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All's well with the Earth

"I'm so glad that my parents never experienced such a time as this, such a time of uncertainty." "I'm so glad they did not have to endure this period of trial during which churches and other places are closed." "I'm so thankful that they did not have to live through these past two years because it would have broken their heart to know that I would not have been able to visit them in their old age home or sit at their bedside in a hospital."

***

Presently many people quote and identify with such sentiments as are stated above. There are those who have become terribly angry; others are reduced to tears of depression because of increasing loneliness; there are many others who are extremely frustrated about being denied access to restaurants, theatres and vacations; and there are those who fear the ongoing Covid death tolls announced daily in the news media. Is it true that our parents, our ancestors, or any people in times past, had no idea about such hardships or deprivations? Or have past generations undergone their own distressing circumstances and severe affliction? And does history give us accountings of such circumstances? Consider Charles Spurgeon, (1834-1892), who lived with much pain a great part of his life. His wife was bedridden for the greater part of their marriage. Spurgeon had smallpox, he had gout, as well as rheumatism, Bright's disease (an inflammation of the kidneys) and was afflicted, from time to time, with severe depression. It is recorded that he spent nearly a third of his last twenty-two years not even able to preach. Still, this preacher freely confessed that his distress and hardship drew him closer to God. He is quoted as saying, speaking to a number of ministers and students:

"I daresay the greatest earthly blessing that God can give to any of us is health, with the exception of sickness... If some men I know could only be favored with a month of rheumatism, it would by God's grace, mellow them marvelously."

Since the Fall, suffering and distress have been part of humanity. Perhaps, being caught smack in the middle of a discouraging time period, it would seem that this twenty-first century is undergoing an especially calamitous and catastrophic time. Yet going back only a little in time, as little as the last century, we immediately glimpse turmoil, confusion and unrest in that time period as well. And yet our parents lived through it – lived through it and were blessed. My father and mother, for example, were born in the first decade of 1900 – a time rife with many tragic and disastrous events. An extremely limited but worthwhile overview follows, listing a few of those events.

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At the onset of the twentieth century, concentration camps were being operated by the British in South Africa. This was during and after the Second Boer War (1899-1902). Whole regions in South Africa were targeted and depopulated. Systematic destruction of Boer crops and livestock went alongside the burning down of homesteads and farms to prevent the Boers from returning there. Tens of thousands of men, women and children were forcibly moved into these concentration camps. Originally set up as refugee camps for displaced people, epidemics of measles and typhoid killed thousands interred there. Hygiene was terrible. Eventually, there were a total of 45 camps for the Boers and 64 more camps for black Africans. Of the 28,000 Boer men who were captured as prisoners of war, 25,630 were sent overseas. Approximately 26,000 women and children died in these camps. In 1906 there was an earthquake in California. This 7.9 earthquake ranks as one of the most significant earthquakes of all time. Its epicenter was near San Francisco, and it spawned devastating fires in its wake. More than 3,000 people died and over eighty percent of the city was destroyed. In 1907 a Peasants' Revolt in Romania, caused by inequity in land ownership, was squelched by the Romanian military. At least 11,000 were killed. 1908 saw another destructive earthquake. It took place in Italy. Measured as 7.1 in magnitude, it caused the death of between 75,000 and 82,000 people. The city of Messina's shoreline was greatly altered, as large sections of its coast sunk several feet into the sea. Houses, churches, palaces and monuments collapsed. Without distinction, railway workers, priests, sculptors, historians, politicians, ambassadors, policemen, writers, singers and attorneys were struck down in one small moment of time. In 1912, the ship Titanic sank after striking an iceberg. Fifteen thousand of her passengers died. The ship carried some of the wealthiest people in England as well as hundreds of immigrants from Great Britain, Ireland and Scandinavia – people who were seeking a new life in the US. In 1912-13 the First and Second Balkan Wars ravaged southeastern Europe. These resulted in huge casualties. The Bulgarians lost approximately 65,000 men, the Greeks 9,500, the Montenegrins, 3,000, the Serbs at least 36,000 and the Ottomans as many as 125,000. As well, tens of thousands of civilians died from disease. In 1914 WWI began, resulting in the deaths of 40 million. From February 1918 to April 1920 the Spanish Flu or the Great Influenza Epidemic seemed to reign. A deadly global influenza pandemic, it was caused by the H1N1 influenza A virus. With 500 million suspected cases, this pandemic engendered an estimated 25-50 million deaths.

***

Often, we think we are in control, or we want to be in control, in total control… and then something happens. It might be an accident, job loss, a war, a broken relationship, or a pandemic. But these things have always been and will be until Christ returns. Another quote from Spurgeon puts it in this way, a very good way:

"I am afraid that all the grace I have got of my comfortable and easy times and happy hours, might almost lie on a penny. But the good that I have received from my sorrows, and pains, and griefs, is altogether incalculable.... Affliction is...the best book in a minister's library."

Isaiah, the great prophet Isaiah, totally concurs with Spurgeon and calls out the words of our providential God and Father:

I am the Lord, and there is no other, besides me there is no God; I equip you, though you do not know me,  that people may know, from the rising of the sun and from the west, that there is none besides me; I am the Lord, and there is no other.

 I form light and create darkness; I make well-being and create calamity; I am the Lord, who does all these things.

– Isaiah 45:5-7

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Gezellig: cozy, restful

When I think of my mom, an image that often comes to me is one of her sitting in her rocking chair, holding her cup of coffee, either reading her Bible or cuddling a child. It is not just an image, it is a feeling, one of safety and of rest. Those who know my mom know she is one of the hardest workers in Christ’s field, always serving her family and his church, filling her home with baked goods for anyone who stops by, and frozen meals so that unexpected visitors are always expected. Yet, a hard-working pattern of life at my parents' home is also a life of rest. How? My parents are both children of Dutch immigrants who fled Holland in the years following WWII. These grandparents of mine helped start faithful Reformed churches and worked incredibly hard to survive in a new land. They brought their Dutch traditions with them, some that continue to be practiced among their grandchildren, and some which have likely faded away with time. One simple, but beautiful tradition that may start fading in our modern world is that of a gezellig coffee break. Gezellig means something cozy, restful, a comfortable conviviality that fills you up with joy. The Swedish word is fika and in Danish, hygge means something similar. Having a hygge life has become more popular in North America in the past few years, books have been written on it, numerous blog posts talk about it. Hygge is the pursuit of everyday happiness, a sense of comfort and togetherness, it is warm socks and a crackling fire. In the modern world, people are in desperate need of an excuse to slow down, a practice to help them savor the moment. When I started to notice these words pop up on my social media feed I was immediately transported to my Dutch upbringing of coffee and cake after church, coffee time each afternoon when dad came home, and morning coffee time. Unfortunately, my usual practice is to make coffee for myself in the morning and then carry it around with me wherever I go for the next two hours. I know this is not unique, in fact, it has become a marketable practice as special coffee cups to transport and keep your coffee warm are now a regular commodity. Last summer I got the privilege of spending three months on my parents' farm. Each day my parents were up early working, but at 10:00 am we always stopped for a coffee and snack break. 15 minutes of rest, then back at work till lunch, then work until 3:00 pm for another short rest with a drink and snack. A much-loved tradition in the hearts of all us siblings, and in our many friends over the years, was an added nightly ritual around 9:00 pm of gathering together for a drink and snacks to spend time talking about our day and enjoying one another. My husband and I remarked to each other many times throughout last summer that we did not understand how we could end a day feeling more productive than usual, but also more rested. I believe the answer is in these natural patterns of life my parents had, with these simple breaks to gather and be still. For me, this practice of hard work and regular coffee breaks has become a daily reminder of the life of a Christian. Living on this side of heaven we still must work hard to fight against sin, the world, and the devil. We are not yet fully in the Promised Land. Yet, already in Christ we also have all the spiritual blessings in the heavenly places (Eph.2:6-7). We work and simultaneously rest, resting in the joy that it has all been accomplished, in Christ who has declared, “you are mine!” The coffee break does not have to include others, the routines of these moments of sitting and resting are also a habit of the heart to rest in the day that the Lord has made. A day of hard work becomes marked by the joy also of looking forward to these quiet times of savoring the moment, leaning into Christ, and having fellowship in your home. My children love to have “tea-time” with mom, a momentary break each day to sit and see the little blessings we have, the birds that fly by our yard, the taste of the tea, a little snuggle, and a plan for what the rest of the day will look like. Of course, when your children are young not each day will be gezellig, for each magical morning you may have one terrible one, and two mediocre ones, but it's the life-long pattern that matters, and it's the building of relationship blocks that will have your children coming over for coffee time way into their adulthood. Do not underestimate how beneficial it may be for your marriage to have a daily practice of sitting for 15 minutes and enjoying the day together. My parents did that faithfully, and it's another one of those images that brings me delight in the wisdom they taught by example. Work hard and rest. Sit on your own. Fellowship with your family. Invite friends and strangers over. Let the watching world see your deep joy rooted in a simple life filled with the beautiful blessings of rest and a gaze towards the One who gives it. One last note: a gezellig coffee break has no room for cell phones....

