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? A few years back 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 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?
Gezellig: cozy, restful
When I think of my mom, an image that often comes to me is one of her sitting in her rocking chair, holding her cup of coffee, either reading her Bib...
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 ther...
The devil's foothold
Three demons perched on the edge of a big-city skyscraper. They often met at this particular pinnacle at the close of a day swapping stories and sharing experiences that they'd had during the last twenty-four hours. The sun was setting. It was twilight. "I deceived a mother," one of them named Givin began. He had a sharp voice. It sliced through the faint cacophony of the traffic in the streets below, although the noise of vehicles had diminished somewhat during the Covid-19 pandemic. "I deceived a mother," Givin repeated, 'into thinking she ought to pick up her child whenever he cried." Waiting for approbation, he eyed his compatriots expectantly as a soaring jet flew overhead. "How did you deceive her?" the middle demon asked, mildly curious, "Did you put the fear of Covid into her mind, making her believe that crying might evolve into the pestiforous virus?" He guffawed at his own joke. Smugly glancing sideways and grinning, Givin swung his thin legs against the cement ridge of the tall building. "No, I didn't need to use that ruse," he responded, "and she wasn't that difficult to persuade really. The woman was quite ready to be deceived. I passed doubt and fear through her rather self-absorbed mind, highlighting the exhausted state she would be in if she did not get the child to quiet down. I called attention to the fact that she needed to get up at six the next morning to drop the child off at her mother-in-law's house before she went off to work." A car honked in the distance far below the superstructure. "Following this," Given went on, "I deluded her into thinking that if she did not give in to the crying, she would probably have a Children's Aid official call – someone who would question her ability as mother or care-giver." The two other demons chortled. "Admirable tactics," praised the third demon, whose name was Prevaricator, "and ones I have on occasion used myself." There was a restful pause and then Givin dug his elbow into Tar Heap. "So what did you do today, Tar Heap?" Tar Heap had a smooth voice, a voice that ran without interruption, an even, regular voice. "Well, I walked through a super-market." Givin and Prevaricator said “ah” in such a way as to indicate that they knew exactly what he meant. Tar Heap continued with a rather detached but even flow of words, lazily stretching his arm up to the sky. "It was crowded today with regular Saturday shoppers. You know, the harried parents who hadn't seen much of their children; those who were too busy to do groceries during the week because of work. Consequently, there were lots of little kids walking about or sitting in shopping carts demanding this and that and everything without being reprimanded." A pigeon cooed nearby, settling in a corner of the roof. Tar Heap took a stone out of his pocket and flung it at the creature, but he missed. The bird flew off. He continued. "There was one child, about five years old I think, although it's sometimes difficult to tell now because of the masks they are made to wear, who threw a wonderful tantrum. He stamped his feet, waved his arms about, and hollered loud enough to make the cashiers raise their eyebrows. The father and mother of the little stripling were tremendously embarrassed, so the little devil, if you'll pardon the expression, got his way. He wanted some special name-brand cereal. You know the kind, where the sugar content is sky-high, the kind which will probably send the nipper over the top again as soon as he eats it for breakfast. Other children were watching him and I could see little wheels turning in their heads." "Well," Givin responded, "that's what we want, isn't it?" "Yes," Tar Heap agreed, even as he pitched another stone at a bird, "and although on the one hand a scene like that makes me want to explode with satisfaction, on the other hand it irritates me that parents are making our job so easy these days. I don't feel challenged any longer. Victory comes too easily." "Quite true, and well-put." The gravel-voiced Prevaricator stuck in his oar: "Yes, quite, quite true. Even Christian folks are just not clamping down on rules that once seemed to be standard. They don't punish consistently. I've seen fathers condemn something one day and not blink an eye the next. And spanking," he rasped on, "spanking is rarely applied to backsides any more. Naturally I rub my hands in glee over that, but I can see where Tar Heap's coming from." "As a result of years of our lobbying," Tar Heap added, as he lay back contemplating the evening clouds, "the law says that the use of any implement other than a bare hand is illegal, and hitting a child in anger or in retaliation for something a child does is not considered reasonable and is against the law." Givin and Prevaricator nodded in agreement. "Christian parents," Tar Heap went on, "are being influenced by that kind of talk. They're afraid of being charged by social welfare people." "If you'll permit me," Givin said, glancing sideways at Tar Heap of whom he was in awe, "I'm not sure if I totally agree with that." Tar Heap remained silent and, thus encouraged, Givin went on. "I'm sure that laziness, that vice of vices, has something to do with it as well. Mix laziness together with what people call 'reasoning' and the result is something that tastes like Dr. Spock." "Ah, Dr. Spock," Prevaricator rubbed his sooty chin in sweet reflection, "the man was the salt of the earth." Inspired, Givin now stood up, balancing precariously on the edge of the high-rise. In a falsetto voice he emulated a mother talking to her child. "Come on, son, you knew better than to cheat on your test. You don't have to get high marks, but I would just like you to try your best. If you will just promise me that it won't happen again, I won't even mention it to your father." Tar Heap and Prevaricator clapped their feet with enthusiasm at this example. Givin took a bow and sat down again but went on talking. "Most parents think a little 'reasoning' with a child, and I'm talking toddler as well as teenager, will result in correct choices." Tar Heap dropped a pebble down multiple floors, boisterously yowling as he did so, "Sure, and if stones could fly, right?" "Remember the fruit?!" Prevaricator added. After the rowdy laughter had died down, Prevaricator cracked his knuckles thoughtfully. "Beating around the bush, shilly-shallying," he said, "is my specialty, as you know. But lately I rarely have to resort to wiles to pervert the truth." He cracked his knuckles again. "The truth is," he went on, "and I use that word lightly, the truth is, many families don't read the Bible any more, let alone trust what it says." "Life is a bore," Tar Heap yawned, "and I'd give anything for a good day's work in which I knew I'd personally brought several people a few steps closer to damnation." "People are degenerating wonderfully well without our help, and that's a fact," Givin concurred, "although today I did nudge a man, a church-goer mind you, towards not loving his neighbor by using the Covid fear factor." His fellow wretches contemplated him quizzically. "His next-door neighbor had lost the key to her house. She walked over to his place to ask if she could use the phone to call for help. After she rang the bell, he only opened the door a crack, asking her to step back as she spoke." Givin paused for a moment and then continued. "As he stood in the doorway, contemplating whether or not he should help his neighbor, I let him hear a cough in the shadows of his mind; I let him begin to feel feverish; and I let him detect the onset of a headache. The woman was wearing a mask, but after listening to her problem, the fellow gave in to his fears. He shut the door in her face, refusing to let her use his phone." "To quote old Solomon," Prevaricator declared, "there is nothing new under the sun, is there? Personally, I really get a kick out of the fact that so many people are hypocritical. You know, they say one thing and do something else. Love your neighbor with your mouth, but when it comes down to action, well...." He stopped short. "I know what you mean," Givin accorded, "I really like it when I watch families sing hymns and psalms in unison. And then later in the car, or in the rec room, or