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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.

Assorted

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

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

Assorted

A more generous ministry of mercy?

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

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...

Assorted

"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....

Assorted

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....

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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....

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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. ...

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

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

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Ringing in the New Year

It's that time of year again - time to ring in the New Year with dramatic resolutions fueled by the hope of immediate and significant personal life change. Momentous moment? Let’s be honest. The reality is that few smokers actually quit because of a single moment of resolve. Few obese people become slim and healthy because of one dramatic moment of commitment. Few people deeply in debt change their financial lifestyle because they resolve to do so as the old year gives way to the new. Few marriages change by the means of one dramatic resolution. Is change important? Yes, it is for all of us in some way. Is commitment essential? Of course! There’s a way in which all our lives are shaped by the commitments we make. But biblical Christianity – which has the gospel of Jesus Christ at its heart – simply doesn’t rest its hope in big, dramatic moments of change. The fact of the matter is that the transforming work of grace is more of a mundane process than it is a series of a few dramatic events. Personal heart and life change is always a process. And where does that process take place? It takes place where you and I live everyday. And where do we live? We all have the same address – the utterly mundane. Most of us won’t be written up in history books. Most of us only make three or four momentous decisions in our lives, and several decades after we die, the people we leave behind will struggle to remember the events of our lives. You and I live in little moments, and if God doesn’t rule our little moments and doesn’t work to re-create us in the middle of them, then there's no hope for us, because that’s where you and I live. This is where I think “Big Drama Christianity” gets us into trouble. It can cause us to devalue the significance of the little moments of life and the “small change” grace that meets us there. Because we devalue the little moments where we live, we don’t tend to notice the sin that gets exposed there and we fail to seek the grace that’s offered to us.  10,000 little moments I don't want to discourage you from making a resolution or tell you to throw away what you've already written, but I do want to challenge your way of thinking. You see, the character of your life won't be established in two or three dramatic moments, but in 10,000 little moments. Your legacy will be shaped more by the 10,000 little decisions you make in 2020 rather than the last-minute resolution you're about to make. How can you establish a godly character and lasting legacy in 2020? With 10,000 moments of personal insight and conviction. With 10,000 moments of humble submission. With 10,000 moments of foolishness exposed and wisdom gained. With 10,000 moments of sin confessed and sin forsaken. With 10,000 moments of courageous faith. With 10,000 choice points of obedience. With 10,000 times of forsaking the kingdom of self and running toward the kingdom of God. With 10,000 moments where we abandon worship of the creation and give ourselves to worship of the Creator. That's a lot of moments. Too many, in fact, to accomplish successfully on our way. No wonder we settle for one big resolution instead of a day-by-day resolutions. But here's what makes 10,000 little resolutions possible - GRACE. Relentless, transforming, little-moment grace. You see, Jesus is Emmanuel not just because he came to earth, but because he makes you the place where he dwells. This means he is present and active in all the mundane moments of your daily life. In these small moments he is delivering every redemptive promise he has made to you. In these unremarkable moments, he is working to rescue you from you and transform you into his likeness. By sovereign grace he places you in daily little moments that are designed to take you beyond your character, wisdom and grace so that you'll seek the help and hope that can only be found in him. In a lifelong process of change, he is undoing you and rebuilding you again - exactly what each one of us needs! Yes, you and I need to be committed to change in 2020, but not in a way that hopes for a big event of transformation, but in a way that finds joy in and is faithful to a day-by-day, step-by-step process of insight, confession, repentance and faith. As 2019 gives way to 2020, wake up each day committed to live in the 10,000 little moments of your daily life with open eyes and humbly expectant hearts. This resource is from Paul Tripp Ministries. For additional resources, visit www.PaulTripp.com. Used with permission....

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The boy that drove the plow

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

Assorted

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

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

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"Yes, Virginia, there was a Santa Claus"

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

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Cremation: why and why not

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

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Losers are part of the plan

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

Assorted

Is it ever permissible to lie?

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

Assorted

Fossil fuels are essential to the modern world

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

Assorted, Church history

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

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

Assorted

Mental illness: responsibility and response

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

Assorted

Little white lies and why we tell them

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

Assorted

Remembering the head nurse and other people

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

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God gives rest: On the 4th Commandment

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

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How important is "nothing"?

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

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Saturday Selections - March 9, 2019

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

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

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

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...but I have a couch

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

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Song of Songs (A Christine Farenhorst Christmas story)

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

Assorted

When should we unwrap presents?

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

Assorted, Church history

Santa Claus at Nicea

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

Assorted, Parenting

Is recreational marijuana sinful?

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

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Eve: the mother of all living

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

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C.S. Lewis on real happiness and real Christianity

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

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Stepping into the story: Hamlet with a happy ending?

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

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On a wife deciding to leave her husband

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

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“Did God answer her prayer?“

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

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Hull humanity

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

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That cloud of witnesses....

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

Assorted

On being a Titus 2 young woman

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

Adult non-fiction, Assorted

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

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

Assorted

Older women have much to give

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

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G.K. Chesterton on the difference between reformers and deformers

As a young man I had questions about how my denomination conducted services: Why did we have an organ and the style of music we had? Why did we sing so many psalms, and so few hymns? Why did we have two services? Why did we have Heidelberg Catechism sermons? Why did we get so dressed up for services? And I thought, because I had questions, and because answers were not always at the ready, that meant we should do away with all these practices. But just because an answer isn't easy to come by doesn't mean it doesn't exist. And Chesterton had a caution for young guys like me when it came to doing away with old practices - old "fences": “In the matter of reforming things, as distinct from deforming them, there is one plain and simple principle; a principle which will probably be called a paradox. There exists in such a case a certain institution or law; let us say, for the sake of simplicity, a fence or gate erected across a road. The more modern type of reformer goes gaily up to it and says, 'I don’t see the use of this; let us clear it away.' To which the more intelligent type of reformer will do well to answer: 'If you don’t see the use of it, I certainly won’t let you clear it away. Go away and think. Then, when you can come back and tell me that you do see the use of it, I may allow you to destroy it.' “….Some person had some reason for thinking it would be a good thing for somebody. And until we know what the reason was, we really cannot judge whether the reason was reasonable. It is extremely probable that we have overlooked some whole aspect of the question, if something set up by human beings like ourselves seems to be entirely meaningless and mysterious. There are reformers who get over this difficulty by assuming that all their fathers were fools; but if that be so, we can only say that folly appears to be a hereditary disease.” (The Thing, “The Drift From Domesticity”) Now, no denomination is perfect, so there will be practices that could be improved, and maybe some that will need to go. But before any change is made, a properly humble Reformer is going to want to first find out why things are being done this way in the first place. This is living out Prov. 18:17 – only after we hear "both sides" can we then evaluate whether a change is truly needed....

