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The Healing Touch

Be not wise in your own eyes; fear the Lord, and turn away from evil. It will be healing to your flesh and refreshment to your bones. (Prov. 3:7-8)

***

Chapter 1 It was a warm day, and Meggy adjusted her close-fitting cap with a sigh. Its whiteness covered thick, dark braids wound tightly across a high-held head, and enfolded the sides of a well-sculpted face. Meggy felt like itching her scalp but knew that a few steps behind them Hawys, who always walked to church with father and herself, would comment on it. Capitulating to the older woman's unspoken influence, she refrained, and merely adjusted her waistcoast with a shrug of her small shoulders. "Do not move about so much, child. It is the Lord's Day after all." Hawys' correction came swiftly. Father glanced at Meggy with a sidelong look, and smiled an apologetic smile. He was not one for arguments although she was sure he sympathized. They both knew Hawys did not mean ill and besides that, they were staying in her house, living partly on her charity. "I can hear the Sanctus Bell." Hawys, picking up both speed and her long, dark blue skirt, swept past them. Meggy automatically increased her steps as well. "Come, Father," she whispered, as she tried to pull him along, "it will not do to irritate Hawys." Undisturbed, he calmly answered, "Surely the bell ringer has only just begun and we have time to spare." Not multiplying his measured paces, he ambled on, all the while tranquilly regarding their surroundings. Meggy was unsure. Should she stay with father, or should she shadow Hawys? In the end it was the sense of father's words that convinced her. St. Mary's Church was but some ten minutes or so from where they were, and surely the sexton would not shut the doors against them? "Have you perhaps knowledge that the Archbishop himself is attending today? Is that why you and Hawys are in such a hurry, Child?" Father was teasing her. Slowing down, she affectionately squeezed his arm. "It would be wonderful," he continued, "to hear actual instruction from the pulpit. But I confess that I have not much hope for it." Meggy did not answer. Her eyes were still fixed on Hawys who, glancing back over her shoulder every now and then, was gaining great ground. "We might walk a trifle faster, Father," she suggested, but he seemed not to hear. "Your mother, although a mite argumentative, was fond of a good sermon, Meggy," he went on, "and I vow that in the long run she would not be in favor of us continuing to attend St. Mary's." Meggy could see the flint and ironstone makings of the church building coming up ahead. It was a beautiful structure and she loved it. The graveyard at the rear where mother was buried was very peaceful. Betimes she walked there and marveled at the monuments and admired the many stained glass windows that laughed at her from the grey church walls. There was one special window she favored – one with green diamond-shaped panes between its lead outlines. She often stared at that window during services. Sometimes she felt as if staring at something beautiful might reflect into her own heart and consequently make it beautiful. Is that how one was saved? "Meggy, Child, we are here." Indeed, they were. To her relief, Meggy saw that there were many folks still entering the rounded-off-at-the-top double oak doors. After quickly looking up at the top of the tower, as she always did before entering the church, she espied the signal beacon, part of an ancient series of signal beacons.  "Look Father, the beacon." She sped up her steps even as she spoke but Father pulled her back. "Easy, Child. The building will not run away." He was forever chaffing her. "Know you that the church was probably built in the 1200s, and rebuilt in 1494?" She nodded. Yes, she did know that. "Well, Meggy, now the year is 1672, and that makes this building some four hundred years old. All that time it has stood there and it will very likely outlive us." "Yes, Father." Meggy lifted her skirts and crossed over the church threshold. Her father followed close behind. The foyer was cool and quite empty. Meggy immediately walked through and on into the church proper. Standing in its wide doorway with the entrance behind her, she searched for the familiar figure of Hawys who was wont to sit in the back on the right. About to enter, a voice made her turn. It was a voice addressing Father. "Good to see you, James Burnet." It was a low, male voice. She did not recognize it immediately. But as she turned and moved back into the foyer, she saw that it belonged to Timothy Newham, a haberdasher, who lived close to Whitehall. She had never before seen him in their church or, for that matter, at a conventicle. In all probability he was not a religious man. "Hello, Timothy." Father answered the haberdasher's greeting courteously. "I had been hoping that you would come by my shop this past week, James." Father shrugged. Meggy walked back to stand by his side. There was something sad about that shrug and she sensed he needed her. "You owe me some money, James Burnet, and I am here to obtain it." "My dear fellow," the reply came softly and courteously, "perhaps you could come by my shop later this week. It seems unfitting to discuss this matter here in church." "I have waited all of a month already, James, and have seen neither hide nor hair of you." Meggy could feel the eyes of fellow churchgoers pry into her back. She put her arm through father's. "Let's go on into the sanctuary, Father," she whispered. "Is this your daughter?" "Yes, I am," Meggy answered for him, "and I beg you, Sir, do not make a scene here in the Lord's house, for that is not proper." "Is it proper then to withhold five pounds owing me? Five pounds that have been loaned out for more than three months even though the understanding was that it would be paid back in two months time?" Meggy took note of the fact that father's breathing was becoming uneven and rapid. And she minded the times of late that he had been tired. "I have followed you to church, James Burnet," Timothy Newham went on, "and I will follow you inside the church sanctuary if need be, and demand in front of all these people that you give me my money. Perhaps shame will make you pay me back." At the last words, he raised his voice threateningly and it seemed to Meggy that it reverberated off the foyer's high ceiling. "Come, Father," she repeated gently, "maybe we should go home and we will sort it all out when we get there." "There is nothing to sort out," Timothy Newham insisted, "Your father owes me five pounds, a tidy sum when you are a poor man such as I am, and I'll wager that he has that amount hidden some place here or there in his shop." "Not so, Sir," Meggy replied, "and I would ask you to do us the kindness of leaving. Please call at our home at the noon hour tomorrow and we shall receive you properly. You have our word on it." Timothy gazed at her thoughtfully, gazed long and hard. It made her uncomfortable. He was an older man, and it did not seem fitting. "Very well then," he eventually retorted, "tomorrow it is at about twelve of the hour." He swung about and disappeared through the heavy oak door before a reply could be made. Chapter 2 Oliver Cromwell (1599-1658) It had been only four years since Cromwell, the Lord Protector, had died. During his time greater religious freedom had come about for the Protestants. However, then “the Restoration” had planted a new ruler on the English throne, a ruler who did not know Cromwell. He was of the house of Stuart and his name was Charles II. Although only a youthful thirty years of age, he was well versed in the vices of the world and his skill in these vices had spilled over into the country. Countries are labeled - labeled as republics, monarchies, dictatorships or otherwise. But should they be labeled thus? He who sits in the heavens laughs, and holds nations in derision. He has all things under His control and what He desires comes to pass. England breathed laboriously while Charles II ruled and was in great need of a physician.

*****

James Burnet and his daughter stood in the church foyer for a few moments after Timothy Newham had left. Then, as if by common consent, they turned and departed the church building. No words were spoken on the way home. The streets lay silent for the church bells had stopped ringing. Meggy clung hard to her father's arm. James stopped walking every twenty steps or so and reflected on the fact that he had not been able to do as much work lately as he was wont to do. By his side, Meggy wished for the hundredth time that she had been born a boy and that her mother was still alive instead of lying in the burial ground back of the church. How they would both help father. She knew that they would. James Burnet was a pewterer. Although only a trifler in the trade, there was much call for the items he fashioned, items such as inkwells, mugs, badges, and candlesticks. He was not a wealthy man but small pewter utensils were popular and he sold of his wares to traveling tinsmiths who hawked them in the countryside. The Burnet family had been able to manage. James had taught his daughter much as she was growing into a young woman. Even now as they passed through the silent streets, Meggy could hear his instruction. "Pewter into which no water has come, becomes more white and like to silver, and less flexible," and "Nine parts or more of tin with one of regulus of antimony compose pewter," and "Pewter is called etain in French." The Worshipful Company of Pewterers in Oat Lane near the London Wall, stipulated that marriage to a member of the pewter guild conferred upon a woman the rights and privileges of the business. Mother, when she was married to father, had been put in charge of the financial side of the business and she had received the payments for all the work father had done. Her receipt to buyers had always been valid. One should not speak ill of the dead, but James' wife, although a hard worker, had clearly not enjoyed the trade and had made her husband's life rather miserable because of it. But she had been capable, and Meggy sorely missed the independence their little family had enjoyed. The Great Fire of London of 1666 The Great Fire of London had come in 1666 hot on the heels of the bubonic plague, which had hit in 1665. Destroying 13,200 houses, 87 parish churches, and St. Paul's Cathedral, the Fire had also burned both Margaret Burnet and her home. The Pewterers' Hall on Oat Lane had been destroyed as well, but it was being rebuilt. James Burnet had not had the money to rebuild his home. For a short while Charles II was blamed for these disasters. Some said his wicked lifestyle had brought about God's punishment on the city; others whispered that the king himself might have instigated the fire to punish the people of London for executing his father. Although James Burnet had been able to salvage some of his tools, the truth was that he and his daughter were left homeless. Hawys, a distant relative on mother's side, had kindly offered them living quarters. Her son Roger, a great big hulk of a lad, had from the beginning of their moving in, shown great interest in helping his relations. It had become a tacit agreement of sorts that he was working an apprenticeship. But nothing had been verbally agreed upon or signed. James, who was of a very cheerful and carefree disposition, had been glad of the young man's help. Irrationally, seventeen-year-old Meggy had not much liking for Roger and avoided him. Five years her senior, he displayed affection for father and her father returned it. Perhaps she was jealous. If father were to marry Hawys, the trade would eventually revert to her and later, to Roger. And it was a fact that Father was not well. He had of late been fatigued, unable to work much. Also, Meggy had noted that her father had a small, red swelling in his neck. Was he afflicted with a disease? She shrugged her small shoulders again. She did not like to think of such things, but the fears that crept into her mind and the raising of her small shoulders did not push the thoughts away.

*****

Hawys asked no questions when she came home from church but simply laid out the Sunday meal on the kitchen table. Being discreet was a virtue, Meggy mulled, as she helped put the plates and ale on the board, admitting to herself that they were blessed to have such a relative. Although always adamant that they be in church on time, on the whole Hawys was a sweet-tempered woman and a good housekeeper. Father was determined that Meggy obey her in all matters. And rightly so, for did not the household run smoothly under her guidance and were they not clean and well fed? Hawys truly seemed to care for Father and for herself. Was she not even now fixing potions for his ailments, making sure he ate enough and did she not mend his clothes? Chapter 3 It was Lent. Now is the healing time decreed, for sins of heart and word and deed, when we in humble fear record, the wrong that we have done the Lord. So rang an old Latin rhyme and Meggy had heard father recite it often. Truthfully, Meggy was not aware that she had ever wronged the Lord. After all, she was quite careful to do all that was right. She obeyed father, loved him and worked hard at the chores Hawys gave her each day. So what was a healing time? She went to sleep thinking about it. But she had forgotten the words upon opening her eyes the next morning because the early air was filled with the sound of her father's coughing. Turning over uneasily, she listened as the grating noise crept under her bed and agitated the coverlet. Next to the bed, on a chair, she eyed her stay. She only wore it each Sunday and it had been mother's. Disliking its stiffness against her body underneath her gown, Meggy was glad it was Monday so that she could safely tuck the corset away into her dresser drawer. Hawys' spinning wheel was tucked into a nooked corner The coughing stopped and, breathing easier, Meggy turned onto her back. Her truckle bed stood at the foot of Hawys' fine feather bed. Hawys always rose at the crack of dawn and Meggy could now hear her rather shrill and drawn-out singing in the kitchen. Father slept with Roger in a side-room off the kitchen. He maintained that the kitchen was too cluttered and busy for him although Hawys was sure that sleeping on a cot in the kitchen would be a great deal warmer for him than the side-room. The kitchen was a room full of pewter, kettles, and skillets, with Hawys' spinning wheel round and annular in a nooked corner. The older woman had been trying to teach Meggy the intricacies and wonders of spinning, but the girl's hands stubbornly refused to convert fibers into yarn. Stretching her fingers, Meggy sighed and sat up, swinging her feet over the edge of the small bed. It might be a very fine day indeed were it not for the dismal fact that Timothy Newham was coming to see father. Sighing again, she stood up slowly and walked over to the washbasin atop the dresser next to the larger bed. Scrubbing her face hard to wash out the sleep, she pulled on a week dress overtop of her white shift.

*****

"Good morning, Meggy," Hawys stopped singing to greet the girl's entry into the kitchen. A large wooden spoon in her hand, she stood stirring the porridge in a kettle hanging over the hearth. She followed her salutation with "How silently you enter this day, Child." "I am not a child," Meggy responded petulantly. "I know. I know," Hawys replied soothingly, "but I do want to braid your hair, big as you are, so come along and stand by the table after you fetch the comb from the side drawer. Meggy obeyed. She fetched the comb and stood quietly by the table as she watched the smoke from the fire on the hearth channel up the chimney. By and by Hawys came over and began to plait Meggy's hair. "You are truly silent," Hawys said once more as she put the finishing touch on the second braid, "and now that your hair is done, I would have you wash the front steps before breakfast." "Think you truly, Hawys," Meggy answered as she stood twirling the left braid with her right hand, "that Father might be ill and that he might... that he might perhaps have the scrofula?" "He has of late complained of a sore throat," Hawys answered. "But he could simply just have a sore throat for a while and then it will be gone. That has often been the case with me and with Roger. And I know that you have given him a tonic, and such complaints are common, are they not?" "As well, there is a small red swelling in his neck," Hawys said softly, hands on her aproned hips as she contemplated Meggy, "but that also is not uncommon. Indeed it could simply be a sting or some such thing. You as well as I know...." Her discourse was interrupted by her son Roger who burst into the kitchen from the side door. Tall and gangly, he was red in the face from some sort of excitement. "I can obtain a part-time position at the Palace of Whitehall," he broke in on his mother's words. "They are in need of gentleman ushers, seeing that Lent is here and that the king will begin audiences to touch the ill." "And what about your work for my father," Meggy demanded, letting her braid fall down, even as she emphasized the word my. "Oh, but I can do both," the young man answered, surprised at her vehemence, "for this work at the palace is only during the healing ceremonies this Lent. I simply help usher the poor into the king's presence and sprinkle rose water in the aisle to offset the stench these people carry. There are a number of young men who will do so. There will be a lot of people attending the ceremonies - from as far away as Russia, it is said. Besides that the work will pay." Meggy was not listening any longer. Her thoughts had wandered back to her father. "Father needs help all the time, Roger! You cannot be coming and going to ceremonies at the palace. You should constantly be with father and make sure he does not overwork." Roger looked surprised. His loose-fitting shirt was open at the neck and his collarbone protruded. "What ails you, Meggy? I am always helping him." "We were speaking of the scrofula," Hawys helped him out, "for Master Burnet has a red spot in his neck...." Again she was interrupted. "A red spot that could easily be the bite of an insect." Meggy's voice was shrill now and both Roger and Hawys eyed her uneasily. "An insect bite is quite likely," Meggy repeated loudly, "and is it not so, Roger, that you ought to be in the workshop with him right now, at this very moment." There was a lull in the conversation. Then Roger spoke on. His voice was calm and meant to put Meggy's fears at rest. "It is true that scrofula is called the Evil by many. It is a swollen and ulcerous condition and most pitiful to the eye. I have seen many people with it. Even now the ill are gathering in the streets awaiting the time when they will be allowed into the palace. But it is also said, and I know it to be true, that the scrofula, as well as other ills like it, often disappear of their own accord." "Well, father does not have it." Meggy stamped her foot on Roger's words as she spoke and then turned, walking past him out of the side door to her task of scrubbing the front steps.