wherever, they turn on the radio or a CD at full blast to music that would have made old Martin Luther blush." "He didn't blush that easily," Tar Heap contributed, chuckling as he spoke. "Well, you know what I mean," Givin replied. "And I love it," Prevaricator added, "when parents tell their kids to keep the rules just for the rules' sake. I mean a son or daughter says, 'Why do I have to go to church?' And the father replies, 'Because I say so,' or he says, and I love this answer, 'Because there's a service,' and then the father sleeps through the service. Those situations make my job so much easier. It's so much simpler to entice progeny with parents like that away from all those horrid virtues. You guys know the virtues I'm referring to here – virtues like love, joy, peace, goodness, kindness, patience, gentleness ..." He stopped suddenly, his rough voice breaking. "Sorry, guys, I always have a hard time saying..." His voice broke again and Givin and Tar Heap shuddered simultaneously. Tar Heap let out a long sigh and eyed Prevaricator with something akin to idolatry. "I understand," he soothed, "but look on the bright side. There's not many left, not many at all." "Not many what, you dummy?!" Prevaricator retorted, unhappy that he had been caught in a moment of emotion. "Not many competent parents," Tar Heap added, embarrassed that he had expressed himself inadequately. He looked away from Prevaricator to Givin, with whom he felt he was on equal footing, and went on. "I mean, most fathers and mothers, like the couple I watched today at the supermarket, lack the desire to take their kids to the woodshed. What I mean is," he went on rather philosophically, "is that they'd rather suffer flea bites than scratch for fleas." "And all families," Givin grinned at Tar Heap, "are totally infested with fleas. And having fleas is not sin but a disease. Isn't that the way it's perceived?" "The way what is perceived?" Prevaricator snorted. "Fleas," Tar Heap and Givin answered in concert, slapping one another's bony shoulders. "You're both crazy, and you're not making any sense!" Prevaricator's voice was dangerously prickly. Tar Heap and Givin eyed one another a trifle nervously. Prevaricator was, after all, more powerful and an echelon up on them. Givin changed the subject. "Most people don't really believe in us anymore and yet here we are, sitting on top of the city." "Yes, here we are," Tar Heap agreed, "and that lock-down is making our work so much easier. Churches are closed and it's hard for people to empathize, encourage and all that stuff." "That is why this should be a good year," Givin went on, standing up as he spoke, shading his eyes from the glints of the setting sun. No one spoke for a minute and Givin felt it was time to end the conclave. He stood up. "Well, toadies, time's a-wasting. I'm off." "Where are you going?" Tar Heap asked. "To a nearby bar. I understand some youth group is sneaking out to have a get-together spiced with beer. You doing anything special tonight, Tar Heap?" Givin was poised on the edge of the skyscraper as he quizzed, ready to leave. "I'm helping a youngster get addicted to some internet game," Tar Heap answered, "not that exciting, but well worth the trouble." They both glanced down at Prevaricator who was still seated. He responded to their unasked question. "I'm attending a board meeting where a teacher is on trial for suspending a student from class because he used bad language and because the student's computer was found to be riddled with porn. Most of the board is leery about backing the teacher because the student is the son of one of the school's wealthier patrons." "Ah!" Both Givin and Tar Heap feigned speechless admiration. He was after all, bigger and louder than they were. "Meet you here tomorrow, guys?" "You bet!" And the sun set on the city....
Quotes on the single life
Singles are not second "…the nuclear family should not be the center of church life. Rather, the family of God is the center…. It is the church (not married people) that provides a home where all of us find the stability and rootedness that we need." – Peter and Ginger Wallace, “The Church and Singles” in New Horizons, Jan. 2016 "…in the covenant community of God there are no singles. God calls us family: brothers and sisters, mothers and fathers in Christ. We are each to be wonderfully connected to the other as part of a church community, where each person is needed and attached to others in her own family as well as to the broader church family." – Nancy Wilson, Why isn’t a pretty girl like you married? …and other useful comments "The Bible is clear that singleness is not a second-rate status in the church (1 Corinthians 7:8), and it provides several compelling portraits of singles (Paul, Mary, Martha, Lazarus, Lydia, and possibly John the Baptist and even Timothy.)" – Carolyn McCulley "…the Bible refers to Ruth as a virtuous woman (Ruth 3:11) with the same Hebrew phrase used in Proverbs 31. Two uses of the same Hebrew phrase give us data points so that we can better understand the term. We can examine the narrative around these data points and use it to draw conclusions. I totally changed how I thought about Proverbs 31 after seeing the data (for you left-brainers) and story (for you right-brainers) of the virtuous woman of Ruth. Once you see that Ruth was known as a virtuous woman when she was a barren widow from a foreign land, we understand that our ability to be a virtuous woman doesn't depend on a husband and children…" – Wendy Alsup, “A Post Mortem on A Year of Biblical Womanhood” posted to TheologyForWomen.org on Jan. 26, 2016 On seeking a spouse "To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. To love is to be vulnerable." – C.S. Lewis, The Four Loves "If you want God to provide you with a husband, you have to consider whether you are the kind of woman that the kind of man you want to marry would want to marry. Shall I go over that again? What kind of woman is that kind of man looking for? Are you that kind of woman?" – Nancy Wilson, Why isn’t a pretty girl like you married? …and other useful comments "One of the dangers with male/female friendships is that more often than not, one of the two wants something more from the relationship. In the end, usually either a heart is broken or, at the very least, the person with the crush is wasting time not looking elsewhere. If you are holding on to a long-term friendship in hopes that one day it will magically turn to love, you are lying to yourself. The chances that your friend will wake up one day and see you in a totally different and romantic light are miniscule. Save yourself the heartache. Keep friendship with the same sex and save the opposite sex for love." – Hayley & Michael DiMarco, Marriable Men, are you taking the servant-leader role (Ephesians 5:25) in the relationship right from the beginning? In any guy-girl dynamic, someone has to be the first to say "I like you" and with that comes the very real risk of being the only one to say it. When that happens, it stings. Are you willing to stick your neck out for this woman? Are you willing to risk looking the fool, so she doesn’t have to? Or are you waiting for her to take the lead and ask you out? – Jon Dykstra, “Marriable Men” in Reformed Perspective, Dec. 2012 One means… "Marriage is a means, not an end. It is one of the means God uses to glorify His name among us, but it is not His only means." – Nancy Wilson, Why isn’t a pretty girl like you married? …and other useful comments Jesus never had sex "The most fully human person who has ever lived, or ever will live, is Jesus Christ, and He never once had sexual intercourse. This can be powerfully liberating to single people who may think at times, “This is one thing I will never have, sexual relations, and in not having it I will not be all I was meant to be.” To this thought Jesus, the virgin, says, “A student is not above his teacher, but everyone who is fully trained will be like his teacher” (Luke 6:40). We will always have mountains of truly human Christ-likeness yet to climb, but sexual intercourse is not one of them. For He never knew it. And He is infinitely whole." – John Piper, Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, Foreword xix. Singleness has its own challenges "I was almost thirty-four when I got married, so I know something of the loneliness of adult single life. And even after marriage I struggled with discontentment at our son’s soccer or basketball games because I was at least ten years older than the other parents around me…. I do want you to know that if you struggle with discontentment, I’m right there with you. Whatever situation