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Seniors: Florida does not exist

Some seniors have a phobia about aging. They see their retirement years as a curse of boredom and uselessness. Others see them as an opportunity for the pursuit of leisure. During the winter some seek a warmer climate, away from their family, friends, and their local church. But the Church is the kind of community that insists that those who have grown in years are not relieved of moral and spiritual responsibilities. They cannot move to Florida and leave the Church to survive on its own. For Christians, there is no "Florida" even if they happen to live there. Tell it to the next generation From the Biblical perspective, seniors are a significant resource God can use for His Kingdom in these critical times. The elderly have a rich storehouse of memories, and inner landscape to explore: times lost in idleness, opportunities well used, a fulfilling career, children grown up, and suffering gone through with dignity and courage. What an opportunity for our youth to tap into the memories of their grandparents! Covenantal obligations never cease. The Christian faith is passed on from one generation to the next. It depends on that transmission. That’s why there must always be a most intimate relationship between the present and the coming generation if there is to be a future generation of Christians. The Church cannot be the Church without the elderly. They are the embodiment of the Church's story. Of course, we do not expect that all the elderly will be able to express the "wisdom of their years." But there can be no substitute for some old people in the Church passing on their wisdom to the younger generation. The youth simply cannot do without the older generation. In our culture, for a few years young adults may pretend (egged on by social and cultural forces) that they can live forever as autonomous, self-reliant, self-fulfilling beings. The pretense, however, collapses soon enough. The presence of the visible vulnerable elderly is a reminder that we are not our own creators. All of us will age; dark and blond hair will turn grey. Consequently, young Christians need the elderly so they will not take their lives for granted. I will say it again: the Church cannot be the Church without the elderly. That's why throughout history the Church has frowned on separating the young from the old through conducting youth services. I have even read about a Church where no older people were expected to attend. But according to Scripture old and young belong together. They are all part of the great family of God. Our covenant youth need to hear from their grandparents and seniors in the church what it means to be a Christian. Grandparents know the family traditions and values. They can tell the story of their wartime experiences, their immigration with its hardship and adventures, and the reasons for leaving the country of their birth. Seniors can give to the youth the lessons and spiritual resources that have been harvested over a lifetime. Our times are so confusing and threatening for our young people. Why not explain to them that the Christian faith is for all of life: hence the founding of Christian schools, colleges, universities, a Christian labor association, Christian magazines and bi-weeklies, and a Christian political party? Why not tell them that doing good works is doing your work well? Why not testify to them how the Lord's promise "Surely I am with you always" (Matt.28:20) is a reality and not a myth? The lessons learned from godly grandparents and other Christian seniors are often long remembered. Use what strength you have In old age, as throughout our lives, we must continue to pursue the way of service, conforming our own lives to the self-giving pattern of Jesus. The Christian practice of growing old is shaped by the example of Jesus, who emptied himself and became obedient, even to the point of death, for our sake (cf. Phi.2:1-13). Our Lord never promised His followers an easy path to tread. The way of discipleship leads to the cross (e.g., Mark 8:34-38; Luke 14: 25-27). Seniors can still do so much in reaching a spiritually dark world for the Lord. Some retirees are engaged in volunteer work for a mission agency. They spend time overseas assisting in some building projects. Others volunteer for city mission work in one of the big cities in North America. The volunteers I have met over the years have all testified how blessed they felt in Kingdom service in their retirement years. They still considered themselves useful soldiers in the Lord's army. Spiritual warriors too Of course, not every senior is able to volunteer for mission or church work. Some have multiple health problems. Their physical disabilities limit them in their activities. Yet seniors can still be brought specific prayer requests. The persecuted church requires constant prayer support. Our covenant youth need intercessory prayer. Seniors can engage in spiritual warfare as they pray for the advance of the Gospel around the world. Millions of unreached people are still held captive by the strongholds of Satan. Multitudes are blinded by the "god of this world" (2 Cor. 4:4). So why not encourage seniors to think of the great ministry of prayer available to them? The younger generation can tell them, "You are able to spend more time in prayer than us! You know more about the ups and downs in life than we do. You can pray especially for missionaries on the field.” Seniors, we need your prayer ministry! As an old hymn says: Prayer is the Christian's vital breath, The Christian's native air, His watchword at the gates of death; He enters heaven with prayer. Rev. Johan Tangelder (1936-2009) wrote for Reformed Perspective for 13 years and many of his articles have been collected at ReformedReflections.ca. This is excerpted from a two-part article that first appeared in the 2004 November and December issues....

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John Piper on debating moral issues in the public square