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Neither poverty nor riches? Making God our priority in prayer

People prefer to be rich rather than poor. It’s therefore striking that the Bible gives us a record of this prayer in Prov. 30:8: …give me neither poverty nor riches; feed me with the food that is needful for me. Agur, the person expressing this, isn’t asking for much: just an allotment of bread, a fixed portion. He leaves it up to the LORD God to establish that portion. A humble petition This Old Testament prayer is echoed in the petition that Jesus taught his disciples: “Give us this day our daily bread” (Matt. 6:11). Does this idea, especially seen against its more explicit setting in the Old Testament, make you feel uncomfortable? Do you find it difficult or easy to pray like this? Or don’t you pray about your daily needs at all? What’s the further biblical context of this request? Although the LORD may give us earthly riches, he teaches us to focus not on them, but on his Kingdom. God is our Father, the King of his people. He lovingly directs our lives and calls us to respond to him by relying on him to provide for us while serving him gladly (Ps 100:2). Pray confidently to our all-powerful and merciful Father for daily food! By praying in this way, you oppose the spirit of the world. You reject the idea that people are self-sufficient. People often think they can take care of themselves. They cherish the illusion that they are in full control of events. But God gives sunshine and rain. Without his blessings, crops will fail and ultimately all endeavours will amount to nothing that has eternal value. It’s a human inclination to want an abundance of good things. However, understanding our calling to live for God leads to a reorientation of our lives. Through Jesus Christ, God gives the means we need to live for him. We learn to pray for what we need to live for him in a fruitful way. A bold petition This is also the thrust of the prayer of Jabez in 1 Chr 4:9-10, a petition of a man whose name is linked to the pain of his mother at childbirth. Although Scripture describes such pain as one of the consequences of sin, this doesn’t exclude the possibility of blessings. Jabez prayed to “the God of Israel,” asking for the blessing of enlarged borders, meaning more territory. Was this a greedy petition? No, it was in harmony with the LORD’s promise of land for his people to provide for their needs. Jabez asked for more territory within the context of fellowship with the LORD, praying “that your hand might be with me.” He also prayed, “keep me from harm so that it might not bring me pain.” This is at root not unlike the petition “deliver us from evil” (Mt 6:13) in the Lord’s Prayer. So, we pray for and look for opportunities to serve our God fruitfully with what he provides. The important thing is to leave it up to him how he will honour such petitions as we seek to use the gifts he gives us to glorify him.  A liberating petition The LORD determines the potential and the limits of our abilities. Knowing and acknowledging this can be a liberating experience. Don't take on too many responsibilities, trying to do more than you can actually oversee. Whatever you do, keep in mind what your motives are. Are you doing this to serve God, or just to get even further ahead financially? There is more to life than economic gains. Do you have a family? You have more than just financial responsibilities toward them. We live in a world that is affected by man’s fall into sin. That means there are spiritual challenges which we will have to face. Lay your motives and goals before the LORD God in prayer. That makes a big difference. It will lead to peace. The condition is, however, to trust in God and ask him for our daily bread. As long as he has a task for us in this life, he will provide us with what we need.  Dr. Pol is a retired minister of the Carman West Canadian Reformed Church in Manitoba....

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Comfort facing death

Do you ever think about your own death? Poets may come up with flowery words and philosophers may make scholarly statements that ring hollow when there is no connection with the Word of God. But in Psalm 139 God gives us the comfort we need when facing the end of our lives. It brings into sharp focus that no matter where we are, the LORD, our covenant God, is there. He knows everything about us, even our thoughts! That can frighten someone who tries to escape from God, but for those who put their trust in Him, it gives us confidence and strength. God has been working on us In verse 13, David highlights God’s personal involvement in our lives from conception onwards. He poetically describes the creative activity of the LORD, “you formed my inward parts.” The Hebrew word used for “formed” here points to ownership. Our God has been personally involved in shaping our bodies and has laid his personal stamp on our very being. David continues the thought in a parallel fashion, “you knitted me together in my mother’s womb.” He is honouring the LORD, who lays the basis for the development of each body part, weaving the network of bones and tissues. “I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made” (Ps 139:14). In verse 15, David speaks of having been “woven.” The word he uses occurs eight times in the book of Exodus. There it refers to the work of someone who weaves coloured cloth or who embroiders a cloth with coloured threads. That requires talent and skill. As scientific advances continue, we can learn more and more about the complexity of the human body and stand in awe of God’s creative work! God has plans for us David marvels further in the next verse, “Your eyes saw my unformed substance.” This indicates divine activity, not the seeing of an uninterested spectator. He broadens the picture dramatically by stating “in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them.” God’s knowledge of our lives includes foreknowledge. His care for us predates our lives and forms part of a plan that extends beyond our temporary existence on earth. Knowing that our lives here on earth are limited by God should not make us afraid. He, who has put so much thought and effort into forming us in the wombs of our mothers, promises to be with us throughout our lives and beyond that. God is with us Centuries after David wrote Psalm 139, God was at work in the womb of the virgin Mary. He shaped a body for his only begotten Son. The coming of the Son of God into the world was truly a “wonder,” a miracle beyond comprehension. Jesus Christ is Immanuel, “God with us.” Nothing throughout his life, including his crucifixion and death, happened by chance. He was “delivered up… crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men,” but all of this took place “according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God” (Ac 2:23). God’s plan was for his Son to become the Saviour of sinners and to lead people like you and me into fellowship with God forever. The question we face when contemplating David’s words is whether or not we are prepared to echo them. Do we take comfort from knowing that our Creator is the LORD, our faithful covenant God? Are we entrusting ourselves and our eternal future into the hands of him who put so much thought and effort into forming us in the wombs of our mothers? Psalm 139 ends with a petition. “Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts! And see if there be any grievous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting!” (Ps 139: 23-24). Are you prepared to make this prayer your own? Guided by the Word and Spirit of God, you may then be confident that his way is the way of life forever with him (Ps 139:24)! Dr. Pol is a retired minister of the Carman West Canadian Reformed Church in Manitoba....

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A matter of seeing: decay and delights to consider

Some years back we rented a little island cottage north of Kingston, Ontario, sight unseen, for the first week of July.  The fact that in a world filled with animosity and chaos – spiritually as well as financially – we could freely do such a thing as rent a cottage was truly amazing.  We read of beheadings, homicides, protests, countless refugee camps; of the persecuted, impoverished and dying; of massive and mind-boggling national debts; and we were free and able to go to a cottage.  It is something to digest - something over which to chew. It was a Friday afternoon when we traveled along the 401 towards our destination. We stopped at a small motel across from the Brighton Christian Reformed Church where, forty-two years ago, our second daughter had been baptized by my oldest brother. My brother is now with the Lord; the church, however, and its denomination, have deteriorated incredibly. We walked around the church building with a pang and thought, “How the mighty have fallen,” but Paul's voice reproved us as we drove away across the black parking lot, “... let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall.” Four score and some years… Saturday morning we drove on towards Elgin, bought some fruit and then, became a trifle lost.  We asked directions from a man who was an apparent four score and some years – a man who was motoring along on the edge of his driveway in a wheelchair.  He was a friendly sort, all gummy smiles and anxious to help.  After he had pointed us in the right direction, he began to back up his wheelchair... towards the nearby ditch. My husband, Anco, spoke loudly through the open window, "Stop! Stop, sir!  There's a ditch behind you!" His voice grew louder as the thin, old figure smilingly continued to move backwards. "Stop! Stop!" It was too late. The wheelchair and its occupant slid down a small embankment.  The octogenarian fell backwards off his seat and tumbled onto the grass.  We were both out of the car in an instant, as was another motorist passing by. Thin glasses had been knocked off.  We reached him as he, on all fours, was reaching for them. A little dazed, the man still smiled as we carefully helped him up. "You really have to watch those culverts," he said and grinned, while blood dribbled down his nose from small cut next to his left eye. "Are you all right?" I held onto his arm, and he nodded brightly. "I'm fine, really I am." My husband and the other motorist retrieved the mechanized wheelchair, rolling it back onto the driveway.  I held a kleenex on his cut and like a child that has fallen off his bicycle for the first time, he climbed back on the wheelchair full of courage. "I hit the reverse instead of the forward," he said, "I should have known better." Anco checked the cut, but it was small and he seemed fine.  So we drove off as he waved to us. Good news and bad We launched our boat at the appointed dock at Sand Lake.  The owner, who was to meet us and guide us to the cottage, was late. She arrived in a small aluminum boat, exclaiming as she jumped out, "You must be Anco and Christine.  Sorry about the wait." We nodded and she went on. "There's good news and bad news.  I'll give you the bad news first." We nodded again. "There was a fire in your cottage last night and the fire department had to come.  The good news is that the cottage did not burn down and my daughter and myself have been cleaning all day." We sympathized greatly, raised our eyebrows at one another when she wasn't looking, and followed her, boat-wise, out to the cottage.  A little three-room construction on a beautiful hilly, three-acre island met our eyes.  Fir trees, mossy rocks, a female loon nesting on a little outcropping by the dock, all met our expectations of a northern getaway.  Disembarking and loading ourselves down with food and luggage, we climbed up a small path towards the front door.  As we entered the smell of smoke pricked our nostrils.  The upstairs bedroom ceiling was somewhat blackened but, on the whole, with the windows flung wide open, things seemed to be under control. "The last people," Joan, our landlady, volunteered, "foolishly lit a candle before drifting off to sleep and the lampshade under which the candle was standing caught fire.  The wife burned one of her hands trying to put the fire out.  She had to go to emergency.  They left a day early." We nodded once more and felt compelled to say that, generally speaking, we were not in the habit of burning candles. Joan next related that a John 3:16 framed Bible text had been standing on the night table but, amazingly enough, it had not caught fire.  This was something which had confounded the pyromaniac couple causing them to exclaim, "Your God did not burn!"  Joan, who was a Christian, smiled as she told us this, commenting that perhaps this would give them something to think about. Wonders to behold We spent the week fishing, playing Boggle, reading Spurgeon sermons and marveling at God's creation. There was a scarlet tanager moment in which we noted a small splotch of red in a rock pool - a crimson fifth-day creature stretching its wings as it bathed.  God must have smiled when he pronounced this bird good. We often heard the raucous cry of the great blue heron as he skimmed by and saw, nearby, the dark belly and the white tail of the bald eagle majestically soar overhead.  Again and again, the muskrat, apparently undaunted by our presence, swam up to and past our boat towards rock crevices on the shore.  Daily the female loon, whom we dubbed Constance for her faithfulness in brooding her eggs, eyed us as we paddled by on our way out.  A cerulean warbler sang a duet with a pine warbler.  Water lilies lined inlets and little bays.  During the day, the high heavens above declared how great God's love was towards us; and as we contentedly fished in the evening, the red-balled setting sun in the west sang of the immeasurable distance God had removed our sins from us.  The osprey as well as the kingfisher dove, the big and small mouthed bass bit, and we tanned under God's goodness. Something better coming Yet we were unable to forget that we are pilgrims and continue to be pilgrims en route to a much, much better place than Sand Lake or any other northern getaway.  For even as we enjoyed and glorified God's goodness, Genesis 3 lurked in the background. We noted that creation has many thorns and thistles. There was poison ivy to avoid.  Fly-catchers hunted dragonflies and other insects. Bald eagles and osprey ate fish. Owls hunted mice... and so the list went on.  And in the background, the newspaper headlines we had left behind, whispered of terrorist organizations, human turkey vultures, seemingly devouring God's people as if eating bread.  Neither could we hide from the rampant materialism, egoism and self-centeredness breeding around and in ourselves.  It skulked in our hearts and minds; it hid in the weeds as we trolled the shores of earthly life for a piece of the action. On our way home, we stopped to say hello to the man who had fallen off his wheelchair.  Full of good cheer, he was glad to see us.  He told us that when he had fallen off his wheelchair, one of the things that had initially concerned him the most was that he might have lost his eye.  It seemed that his left eye was made of glass.  He was greatly relieved that it had remained in place in spite of the fall.  We told him that we had prayed for his well-being and he smiled broadly. We drove off thinking about the man's eye, and about eyes in general. After the fall, the continued though spoiled beauty in nature is God's gift; and the promise of a totally renewed nature – both for the earth and for ourselves – through our Lord Jesus Christ, is grace.  And Paul's words of hope followed us as we drove home on the highway, "For, as it is written, no eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love Him" (I Cor. 2:9). This first appeared in the November 2015 issue. Christine Farenhorst is the author of many books, including "Hidden: Stories of War and Peace," "Katharina, Katharina: the story of Katharina Schutz Zell," and "The Sweet Taste of Providence."...