tempts us to be discontent, and however severe it may be, we need to recognize that discontentment is sin. That statement may surprise many readers. We are so used to responding to difficult circumstances with anxiety, frustration, or discontentment that we consider them normal reactions to the varying vicissitudes of life….When we fail to recognize these responses to our circumstances as sin, we are responding no differently from unbelievers who never factor God into their situations." – Jerry Bridges, Respectable Sins "There is nothing in the world wrong with wanting to be married. It is only wrong to be miserable about it. And wanting to be married does not equal discontent. Many women are feeling false guilt about this." – Nancy Wilson, Why isn’t a pretty girl like you married? …and other useful comments "The apostle Paul, who himself was single, provides encouragement for the unmarried by noting that he himself had to learn the secret of contentment (Phil. 4:11). Paul was not born content, nor was his discontentment eradicated at conversion…. How then did Paul learn this contentment? Like his Lord, he learned contentment through the things he suffered (Heb. 5:8). The apostle admits to the Corinthians that while under Satanic attack, he prayed three times for deliverance. Yet the Lord denied his requests and told him, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Cor. 12:8–9). Singleness may be one of those afflictions tailored to you, but his grace is perfected in your weakness. The single Christian who suffers weakness through unrealized marital aspirations and the disappointments of unanswered prayer may yet find grace at work through the unhappiness." – A. Boyd Miller IV, “Contentment in Singleness” in the January 2016 issue of New Horizons "Avoid trading marital distractions for other distractions. Paul may have been right about our freedom from spousal concerns, but in an iPhone, iPad, iPod, whatever iWant world, single people never have trouble finding their share of diversions. In fact, if you’re like me, you crave diversion and tend to default there, whether it’s SportsCenter, Downton Abbey, working out, fancy eating, endless blogging and blog reading, surveying social media, or conquering the latest game. We might call it resting, but too often it looks, smells, and sounds a lot like we’re wasting our singleness." – Marshall Segal, "Single, Satisfied and Sent" "A discontented woman is also very vulnerable when it comes to receiving attention from men that she knows full well are wrong for her. She rationalizes….she will be more likely to consider someone who will maker her far unhappier than she is now." – Nancy Wilson, Why isn’t a pretty girl like you married? …and other useful comments "To quote another , 'The main difference (between singles and married folk) is a heightened risk of loneliness, and heightened temptation to self-absorption, leading to selfishness.' The cure for both of these is hospitality and incorporation: being invited to participate in everyday life, and being expected to contribute to everyday life – in the church and in particular families in the church.” – Peter and Ginger Wallace, “The Church and Singles” in the January 2016 issue of New Horizons Singleness has its own opportunities "I would like you to be free from concern. An unmarried man is concerned about the Lord’s affairs – how he can please the Lord. But a married man is concerned about the affairs of this world – how he can please his wife – and his interests are divided. An unmarried woman or virgin is concerned about the Lord’s affairs: Her aim is to be devoted to the Lord in both body and spirit. But a married woman is concerned about the affairs of this world – how she can please her husband." – 1 Cor. 7:32-34 "I was single when I was senior pastor of a church on the west coast of Canada, and there were all kinds of advantages to that. There were some disadvantages too. But there were some wonderful advantages in terms of the hours I put in, evening visitation, calls when I could get people at home. So there are advantages to being single in the ministry, and singleness should not be despised." – D.A. Carson "Look for ways to serve in the church....What are some ways that you can serve because you are single?" – Peter and Ginger Wallace, “The Church and Singles” in the January 2016 issue of New Horizons "Say “yes” to the spontaneous. It’s just a fact, marriage murders spontaneity — not entirely, but massively. If you haven’t learned this yet, I doubt any of your spontaneous friends are married. One of your greatest spiritual gifts as a single person is your “yes.” Yes to a random phone conversation. Yes to coffee. Yes to help with the move. Yes to stepping in when someone’s sick. Yes to a late-night movie or the special event downtown. You have the unbelievable freedom to say “yes” when married people can’t even ask the question. When the spouse doesn’t exist, you can’t hurt them with your selfless, impulsive decisions. Be willing to say “yes!” and bless others, even when you don’t always feel like it." – Marshall Segal, "Single, Satisfied and Sent"...
Assorted, Economics, Science - Environmental Stewardship
Manure into mattresses – we can "create" resources
Economist Julian Simon's key insight is that man's creativity – his brainpower – is a resource that creates other resources. So while some view a rising population as a threat to limited resources ("We're going to run out of oil!") Simon viewed a growing population as a growing resource base. Our brains, when properly applied, could in a reflection of God's own creativity, turn nothing (or next to it) into quite something. For example, when copper – a key element in our phone lines – started getting very expensive, this motivated some smart chaps to develop a much cheaper alternative: sand! That's what our telephone lines are today: Sand (silicon) + Human Creativity = Fiber optic cables Making sand into something is amazing enough, but a much more impressive example of "resource creation" is the way some farmers have turned poop into bedding (or if you prefer alliteration, manure into mattresses). It is quite a story! Rising prices prompts creative thinking Down where I live, in the Northern Washington/Southern BC area, some dairy farmers used to use sawdust as a cheap bedding material for their cows. The cows could sleep in it, poop on it, and the farmer could then come along, clean it out, and put a new layer down. Sawdust clumped together, making it easy to scoop away, but perhaps its most attractive quality was its cheapness. Sawdust used to be viewed as a waste product from the lumber industry – they couldn't give it away and would even bury it. But then creative farmers created a market for this castoff. Or to put it in more mathematical terms: Sawdust + Human Creativity = Cow bedding Some time later, other creative folks started to see more ways that sawdust could be used, including as fuel. Because it originated as a lumber waste product it was cheaper than many other fuel options. So some greenhouses owners figured out a way to use it to heat their buildings, and started to outbid the farmers. This result was this waste product – nothing more than garbage before human brainpower got involved – had so increased in value that farmers could no longer afford it. They needed to find a cheaper option for their bedding! And then it happened. Some ingenious dairy farmer, probably sitting out on his tractor staring out across his manure lagoon, started thinking about the possibilities in all this poop. The result was a separation system that used the undigested fibers found in cow manure. This is fed into a rotating drying drum, where high heat kills the germs, and the output is fibrous bedding material for the farmer's cows. Poop + Human Creativity = Cow bedding Manure has been turned into mattresses! Conclusion Julian Simon was an atheist, so he didn't understand why we have this capacity – why we have a mysterious, awesome ability to use our brains to create something out of nothing. But Simon did recognize Man was more than his mouth; he understood that Man wasn't best understood as a consumer of scarce resources, but that instead Man has an ability (and Christians would add, a calling) to be a producer of plenty. So, in this limited way, Simon has a more accurate understanding of Man than any of his critics. So where does our creative capacity come from? It is a reflection of God's creative Genius. We can't create ex nihilo – out of nothing – like God does, but when we take what was once useless, and put it to productive use, we show ourselves to be His image-bearers....