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

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To be known

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

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

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

Assorted

Election

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

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

Christians, it’s time to think a bit more deeply about the Jordan Peterson moment.1 Unless you’ve been asleep and on a different planet for the past several weeks, you’ve probably seen a video clip of the increasingly popular social commentator Dr. Jordan B. Peterson. Most recently, Peterson was rocketed to the precarious and perhaps not-what-one-bargained-for, but nevertheless real, spotlight of internet stardom by brilliantly handling an aggressive feminist interviewer with raw logic, facts, and truth. She was literally speechless. Scores of memes followed. Dr. North wrote up the exchange under the heading, “Bambi vs. Godzilla,” which it surely was. Peterson is popular for a real reason, too. He’s speaking the hard truth about personal responsibility, and right into the teeth of the beast of leftist safe spaces, spin machines, blizzards of snowflakes, and the like. That stand on that issue alone, when executed well (and it is), is enough to win you a nice fan base. But Peterson adds yet another dimension. He’s leveling liberal academics from within their own fortress—the sacred groves of academia. Even better, he’s doing it from within one of the more rabidly liberal of disciplines. He’s a psychologist. Conservatives everywhere are lining up to hear him. He puts his class lectures online and also posts several more casual and intimate Q&A style videos. His audience is overwhelmingly made up of young men, most of whom are hearing a positive, challenging, and inspiring message for young men for the first time. The war on boys ends here, and millions of viewers and students are lining up for something that sounds manlier than what they get anywhere else—certainly any of their other liberal arts classes. Each video he posts gets tens or hundreds of thousands of views, and he, smartly, is receiving donations to a reported tune of something like $60k per month. If his liberal colleagues didn’t hate him enough for repeat-blasting feminism and the LGBT political agenda like an intellectual jackhammer, they could hate him for just being such a greedy capitalist alone. Meanwhile, conservatives have found a new hero. He’s brilliant, fairly well-read, and even better, he spends a ton of time explaining Bible stories from Genesis and the like in profound, engaging ways. Conservatives are cheering a new champion, young men are in love with the father they never had, and Christians are mesmerized by what seems like a new prophet of international proportions. At least one conservative Reformed conference ushered Dr. Peterson past any number of theologians to the front of the keynote speaker line. The more I listen to Dr. Peterson, the more I like him and think maybe some genuine progress could be made with him from a biblical Christian perspective. He often exegetes material that most pastors don’t get, and applies it in helpful ways that I sense most pastors would be afraid, even if they recognized the application. And that kind of gets us to the “but” in this article, and it’s a “but” that every Christians needs to consider next to everything Jordan Peterson says and does, because it’s a very big “but.” In a nutshell, it is this: For all of his toppling of great idols of humanism in our day, Dr. Peterson’s thought, from their presuppositions right through many of his conclusions, is as thoroughly humanist, autonomous, and thus ultimately dangerous, as anything any leftist every said. Christians need to be aware of the depths of this problem in Peterson’s thought, and the implications it has for their discernment of his teachings. Our happy blindness Conservatives and Christians in general, however, don’t see it, due, I think, to a very regular historical occurrence. They have never really developed and taught their own thoroughly biblical psychology and social theory. They have a few snippets of beliefs from the Bible, and a few beliefs from Bible stories, and enough of an idea of Christ to have a lot of well-developed theories about individual salvation — at least, in the sense of answering “how do I get to heaven”? But social theory? Social dynamics? Personality, vocation, self-improvement, discipline, meaning, power versus authority, law, justice? We’re not only virtually empty here, but when even a few of us have tried, they are usually pilloried by the rest for daring to say the Bible speaks to such issues that are outside of individual ticket sales to heaven. No wonder there’s a market for strong words about personal responsibility to young men today. As I said, this has often been true in history. Christians have consistently failed to develop a distinctly biblical social theory. So, they wander like sheep with no shepherd; and when the next major social, moral, or intellectual crisis hits, they have usually found themselves sidling up to the strong, unifying voice of some secular moralist who is saying some of what the church should have been saying all along. More often than not, too, the Christian intellectuals cannot line up fast enough to parrot the new hero and present mildly-baptized versions of his thought. Only, in the process, they end up carrying water for paganism, and bringing it right into the baptismal fonts of their sanctuaries. Christianity, and especially Christian social theory, suffers for a generation until the next crisis hits. To prevent this problem, it would of course behoove us just to go ahead a develop a biblical social theory from the bottom up (there’s a good start on it already, by the way). It would also help to quit fawning over every bright and engaging pagan that momentarily captures our hearts in the meantime. Even if we were to take a “chew the meat and spit the bones” approach (not out of the picture), it would certainly be incumbent upon us to learn, to know, and to know what the bones are—to understand the paganism of the particular unbelievers we invite to dinner, and to make sure the other guests are aware just how deep that rabbit hole goes. Now, Jordan B. Peterson is the latest of such pagan heroes. Even if we were to decide he has a good benefit to offer to those with a biblical Christian worldview, when analyzed from that perspective, we need at least to talk about the presuppositions from which he is working, and what that means for us, and some of the things they, so to speak, don’t tell you in the brochure. The depths of depth psychology Jordan B. Peterson is sometimes called a Christian, and some have said he calls himself a Christian. But from any orthodox or historical definition of that term, nothing could be further from the truth — his interesting grasps of Bible stories notwithstanding. Peterson is a clinical psychologist by trade and by academic profession, but in terms of worldview, he is a full-blown, unapologetic, enthusiastic Jungian humanist, with a twist of Nietzsche in there, too. This means, first, you need to know a little bit about Carl G. Jung. Jung early on was a parallel figure to Sigmund Freud, but eventually developed certain ideas into something more complex and fantastical than Freud, by wedding forms of ancient pagan, mystic, occult, and other esoteric philosophies into his theories of the primitive drives and instincts, sexual and otherwise, of the human libido which make up the core of our unconscious being. Jung was a strong disciple also of Friedrich Nietzsche, and many Nietzschean themes such as the Übermensch (“super-man”), death of God, and the transvaluation of all values find new expression in Jung’s theories. To this Jung further added völkish religion, Aryanism, UFOs, alchemy, and virtually all forms of occultism (emphasis on all). There was a tremendous push and enthusiasm in Germany at the time for all such things, and one popular understanding of it all was that Germans, in order to become truly all they were destined to be (whether naturally, through evolution, or mystically through some kind of cosmic evolution), needed to push beyond all the impediments Christianity had forced upon German civilization and engage the true roots of ancient German folk religion, which predated Christianity and had within it all the secrets, mysteries, and savage power in a sort of mystical, cultural DNA that would make Germans be all Germans were ever intended to be—fulfilled, transcendent, powerful. And if you sniff a bit of Hitler and Nazism in that, that’s because it’s all the stuff they were made of. But there is even more to it. This also came on the heels of two generations of developed higher criticism of the Bible (much of it led by