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That I may declare it boldly

Therefore, take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm. Stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and, as shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace. In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one; and take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God, praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end, keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints, and also for me, that words may be given to me in opening my mouth boldly to proclaim the mystery of the Gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains that I may declare it boldly, as I ought to speak.
– Ephesians 6:13-20


When I was a baby my mom dressed me, often in clothes which she herself had made. Gifted with creativity, she knitted sweaters, booties, skirts, jumpers (and you name it) – all for me. Later on, my oldest sister was given the task of helping me and I still remember sitting on the baby dresser, feet dangling over the edge, as she washed my face, chose my clothes and carefully decked me out like a precious doll before she took me down to breakfast. How blessed I was! Care, clothes and food – all provided for me before I even understood what great provisions these were. And later, after breakfast was finished, my Father would add to the list of benefits by awarding me with an unequaled present, the reading of the Bible.

As I grew older, I learned how to dress myself. And so I did. Putting on undershirts, underpants, socks, skirts, tops, dresses, etc., all grew into skilled appareling techniques which I mastered with growing ease. As my Father kept on reading the Bible to all of us gathered around the table, I was continually instructed in the wearing of an armor. Although there were no mail accoutrements hidden under the dining room table, and no chain link vests hanging in the hall closet, nevertheless, I slowly imbibed the knowledge that I needed to be girded by this protection.

80,000 conversations

Although it is somewhat of an impossible statistic, it has been calculated that the average person will meet approximately ten thousand persons in his lifetime. That is mind boggling! These people will not be intimate acquaintances. Rather, they will be people whom we meet once, perhaps twice, in our lifetime and then probably only in a casual way. Nevertheless, they will pass through our lives – in shops, at malls, on streets, on buses, in classrooms, at baseball games or in restaurants. Ten thousand folks, each with a beating heart and a living soul! Ten thousand people! Enough to populate a small town!

When I was first married, I had to walk through the downtown streets of Hamilton each day to get to my place of work. No matter what the weather had in mind, sunshine, snow, rain or wind, every morning I would pass a woman at approximately the same spot. She was a thin, middle-aged lady with dark hair tied back in a severe bun. The woman always avoided my gaze and would never look at me directly. I began to say “hello” to her, but she never responded. I tried “good-morning” and “good day” and, after a few weeks, it began to be a sort of game for me. Will she react to me today? Will she smile back at me? What shall I do this morning to catch her attention? In the end, after about eight months, just before we moved from Hamilton to Guelph, she smiled back. And then, I never saw her again.


One piece of data I read posits the thought that if you have conversations with three new people each day for 73 years, an average life span, the number of conversations you would have during your lifetime would be 80,000. That's a lot of conversations! And this number of people are as many as would fill an Olympic stadium! Time to clear your throat, or rather, time to think about putting on the armor.

Once, many years ago, my husband and I stayed in a small motel in Whitney, Ontario, a town bordering Algonquin Park. We were there for a few days of holidays and enjoyed ourselves immensely. The three children we had at that point were being looked after by family and we reveled in sleeping late and in long nature hikes.

Next to our little motel was a small trading post with a lady proprietor. She was a very sociable woman and whenever we stopped in to make a purchase, she talked incessantly and enthusiastically about the beauty of the park and about the delight she took in the wildlife around her store. She also went out of her way to show us some of the unique artifacts displayed in her shop. Friendly, good-natured and personable, she made us feel special. On the morning we left to drive back home, we stopped in to say good-bye. After briefly chatting, another customer arrived and we slowly faded into the background towards the door. Behind us, the woman chattered away to the newcomer. And then she swore. Her voice had turned raucous, loud and exclamatory, puncturing the air. We went on our way. I distinctly remember that it was raining hard outside. My husband had the windshield wipers of the car going quickly. Back and forth they went, as if they were trying to wipe out the memory of that swear word. We never saw the woman again.

What sort of letter are you?

We are letters. Paul tells us this in 2 Corinthians 3. We are letters which are read. When people are more intimately involved with us, they are more likely to read us more carefully (and between the lines), than those who know us only a little bit. Yet all the people who pass us, and that includes strangers who only see us for a moment or two, will scan us to some extent. And what will they read?

When I was in business college, there was a girl in my class. Her name was Ellie. She was a quiet girl with an appealing roundish face and glossy, bobbed, reddish-brown hair falling sleekly about her cheeks. Ellie gave the impression of vulnerability. Her large, brown eyes observed the world questioningly above a multitude of freckles.

During one of those first days of school, we both chanced to be going down the elevator at lunch hour and somehow ended up eating lunch together in a local park. Ellie boarded in the downtown Hamilton YWCA. She had a room there and invited me to see it. Her family lived on a farm, too far away for her to travel back and forth every night, she told me. I thought nothing of it until a few weeks later, when it became obvious to me, naive though I was, that Ellie was pregnant. It was difficult to broach the subject, but I did. Ellie cried and told me that she had been adopted and that her adoptive brother was the father. She loved the baby growing within her, but her parents had told her that she could only come back home if she would give up the baby for adoption.

Both empathetic and horrified after her revelation, I promised to help her. I was a Christian, I told her, and Christians always help others. It was a Friday and I went home full of plans, immediately contacting two local pastors to ask if they could help me find a solution to Ellie's problem. Neither was particularly enthusiastic and, thinking back on it now, I cannot really blame them. Although my eagerness to help knew no bounds, the information I had was scanty. When I came back to school that following Monday, Ellie was not in class. Walking to the YWCA during lunch hour, I discovered that Ellie had disappeared. No one at the desk was willing to give me her address. I never saw her again.


If you go shopping, it is inevitable that you will pass a great many people whom you will never see again during your lifetime. It is unlikely that you will hold a conversation with each and every one of these people. But the sheer breadth and width of the scope of individual lives who intersect with you for only the space of a moment is mind-boggling. It can make you conceive of yourself as part of a huge multitude; it can make you conclude that you are immensely small; and it can make you regard God as incredible beyond comprehension. For He knows the minds and hearts of all – every step, every thought, and every hair on their heads.

Go out into the world, He said.

We tend to hide behind devices now – we speak to a lot of people on these devices, without actually really speaking to them – and feel good because people respond to our trivial questions and remarks.

There is a need for people to belong – the need to build up a facade of relationships – the need to look as if we are not alone. The sad truth is that most people don't know how to belong any longer. If there is any sort of pandemic in the world which is in dire need of a vaccine, it is the pandemic of perceived friendships with inanimate cellphones. It is a deafness, an inability to interact, and a numbed knowledge of what real fellowship actually means. Detached and indifferent, many have lost the wisdom of how to live in community, of how to love your neighbor as yourself.

Catholic conversation

A number of years ago, I accompanied my husband to Montreal where he had to attend several meetings. While he was participating in his conference, it was my privilege to wander through the streets of Montreal. It cost me five dollars to get into the Notre-Dame Basilica. And thinking about it, maybe the five dollars went to a wrong cause and I should have resisted the desire to see the insides of this monumental structure. But I didn't. I handed my ten-dollar bill over to a man behind a dark desk, a man who was neither friendly nor gracious and, after receiving my change, I pushed open the heavy, creaking door to the Basilica's sanctuary.

An overwhelming smell of wax assailed me almost immediately upon entering. Electric light bulbs were hidden away high up on the ceiling or inside niches; and rows upon rows of flickering sweet-smelling candles were situated under every pillar. I made my way past these little flames with the wooden boxes in front of them, every one of them inviting poor, unsuspecting supplicants to put their dollars and dimes to bad use. Side aisles were flanked by stained glass windows. Haloed statues overshadowed these aisles every few steps. I strolled towards the front of the massive church. An English guide was stationed next to the first few pews, where she was giving a group of non-French tourists a brief history of the Basilica.

The friendly, short-haired guide motioned to me that I should sit down with the rest of the group in those first few pews. She asked us, "Did you know that the Notre-Dame used to be just a small chapel?"

The huge ceiling above our heads almost belied this fact, and we all stared up at the vast space above our heads because the guide made a sweeping upward motion with her arm. "Yes," she continued, "and by the way, my name is Gabrielle, you know, like the angel."

This evoked chuckles.

"Now we will just go around and everyone else can say their name and where they come from." There were people sitting next to me from Norway, from BC, from Michigan and California.

"You know," the little guide went on, "you are in a place where many famous people have been." We did not respond but looked at her expectantly. We knew she would tell us who else had been there. And she did.

"In 1873, Sir George Cartier's funeral was held here. And in the year 2000, Pierre Elliott Trudeau's funeral took place here as well. And in 1994, Celine Dion was married in this very church. The truth is that one hundred or more marriages and approximately one hundred and twenty baptisms are celebrated here every year. We have a special chapel attached to the Basilica. It is the Sacré-Coeur (Sacred Heart) Chapel, also known as the wedding chapel."

We took all this information in silently.

"And then, of course, in 1984, the Pope, that is, John Paul II, visited. He raised the status of Notre-Dame from church to basilica. He did this because of the church's historic, architectural and artistic value. It is very beautiful, do you not think so?"

Heads nodded. Who could deny the architectural immensity of this place? A stooping figure hung on the cross straight overhead, surrounded by what I presumed to be the apostles. But above the cross was another representation – that of Mary being crowned by God. The guide was not long in pointing this out.

"Mary has first place here," she said. "It is, after all, her church. That is why," and she motioned upwards again with her arm, "the ceiling is blue. Blue is her color, you know."

We all gazed up once more. It was true. The magnificent ceiling was a sky-blue. The guide continued to recite a litany of cultural events which regularly took place in the Basilica and how the Montreal Symphony Orchestra had performed there several times. Then, after telling us we were free to walk around and browse, she excused herself and left us on our own. I never saw her nor any of that group again.

A key conversation

But then there is this story.

A long time ago, a traveler reached the fork of an old Roman road. It was about suppertime and he, being quite weary, sat down. In the west, he could see a mountain and to the north was the city which today is called Nablus. There was a well nearby. In the present time, that well is surrounded by the walls of a convent, but at that moment it was quite out in the open. It was a deep well, almost 100 feet deep. The traveler was thirsty and when a woman appeared, a stranger, carrying a water-pitcher on her shoulder, he spoke to her. She had walked some ten minutes from the nearby city to get to the well and she was alone.

"Give me a drink," the stranger said.

His accent and pronunciation immediately told the woman that he was not native born to the area but that he was Jewish. And she was also quite aware that Jews were usually not of a kindly disposition towards people from her area. As a matter of fact, they wouldn't even use the same cutlery or drink from the same vessels. She was therefore puzzled by his request.

"How is it that you," she countered his question, "a Jew, ask a drink of me, a Samaritan?"

The stranger merely looked at her and then made use of her curiosity to further the conversation.

He said, "If you knew the gift of God, and Who it is that said to you, 'Give me a drink,' you would have been the one to ask Him, and He would have given you living water."

She said to Him, "Sir, you have no rope-bucket, and the well is deep; where do you get that living water? Surely, you are not greater, are you, than our father Jacob who gave us this well and he himself drank from it, and so did his sons and his flocks."

To the west of the woman, Gerizim, the mountain of blessing, stood. And to the northeast of Gerizim stood Ebal, the mountain of the curse.

And the stranger said to her, "Whoever drinks this water will thirst again; but whoever drinks the water that I shall give him will in no way be thirsty again forever, for that water which I shall give him will become in him a spring of water that keeps on bubbling up unto everlasting life."

The woman, who had walked ten minutes in order to get to the well and who had to walk ten minutes down and back each day in order to satisfy her physical needs, immediately yearned for this water of which the stranger spoke.

"Sir, give me this water," she pleaded, "that I may not get thirsty or have to keep on coming so far to draw water."

The stranger responded, "Go, call your husband and come back here."