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?"...
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 ...
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 ...
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 gui...
A more generous ministry of mercy?
The Lord loves his church and gave her the gift of the ministry of mercy. But is this blessed ministry as active as it can or should be within the communion of saints? Let’s consider the following scenarios and the possibilities they present. 1. After a miscarriage A sister has had a miscarriage or stillborn child. Initial visits by the elder and/or minister have taken place. There is concern that it will take some significant time before the sister will have the energy and emotional strength to take on the regular management of the household. The husband has a good paying job so doesn’t think to ask the deacons for help. A few sisters have dropped off meals, and this has been a godsend. Nevertheless, laundry is piling up, the kids are not bathed, the house is not getting cleaned. The sister knows that this is not the way it should be, but that only makes her feel more guilty and incapable of taking next steps. Her husband has tried to take on more responsibilities, but now he is also starting to feel overwhelmed and is afraid of coming across as insensitive. They need more help! Do the deacons know that there is a problem? Maybe not, but perhaps it should be expected that they inquire again two or three weeks after the loss of the child, to see how things are going. If the deacons were to follow up with the brother and sister, and to inquire how things are going, they might find that while there isn’t any help need financially, the family does need to experience the love of the communion of saints in other tangible ways. 2. In the face of cancer A brother has been diagnosed with cancer. He is sixty years old. The news is shared with the congregation and the minister/elder come to make a visit. After the initial shock is over, the couple decides that it is best that they move out of their large home and into a smaller place. They have children all over the country but who here in town can help them move? Members of the congregation can get together, but the deacons can also take a lead here. They can ensure that this couple, under their care, has the physical help they need. And, of course, the deacons will want to ensure this couple has adequate financial means after the cancer diagnosis led to the brother’s necessary decision to stop working. 3. An unplanned trip A brother in Ontario has a father deathly ill in British Columbia. The deacons or close friends in the congregation know that this family does not have a lot of financial resources. The brother takes his wife and three children to BC to make a visit. He can afford this trip because he has a line of credit, and feels such a trip justifies the expense. Who would disagree? This brother would not be likely to ask for assistance from the deacons because he has a full-time job. But might it be good if the deacons (or other church members) made a visit? Could they, or other members, inquire as to the cost and conceivably gift the family with a signed cheque to help cover some of these unexpected costs? Was this family in dire straits? No. Could they use the help? Absolutely! **** I am sure we can come up with a plethora of other examples in which the minister of mercy, led by the deacons, can be administered within congregational life. Nevertheless, let’s return to the question we began with: is this blessed ministry as active as it can or should be within the communion of saints? My hope is that this article causes all of us to reflect on God’s Word to determine the answer to the question: Is the ministry of mercy equipping all the saints to live in the joy of being redeemed? Loving and caring as God does I strongly recommend Dr. Van Dam’s book “The Deacon” available at Amazon and elsewhere. The New Testament church of our Lord Jesus Christ is blessed to have a formal ministry of mercy as ministered by men serving in the office of deacon. As Dr. C. Van Dam notes in The Deacon: Biblical Foundations for Today’s Ministry of Mercy, seven men were originally chosen in Acts 6 with the task “to see to it that there were no needy so that everyone could rejoice and celebrate the salvation and freedom given in Christ.” As the number of followers was increasing, there seemed to arise a tension between the Hellenists (Greek-speaking Jews) and Hebrews because the Hellenist widows were being neglected in the daily distribution. In order to ensure that the ministry of the Word was not hindered, brothers were appointed to an additional office to begin exercising the ministry of mercy. These men were “set before the apostles, and they prayed and laid their hands on them” (Acts 6:6). And so the ministry of mercy is initiated. How does this office function today? In the first place, this ministry of mercy proceeds from the love of our God and Saviour. While he was on earth, Christ fed the hungry, healed the sick, and showed compassion to the afflicted. And while the formal ministry of mercy was not initiated in the Old Testament, the loving covenant God provided numerous laws to ensure that the poor and afflicted were cared for in generous ways (e.g., gleaning, labor, and marriage laws). God loves and cares for his people. That is a consistent characteristic of our covenant God throughout scripture. In Matthew 26:34-40, Christ teaches that on judgment day: “the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’” “The Form for Ordination of Elders and Deacons” used in many continental Reformed churches summarizes Matthew 26 with the conviction that “no one in the congregation of Christ may live uncomforted under the pressure of sickness, loneliness, and poverty.” Living uncomforted is not an option for the Christian community; rather, we should be living in the joy and comfort of our freedom in Christ. And so, the Form explains, it is for the sake of this service of love, that Christ has given deacons to his church. Diaconal work is made possible by the congregation sharing their resources, monetary and other gifts, with these office-bearers, for distribution in one’s home congregation and beyond. Sharing resources is rooted in our love for each other. We love each other because Christ first loved us. Scripture also teaches that God loves a cheerful giver (2 Cor. 9:7). And it remains an important principle that collections are done in such a way that members can give in secret, without sounding the trumpet and making a public show of their generosity (Matt 6:1-4). When we give generously, there is no need for brothers and sisters in the Lord to experience the burden of poverty or the suffering of want. Not waiting to be asked However, while there is no need for poverty and suffering of want in Christ’s church, for some of us, it is a challenge to ask for help, especially financial help. When we lose our job, become seriously ill, or struggle with frailty, we are often not prepared to ask for help. In The Deacon, Dr. Van Dam suggests (insists) that deacons should be visiting the members under their care in order “to give those he visits the opportunity to feel comfortable with him.” The idea is to build mutual trust. The deacons can learn a lot about family life when they make a visit, and can quickly learn to trust a member in their ward when they have the courage and humility to ask for help. Likewise, when a member trusts the deacon, confident that neither an audit or interrogation will take place, he can ask for help without shame or fear. In addition to building this trust, deacons can also ascertain “whether church members have any needs, financial or otherwise, that are not being met… ideally can see or anticipate needs and offer to help rather than waiting for those in need to come to them.” Love is the greatest command within the congregation of Christ. We love, because he first loved us. It remains important that office-bearers practice servant-leadership as they serve the congregation in which they are appointed. Love requires a servant’s attitude. This means that when they hear someone has lost their job, deacons make a visit and offer help; when a member is diagnosed with a serious illness, deacons should make a visit; when a baby is born and requires a lengthy stay in the hospital, the deacons should ensure the parents have sufficient kinds of help during that challenging time. Deacons do not wait to be asked for help, they need to take the initiative to offer help to the members. Deacons need help too At the same time, deacons do not always know when there are needs. Communication is a two-way street, and the members can also take initiative. When we lose our jobs, we confess that this is under God’s providence. There is no shame in asking the communion of saints for help. This can be done by asking members directly, if a solid relationship of trust has already been established. There is no rule that suggests that members should not help each other directly, rather it should be encouraged. Nevertheless, the ministry of mercy is there to provide for the financial and physical needs of those in need. A relationship with deacons helps members ask for such assistance. The ministry of mercy is a gift – it bears repeating. Do we make good use of this gift? And, yes, like all good gifts, we can abuse them, but let’s leave that for another article. Let’s first commit to making good use of this godly gift of our Lord for His children. For more on the ministry of mercy, be sure to check out the episode below of the Focal Point podcast where Dr. Chris deBoer, along with special guest Dr. Cornelis Van Dam, discuss the why, what, how, and where of the Church's ministry of mercy. ...