German scholars) — the kind that far surpassed merely denying inspiration, and said the Bible must be treated like any other book, then proceeded to deconstruct it into fine slices with razors of all kinds of criticism, historical, literary, philological, textual, linguistic, etc. The result was a near-total denuding of the faith of the German people, and many more besides. In this milieu grew up the likes of Nietzsche (not to mention Marx), but also a whole new denigration of traditional Christianity, and on top of that, a whole new appreciation for all things pre-Christian and not-Christian. Into the void flooded, among other things, a great interest in the ancient mystery religions — especially those which were supposed to have the deepest, purest of Persian/Aryan roots, for these were the ancient roots of the Germans. By the time Jung arrives, there is a developed body of scholarly literature on all of this. One of the mystery religions which most captivated Jung, for various reasons, was the Roman cult, allegedly of Persian origin, of Mithraism. This was a blood-sacrifice cult centered on a Sun god named Mithras and featuring also a lion-headed god. These things were not fringe or side interests to Jung. They were the core of his very being and of the psychology, philosophy, and methods he developed. It was around 1913 that Jung, through dabbling in spiritualism and psychic trances (which he called “active imagination”), achieved his own personal version of Nietzsche’s Übermensch. He had a vision in which he met Elijah and “Salome” in a “Druidic sacred place.” Salome approached Jung and began to worship him. When he asked her why, she said, “You are Christ.” A snake approached him and coiled around him. Soon, he could feel that his face had transformed into that of a lion. Jung explained to an audience in 1925 that through this experience, he had been mystically initiated into the Mithraic mysteries, and had undergone “deification”—personally transformed into the very lion headed God, named “Aion” by Jung, featured in the ancient cult. Jung believed he had been deified, identified with Aion the Persian/Aryan sun God, and immortal. The one thing on which all of this was built, and with which all the major players were consistent, was the need to find something to replace the razed religious foundations and superstructure of traditional Christianity. Jung himself embodied this critique. He agreed with that vast critics of Christianity at the time and saw Christianity as a great historical distraction to the true development of the human race. If history had only gone differently, we would have not had this sad affair, but been more thoroughly enlightened by Mithraism and the mysteries instead of impeded by Christianity. Instead, he said, “In the past two thousand years Christianity has done its work and has erected barriers of repression, which protect us from the sight of our own ‘sinfulness.’ The elementary emotions of the libido have come to be unknown to us, for they are carried on in the unconscious; therefore, the belief which combats them has become hollow and empty.” A couple paragraphs from one popular Jung scholar will tie this all together, explaining Jung’s worldview and teachings: Within each native European there was a living pre-Christian layer of the unconscious psyche that produced religious images from the Hellenistic pagan mystery cults or even the more archaic nature religions of the ancient Aryans. The phylogenetic unconscious does not produce purely Christian symbols but instead offers pagan images, such as that of the sun as god. If the sediment of two thousand years of Judeo-Christian culture could be disturbed (as in psychotic mental diseases with a psychological component, such as dementia praecox), then this Semitic “mask” might be removed, and the biologically true images of the original “god within” could be revealed: a natural god, perhaps of the sun or stars like Mithras, or matriarchal goddesses of the moon or blood, or phallic or chthonic gods from within Mother Earth. . . . To Jung, the mystery cults of antiquity kept alive the ancient natural religion of human prehistory and were a corrective antidote to the poison of religions—like Judaism and Christianity—that had been forged by civilization. . . . Jung regarded Christianity as a Jewish religion that was cruelly imposed on the pagan peoples of Europe. . . . Semitic cultures, cut off from the primordial source of life, did not have mysteries in which a direct experience of the gods could be attained through initiation rituals. They were, therefore, cut off from the renewal and rebirth that such mysteries offered the Aryans. . . . Jung often referred to the ancient mysteries as the “secret” or “hidden” or “underground” religions and their social organizations as the secret or hidden churches that kept alive the divine spark from the dawn of creation. This leads us to an obvious conclusion. When Jung became one with Aion in his visionary initiation experience, in his imagination he was not only becoming a full participant in the mysteries of Mithras; he was experiencing a direct initiation into the most ancient of the mysteries of his Aryan ancestors. . . . Here’s the part that is the most crucial summary for our purposes: His new science of psychoanalysis became the twentieth century vehicle of those mysteries. Most important, as his initiation experience also entailed assuming the stance of the crucified Jesus as he metamorphosed into Aion, Jung thereby became the figure that fueled the fantasies of thousands of Volkish Germans and European and American anti-Semites at the turn of the century: the Aryan Christ. Much more could be added to this, and in fact is in the books from which these paragraphs came, The Jung Cult and The Aryan Christ: The Secret Life of Carl Jung (see esp. pp. 121–147), both by award-winning author and clinical psychologist Richard Noll.2 I want to be clear here: while there are obviously strains of antisemitism in all of this, and Jung did briefly give a favorable glimpse to Nazism, the point here is not to play the anti-Semite card and try to discredit Jung in that way. The point here is to show the radical break with all things Christian, the reinterpretation of even Jesus himself in terms of mystical, occult mysteries, and the projection of such occult practices into a thoroughly scientific-sounding method of “psychoanalysis” as a way of, among other things, transforming the collective imagination of the West from Christianity to a new paganism (same as the old). All of this was Jung’s answer to Nietzsche’s “death of God” proclamation. Nietzsche was not just dancing on the grave, he was alerting the world to a need for something to fill the void left behind, because “God” had been performing some pretty important services in regard to meaning and morality and all, so those who killed him had to pick up the slack. Nietzsche’s answer to this, in a nutshell, was that we had to become powerful autonomous actors who from now own determined our own values for ourselves. Or as Peterson has put it in his lectures, men must become creatures who can autonomously create their own values. But this looked like trouble. So what Jung added to that answer was to examine people’s fantasies to determine their drives and motives, and supply some kind of collective unity that could tie these many autonomous actors to something common. He added the dimension of mythology across history as a guide to interpretation and meaning. These last few explanations are notes directly from Peterson’s own lectures. In short, Jung mainstreamed the most famous doctrines of the atheist Friedrich Nietzsche, and also mainstreamed virtually every kind of ancient paganism and occultism right into the heart of twentieth century secular humanism, and it makes a huge core of what makes modern humanism what it is. This is what Christians should consider when they listen to Jordan Peterson, because this is precisely, and quite squarely I would add, where he is coming from when he says what he says, even when it seems to comport with Christianity. Peterson’s Jungian worldview Some will be quick to object that I am merely poisoning the well. All of this, I admit, could indeed be seen as one big genetic fallacy, or series thereof. We could understand Peterson’s association with Jungian psychology as little more than incidental, like a kind of professional vestige, long since watered down and papered over with many layers of more modern, scientific clinical theories. Except, Peterson says things like this: “Jung, I would say, was the most serious thing for the twentieth century.” And he says such things with passionate verve. And he lectures with enthusiasm on how great Jung was and he weaves Jung’s theories and ideas into his own. He speaks openly of Jung (and Nietzsche, too), his admiration for him, and quite often will drop phrases and ideas from