Impressed by his friendliness, and by His interest in her life, the woman, who was usually avoided by the people of her town, responded. In offering the woman a few moment of His time, a moment which led to a taste of eternity, Jesus begins to quench her inner thirst. Spurgeon commented that Christ has different doors for entering into different people’s souls. Into some, He enters by the way of understanding; into many, by the way of the affections; to some, He comes by the way of fear; to others, by the way of hope; and to this woman He came by the way of her conscience.

All sorts of conversations to be had

After Jesus' encounter with the Samaritan woman, He told His disciples that the fields were white with harvest. He intimates that there are numerous multitudes ready for them to meet. He declares that there are countless people ready to be spoken to, ready to be brought into the kingdom of God.

By knowing Him and by wearing the “so very useful” armor He gives us to wear, we also are able to meet with, speak to and listen to at least some of the host of villagers, innkeepers, musicians, businessmen, housewives, gender-lost and value-lost people we will meet on our way.

Jesus never saw the Samaritan woman again. Or did He?


Gambling as the new norm? Christians still need to say no

Estimates had Americans betting a record $23 billion on Super Bowl LVIII, up more than a third from the $16 billion that was wagered in 2023. Among the betters was one Cardinal Pritchard, who shared that he’d made a wager in an article for the news site Not the Bee. Pritchard didn’t specify how much he bet, so it could have been trivial. What is notable is that he publicized it on a specifically Christian website and in making his admission there, he was acting as if it’s no big thing for Christians to gamble. The irony is that he did so in an article on the enormity of America’s gambling problem – Pritchard reported that an estimated 67.8 million Americans placed a bet on the Super Bowl, for an average of well over $300 a bet! Gambling is a bad bet Big, too, is just how common gambling has become – that works out to almost 1 in 5 Americans. Pritchard actually reported it as 1 in 4, but his math was off. Bad math is, of course, an ailment common to gamblers, who make the repeated mistake of thinking that this time they’ll come out ahead. But in a bit of computation that should be a part of every Christian high school math curriculum, if you engage in any sort of regular gambling the odds are going to get you in the end. Why? Because casinos and online sites take their percentage, so what’s paid out will always be less than what was paid in. Thus one of the reasons Christians shouldn’t gamble is because it’s a bad use of the resources God has given us. It’s worse than what the one servant did in the Parable of the Talents (Matt. 25: 14-30) who buried the money his master entrusted to him, and didn’t even put it in the bank to earn some interest. How much angrier would his master have been if the servant had come back with half a talent, having frittered the rest away in gambling? Or if he’d come back with a debt of several talents? Even when you win gambling is bad news But what if you are an especially good gambler, defying the odds to actually win more than you lose? Would it be okay for a Christian to gamble if he could turn a profit? No, but for a different reason. When you win at gambling it is only because someone else lost. Whatever your gain, it is someone else’s pain. Sometimes investing is likened to gambling, but a key difference is that if I make money on a business investment, it can be as the result of that business doing something to benefit many others. A company like Costco grows in value because it opens more stores that serve more people some good values. Your gain as a Costco stockholder comes at the general populace’s gain too. But in gambling, you only win because someone else has lost. And that’s not loving your neighbor (Matt. 22:35-40). Add to this the number of people who get addicted to gambling and lose everything. And then consider how, in Canada, provincial governments have a big hand in pushing gambling, and thus a big hand in destroying these lives. While I couldn’t dig up the specifics for the Canadian Super Bowl wager numbers, gambling is big business in Canada too, as evidenced by the sheer volume of sports gambling ads on television. A peek at government coffers shows their own heavy dependence on gambling. Alberta, for example, is expecting to take in $1.5 billion in 2023-2024, or, more than $300 per citizen. God’s people need to understand why gambling is wrong so we can steer clear of this entrapment. And in steering clear we can also be a good neighbor to others by “denormalizing” gambling. Just say no, for everyone’s sake....


Sparrow blessing

Mao’s “Four Pest Campaign” shows why a nation’s leaders need to be humble about their expertise, and about what they attempt ***** Most mornings I waken to the sound of sparrows chittering and chattering. Approximately twenty to thirty little house sparrows have a sun-up inclination to alight on one of the cedar bushes right next to my window. These sparrows used to reside in my laundry poles – winter and summer. They had their babies there and they slept there. They also poked out their gray, brown heads and white cheeks to assess me as I walked by on my way to the chicken coop every morning. Perhaps they now resent me as I cut down one of the laundry poles last summer. Feeling guilty about cutting down the laundry pole home, I fill the bird feeder with lots of seed. I have named eight of the songsters – Sam, Pete, Al, Rudy, Rembrandt, Ollie, William and Simon – and their daily, simple notes of joy give me pleasure and comfort. A father who loved sparrows My Dad told me that when he was a little boy, he learned to sing Psalm 84, especially verse 3, with great enthusiasm. He sang the Psalm in Dutch and the translated version of verse 3 reads: Even the sparrow finds a home, and the swallow a nest for herself, where she may lay her young, at your altars, O Lord of hosts, my King and my God. My Dad, who was a wonderful story teller, went on to relate that he thought the word altars, which in the Dutch language sounds a lot like lanterns, meant that sparrows would eventually make their homes in the lanterns lining his street. Consequently, dressed in short pants and a blue jacket, he would stand for long periods of time underneath the street lanterns. He would crane his neck and gaze up at these lamps, hoping to see sparrows lay their babies in the lights. It never happened, but he was convinced for a long time that it would happen. The Chairman who hated them In 1893, seventeen years before my Dad's birth, Mao Zedong was born. Growing up to become the first chairman of the Communist Party of China (1935-1976), as well as being the founding father of the People's Republic of China, Mao had absolutely no respect for, or understanding of, the Psalms. Neither did he love the sparrow, that fifth-day creature which God had set in the sky to be a blessing to mankind. In 1958, the year my family immigrated from Holland to Canada, Mao Zedong, Marxist dictator of the world's most populous country, decreed that all the sparrows of China were to be killed. Ostensibly to help China leap forward economically and socially, he began a “Four Pests Campaign” (1958-1962) to eradicate, among other animals, the Eurasian tree sparrow. The Chinese Chairman, an unbelieving little man who did not comprehend that the sparse hairs of his head were numbered by God, did not know what he was doing. His proud slogan was: “Man must conquer Nature.” And, because of his campaign, the vast country and grand country of China, instead of leaping forward, began to leap backwards into famine and death. Matthew 10:29-31 tells us: “Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. But even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows.” That is to say, God's people are of more value than the sparrows; that is to say, God works all things out for His people's good. He cares for them. Besides the tiny, chestnut-crowned sparrow, three other animals were targeted in an overall elimination crusade. These three animals were the mosquito, the rat and the fly. Mao's reasoning was: mosquitoes cause malaria; rats cause the plague; and flies are a general nuisance. Sparrows were included at the tail end of the elimination list because they ate both grain and fruit. Chinese poster declaring war against the four pests: mosquitos, flies, rats, & sparrows Government didn’t know best Mao enacted a law in 1959 which made it mandatory for Chinese citizens to participate in the offensive against this common little bird, the sparrow. He had no idea that this little song-bird helped plants to grow. When the sparrow ate from plants, it passed on the seeds in its droppings. Mao didn't have a clue that these small twitterers also served as food for other larger birds and mammals, nor that they helped provide necessary fertilizer with their excrement for the plants on which they fed. Neither did the Chairman know that sparrows ate harmful insects. With the enacting of Mao's law to kill the diminutive sparrows with their kidney-shaped, black ear patches, the Chinese ecosystem and environment took a downward turn. The Chinese people took to arms. They were forced to do so. All over the country people banged pots and pans together to prevent the little birds from settling into their nests. The little “pests” were about twelve centimeters in length and weighed less than an ounce. There were numerous posters declaring war on the birds. Young boys and men fired at the midget flyers with guns and slingshots. Yelling and screaming crowds beat trees with long, wooden poles. As soon as any little creature perched anywhere, worn out by the riots below them, they would be harassed to such a point that they would drop dead from exhaustion. Exhilarated by what they thought was a great leap forward and constantly praised by the authorities for their diligence, people collected dead birds and tied their petite brown bodies together, forming feathery ropes of destruction. One small light in this fowl massacre was the Polish Embassy in Beijing. They refused to engage in the killing of the sparrows. A refuge for the remaining sparrows, the embassy was eventually surrounded by zealous Chinese citizens, who shouted and shrieked continuously. In the long run, the sparrows hiding in this small space also died. The Polish personnel cleared their area of dead sparrows with shovels. Instead of sparrows, locusts Psalm 102:7 reads: “I lie awake, I am like a lonely sparrow on the housetop.” There were many lonely birds after Mao's feather massacre. No census of them was taken prior to their demise. But it is estimated that there were perhaps some six hundred million of them. Hundreds of millions were eliminated through Mao's campaign. The year after the murder of these birds began, insect infestation of field crops increased, the locust being the main predator. The locusts multiplied and ate everything in their path. Grain production collapsed and a famine began. All the places in which sparrows no longer chirped and chipped, had no cereal output. The Great Famine which ensued is not allowed to be spoken of in China. Rather, this desolate time is referred to as the “Three Years of Natural Disaster” or the “Three Years of Difficulties.” Yang Jisheng, (1940-  ), Chinese journalist and author, wrote a book entitled Tombstone: The Great Chinese Famine, 1958-1962. First published in Chinese in 2008 (and translated into English in 2008), it chronicles the Great Famine and the Great Leap Forward. Although he was, for a time, a loyal Communist, the Tiananmen Square massacre destroyed Jisheng's faith in the Party. Mao’s arrogance killed tens of millions The horror stories chronicled by Jisheng are brutal and graphic. He records, among many, many incidents: a teenage orphan killing and eating her four-year-old brother the death of 44 of a village's 45 inhabitants and the consequent insanity of the last remaining resident, a woman in her 60s the torture and beatings and live burials of people who declared realistic harvests, who refused to hand over what little food they had, and who stole scraps or simply angered officials Jisheng wrote regarding his research: “I didn't think it would be so serious and so brutal and so bloody. I didn't know that there were thousands of cases of cannibalism. I didn't know about farmers who were beaten to death. People died in the family and they didn't bury the person because they could still collect their food rations; they kept the bodies in bed and covered them up and the corpses were eaten by mice. People ate corpses and fought for the bodies. In Gansu they killed outsiders; people told me strangers passed through and they killed and ate them. And they ate their own children. Terrible! Too terrible!” Devoting fifteen years to documenting this terrible famine, Jisheng catalogued a three-year catastrophe that is estimated to have taken 36 to 55 million lives across China. At the end of his campaign against the four designated pests, Mao Zedong ordered the vendetta against sparrows ended, replacing it with an operation against bed bugs. Eventually, the People's Republic of China had to import 250,000 sparrows from the then Soviet Union to stop the ecological disruption. After the sparrows had settled back into the country, the locust population was brought under control once more. Over a period of three years, it is estimated that one billion sparrows, 1.5 billion rats, 100 million kilograms of flies and 11 million kilograms of mosquitos were annihilated throughout China. Ecological and economic disaster jeopardized the very fabric of the country. Even as Nebuchadnezzar before him, Mao was deluded into thinking that he owned nature. Mao (in)famously quipped: "Make the high mountain bow its head; make the river yield the way." The truth is that Sinai and Jordan laughed at him and God held him in derision. Where is this mass murderer now? Conclusion In this day and age, when so much misery and terrible economic disaster looms and threatens to undo us, we do well to remember the sparrow blessing, the blessing which Jesus gives to all who acknowledge Him: “But even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows.So everyone who acknowledges Me before men, I also will acknowledge before My Father Who is in heaven, but whoever denies Me before men, I also will deny before My Father Who is in heaven.” – Matthew 10:30-33...


