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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

Ringing in the New Year

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

Assorted

The boy that drove the plow

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

Assorted

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

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

Assorted

"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....

Assorted, Church history

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

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

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Mental illness: responsibility and response

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

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Little white lies and why we tell them

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

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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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...but I have a couch

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

Assorted

Song of Songs (A Christine Farenhorst Christmas story)

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

Assorted

When should we unwrap presents?

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

Assorted, Church history

Santa Claus at Nicea

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

Assorted

On a wife deciding to leave her husband

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

Assorted

Report of a meeting which was never held

What I am going to tell you is pure fantasy, but it might be useful to pause a moment, because it can teach us something. It was some years after our Lord and Savior had risen from the dead, and the congregation of Jerusalem had already become quite large. One evening there was a meeting, held with the elders of the congregation, and as was usual, also the apostles who were resident in Jerusalem. Even though it was a dangerous time, and the enemies were keeping a sharp lookout, the brothers had gathered from all parts of the city. No one was absent when the chairman, James, the brother of the Lord, opened the meeting. The matter to be discussed that evening was of vital importance, hence the full attendance. In those days none of the four gospels, as we know them, had yet been written, but various accounts of events that had occurred during the Master's time on earth had been recorded. These included accounts of miracles He had performed, accounts of discussions He had held with the young men and accounts also of some of His speeches both at Jerusalem as well as in Galilee. At that time, they were still short, loose notes; they had not yet been put together into one book. It stands to reason that these written accounts were extremely valuable to the congregation. They were eagerly read by the members in the city and they were even beginning to be distributed outside Jerusalem. They were also starting to be used during the worship service, here and there. Well, the issue, the question that was before the meeting of the elders and apostles this evening, concerned these loose notes. The question was, should these bundles of loose notes be accepted as trustworthy reports of what had taken place and could they be recommended for use in the worship services. All present appreciated the importance of the decision that had to be made. If these accounts were officially accepted and openly used then they would spread far and wide, and give direction to the life of the congregations. After the chairman opened the meeting with prayer, he outlined the great importance of the decision that had to be made and then asked if any of the elders or apostles had any objection to the written accounts in circulation. They were all amazed that it was Philip who requested the floor first of all. "If you ask me if I have objections," he said, "then I can only say that the notes before us are totally trustworthy. I have not found anything in them that has not really happened. “Another question to ask though, is whether it is desirable to use them in this form. Is it really necessary, brothers, that in these writings there is such extensive attention paid to how Peter, more than once, did deeply grieve the Master? I think of the occurrence, also related in these writings, when they were going to Caesarea Philippi. The Master turned round and said to Peter, ‘Get behind me, Satan!’ “I know that is what happened. I was there myself and I heard what was said, but I have to ask, is it really wise to air this happening for all and sundry? I think of that terrible night when Jesus was condemned and how Peter denied Him three times. It is true, it did happen, but again I ask myself is it really necessary to air these things openly? We here in Jerusalem, we know Peter and have a high regard for him, but if these papers spread to other countries where they have never seen Peter, wouldn’t this give an entirely wrong impression of Peter? Aren’t these really matters of an intimate nature, which concern only Peter in his relationship with the Savior? Considering how well everything has turned out, shouldn't we just forget what happened in the past?" When Phillip finished speaking those present couldn't help but look in the direction of Peter. They expected Peter to jump to his feet and say something. But that didn’t happen. Peter sat silent, frowning and looking at the table, and not saying a word. The sides of his mouth trembled, and from the way he held his hands, with his white knuckles showing, it was clear that he was extremely moved and was involved in a severe internal struggle. For some moments everyone in the meeting was