Assorted, Book excerpts
10 QUOTES: On technology and the family
We need to control our technology; it can't control us “…it is absolutely completely possible to make different choices about technology from the default settings of the world around us….it is possible to love and use all kinds of technology but still make radical choices to prevent technology from taking over our lives.” – Andy Crouch, author of The Tech-Wise Family “The essential question we must constantly ask ourselves in the quickly evolving age of digital technology is not what can I do with my phone, but what should I do with it? That answer…can be resolved only by understanding why we exist in the first place.” – Tony Reinke, author of 12 Ways Your Phone is Changing You “Am I entitled to feed on the fragmented trivialities online? In other words, am I entitled to spend hours every month simply browsing odd curiosities? I get the distinct sense in Scripture that the answer is 'no'.” – Reinke Your family may need to restrict technology “There is a better way. It doesn’t require us to become Amish, entirely separately ourselves from the modern technological world, and it doesn’t require us to deny the real benefits that technology provides our families and our wider society. But let me be direct and honest: this better way is radical. It requires making choices that most of our neighbors aren’t making. It requires making choices that most of our neighbors in church aren’t making. Let me put it this way: you don’t have to become Amish, but you probably have to become closer to Amish than you think.” – Crouch Parents need to be examples “Can we really tell our kids, ‘Do as we say, not as we do?’” – Delaney Ruston, doctor and the documentary filmmaker of Screenagers “The kids know we need help too….An awful lot of children born in 2007...have been competing with their parents’ screens their whole lives.” – Crouch Parents need to act sooner than later “Many parents fear that if they approach certain topics too early it will give their kids ideas about those things before they actually need to face them. Let me ask you some questions…. Do your kids ride the school bus with older kids? Are there older kids in your neighborhood? …. You may shield your tweens from talk of dating and teen relationships, but what about the eleventh graders making out in the back of the bus? You might supervise Internet activity, but what about the computers at friends’ houses?” – Nicole O’Dell, author of Hot Button Topics: Internet Edition “An astonishing 62 percent of teenagers say they have received a nude image on their phone, and 40 percent say they have sent one.” – Crouch We need to be parents, not policemen “Research shows that parenting with rules and boundaries but with love and caring promotes better everything; better grades in school, better relationships with their friends and family, everything!” – Ruston “Our children need to feel love, not condemnation. They should trust that we’re an ally, not the enemy. You’re not fighting against your kids in hopes of coming out victorious over them; you’re in a battle for them.” - O’Dell...
"I’m fine"...and other lies we tell
In Canada we don’t have Nazis at our doors asking whether we're hiding Jews. And yet we still lie. When a telephone solicitor calls we tell him we “can’t talk right now” whether we can or not. The waitress asking “How are you?” is given an “I’m fine” whether we are or not. And children who want to play with Mom or Dad are told “later” whether there will be time then or not. No lives are at stake and no one is in danger; our lies don't save anyone. So why do we – Christian folk that we are – lie like this? Half truths? We lie because at the time it seems the quicker thing to do, and because the “half-truths” we’re telling seems harmless enough. We lie because we doubt the sincerity of the people around us: “He can’t really want to know how I'm doing, can he?” And when we lie often enough, then the lying spills out of us as a matter of habit. There is a temptation to dismiss these “little lies” as harmless. However the Bible is quite clear about the overall need for honesty and the value of truth in our day-to-day lives (Col 3:9, Lev. 19:11-12). We find that the very character of God prevents Him from ever lying (Num. 23:19) and indeed Christ is so inseparable from honesty He is called “the truth” (John 14:6). So if we want to imitate Him then we too should be concerned about honesty. Half trusted Consider also the damage done from our ordinary lies. One example: how many parents make a habit out of lying to their kids? How many of us make promises we can’t keep and making threats we don't carry out? When a parent’s “yes” doesn’t mean “yes” and our “no” doesn't really mean “no” how can we be surprised when our children don't accept anything we say as the final word? Experience has taught these kids that Mom and Dad’s “no’s” are at best half-truths, because half the time a bit more badgering will result in a favorable “yes.” Now, in some instances we may not be able to deduce the harm caused by a bit of deception – who gets hurt when we lie to a telephone solicitor? But consider the harm that comes from the fact that if we are not habitually honest we all too easily become habitually deceptive. Sin separates us from God (and would do so permanently but for the grace of God) so we should never dismiss any sin as inconsequential. An experiment If you don’t think you lie, consider this challenge, taken from Diane M. Komp’s book Anatomy of a Lie: carry a small notebook with you to tally every time you lie, or are tempted to lie, and ask yourself “why?” Keep this up for a week, or even just a day, and if you may well be astonished at how often you are lying, and how often it is for no discernable reason at all! Of course becoming more aware of our sin isn’t any sort of place to stop. Now that the need for repentance is clear, go to God, ask Him for forgiveness, and ask Him to help you speak the truth in big things and small....
There's an app for that!
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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 l...
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 ha...
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) *...