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Love your emotions by making them obey Jesus

Emotional control is a wonderful thing, but it is also much misunderstood. Whenever I say something like the quote included here above, women rush to assume that I am saying emotions (in and of themselves) are a bad thing. Or that a godly life is a life where you stoically don’t feel or express anything. Neither of these things are accurate – and there really is another way to live with your emotions that is not indulgence or suppression. Imagine a person with dogs in their house who are entirely untrained and untended – tearing up the couches, relieving themselves in the house, biting people who come to the door, and fighting with each other. Compare that to a dog owner whose dogs are well behaved, getting exercised well, fed well, trained well, and like to sleep by the fire on their monogrammed dog beds. Which owner actually appreciates and enjoys dogs? Which can truly be said to love dogs? Which owner understands the value and gifts of dogs? Clearly the second! The first is a style of ownership which we would not be wrong to call abusive. It is unkind and actually hateful. The second is characterized by love. To refuse to discipline your emotions is not loving them, but rather hating them. It is to have a worse emotional life. When we require obedience of emotions, we are actually appreciating and loving them. There are times when your emotions want to do what is right – that’s like when we take our dog on a walk and she joyfully runs off in the fields looking for pheasants, doing exactly what she was made to do. It is a delight. But there are also times when our emotions want to do what they may not – like when our dog wants to go kill one of the neighbor’s chickens. To love her is to restrain her. To appreciate her is to not allow her to do whatever she wants. Sometimes she has really terrible wants – just like us! Self-control is a good thing – it is a fruit of the Spirit! If you have been living a life where your emotions are tearing apart the couches and destroying your peace and all those around you, you need to ask the Lord to intervene and help you learn to control them. He will. Rachel Jankovic is the author of “Loving the Little Years: Motherhood in the Trenches,” “Fit to Burst: Abundance, Mayhem, and the Joys of Motherhood,” and “You Who? Why you matter and how to deal with it” which we’ve reviewed here....

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Woven Together

My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place, when I was woven together in the depths of the earth. Your eyes saw my unformed body; all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be. (Psalm 139:15-16) ***** It was a rather warm, early afternoon, if I recall properly, a long-ago day in April of 1978. Our oldest daughter was in grade one, our second daughter was attending kindergarten and the two younger ones were napping soundly. I was cleaning up after lunch and rather contemplating a nap myself when the telephone rang. Picking it up, the voice of an old acquaintance came through. "Christine? This is Anna Piller." "Yes, how are you Anna? Good to hear your voice. I haven't heard from you for quite a while." "I'm fine." There was a silence and I heard the clock ticking through it. "How are your girls?" I recalled that Anna had four daughters. She had taught at the local Christian school for a while, but had left to move south to the London area. "They are fine." There was another silence. Then Anna continued, continued rather hesitantly. "Actually, they're not fine. That is to say, Rachel is...." I tried to help her: "Is something wrong with Rachel, Anna?" "She's pregnant, Christine. And here's the thing. I wonder if she can stay with you for a while? If you would take her into your home." Rachel was the second of Anna's daughters. Anna was a divorcee. Her husband had committed adultery, had not repented and had left her and the girls a number of years prior to her teaching at our school. "Is the father of the baby," I began softly, but was interrupted. "There's not going to be any wedding, Christine." "Oh," I answered, and then went on, "and you want Rachel to stay with us?" "You have such a nice family," Anna rushed on, "and I would feel so good to know that she is with you." When someone tells you that you have a nice family, pride oozes through your veins. You instantly feel good about yourself and when Anna complimented our household, there was no doubt in my mind that I wanted to help. "How far along is she?" "She's only two months and she feels sick as a dog every morning." I was expecting our fifth and not sick in the least. But I felt instant empathy for Rachel. No husband to help her, she was probably worried about what the community would say and she was so very young. I ventured to guess she was only seventeen or so. Compassion filled me. "I'd have to speak with my husband, Anna, but I think that we could make room for Rachel." "There's something else, Christine. Rachel is going to abort the baby before coming to your house." I was knocked for a loop and honestly did not know what to say for the next minute or so. "Oh, Anna." "Yes, I know." There was a long drawn-out sigh and the clock on the wall kept ticking. "You know this is not right. Why would she...." "I've spoken with her, Christine. I've tried to persuade her to keep the baby but she won't listen to me. There are counselors.... and they say.... I just think that after the abortion she's going to feel pretty low and that she won't feel good about being here and being with you might just raise her spirits and be a good influence on her. Again Anna's sentence stopped midair. Unconsciously I had put my hand on my belly, as if to shut out the influence of the secular world from my unborn, and very much wanted, fifth child. I took a deep breath. "I'll drive down to where you live, Anna, and speak with Rachel myself. I'd like to try and change her mind. You see we are also expecting another baby and maybe I could....” In the end, after discussing it at length, my husband and I decided that Rachel would be welcomed into our home with open arms if she chose to keep the baby, if she chose to stay pregnant. We would help her, encourage her, pay for what she needed and love her. But if she chose to abort prior to coming to our home, she would have to make other arrangements. I drove to the London/Woodstock area shortly after that and had two long conversations - one with Anna and another with Rachel. Rachel almost agreed to come home with me, but in the end she changed her mind and opted for abortion. Anna, the grandmother of the little unborn, was sorry about the situation but it was obvious that she would have found it most convenient to board out her daughter. I drove home sorrowful and have never found out what happened. Both my husband and I were convinced that God would provide for Rachel through ourselves if she chose life. Perhaps, in the end, she did and we were never apprised of the fact. We pray that she did. ***** Mark Jones, pastor of the Faith Reformed Presbyterian Church in Vancouver, Canada, has recently (2019) written a book entitled If I Could Speak - Letters from the Womb. In it are fifteen chapters. Each chapter is a letter written from the womb by a tiny fetus named Zoe. Zoe begins each of her letters with a statement – statements such as "I can hear your voice," and "You and daddy put me here," or "I'd rather be adopted than aborted." The letters are obviously beyond the capacity of a little fetus. The reader is asked to overlook that and to indulge pastor Jones who in this touching and straightforward manner is arguing for life. He's making the case that abortion stops a human being from being able to laugh; from being able to give love; from being able to graduate from school; from caring for parents; and so on. He is, in effect, making the case that abortion is murder. In these days when new laws are being enacted and abortion in Canada is legal at all stages of pregnancy, (funded in part by the Canada Health Act), it is good to make this a matter of much prayer. Canada is the only nation with absolutely no specific legal restrictions on abortion. Human life is sacred because we, all of us, have been made in the "image of God." God alone has authority over life because He alone is its Author. Christine Farenhorst is the author of many short story collections including “Hidden: Stories of War and Peace” which you can find on Amazon.com and Amazon.ca....