absolutely silent. Not one of the apostles spoke. In the end it was one of the elders of the congregation who broke the silence. "I am entirely in agreement," he said, "with the previous speaker. I would like to go even further. I have noticed in all the writings the apostles really play a rather sad role. It repeatedly says that they did not understand the Master. It is told once, when they came back from the north to Capernaum, that they had a serious tiff between themselves about who was the greatest among them. It is written that, even in the Passover room, when the Master instituted the Holy Supper, the apostles were at loggerheads about who should take the place of honor. The story is also told of how three of the apostles, our beloved Peter, James and John, were asleep in that terrible moment when our Savior fought His most bitter struggle in Gethsemane. "Is all this necessary, do we really want to broadcast this throughout the world? “Won’t this cause a lack of respect, which we all owe, to our office bearers? Can we really expect that the people who will read this, who will see how the first disciples often didn’t acted as faithful servants of the Master, can we really expect that they will have great reverence for the founders of the Church? Is it not rather to be feared that such stories will lead to damage in the congregations? I ask myself would it not be wiser if we kept all such stories to ourselves and didn’t to pass them on to others." Again it was one of the apostles who now began to speak. He also judged that there was a dangerous aspect to such stories. He reminded his listeners that one of the accounts related that the brothers of Jesus did not believe in Him and that they were even at enmity with Him. "Is it right," he asked, "to broadcast this story? We all know that the chairman of this meeting, James, the brother of the Lord, also belonged to them, but that after the resurrection he repented. Does his dark past have to be revealed to all eyes? Might that not lead, in time, to a deterioration of the relationships within the congregation?" When this third speaker had finished there was a painful silence in the meeting. One could feel that most of those present labored under a great strain. The chairman who otherwise was quick to encourage the members to deal speedily with the matters at hand now sat silent. It was obvious that he also had a struggle within himself. The silence lasted for some minutes. It came as a great relief when finally Peter stood up and started speaking. It was clear he was extremely moved; while he spoke he time and again had to hold the table, as if he needed its support. The words that he spoke came as if pushed from the deepest part of his heart. "Brothers," he spoke, "humanly speaking I am thankful for all that has been said this evening, but I also realize, that these words are at the same time a dangerous temptation for me. It is true that years ago the Master once said to me, 'Get behind me, Satan.' I therefore feel that tonight I must say it myself, 'Get behind me, Satan.' How could I ever make my Master great if I am not prepared to make myself thoroughly small? How could we apostles ever proclaim the glory of Jesus Christ throughout the world, if we did not at the same time tell of all our foolishness and cowardice and all our egotistical and self seeking deeds and thoughts with which we made the suffering of the Master so much heavier? Only in that way can our message become the Gospel, the happy tiding for the people of all nations and of all ages. Then they will see that we, the young men of the Master, are just as weak, dumb and self seeking as they are themselves, and that we are only what we are today because He with His love surrounded us. “You ask me, if by these stories the respect for the office will not suffer? That could well be so, if the respect for the office depended on our status as great men. But the glory of the office does not lie therein that we are great, but that the Master, who had mercy over us, is so great. "When I remember how the Savior told us that this Gospel should be preached to all people, then I know that gospel should also include how I with my self conceit often deeply hurt my Lord. It should include how we, young men, often argued among ourselves as little children about the place of honor, that we slept when He struggled His fight to the death, and that I, in a terrible way, three times denied Him. That should all be included, but this one thing more should also be included that the Master said: ‘On this petra I will build My church, tend my sheep.’ “Though there is nothing nice to say about us, nevertheless we may do something, we may serve in God's Church, and that is only because He never for a moment abandoned us and prayed for us right to the end. Brothers, let us not hesitate for a moment, but let this Gospel, as it lies before us be distributed throughout the ages to all the people in this world. Then we diminish, but He is made all the greater". When Peter had finished speaking a deep holy peace descended on the whole meeting. The chairman, who for the whole time had just stared straight ahead, looked up. "Brothers," he asked, "shall we act as proposed?" And although no one of those present answered aloud, it was more than clear that this word was agreeable to all. And so these loose papers were distributed, later they became the Gospels as we have them today. Dr. J.H. Bavinck (1895-1964) was a Dutch minister, missionary, and theologian. This article first appeared in the October 1999 issue of Reformed Perspective. It has been translated by Rene Vermeulen and is reprinted with permission from 15 Paasverhalen, no 18 Zaklantaarnserie, published by Voorhoeve/Kok, Kampen, The Netherlands. ...