Improving the elders' home visits
It is October and as “home visit season” ramps up, my thoughts turn to how home visits are being conducted and whether our methods serve well to accomplish the purpose of the visit. I believe that elders visiting members in their homes is biblically based and has for long stretches of church history been implemented to the good of the church. However, are they today as effective as they could be? In Reformed churches of Dutch descent we have our customs in the way such visits are conducted, but are these truly “best practices”? A typical home visit What exactly are our customs? Well, in my own denomination, the Canadian and American Reformed Churches, most homes see the elders once per year in the annual home visit. Elders duly prepare themselves for this visit by studying a passage of Scripture and praying for the family. Many godly and sincere elders have thus entered numerous homes with every intent to build up and bless. And no doubt the Lord has used their efforts to bless his people (including me and my family) and yet I can’t help feeling that, despite the best of intentions, something is off kilter with our practice. A typical home visit goes something like this: two elders enter the home and are invited to sit with the family. Small talk follows for a few minutes. Then one elder clears his throat to “open” the home visit with prayer and Bible reading. An air of formality fills the room and the family falls quiet. The passage chosen could be out of the blue or, as is often the case, the Bible reading is connected to the “home visit theme” adopted by the consistory and perhaps preached on by the minister. That theme could be centred on one of the ten commandments, a petition of the Lord’s prayer, worship, Christian lifestyle, living membership in the church, or the like. The lead elder then begins to expound on this theme out of the Bible passage and starts directing questions to the children and parents about either the passage’s meaning or how it might apply to that person’s life. The bulk of the visit is spent conversing about this Bible passage (and/or chosen theme) and how the family works out this biblical teaching in practice. Toward the end of the visit the elders may or may not ask more general questions of the kids and parents, but time-wise the thrust of the visit is spent explaining and applying the teaching of a particular Bible passage to that household. While discussing a Bible passage can certainly be beneficial, I ask myself: is this the purpose of a home visit? For elders to enter and teach? To the family it can feel like they’re being tested on their knowledge on the Bible passage in question. When a theme is chosen, members and families are often asked to read the passage in advance and “prepare for the home visit.” Again I ask: is this the intention of a home visit? To have a mini Bible-study on a passage and ascertain how well parents and children understand and apply that particular passage (or theme) in their lives? And if a passage is “sprung” on the family and questions are asked of them, it can be a very intimidating experience for children and parents alike. It seems to me that we are missing something significant in this approach to home visits. The purpose of home visits As churches and as elders we have made a promise to make home visits. That promise, captured in Article 22 of our Church Order, summarizes the purpose of such visits as well: “The specific duties of the office of elder are... to faithfully visit the members of the congregation in their homes to comfort, instruct, and admonish them with the Word of God.” There are three verbs here: comfort, instruct, and admonish. From the above description it would seem that elders have the second verb in the forefront of their mind and so they come prepared to instruct. In itself this is commendable. Scripture tells us that elders should be “able to teach” and should indeed “be able to give instruction in sound doctrine” (1 Tim 3:2; Titus 1:9). And no doubt many families have learned and benefitted from what elders have taught. But should that teaching be “out of the blue” or with little understanding of the particular circumstances and needs of the family (or individual)? That’s where I think the way we conduct our home visits has gotten out of focus and become imbalanced. Elders enter the home focussed on conveying a scriptural message, intent on teaching and applying the doctrine of the passage they’ve been intensely studying on their own, without having first listened carefully to what’s going on in the home. While gentle admonitions and words of correction might come out of the teaching passage, almost forgotten by the elders on a home visit is the duty to “comfort.” That shows that something is out of whack. There’s been a largely one-way period of instruction on a pre-chosen topic instead of a careful application of God’s Word to the specific circumstances of the family. All of this, I’ve observed, often creates an unintended disconnect. After an hour dialogue with the family about the passage where the kids and adults could gamely answer questions and make comments, the elders come away with a favourable impression. In the car they comment to each other: “that went well, don’t you think?” But meanwhile, in the home, the kids feel as if they’ve been in school for an hour and the parents feel frustrated that the elders didn’t inquire more personally into each family member’s walk with the Lord. The elders may have a good feeling that the family is on a solid footing in the faith but the family feels like the elders hardly know them and don’t “get” them. Maybe the worst of it is that those visited fail to see how God’s Word speaks into the concrete reality of their day-to-day lives. We need to fix this. Listening Here is where the art of listening and seeking to understand needs to find a fresh place in our thinking as elders. Though the Church Order does not mention the need to “listen,” it is clearly implied in the duty to “comfort, instruct, and admonish.” How can elders comfort a member or a family if they don’t first know what difficulty or misery they may be experiencing? Of course, every person as a sinner experiences the general misery of sin and its consequences, but almost always individuals or families are feeling the effects of sin in very particular ways. They have their own troubles and for the elders to bring comfort to that household they must first take the time to ask about and understand those troubles. It is the same with admonitions. To admonish is to gently give reproof or words of correction to someone who’s acting, thinking, or speaking in an unbiblical way. How can elders correct a member unless they know if, how, and where he is going astray? In a conversation on a single Bible passage or theme, a certain limited area needing correction may come out, but there is so much to life and so many possible areas needing correction that a wide-ranging conversation (more than one even!) is needed before meaningful admonition can be brought. If the Bible passage is too much in the spotlight of the annual home visit, much of the family’s personal views and practices may remain in the shadows, unseen by the elders. Elders need to bring those out of the shadows by asking good questions in order to get a clear picture of a person and/or a family. Of course, it’s not to be an interrogation like with police officers but it ought to be a caring inquiry like that of a concerned father, who truly wants to help his son to stay on or find his way back to the pathway of life. Teaching or instructing by elders in the home, too, is meant to come on the heels of listening. Certainly, members are instructed (and admonished and comforted) in a general way from the pulpit by the preaching of the Word. Although the Holy Spirit definitely applies the preaching to individual lives in personal (and often surprising!) ways, the minister can’t single out a particular family or individual and their needs from the pulpit. But elders can when they enter someone’s home. That’s one of the privileges elders have, to bring God’s Word into the specific, individual lives of the members they visit. That means they must come to know these sheep very well, up close and personal, so they can skillfully apply God’s Word to the particular needs of the household. It seems to me that too often elders are replicating what the minster does from the pulpit: they enter the home and the first thing they do is give a mini “sermon” on a passage with some pointed questions to the family. That’s like prescribing a certain medicine for a person without knowing the extent of his ailment or his overall condition. Wouldn’t it be far better if elders first took time to listen to all that’s going on in the lives of the parents and children and then came with the instruction, encouragement, comfort, and admonition of God’s Word? Wouldn’t that be establishing a genuine pastoral connection between elders and members that would be profitable for members and under-shepherds alike, upbuilding for the church, and glorifying to the Lord? A revised approach To bring this about I would suggest two things. First, elders make it a point to get to know the individuals and families in their ward as soon as possible after they are appointed to office. One home visit per year is hardly sufficient to get acquainted beyond the surface of things. Elders normally come into office in the spring. Home visits start in the fall. Why not use the summer months to drop in for a more casual acquaintance visit? Consider hosting a social for those under your direct care. You might think: that’s a lot of extra work! Yes, it is. But it’s the Lord’s work and it’s good and beneficial. Besides, it doesn’t have to be a huge burden. Elders generally oversee a ward in pairs, so the two partners could divide the ward in halves with each taking responsibility to getting to know one half over the summer months. A casual visit to become acquainted plus regular chats in the church parking lot will do a lot to establish both a bond and a base level of understanding of the person/family. That will set up the home visit to be a time of deeper connection and thus more genuinely helpful for the household. The second thing I would suggest is that elders re-order the flow of a home visit and change the focus of the visit. Instead of the customary: prayer Bible reading instruction conversation/listening prayer …which focuses on teaching a pre-conceived lesson, why not try: prayer conversation/listening Bible reading instruction/application prayer …which focuses on understanding the family’s needs in order to aptly apply God’s Word to their situation. Remember that neither Scripture nor the confessions nor the Church Order prescribe the order or manner of home visits. It is left to us to apply the principle of God’s Word (i.e. shepherds caring for the sheep) to the situation. As far as