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Why we don’t evangelize and why we must

If there is a time to be silent, there is also a time to speak (Eccl. 3:7). If the gospel is the Good News entrusted to us, we heap upon ourselves guilt if we neglect to pass it on. In his book Our Guilty Silence, Dr. John Stott lists four major causes for our silence. He said, “Either: we have no compelling incentive even to try to speak, or we do not know what to say, or we are not convinced that it is our job, or we do not believe we shall do any good, because we have forgotten the source of power.” And we can add a few causes of our own. Some have identified evangelism as an outgrowth of American activism – they think of it as just a bag of clever tricks and techniques to gain church members. Other are caught up in the tension between evangelism and preserving the purity of the church. They struggle with the question: What comes first, preserving the truth of the gospel and restoring the church through a Reformation or evangelism and missions? But the Bible does not allow us to emphasize the purity of doctrine at the expense of evangelism. Of course, we must stress purity of doctrine and contend for the faith once for all entrusted to the saints (Jude 3). But a church which keeps her doors closed out of fear that the world may enter is not faithful to the Gospel. A church which does not evangelize can be compared to a crew of a lifeboat anxious to save the souls of her own members. She certainly does not resemble a rescue brigade out to reach our fellow men, who are perishing without the Savior. When we live the Gospel, the tension between maintaining purity of doctrine and outreach into the community and world will not exist. We will spend our time and energy on both. So in this article I will point to six reasons why we must be active in congregational outreach. 1 - The Glory of God First, we must evangelize because we are zealous for the glory of God. As Reformed Christians we must always have the glory of God as our motive for action. That’s why Reformed Christians have been instrumental in establishing Christian schools, a Christian labor movement, a Christian businessmen’s organization, and we are involved in Christian politics and in a host of other Christian activities. And rightly so. These very activities attracted me to the Reformed faith. But we must not only strive to win all things for Christ, but also all people for Christ. The ultimate goal of all things is the glorification of God. “For of Him, and through Him, and to Him, are all things: to whom be glory for ever. Amen.” (Rom. 11:36). Our Savior Himself regarded the salvation of man as a means to bring glory to God. In His high priestly prayer He prayed, “I have brought you glory on earth by completing the work you gave me to do.” (John 17:4). Therefore, through evangelism we bring glory to God’s name. 2 - Obedience to God Second, we evangelize because our Lord commanded it. Evangelism is not an option, but a sacred duty and a high calling. We evangelize because we are commanded to as part of the all-inclusive task of the Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-20). Our Lord’s assignment is to proclaim the Gospel, bring new converts into the church, lead them to the sacrament of baptism and disciple them. Evangelism, then, is the work of the church in obedience to her Lord to make known the Gospel to those who are estranged from it or who have never heard it before and to call them to repentance, faith and conversion. 3 - Love for God Thirdly, love for God should motivate us to do evangelism. R.B. Kuiper called it, “The motive for evangelism, embracing and excelling all other worthy motives.” If the love for God does not compel us, what will? Yet in much current literature on evangelism this love motive is rarely mentioned. The emphasis is more on the felt needs of the non-Christians and on outreach techniques rather than on the force that should drive us to proclaim the Gospel - the love for God. “God is love” (1 John 4: 8,16). He has shown His love to us by sending His only Son into the world for our salvation (John 3:16). When we know why we are Christians and what we are saved from, we want others to share the same privilege. We cannot even begin to love people, if we have no love for God. John says, “We love because He first loved us” (1 John 4:19). The greatest command is, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind” (Matt. 22:37). As God has freely loved us, so we love Him. R.B. Kuiper comments: “Love for God and His Christ guarantees on the part of the believer loving, hence genuine and devoted, in distinction from external and legalistic, obedience to the divine command to evangelize the nations. And this love for God will keep us going even in the face of disappointment, lack of immediate results and discouragements.” I too, am convinced that we must focus on God’s love. We love God for His own sake. And when we love Him we will be affected by His love. The love for God will enable and encourage us to witness boldly for Christ. 4 - Love for our fellow man Fourthly, we evangelize because we love our fellowman. Yes, we must love God for His own sake, yet love for God must find its expression in our love for our neighbor. Jesus said that the first and greatest command is to love God. And He added, “the second is like it: love your neighbor as yourself” (Matt. 22:39). And I know no greater expression of love for God and our neighbor than to bring the Gospel to him and in this way bring glory to God. If we believe that our non-Christian neighbor is eternally lost unless he hears the gospel and responds to it, how can we remain silent? There is a heaven to be gained and a hell to be shunned. Hell has not frozen over. “The wages of sin is death” (Rom. 6:23). This is as true today as it was back in the Garden of Eden after Adam and Eve’s fall into sin. Jesus spoke of eternal punishment for the wicked, but for the righteous, eternal life (Matt. 25:46). Those who are not written in the Lamb’s Book of Life will be cast into the lake of fire (Rev. 20:15). Shouldn’t we ask, when we are honest with ourselves, “Don’t we suffer from the sin of omission?” God does not want anyone to perish (2 Pet. 3:9). He finds the salvation of one sinner so important that the angels in heaven rejoice every time a sinner repents of his sin and trusts Jesus as His Savior and Lord (Luke 15:10). But how can sinners put their trust in Him if they have never heard of Him? How can they hear unless someone preaches the Gospel to them? God will save many of the lost in the world, but He will do it only through men and women willing to go into the world with the Gospel (Rom.10). How can we, who subscribe to the truth that all who believe in Jesus Christ will be saved and all others are bound for hell, neglect to persuade them to turn from the road of destruction upon which they are walking? If we still believe in the reality of hell, evangelism will be indeed seen as a sacred duty. And we will say then with the apostle Paul, “We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making His appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God.” (2 Cor. 5:20). The late Rev. J. Overduin, a well-known Dutch author, pastor and evangelist, told the story of an atheist who had come to Christ and had become filled with love for Him. The converted atheist said that one thing he could not understand was that he had been living in a neighborhood where church people lived, but not a single one had ever told him the Gospel. I wonder how often this story can be repeated in our own neighborhoods. 5 - Love for the Church                                Fifthly, we evangelize because we love the church and long for her expansion in the world. By and large, today’s church gets bad press. But the church is still the bride and the body of Christ (Eph. 5:22ff; 1 Cor. 12). In His great commission, our Lord commanded His church not only to make disciples of all nations, but also to baptize them (Matt. 28:19). Evangelism, therefore, is not completed until the convert has joined the church. Professor Lindeboom aptly said: “Evangelism is not only a sign of health of the church, it also keeps her healthy. It is for every church a question of life and death. Through evangelism the church is concerned about her own well being.” 6 - Advance of the Kingdom of God Sixthly, we evangelize to advance the Kingdom of God. The Gospel which Jesus preached is described as “the Gospel of the Kingdom” (Matt. 4:23). Our Lord also said that He will not return until the Gospel of the Kingdom has been preached in all the world for a witness to all nations (Matt. 24:14). Our Lord taught us to pray, “Your Kingdom come, Your will be done on earth as it is heaven.” Lord’s Day 48 confesses that this petition means: “Rule us by your Word and Spirit in such a way that more and more we submit to you. Keep your church strong, and add to it. Destroy the devil’s work; destroy every force which revolts against you and every conspiracy against your Word. Do this until your Kingdom is so complete and perfect that in it you are all in all.” The Gospel of the Kingdom focuses on the whole person: the hungry, the naked, the afflicted, the mourning, the despairing, the exploited. Our world must be confronted with the claims of Christ. All who receive Him should honor Him as Lord. He is Lord of lords and King of kings (Rev. 17:14). The aim of evangelism, therefore, is to bring the world to the recognition of Christ’s Kingship. As a hymn writer put it: “Let every kindred, every tribe, on this terrestrial ball, To Him all majesty ascribe, and crown Him Lord of all.” Conclusion Since evangelism is imperative, I focused on the motives for reaching the lost for Christ. When we are rightly motivated, evangelism will be spontaneous. No packaged programs, no gimmicks, no marketing techniques will succeed in making permanent waves for evangelism. Only when the church is excited about the Gospel and Biblically motivated, will we see spontaneous evangelism. And this Biblical approach requires patience, understanding and empathy. As we reach the lost for Christ in obedience to the Great Commission, driven by our love for God and for our fellow man, we should remember what our primary calling is - not that we should be necessarily successful but faithful. In conclusion, consider the apostle Paul’s word of encouragement to the church in Corinth, which was troubled, yet engaged in evangelism: “I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God made it grow. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow” (1 Cor. 3:6). A version of this article first appeared in the February 2001 issue under the title “Our guilty silence.” Rev. Johan Tangelder (1936-2009) wrote for Reformed Perspective for 13 years and many of his articles have been collected at ReformedReflections.ca....