*****

During the next half hour, braids swinging back and forth as she scoured the stone steps, Meggy reflected again that Hawys and Roger were both actually very kind and that she had been rude. It was Roger who irritated Meggy. He was always so sure of himself, both in his demeanor and in his words and there was no doubt that father respected his opinion. She also had to admit, as the suds flew about the steps, that Roger was a fine help to father and seemed to be learning the trade. Perhaps, she pondered on as she swabbed and brushed, she truly was jealous. But jealousy was, as preacher Baxter had often pointed out in his sermons, a foothold for the devil to come into one's heart. Meggy and her father, as well as Hawys and Roger, divided their worship time between attending the Church of England and patronizing conventicles, even though conventicles were forbidden by law. Only five people, the law said, were allowed to meet together outside of the state church. Any larger number gathering for another church service was deemed illegal. Sometimes conventicles were held in the house of someone they knew, and at other times they were held in open fields. Meggy paused, wringing out the scrub cloth with her hands. Even though she admired St. Mary's Church, she also liked meeting out in open spaces, hearing pastors fervently extol God's goodness, and singing in the fields with only the sky for a ceiling. Watching the water drip down the steps, she wished that worries would run away as easily as the water, for there seemed to be so many of them. The worst of them was the fear that Father might have the scrofula, but hard on its heels was the fretting, the worry that had the name of Timothy Newham, the haberdasher, attached to its label.

*****

After brealfast, Meggy was called into her father's workshop. "I owe Timothy Newham," he began, stopping rather abruptly and averting his face from her anxious gaze, before continuing, "I owe Timothy Newham," he started again, "some money, Meggy. I'm sorry, but there's the truth of it." He bent his head in such a way that she could clearly see the small red swelling in his neck. "What are we to do, Father?" "Well," her father answered softly, thoughtfully turning over a little pewter salt-shaker in his hands, "Hawys has graciously offered to pay the sum I owe and I would like you to deliver it to him. I would rather he did not come here, Meggy." "You want me to deliver the money to Timothy, Father?" "Yes, Child." "But how are we ever to repay Hawys, Father?" "I am going to marry her, Megs." Father only called her Megs when he was very moved and she intuitively felt she ought not to say anything which could trigger more emotions in him. "Hawys is good to us, is she not?" she managed, "But five pounds is but a little to build a marriage on surely?" He nodded and emboldened she went on, "Do you love her, Father? Do you love her like you did mother?" Actually Meggy was not sure whether or not her father had loved her mother. There had been many arguments between them. And the truth of it was that she had never yet heard him arguing with Hawys. But how had it come about that father owed Timothy Newham money? Timothy was a haberdasher and dealt in thread, tape, ribbons and other such things as a milliner also uses. His wares were in demand. She had been by his shop on occasion, sent by Hawys for something or other, and she had seen that the counter and the shelves in the haberdashery were crowded untidily with many things – things such as drinking horns, knives, scissors, combs, chess men, knee spurs and even girdles. Her mind had been turned topsy-turvy with the disorder in his store. There were so many items lying about that one's eyes became confused. "Why do you owe him money, Father?" "He had bought some tin in Cornwall, Megs, and he sold it to me for what seemed like a decent price at the time and I just have not been able to repay what he lent me for it." "Oh." Roger walked into the shop right into Meggy's “oh.” After looking at them for a moment, he began oiling the pewterer's wheel. The conversation fell silent. Father handed Meggy a small linen bag. "Go, Child," he concluded their discussion and then, turning to Roger, "I have some items for you to carry to Lion's Inn." Chapter 4 It was a fine morning and Meggy enjoyed walking. Timothy Newham's haberdashery was a good stretching of the legs away but she was young and relished the long stroll using the time to both look about and to think. Father's calling was to be a pewterer. Father's calling was to be a pewterer. Timothy's, on the other hand, was to be a haberdasher. Haberdasher – she repeated the word in her mind. It was a strange word but it was Timothy Newham's calling. And what was a calling? Calling was using one's voice but it was also something else – actually two other things. “There is a general calling,” father's voice plainly rang in her head, “for everyone. And that is a calling to conversion and holiness. Are you being called, Meggy? Are you God's child?” Father had asked her this question several times and always she had nodded in response, answering, “Yes, to be sure, Father.” But father must not have been satisfied with her sincerity, because he touched on the subject again and again. Was she converted? Was she holy? Even now as she walked the road, she pondered on the question. Truly, she did all things required of her, did she not? And did this not make her holy? She heard father's words again. “All those who come to church and sit in pews, Meggy, are not necessarily converted. To sit in a church does not mean you have been touched by the Spirit of God, Child.” Meggy lifted her skirts to avoid the blackish droppings of a horse straight on her path. Although she stayed close to the buildings, the filth of the streets was difficult to avoid. She was a little nervous too about the rats that scurried through the muck and grime. Of a certainty, father had told her often enough, the accumulation of waste had helped cause the Plague. If everyone would scrub their steps, as Hawys made her clean their steps most mornings, surely the problem would be less. She lifted her skirts again. It was hard work to live and maintain a family in London. She fell back to contemplating. “There is also a particular calling,” father's voice continued on in her head, “for every person, Meggy. And that calling consists of the specific tasks and occupations that God places before a person in the course of his daily living. It might be the work a person does for a living. For me that would be the work or calling of pewterer.” “And what do you think the particular calling is for me, Father?” she had countered, leaning cozily against him as they had sat talking in front of the hearth. He had stroked her hair as he replied, “It might be that of cooking, cleaning, listening to someone's troubles, or smiling.” “Smiling?” she had interrupted sitting up straight, almost laughing at the silliness of the suggestion. “Shall I stand at a booth, Father, selling smiles for ha'pennies to passersby? How could that be?” Father had laughed as well. “You see, Daughter,” he had explained, “you are good at smiling. Quite good, truth be told and God has given you smiles to bestow as a gift to others. Pastor Baxter, whom you have often heard at the conventicles,” he went on, “says there is a difference between washing dishes, scrubbing steps and preaching God's Word; but as touching to please God, there is no difference at all. Do you understand this, Meggy?” She had nodded.

*****

"Hello, Meggy." All the while thinking and walking, she had almost bumped into Timothy, the haberdasher, who was standing in front of his shop window. Timothy's particular vocation, Meggy pondered on for a moment, was being a haberdasher. Of course he was also called to holiness, called to be a child of God? But he never.... "Are you dream-walking, girl?" Timothy spoke in jest as he looked approvingly at the blossoming young girl standing in front of him. Indeed, Meggy was pleasing to the eye. Red-cheeked, shining black braids bounching on her shoulders, clear, bright blue eyes warmly embracing her surroundings, she was a picture of health and self-assertion. Yet, at the same time, there was a shyness about her that appealed to the much older man. "I've brought you your money, Sir," she responded hesitantly after staring at him for a moment, reaching into the deep pocket of her skirt. Pulling up the small linen bag with the five pounds, she added, "Here is the money which father owes you." "Well, I was ready to walk to your house, but will not deny that I am happy you came here. It saves me both time and effort. Will you not come in for a minute while I make sure that all is accounted for?" He opened the door to his shop and extended an arm downward in welcome. Although she did not want to enter, she considered that the matter ought to be settled. Passing in front of him, she entered the haberdashery. Again, as before, the cluttered mayhem of his store overwhelmed her sense of orderliness. "Please sit for a moment," Timothy said, following her into his shop and, wiping the dust off a wooden stool. He indicated that she should make use of it. Lifting her skirts once more, she obliged. "It's a bit messy, I own," he continued, "and I warrant, it could use the touch of a decent woman." He eyed her for a moment before emptying the money into his right hand. Counting it, under his breath, he quickly ascertained that the coins added up to the right sum. "Do you want a receipt?" he went on to ask, "and might I also inquire if you left your father in good health this morning? "He's a bit poorly," she responded, before calling to mind that surely Timothy did not really care about her father's health, for if he had she would not be here now with the linen bag containing the money that he had demanded so crudely in the church foyer yesterday. "Yet he is well enough," she hastily appended. "I've just had a consignment of lace come in," Timothy volunteered the information slowly, regarding the girl as she sat on the stool, "and I'm thinking that a bit of lace would look fetching on your dress, Meggy." He spoke familiarly and it made her uncomfortable so that she gazed down at her hands without responding to his words. "Well then, you must be worried about your father," he went on, "for I call to mind that it is as you say, he did look a bit unwell the last few times I saw him. "He is well enough, Sir," Meggy defended, albeit in a flat tone, eyeing both the floor and the nearby door, hoping that the receipt would be forthcoming soon. "I expect that you've heard that the king will be coming to Whitehall later this week." "Yes, I have." "Indeed, he's come for the healing ceremony during this Lent. I am glad that you have heard of it." Timothy's eyes rested so long on Meggy that she nodded and he spoke on. "I'm surprised you're not more animated by this. The practice of healing by a reigning monarch such as King Charles II assuredly is common knowledge and I've no doubt you'll be wanting to take your father." "No, Sir." But Meggy's voice was unsure and Timothy was quick to latch onto it. He went on capturing her imagination with his words. "The practice of the 'healing touch' was first recorded centuries ago by the historian William of Malmesbury, who related the story of a barren wife. This wife, whose back was covered with ulcers, dreamt she was commanded to go to King Edward for a cure. So she traveled to court. The king, who much desired to help the poor woman, touched her back with water and her ulcers began to heal within a week's time. Not only that, but upon returning home, she was delivered of twins within that same year." Timothy stopped his narrative and considered Meggy's face. During the short discourse, he noted that she had become fascinated hanging onto his every word. Pleased and flattered, he continued, his voice lowered as if confiding a secret. "There have been other tales as well, including one in which King Edward carried a beggar on his back. The beggar was a cripple. The king carried him into St. Peter's church at Westminster after which the beggar was cured." "Is this true?" Meggy asked, eyes round, "I have always been taught that only God can effect a change in disease, so is it not false to say that earthly kings are able to effect cures?" Toffee-nosed, Timothy smiled down at her. "These ceremonies are extremely religious in nature. God gives kings this gift of healing as proof positive that they are chosen by Him to rule. So you need not worry about doing something that is wrong. Now if you are worried about your father's health...." He left the sentence unfinished and seeing her face become eager with hope, he continued in a scholarly tone, "Well then, I would advise you to look into going to Whitehall tomorrow." "Whitehall? Me?" "You speak, Meggy, as if you could not go there. But you could, you know. There are many who will go there." "But Father is not ... and I'm sure he wouldn't go. Besides I don't even know how I could get in." She stopped and shook her head before going on. "And I don't even know if what you are saying, Timothy Newham, is true. It could all be false and you could be telling me a tale." "There were years, it is true, that kings did not touch anyone. And that is probably why you, being some years younger than I am, are not as familiar with it as I am. During the time of Oliver Cromwell the practice was not in vogue at all. But now that a true king rules England once again, the touching ceremony has come back as indeed it should. Parish registers are kept and miracles have been recorded. My uncle is one as who keeps such registers. That is how I know." "I do not know if I ought to believe you or not." Meggy's voice was unsure. "Well," Timothy responded, looking with pleasure at the roses appearing on Meggy's cheeks in her agitation, "all I can tell you is that I can let you have a ticket so that you can enter Whitehall to listen to the ceremonies that will take place tomorrow. If you like what you hear, perhaps the day thereafter...? " He left the sentence dangling. "How is it that you can get such a ticket?" "I told you that my uncle, Robert Newham, is a registrar and he is one who gives out tickets and he has permitted me to sell them to such as are in need of healing." "Tickets?" Meggy responded, "and pray tell how much do these said tickets cost? And the truth of it is that I myself am not in need of healing." "It would not cost you anything, for I will gladly give you such a ticket." "You would?" "It makes me glad to see a daughter care so much for her father as you do for yours, Meggy." "He is not really ill, you know," Meggy responded rather feebly, "but it would do no harm...." She stopped before she added softly, "He would not go though. I know he would not." "Perhaps," Timothy suggested softly, "you might attend with me tomorrow, might attend the first ceremony at Whitehall to see for yourself what happens. Then, I am sure you would be persuaded of the reality of the cures effected by the king's touch. And being persuaded, you could easily convince your father to go the second day." "He is not convinced easily," Meggy responded, all the time seeing the swelling in her father's neck grow. "But you could go with me," Timothy let the words dangle like a carrot in front of her, before he went on "and see for yourself what happens." Meggy did not respond. "It is not an evil thing, Meggy. Gentlemen Ushers prepare the banqueting hall over which the king will preside. These ushers usually spray a perfume of sorts so that the stench of the ill will not overcome either him or bystanders. Next the Yeomen of the Guard bring in the sick, one by one, and they stand in the aisle before the king's place of sitting. It is after this that the king enters and sits down on a chair of state. His personal confessor, the Clerk of the Closet, will be standing at his side. The Prayer Book is placed on a cushion close by. You see, Meggy, it is all very religious and honors God." The girl said nothing, but her eyes were brimful of curiosity and wonder. "The Clerk's assistant," Timothy went on, "has gold medals or 'touch-pieces' hanging on ribbons on his arm. There are also two royal surgeons nearby waiting to escort the sick from the aisle right up to his majesty so that he can touch them. He strokes their necks, you see, in a loving way as they kneel in front of him, prior to their being healed." He stopped his oration and Meggy was torn. The words sounded so very good, so very real and so very loving. "I will go," she suddenly spoke decisively, "I will go with you, Timothy Newham, if you will be so good as to take me so that I can see and hear this firsthand. But I must hide this from Father and Hawys for surely they would think it nonsense. They are not overfond of the king, as you must know, but they do think that prayer...." She stopped and looked at the cluttered counter. So indeed was her heart cluttered, for there were so many things in there that she could not quite see straight. There was something askew with what Timothy was saying, but she could not manage to put her finger on it. “Whether you are well or sick, Meggy,” she could hear father say, “tis the Great God Who brings your state about. He is the One Who prevents sickness or brings it.” She nodded to herself. Yes, here was a bit of uncluttering. Again she heard her father say “Sometimes we are made ill, or someone we know is made ill, to test our faith and patience, Meggy.” "Well, Meggy," Timothy's voice interrupted her thoughts, "if you are of a mind to go with me to Whitehall you must be here at about one of the clock tomorrow. And perhaps the next day you can persuade your father to come with you. Be here promptly and I will be glad to be of service to you and your father. What can it hurt, after all, just to go and have a look?" This was true. Just looking and listening. Where could be the harm in that? She slowly slid down from the stool and stood directly in front of Timothy. He could possibly be an instrument in the hands of God to give her opportunity to help make father better. "I will be here at one of the clock tomorrow," she returned, walking past him out of the shop, not noting that the corners of Timothy's mouth had turned up, exposing square, yellow teeth in a half-smile - a triumphant smile. Chapter 5 Meggy had to tell an untruth at the evening meal in order to be able to leave the house the next afternoon. Allyson, the chandler's daughter, she mentioned to Hawys, her mouth full of pottage, had asked her help in making soap because her mother was ill with the ague. Roger stared at her in a strange way, a sad way almost. It made her feel rather awkward and she swallowed her mouthful with difficulty, because it seemed as if Roger knew that she was lying and that he was disappointed in her. But father smiled a broad smile and commented that this was most kind of her and of course she should go and help her friend.