Outward appearance over against the heart

Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body (I Cor. 6:19-20). When Jehu came to Jezreel, Jezebel heard of it. And she painted her eyes and adorned her head and looked out of the window (2 Kings 9:30). ***** Over the centuries, there have been people who died selflessly for things they held dear – country, love, honor, faith – just to mention a few. Martyrs such as Polycarp, Latimer, and Stephen died for their faith. The American patriot Nathan Hale, who famously cried out prior to his death: "I only regret that I have but one life to lose for my country," died for his homeland. There is also another category of those who died, but by unintentionally putting their lives at risk for love of self, for vanity, and for pride. Good Queen Bess Queen Elizabeth I, who ruled England from 1558 to 1603, became ill with what was first assumed to be a fever. It was not. It was the dreaded smallpox. At the time of this fever, this young daughter of Henry VIII was twenty-nine years old and she had been queen for only four short years. Adored by the British public, she was known to have a good-natured smile and a trim figure. Seen wearing intricate lace collars beneath a smooth, ivory complexion, the youthful monarch considered her looks somewhat of a status symbol. Her fiery red hair was usually dotted with expensive jewels – the jewels representing her chastity. While in bed with the fever, it was feared in the court and in the country that she would die. At the onset of her illness, Elizabeth refused to believe that she had contracted the dreaded disease. A Dr. Burcott was asked to diagnose and when he came up with the word “smallpox,” the word “fool” escaped Elizabeth's lips. A repeat visit from the man, who was quite courageous in returning to her side a second time, having been called a fool the first time, again identified the illness with these words: “Tis the pox,” whereupon Elizabeth, it is said, moaned: “God's pestilence! Which is better? To have the pox in the hand or in the face or in the heart and kill the whole body?” No such angry words came from the lips of Mary Sidney, Elizabeth's lady-in-waiting and friend, a loyal girl who selflessly nursed her sovereign for hours throughout the illness. Mary had caught the disease from her mistress for whom she was caring and, as a result of her devotion, the girl became very disfigured. Mary Sidney's husband, Sir Henry Sidney, wrote of his wife: "When I went to Newhaven I lefte her a full faire Ladye, in myne eye at least the fayerest, and when I retorned I found her as fowle a ladie as the smale pox could make her..." Mary, though scarred, through her sacrificial devotion, was beautiful in the eyes of God. When Elizabeth gazed into her looking-glass after recovering her health, she was devastated to notice that the pox had left some visible scar tissue on her face. Having been celebrated by the populace for her looks, so she thought – the elaborate gowns, her lace kerchiefs and her white skin – she now felt a certain degree of insecurity. Seeking to regain her physical loveliness in the eyes of the public, she hunted about for an answer. She began using Venetian ceruse. Venetian ceruse was a cosmetic used as a skin whitener and it was a lead-based cosmetic. Sometimes mixed with manure for traction or with vinegar to thin out the consistency, it was popular among the rich. Because its main ingredient was lead, however, it was a potential killer. Because of her vanity and insecurity, Elizabeth began covering her facial pockmarks with this heavy, white makeup. She did not know that symptoms of lead poisoning could include abdominal pain, aggressive behavior, constipation, sleep problems, headaches, irritability, loss of appetite, loss of teeth, fatigue and high blood pressure. Some scholars believe that Elizabeth’s eventual death was due to blood poisoning from lead. Having access to the Bible, and having read it, the young queen should have known that security was to be sought in God, not in cosmetics. Although Elizabeth's sad lack of knowledge about the danger of Venetian ceruse is to be decried, it was a far worse matter that Elizabeth put her trust and confidence in her outward appearance. Rouged and poisoned There is another story. A century and a bit after Elizabeth I's reign of forty-five years, in 1733 to be exact, a young girl was born in Cambridgeshire, East England. The girl's name was Maria Gunning and she was the eldest child of six. Her father was from Castle Coote, County Roscommon in Ireland and her mother, Bridget Bourke, was the daughter of Theobald Bourke, 6th Viscount Mayo. The Gunnings were not wealthy. On the contrary, they lived in relative poverty on father Gunning's home of Castle Coote. Considering the fact that there were six children to support, mother Bridget decided to become enterprising. When her two oldest girls were barely teens, she decreed they should take up acting. Maria and Elizabeth were both extraordinarily pretty and acting, although not a respectable occupation, could open the doors to wealthy patronage. Actually, the word “pretty” for the two daughters was mild. They were very beautiful. So, shuttled off by their mother, they traveled down to Dublin and joined the theater. In Dublin, the sisters soon became well-known – well-known for their handsomeness. When they were but in their early teens, they were both present at a ball in Dublin Castle wearing gowns borrowed from their theater group. At this ball, Maria was introduced to the Earl of Harrington, Lord Lieutenant of Ireland. The man was so impressed with the shapely girl, that he granted mother Bridget a pension. With ready money in hand, Bridget immediately took her two daughters to England. Attending parties and dances in Maria's birthplace of Cambridgeshire, the sisters soon became acclaimed personages. Invited to attend the court of St. James, the official royal court of the king of England, they charmed him. Followed by celebrity-seeking crowds wherever they went, their popularity rose to the point where Maria was mobbed one night in Hyde Park. King George II, consequently, gave Maria a guard to protect her and, from then on, she walked in the park with two sergeants of the guard before her and twelve soldiers following her. The girls had achieved fame and notoriety. Within the small space of two years both girls were married – Elizabeth to a duke, and Maria to an earl, thus achieving the rank of Countess. Maria's earl, the 6th Earl of Coventry, took his bride to Paris for a honeymoon. Feeling pressured to preserve the beauty which she felt sure had brought her this far up the social ladder, Maria began using rouge. Rouge was the rage at the French court, and Madame Pompadour, mistress to King Louis XV, had set a fashion of pale white skin with red rouged cheeks. The base ingredient of this makeup, as of Venetian ceruse, was lead. Although her husband did not approve of makeup, even wiping it off her face publicly with his handkerchief, Maria continued to apply thick layers onto her skin. But the end of the matter was this – at the tender age of 27, having borne four children, Maria was diagnosed with consumption. It is reported that she retreated to a darkened bedroom in the weeks prior to her death, refusing to receive any visitors. It is also said that her early death was a “death by vanity,” because lead poisoning from her excessive use of makeup probably contributed to her demise. Maria Gunning, or Countess Maria of Coventry, was the owner of a 7-foot mirror and countless jars of rouge. The mirror caused her mental anguish when she gazed into it prior to her death. The rouge caused her physical discomfort and, in the long run, death. Maria had not the spiritual comfort of being beautiful and secure in the eyes of God. She had existed a decade of being feted and admired by the world. But what is that, compared to an eternity?! Not limited to the past We can travel further down in history. In 1867, there was an advertisement placed in a local newspaper in Montreal. The ad praised Dr. Campbell's safe arsenic complexion wafers, as well as acclaiming Dr. Fould's medicated arsenic complexion soap. Both were touted to be wonderful for removing freckles, blackheads, pimples, vulgar redness, rough yellow or muddy skins and all other disfigurements whether on the face, neck, arms or body. The promotion went on to say that if you desired a transparent and clear complexion free from coarseness or blotches, these medications should be tried, by men as well as women, and could be mailed to your address or bought at your local pharmacist. We know, without a doubt, that taking arsenic is bad. Although arsenic destroys red blood cells, which does lead to pale, desired skin, it will eventually kill you. Today as well, harmful ingredients can hide in lipstick, mascara and rouge – ingredients which can wreak havoc with your body. It is a fact that the chemical lead can poison. It hides in many industrial sources, foods, and spices, as well as in everyday cosmetics. Lead, it is said, makes cosmetic colors pop and helps products resist moisture. Many countries have developed strict controls of lead in cosmetics. Sixty-five countries have even banned it outright. But it is still an ingredient among cosmetics in many low- and middle-income countries. There are other health matters which a Christian might keep in mind as he or she considers their appearance. For the woman, there is a shoe choice to be made every day. Granted, we are not all Imelda Marcos material (Imelda was the wife of the former Philippine dictator, Ferdinand Marcos Sr., and infamously owned 3,000 pairs of shoes), but we do choose our footwear each day. Some women choose very high heels. Wearing stiletto, or any kind of heels, can certainly cause unpleasant side effects – these side effects can include lower back pain, sore calf muscles, protruding veins and constricted blood vessels. All these side effects taken together can sooner or later result in an ugly deformity of the foot called “hammer toe.” Then there is the issue of tight clothing. Wearing close-fitting outfits, often chosen in a desire to be more attractive to the opposite sex, is not only morally unhealthy and not according to Scripture, but also physically unwise. Making a tight garment choice can lead to yeast infections, cause difficulty in breathing and bring on abdominal pain. Tight pants can cause tingling thigh syndrome and “low waist” tight jeans can cause digestive issues and will lead to back pain. It is judicious to wear apparel which keeps circulation flowing. Indeed, it is wise and pleasing in God's eyes to be modest and discreet in dress. Conclusion It is no sin for a woman to want to look pretty. It is no sin to dress attractively and it is no sin to rejoice in the body God has given you. But to depend on physical appearance, to seek security in outward looks, to rely on your exterior for your relationship with others or for your assurance and self-esteem, is not what the Bible teaches. Neither are we to judge others on their outward appearance, but rather we are to evaluate people on their confession of faith and on the fruits of the Spirit they display. We are to be merciful in judgment and we are always to remember that God, and God only, sees the heart. Being beautiful for God can actually cause pain. Living and humbling yourself before others, can cause hurt and hardship. So, indeed, our Lord and Savior found it to be. For it is said of Him in Isaiah 53 that: “He had no form or majesty that we should look at Him, and no beauty that we should desire Him. He was despised and rejected by men, a Man of sorrows and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces He was despised, and we esteemed Him not.” Jesus did not eschew a marred countenance; He did not try to cover His wounds for the sake of resembling a more pleasing impression in the eyes of those beholding Him. In fact, His wounds are what make Him beautiful. We do well to remember throughout our earthly life that Jesus “was pierced for our transgressions; He was crushed for our iniquities; upon Him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with His wounds we are healed” (Is. 53:5). Knowledge of this and faith in this, gives us beauty of countenance; knowledge of this and faith in this, gives us assurance in life; knowledge of this and faith in this, gives us a reason to live. Have a blessed 2024!...