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

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

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Being salt and light

Matthew 5:13-16 means hiding and fitting in aren’t options ***** Two thousand years after Jesus warned us against losing our savor or hiding our light (Matthew 5:13-16), sociologists made an interesting discovery. They found that when a distinct, separate group of people is surrounded by a larger society – say, for example, immigrants newly arrived in Canada – their different values and beliefs will cause some conflict. To reduce this conflict with the surrounding culture, this small group will react in one of two predictable ways. They will either compromise their beliefs and become like the culture around them, or they will retreat within their own camp. They can then keep their beliefs and still avoid conflict since no one outside their camp will know what they believe. In other words, sociologists found out small groups tend to either lose their “saltiness” or hide their light "under a bowl." Israel and us This was true of Israel too. In Old Testament times the Israelites consistently lost their saltiness. Though they were a nation set apart, they wanted to be just like the nations all around them and wanted to worship those gods. The Lord would rescue them, sending them a Gideon or Elijah, but once the prophet of the day was dead it wasn’t long before the Israelites were back at it, trying to fit in with the nations around them. These passages might have us thinking Israelites were among the dumbest people who ever lived – they never seemed to learn from their mistakes! Then came the exile, and that changed things. The remnant that returned from exile had lived for years in a foreign land in the middle of a mixing bowl of other cultures, and yet they had held onto God through it all. Their saltiness had been preserved. But, to riff off of Martin Luther, Satan doesn’t care what side of the horse you slide off of, just so long as you do fall. Yes, the Israelites may have stayed loyal to the one true God, but they did so by creating walls to keep others out – more and more rules and requirements were added on top of the law of God. Instead of worshipping other gods, they became isolationists – they became Pharisees! Instead of losing their saltiness, they were now hiding their light under a bowl. Salt-free While it took the Israelites hundreds of years to switch from one sin to the other, Christians today often bounce from one to the next inside of a generation. If a young man has grown up in a church that knows the Bible but is insular and closed, he goes looking for something more open. He looks for a church that is less judgmental, more tolerant, and more loving…and if the minister’s sermons have more anecdotes than scriptural insights, so be it. In Canada, one of the biggest Protestant denominations is the United Church, despite the fact that leaders have gone so far as to deny the Lord’s resurrection. So why would any Christian be attracted to this church? Because their light is not under a bushel – they’re out in the community involved with issues like poverty, gender, and the refugee crisis. Their light is plain to see, even if their Christian distinctiveness, their saltiness, is lost. Blacked out light But what use is a church that doesn’t teach Christ is risen? The United Church has been corrupted by the culture around it, and if we don’t want to end up like them then our best course of action is clear – we must retreat from culture! This is the natural overreaction and the one that the older generation might have to most watch for. Christian schools, originally started to prepare our youth to interact with the world, can easily be turned into Christian shelters, whose new purpose is to hide our kids from the world. If someone was so inclined they could fill up all their time with church activities leaving no time for friends and neighbors outside our fellowship. A job in a godly company can be a blessing, but for the flee-from-culture-Christian it can also be another way to avoid interaction with non-Christians. Head too far in this direction and we can be left knowing the good news but not knowing anyone who needs to hear it – once again, our light will be hidden. In the world, not of it Christ knows us and our weaknesses. He understands it is in our nature to gravitate to being either salt or light. But it can’t be orthodoxy vs. outreach. He won’t settle for one or the other. Jesus wants prepared Christians to bravely venture out into the world to tell others about Him – He wants salt to be light. And He wants passionate Christians who are already interacting with our secular culture to learn and know and stand by what God says about baptism and homosexuality and predestination and spanking and creation – He wants light to be salt. Our tendency to fall one way or the other is a reason God has placed us in congregations – there salty souls and bright lights can encourage and equip one another, recognizing how vital it is to be both salt and light, and how wrong it is to contently be just one or the other. Then the younger sister who knows how very important it is to reach out to our surrounding community can, in humility, recognize that while she is right about the need to be a light, there is a lot about God that she doesn’t know and could learn from studied, salty congregation members. And an older man, who knows how very important it is to stand up for the truths about God evidenced in creation, infant baptism, and our confessions, can, in humility, recognize that there are others, maybe amongst the young people, who can teach him a thing or two about being a brighter light to the world around us. Being noticeable, and passing on what’s noteworthy: it is our calling and our privilege together. May God enable and encourage his Church to this glorious task in the year ahead. This editorial is based largely on Dick Keyes’ “Chameleon Christianity,” which is highly recommended. A version of it first appeared in the Dec. 2015 issue....

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There's an app for that!

Reformed Perspective's app can be downloaded for Apple and Android devices by clicking on the appropriate button below. Get it on your phone now to have ready access to our devotionals, articles, and podcasts. So click on the Apple or Android buttons below. And after you’ve downloaded and enjoyed the content, let your friends know so they can get it too! ...