Jung’s methodology that show Peterson follows the same path: for example, the interpretation of people’s “archetypal dreams” and “the mythological underpinning of them” in his psychological practice. Consider teachings like this: For Jung, not only are the substructures of your thought biological, and so therefore based in your body, but your body was also cultural and historical.... You’re an evolved creature, so 3.5 billion years worth of weirdness that you can draw on, or that can move you where it wants to move you.... But also, you’re being shaped by cultural dynamics all the time.... Part of what every single person is constantly broadcasting to every other person is how to behave.... Then he discusses the archetypal “savior figure” as the distillation of a thousand people’s ideals, and says if someone comes along who is close to one of these figures, you have a religion. So, the story of Horus and Isis kept Egypt civilized for millennia. Then that story “sort of transmuted into Judaism and then turned into Christianity, so it’s not like the ideas disappeared.” Peterson says You’re just as possessed by those ideas as any ancient Egyptian, you’re just more fragmented, because what your conscious mind assumes and what your unconscious mind assumes are different things, and you’re always at war with yourself; that’s why you’re attracted to ideologies. These ideologies he calls “idols” and destructive to your soul (I wondered if he would include the ideologies of Jung and Nietzsche in that. Don’t know.). He concluded the section by mentioning what is so terrifying about Jung: “there’s no escaping the realization of the nature of the forces that are behind the puppets that we are.” Scoffing at people who said Jung started a cult, Peterson says he is “so much more terrifying than a cult!” No, Jung was “trying to bring the primordial imagination back into the world and to make people conscious of it.” And there’s more. If there’s any single thing Peterson’s become known for, it’s his emphasis on taking personal responsibility. Here, it would seem, there’s at least some overlap with the discipline, responsibility, and sanctification found in Christian teaching. But not really, this is Jungian too. Peterson himself teaches, “The thing that is instantiated in Jungian psychotherapy, the Jungian model, is, it requires personal responsibility above all else.” It’s not Christian. It’s Jung’s answer to Nietzsche’s superman. It’s humanism, human autonomy, self-help, or in Peterson’s personal brand, “self-authoring.” Peterson comes across as conservative, mainly because he takes such an uncompromising stance against “cultural Marxism” and “postmodernism” (which he says is just Marxism under a new name), but his own roots in Nietzsche and Jung not only conflict with that stance in theory (who, after all, is a greater granddaddy of postmodernism than Nietzsche?), but some of his own ethical wranglings show those roots in practice as well. One lesser known, but certainly not surprising, aspect of Jung is his sexual immorality. He counseled some of his clients to have affairs, and himself had women in addition to his wife. Peterson is certainly more prudish personally (his assessment), yet himself from his worldview has a hard time addressing homosexual marriage. Yes, he would oppose such a law if it were only cultural Marxists using it to destroy western civilization, but he’s also supportive of it because “it’s a means whereby gay people can be more thoroughly integrated into standard society, and that’s probably a good thing.” Likewise, on abortion. He has no problems calling it morally wrong, though on pragmatic and anecdotal grounds. But the question of its legality is a whole different thing. Some morally wrong things should still be legal. This discussion, he said, is nested inside a larger discussion, and in discussing it, Peterson reveals how he once counseled a 27-year old female virgin to address her personal timidity by going out and having some sexual “adventures.” After all, “You can’t just say to people in the modern world, ‘No sex until you’re married.’” Even in his “self-authoring” theme, Peterson is Jungian-Nietzschean to the point of being postmodern himself. In speaking of self-improvement in metaphorical terms, he says this: then if you create an ultimate judge, which is what the archetypal imagination of humankind has done, say, with the figure of Christ—because if Christ is nothing else he is at least the archetypal perfect man and therefore the judge—you have a judge that says get rid of everything about yourself that isn’t perfect. The thing that’s interesting about this, I think, is you can do it more or less on your own terms. You have to have some collaboration from external people; but you don’t have to pick an external ideal. You can pick an ideal that fulfills the role of ideal for you; you can say, OK, if things could be set up for me the way I need them to be, and if I could be who I needed to be, what would that look like? You can figure that out for yourself, and then instantly you have a judge. Maybe he would explain these points, or the context, a little more satisfactorily given the chance, but as it is, this is nothing less than the very moral relativism one would expect from his inspirations (yet which he himself decries). Jung with a stiff upper lip Somehow, however, this Jungian depth psychologist has adopted a conservative-ish streak along the way. But even these are humanistic. The following excerpts of Peterson quoted in David Brooks’s recent article are very interesting: All of life is perched, Peterson continues, on the point between order and chaos. Chaos is the realm without norms and rules. Chaos, he writes, is “the impenetrable darkness of a cave and the accident by the side of the road. It’s the mother grizzly, all compassion to her cubs, who marks you as a potential predator and tears you to pieces. Chaos, the eternal feminine, is also the crushing force of sexual selection. Women are choosy maters. … Most men do not meet female human standards.” Life is suffering, Peterson reiterates. Don’t be fooled by the naïve optimism of progressive ideology. Life is about remorseless struggle and pain. Your instinct is to whine, to play victim, to seek vengeance. Peterson tells young men never to do that. Rise above the culture of victimization you see all around you. Stop whining. Don’t blame others or seek revenge. “The individual must conduct his or her life in a manner that requires the rejection of immediate gratification, or natural and perverse desires alike.” When I hear “struggle” and “suffering,” I hear the ancient Greek philosopher Heraclitus. When I hear the advice to rise above these and face them like a man, I hear classic stoicism (which churchmen of the era loved). The two are far more similar, by the way, than most histories of philosophies catch. These ideas connect historically also in Nietzsche, but also in classic British conservatism. In the face of calamity and chaos, keep a stiff upper lip. Don’t bend, don’t’ change. Edmund Burke could have written those paragraphs. Above all, a Burkean Conservative would say, don’t touch the ancient institutions. Don’t mess with the fundamental foundations of society that have served us well for so many years. Don’t changeanything. If you do, you don’t know what the consequences will be. This is exactly Peterson’s message, too. Don’t be fooled by naïve optimism. Accept traditions, etc., even if you have to embrace the pain. Sure enough, what we are getting in the conservative and Christian flocking to Peterson is the same thing we saw with the classic conservativism centering on Edmund Burke. Never mind that he was every bit as much a humanist and natural law proponent on social theory as Robespierre himself. It was the Right Wing of the Enlightenment, and Christians loved it, mainly because it said some things Christians weren’t getting in a fully biblical form from their pulpits—weren’t getting at all, really. Christians don’t realize that the Enlightenment had two wings, one right and one left. When we think humanism, we only think left wing humanism, but the right wing was every bit as humanist. One could go on to say, in fact, that the right wing of the enlightenment is even more dangerous than the left, because it teaches humanistic principles on humanistic foundations, but often with common conclusions Christians like to hear, and often in language that sounds amenable to Christianity. Here are the Isaac Newtons, Adam Smiths, Edmund Burkes — all guys Christians tend to love. It is often through these relationships and their influence that humanism enters the church to the detriment of all. Analysis from a Biblical Worldview The point with Peterson should not be to have to do something so obvious as to go through Peterson’s lectures on biblical narratives critiquing every point from the perspective of orthodox theology. Rather, it