Assorted

“Did God answer her prayer?“

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

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Hull humanity

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

Assorted, Parenting

What my grandma taught me

My grandma died at the age of 93, more than 25 years after her Henk died. And during those years she often wondered why God hadn’t taken her too – all her children were grown up, so what did she have left to do? She hadn’t exactly forgotten about her grandchildren, but like many grandparents, she did underestimate how much she had to offer the younger generation. She didn’t understand how much her grandchildren still needed to learn from her. 60’s – Hello! Grandma was already in her 60’s when most of the grandchildren first got to know her, and the lessons began immediately. The very first lesson she taught us was that it was important to eat all the food on our plates. The second lesson? That whether we ate all the food on our plates or not, our grandma loved us. She modeled and taught us about unconditional love – the exact type of love God gives us. Parents practice this love too, but it isn’t always as clear. Parents are, after all, the ones who have to punish, and prod, while grandparents can simply adore, spoil and hug. 70’s – Learning never stops There are other lessons, too, that are best learned from a grandparent. Grandma taught us that purity can be funny – that one can get laughs without being crude or rude. She was a very elegant lady but she wanted us to know her generation had the secret to good clean fun; they knew that the very best type of humor was silly humor. So even though she had the regal bearing of a queen, she never passed up a chance to model the large fuzzy slippers she got one Christmas. And when we picked her up at her apartment she always took a moment, with a sly grin, to quickly say goodbye to her collection of stuffed animals. Even in her 70’s she had an innocent child-like sense of humor. A favorite example is of the time when she was out with one daughter and a couple of grandsons. The foursome was out walking when they came upon a set of revolving doors. Her daughter, our dear mom, went first, followed by little James. But then it was my turn… the grin on my face let my mother know in advance what her urchin child had planned. But just as she was about to give me a stern warning, in stepped grandma. The two of us, urchin child and tiny, elegant, 70-something-year-old grandma, started going round and round and round again in that revolving door until we both got so dizzy and weak from laughing we tumbled out. 80’s – She’s seen it all before By the time grandma hit her eighties, her grandchildren were just about all grownup. But she still had a lot to teach us. We were leaving our Christian schools, entering university and experiencing for the first time just how depraved the world could be. Our gentle, delicate grandma knew all about it – in her eighty years on this earth she had seen it all. One story she often told to encourage us, was about the day the Germans invaded her native land of Holland. That day she had looked up to see so many German paratroopers floating down to earth they blotted out the sky. The sight convinced her that the end had come, that the world must be over – how could it ever get worse than this? But it wasn’t the end, and though German power seemed invincible, God brought liberation. Her point was clear: don’t despair – our God can overcome any evil. 90’s – Last but not least In her nineties grandma start showing signs of Alzheimer’s, and began getting confused about what decade it was, and what country she was in. She soon lost the ability to speak English, and in her last months couldn’t walk further than a few dozen feet without huffing. Her body was gone, and her mind was failing her too. On her better days, when her mind was clear enough that she could understand what was happening to her, she got very frustrated. Once again she wanted to know, why was she still here? What did the Lord still have left for her to do? The truth was she wasn’t able to do anything for anyone anymore. But she could still be helped. This wasn’t an easy time for grandma and sometimes she vented her frustration on her children. But she loved to be helped by her grandchildren – anything we did for her would be met with a smile or a pat on the arm. She was once again teaching us about unconditional love – Christ-like love – this time, how to receive it. She responded to us, as we should respond to our giving, gracious God. Conclusion  Grandma lived to be 93, and while she sometimes thought that her job here was done long ago, her grandchildren are very grateful God gave us these many more years with her. Grandparents are such a blessing....

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Older men still have a job to do