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The Healing Touch

Be not wise in your own eyes; fear the Lord, and turn away from evil. It will be healing to your flesh and refreshment to your bones. (Prov. 3:7-8) *** Chapter 1 It was a warm day, and Meggy adjusted her close-fitting cap with a sigh. Its whiteness covered thick, dark braids wound tightly across a high-held head, and enfolded the sides of a well-sculpted face. Meggy felt like itching her scalp but knew that a few steps behind them Hawys, who always walked to church with father and herself, would comment on it. Capitulating to the older woman's unspoken influence, she refrained, and merely adjusted her waistcoast with a shrug of her small shoulders. "Do not move about so much, child. It is the Lord's Day after all." Hawys' correction came swiftly. Father glanced at Meggy with a sidelong look, and smiled an apologetic smile. He was not one for arguments although she was sure he sympathized. They both knew Hawys did not mean ill and besides that, they were staying in her house, living partly on her charity. "I can hear the Sanctus Bell." Hawys, picking up both speed and her long, dark blue skirt, swept past them. Meggy automatically increased her steps as well. "Come, Father," she whispered, as she tried to pull him along, "it will not do to irritate Hawys." Undisturbed, he calmly answered, "Surely the bell ringer has only just begun and we have time to spare." Not multiplying his measured paces, he ambled on, all the while tranquilly regarding their surroundings. Meggy was unsure. Should she stay with father, or should she shadow Hawys? In the end it was the sense of father's words that convinced her. St. Mary's Church was but some ten minutes or so from where they were, and surely the sexton would not shut the doors against them? "Have you perhaps knowledge that the Archbishop himself is attending today? Is that why you and Hawys are in such a hurry, Child?" Father was teasing her. Slowing down, she affectionately squeezed his arm. "It would be wonderful," he continued, "to hear actual instruction from the pulpit. But I confess that I have not much hope for it." Meggy did not answer. Her eyes were still fixed on Hawys who, glancing back over her shoulder every now and then, was gaining great ground. "We might walk a trifle faster, Father," she suggested, but he seemed not to hear. "Your mother, although a mite argumentative, was fond of a good sermon, Meggy," he went on, "and I vow that in the long run she would not be in favor of us continuing to attend St. Mary's." Meggy could see the flint and ironstone makings of the church building coming up ahead. It was a beautiful structure and she loved it. The graveyard at the rear where mother was buried was very peaceful. Betimes she walked there and marveled at the monuments and admired the many stained glass windows that laughed at her from the grey church walls. There was one special window she favored – one with green diamond-shaped panes between its lead outlines. She often stared at that window during services. Sometimes she felt as if staring at something beautiful might reflect into her own heart and consequently make it beautiful. Is that how one was saved? "Meggy, Child, we are here." Indeed, they were. To her relief, Meggy saw that there were many folks still entering the rounded-off-at-the-top double oak doors. After quickly looking up at the top of the tower, as she always did before entering the church, she espied the signal beacon, part of an ancient series of signal beacons.  "Look Father, the beacon." She sped up her steps even as she spoke but Father pulled her back. "Easy, Child. The building will not run away." He was forever chaffing her. "Know you that the church was probably built in the 1200s, and rebuilt in 1494?" She nodded. Yes, she did know that. "Well, Meggy, now the year is 1672, and that makes this building some four hundred years old. All that time it has stood there and it will very likely outlive us." "Yes, Father." Meggy lifted her skirts and crossed over the church threshold. Her father followed close behind. The foyer was cool and quite empty. Meggy immediately walked through and on into the church proper. Standing in its wide doorway with the entrance behind her, she searched for the familiar figure of Hawys who was wont to sit in the back on the right. About to enter, a voice made her turn. It was a voice addressing Father. "Good to see you, James Burnet." It was a low, male voice. She did not recognize it immediately. But as she turned and moved back into the foyer, she saw that it belonged to Timothy Newham, a haberdasher, who lived close to Whitehall. She had never before seen him in their church or, for that matter, at a conventicle. In all probability he was not a religious man. "Hello, Timothy." Father answered the haberdasher's greeting courteously. "I had been hoping that you would come by my shop this past week, James." Father shrugged. Meggy walked back to stand by his side. There was something sad about that shrug and she sensed he needed her. "You owe me some money, James Burnet, and I am here to obtain it." "My dear fellow," the reply came softly and courteously, "perhaps you could come by my shop later this week. It seems unfitting to discuss this matter here in church." "I have waited all of a month already, James, and have seen neither hide nor hair of you." Meggy could feel the eyes of fellow churchgoers pry into her back. She put her arm through father's. "Let's go on into the sanctuary, Father," she whispered. "Is this your daughter?" "Yes, I am," Meggy answered for him, "and I beg you, Sir, do not make a scene here in the Lord's house, for that is not proper." "Is it proper then to withhold five pounds owing me? Five pounds that have been loaned out for more than three months even though the understanding was that it would be paid back in two months time?" Meggy took note of the fact that father's breathing was becoming uneven and rapid. And she minded the times of late that he had been tired. "I have followed you to church, James Burnet," Timothy Newham went on, "and I will follow you inside the church sanctuary if need be, and demand in front of all these people that you give me my money. Perhaps shame will make you pay me back." At the last words, he raised his voice threateningly and it seemed to Meggy that it reverberated off the foyer's high ceiling. "Come, Father," she repeated gently, "maybe we should go home and we will sort it all out when we get there." "There is nothing to sort out," Timothy Newham insisted, "Your father owes me five pounds, a tidy sum when you are a poor man such as I am, and I'll wager that he has that amount hidden some place here or there in his shop." "Not so, Sir," Meggy replied, "and I would ask you to do us the kindness of leaving. Please call at our home at the noon hour tomorrow and we shall receive you properly. You have our word on it." Timothy gazed at her thoughtfully, gazed long and hard. It made her uncomfortable. He was an older man, and it did not seem fitting. "Very well then," he eventually retorted, "tomorrow it is at about twelve of the hour." He swung about and disappeared through the heavy oak door before a reply could be made. Chapter 2 Oliver Cromwell (1599-1658) It had been only four years since Cromwell, the Lord Protector, had died. During his time greater religious freedom had come about for the Protestants. However, then “the Restoration” had planted a new ruler on the English throne, a ruler who did not know Cromwell. He was of the house of Stuart and his name was Charles II. Although only a youthful thirty years of age, he was well versed in the vices of the world and his skill in these vices had spilled over into the country. Countries are labeled - labeled as republics, monarchies, dictatorships or otherwise. But should they be labeled thus? He who sits in the heavens laughs, and holds nations in derision. He has all things under His control and what He desires comes to pass. England breathed laboriously while Charles II ruled and was in great need of a physician. ***** James Burnet and his daughter stood in the church foyer for a few moments after Timothy Newham had left. Then, as if by common consent, they turned and departed the church building. No words were spoken on the way home. The streets lay silent for the church bells had stopped ringing. Meggy clung hard to her father's arm. James stopped walking every twenty steps or so and reflected on the fact that he had not been able to do as much work lately as he was wont to do. By his side, Meggy wished for the hundredth time that she had been born a boy and that her mother was still alive instead of lying in the burial ground back of the church. How they would both help father. She knew that they would. James Burnet was a pewterer. Although only a trifler in the trade, there was much call for the items he fashioned, items such as inkwells, mugs, badges, and candlesticks. He was not a wealthy man but small pewter utensils were popular and he sold of his wares to traveling tinsmiths who hawked them in the countryside. The Burnet family had been able to manage. James had taught his daughter much as she was growing into a young woman. Even now as they passed through the silent streets, Meggy could hear his instruction. "Pewter into which no water has come, becomes more white and like to silver, and less flexible," and "Nine parts or more of tin with one of regulus of antimony compose pewter," and "Pewter is called etain in French." The Worshipful Company of Pewterers in Oat Lane near the London Wall, stipulated that marriage to a member of the pewter guild conferred upon a woman the rights and privileges of the business. Mother, when she was married to father, had been put in charge of the financial side of the business and she had received the payments for all the work father had done. Her receipt to buyers had always been valid. One should not speak ill of the dead, but James' wife, although a hard worker, had clearly not enjoyed the trade and had made her husband's life rather miserable because of it. But she had been capable, and Meggy sorely missed the independence their little family had enjoyed. The Great Fire of London of 1666 The Great Fire of London had come in 1666 hot on the heels of the bubonic plague, which had hit in 1665. Destroying 13,200 houses, 87 parish churches, and St. Paul's Cathedral, the Fire had also burned both Margaret Burnet and her home. The Pewterers' Hall on Oat Lane had been destroyed as well, but it was being rebuilt. James Burnet had not had the money to rebuild his home. For a short while Charles II was blamed for these disasters. Some said his wicked lifestyle had brought about God's punishment on the city; others whispered that the king himself might have instigated the fire to punish the people of London for executing his father. Although James Burnet had been able to salvage some of his tools, the truth was that he and his daughter were left homeless. Hawys, a distant relative on mother's side, had kindly offered them living quarters. Her son Roger, a great big hulk of a lad, had from the beginning of their moving in, shown great interest in helping his relations. It had become a tacit agreement of sorts that he was working an apprenticeship. But nothing had been verbally agreed upon or signed. James, who was of a very cheerful and carefree disposition, had been glad of the young man's help. Irrationally, seventeen-year-old Meggy had not much liking for Roger and avoided him. Five years her senior, he displayed affection for father and her father returned it. Perhaps she was jealous. If father were to marry Hawys, the trade would eventually revert to her and later, to Roger. And it was a fact that Father was not well. He had of late been fatigued, unable to work much. Also, Meggy had noted that her father had a small, red swelling in his neck. Was he afflicted with a disease? She shrugged her small shoulders again. She did not like to think of such things, but the fears that crept into her mind and the raising of her small shoulders did not push the thoughts away. ***** Hawys asked no questions when she came home from church but simply laid out the Sunday meal on the kitchen table. Being discreet was a virtue, Meggy mulled, as she helped put the plates and ale on the board, admitting to herself that they were blessed to have such a relative. Although always adamant that they be in church on time, on the whole Hawys was a sweet-tempered woman and a good housekeeper. Father was determined that Meggy obey her in all matters. And rightly so, for did not the household run smoothly under her guidance and were they not clean and well fed? Hawys truly seemed to care for Father and for herself. Was she not even now fixing potions for his ailments, making sure he ate enough and did she not mend his clothes? Chapter 3 It was Lent. Now is the healing time decreed, for sins of heart and word and deed, when we in humble fear record, the wrong that we have done the Lord. So rang an old Latin rhyme and Meggy had heard father recite it often. Truthfully, Meggy was not aware that she had ever wronged the Lord. After all, she was quite careful to do all that was right. She obeyed father, loved him and worked hard at the chores Hawys gave her each day. So what was a healing time? She went to sleep thinking about it. But she had forgotten the words upon opening her eyes the next morning because the early air was filled with the sound of her father's coughing. Turning over uneasily, she listened as the grating noise crept under her bed and agitated the coverlet. Next to the bed, on a chair, she eyed her stay. She only wore it each Sunday and it had been mother's. Disliking its stiffness against her body underneath her gown, Meggy was glad it was Monday so that she could