is to look deeper at the presuppositions that underlie his interpretations and methods, and what, while it may sound profound (and in a way, is), is little more than the same type of humanistic repurposing of the texts to which we would strenuously reject and decry if we heard a liberal doing it. But since this guys seems to be on our side, we give him a more passive treatment. Cornelius Van Til provided a very helpful multi-point review of the psychology of religion which not only nicely critiques humanistic attempts (which would subsume Jung), but also establishes biblical presuppositions from which to do so.3 A biblical worldview of souls (“psychology” is the study of the soul) must begin with the Creator-creation distinction. Man is not God, and man cannot become a god. Second, the fall of man is the source of all our brokennesses. All of them. We will not be saved by creating a distillation of archetypes from the collective imagination of fallen man, or any projection from that which is already broken. Nothing derived from us either horizontally with other men, or vertically up from ourselves, can save us. The cure of souls must come from without, not within fallen humanity. Psychology, therefore, that proceeds on any other ground, certainly including Jung’s program, is a rival plan of salvation to that of the Bible and Christian tradition. These basic ideas have severe implications. First, as we have seen with Jung and Peterson above, the rival views are hardly neutral. This is because there is no neutrality. Our views of psychology and “Self-help” are either in covenant with God, or covenant breaking with Him. Second, humanistic psychologies assume that man is his own autonomous being — autonomous from God, that is, because they will call him everything but subject to the God of the Bible, even going so far as to call him subject to the impersonal forces of the universe, or a collective consciousness of humanity. He is autonomous from God, nonetheless. But man is totally dependent upon his creator. For the Bible, man is created in the image of God. For the Jungians, God is created in the images of glorified men. Third, since man is dependent upon the Creator for his being, and totally subject to Him, this means man is also dependent upon Him morally. The whole concept of establishing our own values, then, whether per Nietzsche, Jung, or Peterson, is unbiblical and humanistic. For the humanist, man must be saved on his own terms, setting his own values. For the Bible, man must return to the ethics God created for him. When we follow the humanistic models, like Jung’s, but any of them, really, we can trace several steps of the destruction of the foundations of civilization. First, the intellect is dethroned in favor of irrational, forces — thus the emphasis on paganism, spiritualism, and all things occult. Second, man is eventually reduced to little more than a holistic corpus and product of such forces. Third, comes a focus on the psyche developed in childhood. The child becomes the most meaningful part of the psyche, and thus of the person. The adult is soon interpreted in terms of the child. Fourth, emphasis is placed upon the unconscious and subconscious forces. Fifth, emphasis is placed upon abnormal psychology. Since there is no fall in humanism, the abnormal and normal are both natural, and thus both normal in a way. Thus, for example, homosexuality is just as valid as hetero. In ethics, this means homosexual marriage must be given some space as valid in the mix. Sixth, the emphasis next becomes primitive and primordial man. Jung obviously exemplifies this in reaching back to our earliest pagan roots for archetypal patterns and foundations. Seventh, we go from primordial man to animals. The key to the human psyche will then lie somewhere deep in our evolutionary history. Not the men, not the abnormal man, not the child, not the subconscious, but the chimpanzee and the rat, will explain our woes and its cures. And if you can recall Jung standing there, snake-wrapped, with his own face replaced by that of a lion, perhaps you can see that this is no joke. In virtually every one of these areas, we can easily refute Freud and the humanistic traditions, whether Jungian, behaviorist, or whatever. But such refutations also just as earnestly critique the humanistic foundations from which Peterson works, as well as many of the points he would emphasize from them. We don’t need another lion-headed Aryan would-be Christ, or any other humanist stretch of the imagination. What we do need is to return to the God-man that our Creator sent to rescue us in our fallen condition. Here we can find true representation, manhood and womanhood, ethics, meaning, and a future outlook. And in that outlook, we’ll be much better equipped to discern the problems that appear in even the good-speaking humanists. Conclusion When you boil it all down, the weightiest contributions coming from Peterson are actually quite limited and easily procurable from sources with less intellectual baggage and less-deceptive packages to truth-and-practice-hungry Christians. His weightiest contribution on social theory is a repeated historical lesson that communism lay behind the slaughter of millions of people, and we don’t want to return to that. Ok, fine. But we’ve got plenty of help on that message already. We just need pressure on the teachers to teach it more. We need simply an effort to get the word out better on that. His weightiest contribution on personal life is the emphasis on personal responsibility and self-discipline. Don’t buy into the lure of victimhood and entitlement. Ok, fine, too. But that’s the message of the mind of Christ in the New Testament (Phil. 2), in which version it is far more meaningful and profound. It’s the most fundamental lesson of sanctification in the Bible. It’s where Christians should begin and never depart. So why don’t we begin with the Bible and not depart from it? It contains, Peter says, “all things pertaining to life and godliness.” No detour through Mithraism or the Übermensch is needed here. So, why do we allow ourselves to become enamored with the pseudo-profundities of Jung and depth psychology, and with their fundamental deceit that the answer lies inside of ourselves, in humanity, in a collective unconscious, in humanity’s evolutionary being? What improvement is this over any other humanism? Why, I ask you Christian, would we want to trade one humanism for another? I am speaking of intellectual presuppositions and foundations. Why does it matter if we try to build Christian-sounding ideas on top of Right Wing Humanism or Left Wing Humanism? Ultimately, beneath both, are the same ideas: we are evolved beings, the universe is impersonal, we are products of our environment, our instincts, drive, and urges rule us, etc., etc. The only good that exists in Peterson’s talks is when he departs from these basic presuppositions and happens to echo biblical ones, and that should tell us all we need to do next: go to the source of the good ideas Peterson has. That source is Scripture. Peterson denies the inspiration of it, the historicity of it, the God who is behind all of it, and the Christ who is the Son of that God and Savior of us in our condition. Yet Peterson is commanding huge audiences of largely young men. While we obviously need a clear warning in the church that his foundations and teachings lack quite a bit, the nature of his appeal speaks volumes about what is missing in our own house. But for all of this problem, the main lesson Christian leaders need to take from this is to see where all the young men are flocking to gain wisdom and insight into practical living and every area of life while Christian leaders are missing the boat in virtually every way a boat can be missed: intellectually, spiritually, apologetically, culturally, as well as in terms of business, opportunity, community, dominion, etc. End notes 1 The phrase “Jordan Peterson moment” was coined as the headline of a recent New York Times article by David Brooks. 2 Peterson, like much of the pro-Jung academic guild, has not been appreciative of Noll, and in a lecture called him a “crooked guy,” although when confronted later apologized. 3 The following points are taken from Rushdoony’s summary of Van Til in “Psychology,” in Foundations of Christian Scholarship: Essays in the Van Til Perspective (Vallecito, CA: Ross House Books, 2001), 41-51. This article was first published on the AmericanVision.org under the title “Is Jordan Peterson our new Aryan Christ?” and is reprinted here with permission. Dr. Joel McDurmon is the author of "God vs. Socialism" and "The Problem of Slavery in Christian America" and many other books. Top photo is cropped version of TEDxUofT Team picture (photo credit: Strategic Communications/University of Toronto) and used under a Creative Commons license Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic...