*****

Bells marked the one o'clock just as Meggy rounded the corner of the haberdasher's street the next day. Timothy, who was just closing the door of his shop, saw her coming. A smug look appeared on his face. Turning, he offered her his arm. She stopped short, confused by the gesture. "Come, come," he said, "you are young and must be escorted. I promise I shall take good care of you." When she still made no motion to take his arm, he scratched his head with his left hand. She marked the dirty fingernails on it. Then he remarked that he had forgotten something of import in his shop which she might find appealing. Stepping back, he unlocked the door of his store. "What have you forgotten?" she asked. "Oh, something you might find interesting," he replied, "Come in and I'll show you." A tad uncomfortable, but curiosity overcoming her sense of acceptable behavior, Meggy crossed over the threshhold once more stepping towards the counter. Timothy closed the door behind them. The click of the latch and the rather musty smell of the place straight away awoke her to the impropriety of the situation. Timothy moved a few paces into the shop. Then he sidled back and stood in front of the door. Particles of dust settled down on the counter. Suddenly extremely anxious, she stood stock still, wishing with all her heart that she had stayed outside. Timothy inched a bit closer. "You know," he mouthed, "you're a very pretty young lady." Meggy stepped sideways. Even though he was still some four feet away, she could smell his sour breath. "So what I forgot to collect was a reward for helping you get into Whitehall," he went on in a rough whisper, "and that reward is just one little kiss." "No!" she whimpered. Her voice had lost its ability to speak loudly, her heart pounded and her hands had turned clammy with fear. She continued pathetically, "Open the door and let me out. I don't want you to...." She did not finish for he had moved forward, had put his hands around her waist and was pulling her towards himself. It was at this point that her voice regained its strength and a high-pitched piercing sound shook the objects on the counter. It flew through the cracks in the wall out into the street. Straightaway the hinges of the door almost flew off their frame as it was flung open. Roger's lanky frame stood tall and forceful in the opening and Meggy had never been so happy to see him. "What's going on here?" he yelled, shoving Timothy into the counter, knocking bows, ribbons, pins, needles and lace onto the ground. The girl immediately slipped past the men, and ran down the street. Her cap was askew and her cheeks were crimson. She did not know where she was going and she did not care. All she knew was that she had to get away. What had she been thinking? What had she done!? Passersby stared. She neither noted nor cared. Finally, out of breath and underneath the overhang of some roofs, she stopped. What a ninny she had been! And what should she do now? She trembled with the horror at the thought of what might have happened. A few minutes later Roger caught up with her. "Meggy!! It's all right. Timothy Newham won't be bothering you again." Without looking up, she began to cry. Roger's arms folded around her and her head leaned heavily against his bony shoulder. "He's a beast," she sobbed, "He's horrible. He ...." "I know," Roger soothed, "but you ought not to have gone in there, Meggy. It's a good thing I was due to go to Whitehall and happened to pass the shop. To tell you the truth, I followed you. Both Mother and I were worried. We knew that Allyson's mother was not ill. So we wondered...." She pulled away, her tear-stained face angry. "But I went to Timothy Newham for father, Roger. He was going to take me to the ceremony. I thought that if the king was giving out the 'healing touch' about which Timothy seemed to know so much, then I ought to find out as much as I could about it. I thought that father ought to... ought to have a chance to... and Timothy said he had tickets." Roger's face became grim. "Surely you didn't believe that chicanery. Timothy Newham is a deceitful man, Meggy. As well, he and the king are both lechers. The king wants to be popular with the people. He wants them to like him. They call him the 'Merry Monarch' but he wants to hide the fact that he is... is....." Roger almost choked on his words, incredulous that she would fall for the jiggery-pokery of such a fraudulent royal ceremony. "But you," Meggy countered, wiping her face with the back of her hand as she spoke, "would work at Whitehall at this ceremony and would thereby help people enter deceit, if what you say is true." "Yes," Roger conceded, "to make some money to help your father and yourself and, of course, my mother. But maybe you are right and I ought not to have such a job." He stood for a moment, gazing down at her, and then repeating, "Yes, I ought not to have taken the job. I was wrong. Nevertheless, I think I will take you to the palace so that you can see for yourself what it is about." "You would take me there?" "Not so that you could take your father there, but so that you can see that you ought not to trust in men, Meggy." She was silent and hung her head. Taking pity on her, Roger went on a little less vehement. "You have heard good preachers often enough, Megs. Remember, their message. We, all of us, are diseased and full of infirmities. This is not such a strange thing here in this world. If your father is indeed ill, and God forbid that it is so, we will use such means as He provides for healing. But God does not use the wiles of such men as Charles II to heal folks. The ill vagabonds that flock to him, wretched creatures such as I see in the streets, only come because Charles provides them with a coin, a 'touch piece.' That is what they call such a coin. Most sell this coin as soon as they leave the palace and use it to buy food or who knows what. Some perhaps really and truly believe that Charles is sent by God to heal them. But would God use black to make white? I think not! Oh, Megs, wake up and trust God!" Roger had unconsciously used her father's pet name for her and she blushed. He continued with a last admonition. "And do you really think that your father would go with you to such a ceremony as would belie his faith?" Chapter 6 There were many beggars lined up by the gate at Whitehall. A host of them had swellings and lesions in their necks. Meggy tried not to stare and pressed close to Roger as they walked past them. Surely Father, she thought, was not as badly off as these people. Actually, he was not like them at all. She came close to rubbing shoulders with one ill wretch who had yellowish fluid oozing down the side of his legs. Her stomach turned. "Come, Meggy," Roger said, "don't stop and don't look so scared." "I'm not scared," she answered in a small voice, even as she eyed an emaciated woman with an ulcerated mass just above her shoulders. Next to the woman, a young boy lay convulsed on the ground, his mother desperately trying to pick him up. A blind man stood behind them. "Come on, Meggy," Roger repeated, "walk quicker." The disfigured disabled her feet. Was the king, she wondered, really such a wonder-worker as to be able to perform miracles? Such a wonder-worker as to heal these unfortunates? Did he have such a closeness to God as to cure these desolates and woebegones? Was father a such a one? "We are nearing the Banqueting Hall," Roger said, "and that is the place where the king will come to touch. One by one these poor creatures will be brought before him. They will kneel before the king and he will stroke their necks." Meggy shuddered. She knew not whether it was the thought of the king actually touching the misery around her that caused her to shudder, or whether it was the thought that it seemed blasphemous on the king's part to think that he had power over illness. They had reached the entrance to the palace and Roger pulled her off to the side. The queue, of which they were not a part, lay both behind and next to them. It was filled with crutches, bandages and disfigured persons. All of them were holding certificates verifying that they would be allowed into the king's banqueting hall. A man hobbled by to the right of them. He was disfigured in an appalling way. Growths of a most horrible kind hung from his neck, dripping both greenish pus and blood. In his dirty hands he clutched a crumpled ticket of admission. The ticket had been, if what Timothy had told her was true, signed and sealed by a minister or church warden declaring that he had never before been “touched” by the king. Despite her revulsion, Meggy ached for the man. He appeared so very ill. Yet there was hope in the very manner he put his feet down, put them down steadily towards the entrance of the palace. Mesmerized, she could not take her eyes of him. It was almost his turn to be admitted. A Yeoman of the King's guard, one who conducted all the ill to a line attended by the surgeon, was also watching him and Meggy read loathing on the guard's face for this particular man. But the man himself noted nothing. His whole being was simply fixed on entering the banqueting hall. "Hey, you! Let me see your certificate." The Yeoman's voice was loud enough so that Meggy could hear each word. Startled, the deformed man handed over his paper to the guard who, after scanning it, threw it to the ground. "It's forged," he announced in a gruff voice, "and I can tell because of the blood on it. You think that you can enter by smearing blood on a piece of paper and not be caught?! You were a fool to think it! Away with you!" Meggy heard a sob catch the man's throat as he watched his paper flutter to the earth. His face ruckled and his eyes, sunken in their sockets, produced tears. What a poor wretch he was!! And it suddenly came to her that she was such a wretch too. And it came to her also that surely this was not the way it should be and not the way it was. Had she not but recently heard pastor Baxter say that you could not let yourself in at the gate of heaven, and that you could not pay your own way into the banqueting hall of Jesus? She had not really understood the words at the time but she understood them now. Pastor Baxter's voice rang clearly in her head as she continued to behold the spurned man. And she beheld herself. “Take heed to yourself,” she heard pastor Baxter say, “for you have a depraved nature. You have sinful inclinations, Meggy! You are verily ugly in nature. And think you that you can come into heaven by your own strength?” Meggy sighed a deep sigh. She recalled her jealousy; she knew that this very day she had lied to her father and to Hawys; and she remembered that her curiosity had almost caused her bodily harm but less than one hour back. Indeed, she was a wretch! Of a certainty, at this very moment she had lost her desire to enter Whitehall and kneel before Charles II. But she did have a deep desire to worship. Indeed, her heart was bowed low within her. It all depended, she thought, whom the king was. To be sure, was it not so that no one needed a certificate to come into the true King's presence. All that was needed was the blood of the Lamb of God. "Therefore, ... we have confidence to enter the holy place by the blood of Jesus ..." Was that not what pastor Baxter had spoken on the last time she heard him at a conventicle? Roger poked at her arm. "Meggy, what are you staring at? Have you seen enough, girl?" She smiled at him. It was a tremulous smile. It was a contented smile. It was the smile God had bestowed on her as a particular calling. "I have Roger.”

Assorted

Vindication and the spider

There are nearly 40,000 different kinds of them around the world. Some can catch frogs, rabbits and even birds with their strong poisons and fangs. They also make webs, those amazing architectural structures that you can bump into during an early morning stroll through the forest. These webs are made of silk – a material which cannot be duplicated even though it's been tried. It is strong and flexible. Spiders are good…even if we don’t think so We tend to look at spiders and shudder. I confess I frequently have done so. My husband has often come when I called for help. He's stood on a chair innumerable times, taken his hanky out of his pocket and collected an eight-legged creature off the ceiling, smiling at me before depositing it outside. We confess that God created these little (or larger) arachnids, and the truth is that everything He made was good. My mind can extol God for the fascinating abilities He has given these little creatures, but my emotions often get the better of me when I encounter a hairy fellow clinging to the side of a cottage, or peering at me from underneath a dock by a lake. It is a truly unique gift that this so very common animal can spin a web, weaving a creation unlike any other on the earth. Producing silk (a chance evolutionary accident? - not likely!) from a tiny but complex body is mind-boggling. Here's a bit of interesting information: a spider can have a waist narrower than one millimeter, and through this waist pass its digestive tract, veins, windpipe and nervous system. Most spiders have rather poor eyesight and can see only short distances. Perhaps this is a comforting thought if you have ever been surprised by one as you were walking a trail! But the arachnid is extremely sensitive. Each one of the thousands of hairs on his or her body is attached to a nerve ending and consequently, to the brain. As a result, the spider can quickly read warning signals. So small and so complex! Creepy for a reason? My husband once spent a few hours with the kids in the backyard hovering over a small hole in the lawn in which a wolf spider had taken up his abode. The life span of a wolf spider is about 305 days. It can spend about one third of its life without eating anything. Created by His heavenly Father to adapt to extreme conditions, it is able to resist hunger by greatly reducing its body metabolism. God created everything in six twenty-four hour days. And everything He created was good. Spiders, in number as well as in diversity, outdo any other predator. Indeed, because so many were created by God, we must deduce that they must be special in His eyes. Every creature that exists has a purpose. And perhaps these eight-legged ones were created to look quite creepy so that they can perform their various tasks in His kingdom without being hunted down by humans. Spider silk is very compatible with human tissue and was, at one time, put onto cuts and wounds by rural folks to help sores to heal. They are also a critical part of the balance of nature. Their ability to create webs manifests God's glory and causes praise for the great Designer and Creator of the universe Who made them. Big and small On the evening of November 13, 2015, a series of coordinated Islamic terrorist attacks occurred in Paris, France. Three suicide bombers struck in various places killing a total of 130 people, as well as wounding 368. It seems that every day someone is killed by a terrorist. As a matter of fact, the grim number of those killed in Syria during 2015, is 55,219. Many of those were Christians. So what does the previous paragraph have to do with spiders? What does it have to do with creatures so strangely created, they evoke both shudders and praise for God. Our God is a God of both the small and the cataclysmic events in history - a God of small creatures and of those made in His image. He is the Almighty Creator and Sustainer of everything. As a matter of fact, it is good to know that nothing, not one thing, is outside of His providence. From worldwide flood to rainbow, from Babel to covenant with Abraham, from babies killed by Pharaoh to burning bush, He is in control. In August of 1572, the year of the infamous St. Bartholomew's Massacre in Paris, France, many Huguenots were assassinated and murdered in cold blood in a wave of mob violence. Although these murders began in Paris, the slaughter lasted several weeks and spread to the surrounding countryside. It seemed no one was safe. A small anecdote records, however, that someone trying to flee from the frenzied killers hid in a brick oven to conceal himself. He fancied he had little hope of escape, as every spot was checked, and rechecked. He prayed inside that oven. And his prayer was heard. God providentially sent a spider to the oven. The small creature spun its silk across the brick. Thick, strong and sticky, it covered the door and hung, shiny and concentric. Then God sent a breeze, and dust blew up from the ground landing on the new web, covering it and making it look old and dingy. It appeared as if no one had touched that oven for days. The hiding place was passed by those seeking his life and the man was saved. He had been vindicated by a spider through the Almighty hand of God. And today those who hide in the shadow of God's wings, (Psalm 17), in spite of the seemingly bleak prospects looming on the horizon of this year, will also be vindicated through the Almighty hand of God. "In righteousness, you shall be established; you shall be far from oppression, for you shall not fear; and from terror, for it shall not come near you. If any one stirs up strife, it is not from Me; whoever stirs up strife with you shall fall because of you. Behold, I have created the smith who blows the fire of coals, and produces a weapon for its purpose. I have also created the ravager to destroy; no weapon that is fashioned against you shall prosper and you shall confute every tongue that rises against you in judgment. This is the heritage of the servants of the Lord and their vindication from Me, says the Lord." – Isaiah 54:14-17 This article first appeared in the March 2016 issue. ...