Complaining: our national pastime

Long ago, people were taught not to complain. In addition, being selfless, giving, and kind was applauded as the way that a person should live. I’m not certain when the tide changed, but there is generally an attitude now of “me first” that is promoted, approved, and endorsed. And we Christians even fall prey to this worldly behavior at times. It is so prevalent that we don’t even recognize it for the sin it is. Just a half twist on the truth I remember noticing self-centeredness when it became popular to say, “‘Charity begins at home, so I need to give to myself first.” The original saying, “Charity begins at home,” meant that learning to love others and put others first is an action that needs to be learned within the family unit. Then I noticed that “Love your brother as you love yourself” (Matt. 22:39) started being used in a way that disregarded Ephesians 5:29 which tells us “…no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it.” Instead, some people started saying, “See, before we can love anyone else we first have to learn to love ourselves right.” Add to this the magazines that encourage women in particular to look out for themselves first (and even the crazy commercials where family members shout, “Leggo my Eggo” as they grab each other’s breakfast treat) and we have a society that thinks this is the correct way to think. Root of complaining When we place ourselves first, this entitlement can have us thinking that nothing should ever go wrong in our lives. Appliances and cars shouldn’t break down, kids shouldn’t argue, milk shouldn’t be spilled, traffic should never be jammed, and other drivers should never drive “wrong.” Our health should always be perfect, and our boss should give us praise and a raise, and our family and friends should consistently lavish loving attention on us (unless, wait, maybe they are putting themselves first also! Hmmm). But here we are in the real world, where things don’t always go the ideal way that we would prefer. And so we hold a complaint-a-thon: “Let me tell you all the things that I didn’t like in my last few hours (or days, or weeks).” Then we launch into how everything stinks. Often our recounting causes us to monopolize the conversation, believing that it’s interesting to the hearers. Our hearers, often enough, are patiently waiting to give their own account of their sufferings until the entire circle of friends is comparing or one-upping levels of discomfort. It’s quite the popular thing to do. When we complain, we are talking only about our own reactions to the world around us. It’s self-focused and self-centered, and generally expresses a lack of gratitude to and trust in the Sovereign God who brought those circumstances to us. Don’t do it The crux of the matter is that God very clearly commands (not suggests!) us not to complain. The apostle Paul says in Philippians 2:14-15: “Do all things without grumbling or disputing, that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world.” The root cause of complaining is a lack of trust in God’s providential care for us. Complaining means that we, His sheep, are essentially saying, “Hey, Shepherd, I don’t like the trial that you sent to me today.” Proverbs 3:5-6 teaches us, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.” We will not always understand why we face circumstances that we do not like. But when we pray about them, the Lord will assure us that He has everything under control – His path just looks different than ours did. What we think complaining does for us Dave Stuart Jr., in The Case Against Complaining, suggests that we complain because we think venting is therapeutic and will make us feel better. We might even think that it builds the “fellowship of the offended” because we are all in this together. We need to carefully consider what our deceitful hearts tell us to do, as it may not actually be helpful to us or to others who have to listen to us. There are better, more positive ways to build camaraderie, because “complaining wastes time and warps our heart, making us feel powerless.” Will Bowen has an excellent TED Talk entitled “A World Without Complaining.” In it, he states five reasons why people complain so much: To get attention: complaining seems to help them to feel connected to other people. It’s ego reinforcement. To remove responsibility: complaining may get them out of doing a task that they don’t want to do. To inspire envy (or brag): the purpose of their complaining is to impress other people with their superiority in how much more they have suffered.  To make themselves more powerful: they gain support by complaining to people with similar opinions. To excuse poor performance: people complain instead of taking blame for not completing an assigned task. “It’s not my fault, because someone else….” They complain to avoid accountability. Results of complaining Research from Stanford University has shown that complaining negatively affects your brain and your body! According to Dr. Travis Bradberry, Ph.D. and author of Emotional Intelligence: Complaining actually rewires your brain for negativity, or in other words, what you practice, you perfect: “When you repeat a behavior, your neurons branch out to each other to ease the flow of information… So your neurons grow closer together and the connections between them become more permanent. Scientists like to describe this process as ‘Neurons that fire together, wire together.’ Repeated complaining rewires your brain to make future complaining more likely. Over time, you find it’s easier to be negative than to be positive, regardless of what’s happening.” Complaining becomes an entrenched habit! Complaining shrinks the hippocampus – the area of the brain critical to problem solving and intelligent thought. Keep in mind that the hippocampus is one of the primary brain areas destroyed by Alzheimer’s. Complaining causes your body to release the stress hormone cortisol, which shifts you into fight-or-flight mode. It raises your blood pressure and blood sugar, impairing your immune system and making you more susceptible to depression, digestive problems, sleep issues, physical/mental exhaustion, and heart disease. None of this should be a surprise to Christians. Prov. 17:22 states, “A joyful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones.” And what did Paul say are the fruit of the Holy Spirit within us? “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.” (Gal. 5:22-23) If we go back a couple of verses in Galatians 5, we might place complaining under “the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit.” Perhaps our complaints might stem from enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, or divisions. The solution to complaining So how do we counter a complaining spirit, especially if that’s become our habit? Develop an attitude of gratitude. Ps. 106 says, “O give thanks unto the LORD, for He is good, for His steadfast love endures forever.” The apostle Paul tells us in Phil. 4:6: “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.” You can add to this numerous other verses and Heidelberg Catechism sections as well! When is constructive complaining okay? Not all complaining is wrong, of course. How can we improve if we won’t acknowledge that something isn’t the way it should be, or could be? However, we should only engage in solution-oriented constructive complaining. And this should only be done when you truly have something to complain about. Constructive complaining also means raising the concern with the appropriate person and asking for help with finding a solution. For example, if your son keeps leaving his shoes in the middle of the foyer, what good does it do to complain about it to all your friends? Sit down and work out a solution with your son. Your bank made an error on your account? Go talk to your banker. Feeling achy and tired for the past two days? Talk to your doctor or take the steps you already know will help you (specific exercises, sleep, vitamins, etc.). When there is an offense between Christians, we are to take the complaint directly to the offender (as scary as that may seem – God can give you the courage!). We read in Matt. 18:15-17: “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses.” If there is no resolution, then the complaint can be escalated to take another person or two – possibly an elder – with you to plead your case. Note that this does not include telling everyone else you know about the problem! Good complaints can begin with gratitude When you make an appropriate complaint, start it with something positive first. For instance, if your bank makes an error, say, “I have been happily banking here for 15 years, and wish to continue, but recently there was a problem.” To your son you might say, “Son, I really appreciate that you always hang up your coat and backpack on the hooks. But yesterday I nearly tripped over your shoes that were in the middle of the foyer.” Be specific. Don’t dredge up everything that has ever happened in your experience with a person. If an employee was rude to you, describe specifically what the employee did that was rude. End on a positive note, such as, “I’d like to work this out together.” Please note: if you complain to anyone else, you are likely aiming to get attention, remove responsibility, brag, gain power, or excuse your poor performance. Dealing with other people who complain Dr. Bradberry states: “Since human beings are inherently social, our brains naturally and unconsciously mimic the moods of those around us, particularly people we spend a great deal of time with. This process is called neuronal mirroring, and it’s the basis for our ability to feel empathy…You need to be cautious about spending time with people who complain about everything. Complainers want people to join their pity party so that they can feel better about themselves.” This is likely too rash of a solution, because we must spend time with our family, friends, and brothers and sisters in the Lord. But you can see how it’s easy to fall into the trap of complaining when others are doing it. Instead, be thoughtful and brave! Think about the direction that a conversation is going, and then redirect it to something more positive. Start talking about specifically how God has blessed you lately, or what you heard in the sermon that really helped you. Dr. Bradberry suggests that once you have worked on your own habit of complaining, you can help others to improve their negative focus. That seems more sensible advice, akin to taking the log out of your own eyes before trying to get the speck in someone else’s (Matt. 7:3-5). Then do for them as you would want done for you: listen for the need that is being expressed – perhaps the person complains because he feels unheard. Then don’t try to solve his problem. Instead, offer only a few words of sympathy and some encouragement. You might reframe the situation, share information that might be helpful, ask for solutions, or call it out as what it is: grumbling. Then redirect the conversation, talking about positive things. The apostle Paul tells us to: “Put on then, as God's chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.” (Col. 3:12-13). If someone has a legitimate complaint against us, we must apologize. If we have a complaint against them, we must be ready to forgive. If the complaint is mis-directed to us, we should encourage them to go to the appropriate party and solve the problem, not just gossip about it. Learn to shine If we justify complaining, instead of confessing it as sin, we will reach a point where it is our default setting. It will feel natural to do it. But we are not stuck! We have the Holy Spirit within us, whose power we can call upon when the temptation strikes us – daily – to complain. We can ask for forgiveness and start noticing our complaints or ask our family members to do so (light-heartedly, perhaps). We can ask our omnipotent Lord to help us to stop it so that we will be “the children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world.” Sharon L. Bratcher is the author of a collection of 45 RP articles entitled: “Soup and Buns: Nourishment from God’s Word for Your Daily Struggles.” To purchase this book, contact her at [email protected]....


Unless the Lord builds the house

"...but Jesus said, ‘Let the little children come to Me and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven.’” – Matt. 19:14 ***** A baby was laid into my arms this last week – a little baby boy. His name was Bo Anthony. Bo means “to live” and Anthony means “precious one” or “priceless one.” The parents, my granddaughter Emma, and her husband Sam, told me they would teach Bo to live for the precious One, that is, for Jesus. They also told me that the name Anthony had been chosen in honor of his great-grandfather, Anco, my precious husband. Anco went to be with the Lord last December 2022. I cherish the name my grandchildren chose for their son. They are letting God build their house. Bo lay in my arms. He was a warm, little bundle of soft, cuddly flesh. Full of his mother's milk, he slept contentedly, totally oblivious to his great-grandmother. Trustingly he fit into the crook of my right arm. Feeding a newborn is a full-time commitment. Breast milk is ideal. Babies don't need cereal, cookies, or steak. They need milk. All infants in Christ need milk, not solid food. Feeding on the basic nutrients of God's Word, covenant children grow into maturity, grow up into salvation (1 Pet. 2:2). This is the way God builds houses. Solomon was very aware of this. He composed and sang Psalm 127. Verses 1 and 2 of this Psalm drip with milk and read: Unless the Lord builds the house, those who build it labor in vain. Unless the Lord watches over the city, the watchman stays awake in vain. 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. A world in need of milk Bo's birthdate in June of 2023, marks almost one quarter of the way through this twenty-first century. There are many, many people walking about on this century's streets whose houses have not been built by God. They have never swallowed, or have even heard of, God's milk. These folks hide behind cell phone technology, behind laptops and social media. They are, although not usually willing to admit it, unhappy, insecure, unsure, and generally afraid to engage in personal conversation about eternal life and eternal death. The economic outlook today is somber, marriage is on the decline, families are becoming a minority, and most children have no idea that they have been created in the image of Almighty God. Science is touted, Climate Change has morphed into a god, Wokeism is on the rise and politics and the justice system appear to be infiltrated with bribery and power hunger. All of these are served up on the world's platter resulting in a woefully meager diet for the soul. Worshipping self-reliance, the world has turned away from God. Their toil, their anxiety, and their daily striving is all in vain. Touch and being touched Baby Bo grasps my fingers with his tiny hand. His grip is solid and it is amazing to think that such a small hand, barely a week old, can clutch mine so firmly. God has endowed this chubby hand with sensitivity. The threshold of touch, that is to say, the amount of gram weight it takes for a person to sense that an object has come into contact with the skin, has been measured. Although the back of the forearm is triggered by 33 milligrams of pressure, the back of the hand is activated by 12 milligrams. But the fingertips, the fingertips are most sensitive and are stimulated by a mere 3 milligrams. Bo continues to squeeze my fingers. Hebrews 11:6 tells us that without faith it is impossible to please God, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that He exists. J.C. Ryle calls faith the hand by which the soul lays hold on Christ and is united to Him and saved. Will little Bo's hand grow in strength? Will that strength be planted in his heart by the Holy Spirit? And how will those lilliputian fingers react to the daily things with which it will come into contact? There are many things which will touch baby Bo. We can look back over our shoulder at history and note that bygone civilizations have totally disappeared – civilizations such as the Babylonian, the Egyptian, the Roman, as well as the empire of Alexander the Great. These powers have long been erased from the map of the world. But others have taken their place. Civilizations always come and go. In Bo's lifetime he will possibly behold the collapse of a number of regimes, as well as the demise of temporal millionaires – men such as Soros, Bezos, Gates and Musk. And he might perceive the dissolution of international godless organizations such as the WEF and the WHO. These regimes, these men and organizations, are all building cities without God. They will all try to touch Bo. They will all try to shape his thoughts. And they will all try to align his values with theirs and position their principles as his. Baby Bo snuggles into my arm. It is obvious that he is comfortable and feels safe with the embrace he experiences. Touch studies have been conducted with monkeys. In one such study eight baby monkeys were put into a large cage containing a terry cloth mother and a mother figure made out of wire mesh. Both surrogate mothers were fitted with milk flow. Four babies were taught to nurse from the terry cloth mother and four from the wire mesh mother. But all eight babies exhibited a strong need for the terry cloth mother. The four who had been taught to drink from the wire mesh mother went to her only for the feeding. They spent the remaining time hugging, grasping and stroking the terry cloth mother. Intimate soft body contact was essential. As a matter of fact, continued studies showed that many baby monkeys, deprived of warm touch, cowered in the corner of their cages and died. Dr. Paul Brand and Philip Yancy, in their book Fearfully and Wonderfully Made (Zondervan, 1980), record a remarkable truth. They chronicle: “As late as 1920, the death rate among infants in some foundling hospitals in America approached 100 percent. Then Dr. Fritz Talbot of Boston brought from Germany an unscientific-sounding concept of 'tender loving care.' While visiting the Children's Clinic in Düsseldorf, he had noticed an old woman wandering through the hospital, always balancing a sickly baby on her hip. 'That,' said his guide, 'is Old Anna. When we have done everything we can medically do for a baby and it still is not doing well, we turn it over to Old Anna, and she cures it.' “When Talbot proposed this quaint idea to American institutions, administrators derided the notion that something as archaic as simple touching could improve their care. Statistics soon convinced them. In Bellevue Hospital in New York, after a rule was established that ill babies must be picked up, carried around, and 'mothered' several times a day, the infant mortality rate dropped from 35 percent to less than 10 percent.” Exercising our muscles The church is the body of Christ. It is a house built by God. It is a house that should be touching and carrying the ill, lonely and feeble in prayer care. It has been constructed by God, and should be a visible manifestation of His commandments. Jesus often touched people when He healed. His touch radiated love, power and hope. The church, the body of Christ, is fearfully and wonderfully made. As I hold baby Bo on my lap he stretches out his tiny arms above his head, giving me an unprompted smile. There are many sorrowful things going on in this world in which he has been placed by God. Jealousy, envy and fear are etched on the faces of countless members of society. Commandments, freely and lovingly given by God, are held up to be inaccurate. Truth is hidden and people are afraid to speak up for truth for fear of being called bigots or racists. The world has become a dark, dark place. It needs light. Seventy separate muscles contribute to hand movements. Little Bo has no inkling as yet that God has endowed him with such a gift as seventy separate muscles in both his right and his left hand. But a muscle must be exercised for it to grow and to work. Will he exercise his hands under the management of his Lord and Savior? Before Bo was born, God planned this little child's life. He has given this baby God-fearing parents and He has placed milk in his crib via his mother's breast and God's Word. In this way He gives His beloved children sleep. Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it. So Proverbs 22:6 tells us. It is a sobering responsibility,­­ and a wonderful promise....