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The gift of sleep: it's good for what ails you

Early to bed is a spiritual discipline You may have said it yourself at some time, “I can get by with only 5-6 hours of sleep a night. It’s no problem.” And, like many of us, what you meant was that even though your workload (including studies and family needs in that category) led to late nights and early mornings, you found that you were still clear-headed enough to drive, to do your job, and maybe even maintain patience and good humor – probably while bolstering yourself with some amount of caffeine. But according to Dr. Archibald D. Hart, Ph.D., we are not “getting by” even though we think we are. Hart has lectured around the world about his three decades of study on the topic of sleep, and in 2010 he published the results of his extensive studies in a book entitled Sleep: It Does a Family Good. Why sleep? Why do we need sleep? Our bodies were made to have a "sleep cycle" and a "wake cycle." During the sleep cycle, energy is restored, and all of the cells in the body rejuvenate. Adrenal and other glands, muscles, and proteins, all rejuvenate. Hart says, “Since proteins are the building blocks needed for cell growth and for repair of damage from factors like stress and ultraviolet rays, deep sleep rejuvenates us.” In children and young adults, there is a release of growth hormones as well. And during the deepest part of sleep, Hart writes, ...the brain processes information, like problems and new learning, and grows new connections accordingly. It synthesizes information learned through the waking hours. It saves newly learned information into long-term memory. Modern outlook Unfortunately, many of us have adopted the modern notion that sleep is expendable. There is just so much to do during the day to take care of our financial, family, emotional, and leisure needs (and desires) that jokes like “I’ll sleep when I’m dead” are often quipped. We brag about getting by, and we really do not think that we are causing any lasting damage. Add to that Proverbs 24:33-34, which says, " A little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to rest, and poverty will come upon you like a robber, and want like an armed man.” Thus, Hart says, “we tend to associate sleeping long with laziness” and with not being a good steward of our time. It sets the stage for viewing sleep as a necessity, but not a priority. But isn’t it likely that Proverbs is talking about excessive amounts of sleep that keep a person from doing his job at all? This passage seems to relate more to laziness than to speaking against getting a full night of rest. Hart says that, “God has designed sleep into us as a fundamental need, as fundamental as eating food and breathing air.” He might as well be quoting Psalm 127: 2, which says, "It is in vain that you rise up early and go late to rest, eating the bread of anxious toil; for he gives to his beloved sleep." Based on polls which have been done during the past few decades by the National Sleep Foundation (NSF), about 70 million Americans (and likely Canadians as well) suffer from some sort of sleep disorder or sleep deprivation. Hart says, “Every year there are more than 30,000 deaths from car accidents linked to sleepiness, and more than three million disabling injuries from sleep-related accidents.” He adds that, “Sleep deficits have been implicated in many major public catastrophes, including the Exxon Valdez and the destruction of the space shuttle Challenger,” as well as the nuclear accidents at Chernobyl, Three Mile Island, and Peach Bottom. Hart explains that, “Our sleep loss can affect how we crouch, stoop, push or pull large objects, handle small objects, write with a pen, learn new things, remember old things, gain weight, and walk up stairs.” He adds that sleep-deprived people are more irritable and negative, less joyful, lighthearted and happy, and have more memory problems. They are at higher risks for accidents and divorce and “disordered social relationships” and show a dramatic reduction in creativity and productivity.  Hart says, “A major study reports that reduced sleep carries a greater mortality risk than smoking, high blood pressure and heart disease. Take a moment for that to sink in.” It makes sense: if you cannot cope as well, your stress level will increase, elevating your blood pressure, and disrupting your sleep even more. A 2006 article in The Institute of Medicine associates sleep loss with hypertension, diabetes, obesity, depression, heart attacks, and strokes. The Rev. John Piper says in When I Don’t Desire God, For me, adequate sleep is not just a matter of staying healthy. It’s a matter of staying in the ministry – I’m tempted to say it’s a matter of persevering as a Christian. I know it is irrational that my future should look so bleak when I get only four or five hours of sleep several nights in a row. But rational or irrational, that is a fact. And I must live within the limits of fact. Therefore we must watch the changes in our bodies. Damage to the family is noted when Hart points out that the whole family suffers when babies and small children don’t get enough sleep, but it also suffers when mother and father choose to stay up and read or watch a television show instead of getting the sleep that their bodies need.  Hart says that, “It’s well known that child sleeplessness can also lead to an increased risk of depression and anxiety in mothers, and a reciprocal loss of love feelings toward the child.” Sleeplessness with a newborn doesn’t last forever, but it can continue to plague children, especially those with learning disabilities, stress and ADHD. What can be done? Hart’s statistics suggest that everyone needs to be in bed for 9 hours in order to get 8 hours of sleep per night and he tells many stories about people whose lives improve when they move towards or attain this standard, or, don’t. Sometimes when an otherwise healthy-as-an-ox person dies at an early age, sleep deprivation has been found to be a contributing factor. So, if God has made our bodies a temple of the Holy Spirit, and instructed us to take care of them as best we can, and if it is true that we need sleep for our cells to rejuvenate and our brains to function well, then we might all examine our lives to see how we might improve in this area. Hart starts from the standpoint of a family that has bought into the modern notion, and gives a number of suggestions as to how we can improve our lives by sleeping more. When Hart first desired to change his pattern, I feared that taking more time to sleep would mean less time for my work…but I went ahead and took the plunge. My secretary rearranged my appointments to start later in the morning after I had spent the first few hours reaping the benefits of a good night’s sleep and then getting some writing done. It only took a few days to convince me of the two principles I have followed ever since. First, getting to bed earlier, and as a consequence getting more sleep, works wonders for my brain. Second, creative tasks are best accomplished earlier in the day, rather than later. He was amazed to discover that his efficiency and productivity increased. “The time I lost by adding more sleep time was more than compensated for by my being able to work and write more efficiently. I made far fewer mistakes. My ideas came more easily. I completed my tasks faster.” How to make changes Hart’s “Simple Sleep Test” asks whether you fall asleep within half an hour of going to bed, whether you can fall back asleep if disturbed, and whether you feel refreshed, not headachy, in the morning and not in need of a nap by noon. If you can't answer yes to those questions, then Hart suggests there is room for improvement, and offers some helpful hints. For the first week, add 15 minutes of sleep time to your normal sleep, either in the evening or the morning.  Even if you don’t get more sleep, you are training your body and brain to adapt to the new schedule.  “At the end of the week, evaluate your level of tiredness upon awakening, energy, efficiency, alertness, mental acuity, reduced daytime tiredness and your general feeling of well-being.” For the second week, add a second 15 minutes to your sleep. Evaluate. Do the same in the third week and so on until you have achieved 9 hours of bedtime, evaluating all along the way. As Hart says, “Now you will have a better idea of what amount of sleep your body and mind really need. If the benefits peaked at eight and a half hours, then stick with that for a while.” Hart’s main point is that “The family that sleeps well, lives well.” He knows that it will be difficult to get the entire family on board with sleeping more, but he presents the benefits that will result from doing so. It is imperative that parents step up to the plate and take control of their family’s sleeping habits. Our children are facing enormous increases in their general stimulation. They are forced to multitask in ways that undermine effective learning, and they generally have too much excitement in their lives. Hart encourages families to determine what their biggest challenges are. He lists stress, anxiety/worry, depression and caffeine as the top four “Sleep Killers.” He says that “Caffeine is a two-edged sword – it both overcomes and causes our sleeplessness.” If caffeine is necessary for your day, then it has become an addiction, and while it might help you function in your wake cycle, you are losing out on all the rejuvenation needed in your sleep cycle. Beyond 2 or 3 cups a day is discouraged by doctors, and don’t even get Hart started on the topic of energy drinks.  He also suggests ways to deal with overactive minds, arguments, and too-much-screen-time as well. Some good news Hart describes the various stages of sleep and includes some questionnaires to help readers figure themselves out. His suggested 9 hours includes not just the time you are zonked-out in REM sleep, but even when you are lying restfully and those “light sleep” times when you may think that you are actually still awake. One piece of good news was this: we sleep in cycles of about one and a half hours and our dream sleep comes at or near the end of each cycle. What this means is that if we remember waking up a few times during the night, that’s not a problem – as long as we go back to sleep, we still “get credit” for all of that sleep time. He also says that if we lose sleep during the night and take a nap later that also gives us credit for the 9 hours that are needed. He finds this particularly helpful when he travels overseas. He also describes how to build up one’s sleep bank ahead of time so that the jetlag won’t overwhelm. Conclusion The subtitle to Dr. Archibald D. Hart’s book is “How busy families can overcome sleep deprivation.” Once a problem has been identified, there are ways, even in our overly-busy lives, that we can work to fix the problem and improve on the overall health of ourselves, our families, and our communities. It seems that Hart has well described one of them. And Rev. John Piper has the best comments of all regarding our need for sleep: Sleep is a daily reminder from God that we are not God. “He who keeps Israel will neither slumber nor sleep” (Psalm 121:4). But Israel will. For we are not God. Once a day God sends us to bed like patients with a sickness. The sickness is a chronic tendency to think we are in control and that our work is indispensable. To cure us of this disease God turns us into helpless sacks of sand once a day. How humiliating to the self-made corporate executive that he has to give up all control and become as limp as a suckling infant every day. Sleep is a parable that God is God and we are mere men. God handles the world quite nicely while a hemisphere sleeps. Sleep is like a broken record that comes around with the same message every day: Man is not sovereign. Man is not sovereign. Man is not sovereign. Don’t let the lesson be lost on you. God wants to be trusted as the great worker who never tires and never sleeps. He is not nearly so impressed with our late nights and early mornings as he is with the peaceful trust that casts all anxieties on him and sleeps. Good night!...