Assorted

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

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

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

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

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Prince Jonathan on showing up

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

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"Yes, Virginia, there was a Santa Claus"

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

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Merry X-mas

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

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The Great Moon Hoax of 1835

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

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He who has ears, let him hear

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

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Fossil fuels are essential to the modern world

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

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A true story of a journey from sexual exploitation to freedom

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

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Age

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

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Why should we study Scripture together?

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

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Remembering the head nurse and other people

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

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Come now, let us reason together

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

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

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

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The destiny hermeneutic

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

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

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

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Ready Christian answers to life's deepest questions

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

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Maintaining the motivation of elders and deacons

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

Assorted

On tidying up with and without Marie Kondo

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

Assorted, Church history

Santa Claus at Nicea

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Stepping into the story: Hamlet with a happy ending?

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

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

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

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What are we to make of gambling?

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

Assorted

Which bits of the Bible would you walk around with?

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

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Hull humanity

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

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That cloud of witnesses....

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

Adult non-fiction, Assorted

Reflections on "12 ways your phone is changing you"

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

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Aging in hope!

I am 68 years of age and retired, so I suppose I am considered old. In our politically correct times, I am called either a “senior citizen" or "chronologically gifted." What is aging? How do we react to it? These questions are no longer academic for me. When I was in my teens, I thought that people in their fifties were old. At this juncture in my life, a fifty-year-old seems relatively youthful. So aging is ambiguous. Bernard Nash describes aging as a paradox: "Does it not strike you that we all want to live longer but none of us want to grow old?" Throughout our lives we think other people grow older until we gradually realize that we ourselves have aged. Some say that aging can be compared with the fall season when the fruits ripen and the leaves fall; others claim that the moment of aging has arrived when the sum total of memories has become greater than our expectations. Aging, says the American gerontologist Howel, "is not a simple slope which everyone slides down at the same speed. It is a flight of irregular stairs down which some journey more quickly than others." To grow old also means to lose acquaintances and lifelong friends to distance, illness, and death. Obituaries testify that life is the process of aging, and aging is the steady progress of dying within us. Every moment we are alive, we are aging. Life and death are intimately linked. The day is coming when all our earthly possessions will be swept away, including our ability to enjoy them. This is not a morbid view of life – it is simply reality. As the 17th century poet Robert Herrick wrote, Gather ye rose-buds while ye may, Old Time is still a-flying. And this same flower, that smile today, Tomorrow will be dying. So how do we cope with aging? We live in a society that has shown little understanding of growing old, and valued it even less. The Christian literature on aging seems sparse, with far more attention paid to child-rearing. Too little attention has been given to caring for aged parents. DENIAL CAN'T LAST It’s seems the fear of aging has contributed to a denial of reality – if we don’t talk about it, maybe it won’t happen to us, right? This sort of denial is why some find visiting a nursing home a burden. They can't imagine themselves ever being there. They don’t want the reminder of their own mortality. Our society views frankness about death as deviant, a subject not to be discussed in polite company. For many death is the last taboo in Western culture; for others it has become an exploited sentimentality: people don't attend funerals anymore, but instead “celebrations of a life lived.” And when they do talk about death, it is to make light of it, with styrofoam tombstones on the front yard on All Hallows’ Eve. But their atheistic naturalism leaves them unable to face the brute finality of death. And because they are unwilling to return to a biblical perspective, a new generation puts their faith in reports of out-of-body experiences and in New Age mysticism. Still, try as it might, the world cannot keep death out of sight and mind. The moment we are born, we begin to die. PERPETUAL TEENAGERS The world’s death denial is evident, too, in how it is now a common goal among the aged to stay young. Or, rather, not just stay young, but stay immature. Whereas in the past becoming an adult was the ideal, today the older generation wants to look as young as possible, with some trying to camouflage their age by dressing like teenagers. In his own inimitable and not very flattering way, British journalist Malcolm Muggeridge reported on a month he spent at a resort in Florida. He said that everything was done to make senior citizens feel that they were not really aged, but still full of zest and expectations; if not teenagers, then keenagers. These seniors, he said, had withered bodies arrayed in dazzling summer wear, hollow eyes glaring out of garish caps, skulls plastered with cosmetics, lean shanks tanned a rich brown, bony buttocks encased in scarlet trousers. Muggeridge's description may be exaggerated, but it does say something about the affect contemporary youth culture has on our society. It has a negative and morbid view of aging. FOREVER ON EARTH? The advertisement industry contributes to this mood. Wherever we look, there are ads for anti-aging creams, yoga routines, nutritional programs, and medical interventions. Growing old is seen not so much as part of the human condition but rather as a solvable medical and scientific problem. Hence, doctors and scientists search for a solution to the "problem of old age." What are the chances that scientific advance will find a way to extend life indefinitely? A number of investors have paid large sums to have their bodies frozen at death by means of cryogenics, which is used to freeze beef and vegetables, as well as people. But as Dr. Russell points out in his secular work Good News About Aging, those who cherish dreams of being defrosted and living forever some time hence are probably cherishing an implausible dream because freezing destroys human body cells. He adds: "…even if we can overcome this and other problems, no scientific evidence suggests that we can expect to eliminate death now or in the future because all things break down over time." And what if we could live forever? In our fallen world, would we really want to? In his 1922 play The Makropulos Secret, Karel Capek probes this issue with the 337-year-old character Emilia, who notes: "… no one can love for three hundred years – it cannot last. And then everything tires one. It tires one to be good, it tires one to be bad. The whole earth tires one. And then you find out there is nothing at all: no sin, no pain, no earth, nothing." What a hideous future! To be given an everlasting longevity without being regenerated by the Holy Spirit, without hope to be with the Lord in the new heaven and earth, is a dismal prospect. It is to live under a curse. If we could live on in this world with all its pain, conflicts, without solving the immense human problems, a medically-expanded life would simply set the stage for more of same human conflicts and social injustices. IMPATIENCE INSTEAD OF HONOR Death denial is also evident in our youth’s treatment of the elderly. Aging frustrates modern youth – it interferes with their desire "to get things done." Have you ever noticed the impatience shown in a lineup at the bank when a senior is trying to carry out a transaction? Their slower pace often exasperates the clerk and the younger customers waiting for their turn. These young people can’t imagine ever being in the same situation. Sure, other people age…but not them. The conflict between the generations is a subject of much discussion. Many seem to view aging as a process to endure and suffer through, rather than as a temporally contingent gift from God to be approached with gratitude. The Canadian philosopher George Grant observed that old age is more and more seen as an unalleviated disaster, not only for those outside of it but by those people who are old themselves. And he noted that we do not see age as that time when the eternal can be realized, and we therefore pity the aged as coming to the end of historic existence. Sociologists even refer to ageism, which can be defined as a general distaste for the elderly in our culture – equivalent to racial prejudice, but in this case unfair generalizations are made about any who are old: “all elderly people are forgetful," "all elderly people are ill-tempered," "all elderly people suffer from depression,” or “mental impairment is endemic to aging.” Contrary to the myth about aging, seniors do not necessarily decline in intelligence or lose their decision-making abilities. History gives us countless examples of creative, active, and productive seniors. At 71, Michelangelo (1475-1564) was appointed the chief architect of St. Peter's Cathedral in Rome. After he was 63 years old, Joost Van den Vondel (1587-1679), Holland's greatest poet, wrote Jephta, Lucifer and Adam in ballingschap (Adam in exile). George Bernhard Shaw (1856-1679), Irish dramatist and author, wrote Farfetched Fables at 93. Polish-born Arthur Rubinstein (1888-1982) gave a stunning performance at Carnegie Hall at the age of 90. Like these famous people, there are millions of elderly people who are still productive and active in their own way and want to remain so. Ageism seems to comes about because people know little about old age, and because what they know is based on myth and fear. People even talk about generational wars. In recent years, the conflict between the generations has become most noticeable due to the decreasing ability of government to pay for health and pension benefits. The pinch is already provoking generational conflict in the ambitious welfare states of Northern Europe, where birthrates and immigration rates are lower than in the United States and where the elderly wield considerable political clout. Young Europeans are complaining about the high cost of healthcare for the elderly, and are resentful of fees that are eroding the tradition of free university education. One German youth leader gained notoriety by suggesting that old folks should use crutches rather than seek expensive hip replacements. Unfortunately, this generational conflict is also seen in churches today. Seniors don't like to call their dominee “pastor Jack” and they certainly don’t like his casual appearance when he comes visiting. But when a vacant church thinks of calling a pastor there is a strong emphasis on youth. It seems that some search committees look for a twenty-five-year-old man with thirty years of experience. A CHRISTIAN ALTERNATIVE The differences between the generations don't need to lead to conflicts. Christians can offer alternative understandings of aging. The Bible views the conflict between generations as abnormal. Yes, youth is a wonderful thing, but it is not the only thing. It is a blessing in many ways, but it can, on some occasions even be a curse. When Isaiah pronounced judgment on Jerusalem and Judah, he said, "I will make boys their officials; mere children will govern them" (Isa.3:4). Young and old can come to mutual understanding and appreciation of each other. In the Kingdom of God, "Children's children are a crown of the aged, and parents are the pride of their children" (Prov. 17:6). Old men dream dreams and young men see visions (Joel 2:28; cf. Acts 2:17). And God promises that He will be with His people of every age bracket. "Even to your old age and gray hairs I am He, I am He who will sustain you" (Isa. 46:4). So how do we face the twilight years of life? With feelings of dread… or of hope? Let’s delve further into God’s Word and see. AGING IN THE OLD TESTAMENT In the Old Testament we find that God regards great age as the supreme reward of virtue. The aged were shown respect and honor. Old age is a blessing and not a curse. Scripture says, "Rise in the presence of the aged, show respect for the elderly and revere your God" (Lev.19-32). The psalmist testifies to growing old in hope. He says, "The righteous ... will still bear fruit in old age; They will stay fresh and green, proclaiming, The Lord is upright; He is my Rock, and there is no wickedness in him" (Ps. 92:14-15). Growing old became a symbol of blessing, wisdom, and righteousness – an honorable process by which God rewarded those who were obedient, for example, in honoring their own parents: "Honor your father and your mother, so that your days may be long in the land that the Lord your God is giving you" (Ex. 20:12). In Proverbs readers are essentially promised a long life if their hearts will but, “keep my commandments; for length of days and years of life and abundant welfare they give you" (3:1-2). The very display of gray hair itself, a sure sign of growing old throughout the centuries, becomes in Scripture "a crown of glory; it is gained in a righteous life" (Prov. 16:31). By pushing the elderly aside to fringes of society, we diminish them and make our society the poorer through the loss of their experience and maturity. When Moses was 80 years old, God called him to lead His people to the Promised Land. At that greatly advance age, Moses became the historian, leader, and statesman of Israel. At about 85 years of age, Joshua was divinely commissioned to succeed Moses. At his death at 110 years of age, he was deeply mourned and his eminent service widely acknowledged (Josh. 24:29-31). A NEW TESTAMENT BLESSING TOO In the New Testament the attitude towards aging is no different from that in the Old Testament. Those who reached an advanced age were honored and esteemed in the community. Aged saints have a significant role in the opening chapter of Luke's Gospel. The first characters to appear on the stage are the priest Zechariah and his wife Elizabeth, who were both "advanced in years" (Luke 1:7). They are the instruments of God's purposes and the first interpreters of God's saving acts. Simeon and Anna are the prophetic chorus welcoming the child Jesus on the occasion of his purification in the Temple (Luke 2:22-38). The remarkable thing is that the aged Simeon dies in the beginning of the Gospel account. His eyes are fixed in hope on the one newly born, in whose life, death, and resurrection the world will know peace. He has long been hoping for "the consolation of Israel," and has been promised by the Holy Spirit that he will not die before he has seen the Lord's Messiah. Anna – an eighty-four-year-old prophetess who frequents the Temple to worship and pray night and day – recognizes Jesus, gives thanks to God, and declares the news about him "to all who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem" (2:38). As people who have clung to God's promises over many years, they embody the virtues of long-suffering patience and trust in God's ultimate faithfulness. They also exemplify faith and hope, even when circumstances seem hopeless. Aging was not seen by the early Christians as a "problem" to which some sort of religious solution was required. In the entire New Testament, particularly in the Pastoral Epistles, the respect due to older members of the community is emphasized. The exhortations imply and speak explicitly of dutifully caring for widows, honoring the elderly, imitating their faith, and faithfulness. For example, "Do not rebuke an older man, but exhort him as you would a father." Here we find also specific directives that the community should provide assistance to widows over age of sixty, and that women recognized by the Church as widows should devote their energies to prayer, hospitality, and to service to the afflicted (1 Tim.5: 3-16). In our youth obsessed culture, the elderly are strongly tempted to act youthful. They are expected to get a workout to remain in shape, get beauty treatments to rejuvenate themselves, and to dress in youth fashions. Should seniors long to be young again? I don't think so. For Christians old age is not a dead-end street. As we age, we can still grow spiritually. The apostle Paul wrote to the Corinthians "Do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day" (2 Cor. 4:16). He said to the Ephesians that we can progressively succeed in putting off the old self and putting on the new self and "be made new in the attitude of our minds." This renewal through the Holy Spirit impacts our mental attitude, state of mind, and disposition with respect to God and His world throughout our life. In other words, we continue to develop our walk with God (Eph. 4:22-24). NEVER TO OLD TO SERVE THE LORD Dr. Viktor E. Frankl, who suffered unspeakable horror in Nazi concentration camps, says that there is no reason to pity old people. And he adds this remarkable statement, "Instead, young people should envy them." Why? Because seniors have something young people don't possess. Frankl says that seniors have realities in the past – the potentialities they have actualized, the values they have realized – and nothing and nobody can ever remove these assets from the past. In Book X of his Confessions, Augustine (354-430) calls memory a "vast court" or "great receptacle." The elderly have a rich storehouse of memories, and inner landscape to explore: times lost in idleness, opportunities well used, a fulfilling career, children grown up, and suffering gone through with dignity and courage. What an opportunity for our youth to tap into the memories of their grandparents! Covenantal obligations never cease. The Christian faith is passed on from one generation to the next. It depends on that transmission. That’s why there must always be a most intimate relationship between the present and the coming generation if there is to be a future generation of Christians. The Church cannot be the Church without the elderly. They are the embodiment of the Church's story. Of course, we do not expect that all the elderly will be able to express the "wisdom of their years." But there can be no substitute for some old people in the Church passing on their wisdom to the younger generation. The youth simply cannot do without the older generation. In our culture, for a few years young adults may pretend (egged on by social and cultural forces) that they can live forever as autonomous, self-reliant, self-fulfilling beings. The pretense, however, collapses soon enough. The presence of the visible vulnerable elderly is a reminder that we are not our own creators. All of us will age; dark and blond hair will turn grey. Consequently, young Christians need the elderly so they will not take their lives for granted. I will say it again: the Church cannot be the Church without the elderly. That's why throughout history the Church has frowned on separating the young from the old through conducting youth services. I have even read about a Church where no older people were expected to attend. But according to Scripture old and young belong together. They are all part of the great family of God. Our covenant youth need to hear from their grandparents and seniors in the Church what it means to be a Christian. Grandparents know the family traditions and values. They can tell the story of their wartime experiences, their immigration with its hardship and adventures, and the reasons for leaving the country of their birth. Seniors can give to the youth the lessons and spiritual resources that have been harvested over a lifetime. Our times are so confusing and threatening for our young people. Why not explain to them that the Christian faith is for all of life: hence the founding of Christian schools, colleges, universities, a Christian labor association, Christian magazines and bi-weeklies, and a Christian political party? Why not tell them that doing good works is doing your work well? Why not testify to them how the Lord's promise "Surely I am with you always" (Matt.28:20) is a reality and not a myth? The lessons learned from godly grandparents and other Christian seniors are often long remembered. HOPE IN CHRIST As we age, we become more aware of the swift passing of years. We can either let the fear of death put a mental stranglehold on us or we can look to the future with hope. Let’s remember, the best is yet to come! Jesus Christ, the risen and ascended Lord is the ground of our hope and the promise of our deliverance. The hope of the resurrection lies at the heart of the way in which Christians embody the practices of growing old. We serve a faithful God who will never forget us! We are strangers and pilgrims on earth, the older we become the nearer we are to our eternal home. This truth encourages even the oldest individual to cherish each moment of life while preparing to relinquish it. Each day is a gift from God. We look to Him for our daily bread while making sure that we seek first the kingdom of God rather than squandering our time and energy on secondary concerns. With the prospect of a glorious future for all who are in Christ, we can identify with Martin Luther's suggestions that "in the purpose of God, this world is only a preparation and a scaffolding for the world to come." I also think of John Calvin's teaching in his Geneva Catechism that we are "to learn to pass through this world as though it is a foreign country, treating all things lightly and declining to set our hearts on them." We all face death some time or another. When we are old, it is more of a reality than in the days of our youth. I pray that our attitude toward death may resemble that of Lutheran pastor, scholar, and resistance leader Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who with shining face in joyful expectation, said to the two Nazi guards who had to come to take him to be executed, "For you it is the end, for me the beginning." Rev. Johan Tangelder (1936-2009) wrote for Reformed Perspective for 13 years and many of his articles have been collected at ReformedReflections.ca. This is an edited version of a two-part article that first appeared in the 2004 November and December issues. ...