Faithful children of God may look forward to sharing Jesus’ glory in the presence of the Father. “To live is Christ; to die is gain.” Why, then, does the Lord God not take people home to Himself as soon as they become empty nesters or, perhaps, when their spouse dies? Why does He let the older become old? The question is important, if only because there are numerous older men in the churches who feel they have no task to do, are out to pasture. In this article we will consider Paul’s instruction concerning the “older men” as he words it to Titus 2:2: “Teach the older men to be temperate, worthy of respect, self-controlled, and sound in faith, in love and in endurance.” To give you the punch line right away, God keeps older men on earth because He uses them to build up His church. Men are not women God created two genders in the beginning, but did not make them at the same time. He first made a man, and placed him in the Garden with the command to work it and take care of it (Genesis 2:15). He was, in other words, responsible, and commissioned to take initiative in fulfilling his duties before God. The Lord saw that it was not good for the man to be alone, and so made a “helper” (Genesis 2:18) to be with him. In the relation between the man and the woman in Paradise, he was the leader and she was not; she was the helper and he was not. So when God came to the Adam and Eve after their fall into sin, he sought out the man: “where are you?” (Genesis 3:9). Similarly, when the Lord sought to call a family from Ur to go the land of promise, He did not call Sarah to take her husband and leave her mother’s household, but He summoned Abram to take his wife and leave his father’s household (Genesis 12:1). The point is that the man is, by God’s ordinance, the leader in family and society. As leader, the man invariably gives leadership, whether active or passive, where positive or negative. When Paul, then, tells Titus what to teach the older men, he’s instructing him in relation to that part of the human race commissioned to take responsibility and give leadership. How we view older men The men Titus must teach are "older." The term "older" is, of course, relative, and really depends on how old Titus is and perhaps depends too on the average age of the congregation where Titus ministered. Paul uses the same word to describe himself when he was some 60 years old (Philemon 9). Irrespective, though, of what age one wishes to peg to the term "older," the term certainly describes a person who has been around the block a few times. The "older" have, in other words, spent years in the school of life and so are in a position to show others how to do life. Now, our Canadian culture says that “older men” deserve the opportunity to kick back, enjoy life and play with the toys they’ve accumulated. But beneath this seemingly generous attitude is the thought that the older men are actually out of touch, can’t keep up with the fast pace of the younger, and are beyond their "use by" date, so they should be retired from any leadership roles. There is an echo of this thought in the church, to the effect that the older men (are made to) feel passed by and even uncertain about their purpose. The result is that they retreat into their seniors’ circle... and become an untapped resource. Their role This was not the intent of the Lord God. He created the first man (and woman) in His image, and gave the command to “be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over...” (Genesis 1:27f). Children born in Paradise, however, would not know by instinct how to rule over God’s world in a way that imaged God; the older generation was to teach the younger how to do this. Of course, the longer Adam lived, the better He’d know what God was like, and so the better equipped he’d be to teach coming generations how to “rule over” God’s creatures in a way pleasing to God. Clearly, as the God-appointed leader, the responsibility to train those after him was primarily Adam’s. The fall into sin obviously complicated the task enormously. But it didn’t change the expectations God had for Adam as he grew older, or for the subsequent generations of older men. So God told Moses that He poured the plagues on Egypt “that you may tell your children and grandchildren how I dealt harshly with the Egyptians... that you may know that I am the Lord” (Exodus 10:2). Moses, we need to know, was more than 80 years old (see Exodus 7:7) at the time God gave him this instruction. Talk about the role of “the older men”! Fully in line with this command is the prayer of the psalmist: “Even when I’m old and gray, do not forsake me, O God, till I declare your power to the next generation, your might to all who are to come” (Psalm 71:18). Because of this God-assigned role of the aged, the Lord commanded the youth of Israel to respect the seniors (and not just the grandparents). As an older man approached them, the youth were to “rise” and “show respect for the elderly” (Leviticus 19:32). Here was recognition that the older have learned so much in God’s school-of-life and were a reservoir of experience and wisdom for the younger to tap into. Sadly, not all older men speak only wisdom. Job’s three senior friends spoke the language of fools in their reprimands to Job (cf Job 42:7; 32:6ff). Solomon advised older folk not to say, “Why were the old days better than these?” (Ecclesiastes 7:10). Young people live in the present (not the past), and in the challenges God gives today they need encouragement – and not the signal that today is too hard. Older men, in other words, need to make it their business to be careful how they analyze the present in relation to the past; their analysis requires ongoing Bible study and thought. All this Old Testament material comes along in Paul’s instruction to Titus. For the benefit of the churches of Crete, Paul draws out the implication of the role God has assigned to the “older men.” Given that role, Paul says these older men are to be:: temperate worthy of respect self-controlled 1. Temperate The term “temperate” in Titus 2:2 translates a word that appears elsewhere as “sober” or “sober-minded.” The term is often used in relation to drink and so becomes instruction in being moderate in how much you drink. Yet Paul’s point is not that older men are simply to exercise moderation in drinking. Rather, in all of life one is to be moderate, not indulgent, not extravagant, not into excess or glut. Herein the “older men” of the church would contrast with the typical attitude of the Cretans around them, who were “always... lazy gluttons” (Titus 1:12). What, though, is wrong with excess? Why must Titus make a point of telling older men to be moderate? Older men (should) have learned the truth of Solomon’s