Getting old(er)

“Getting older is so tough - I get tired after just a small amount of work or fun.” “I lost 4 teeth right after I turned 60.” “I exercised to make my knees feel better and ended up messing up my back.” “My hip goes out more often than I do!” “‘Grow old along with me, the best is yet to be.’ Hah!” ***** At my Inter-City Christian High School reunion, we were all wide-eyed with wonder to even try and grasp the fact that it had been 50 years since some of us had seen one another. I was proud of myself for guessing the name of each person accurately, but it did take me a minute. Some of them looked older than I did. Some were in better physical shape. Some had gone through terrible difficulties, diseases, and operations that I wouldn’t even want to imagine. Yet we all talked about how God has blessed us and brought us through trials throughout all five decades, and how our Christian schooling/Bible curriculum laid a foundation that enabled us to face all that we went through. We praised God together! We thought about Psalm 37:25 that says: “I have been young, and now am old, yet I have not seen the righteous forsaken or his children begging for bread.” But not everyone was there. My best friend Robin died at age 43 and three other classmates out of our class of 24 have also passed on. I’ve said it, and so have many of my friends: we don’t like getting older. But someone always counters that sentiment with, “Well, what’s the other option?” We are ready to go to Heaven and live with our Lord. But we also love our spouses, kids, grandkids, and friends. Though we sing about the joy we will know in Heaven, whenever another body part fails us, we head for the doctor and pharmacy for another bottle of “Stay Here.” God continues to care for us as we age People fear death, and aging destroys our independent, strong self-image. Every ad promises that a product or experience will make us “feel and look young again.” We are tempted to feel sorry for ourselves when we lose the abilities that we were previously blessed to have. We might even feel ashamed because we cannot carry the same load. It becomes difficult to drive at night, walk very far, get up the stairs, or move furniture. Our weeks fill with frequent medical appointments. We start to experience pain, and we forget names, items, and events. It hurts our pride, and we think or say, “You should have seen me when I was 25!” There is a tendency to think that the “good old days” were somehow better than now. It seems like our Western world is more sinful – or is it just that the sins are more public now? In Ecclesiastes 7:10 we are reminded: “Say not, ‘Why were the former days better than these?’ For it is not from wisdom that you ask this.” Those who do not know the Lord Jesus as their Savior must grieve the loss of their youth for they have no God to turn to for comfort, wisdom, or strength. They fear death. But we need not act like them. While it’s not enjoyable to be in pain, hospitalized, or extremely tired all the time, our Lord promises, “I am he who will sustain you. I have made you and I will carry you; I will sustain you and I will rescue you” (Is. 46:4) and “He gives power to the faint, and to him who has no might he increases strength” (Is. 40:29). We have a loving Good Shepherd who takes care of His sheep. We are not alone! And if we are reading God’s Word and worshipping at a Biblical church, we will know the truth of 2 Corinthians 4:16 where the Apostle Paul encourages us: “So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day.” As our bodies become more and more “corrupt,” we are moving towards receiving our “incorruptible” bodies! How does God want us to view the aged? In our Western culture, it isn’t popular to regard the aged with honor and respect. It’s no wonder that the elderly (sometimes even Christians) worry that they will become a burden to their families. God knew the sins that we would be prone to, and so He gives us commands to treat the aged with high regard: “Wisdom is with the aged, and understanding in length of days.” – Job 12:12 “You shall stand up before the gray head and honor the face of an old man, and you shall fear your God: I am the Lord.” – Lev. 19:32 “Listen to your father, who gave you life, and do not despise your mother when she is old.” – Prov. 23:22 “Do not rebuke an older man harshly, but exhort him as if he were your father. Treat younger men as brothers, older women as mothers, and younger women as sisters, with absolute purity.” – 1 Tim. 5:1-2 How does God expect the aged to act? If one reads the headlines on the magazines near the grocery store checkout counter, a consistent theme expressed is this: you worked hard raising kids and working at your job and taking care of your family all those years – now it’s your turn. It’s time to sit back and relax, or travel, or do what you want and make yourself happy. The sad news is that too often this call to self-centeredness has been adopted by aging Christian people as well. It’s not wrong to travel or to participate in favorite activities, especially when the daily tasks of parenthood have ended. It’s the attitude that isn’t right. What does God say that the aged (retirees?) should do? “They will still bear fruit in old age, they will stay fresh and green…” – Ps. 92:14 “Older men are to be sober-minded, dignified, self-controlled, sound in faith, in love, and in steadfastness.” – Titus 2:2 “Older women likewise are to be reverent in behavior, not slanderers or slaves to much wine. They are to teach what is good, and so 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.” – Titus 2:3-5 “Even when I am old and gray, do not forsake me, my God, till I declare your power to the next generation, your mighty acts to all who are to come.” – Ps. 71:18 Rather than deciding that we have “done our bit,” we should do all that we are still capable of to glorify God and declare His power to the next generations. Conclusion When we grow older, God is not finished with us, and we are not finished with our work here. As the Westminster Catechism states it, “Man’s chief end is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.” If our purpose in life is to glorify God, then there is nothing that can thwart our purpose in life! Even in difficulties and illness, even in progressively physically falling apart, we can and should glorify God. We can still pray, read or listen to God’s Word, encourage others by phone call or letter/email, teach others, sing praise, give money, perhaps make a meal, or write edifying words. As the Apostle Paul said in 2 Corinthians 12:9-10: “But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.’” We don’t like being weak. But we who know the Lord need not fear! We can take comfort and draw strength from the Heidelberg Catechism Lord’s Day 1 which begins by asking, “What is your only comfort in life and death?” The answer is certainly for the aging as well as the youth who memorize these awesome words: “That I am not my own, but belong with body and soul, both in life and in death, to my faithful Saviour Jesus Christ. He has fully paid for all my sins with His precious blood, and has set me free from all the power of the devil. He also preserves me in such a way that without the will of my heavenly Father not a hair can fall from my head; indeed, all things must work together for my salvation.” Sharon L. Bratcher has collected 45 of her RP articles into a book which is available by contacting her at [email protected]...