Adult non-fiction, Assorted

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

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

Assorted

Older women have much to give

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

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

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

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"Othercott" – like a boycott but better

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

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John Piper on debating moral issues in the public square

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

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To be known

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

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

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

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On being separated

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

Assorted

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

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

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

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

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A plea to read

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

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4 reasons to remember your Creator in your youth

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

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If only for this life we have hope in Christ...

But if it is preached that Christ has been raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? ....if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost. If only for this life we have hope in Christ we are to be pitied more than all men (1 Cor. 15:12-19). **** My husband and I have already attended a few funerals this last year. They were peaceful funerals – funerals of saints who lived in the hope of Christ and saints who are now rejoicing in heaven with our Lord. There were tears at these funerals, to be sure, but they were tears that were spilled into the cup of the new covenant established by Jesus' blood. The truth is that we live on a slope. That truth is that all life tilts towards the grave. Human beings – from the very first moment of conception, slide towards death. Most people are afraid of burial. There are many who quip: "I'm not planning to die" and then they laugh. To be put into a coffin, into a small confined space, and to have a lid closed over your face – that is not a pleasant thought. For people who have not spent much time contemplating a Savior, it is an experience they would rather avoid. WHERE THE SCARY STORIES BEGAN? Stories abound about people having been buried alive throughout history. There is the tale of Alice Davies. In 1656, Alice married a man by the name of William Blunden of Basingstoke. The Blundens were a well-established family who ran a flourishing business. Alice could consequently be congratulated on her very fine match. William was a maltster, that is to say, he was a brewer of malt. The malting process converts raw grain into malt. Malt is used mainly for brewing or whiskey making, although it can also be used to make malt vinegar. William Blunden seems to have brought his work home with him. Both Alice and William often enjoyed downing a glass of ale. It is not surprising therefore that an old text describes Alice as “a fat, gross woman who had accustomed herself many times to drink brandy.” Perhaps Alice was, for some unknown reason, deeply unhappy and tried to drown whatever it was that discomfited her. She did have two children and was not in any material want. Besides brandy she also regularly imbibed poppy-tea. Poppy-tea is an herbal infusion brewed from poppy seeds. The dried pods contain opiate alkaloids, primarily consisting of morphine. The tea is consumed for its narcotic effect, and in small amounts was used as a sedative. Alone one evening, her husband having traveled to London on business, Alice, drank a sizable quantity of this tea. Afterwards she fell into a deep sleep – a sleep from which she could not be wakened. The household servants called the local Basingstoke apothecary. After checking her, the apothecary concluded that Alice had died. Alice was, as stated previously, a very heavy woman. Although husband William had sent instructions that the funeral be deferred until he returned from London, other relatives deemed it necessary that the body be interred as quickly as possible. Old manuscripts spell out that “the season of the year being hot, and the corpse fat, it would be impossible to keep her.” They did not heed William's request to wait and Alice was buried without any delay. A few days later some boys, playing a game near the cemetery, heard a voice calling out. It is not recorded what the voice said. In panic they ran home and told their parents. Initially no one believed these boys, but then the same voice was heard by others passing the graveyard. Following the sound of the voice, they arrived at poor Alice's grave. Upon opening the coffin, they discovered her body to be most “lamentably beaten.” It was concluded that Alice appeared to have regained consciousness in the coffin and had tried very hard to escape. No one could detect any signs of life in the woman at this point and so the lid was put back on and the coffin lowered into the earth once more. A coroner was sent for to examine the body the next day. Great was everyone's consternation, however, when upon opening the coffin for the second time, the body was found to have “torn off a great part of the winding sheet, scratched herself in several places and beaten her mouth until the blood ran.” The coroner, upon examining the body very carefully, did pronounce Alice Blunden finally dead. She was reinterred once more. Those responsible for her initial burial were summoned to court, but although they were fined for neglect of duties, no one was ever convicted. A fairly gruesome tale, to be sure. A “safety coffin” featured in the January 1, 1901 Medical Art and Indianapolis Medical Journal: Volume 4. The fellow inside demonstrates how he can ring a bell, raise a small ball high up in the air to alert passersby, and also open a passageway for air. SO VERY FEARFUL There is another story of a man by the name of Robert Robinson who lived in the mid 1700s. In his youth Robert attended the dissenting seminary at Plasterer's Hall – an academy which trained young Christian men for the ministry and a school which had teachers who were devoted to Calvinism. Robert abandoned Calvinism, however, while at the academy, and began leaning heavily towards Unitarianism. After graduating, he served several parishes, but resigned amidst controversy in 1777. Uncomfortable with the thought of dying and worried about being buried alive, Robert Robinson made preparations for his interment. When he died one day in December of 1791, his coffin was placed in a square, red-brick building which had been built on his property. At his instructions a movable glass pane was inserted into the coffin, and his little mausoleum also had an inspection door. A watchman was instructed to pass along daily after Robert's death to see if there were signs of breath on the glass pane. His relatives, as well, were requested to visit his grave periodically and to check for signs of life. These are interesting stories, telling stories and stories which reveal a great deal about human nature. The truth is that if people rely on their own reasoning and philosophy, they have no hope at all. The fear of being buried alive is called taphephobia (Greek for grave + fear). In the early 1900s this rather widespread fear led to the creation of so-called safety coffins. These coffins had some sort of mechanism installed in them for communicating with the living – mechanisms such pulleys and ropes which were attached to bells above ground. Hence the term “saved by the bell.” Hans Christian Andersen, the fairy-tale writer, was petrified of being buried alive. A note on the table next to his bed read, “I only appear to be dead” and when he was not sleeping he wore the note around his neck. Frederic Chopin wrote to someone: “The earth is suffocating. Swear to make them cut me open so that I won't be buried alive.” President George Washington requested of his secretary: “Have me decently buried; and do not let my body be put into a vault in less than three days after I am dead.” THE ANSWER TO FEAR Most people are afraid to die, let alone be buried in a coffin. Most people are afraid of what happens after they die. God has, however, in His great mercy, given us a note, and has left us instructions with regard to our fears of death and burial. He has penned, through the Holy Spirit, the factual story and the reality of an empty tomb in all four of the Gospels – an empty tomb, a resurrection and an ascension. The answer to the fear of death and burial is to become well-acquainted with this reality of the empty tomb; to become well-acquainted with the Savior, Jesus Christ, the eternal Son of God. He teaches that although our earthly sojourn will end one day, and that physical death will end our earthly life, it is but our doorway into eternal fellowship with Him. The tomb did not hold Jesus. “Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep” (I Cor. 15:20), and it will not hold anyone who believes in Him. “The body that is sown is perishable, it is raised imperishable” (I Cor. 15:42b). ...thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ (I Cor. 15:57).   Christine Farenhorst is the author of many books, her latest being Katherina, Katherina, a novel taking place in the time of Martin Luther. You can read a review here, and buy it at www.sola-scriptura.ca/store/shop....

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Hospitality hacks for folks who want to be, but keep finding excuses not to be, hospitable

As Christians, we know that hospitality is important, but if you've ever tried it, you also know that it can be really hard, and we can find so many reasons to put it off. When I moved out of my parents' house five years ago, I decided to try to invite everyone from my church over at least once in the space of a year. As a single person, I had to get creative as I set out on this endeavor. Here are some things I learned by doing and by observing. 1) Just do it Hosting people can be very intimidating. What will we talk about? What if they don't like the food I made? Just remember that God blesses all obedience and He has clearly commanded that we show hospitality (1 Peter 4:9). Even if at the end of the visit you feel that it went poorly, remind yourself that God is pleased with your obedience, and His pleasure is ultimately what we're after.  2) Think about inviting more than one family When you invite more than one family that means you can leave them to talk to each other while you prepare food/get things ready. This also takes the pressure off you to keep the conversation going because if you have more people together, naturally there will be more opinions and topics coming up. 3) When inviting strangers, have some prepared questions/topics to discuss If I don't know the people coming over, I try to have some getting-to-know-you-questions and interesting topics in the back of my mind so that if the conversation gets stale I can revive it. 4) Know how to cook something You don’t have to be a master chef to have people over - most people don't care what you feed them (though it is always wise to ask about allergies and if there are any foods they don't like). But it is good to put in some practice until you have few staple recipes up your sleeve so you can cook without getting stressed. It's also handy to have extra cookies in the freezer – cookies are a treat even unthawed – and ingredients for a meal that's quick to put together for when you haven't had time to prepare. 5) Take people up on their offers Often, when I invite people over, they ask if they can bring something. Say "yes." If you're making soup, one family could bring buns and another family could bring dessert. This helps cover the cost of feeding a lot of people and it makes people feel more comfortable when they've helped out. 6) Remember the kids Own toys and books for children. This doesn’t need to be costly if you keep an eye out at garage sales or visit a thrift store or two. And if you have children, hosting families with other children is a wonderful opportunity to teach them to look not only to their own interests but also to the interests of others (Philippians 2:4). 7) Know it doesn't have to be perfect It's more important that you actually practice hospitality than that you're all put together. It's nice if your house is clean, but it's okay if it's not. We all have homes. We all know homes get messy. Some of the best visits have happened when I've left the dishes heaped on the counter, thrown together some macaroni, and we ate off plastic plates. Conclusion Finally, when it comes to being hospitable perhaps the most important thing of all is deciding that you will be. God doesn't call us just to host the people we like. We are to welcome strangers, our neighbors, and our church families. Maybe you're church is too big to have everyone over in a year. Could you do it in two years? Three years? At the very least you could try to talk to everyone in the lobby after church in the course of a year. Give it a try. Don't know your neighbors? Start by saying "hi" and learning their names. You could host a games night, invite them over for pizza, shovel their driveway, or plan a block party. The Art of Neighboring by Jay Pathak and Dave Runyon is a good resource on neighboring well. And remember, hospitality is how you get to know strangers. Look around you at church on Sunday morning, I'm sure there will be visitors you could talk to. If you invite them into your home that's fantastic, and if you simply talk to them at church it's still showing hospitality as you welcome them in your church setting. Through hospitality we tangibly show God's love to those around us. Prayerful consider how much you and your family can do this year. And then do it....