words in Ecclesiastes 2, when he tried all sorts of excess in his attempt to make sense of life. As many young men do, Solomon sought fulfillment in wine, houses, gardens, women, song, parties, and more. But the more he tried, the more he realized that things do not lift us out of the thorns and thistles of a life outside Paradise. His conclusion was this: “when I surveyed all that my hands had done and what I had toiled to achieve, everything was meaningless, a chasing after the wind” (Ecclesiastes 2:11). That was the advantage of older age: Solomon could tell the younger of his realm that he’d been there, done that... and they should take instruction from him and not repeat his futile search. This is the message Titus was to instruct older men to convey to the younger. Those older men had been around the block, had tested the value of more and more stuff, and so were in a position to vouch for the truth of Ecclesiastes 2. These “older men” have “fought the good fight,” “have finished the race” (2 Tim 4:7), and now await the summons of the Lord to enter the presence of their Father. So their lifestyle was to model that life is not about food, property, looks, degrees, music, chocolate, gin or women. Instead, their lifestyle should reflect the delightful fact that “the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared” (Titus 2:11); Christ has come to redeem sinners, take away the cause of our eternal hunger and misery, and through His self-emptying on the cross restored sinners to Paradise. Since that’s so, one needs to be consistent and say “no” to ungodliness and worldly passions (2:12), “no” to more toys, more drink, more "buzz," etc, and live instead “godly and upright lives in the present age, while we wait for the... glorious appearing of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ” (2:13). When a "temperate" lifestyle is in place, a man will be moderate in his demand for food and drink, for wealth and holiday. “Older men” have learned through the school of life to get their priorities right, so that their emphasis lies on service to the neighbor, a service that reflects God’s love for us in Jesus Christ. 2. Worthy of respect Titus is also to instruct “older men” to carry themselves in a dignified manner. Again, the point is not so hard to grasp. Older men have buried parents, and perhaps also a spouse or a child. They have been through war, sickness, fire, flood, drought and more – and so learned through the hard knocks of life that life is not a joke. They’ve learned that trials come from God as so many divine teaching moments whereby the heavenly Father would train us in the school of life for further service and to be more fruitful for His glory. Older men (ought to) know this, and so take God’s reality seriously in the hard knocks of life; always the question presses on their minds: what is God teaching me through this? No, this does not make the older boring or gloomy (as if life is not enjoyable). On the contrary, living every step of life in the awareness that you live every moment in God’s school makes life exciting and fun. Older men model this awareness – for the benefit of the rest of congregation. That’s the sort of leadership they are to give. 3. Self-controlled Finally, Titus must tell “older men” to be disciplined. They, after all, ought to have learned how to get the passions and instincts of youth under control. As a result, they act less out of impulse, with decisions more thought through. They’ve learned to live life sensibly, seriously, and so with fitting restraint. So their lives displays good health (not necessarily in body but) “in faith, in love and in endurance…” The same need today This, then, is what Titus was to encourage the older men to exemplify among the Christians of Crete. But the sort of lifestyle this behavior encouraged, contrasted with the excess that Cretans typically celebrated. Recall again Paul’s summary of what Cretans were like: “Cretans are always liars, evil brutes, lazy gluttons” (Titus 1:12). We can imagine the “lazy gluttons” of the island; we know the type: shrunken biceps and ample waistline assembled in the coffee shops and beer parlors, talking about the latest horse race, hockey game, cruise, property deal, woman. How thoroughly North American; truly, there is nothing new under the sun. The new Christians of Crete were raised in that culture, and remained greatly influenced by what was accepted around them. How tempting, then, to adopt the same attitude; “eat, drink, and be merry...” Hence Paul’s instruction to Titus: since older men are by God’s ordinance to be leaders, instruct them to be temperate to be examples for the women and younger men to follow. This, Paul figures, is necessary to build up congregational life (1:5a). Value The Lord has prepared a glorious future for His (older) children, yet leaves older brothers on this earth for a purpose; they remain here to be examples for rest of congregation. So, older men, take up the task with confidence! You’ve been through the school of life, and so know that neither things nor pleasures give fulfillment, salvation, or purpose; by faith you know that Jesus Christ has restored us to God. That being so, model the gospel for the benefit of the rest of the congregation: be moderate, dignified, self-controlled in a manner that the younger of the flock can see. This is the service to which you remain called, until such time as God Himself relieves you and gives you the crown of glory. Conclusion There is definitely so very much in the congregation for which we may be thankful. That includes the large number of older brothers in our midst. They are here, by God’s providence, for a reason. My conviction is that they are under-utilized. No, I’m not thinking now of consistory work; it may be that the Lord is no longer calling the (much) older brothers to this task anymore. I’m thinking instead of how the older, without exception, have a role to play in relation to the younger. Let the older men take their mentorship role seriously, being deeply aware that God leaves them in this life in order that they might model the gospel for the benefit of the younger and even seek out the younger to speak to them of the works of the Lord as they experienced them over the years. It’s a privileged fact: the younger need your leadership, example, and instruction. Recall Psalm 92:14f “...the righteous...will still bear fruit in old age...proclaiming, ‘The Lord is upright; He is my Rock, and there is no wickedness in Him’”   Healthy church life needs the continued involvement of the older men.   Rev. Bouwman is a minister for the Canadian Reformed Church of Smithville, Ontario. This article was first appeared in the December 2012 issue.  ...