Learning to be anxious for nothing

“Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” – Philippians 4:6-7 When does care and concern cross a line and become a problem? I found the answer to this question the hard way: a painful and confusing burnout about six years ago, followed by years of learning, counseling, and slow change. My journey isn’t over yet, but I now see how I could have prevented much pain if I had truly understood, and repented from, my misguided response to worries, fears, and anxieties prior to that burnout. Knowing just how prevalent anxiety has become, also among Christians, I’m sharing my story here with the hope that it will help others in their walk with the LORD. Worry, care, and concern In a two-part podcast on the topic, biblical counselor Dr. Greg Gifford explains that the Bible uses the same Greek word in three different ways to describe anxiety. One sort is warned against, but in the other two instances a form of anxiousness is encouraged. So, first, in Matthew 6, we read Jesus warning us: “…do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will anxious about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” Then in 1 Corinthians 12:25, Paul explains that God composed the body with many different parts so that the members “may have the same care for one another.” The word he uses here for “care” is the same that is translated as “anxious” in Matthew 6 – in other words we are being encouraged to be “anxious for one another.” In Philippians 2:20, Paul uses this word again, but in another context. Writing from prison, Paul shares with the Philippians that he will be sending Timothy to check in on them “for I have no one like him, who will be genuinely concerned for your welfare.” It is clear from this passage and more like it, that there can also be a godly form of concern for others. This makes sense to our everyday experience as we walk alongside our loved ones through health concerns and other trials. We see in these two passages that caring is important and concern can be appropriate. So, when does a line get crossed from the caring that is encouraged to the anxiety that should be avoided? Confused and humbled They didn’t teach me this line in school, and I was slow to learn it in the school of life. Shortly after I was married, my responsibilities increased quickly. In a span of ten or twelve years, I went from looking after myself to being responsible for a family of eight. And I went from being a student, to starting and overseeing an organization with about fifteen staff, spread across the country. My interest and care for political developments in Canada turned into a responsibility to provide faithful leadership to the largest Christian political advocacy organization in the country. At the same time, my wife and I took up a host of extra-curricular roles in our church, school, and community, from serving on boards to teaching catechism. And we were also trying to turn a wild piece of land and its dilapidated house into a good family home and investment opportunity. I did these things because I cared, and I had concerns. Each facet on its own was well worth caring for, or being concerned about. We held things together quite well until a family tragedy came unexpectedly. Amidst the grieving, my wife was expecting another child, and I had concerns about the delivery in light of how previous ones went. Through all of this, I felt great pressure to press on as a leader at work, in the home, and on various other files. But as hard as I tried, as the days ticked closer to the delivery day, God humbled me by shutting down my body. My muscles tightened up to the point where I had a hard time walking the 30 steps to my office. I was nauseous every day, my body twitched, my eyes hurt, my vision declined, my face and head became numb, it hurt to stand and it hurt to sit. I got to the point where I couldn’t face another day of work. If you asked me at that time if I felt anxious, I likely would have brushed it off. Anxiety wasn’t really relevant to me, or so I thought. I figured that I had some inconvenient health issues. When my doctor had tests done and told me that I needed to take a break from stress, I was confused. And when I asked for a break from work, my board and colleagues seemed no less confused. It was humbling to go from being the leader, always looking out for others, to not being able to report for duty. And it was also humbling to not really understand what was happening, and what it would take to get back to “normal.” Although I was back at work relatively soon and did my best to carry on with all my regular duties, it took me more than five years, and plenty of stumbles, to begin to understand the problem from a physical, emotional, and spiritual perspective. The change has also been slow and will likely be a life-long journey. I’m very grateful for a loving family who walked this journey with me, giving regular encouragement, and grateful as well for a good Christian counselor. Clearly a line had been crossed from godly caring and concern to something harmful. But I didn’t understand it. Wasn’t I supposed to care and be concerned? The cul-de-sac of ungodly anxiety On his “Transformed” podcast Dr. Gifford explains that Scripture makes it plain that it is possible to care and be concerned in an ungodly way. We do that when we aren’t truly entrusting our cares and concerns to the LORD, the only One who can truly do something about them. He goes further and explains: “this isn't a just a disorder. This isn't a physiological issue of my body. Anxiety is connected to my trust and faith in the Lord. And Jesus clearly identifies anxiety as being wrong and sinful.” Here Dr. Gifford is referencing Matthew 6 where Jesus urges His people “do not worry about your life.” He also references Philippians 4 where we are told to “be anxious for nothing.” I should note here that although Dr. Gifford calls this kind of anxiety sinful, other biblical counselors respectfully disagree. Edward T. Welch devotes an entire article to the topic, entitled, “Fear is not sin,” explaining from Scripture that anxiety, like grief, isn’t itself sinful. Although Jesus uses an imperative form in Matthew 6 – He tells us “do not be anxious” – it isn’t meant to be a command. We do the same thing when we tell a child “don’t be afraid,” which is meant as an encouragement, not an order. Welch believes Jesus is offering comfort, similar to when He says “do not weep.” So the fact that we struggle with anxiety itself isn’t a sin, according to Welch. Rather, what matters is what we do with it. Although Welch makes a valid point, which can be comforting to Christians who struggle with chronic anxiety, the added nuance of definitions doesn’t take away from Dr. Gifford’s important explanation of where I, and many others, go wrong with our anxiety. Gifford contrasts two kinds of roads: a cul-de-sac and a thoroughfare (a main road that passes on through a town or city). An ungodly anxiety is like a cul-de-sac where traffic stops and stays – all my cares and concerns terminate on me. “How am I going to fix this? What am I going to do about it? Okay, I need to save more. I need to work harder. I need to get up earlier. I need to sleep less. I can do this.” Those that struggle with anxiety often also struggle with the desire to be in control. That is true for me too. But how is this a faith issue? In answer, Dr. Gifford explains the difference between a formal confession and a functional confession. “Formally we would say, ‘I know God is in control.’ Formally, I know that prayer is important in Scripture. But functionally, I’m in control. When I'm trying to discern the difference between a concern and anxiety, I have to be able to evaluate are all of these cares and concerns terminating with me, and that's why I'm worried.” Not every type of anxiety is a faith issue or something to be repented of. God created us good, and that includes the functions of our bodies that make us aware of, and respond to, stress. There is a time for adrenaline to rule (like running away from a bear)! There are also physiological disorders that aren’t a result of choices being made. Anxiety can also result from experiencing trauma in the past. And there is a general brokenness in creation as a result of sin which makes it difficult for us humans to respond to challenges the way we want to (as Paul says in Romans 7 “for what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do”). So I’m not suggesting that all those who struggle with anxiety ought to repent and have a change of heart. However, I also believe that there are many more like me, who are guilty of trying to carry cares and concerns that God never intended us to carry. Thoroughfare to God Dr. Gifford contrasts this cul-de-sac of ungodly anxiety with a thoroughfare. Instead of our cares and concerns terminating with us in the cul-de-sac, we take them to the LORD and trust Him with them. This is exemplified in 1 Peter 5:6-7: “Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time. Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.” If we compare our concerns and cares to a big stone that we are rolling, this passage calls us to roll that stone over to the LORD, realizing that we aren’t able to carry the weight ourselves. In contrast, He is the good, wise, and all-powerful God who can do this. So the line between care, concern, and ungodly anxiety isn’t actually about caring too much or being concerned too much. Rather it is the difference between trusting ourselves to deal with the weight, or bringing it straight to the LORD, who alone is able to carry it. It isn’t enough to confess this. It has to be done daily. If we aren’t quite convinced yet, take to heart these words from Dr. Gifford: “When you have cares and concerns you bring them to the Lord, ultimately. But when you have anxiety, you are the Lord ultimately. You functionally take his place and become God. You become the Sustainer and you become the one that is providentially working all things according to your end. And it is an overwhelming task. “No wonder why some of us are run through, because we are riddled with anxiety. That's what it's like when we try to do God's job. We try to be God and we can't, and we're overwhelmed. You can actually have panic attacks where it feels like you're suffocating, because of too much anxiety in your life. It feels like you're having a heart attack. What is that saying? It's even your own body saying that you can't be God. And it's not always an exciting way for your body to tell you that. You can't be God. If you've ever experienced severe anxiety, and you started to have chest pains, it's a reminder that you're finite, and God is infinite. You're small, and God is big.” I‘m thankful that God literally stopped me in my tracks, not allowing me to live the way I was any longer. The physical symptoms hurt, and that stage was humbling, but it was what I needed to prompt lasting change. Opposite and equally bad As with many challenges in life, it is easy to swing too far in opposite directions. In response to anxiety, Dr. Gifford identifies two extremes. The first is to legitimize our anxiety, telling ourselves that our worries are valid because we really are the center of the universe, we really are God. “I have to do everything. If I don’t do it, no one else is going to do it for me. I have to grind in this season of life.” In response to this we can take to heart God’s Word in 1 Corinthians 4, where we are reminded that everything we have is a gift from the LORD. There is nothing we have that we didn’t receive. So none of us can say that it is really up to me. God is the one who is in charge, and He is the one who blesses. If we believe this, our actions need to prove that we trust Him to care and provide. The other extreme is to simply not care, or do what we can to numb the pain. When the pressure goes up, it is tempting to hide, escape, or distract ourselves. We do this with vacations, reading, TV, hobbies, shopping, playing video games, or maybe even substance abuse. Yet we know from Scripture that the Christian life isn’t about being care-free and happy. Being a faithful spouse, sibling, parent, colleague, boss, employee, elder, deacon, church member, and citizen will expose us to some troubling situations. We need to be present, to care, and to act. Going back to Dr. Gifford’s analogy of the cul-de-sac and thoroughfare, many of us would prefer to not even be next to a road at all. We would rather be living off-grid, in the peaceful countryside, looking after ourselves and a few others that we are comfortable with. Yet this ignores the great command to love our neighbor as ourself. So how do we care and be concerned without becoming a cul-de-sac? Some remedies for anxiety In the height of my burnout, the first help I received was very practical and simple. My doctor told me to take two Tylenol Arthritis pills every certain number of hours. Tylenol? It wasn’t what I expected. Yet it did wonders for relaxing my muscles. And some progress in the right direction was a huge encouragement. Our bodies are complex, and self-diagnosing through the internet will likely cause more anxiety than help. I recommend starting with a visit to a trustworthy doctor. The second stage of help came from a different kind of prescription – to the website. The wealth of information behind the paywall was incredibly helpful and also encouraging to me. I learned there that anxiety is something that is fully treatable. I also saw how the symptoms I had were all directly related to anxiety. This gave me hope that change was possible. But learning alone isn’t always enough to bring the change that is necessary. It was quite a long time later, after seeing recurrences of symptoms, that I knew I needed more help and signed up for counseling with a psychotherapist. It is hard to over-state the help that came from talking with someone who both understood anxiety and was willing to journey with me as I tried to overcome it. In the following years, I grew in understanding through more books and resources. But I also slowly started to see the spiritual roots to my struggles with anxiety. As long as I was going to be in this world, it was evident that I would have to deal with stress. Although I went to my LORD through this journey, I wasn’t experiencing the relief that Jesus says is possible when transferring my burdens to Him. Why? With time, I began to see that I was taking myself far too seriously, and not taking God seriously enough. Time and again I was living as a cul-de-sac instead of a thoroughfare. A four-step approach Now, over six years after being humbled by burnout, I can testify to the truth and importance of Dr. Gifford’s four-step remedy for anxiety. As helpful as medication, counseling, books, and breaks may be, I need to start with getting things right with God. 1. Repent The first step, says Dr. Gifford, is to repent. That sounds harsh, but over time I recognized the truth of this in my own situation (though as I mentioned earlier, there are some forms of anxiety that are not sin issues and that need a different response). “This is a sin issue, not an illness, not a disease, not a personal tendency that I have.” How often to do we hear this, even in the church? It wasn’t until quite recently in my journey that someone had the courage to gently rebuke me about how I was dealing with my cares and worries. “I don't repent of an illness. I don't repent of the flu. I repent of sins in my life and so should you” shares Dr. Gifford. Although this may sound harsh, it actually brings great hope and encouragement. There is a remedy to sin – Jesus Christ has made full atonement. “Step one is that I repent of anxiety, I go to the Lord and say something like, Lord, please forgive me for worrying when You are in complete control. Please forgive me for thinking that I can do Your job, and I can't, would You help me to exhibit greater trust in You?” 2. Remember the nature of God The next step, says Dr. Gifford, involves taking to heart the nature of God. In Matthew 6, Jesus doesn’t stop after telling us not to be anxious or worry. He tells us to look at the birds of the air. They don’t sow or reap or gather in barns, yet our heavenly Father feeds them. He also tells us to look at the lilies in the field, and how they grow. “If God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith?” The point is that when we understand that God is all knowing and all powerful, our anxiety will slowly go away. “There's a sense in which I don't try to take control of something when I know someone more competent than myself is in control. I know that they got it. And I'm actually thankful they got it. I don't have to worry about it.” illustration by Stephanie Vanderpol Dr. Gifford drives the point home: “When you understand the character of God, it crushes your anxiety, it suffocates it in the sense that you say, well, I know God's good. And I know God's in control. And I know God knows. He's omniscient. Well, then why in the world would I ever try to step in and take His place?” 3. Take our cares to God Step three is to take our cares to God so that they don’t become anxieties. In 1 Peter 5, we are told to cast all our anxieties on Him, for He cares for us. The simple truth is that when we have anxiety, it is because we are trying to do the carrying ourselves. It stops with us – like the cul-de-sac. Taking our cares to God involves pinpointing what exactly we are anxious about. What is keeping us up at night? It will be different things for different people. Perhaps a loved one, or a biblical counselor, can help us put a finger on what it is. Then we can ask what it means to entrust this thing to the LORD, and what I need to hear from Him. “Entrust it to the LORD” is something we hear all the time, but what does it look like? I regularly prayed about the things I was anxious about. But simply telling God about it isn’t the same as entrusting our cares to Him. If I hire someone to look after my yard maintenance, I can tell them what I’m hoping they will do. But then I also need to get out of their way and let them do the job. If I fire up my lawn mower as soon as the grass looks like it needs a trim, I’m not entrusting the work to the person I hired. And if I look out the window and inspect the grass every day, I’m not benefiting a whole lot from hiring someone else to do the job. I need to give the care over completely, and stop wasting my time and energy on it. 4. Be faithful to our responsibilities The final step is to be faithful to our responsibilities. This involves articulating what exactly is our responsibility, and what is the LORD’s. For example, it is my responsibility to pay my mortgage payment. That means I should not spend money on a holiday if that results in not being able to make my mortgage payment. The issue for many of us is that we don’t acknowledge that there are many things we can’t control and aren’t responsible for. “I can't control the future of my health. I'm not that powerful. I can't control the spiritual walk of my children. I am not that powerful. I can't control the winds and the finances of my employer, I am not that powerful.” In contrast I can “be a good steward of my body to the best of my ability, I can be a positive spiritual influence in my children's lives. But I have to trust the Lord to be the one to do the work. I can be a hard worker at my job and attempt to be valuable to them, but I can't control if they want to keep me or want to jettison me.” Strength through weakness Taking these four steps to heart and changing our daily walk isn’t easy, but neither is it complicated. For many of us, we have developed bad habits for dealing with our cares and concerns, and this occurred over many years. Changing it won’t happen in an instant. But, unlike many things in life, moving away from anxiety is possible, in God’s strength and by His grace. I’ll take this a step further. Not only is it possible – in God’s strength – to leave the cul-de-sac of ungodly anxiety behind, it is also a responsibility that we can help each other with. And we aren’t going to make it any easier if we make anxiety our identity. Yes, some of us are more predisposed to worry, and yes it can definitely have consequences on our health. But if we take Jesus at His word, we will also acknowledge that there are some forms of anxiety that need to be repented of. This doesn’t mean that we should harshly rebuke someone struggling with ungodly anxiety. On the contrary, this calls for love and care. When God tells us over and over again to not worry, He does so as a loving father to a little child. Jesus knows what it is like to feel the weight of the world on His shoulders. He was in agony in the Garden of Gethsemane, awaiting His death. But He also modeled faithfulness – taking his cares to His Father and walking the road that He was called to. My journey isn’t over. Every day I fall short, also when it comes to how I’m managing cares and concerns. From time to time, I still experience the physical symptoms that come from stress and anxiety. But instead of them causing me concern, I take them as a clear signal that I’m not managing things well. I’m straying and need to change course, entrusting things to the LORD and to others. Yes, it is humbling to admit that I’m weak and don’t have what it takes to solve most challenges in life, be it Covid policies, the spiritual walk of loved ones, or conflict. But it is also liberating. We have a Savior who has already made things right between us and God. The price has been paid. Our future is secure in His hands. Dear brother or sister, bring your anxieties to our LORD and experience His peace. Go deeper: Dr. Greg Gifford’s two-part series on anxiety is available at his podcast called “Transformed” but can also be heard on his website here: Below, Rich Mullins honestly and provocatively addresses the anxiety of our heart, pointing us to the only One who can truly still our worries. <span data-mce-type="bookmark" style="display: inline-block; width: 0px; overflow: hidden; line-height: 0;" class="mce_SELRES_start"></span>...