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The Gift: an allegory of sorts

"Why do you always have that small string wrapped around the top button of your sweater, father?" The father smiled at his son. "Have I never told you?" he replied. "No, sir." The father fingered the small, grey string thoughtfully. It was almost hidden within the confines of the thick wool of his sweater. Then he sat down, held out his arms to the child and took him onto his lap. "Once," he began, "Once..." Chapter 1 - The eagle awakes At precisely six thirty, when the sun had already risen, Arend heard the alarm rattle in Cousin Janie's bedroom. He had woken up to it every morning for the past six months. The urgent shrillness traveled insistently and angrily through the thin walls of one of the little houses on Tooker's Road, rudely tweaking Arend's earlobes, making him pull the blanket over his head. Tooker's Road was not really a road, but a small lane. About twenty-five homes stood next to and across from one another along both sides of a gravel path. The adjoining land had once belonged to a farmer by the name of Tooker. In need of a little money, he'd sold off twenty-five parcels of two-acre lots for four hundred dollars a piece. That's how the houses had been born. Small homes they might be, but they were homes boasting a bit of acreage. Although narrow and barely qualifying as thoroughfare, cars did use Tooker's Road enough so that when you crossed over to the other side you had to keep an eye out. Arend lay quite still under his blanket, waiting for Cousin Janie to wake up, waiting to hear her trudge across the linoleum tiles of her bedroom towards the bathroom. He had listened for her sleepy footfall every morning this past half year and he continued to be perplexed as to how Cousin Janie could not want to wake up. He was constantly amazed that she would not want to peek out the window to see if the grass was still green; that she would not want to ascertain whether the sky was still as vast and magnificent as it had been the day before; and that her blood was not throbbing with the desire to embrace the very air around her. Pushing the blanket back down, Arend folded his thin, little arms under his head and stared up at the cracks in the ceiling. One of the cracks ran all the way from the light bulb in the center of the ceiling down to the right corner. It was a crack that split off into other smaller cracks. A fat fly crawled over the naked bulb and buzzed down to the floor. There were many such flies who called this room their home. When the sun shone into Arend's bedroom in the late afternoon, they all vibrated and spun around on the floor simultaneously. Cousin Janie called it their death dance. She vacuumed them up every chance she got, but Arend rather liked the sound of the buzzing. The tap stammered water in the bathroom. The yellow faucet only produced thin trickles of water at intervals. It was enough though, to fill cupped hands so that you could splash wetness onto your face and sputter into a towel. He could imagine Cousin Janie standing on the bathmat in front of the oval sink, shivering in her blue nightie. Grinning, he sat up, turned around onto his knees and stuck his head under the green curtains which hung just behind the iron headboard of his bed. There was a robin on the lawn. It was pulling hard at a worm. Arend itched to go out. He didn't really know what it was he desired to do. Just to go out would be enough. He ached to hear the birds singing their cheerful, early songs in the tree tops; he wanted to feel the dew wet his feet; and he yearned to feel the smooth blades of the lilac bush leaves between his fingers. Sighing deeply, he leaned his chin on the palm of his right hand. Cousin Janie's car stood on the driveway. It was an old, blue Pontiac and rust had eaten away a great deal of the body. Sometimes she had trouble starting it and then she would grumble because the bus was the only other recourse to get to work. The problem was that she had to walk a half mile towards the city bus stop and in Cousin Janie's high heels, that was no picnic. The tap stopped running. A few minutes later the toilet flushed. Arend lay back down. It was only a matter of a few minutes now before Cousin Janie would pass his bedroom, calling as she passed to tell him that there were corn flakes on the counter and could he please clean up afterwards and could he remember to peel potatoes for supper tonight? Yes, he nodded to himself, for had he not always remembered these things in the time that he had lived here? Always was a very long word. There was a time, he pondered, as he folded the thin arms under his head again, a time before always. Cousin Janie was not really and truly his cousin. She was his mother's cousin and actually she had not really known his mother that well. And his father... well, he did not like to think of his father. "Arend," Cousin Janie's voice startled him, even though he had been waiting for it, "Arend, the cornflakes are on the counter. Please remember to clean up after you eat and please remember to peel the potatoes for supper tonight." "Yes, Cousin Janie." Arend grinned at the cracks in the ceiling. A few minutes later the side door opened and closed, the screen slammed shut, and he could hear Cousin Janie's footsteps patter down the steps and crunch on the gravel as they headed for the car. Then the car door opened and closed, and a minute later, after a bit of coughing, the car started. Sighing in relief, Arend resisted the temptation to peek out the window again. It was truly the beginning of his day now. Lithely he swung his feet over the edge of the bed even as the car wheels ground over the fine stones of the driveway. Sitting up, he took off his pajama top. Reaching for his shirt, socks and pants, he scooted off to the bathroom. The blue linoleum was cold under his bare feet, but that was no matter. After he had splashed himself in the face and dried off with a clean but hard hand towel, he pulled on his cotton tee shirt. It was a black tee shirt and underneath the crew neck a picture of Davy Crockett, gun in hand, stared out courageously from his small chest. He loved that tee shirt and Cousin Janie literally had to sneak it off his bedside chair for washing when he was asleep or he would wear it all the time. He'd seen the movie "Davy Crockett, Indian Scout" at school the last day before the Christmas holidays, just before he'd moved in with Cousin Janie. And ever since he'd seen it, he'd had a keen desire to be an Indian scout himself. School was finished for the year now and there would be no bus to pick him up today. He was his own master and could truly do what he liked. Cousin Janie had been insistent that he stay within distance of the house while she was at work. He had faithfully promised her that he would, clearly envisioning within his mind that he could walk a long, long way into the field behind the house and still see the house, and that there was a great deal of exploring he could do while keeping that promise. Chapter 2 - Petrus & peanut butter He cleaned up as tidily as he could after eating breakfast. Diligently wiping the counter clean after he washed his plate and spoon and cup, he even swept the floor with the broom. Surveying the kitchen afterwards, he nodded, quite pleased with himself. Why Cousin Janie complained about housekeeping was a mystery to him. There was nothing to it. He would leave the potato peeling until later. First he had to get out and see if there were any tracks in the field. It had rained last night and surely if deer had come around, there would be tracks. He had marked their hoof prints before, indented large as life between the wide and growing rows of corn. But today, on this first day of his holidays, he would be able to follow those tracks, follow them to wherever they led. Making himself a peanut butter sandwich, he scouted around the cupboards for something in which to wrap his lunch. Finding nothing, he decided the sandwich would have to fit into his back pocket. Then he was off, the screen door slamming shut behind him. The next few hours were blissfully wrapped up in the knowledge that freedom was his: freedom to catch tadpoles in the small creek between Cousin Janie's house and the farmer's field; freedom to climb an oak tree and scan the horizon for Indians; freedom to lie down between the corn stalks watching their green leaves gently sway in the breeze; and freedom to lazily observe black beetles lumber past dew puddles on the ground. And then, strangely enough, Arend fell asleep. **** "Hey, boy! Hey, boy, what are you doing here?" Arend groggily opened his eyes. He thought he was waking up in his bedroom and tried to decipher the cracks in the ceiling. But all he saw were the cracks in a face, an old, old face. "Hey, boy!" the voice repeated, "Wake up!" Then the face smiled and one of the eyes in the face winked at him. "Are you running away from someone and hiding?" Still lying down, Arend shook his head even as he began the process of sitting up. "No," he said. "Well then, what are you doing here?" "School's over and I'm exploring," Arend explained. "Exploring?" He was a tall, a very tall man. His bony jaw jutted out and his eyes, although one of them had just winked cheerfully, were a piercing dark blue. "So you're not running away?" "No, I'm not," Arend answered again, and then, because he had been told by Cousin Janie over and over to speak with two words, he added, "Sir." "Well, I am." The old man promptly sat down next to him, put a finger on his lips and motioned that Arend should keep quiet. The boy was not afraid but rather fascinated.  "She'll be shouting in a minute. Don't say anything, mind." Arend nodded and sure enough, a few moments later a woman's voice rang through the air. "Petrus! Petrus, where are you?" The man poked Arend with his elbow and gleefully whispered, "Didn't I tell you she'd shout?" "Petrus, come out this very minute. I'm getting angry!" "Sometimes Cora gets so angry," the man confided softly to Arend's left ear, "that she turns redder than a tomato. Sometimes I think she might explode." This so amused him that he began to chuckle and had to clap his hand over his mouth to stifle his laughter. Arend couldn't help it, but he began to grin. They sat in silence for a few minutes while the woman's voice kept on calling and calling. Finally a screen door slammed shut. Arend presumed Cora had given up and gone inside. "The only thing is," the man went on, sobering up, "I'm so hungry. I think lunch time is soon and Cora does make a good lunch." As he spoke, his face fell. Arend turned onto his knees and put his hand into his back pocket. The peanut butter sandwich was still there. It had stretched out flat, like a square pancake. He extracted it and held it in front of the old man. "Peanut butter," he whispered, "and you can have half if you like." To show that he meant what he said, he tore the sandwich in two and held out one half to the man. A smile twinkling in his eyes again, Petrus regarded Arend with joviality and readily accepted the half proffered to him. "You are my friend, and friends give their names. What is yours?" "Arend." "Mine is Petrus." Contentedly Petrus took a bite from the bread and began to chew. Suddenly a look of apprehension crossed his face. Taking the half-chewed bread out of his mouth, he put it on his lap. "I forgot to pray," he said. "Pray?" Arend repeated. "Yes, don't you pray?" Petrus didn't wait for an answer, but folded his hands and respectfully recited, "Lord, bless this food for Jesus' sake, Amen." Satisfied, he popped the bread back into his mouth and resumed chewing. But he regarded Arend carefully as he chewed. "Don't you pray for your food?" he asked, his mouth full. "I don't know how." Arend truthfully replied. "Well, you fold your hands and ask God to bless your food. Unless, of course," Petrus added, as he took another bite, "you are going to bed. In that case, you ask Him to take care of you during the night and," he went on as he took another big mouthful, "you also ask Him to forgive your sins for Jesus' sake." "Oh," Arend said, not understanding exactly but rather taking it all in as if the teacher at school were explaining the new sound in a word. "So you try it," Petrus encouraged, "Just fold your hands and I'll help you." "Cousin Janie doesn't pray," Arend whispered, beginning to feel a little uncomfortable, "and I don't know God." Petrus' eyes opened wide at this revelation and the grooves in his forehead deepened. He said nothing, but took another bite. It was his last bite. "Well," he finally commented, swallowing the oddment, "if you're not going to pray for your food, you may as well give me your half of the sandwich. It's better, I think, for me to eat it because I prayed, and you didn't." "Does it taste better when you pray?" Arend ventured to ask. "Yes," Petrus confidentially answered as he took the other half out of Arend's hand, "much better." They sat for a while in silence, Petrus chewing and swallowing assiduously. Then Arend asked, "Is Cora your mother?" This set Petrus off into gales of laughter, almost choking on the peanut butter. "My mother?" he finally managed to gasp, "My mother?" "Yes," Arend replied, "isn't that why she is looking for you?" "If she was my mother," Petrus explained, savoring his last bite, "I'd have to do what she said. I'd have to come. But she is my sister, so I don't have to do what she says." They sat for another long while in silence, Arend stealing glances at his companion, wondering who he was and why he did not want to go and see his sister. "You know," Petrus eventually spoke, licking his lips, "I'm still hungry. I think I'll go now." He stood up. His tall frame was twice that of the growing corn. Without any further ado, he took several strides through the cornfield towards the ditch. Reaching that, he crossed a small bridge leading to a grass backyard. Then he stopped, turned around, and called back to Arend. "Do you want to come, Arend? Do you want to come to my house and have some lunch too?" The boy had stood up as well. He was quite famished, his sandwich was gone and, more importantly, he was suddenly lonely. He could see Cousin Janie's house clearly outlined to the far left. He was definitely still within the bounds of the promise he had made her. "All right," he answered Petrus, walking toward him, "I'll come to your house for lunch." Chapter 3 - Beginnings It was a small house - white with black shingles on the roof and black shutters on the window. Situated just a bit farther down the road than he traveled on the school bus, Arend hadn’t been aware of it. Jumping the ditch rather than using the minuscule bridge, he landed on the grass with a thud before running to catch up with Petrus. "Won’t Cora mind that I come for lunch?" he asked, a bit anxious about the voice that had called so insistently for Petrus to appear. "No, she won't." "Will she still be angry that you didn't come?" Petrus stopped dead in his tracks and looked at Arend. "She never gets angry in front of company - and you are company." He grinned and held out his right hand to Arend. Arend was about to take it when the old man suddenly bent down and, putting his hands under Arend's shoulders, lifted the boy onto his neck. "Now I am really tall." Petrus pranced around on the gravel stones of the driveway. Arend clung to the grey head, half afraid, half excited. "Petrus, put that boy down!" Both looked towards the door of the house. It was open and a small woman stood in its frame. "Put that boy down right now and come in, Petrus!" Arend supposed that the woman must be Cora. He felt Petrus' hands reach up for him and gently lift him down to the ground. Then one of those hands took his own and pulled him along towards the door. "This is Arend, Cora. I found him in the field." The same piercing blue eyes that graced Petrus' face, were in Cora's - only hers were a lighter blue. "Hello, Arend." "He's hungry, Cora. I ate his lunch." "Well then, he'd better come in for a bite to eat, hadn't he?" There was soup, cornbread and a cup of milk. And if that was not enough to make a belly stuffed, there was also a jelly donut on a stone plate for dessert. Petrus had explained in a rather matter-of-fact way that Arend did not know how to pray and Cora had not said anything about it. But after the meal, when Petrus yawned, appearing rather drowsy with the weight of a double lunch in his stomach, she had taken out a book. "Are you going to read a Bible story, Cora?" Petrus asked. "Yes, I am. Why don't you lay down on the couch for a snooze and I'll read out loud. You can listen with your eyes closed." Petrus obeyed with alacrity and Cora sat down at the kitchen table next to Arend. "Have you ever read from the Bible before, Arend?" He shook his head and Cora smiled. "Well, then it's about time you heard about the very beginning of all time." She opened the Bible and Arend heard, heard for the first time in his life, the words, "In the beginning God..." Now there is within every soul on earth the knowledge of eternity - and so this knowledge was also lodged deep within Arend's soul. But when the window of one's soul has been covered over with the dirt of birth for years, this is hidden. But the breath of the Word can blow away that dirt. As Arend listened, the words "In the beginning God..." were blown so violently across his heart that he caught a glimpse, a glimpse of eternity. "What is the beginning?" Petrus had begun snoring lightly and Cora absently smiled in the direction of the couch where her brother lay sprawled out. "The beginning," she repeated, "Well, Arend, the beginning is when God was and we were not." "Where were we then?" And, after a moment he added, "And Who is God?" If Cora was surprised at his naked ignorance, she did not show it. She merely answered, "God is the One Who made you and me and Petrus." "And Cousin Janie?" "Everyone, Arend. God made everyone." "How did He do it?" "By speaking." "By speaking? You mean by talking?" "Yes." Arend was silent. He had never heard this before; he had never thought of this before; he had never contemplated the fact that he came from somewhere and that someone had made him. His mind briefly wandered to his mother and father. "Is God still alive?" he asked. "Yes," Cora answered quietly, "He surely is. He was always alive. He is alive now and He will always be alive." Arend thought about this for a moment before responding. "My father and mother died." "Did they?" "Yes." Cora said nothing else but waited patiently. There was quiet for another minute before Arend went on. "My Mom, she died when I was born. I