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"So what you're saying is..."

In January Jordan Peterson was interviewed by journalist Cathy Newman, on Britain’s Channel 4 News. The exchange quickly went viral, with more than 9 million watching the half-hour interview, and millions more watching clips from it. Why did so many watch? Because here we had a battle of heavyweights – a politically incorrect professor who wouldn’t let his words be twisted vs. a mainstream media journalist who wouldn’t stop trying. Her favorite trick was to restate whatever Peterson had said in her own words. But every time she did so – each time she led with a “So you’re saying…” – what followed was never an accurate summary of Peterson’s position. A clip from this interview gives a good illustration of why so many Christians admire the courage of this man. He was bullied and unfairly treated, just as Christians often are by the mainstream press, but he never let it bother him, and he never let her get away with it. Newman: Is gender equality desirable? Peterson: If it means equality of outcome, then almost certainly it’s undesirable! That’s already been demonstrated in Scandinavia. Because in Scandinavia, … Newman: What do you mean by that? Equality of outcome is undesirable? Peterson: Well, men and women won’t sort themselves into the same categories, if you leave them alone to do it of their own accord. We’ve already seen that in Scandinavia. It’s twenty to one female nurses to male, something like that. It might not be quite that extreme. And approximately the same, male engineers to female engineers. And that’s a consequence of the free choice of men and women in the societies that have gone farther than any other societies to make gender equality the purpose of the law! Those are in ineradicable differences! You can eradicate them with tremendous social pressure and tyranny! But if you leave men and women to make their own choices you will not get equal outcome! Newman: Right, so you’re saying that anyone who believes in equality, whether you call them feminists, call them whatever you want to call them, should basically give up, because it ain’t gonna happen! Peterson: Only if they’re aiming at equality of outcome. Newman: So you’re saying give people equality of opportunity, that’s fine? Peterson: Not only fine, it’s eminently desirable for everyone, for individuals and for society. Newman: But still women aren’t gonna make it! That’s what you’re really saying…. This is a sidebar to Dr. Joel McDurmon's feature article on Dr. Jordan Peterson that appeared in the March/April issue. The top picture is one of the many memes that quickly appeared all over the Internet soon after the interview concluded....

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Seniors: Florida does not exist

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

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

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

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Afterward...

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

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It's necessary: use words!

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

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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....