A biblical counselor’s advice for church leadership

In the article "Anxiety and the triumph of hope," we shared insights from three biblical counselors about anxiety. What follows is further insight from one of them, Heres Snijder, specifically directed to pastors, elders, and deacons. – MP What advice do you have for church leadership as they minister to those who struggle with anxiety? A posture of compassion: Church leaders are soul shepherds. For preachers, elders and deacons, a posture of compassion is essential because Jesus was moved with compassion when he saw the exhausted and burdened crowds (Matthew 9:36). Anxiety is a heavy and exhausting burden for many. Paul instructed Galatian Christians to train themselves to carry their own burden of responsibility and to share each other’s burden too heavy to carry on their own. Anxiety calls for an understanding, compassionate, encouraging response to the sufferer, and for ongoing training in how to best handle anxiety provoking situations. A posture of patience and longsuffering: Frequently there are several unhelpful thinking styles that have developed over time, and these need to be exposed, identified, and replaced with healthy thinking skills and thought patterns. Paul identified the reality that the evil one wants to establish footholds and strongholds in our minds (Eph. 4:27, 2 Cor. 10:4). When anxiety has become a stronghold in the mind it takes concerted efforts to conquer it. A posture of prayer: Anxiety is one of the many “cries of the soul,” and it reveals our deepest questions about God. It is addressed in many psalms. The poets who wrote these knew about anxiety, personally, and up close. It is therefore indispensable for soul-shepherds to have an intimate knowledge of the content and anxious thoughts expressed in psalms like Psalm 22,  Ps. 23, Ps. 27, Ps. 30, Ps. 34, Pr. 46, Ps. 51, Ps. 61, Ps. 103, and Ps. 121. Training in emotional intelligence and relational wisdom: The attitude of “forget about your emotions” is unhelpful in the extreme. Empathy is an essential skill for pastors, elders and deacons. Encourage those who struggle to seek out counselors: Fortunately, many pastors and elders have this mindset. As one pastor shared with me: “We are always looking for good Christian counsellors as the need is great…but the counsellors are few and the wait times are long.” ...


...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....


In the right place to serve: Christians are leading the way in helping one city’s homeless

By God’s providence, Christians are often in exactly the right place at the right time to do the good works that He prepared for us! For nearly 100 years, the Lighthouse Mission has worked with the down and out on the streets of Bellingham, a university city near the Canadian border, preaching the Gospel while lending a material hand to those in need. As homelessness and despair due to drug addiction have grown in the last ten years, local government officials have begun to lean more and more on the work done by the Lighthouse – work that is helping pull people off the streets, and into productive lives through the power of God’s Word. Hans Erchinger-Davis is the Executive Director of the Mission. Hans grew up near Bellingham in a Christian home with loving parents who shared the Gospel wherever they went, including a memorable one-year trip through communist eastern Europe when Hans was a boy. Erchinger-Davis studied at Regent College in Vancouver (where Professor J.I. Packer was among his teachers), but his first career was in technology, and later in film. On the cusp of a career as a documentary filmmaker, Hans was offered a job at the Lighthouse Mission in 2006, and his life, and the lives of thousands of others, was changed forever. Help given in the Name of God Executive Director Hans Erchinger-Davis has been working at the Mission since 2006. Erchinger-Davis estimates that there are between 800 and 1,000 homeless people in Whatcom county at any one time, with the majority living on the city streets of downtown Bellingham. Volunteers and employees of the Mission make regular contact with these struggling men and women, giving out coffee and clothing, and inviting them to “base camp” for a hot meal and shelter for the night. Already at “base camp,” counselors share the good news of Jesus Christ, and offer resources and referrals, letting the new arrivals know that there is a way out of the despair in which they find themselves. Those who are willing to move up from “base camp” into a formal program of recovery must commit to being off drugs and alcohol before they are admitted to recovery houses that build on the foundation of drug-free, value-filled living, to begin training towards a productive life. “The Christian message is always part of our teaching,” says Erchinger-Davis. “Ninety-nine percent of our graduates are Christians or become Christians.” “We follow Jesus onto the streets and encampments in our community. The message of Jesus cannot be separated from the services we offer. It is in our DNA to carry out the mission of healing homelessness with Christ’s power and love,” said Erchinger-Davis. “It’s because of this that the Lighthouse Mission declines any offers of government funding for programs and services that might limit the ability for us to provide our homeless friend voluntary participation in prayer, worship, Bible studies and basic Christian discipleship.” Eager to do even more Now, in 2023, the Lighthouse Mission is in the middle of an ambitious construction project: the building out of which the Mission did its main work was in rough shape, and the Mission’s board decided that the most cost-effective solution was to tear it down and re-build a more suitable facility, with room for more training, more beds, more cooking facilities, and room for small retail businesses that those in the program can operate. Whatcom County (in which Bellingham is located) has a fairly liberal governing “county council,” although there are believers among the county representatives. Officials have acknowledged publicly and privately that the Mission does invaluable work among the homeless that local government is not able to provide. As a result, both the city and county had committed to helping fund portions of the construction project that were centered on humanitarian aid (things like shelter, meals, and vocational training). Setbacks, but no compromise The Mission provides hot meals, but they don’t stop with providing for the physical. It is always delivered in the context of the Gospel. Recently however, one of the county council members made it her personal mission to deny any funding to the rebuilding project due to the Mission’s “discriminatory” hiring practices. (The Lighthouse Mission requires that all of its employees acknowledge the organization’s Christian roots, including a Biblical understanding of human sexuality and the sinfulness of homosexual relationships.) The council member won a temporary victory, as the body decided not to provide funding for any of the Mission’s rebuild (even the portions of the work that could be described as humanitarian aid). Again, by the grace of the Lord, this temporary setback was overcome in God’s providence. Just a few days after the council made its decision, a local donor contacted Hans to let him know that he and his family would be donating $400,000 to help cover the shortfall. But that was just the beginning! Kathy Kershner, a Christian who serves on county council, lobbied the other members of council, reminding them of the valuable services that the Mission provides to Whatcom County. Kershner moved to rescind the motion denying funding, and a majority of council agreed. Hope for future rests in the Lord Despite many victories and successes for the Mission, Erchinger-Davis’ personal life has been visited with tragedy. His father, a faithful Christian, struggled with bi-polar disorder. His best friend from high school became a drug addict, and despite intervention attempts and help that was available so close by, died of a drug overdose a couple of blocks from Hans’ office. Echinger-Davis’ sister was a victim of domestic violence, and recently took her own life, leaving behind two young children. While some might despair at these tragedies, Hans is able to rejoice in God’s goodness, and to accept that God has a plan that he can’t fully understand. “It’s hard! My friend died, and I was not able to help him, but partly through my own work, the Mission has been able to help thousands who have escaped lives of brokenness through God’s love.” The Lord has put His people where they are needed to fulfill His gracious plan. Hans summarizes: “We aim for healing homelessness both in the present, the future, and for eternity with the tender love of Jesus Christ in Whatcom County.” Assistant Editor Marty VanDriel is a board member of the Lighthouse Mission Ministries Foundation, which provides long-term funding for the work of the Lighthouse Mission Ministry, and was asked by the editor to profile the organization. Pictures have are frame captures, taken with permission, from Lighthouse Mission Ministries Foundation's 5-part video series "Hope for Bellingham: Response to Homelessness," the first of which you can watch below. Find the rest here. ...


Puppy love: in praise of pets

The inimitable Cody I was lucky enough to share my growing-up years with a big red chow chow. After deferring my request to get a dog for some time, my parents finally gave me the go-ahead when I was twelve; by this time I was old enough to take responsibility for a dog, and my paper-route and babysitting money would be enough to cover dog food and vet check-ups. My dad built a sturdy doghouse, we visited a shelter or two, I scoured the pet section of the classified ads, and eventually Cody joined our family. It had pretty much been love at first sight, and Cody was my faithful companion for the next thirteen years. He knew the sound of the school bus stopping a street away, and was always eagerly waiting for me when I got home. Our nightly walks were a calming and peaceful part of my day. Cody and I even won a pet/owner look-alike contest once (after an unfortunate hair experiment . . . the kit was supposed to turn my hair more blonde . . .) Cody’s been gone for many years now, but I’ve been thinking about him lately, and about the unique place that dogs and other pets can have in our lives. As humans, we’ve been created with a deep need for things like companionship, connection, and physical touch. And although pets can’t (and shouldn’t) replace human relationships, there’s something beautiful and simple about the love they give us: it’s unconditional and uncomplicated by the things that can add stress to human interactions. Dogs don’t judge or hold a grudge or carry anxiety-inducing expectations. I asked a few friends and family members about what their dogs meant to them, and quickly discovered that people love to talk about their furry companions, share photos and stories, and reminisce about past loved pets; “I could talk about our dogs all day!” commented one of my friends. And I loved hearing their stories. Cocoa Cocoa: a beautiful rescue One of my sisters-in-law, for example, told me about an abandoned dog named Cocoa that stole her heart. My sister-in-law spent some time living up north in Fort Smith, NWT; a lifelong dog lover, she regularly volunteered at the local dog shelter there. One evening she noticed a new arrival, a beautiful black mixed breed with brown markings, but was saddened to see the sign outside his pen: “Be careful, aggressive dog; don’t allow out with other dogs.” This angry, wary dog was slated to be euthanized the next time the vet came around, as he was too difficult for the volunteers to handle, and unlikely to find a new home. When she gently approached the dog, she found him scared and timid, but not vicious. Over time they formed a bond. The other volunteers noticed a change in Cocoa, and the plans to euthanize him were put on hold. Unfortunately, my sister-in-law’s rental didn’t allow pets, but she ended up moving just so she could adopt him. “He brought me companionship and friendship while living in such a remote Northern little town,” she remembers. “He brought me joy knowing he was happy and loved and able to live out the rest of his short life . . . knowing what being loved felt like.” It’s that combination of giving and receiving love that seems to be at the heart of the bond we have with our pets; they give us boundless affection, but they need us too. Both aspects are good for us. Luisa Luisa: takes good care of her owners One of my brothers says that having his dog Luisa (a rescue dog that he and his wife adopted a few years ago) is like living with a toddler in many ways: “Her needs come first.” He feels that dog ownership can lead to a certain sense of purpose and a more selfless attitude to life. When I see devoted dog owners trudging through the rain with their dogs, or going through the undignified process of cleaning up after them, I’m inclined to agree. Do our pet interactions cultivate character traits in us that, ultimately, help us in other relationships and areas of life? I would suspect so. Studies on the emotional, psychological, and even physical benefits of owning a dog or other pet have noted decreased stress and depression, and even lower blood pressure and better cardiovascular health. A truly objective study is almost impossible to design – what is cause, and what is simply correlation? – but the immediate benefits of positive pet interactions have been more definitely demonstrated. Simply petting a dog can reduce the stress hormone cortisol, and time spent with a loved pet raises levels of oxytocin, a feel-good hormone associated with bonding. And when stress goes down, other health markers tend to improve – with the reverse also true. Cypress and Winston Cypress: a gentle and calming companion Another sister-in-law initially had mixed feelings about bringing a dog into their home, after several years without one. Her teenage kids are growing up and building lives of their own, and she felt like they were past the little-kids-and-a-puppy-in-the-backyard stage of family life. But Cypress, a gentle “Goldendoodle,” has been a blessing to all of them. When her seventeen-year-old son has something on his mind, he’ll find Cypress for some “dog love,” and my sister-in-law says she can just see her son’s tension drain away. She says when she’s feeling stressed, Cypress will seek her out. Getting outside for regular walks with Cypress has also been beneficial. And coming home to a house that was getting to be a little too empty, but isn’t anymore, lifts her spirits. Others I’ve talked to agree that dogs seem to have a “sixth sense” about their owners’ moods, and are quick to comfort and give affection. My brother says that Luisa can seem to tell when he’s had a more difficult day at work; when he walks in the door, he gets an extra dose of exuberant affection. One of my friends, reflecting on her “Westie,” Winston, puts it this way: “He is completely devoted to me, always attuned to my mood. He celebrates with me when I laugh and comforts me when I’m sad.” Not surprisingly, the benefits of dogs or other pets is most noticeable among those who may be lonelier or struggling in some way. Pets provide companionship and that vital physical touch we all need; pets can also give a sense of purpose and structure, remind us that we’re needed, and take our minds off ourselves. A dog can be the catalyst that prompts a lonely senior to get up, get outside, and engage with life – all of which are good things that often lead to more good things. Pets in their place The affectionate and exuberant Winston Of course, pets replacing human relationships is problematic; the “pets instead of kids” phenomenon is disturbing, as is the astronomical amount of money that North Americans spend on their pets (Americans spend upwards of $100 billion every year). But in their place, pets are a unique blessing. God as our loving Father knows what we need, and delights in giving us the good gifts of His creation. And surely the human-pet bond is one of those gifts. As for me, I haven’t had a dog since Cody died. Family life is already busy and full. Do we really want to take on the time commitment and expense of a dog? Do I really want to vacuum that much? On the other hand, how can we argue with all those endorphins? For now, we’ve gotten some guppies, and our nine-year-old daughter is campaigning for gerbils. A slippery slope? Time will tell whether there will be any four-legged friends in our future . . . but either way, I’ll always be grateful that there was one inimitable chow chow in my past....