didn't know her, but Cousin Janie says she was nice as far as she can remember. And my Dad, he had an accident. He was riding his bike on the road on his way to work and a truck went by and a piece of his coat got caught in the wheel of the truck or something like that. And he was dragged and then he died." "I'm sorry." Arend's words had come out in a rush. He didn't know why he had told Cora these things. He had not even spoken to Cousin Janie about what had happened to his Mom and Dad. "You must miss your Dad." Arend stared past her to where Petrus was peacefully splayed out on the couch. He did not really miss his Dad. What he did miss was the sense of belonging to someone. His Dad had never spoken much with him and had often gone out at night, but his Dad had been the person with whom he had lived. There had been foster homes, a lot of foster homes, in the last two years. And he had never stayed anywhere longer than a few months. Cora put the Bible down. She stroked Arend's head. "I'm glad you met Petrus," she said, "because Petrus needs a friend. I hope you can come over often." "Petrus is old," Arend said, looking up at Cora and pulling away from under her hand. "Yes," she answered with a smile, "but I think you will still find him a friend." "Why does he ...?" Arend stopped, unsure of how he could ask why Petrus was different, was rather odd in the way he spoke and behaved. But Cora anticipated his questions. "Petrus had an accident a few years ago. He was a farmer and a good farmer. He knew everything there was to know about farming. But a loose beam from the barn gave way and fell on his head. It knocked him unconscious. We thought he might die. But eventually he did wake up and he woke up the way that he is now. He woke up like a child, but a child whose knowledge and faith often puts others to shame." Arend did not comprehend everything Cora told him and reacted only to the obvious. "What happened to his farm?" he wanted to know. "Well, my son, who was working for him at the time, took it over. He runs it now." "What is his name?" "Andrew Peter." "Why don't you and Petrus live at the farm with Andrew Peter?" "Because sometimes Petrus doesn't see danger and runs after the tractor or goes into the bull pen by himself. He has forgotten many things about farming." Arend nodded. He understood that part. He settled back in the chair as Cora returned to the Bible reading. "In the beginning God.... created the heavens and the earth," and, "Then God said: 'Let there be light.'" And Arend listened. Chapter 4 - A good deal That evening after supper, the child related the events of his day to Cousin Janie as she was sitting on the couch with her feet up. It was tiring work, she said, standing up as a teller at the bank all day and her feet desperately needed a rest. Cousin Janie was a cheerful, very direct person, a person who generally said what she thought. "Well, Arend, little cousin," she remarked, her hands cupped around a mug of coffee, "I gather from what you are saying, that I might not have to worry about you being alone all day after all." And that was the truth. She had worried about Arend being home alone all day. "Cora's going to teach me how to play checkers and parcheesi," Arend further informed her, "and read to me. She has a Davey Crockett book too. And Petrus is going to show me how to shuck corn and hoe the garden and he might even help me raise chickens or rabbits." Cousin Janie sat up, setting her empty mug on the coffee table. She regarded Arend thoughtfully. "It sounds like a busy summer for you, little guy. But I think I'd better go over there and make sure that you won't be a nuisance - that you haven't misunderstood." "Cousin Janie," he said, ignoring her statement for the moment, as he watched her stretch her arms over her head preparing to stand up. "Cousin Janie, did you know that God was in the very beginning? And that He made us?" She did not answer but looked at him rather strangely, her arms dropping down to the couch. "And I wouldn't be a nuisance," Arend went on, going back to her previous caution, "I really wouldn't." The last words came out rather vehemently. "I know," Cousin Janie responded soothingly, "but just in case you misunderstood, I think I'll pay them a call. Why don't you get ready for bed and I'll be back in a jiffy to tuck you in." Arend sighed. What if Cora and Petrus didn't like Cousin Janie? What if she spoiled things for him? But when she came back some twenty minutes later and sat on the edge of his bed, she had a smile on her face. "It looks like it's a deal, little cousin of mine," she said, "Cora's happy to have you come for lunch every day and to have you spend as much time as you like over at her place." Arend wiggled his toes under the covers and yawned simultaneously. He felt good - the kind of good you feel when it's your birthday the next day and you know there's a present for you in the living room. Once, three years ago, his Dad had actually remembered that he was going to turn four. He had set a present, elaborately wrapped, on the couch. Although Arend had barely dared surmise that the present was for him, he could not imagine who else it could be. His Dad had nodded almost imperceptibly when he had asked. From that time until bedtime that day, he had felt as if there was another person in the living room. It had been that big! He had woken up in the middle of the night. The temptation to get up and look at the present had eventually forced his feet out of bed. The moon shone in through the apartment window and had guided his steps into the living room. He had stood in front of the couch and stared. Then he had reached out and touched the wrapping - touched it ever so gingerly. "What are you doing out of bed!" Startled he had turned around. "I go to the trouble of buying you a present for your birthday and you, you sneak out of bed." "No, Dad!" Hands now dangling dejectedly at his sides, he had begun to walk backwards towards the door of his bedroom. As he lay shivering under the covers, he heard his Dad pick up the present. The paper crackled. Then his father's door closed. The next morning the present was gone and to this day he did not know what it had been; to this day he did not know if there had actually been something inside the wrappings. Perhaps there had been nothing. "So even though I know you don't intend to make a nuisance of yourself," Cousin Janie's voice broke into his thoughts, "be sure to help whenever you can. Offer to sweep, do dishes or just ask what Cora would like you to do. And never touch anything that doesn't belong to you." He shook his head vigorously. "I won't, Cousin Janie. I would never...." and then he stopped. It was a good summer, a great summer and, comparatively speaking for Arend, the best summer he'd ever had. He learned how to play checkers, parcheesi and horseshoes; he was instructed on the intricacies of weeding, hoeing and podding peas; and Cora unwrapped Bible stories for him each day. Together with Petrus he fashioned two wooden cages, and when they were finished, Andrew Peter, Cora's son, brought over three rabbits and five chickens, animals which he had bought at the local market. "Now you be sure to help my Mom in the garden all summer," Andrew Peter sternly admonished when he dropped the animals off, "and I'll consider that payment. Is it a deal?" But he had not admonished so sternly that his eyes had not smiled. Andrew Peter and Arend had shaken on it. Andrew Peter was a tall fellow, not unlike his uncle. In his thirties, he was blond, lanky and clean-shaven. And his face held the same pale blue eyes that his mother had. "He's a good farmer," Petrus said to Arend once, "I wish he were family." "He is your family, Petrus," Arend replied, "Don't you remember? He's your nephew." "What's a nephew?" "Well, a nephew is ... is ... family." "Are you family to me, Arend?" "Well, no." The boy shook his head as they spoke. "Are you family to anyone?" "Well, to Cousin Janie, sort of. She was my Mom's second cousin?" "Well maybe you can try to become a first cousin. Do you have to study for that?" Arend grinned. Petrus grinned too. "Was that funny, Arend?" Arend didn't answer. "I hope you stay my friend, Arend." The old man patted him on the back as he spoke. They were cleaning out the rabbit cage. "I will, Petrus," Arend promised, "but in September I have to go to school and then I won't be able to visit as much." "I'm so glad that I found you in the field. I think that you were a present to me hidden in the corn." "Yes," Arend answered, "I'm glad too, but Petrus, in a few weeks I will have to go to school." Petrus now stopped pushing the grass through the wire enclosure and turned his face toward Arend. "School?" "Yes." "Why?" "Well, because you have to go to grade two when you're seven and I'm seven." "Well, maybe I can come and visit you at school? I'm seventy and it's my birthday in October." Arend envisioned Petrus cramped into a small desk in his classroom and grimaced. He looked at the old man doubtfully. "Do you want to go to school?" Petrus went on. "No!" "Well, then don't go. Stay here with me." Arend tugged at some straw and wrinkles appeared in his smooth forehead. "They make fun of my name in school, Petrus. At least they did last year when I was in grade one." "Fun of your name?" Petrus was incredulous and clapped his hands together in surprise. Pieces of straw left his sleeves and danced through the air. "You have a fine name. Arend is a good name!" "Maybe it is," Arend replied slowly, "But the kids said, 'Arend. Aren't you here? Aren't you there? Arend isn't anywhere'. And then they all laughed." Petrus clapped his hands together again as if to reprove the teasing children. His tall frame backed away from the rabbit coop and then he spread his arms out wide. "Arend means eagle. Have you never seen an eagle?" "No." "They are great birds - really big birds. And eagles are in the Bible too." "In the Bible?" "Ask Cora." Petrus' attention was diverted by the big doe. She was heavily pregnant and he carefully bent down to peer at her nest, stuffing some more grass into the enclosure, stuffing it right next to the would-be mother. "Soon we'll have baby rabbits, Arend." Chapter 5 - Friends indeed Arend wished a few weeks later as he lay in bed, that his name had been that of another bird - a bird such as Hawk, or Robin, as in “Robin Hood,” or something like that. But there had been a grandfather in Holland on his mother's side – a grandfather for whom he had been named. But Arend did mean eagle. Petrus had said so and Cora had confirmed that it was true. Tomorrow school started. Cousin Janie had surprised him with a lunchbox sporting the picture of Davey Crockett. Last year he had carried his lunch in a paper bag. Cousin Janie had also taken him to the store and had bought him two new shirts and a pair of pants. Cora had knitted him a thick blue sweater and Petrus, not to be outdone, had whittled an eagle out of a piece of wood. "It fits into your pocket," he'd said, "and the teacher won't know it's in there." "Petrus," Cora had chided, "Arend isn't to hide anything in school." "That's true," Petrus had answered, his eyes twinkling, "and that's why I'm going to keep it in my pocket. Now I have an eagle in my pocket. I have you in my pocket, Arend. And you're going to stay there. I just thought you'd like to know." He'd emptied his pocket on the living room floor displaying a stone, a small, oddly-shaped stick, a blue jay feather and a dried-out dandelion. The eagle lay between these things. Arend smiled in the dark. It was, in a strange way, good to know that he was in Petrus' pocket. Things at school went much better the next day than Arend had expected. Although he found himself rather lost in the good-sized class of twenty-five rambunctious grade two, three and four students, he was not as scared as he had thought he would be. The teacher, Miss Wilcox, was pretty and she had each new grade two student take a turn to introduce him or herself. "I'm Billy Barber and my dad is a farmer," the boy in the desk next to Arend's spoke up forcefully. "What kind of farm does he have?" Miss Wilcox asked. "A pig farm." "A very fine thing to have," she smiled, "because ham is delicious to eat. You must be proud of your Dad, Billy." Billy sat down grinning. The next child was a girl. She stood up but her head was down. Her name was Isabel, she told the class with a shaking voice, and she had seven brothers and sisters. She sat down again and blushed. Miss Wilcox replied that she hoped she might meet them sometime. It was now time for Arend to stand. Isabel's evident nervousness had calmed him. He had rehearsed his introduction a few times inside his head as other children took their turns. He rose, leaning on his desk with his right hand. "My name is Arend," he enunciated in a clear voice, "It means eagle and this name is in the Bible." Miss Wilcox was taken aback for a moment, but then responded. "Arend is an unusual name. What country does that it originate from?" "Holland." "Indeed? Thank you for sharing that with us, Arend." Billy glanced at him from across the aisle. "Want to come to my house sometime, eagle?" At recess, as if by prior agreement, the boys gathered at one end of the schoolyard and the girls at another. The grade four boys started a baseball game and allowed the younger grades to be part of the teams. Arend was picked to be a leftfielder. He enjoyed it especially when Henry, one of the older boys, commented that he ran pretty fast for a grade two-er. A month and a half after school started, Cousin Janie slipped on the porch as she left for work in the early morning. She had called out the usual admonitions to Arend and he heard the screen door slam shut as she left for work. Her initial steps down the porch sounded normal. Then her heel slipped on a thin layer of frost coating one of the cracks on the wooden steps. October had begun chilly and the nights were below zero. Arend heard the noise of the fall. Still in bed and contemplating whether he would be allowed to bring one of his rabbits to “show and tell,” he immediately sat up, turned onto his knees and put his head between the curtains. Cousin Janie lay sprawled out in front of the stairs, half of her body stretched out on the gravel driveway. She was not moving. Arend jumped out of bed, raced through the house and catapulted out the front door in a flash. "Cousin Janie!" There was no answer even though he called her name so loudly that the syllables seemed to echo across the lane. He called again. "Cousin Janie!" Then he pelted, in his pajamas and on his bare feet, down the road to Cora's and Petrus' house. Banging on the door, totally out of breath and gasping for air, he brokenly told them what had happened. Petrus, wearing only his housecoat and slippers, as quickly as his old legs could carry him, immediately went back with Arend to where Cousin Janie lay on the driveway. He took a little mirror out of his housecoat pocket, bent down and held it in front of her mouth. "Look, Arend," he called out, "Look, there's mist on the mirror. She's breathing! That means she's alive!" Arend began to cry. Sitting down on the gravel next to his cousin, he softly stroked one of her limp hands. "Please don't die, Cousin Janie." Petrus sat down on the steps just above them, looking on. His blue eyes were grave. Then he took off his housecoat, bent over and tucked it around Cousin Janie. "We should pray, Arend," he said, "We should ask God to help." As Petrus' voice sincerely began to invoke God's help, Arend closed his eyes, all the while not letting go of Cousin Janie's hand. At the “Amen,” Cora appeared, fully dressed. "I've phoned for the ambulance," she said, "Arend, go and stand by the road so you can flag it down when it comes, but first go inside and put on your coat and your boots." Arend obeyed her woodenly. Letting go of Cousin Janie's hand, he got up, scarcely feeling where the gravel had indented his legs. He walked up the stairs past Petrus, opened the door and found his coat and boots. Putting them on, he came out again and descended the steps. He walked backwards down the driveway, his eyes never leaving the still form of his cousin. Cora then went inside, procured a blanket from one of the beds and came out again. Telling Petrus to put his housecoat back on, she covered Cousin Janie's figure with the blanket. Arend stood at the end of the driveway, and peered down the road for what seemed like an eternity, constantly checking over his shoulder to where Cora and Petrus were bending down. He loved Cousin Janie. Sobs welled up inside him bursting out in a howl of misery. The next instant Petrus appeared at his side and took his hand. "It's all right, Arend. I'm here." Arend snuggled into Petrus' side and then two hands lifted him up, not to the old man's shoulders, but to his heart. A car drove up from the opposite direction. It was Andrew Peter. He parked his car at the side of the road, turned off the motor and got out. Passing Arend and Petrus, he smiled gently and walked over to where his mother was hovering over Cousin Janie. He knelt down next to her, feeling Cousin Janie's pulse. "Arend," Andrew Peter called a moment later, "Arend, come here." Arend slid down from Petrus' arms and ran, scattering gravel in all directions. He could see that his cousin's eyes were now open. "Cousin Janie," he whispered, leaning over Andrew Peter's shoulder, "Cousin Janie, are you awake?" "Yes, and I'm OK," she whispered back, "Don't worry, little cousin." Carefully she moved her head to find Cora. "Please watch out for him today," she went on. Cora nodded, even as Andrew Peter took Cousin Janie's right hand and began to pray. "Dear Heavenly Father," he said, in a very normal voice, "Janie's had a fall and needs Your help. Please strengthen her, Lord." "The ambulance is coming!" Petrus called out through the prayer, "I see it coming!" "For Jesus sake, Father," Andrew Peter went on, unperturbed, "let Janie put her trust in You so that she might live forever." Cousin Janie's eyes were wide open now and riveted on Andrew Peter's face. "Tell me," she slurred with difficulty, and then her eyes closed. The ambulance turned into the driveway. "Let me go with her in the ambulance."  