I can see, it would be a great improvement to the effectiveness of home visits if elders began with a brief prayer for the Lord to bless the visit with openness, honesty, a willingness to share what’s in the heart along with a good understanding for the elders and the ability to bring God’s word beneficially for the family. Indeed this is something those visited should pray for in advance as well – the ability to be vulnerable with the elders and for the elders to give wise counsel from the Word of God. The next and larger part of the visit would be spent inquiring about the family’s daily life and their walk with the Lord, listening carefully to their struggles and joys, to what really lives in their hearts and home. Equipped with an understanding of where the person/family is really at, the elders could then open God’s Word to apply its teaching directly to their realities. The concluding prayer can then bring to the Lord the details of thanksgiving/praise and needs that were raised in the visit (drawing in also what came out of the Scripture passage). In this way the individual/family will experience that Christ’s appointed shepherds have understood them well, genuinely care for them, and are using God’s Word to help them grow closer to the Lord. In this way Scripture (and prayer) can more truly and fully be used to comfort, instruct, and admonish members for their good and the glory of God’s name. Too difficult? At this point an elder might say: but I can’t think that fast on my feet! Every household is different. How am I supposed to have a Bible passage that I can quickly pull out that will speak to the particulars of a given family? I realize this may sound daunting but it’s not as bad as it seems. Even if an elder only prepared one text thoroughly in advance, he would be better able to apply it meaningfully to the people after hearing what lives in their home than if he read it before all of that was discussed. However, many elders already have the habit of selecting two or three passages to use at home visits throughout the season. They study them so they know them well enough to use as needed. This allows both variety and flexibility to use a certain passage in a home where they have an inkling it will better fit than another passage. Elders can simply build on this approach. Even if a home visit theme is selected by consistory (and I’m not sold on the idea that this is the best way to go), experienced elders know that they need to be flexible and that the theme just doesn’t work in some situations. I don’t think it’s too much of a stretch if an elder would work in advance to be very familiar with five distinct passages, each with its own accent. One passage could highlight the comfort we have in Christ as forgiven sinners; another the ability that Christ works in us to lead holy lives and his calling to do so; another could be the glorious future the Lord is preparing for us; still another could be a reflection on the love, power, and grace of God (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit); a fifth could deal with our task as living members of the church. After listening and grasping the nature of a person’s (or family’s) situation, the elder could mentally select one of his five passages, read it, and go to work applying its message to them specifically. Elders should not feel intimidated by this, as if selecting a text to match the needs of the visit is beyond their capability. Not so. I have always found it amazing how so many Bible passages can be applied in a variety of circumstances and do good to God’s people. His word is living and powerful. It always has something to say to those who belong to him. When elders, prayerfully relying on the Spirit of Christ, seek to bring his Word to meet the needs of his people, they will be blessed in doing so. The voice of the Good Shepherd will be heard by the sheep and they will be fed and led by him to continue walking in his way. In this way the home visit may be revitalized and experienced by all as a blessing from the Lord. Rev. Peter Holtvlüwer is pastor of the Ancaster Canadian Reformed Church and editor of the 4-volume commentary "Christ's Psalms, our Psalms." This article first appeared in Clarion, Issue 16 (Vol. 69) under the title "Improving home visits" and is reprinted here with permission....
Was Saint Francis a Sissy?
One hundred and fifty thousand children had been on the brink of starving to death, but thanks to the kind gift of a very generous billionaire, every child now had enough food to keep him alive. That gift had arrived in the form of one big check. The horror was now over. It was finished. It was just a matter of distributing the food using the few relief workers we had. Without them to get the food to the children, there would have been many more deaths. Some days later, a frantic worker burst into the camp and cried, “Some of the relief workers have stopped distributing food. Masses of children are dying!” Why would the workers stop when there was plenty of food? It didn’t make sense. The distraught man said, “It’s because one of them held up a sign that said, ‘Feed the starving children. Where necessary, use food.’ That has caused some of the workers to simply befriend the starving children without giving them food. It’s insane!” **** I’m sure you have heard of Saint Francis of Assisi. The first time I ever heard him was back in 1965. It was during the surf movie The Endless Summer. Four surfers who were chasing the sun discovered the perfect wave, at a place in South Africa called “Cape Saint Francis.” The sight of the perfect wave excited me beyond words. The next time I heard of him was when I heard that he said: “Preach the Gospel at all times. Where necessary, use words.” That statement upset me beyond words, because it was a philosophy that I knew sounded deeply spiritual... to those who were spiritually shallow. It made as much sense as “Feed starving children. Where necessary, use food.” On July 16, 1228 Francis of Assisi was pronounced a saint by Pope Gregory IX. That’s a long time ago, so it’s a little late for questions, but if I could I would like to find out why anyone would say such a strange thing? Was it because he was fearful to use actual words to preach the truth of the Gospel? Or was it because he thought that people would see that he had good works and hear the message of salvation without a preacher, something contrary to Scripture’s: “How then shall they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in Him of whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher?” (Romans 10:14). Whatever the case, 800 years since Francis we have many who profess faith in Jesus, and are no doubt using this popular philosophy to justify being speechless. To them salvation truly is an “unspeakable” gift. Recently someone told me about a conference where 100,000 Christians gathered to worship God. When I asked if they were exhorted to go out and preach the Gospel to every creature, it was no surprise to me that they weren’t. Instead, they were exhorted to live a life of worship. Again, that sounds spiritual, but you can’t worship God without obedience to His Word, and His Word commands us to preach the Gospel to every creature. I regularly meet those who think they can obey the Great Commission without using words. When they hear the Gospel preached they are usually offended and say things like, “I appreciate what you are saying, but I don’t like the way you are saying it.” With a little probing, they are the relationship folks, who think preaching the Gospel means building relationships with the lost, and never mentioning words like “sin,” “Hell,” and “Judgment Day.” They think that real love is to withhold the Bread of life from those that are starving to death. Remember that Jesus said, “Whosoever, therefore, shall be ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation; of him also shall the Son of man be ashamed, when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels” (Mark 8:38). According to the dictionary, a “sissy” is “a timid or cowardly person.” From what I understand of Saint Francis, he was no sissy. He was a loving man who was not afraid to use words when he preached. He wasn’t frightened to preach repentance to a sinful world. However, there have been times when I could have been called that name. I have felt the grip of fear and have wanted to drop words such as sin, Hell, repentance and Judgment Day when I have preached to sinners. I don’t want to come across as being unloving or judgmental, but I fear God more than I fear man. So when God’s Word tells me to use words, I use words, despite the consequences. Listen to the Apostle Paul’s sobering warning to his hearers: “Wherefore I take you to record this day, that I am pure from the blood of all men. For I have not shunned to declare unto you all the counsel of God” (Acts 20: 26-27). Perhaps he spoke about being free from their blood because he was familiar with God Himself warning Ezekiel of his responsibility to warn his generation: “When I say to the wicked, ‘You shall surely die,’ and you give him no warning, nor speak to warn the wicked from his wicked way, to save his life, that same wicked man shall die in his iniquity; but his blood I will require at your hand.” (Ezekiel 3:18). When someone thinks that they can feed starving children and not use food, that’s their business. But when their philosophy spreads throughout the camp, it becomes an unspeakable tragedy. If we become passive about the Great Commission because we are more concerned about ourselves than the eternal well-being of others, we may be able to hide our motives from man, but not from God. He warns, “Deliver those who are drawn toward death, and hold back those stumbling to the slaughter. If you say, ‘Surely we did not know this,’ does not He who weighs the hearts consider it? He who keeps your soul, does He not know it? And will He not render to each man according to his deeds?” (Proverbs 24:11-12). There’s an interesting irony to this story. After a little research I came across a quote about the famous saying. It is from someone who had been a Franciscan monk for 28 years—and had earned an M.A. in Franciscan studies. He contacted some of the most eminent Franciscan scholars in the world to try and verify the saying. He said, “It is clearly not in any of Francis’ writings. After a couple weeks of searching, no scholar could find this quote in a story written within 200 years of Francis’ death.” So if it wasn’t Saint Francis who said not to use words, who was it? Who is it that would like to see the truth of the Gospel hindered from being preached to every creature? That doesn’t need to be answered. The time is short. The laborers are few. Please, cast off your fears and equip yourself to preach the Gospel with words. They are necessary. “Was Saint Francis a Sissy?” is Copyright 2020 by Ray Comfort, LivingWaters.com, and is reprinted here with permission....