When it comes to evangelism, do we trust the Holy Spirit will show up?

This is an overview of a recent episode of Lucas Holtvlüwer and Tyler Vanderwoude’s Real Talk podcast. Real Talk is a bi-weekly podcast of Reformed Perspective featuring great conversations on everything from propaganda to pornography. If you haven’t checked it out, you really should. And you really can, at ***** Lucas Holtvlüwer recently interviewed Dr. Eric Watkins to learn more about evangelism and church planting from one with a lot of experience and wisdom. Dr. Watkins is the pastor at the Harvest Orthodox Presbyterian Church (OPC) in San Marcos, California and is also the director of the Center of Missions and Evangelism at Mid-America Reformed Seminary. Dr. Watkins wasn’t raised in the church. Growing up in North Carolina, he was a troubled youth, particularly after his father left his mom when Eric was just twelve years old. After college, Watkins was drifting around the country, following the band “The Grateful Dead,” when his sister lent him her Bible: “you’re going to be stuck for a few days on a bus, so take this…” Eric recalls that through His Word, “God confronted me by His spirit, and convicted me that I was a sinner… and that Jesus was the Savior and had done for me what I could not do myself… I got on the bus a long-haired stinking deadhead, and I got off the bus a week later, longer-haired and stinkier, but converted!” Dr. Watkins then began a long journey of learning more about the Lord, going to seminary, becoming Reformed, and teaching Bible classes at the same church where he now ministers in California. Becoming a pastor, Watkins helped plant a “daughter” OPC congregation in Orlando; seven years later he and his family moved to St. Augustine, Florida to start a “parachute church” – meaning that there was not yet an established core group, and one needed to “start from scratch.” By God’s grace, these two churches are still thriving today. Capital “E” Evangelism and lowercase “e” evangelism Watkins defines evangelism as: “bringing the truth claims of the Gospel to bear upon the hearts of those that are outside the kingdom… where the objective content of the Gospel is made clear and people are called to faith and repentance in Christ.” He further differentiates the general call of Christians to evangelize, from the specific calling by a church body for one to do the work of an (uppercase) Evangelist. “Like Paul says to Timothy, ‘Fulfill your ministry – do the work of an Evangelist,’ or when Paul says in Corinthians ‘Woe is me if I don’t preach the Gospel.’” In Watkins’ opinion, church planters in particular bear that warning to fulfill their duty to evangelize. “Among the list of gifts that Christ gives to His Church in Ephesians 4 there’s a role for the gifting of the Spirit in the area of evangelism for people that are called to do particularly evangelistic ministry, and they literally live and sleep with that ‘woe is me if I don’t preach the Gospel.’ So that’s in a category of capital E Evangelism. “Lower case ‘e’ evangelism is what the whole Church does. So, like in Acts 8, when the church is scattered, it says not simply those who were ordained like the apostles but men and women who were dispersed went about proclaiming the Gospel. To me that’s lowercase ‘e’ evangelism…. Even lay people in the Church in some fashion or another are called to walk wisely before the watching world, and even to engage them at times and opportunities that God will provide with the claims of the Gospel…. “There’s something important to be recognized in ministering not simply the Gospel to people, but also ministering the Gospel through people, and to help our members understand that they too have a role to play in the great commission, and the promotion of the life and the work of the Church. It may not be street corner preaching, or handing out tracts… but it is befriending the people that we have the opportunity to get to know that are outside the Church, wherever we’re able to meet them.” Enough time for members old and new? Holtvlüwer asked Dr. Watkins if there can be tension in the church when there is so much focus on reaching those outside the body, since there are also many needs among the current members. Watkins agreed that this can be difficult, and he advised that there should be clarity on what is required of the pastor and elders, best captured in written descriptions of their roles. “For instance, it takes a certain number of hours a week to prepare a sermon; it takes a certain number of hours a week to visit the congregation, to do the bulletin, to meet with leaders, to disciple, and to do evangelism. So we have to decide what we think is important; we need to prioritize, and there needs to be not only transparency and accountability for the church planters, there also needs to be protectiveness for him and his family… It’s really important that you protect the time and space for the pastor to do evangelism… even after the church is up and running.” Watkins continued: “Visitation is very important in Reformed churches; I think regrettably evangelism isn’t, and we’ve created an unintentional… paradigm in which we have so busied our pastors that there’s no room for evangelism… There’s a lot of guilt on the shoulders of our pastors that that this work really is important, and should be done, but I’ve got a 60 plus hour work week, with two sermons, and a congregation, and Consistory and Council meetings.” Holtvlüwer suggested, “This might mean that you need to get a second pastor if your church is of a certain size.” Do we expect the Holy Spirit to show up? Talking about Reformed churches and evangelism, Watkins reminded listeners that John Calvin wrote his most famous books like The Institutes of the Christian Religion, as, “…discipleship tools for new converts to the Reformation, and as a pastor he modeled and did evangelism. He housed orphans in his home, and what we could call seminary students whom he trained and taught the work of the ministry including evangelism…. Calvin is nicknamed the Theologian of the Spirit, and if you read his writings as they relate to evangelism, he wholeheartedly believed in it…. “Our problem at times is that we have too small a view of the Holy Spirit… We don’t expect (Him) to show up much, and to do great things in and through our church. Do we really expect God to convert people through the preaching of His word? Do we expect God to convert people off the streets, out of depravity and drug abuse and all the different things that are out there, into the arms of the church? Do we expect to see baptisms not just of kids but adults in our church? I think our Trinitarian theology could be enhanced and brought into greater conformity with Calvin’s view… that invigorated his ministry.” Holtvlüwer wondered how or if Reformed churches had strayed from Calvin’s mission of being evangelistic in orientation. Watkins summarized that “Part of the Church’s temptation in history has always been to isolate itself from the world rather than to engage. And yet with the best of intentions: because we don’t want our covenant kids to get swallowed up by the world. So what do we do? build high walls around them and insulate them from the world. The other is to train and equip them to engage the world with the Gospel…. Do we simply teach kids to think about what’s wrong with the way the world thinks, or do we also teach them how to engage the world, not simply apologetically, but evangelistically.… Do we disciple with a view towards raising up people that will be able to contend for their faith in a 1 Peter 3 way or Colossians 4 way?” Watkins also identified the opportunity for the younger generation of Reformed Christians. “The world has come to the back door of the Church, and the front door, and is on either side of our house – it’s all around – the nations are all around us! What will we do with the… opportunities that God has placed before us in an increasingly diverse world. It’s an exciting time (for spreading the Gospel!)” Christian schools and our covenant youth Holtvlüwer mentioned that he is thankful for, and understanding of why our parents and grandparents spent so much energy and effort on establishing Christian schools, and that these institutions can still serve as a bulwark against the teachings of the world that are so prevalent all around us in social media and in the culture overall. But do we need to do more to prepare our kids to go out to the world with a strong apologetic viewpoint? Watkins expressed thankfulness for Christian schools (his own children attend a Christian school in Escondido): “I’m not trying to change that paradigm at all!” At the same time: “…social media has more access to our kids now than parents, pastors, and Sunday school teachers combined… the amount of time that kids are spending online in different media platforms (is huge)…” What is the answer to all these potentially harmful influences? Watkins reminds listeners of the well-known Biblical verse, “‘Train up a child in the way that he should go!’ That is, not simply protect and shelter him from all the things you never want him to hear or learn about… Parents and pastors must be the teachers, not the world… There’s a challenge to not simply reach the lost, there’s a challenge to keep our kids! There are a lot of kids that are drifting away from the church, for different reasons… and while there’s no silver bullet… I do believe in discipleship…” Wakins continued: “An uncomfortable question we could ask would be, ‘Could a covenant kid graduate high school without ever seeing a parent or church leader share the Gospel with a non-Christian?’ …if the answer is yes, then think about what life looks like for them when they… go off somewhere else perhaps for college or a job. So we have to train our kids with not simply what’s wrong with the way the world thinks, but (train them) to engage the world evangelistically, in the hope that in doing so (we might) actually insulate our covenant kids the right way.” Watkins wanted to emphasize that he appreciates the Reformed faith, and in no way wants to tear down the institutions that Reformed Christians have built. “The Reformed faith is grand, as J. Gresham Machen said, and we have some of the most wonderful tools at our disposal… we do a great job in many ways raising our covenant kids. By God’s grace we have a wonderful doctrine of the Church, and what the world needs most… is for the church to be the church! To continue to be committed to the ordinary means of grace… to be committed to family worship, and at the same time… to use the tools for evangelism that are part of the Reformed faith.” In the last part of their conversation, Holtvlüwer and Watkins discussed mentorship as a way for mature Christian men and women to provide leadership and guidance to younger people, both those new to the faith and those who have grown up in the church. Watkins ended his contributions with a call for “young men to consider a pastoral call in the ministry. We need pastors, we need church planters!” The complete discussion between Holtvlüwer and Pastor Watkins can be found on all major podcast platforms – just search for “Real Talk Reformed Perspective,” episode 63. And you can watch it on YouTube below. ...

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