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A plea to read

...or, the story of a boy, a repairman, and the Truth **** In the title I promised you a story. Actually that was mainly to draw you in. I figured stories sell more magazines. But it’s not entirely untrue. I want to start with a couple of stories. They happen to be autobiographical. The first story starts at about grade 3, around the age of 8. You may think that my qualification for making a “plea to read” is my current calling as pastor, or my (excessive) years of education before this. But that’s not really it. That’s not really why I agreed to share this article about reading. Instead, the story begins, once upon a time, when I was 8. That was the year I discovered reading, or at least my passion for reading. In the years that followed it became my number one activity. I was almost always reading, probably at an unhealthy level. You want to know why I say that? Well, my parents would often ignore my lengthy birthday or Sinter Klaas lists and buy me things I didn’t ask for and, truth be told, I didn’t necessarily want. I asked for the next book in a series; they bought me a hockey stick. I asked for the first book in a new series; they bought me a Lego set. Actually, we used to have a cartoon on our fridge. I think it was from Punch Comics. One of my siblings stumbled across it, cut it out, and posted it there. It’s a sketch of a family gathered around a television set in the living room. Two ladies on the couch are talking to each other and looking rather concerned about the boy in the foreground who’s curled up in a chair reading a book, oblivious to the rest of the family. The caption at the bottom reads, “We’re rather worried about William.” I kid you not. That was the name. Google it if you don’t believe me. It doesn’t quite work because we never had a TV in the house, but you get the picture, I think. So that’s where this story begins. My plea to read is in part a plea for you to join me in the best hobby there is. A dog-eared copy of Reformed Dogmatics But that’s not a terribly convincing appeal. That comes in the next story (I hope). We have to jump forward about twenty years to what was one of my more embarrassing moments in recent years, which for some reason I’m sharing publicly with you all. You have to try to imagine the scene with me. I was in first year at the seminary at the time. And you have to know that first year seminary is that stage where you feel like you know everything. You have an opinion on everything. And you want to fight about everything. Things change after four years. Thankfully… and by the grace of God. Well, we were back home in Richmond Hill for the weekend. We got invited to my wife Diane’s Opa and Oma Kampen’s for dinner (don’t tell them I told you this story) and we were sitting around waiting for dinner to be ready and chatting and what not. Now, before I continue, I have to give a quick character sketch. Opa Kampen is retired now, but he was an appliance repairman all of his years in Canada. I’m not sure when his education stopped, but he definitely didn’t have anything like the years of education that I had at that point. So, anyway, we’re talking together about one thing or another, and suddenly the conversation shifts. I don’t remember why anymore, but rather unexpectedly Opa asked me whether I favoured Infralapsarianism or Supralapsarianism. Remember, I was the first year seminary student and he was the appliance repairman. I don’t remember why it came up, but I definitely remember my reaction. Vividly. I started sweating. I had heard those words before, but I had almost no idea at that point what they meant, let alone which one I leaned towards. I thought, here we go, Opa’s about to expose me as a complete fraud. My education has meant nothing! I was tempted to slip out quickly to the bathroom so that I could Google it, but there was no time. I actually don’t even know what happened in the end, but that moment of panic has stuck with me. So why am I sharing this story? Well, to me it illustrates a change over the years in terms of our investment into reading and educating ourselves in Reformed doctrine. Gone are the days when your appliance repairman read through Bavinck’s Reformed Dogmatics, in Dutch or in English. Gone are the days when you can expect men nominated as elders or deacons to have invested significant time into studying Reformed doctrine over and above their catechism instruction as young people. Now, before you get up in arms, I’m not saying there are none of these. I’m just saying that with the younger generations this breed is not as common. And I’m indicting myself with this too. I was a deacon before coming to seminary. Well, if that’s the case with those being put up for church leadership, then how about the other people in the pew? Before I continue, I should add a disclaimer. My comments here are completely unscientific. My doctoral supervisor would never forgive me for my poor research. I haven’t crunched any numbers or done any surveys. I’m basing this on my experiences as an office-bearer, both before and after I went through seminary. If you have a more positive outlook, I’d love for you to convince me. But right now, this is my article, so you’ll have to bear with me. So why should we care? Why should I make this plea for us to read more widely and more deeply today, in the 21st century? Let me devote the next half of this article to exploring an answer to that question. Theologians should read (and we’re all theologians) Well, first of all, everyone is a theologian. (If you’re on Twitter, you might want to tweet that, although I certainly can’t take credit for coining the phrase, so don’t quote me). Everyone is a theologian. Even the atheist is a theologian. That’s because theology is, essentially, thoughts or words about God. And the atheist has thoughts about God. Now, his thought happens to be that God doesn’t exist – and he happens to be wrong – but that still makes him a theologian. So, if we’re all theologians then the important question is what kind of theologians are we going to be? You see, the problem with the atheist isn’t that he’s a theologian, it’s that his theology is coming from the wrong source. If we don’t study theology from the right sources – if we don’t allow our thoughts and words about God to be shaped by the right sources – then our theology is going to be shaped by the wrong sources. If we don’t consciously do theology – that is, if we don’t consciously train our minds in the knowledge of God – we’re going to end up basing our theology either on our own experiences and our own feelings or on whatever else we happen to be taking in. Because we are reading. Maybe some of us – and I’m talking especially about my generation and younger – are reading more than ever. I’m thinking of social media. Don’t tell me you’re not a reader if you’re on Facebook or Twitter. Maybe those who only use Instagram, which focuses on pictures, can have a legitimate claim not to be readers, but the other social media users can’t. But the problem with only reading online, and not engaging in books, is that by its very nature the online world tends towards the superficial. Let’s think specifically of theology – of the study of God. If your thoughts are shaped by your reading of little quotes that someone decided to share, taken out of context, written by who knows who, or if all you read are the musings of someone who is just “feeling philosophical” (as the Facebook status often says) then you can’t expect anything but superficial knowledge. That, I think, is the biggest danger with losing our interest in reading deeply and studying deeply the doctrines of God found in his Word. We end up with an overall superficiality in terms of our theology, what we know about God. Worse, we can rely more on our subjective experiences than the objective truth we find in God’s Word. Feelings aren’t reliable…but there is a book that can be trusted Let me explain that. What is subjective is based on our own experiences, our feelings, our emotions. We can’t really call it truth – although as postmoderns we might want to – because we aren’t reliable sources of truth. Our sinful, fallen nature means that we can’t be trusted to process things correctly, understand things properly. We can’t be trusted to theologize helpfully on our own. General revelation can only go so far (Rom. 1:19-23). We need objective truth. We need something to build our lives on that is absolutely rock solid, unshakeable. We find that foundation in the Word of God alone. Because it’s a revelation from outside of us, from outside of this fallen world. It’s special revelation from the unshakeable source of truth, God himself. That’s why we’re called to pore over Scripture, to internalize it, to let it light our path, to let it shape our thoughts, to let it cut deeply into our hearts. And we have to trust that the Spirit works transformation through the Word. We have to believe that. And then live like we believe it. But we also don’t read Scriptures alone. We read them with the church of all times and places. That’s why we guide and inform our reading with creeds and confessions. That’s also why we supplement our reading of Scripture with studying good theology, with reading solid literature. Because it all helps ground us further in the objective truth of God’s Word. When we’re deeply grounded in the truth of God’s Word, then we are better able to process our subjective feelings and emotions. The psalms in Scripture provide us with great examples of what that looks like. But let me explain what I mean by what I think is the most powerful and poignant illustration of this, where the believer directs his experience of reality by the truth that he knows from God’s revelation. It lies at the very center of the most tragic book in the Bible, Lamentations, traditionally understood to be written by Jeremiah. The prophet is lamenting over the destruction of the city of Jerusalem. His world, the world of God’s own people, has completely fallen apart. He finds himself sitting in the ashes and ruins of the holy city. Many of the people of God have died in the Babylonian invasion. Many others have been deported to far away Babylon. The whole poem is centred around the question: how could God allow this to happen to his chosen people? The prophet’s present experience is of pain, disillusionment, disappointment. Almost the entire book is a long cry of deepest despair. But then, at the very heart of the poem, in the middle of “the wormwood and the gall” (3:19), we get this incredible confession of faith, “The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning. Great is your faithfulness” (3:22-23). One Bible teacher suggests that we imagine ourselves sitting in the ashes of the World Trade Center in New York City after 9/11 and speaking these words to ourselves. That’s what I mean by looking at our experiences and filtering our emotions through our objective knowledge of God… our theology. The prophet, sitting among the ashes, knows this truth because God has spoken it, and so he applies this truth to his troubled soul and to his experiences, which appear to contradict it. Like the prophet, it’s our knowledge of the objective truths of God’s Word that gives us the wherewithal to process our experiences and feelings. Not vice versa. Then our theology lets us speak truth to our souls when our experience doesn’t seem to line up with our knowledge. That’s part of why we read. That’s part of why we pursue a deeper and deeper knowledge of God, above all through his Word, but also through reading deeply and widely with the church. How can we encourage reading? I want to explore the answer to one last question before I let you go: what should we do? I don’t have space to pay much attention to this, but let me make a start by saying what we shouldn’t do: we shouldn’t do nothing. We shouldn’t finish reading this article, muse about it for a few moments, and then just move on, mildly annoyed at the fact that this wasn’t a story like it was advertised to be, but otherwise untouched. We shouldn’t do nothing. So what should we do? Well, let me issue a plea to all of you reading this to do something. What that something is will depend on who you are and what you do. Are you a parent or grandparent? Stimulate the love for reading good books in your kids and grandkids. Do that by modeling it for them and by giving them the right resources for it. And if you can’t stimulate a love for it, then at least impress on them their responsibility to keep educating themselves in the doctrines of the Word of God. Are you an elder or deacon or pastor? First of all, create a culture of “professional development” within your church council and consistory. Secondly, stimulate that same love and that same sense of responsibility for reading in the sheep under your care. Are you a member of the body of Christ? Develop your own desire to grow in the doctrines of the Word of God, in sinking the objective truths of Scripture into your hearts and minds. And then make it your mission to share that love with your fellow members. Start with the people closest to you, your friends within the church. Buy them books – good books, mind you – and then talk about them. Start with easier (but not easy) reads and then make your way into heavier ones. Stretch yourself and stretch them too. Plan book review nights where you get together with your friends and you all share thoughts and insights from the books you happen to be reading at present. It doesn’t have to be formal or complicated. Just talk. And when you’re done your book (and it’s a good one), pass it along to someone else. Don’t let it collect dust on your shelf. In all this, though, never forget that studying theology ought to be an act of worship. We can’t let our reading become an end in itself. We can’t become obsessed with theology for the sake of theology. We do theology because we exist to glorify God and because we were created to know Him. So as you read and discuss, do it with a conscious posture of worship. Let your increase of knowledge lead to an increase of worship. Soli Deo Gloria! Endnotes For this point, see Aimee Byrd’s No Little Women: Equipping All Women in the Household of God, page 202. Rev. den Hollander is the pastor of Langley Canadian Reformed Church. This article was originally delivered as a speech at the December 8, 2017 Reformed Perspective fundraising dinner at the Aldergrove Canadian Reformed Church.  ...