Andrew Peter spoke up softly but clearly. Cora agreed, and stood up rather stiffly. She took Arend's right hand and pulled him away from where he was leaning on Andrew Peter to stand next to her. Petrus, who had come back from his vigil at the end of the driveway, took Arend's left hand. Together they watched as Cousin Janie was lifted into the ambulance. Andrew Peter got in as well and took a seat next to the stretcher. After the white car drove off, it was very quiet. **** "What happened, Dad?" the little boy impatiently tugged at his father's sweater, "What happened? Was Cousin Janie all right? Did she get better?" The father smiled and shifted his position on the couch. "Yes, son. Let me just get my bearings here." Chapter 6 - A Father figure Arend stayed with Cora and Petrus while Cousin Janie was in the hospital. She'd suffered a concussion, a heavy concussion. Andrew Peter phoned from the hospital that she was to stay there for observation for a few days before she would be allowed to go home. That Sunday Arend went to church for the first time in his life. Cousin Janie had not permitted him to attend previously. "You visit Cora and Petrus a lot during the week," she'd said, and said it firmly, "I'll not have you overstaying your welcome. So on Sundays I want you home with me." Arend had not minded really. Because in her tone he'd heard that she actually liked and wanted his company and that made him feel good. He'd taught Cousin Janie how to play checkers and sometimes they hiked in the park or visited some of her friends. Arend felt a bit awkward at first. Sitting in the wooden pew, feet dangling, hair wetted down and neatly combed by Cora, he breathed as quietly as possible. He feared that if he were to make a sound, it would reverberate from the rafters and everyone would be sure to guess that he was new, that he had never been to church before. He was wedged into the corner spot and Petrus sat on his right. It was Petrus' birthday and there would be cake this afternoon at teatime. Cora sat next to Petrus. They were early and slowly people began to dribble in through the aisles - families with children, couples and single people. Then the organ began to play. Arend had never before heard an organ and started violently when the first rich tones swelled past him. Turning his head to see where the music came from, he spotted Billy Barber a few pews behind them. Billy waved. Arend turned his gaze away quickly, quite sure it was not proper to wave in church. Petrus nudged him and showed him a roll of peppermints in his pocket. "You can have one later," he mouthed and grinned. A tall boy from grade four sat down directly in front of them. He was the boy who had praised Arend for running fast, and his name was Henry Beenstra but all the kids called him “Beanstalk” because he was so skinny and tall. He flashed a look at Arend before he sat down with his parents, eyebrows raised in surprise. His eyes jumped from Arend to Petrus and then back to Arend again. There was something troubling in his glance and Arend felt uncomfortable. He knew it had to do with Petrus but was not quite sure what it entailed. Petrus nudged him again and bringing out the small carved eagle in his pocket. Arend smiled. Whatever it was that bothered Henry “Beanstalk” about Petrus, it didn't matter. The minister, a middle-aged man, welcomed everyone and smiled. It was a good smile and reached Arend's pew. There was singing and more singing and prayer. It was a very long prayer and from time to time Arend peeked to make sure everyone else was still praying. At one such peek, he caught Henry, face turned back towards them, staring straight at him. He quickly shut his eyes again, but not before he'd seen a smirk on Henry's face. He leaned into the pew corner and tried to relax. Avoiding eye contact with Henry during the entire ensuing service, he tried to listen – to listen carefully – so that he could tell Cousin Janie all about it later. It was a good story that the minister told – a story about a father with two sons. The younger one was tired of staying at home and wanted to go away. From everything the minister said it sounded as if the boy's home was a good home and Arend could not fathom wanting to leave your home if it was good. That younger boy was stupid. Imagine having a kind father who loved you and wanting to leave that love. He turned his face back towards the minister. The father gave the boy a lot of money and allowed him to leave and the father was very sad to see him leave. The boy traveled to a far away country and spent all his money. Arend had never had any money. He guessed that Cousin Janie giving him milk money for a carton of milk at school each day didn't really count. And he wasn't allowed to spend that money on anything else but milk. After the boy had spent all his money, he got a job feeding pigs. It would have been a dirty job, Arend imagined, and not at all like feeding his rabbits or his chickens. And the boy was so hungry that he wanted to eat the pig food. What would the pigs have been eating? Slop, the minister said and if it tasted like it sounded, then it would have tasted terrible. While he was in the pig pen, the boy remembered his father. Arend remembered his own father. His father had not really wanted him at home; had never given him money; had not even given him birthday presents. If he was living with pigs right now and his father was alive, would he go to him? It was a hard question and Arend began to dangle his feet back and forth, kicking the pew in front of him. He instinctively felt that his father would not have been happy to see him. Petrus put a hand on his knees to stop the kicking motion and Arend's feet became quiet. The boy went back home to say that he was sorry he had left, and when he was still far away from his old house, his father saw him coming down the road. Arend remembered standing at the end of the driveway watching down Tooker's Lane for the ambulance. It had been difficult to see very far because there had been a bit of a mist. He recalled straining his eyes. The boy's father must have had very good eyesight. Maybe he could see like an eagle. And then the father began running towards the boy because he so very much wanted the boy to come home; and when they met, the father hugged the boy. Arend's father had never hugged him. But Petrus had hugged him. The father then dressed the boy in a beautiful robe and he gave him a ring for his finger too. Arend stretched his right hand in front of him. Would it be sissy to wear a ring? And then a lot of food was made ready for a party and everyone celebrated because the boy had come home. Maybe cake was served - maybe cake like they would have this afternoon because it was Petrus' birthday. It was because the boy was sorry, the minister insisted, that the father was so happy and took him back; and it was because the boy knew that he was lost, that he was accepted back home. Arend reflected on that. It was easy to understand that if you were sorry, sorry about something you had done wrong, that this was a good thing. But to know that you were lost, that was more difficult to understand. How could you know that you were lost? Was he lost because he didn't really have a proper home? And how could he... ? His thoughts stopped. After church, Billy Barber and some other boys came up to him. Cora, with a backward glance over her shoulder, presumed that Arend would be fine with his friends. "Want to come over to my house, Arend? My Dad will bring you back this afternoon. I'll show you the piglets and we have puppies right now too." Billy was insistent and Arend felt flattered. "I'll have to ask Cora," he said, and together the boys looked for her but she said “no.” "It's Petrus' birthday. Did you forget?" Then seeing the downcast faces in front of her, she relented somewhat. "Why don't you come to our house instead, Billy," she suggested, "and have your Dad pick you up later today?" As Billy disappeared into the crowd of churchgoers around them in the foyer to ask permission, Henry “Beanstalk” walked over. "Hey, squirt," he said, "how's the number one runner doing?" "Fine," Arend answered carefully, a little apprehensive to be singled out by Henry and recalling vividly how Henry had looked at himself and Petrus during the service. "Want to play some baseball this afternoon with some of the guys?" "I can't," Arend replied, "it's Petrus' birthday and we're... well, we're having some cake and stuff. You know." Billy came running back. "My Mom says it's OK. I can come to your house, Arend." "Oh," Henry's face took on a look of mock hurt, "so you can play with Billy, but not with me." Arend didn't know what to say. He ground the toe of his shoe into the carpet. Henry turned around. "Well, see you guys." **** "Then what happened, Dad? Was there cake? His father nodded. "Yes, there was, son. But not until the afternoon. And it was a lovely chocolate cake, the kind that Petrus loved." "Tell me," the boy, insisted leaning back against his father. And the father continued. Chapter 7 - Carried home After Sunday soup, fresh bread and a hard-boiled egg, Arend and Billy helped Cora dry the dishes. Petrus was already on the couch half-asleep. "Now you boys play outside until tea time," Cora said, "and then we'll have a piece of that birthday cake." Arend showed Billy the rabbits and the chickens as well as Cousin Janie's house. Then they looked for deer tracks and rabbit tracks out in the field. Arend was about to get a container so they could catch some tadpoles in the little creek, when he saw Henry standing in the driveway. There was another boy with him. They were standing next to their bikes. "Hey, squirt," Henry yelled, "we came over to say “happy birthday” to your friend." Arend didn't know what to say. "Well, aren't you going to ask us in?" "I can't," Arend said, "Cora and Petrus are sleeping." Henry turned the handlebar of his bike and fastened his gaze on Arend. "Well, eagle-boy," he returned, "I sure would like a piece of that birthday cake and it would be a shame if we came for nothing." "Can't you give them a piece," Billy, who had come to stand next to him, whispered advice into his ear, "and then they'll go away." Uncertain, Arend slowly walked towards and up the steps. He carefully opened the door, making sure he turned the handle just right so that there was no squeaking. It opened into the kitchen and the cake smiled at him on the counter. Cora had put a knife next to the cake. Also, neatly lined up, were four plates and four forks. He tip-toed inside, swallowed deeply, took hold of the knife and cut into the chocolate cake. He'd never done such a thing before. The knife stuck. He pulled it out and tried again. This time he was more successful. Eventually he managed to get two pieces of cake onto two of the plates. Balancing them carefully in his hands, he retraced his steps and went back outside. Henry applauded and laid his bike down on the driveway. "Great going, squirt," he said, "I'd knew you'd pull through." He walked toward the backyard and his friend followed. Billy and Arend followed as well, Arend still carrying the plates with the cake. They all sat down on the grass and Arend handed the boys a plate each. "It'd be a waste if old drool mouth had this all to himself," Henry commented, "and how come you're staying with him, squirt?" Arend blushed. "Well, how come you're staying here," Henry persisted, his mouth full of chocolate cake. "My Cousin Janie's in the hospital and ... well, Cora and Petrus are neighbors." "Well, that's unfortunate, isn't it? Having a neighbor that isn't right in the head!" Arend looked down at the grass. He didn't know what to say. That is, he did know what to say, but he didn't dare say it. "I bet you're sorry your staying here, aren't you, squirt?" Arend didn't answer, but Henry repeated his remark. "I bet you're sorry Petrus is your neighbor, right, squirt?" He stood up as he spoke, leaving his empty plate in the grass. The plate was stained with brown crumbs. The other boys stood up as well. Henry walked over to Arend, linking arms with him, pulling him back across the grass towards the driveway. "I bet you'd much rather stay with me than with silly, old Petrus, squirt." Henry's voice was loud and invasive. It crept under his Arend's skin and slithered down the road. Arend wanted to pull away from the voice, but he couldn't. His arm was locked in Henry's grip. Nevertheless, he began to pull. "If you say, 'Petrus is a silly, old man,' I'll let you go," Henry promised and squeezed Arend's arm so hard it brought tears to his eyes. "Petrus is a silly, old man," the words burst out of Arend's mouth before he knew it. Henry suddenly let go of Arend's arm and Arend fell backwards onto the driveway. Henry laughed, laughed so hard he doubled over. Then he and his friend got on their bikes and rode off, tearing through the gravel of the driveway. Arend stood up, brushed himself off and glanced over at the still open door. Petrus was standing on the landing and he was staring right into Arend's eyes. Farmer Tooker's grandson, who owned all the property in and around Tooker's Lane, never harvested his corn until late in the season. As a matter of fact, sometimes he did not even harvest until the following year. Other farmers commented on it and said it was a shame to see a crop go to waste. After staring into Petrus' eyes for a moment, Arend took off towards the field, losing himself between the tall, dry cornstalks. Billy did not follow him and he was glad of it. He ran until the breath had totally drained from his lungs and he was forced to stop. Falling down onto the dirt, he curled himself into a tight ball and lay still. How long he remained there he didn't know. The late October ground was unrelentingly hard. It did not possess the dignity and support of a mattress, and yet the boy slept a dreamless sort of sleep. It had not been a sunny day to begin with and when Arend finally came to himself, he was numb with cold. Slowly he remembered what had happened and sick with shame, he sat up. His good pants had a grass stain and he wondered what Cora would have to say about that. But she would probably not say anything because he could not possibly go back. For surely after Cora heard what Arend had said about Petrus, she would not want him in her house again. And when Cousin Janie heard what he had done, she would never want to see him again either. He couldn't blame either of them. A lark flew overhead and in the distance he heard a mourning dove coo. He picked an ear of corn off the nearest stalk, peeling off its dried leaves. Shriveled and tiny, the kernels were uninviting and unappetizing. Perhaps he'd have to stay here all winter and eat hard, uncooked corn. His stomach both rebelled and rumbled. Billy had probably gotten a piece of chocolate cake and Billy's Dad had, without a doubt, already picked him up and taken him home. He wondered if the coyotes in the field ate people. He sometimes heard them howling at night. Petrus said there were packs of them about. Cora was making fried potatoes tonight and there was going to be egg salad too. These were some of Petrus' favorite dishes. He hadn't even given Petrus a birthday present. He did not have money and Cousin Janie was in the hospital. But he had made him a card. It said: “Happy birthday, Petrus - from your best friend, Arend, the eagle you found in the field.” The card was under his pillow. Was he like the boy in the minister's story? Had he squandered what had been given to him so freely? Were dried ears of corn like slop? The only thing missing here were the pigs. Billy had pigs. Maybe he could stay with Billy's family and live in the pigpen. The boy in the story had been sorry. In that way he was like the boy. He was so terribly sorry that he had said that Petrus was a silly, old man. Petrus' eyes had been so sad, as if they could not understand that Arend would say such a thing about him. “I hope you stay my friend, Arend.” “I will, Petrus.” That's what he had said a few weeks ago and it had been a lie. He picked up a clod of earth and threw it into the air. It landed with a small thud and broke into pieces. The strange thing was that the dirt, broken and black, was still part of the earth. You could not tell now that he had thrown it into the air, that it had been somewhere else but a few moments ago. Not so with himself. He had been tossed up by fear and he had landed flat on his face. Unlike that clod of earth, he was now part of nothing. His past was gone. There was no place for him anywhere. He was lost. He did not know where he was or where to go. He shivered miserably. Even if he went to Cora and Petrus and said that he was sorry, he would not belong to them anymore. They would always mistrust him and would never love him again. What if he said that they could punish him? What if he said that he would work for them and they didn't have to pay him ever? Unconsciously he stood up and his feet began to move through the rows and rows of corn towards the little white house in the distance. It was dusk now and the first stars were beginning to appear. The corn stalks crackled as he walked on, head down, towards the afternoon's disgrace. He could hear an owl hoot somewhere in the bush behind the field. Bats flew by in the air hunting insects. He lifted his head for a brief moment to stare at them as they darted through the sky like ashes scattered to the wind. Instinctively his eyes moved toward the horizon, moved toward the house. It was glowing with light. Cora must have turned the lamps on in the kitchen and in the living room. His gaze fastened on the glow and he wished with all his might that he were there and that it was yesterday. Then he stopped short for he suddenly perceived the figure of a person, a tall person, moving through the corn field just beyond the little bridge, moving toward himself. It was Petrus. He knew for a fact that it was Petrus – knew it within the pit of his being. Petrus had seen him too because at that moment the tall, spindly frame began to run, crushing plants as he did so. Without being able to stop himself, Arend began to run also – to run as fast as his legs could carry him. And when he reached the old man, he felt himself being lifted high, as high as the stars, and then he was carried home. **** "What about the string, father. You said it was a story about the string." The child was impatient and tugged at his father's sleeve. fingering the string. "Yes, I did." "Well?" "Petrus had tied a string around one of the eagle's wings. He said he had done this so that the eagle would not fall out of his pocket. He gave me the string that night because he said I needed to know that I would never fall out of his pocket."   **** Christine Farenhorst is the author of many books, her latest being Katherina, Katherina, a novel taking place in the time of Martin Luther. You can read a review here, and buy it at www.sola-scriptura.ca/store/shop....

Assorted

On the Truth, and the cost of lies

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