safely tuck the corset away into her dresser drawer. Hawys' spinning wheel was tucked into a nooked corner The coughing stopped and, breathing easier, Meggy turned onto her back. Her truckle bed stood at the foot of Hawys' fine feather bed. Hawys always rose at the crack of dawn and Meggy could now hear her rather shrill and drawn-out singing in the kitchen. Father slept with Roger in a side-room off the kitchen. He maintained that the kitchen was too cluttered and busy for him although Hawys was sure that sleeping on a cot in the kitchen would be a great deal warmer for him than the side-room. The kitchen was a room full of pewter, kettles, and skillets, with Hawys' spinning wheel round and annular in a nooked corner. The older woman had been trying to teach Meggy the intricacies and wonders of spinning, but the girl's hands stubbornly refused to convert fibers into yarn. Stretching her fingers, Meggy sighed and sat up, swinging her feet over the edge of the small bed. It might be a very fine day indeed were it not for the dismal fact that Timothy Newham was coming to see father. Sighing again, she stood up slowly and walked over to the washbasin atop the dresser next to the larger bed. Scrubbing her face hard to wash out the sleep, she pulled on a week dress overtop of her white shift. ***** "Good morning, Meggy," Hawys stopped singing to greet the girl's entry into the kitchen. A large wooden spoon in her hand, she stood stirring the porridge in a kettle hanging over the hearth. She followed her salutation with "How silently you enter this day, Child." "I am not a child," Meggy responded petulantly. "I know. I know," Hawys replied soothingly, "but I do want to braid your hair, big as you are, so come along and stand by the table after you fetch the comb from the side drawer. Meggy obeyed. She fetched the comb and stood quietly by the table as she watched the smoke from the fire on the hearth channel up the chimney. By and by Hawys came over and began to plait Meggy's hair. "You are truly silent," Hawys said once more as she put the finishing touch on the second braid, "and now that your hair is done, I would have you wash the front steps before breakfast." "Think you truly, Hawys," Meggy answered as she stood twirling the left braid with her right hand, "that Father might be ill and that he might... that he might perhaps have the scrofula?" "He has of late complained of a sore throat," Hawys answered. "But he could simply just have a sore throat for a while and then it will be gone. That has often been the case with me and with Roger. And I know that you have given him a tonic, and such complaints are common, are they not?" "As well, there is a small red swelling in his neck," Hawys said softly, hands on her aproned hips as she contemplated Meggy, "but that also is not uncommon. Indeed it could simply be a sting or some such thing. You as well as I know...." Her discourse was interrupted by her son Roger who burst into the kitchen from the side door. Tall and gangly, he was red in the face from some sort of excitement. "I can obtain a part-time position at the Palace of Whitehall," he broke in on his mother's words. "They are in need of gentleman ushers, seeing that Lent is here and that the king will begin audiences to touch the ill." "And what about your work for my father," Meggy demanded, letting her braid fall down, even as she emphasized the word my. "Oh, but I can do both," the young man answered, surprised at her vehemence, "for this work at the palace is only during the healing ceremonies this Lent. I simply help usher the poor into the king's presence and sprinkle rose water in the aisle to offset the stench these people carry. There are a number of young men who will do so. There will be a lot of people attending the ceremonies - from as far away as Russia, it is said. Besides that the work will pay." Meggy was not listening any longer. Her thoughts had wandered back to her father. "Father needs help all the time, Roger! You cannot be coming and going to ceremonies at the palace. You should constantly be with father and make sure he does not overwork." Roger looked surprised. His loose-fitting shirt was open at the neck and his collarbone protruded. "What ails you, Meggy? I am always helping him." "We were speaking of the scrofula," Hawys helped him out, "for Master Burnet has a red spot in his neck...." Again she was interrupted. "A red spot that could easily be the bite of an insect." Meggy's voice was shrill now and both Roger and Hawys eyed her uneasily. "An insect bite is quite likely," Meggy repeated loudly, "and is it not so, Roger, that you ought to be in the workshop with him right now, at this very moment." There was a lull in the conversation. Then Roger spoke on. His voice was calm and meant to put Meggy's fears at rest. "It is true that scrofula is called the Evil by many. It is a swollen and ulcerous condition and most pitiful to the eye. I have seen many people with it. Even now the ill are gathering in the streets awaiting the time when they will be allowed into the palace. But it is also said, and I know it to be true, that the scrofula, as well as other ills like it, often disappear of their own accord." "Well, father does not have it." Meggy stamped her foot on Roger's words as she spoke and then turned, walking past him out of the side door to her task of scrubbing the front steps. ***** During the next half hour, braids swinging back and forth as she scoured the stone steps, Meggy reflected again that Hawys and Roger were both actually very kind and that she had been rude. It was Roger who irritated Meggy. He was always so sure of himself, both in his demeanor and in his words and there was no doubt that father respected his opinion. She also had to admit, as the suds flew about the steps, that Roger was a fine help to father and seemed to be learning the trade. Perhaps, she pondered on as she swabbed and brushed, she truly was jealous. But jealousy was, as preacher Baxter had often pointed out in his sermons, a foothold for the devil to come into one's heart. Meggy and her father, as well as Hawys and Roger, divided their worship time between attending the Church of England and patronizing conventicles, even though conventicles were forbidden by law. Only five people, the law said, were allowed to meet together outside of the state church. Any larger number gathering for another church service was deemed illegal. Sometimes conventicles were held in the house of someone they knew, and at other times they were held in open fields. Meggy paused, wringing out the scrub cloth with her hands. Even though she admired St. Mary's Church, she also liked meeting out in open spaces, hearing pastors fervently extol God's goodness, and singing in the fields with only the sky for a ceiling. Watching the water drip down the steps, she wished that worries would run away as easily as the water, for there seemed to be so many of them. The worst of them was the fear that Father might have the scrofula, but hard on its heels was the fretting, the worry that had the name of Timothy Newham, the haberdasher, attached to its label. ***** After brealfast, Meggy was called into her father's workshop. "I owe Timothy Newham," he began, stopping rather abruptly and averting his face from her anxious gaze, before continuing, "I owe Timothy Newham," he started again, "some money, Meggy. I'm sorry, but there's the truth of it." He bent his head in such a way that she could clearly see the small red swelling in his neck. "What are we to do, Father?" "Well," her father answered softly, thoughtfully turning over a little pewter salt-shaker in his hands, "Hawys has graciously offered to pay the sum I owe and I would like you to deliver it to him. I would rather he did not come here, Meggy." "You want me to deliver the money to Timothy, Father?" "Yes, Child." "But how are we ever to repay Hawys, Father?" "I am going to marry her, Megs." Father only called her Megs when he was very moved and she intuitively felt she ought not to say anything which could trigger more emotions in him. "Hawys is good to us, is she not?" she managed, "But five pounds is but a little to build a marriage on surely?" He nodded and emboldened she went on, "Do you love her, Father? Do you love her like you did mother?" Actually Meggy was not sure whether or not her father had loved her mother. There had been many arguments between them. And the truth of it was that she had never yet heard him arguing with Hawys. But how had it come about that father owed Timothy Newham money? Timothy was a haberdasher and dealt in thread, tape, ribbons and other such things as a milliner also uses. His wares were in demand. She had been by his shop on occasion, sent by Hawys for something or other, and she had seen that the counter and the shelves in the haberdashery were crowded untidily with many things – things such as drinking horns, knives, scissors, combs, chess men, knee spurs and even girdles. Her mind had been turned topsy-turvy with the disorder in his store. There were so many items lying about that one's eyes became confused. "Why do you owe him money, Father?" "He had bought some tin in Cornwall, Megs, and he sold it to me for what seemed like a decent price at the time and I just have not been able to repay what he lent me for it." "Oh." Roger walked into the shop right into Meggy's “oh.” After looking at them for a moment, he began oiling the pewterer's wheel. The conversation fell silent. Father handed Meggy a small linen bag. "Go, Child," he concluded their discussion and then, turning to Roger, "I have some items for you to carry to Lion's Inn." Chapter 4 It was a fine morning and Meggy enjoyed walking. Timothy Newham's haberdashery was a good stretching of the legs away but she was young and relished the long stroll using the time to both look about and to think. Father's calling was to be a pewterer. Father's calling was to be a pewterer. Timothy's, on the other hand, was to be a haberdasher. Haberdasher – she repeated the word in her mind. It was a strange word but it was Timothy Newham's calling. And what was a calling? Calling was using one's voice but it was also something else – actually two other things. “There is a general calling,” father's voice plainly rang in her head, “for everyone. And that is a calling to conversion and holiness. Are you being called, Meggy? Are you God's child?” Father had asked her this question several times and always she had nodded in response, answering, “Yes, to be sure, Father.” But father must not have been satisfied with her sincerity, because he touched on the subject again and again. Was she converted? Was she holy? Even now as she walked the road, she pondered on the question. Truly, she did all things required of her, did she not? And did this not make her holy? She heard father's words again. “All those who come to church and sit in pews, Meggy, are not necessarily converted. To sit in a church does not mean you have been touched by the Spirit of God, Child.” Meggy lifted her skirts to avoid the blackish droppings of a horse straight on her path. Although she stayed close to the buildings, the filth of the streets was difficult to avoid. She was a little nervous too about the rats that scurried through the muck and grime. Of a certainty, father had told her often enough, the accumulation of waste had helped cause the Plague. If everyone would scrub their steps, as Hawys made her clean their steps most mornings, surely the problem would be less. She lifted her skirts again. It was hard work to live and maintain a family in London. She fell back to contemplating. “There is also a particular calling,” father's voice continued on in her head, “for every person, Meggy. And that calling consists of the specific tasks and occupations that God places before a person in the course of his daily living. It might be the work a person does for a living. For me that would be the work or calling of pewterer.” “And what do you think the particular calling is for me, Father?” she had countered, leaning cozily against him as they had sat talking in front of the hearth. He had stroked her hair as he replied, “It might be that of cooking, cleaning, listening to someone's troubles, or smiling.” “Smiling?” she had interrupted sitting up straight, almost laughing at the silliness of the suggestion. “Shall I stand at a booth, Father, selling smiles for ha'pennies to passersby? How could that be?” Father had laughed as well. “You see, Daughter,” he had explained, “you are good at smiling. Quite good, truth be told and God has given you smiles to bestow as a gift to others. Pastor Baxter, whom you have often heard at the conventicles,” he went on, “says there is a difference between washing dishes, scrubbing steps and preaching God's Word; but as touching to please God, there is no difference at all. Do you understand this, Meggy?” She had nodded. ***** "Hello, Meggy." All the while thinking and walking, she had almost bumped into Timothy, the haberdasher, who was standing in front of his shop window. Timothy's particular vocation, Meggy pondered on for a moment, was being a haberdasher. Of course he was also called to holiness, called to be a child of God? But he never.... "Are you dream-walking, girl?" Timothy spoke in jest as he looked approvingly at the blossoming young girl standing in front of him. Indeed, Meggy was pleasing to the eye. Red-cheeked, shining black braids bounching on her shoulders, clear, bright blue eyes warmly embracing her surroundings, she was a picture of health and self-assertion. Yet, at the same time, there was a shyness about her that appealed to the much older man. "I've brought you your money, Sir," she responded hesitantly after staring at him for a moment, reaching into the deep pocket of her skirt. Pulling up the small linen bag with the five