Vindication and the spider
There are nearly 40,000 different kinds of them around the world. Some can catch frogs, rabbits and even birds with their strong poisons and fangs. They also make webs, those amazing architectural structures that you can bump into during an early morning stroll through the forest. These webs are made of silk – a material which cannot be duplicated even though it's been tried. It is strong and flexible. Spiders are good…even if we don’t think so We tend to look at spiders and shudder. I confess I frequently have done so. My husband has often come when I called for help. He's stood on a chair innumerable times, taken his hanky out of his pocket and collected an eight-legged creature off the ceiling, smiling at me before depositing it outside. We confess that God created these little (or larger) arachnids, and the truth is that everything He made was good. My mind can extol God for the fascinating abilities He has given these little creatures, but my emotions often get the better of me when I encounter a hairy fellow clinging to the side of a cottage, or peering at me from underneath a dock by a lake. It is a truly unique gift that this so very common animal can spin a web, weaving a creation unlike any other on the earth. Producing silk (a chance evolutionary accident? - not likely!) from a tiny but complex body is mind-boggling. Here's a bit of interesting information: a spider can have a waist narrower than one millimeter, and through this waist pass its digestive tract, veins, windpipe and nervous system. Most spiders have rather poor eyesight and can see only short distances. Perhaps this is a comforting thought if you have ever been surprised by one as you were walking a trail! But the arachnid is extremely sensitive. Each one of the thousands of hairs on his or her body is attached to a nerve ending and consequently, to the brain. As a result, the spider can quickly read warning signals. So small and so complex! Creepy for a reason? My husband once spent a few hours with the kids in the backyard hovering over a small hole in the lawn in which a wolf spider had taken up his abode. The life span of a wolf spider is about 305 days. It can spend about one third of its life without eating anything. Created by His heavenly Father to adapt to extreme conditions, it is able to resist hunger by greatly reducing its body metabolism. God created everything in six twenty-four hour days. And everything He created was good. Spiders, in number as well as in diversity, outdo any other predator. Indeed, because so many were created by God, we must deduce that they must be special in His eyes. Every creature that exists has a purpose. And perhaps these eight-legged ones were created to look quite creepy so that they can perform their various tasks in His kingdom without being hunted down by humans. Spider silk is very compatible with human tissue and was, at one time, put onto cuts and wounds by rural folks to help sores to heal. They are also a critical part of the balance of nature. Their ability to create webs manifests God's glory and causes praise for the great Designer and Creator of the universe Who made them. Big and small On the evening of November 13, 2015, a series of coordinated Islamic terrorist attacks occurred in Paris, France. Three suicide bombers struck in various places killing a total of 130 people, as well as wounding 368. It seems that every day someone is killed by a terrorist. As a matter of fact, the grim number of those killed in Syria during 2015, is 55,219. Many of those were Christians. So what does the previous paragraph have to do with spiders? What does it have to do with creatures so strangely created, they evoke both shudders and praise for God. Our God is a God of both the small and the cataclysmic events in history - a God of small creatures and of those made in His image. He is the Almighty Creator and Sustainer of everything. As a matter of fact, it is good to know that nothing, not one thing, is outside of His providence. From worldwide flood to rainbow, from Babel to covenant with Abraham, from babies killed by Pharaoh to burning bush, He is in control. In August of 1572, the year of the infamous St. Bartholomew's Massacre in Paris, France, many Huguenots were assassinated and murdered in cold blood in a wave of mob violence. Although these murders began in Paris, the slaughter lasted several weeks and spread to the surrounding countryside. It seemed no one was safe. A small anecdote records, however, that someone trying to flee from the frenzied killers hid in a brick oven to conceal himself. He fancied he had little hope of escape, as every spot was checked, and rechecked. He prayed inside that oven. And his prayer was heard. God providentially sent a spider to the oven. The small creature spun its silk across the brick. Thick, strong and sticky, it covered the door and hung, shiny and concentric. Then God sent a breeze, and dust blew up from the ground landing on the new web, covering it and making it look old and dingy. It appeared as if no one had touched that oven for days. The hiding place was passed by those seeking his life and the man was saved. He had been vindicated by a spider through the Almighty hand of God. And today those who hide in the shadow of God's wings, (Psalm 17), in spite of the seemingly bleak prospects looming on the horizon of this year, will also be vindicated through the Almighty hand of God. "In righteousness, you shall be established; you shall be far from oppression, for you shall not fear; and from terror, for it shall not come near you. If any one stirs up strife, it is not from Me; whoever stirs up strife with you shall fall because of you. Behold, I have created the smith who blows the fire of coals, and produces a weapon for its purpose. I have also created the ravager to destroy; no weapon that is fashioned against you shall prosper and you shall confute every tongue that rises against you in judgment. This is the heritage of the servants of the Lord and their vindication from Me, says the Lord." – Isaiah 54:14-17 This article first appeared in the March 2016 issue. ...
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....