can’t be applied to anyone at all. But what if we give the term a more reasonable definition? What if we say a theistic evolutionist is "someone who argues that God-directed evolution is a legitimate possibility"? Then the term applies. In a joint blog post (responding to the charge that, “evolution falls outside the tent of the Reformed confessions” Dr. Sikkema and the other members of Reformed Academic wrote: …God-directed evolution does not exclude the direct creation of Adam, because everything that happens is under God’s direct control. Therefore, theistic evolution is not outside the boundaries of the Three Forms of Unity . Other objections have already been raised, some of note (an edit will be needed to acknowledge that Eve, too, was made in God’s image), but very few of which wrestle with what is at stake here. To paraphrase Douglas Wilson, did Adam bring death into the world (Romans 5:12) or did millions of years of death and dying bring Adam into the world?Providence’s proposal specifically and clearly rejects the latter and calls upon our churches to do the same. The proposal’s critics are going to fall into one of two camps. There will be: Those who argue it isn’t necessary because they believe the Confession already rules out pre-Adamites. Those who argue it isn’t necessary but who won’t rule out pre-Adamites. If the critics all fall into the first camp, Providence’s proposed addition isn’t needed. Conversely, if there are any who fall into the second camp, that will highlight why we need to clarify our Confession. There will also be some who make a show of being in the first camp with carefully parsed statements such as, “it could be argued that the Confession already rules out evolution.” While that sounds very first camp-ish, it can be a clever way of saying, “some people – not necessarily me, mind you – could argue…” We should view such critics who won’t be clear as strengthening the case for Providence’s clarifying proposal. Lots of work, research, and thought has gone into Providence’s proposal, and you should read it for yourself. It can be found on their website: ProvidenceChurch.ca....