pounds, she added, "Here is the money which father owes you." "Well, I was ready to walk to your house, but will not deny that I am happy you came here. It saves me both time and effort. Will you not come in for a minute while I make sure that all is accounted for?" He opened the door to his shop and extended an arm downward in welcome. Although she did not want to enter, she considered that the matter ought to be settled. Passing in front of him, she entered the haberdashery. Again, as before, the cluttered mayhem of his store overwhelmed her sense of orderliness. "Please sit for a moment," Timothy said, following her into his shop and, wiping the dust off a wooden stool. He indicated that she should make use of it. Lifting her skirts once more, she obliged. "It's a bit messy, I own," he continued, "and I warrant, it could use the touch of a decent woman." He eyed her for a moment before emptying the money into his right hand. Counting it, under his breath, he quickly ascertained that the coins added up to the right sum. "Do you want a receipt?" he went on to ask, "and might I also inquire if you left your father in good health this morning? "He's a bit poorly," she responded, before calling to mind that surely Timothy did not really care about her father's health, for if he had she would not be here now with the linen bag containing the money that he had demanded so crudely in the church foyer yesterday. "Yet he is well enough," she hastily appended. "I've just had a consignment of lace come in," Timothy volunteered the information slowly, regarding the girl as she sat on the stool, "and I'm thinking that a bit of lace would look fetching on your dress, Meggy." He spoke familiarly and it made her uncomfortable so that she gazed down at her hands without responding to his words. "Well then, you must be worried about your father," he went on, "for I call to mind that it is as you say, he did look a bit unwell the last few times I saw him. "He is well enough, Sir," Meggy defended, albeit in a flat tone, eyeing both the floor and the nearby door, hoping that the receipt would be forthcoming soon. "I expect that you've heard that the king will be coming to Whitehall later this week." "Yes, I have." "Indeed, he's come for the healing ceremony during this Lent. I am glad that you have heard of it." Timothy's eyes rested so long on Meggy that she nodded and he spoke on. "I'm surprised you're not more animated by this. The practice of healing by a reigning monarch such as King Charles II assuredly is common knowledge and I've no doubt you'll be wanting to take your father." "No, Sir." But Meggy's voice was unsure and Timothy was quick to latch onto it. He went on capturing her imagination with his words. "The practice of the 'healing touch' was first recorded centuries ago by the historian William of Malmesbury, who related the story of a barren wife. This wife, whose back was covered with ulcers, dreamt she was commanded to go to King Edward for a cure. So she traveled to court. The king, who much desired to help the poor woman, touched her back with water and her ulcers began to heal within a week's time. Not only that, but upon returning home, she was delivered of twins within that same year." Timothy stopped his narrative and considered Meggy's face. During the short discourse, he noted that she had become fascinated hanging onto his every word. Pleased and flattered, he continued, his voice lowered as if confiding a secret. "There have been other tales as well, including one in which King Edward carried a beggar on his back. The beggar was a cripple. The king carried him into St. Peter's church at Westminster after which the beggar was cured." "Is this true?" Meggy asked, eyes round, "I have always been taught that only God can effect a change in disease, so is it not false to say that earthly kings are able to effect cures?" Toffee-nosed, Timothy smiled down at her. "These ceremonies are extremely religious in nature. God gives kings this gift of healing as proof positive that they are chosen by Him to rule. So you need not worry about doing something that is wrong. Now if you are worried about your father's health...." He left the sentence unfinished and seeing her face become eager with hope, he continued in a scholarly tone, "Well then, I would advise you to look into going to Whitehall tomorrow." "Whitehall? Me?" "You speak, Meggy, as if you could not go there. But you could, you know. There are many who will go there." "But Father is not ... and I'm sure he wouldn't go. Besides I don't even know how I could get in." She stopped and shook her head before going on. "And I don't even know if what you are saying, Timothy Newham, is true. It could all be false and you could be telling me a tale." "There were years, it is true, that kings did not touch anyone. And that is probably why you, being some years younger than I am, are not as familiar with it as I am. During the time of Oliver Cromwell the practice was not in vogue at all. But now that a true king rules England once again, the touching ceremony has come back as indeed it should. Parish registers are kept and miracles have been recorded. My uncle is one as who keeps such registers. That is how I know." "I do not know if I ought to believe you or not." Meggy's voice was unsure. "Well," Timothy responded, looking with pleasure at the roses appearing on Meggy's cheeks in her agitation, "all I can tell you is that I can let you have a ticket so that you can enter Whitehall to listen to the ceremonies that will take place tomorrow. If you like what you hear, perhaps the day thereafter...? " He left the sentence dangling. "How is it that you can get such a ticket?" "I told you that my uncle, Robert Newham, is a registrar and he is one who gives out tickets and he has permitted me to sell them to such as are in need of healing." "Tickets?" Meggy responded, "and pray tell how much do these said tickets cost? And the truth of it is that I myself am not in need of healing." "It would not cost you anything, for I will gladly give you such a ticket." "You would?" "It makes me glad to see a daughter care so much for her father as you do for yours, Meggy." "He is not really ill, you know," Meggy responded rather feebly, "but it would do no harm...." She stopped before she added softly, "He would not go though. I know he would not." "Perhaps," Timothy suggested softly, "you might attend with me tomorrow, might attend the first ceremony at Whitehall to see for yourself what happens. Then, I am sure you would be persuaded of the reality of the cures effected by the king's touch. And being persuaded, you could easily convince your father to go the second day." "He is not convinced easily," Meggy responded, all the time seeing the swelling in her father's neck grow. "But you could go with me," Timothy let the words dangle like a carrot in front of her, before he went on "and see for yourself what happens." Meggy did not respond. "It is not an evil thing, Meggy. Gentlemen Ushers prepare the banqueting hall over which the king will preside. These ushers usually spray a perfume of sorts so that the stench of the ill will not overcome either him or bystanders. Next the Yeomen of the Guard bring in the sick, one by one, and they stand in the aisle before the king's place of sitting. It is after this that the king enters and sits down on a chair of state. His personal confessor, the Clerk of the Closet, will be standing at his side. The Prayer Book is placed on a cushion close by. You see, Meggy, it is all very religious and honors God." The girl said nothing, but her eyes were brimful of curiosity and wonder. "The Clerk's assistant," Timothy went on, "has gold medals or 'touch-pieces' hanging on ribbons on his arm. There are also two royal surgeons nearby waiting to escort the sick from the aisle right up to his majesty so that he can touch them. He strokes their necks, you see, in a loving way as they kneel in front of him, prior to their being healed." He stopped his oration and Meggy was torn. The words sounded so very good, so very real and so very loving. "I will go," she suddenly spoke decisively, "I will go with you, Timothy Newham, if you will be so good as to take me so that I can see and hear this firsthand. But I must hide this from Father and Hawys for surely they would think it nonsense. They are not overfond of the king, as you must know, but they do think that prayer...." She stopped and looked at the cluttered counter. So indeed was her heart cluttered, for there were so many things in there that she could not quite see straight. There was something askew with what Timothy was saying, but she could not manage to put her finger on it. “Whether you are well or sick, Meggy,” she could hear father say, “tis the Great God Who brings your state about. He is the One Who prevents sickness or brings it.” She nodded to herself. Yes, here was a bit of uncluttering. Again she heard her father say “Sometimes we are made ill, or someone we know is made ill, to test our faith and patience, Meggy.” "Well, Meggy," Timothy's voice interrupted her thoughts, "if you are of a mind to go with me to Whitehall you must be here at about one of the clock tomorrow. And perhaps the next day you can persuade your father to come with you. Be here promptly and I will be glad to be of service to you and your father. What can it hurt, after all, just to go and have a look?" This was true. Just looking and listening. Where could be the harm in that? She slowly slid down from the stool and stood directly in front of Timothy. He could possibly be an instrument in the hands of God to give her opportunity to help make father better. "I will be here at one of the clock tomorrow," she returned, walking past him out of the shop, not noting that the corners of Timothy's mouth had turned up, exposing square, yellow teeth in a half-smile - a triumphant smile. Chapter 5 Meggy had to tell an untruth at the evening meal in order to be able to leave the house the next afternoon. Allyson, the chandler's daughter, she mentioned to Hawys, her mouth full of pottage, had asked her help in making soap because her mother was ill with the ague. Roger stared at her in a strange way, a sad way almost. It made her feel rather awkward and she swallowed her mouthful with difficulty, because it seemed as if Roger knew that she was lying and that he was disappointed in her. But father smiled a broad smile and commented that this was most kind of her and of course she should go and help her friend. ***** Bells marked the one o'clock just as Meggy rounded the corner of the haberdasher's street the next day. Timothy, who was just closing the door of his shop, saw her coming. A smug look appeared on his face. Turning, he offered her his arm. She stopped short, confused by the gesture. "Come, come," he said, "you are young and must be escorted. I promise I shall take good care of you." When she still made no motion to take his arm, he scratched his head with his left hand. She marked the dirty fingernails on it. Then he remarked that he had forgotten something of import in his shop which she might find appealing. Stepping back, he unlocked the door of his store. "What have you forgotten?" she asked. "Oh, something you might find interesting," he replied, "Come in and I'll show you." A tad uncomfortable, but curiosity overcoming her sense of acceptable behavior, Meggy crossed over the threshhold once more stepping towards the counter. Timothy closed the door behind them. The click of the latch and the rather musty smell of the place straight away awoke her to the impropriety of the situation. Timothy moved a few paces into the shop. Then he sidled back and stood in front of the door. Particles of dust settled down on the counter. Suddenly extremely anxious, she stood stock still, wishing with all her heart that she had stayed outside. Timothy inched a bit closer. "You know," he mouthed, "you're a very pretty young lady." Meggy stepped sideways. Even though he was still some four feet away, she could smell his sour breath. "So what I forgot to collect was a reward for helping you get into Whitehall," he went on in a rough whisper, "and that reward is just one little kiss." "No!" she whimpered. Her voice had lost its ability to speak loudly, her heart pounded and her hands had turned clammy with fear. She continued pathetically, "Open the door and let me out. I don't want you to...." She did not finish for he had moved forward, had put his hands around her waist and was pulling her towards himself. It was at this point that her voice regained its strength and a high-pitched piercing sound shook the objects on the counter. It flew through the cracks in the wall out into the street. Straightaway the hinges of the door almost flew off their frame as it was flung open. Roger's lanky frame stood tall and forceful in the opening and Meggy had never been so happy to see him. "What's going on here?" he yelled, shoving Timothy into the counter, knocking bows, ribbons, pins, needles and lace onto the ground. The girl immediately slipped past the men, and ran down the street. Her cap was askew and her cheeks were crimson. She did not know where she was going and she did not care. All she knew was that she had to get away. What had she been thinking? What had she done!? Passersby stared. She neither noted nor cared. Finally, out of breath and underneath the overhang of some roofs, she stopped. What a ninny she had been! And what should she do now? She trembled with the horror at the thought of what might have happened. A few minutes later Roger caught up with her. "Meggy!! It's all right. Timothy Newham won't be bothering you again." Without looking up, she began to cry. Roger's arms folded around her and her head leaned heavily against his bony shoulder. "He's a beast," she sobbed, "He's horrible. He ...." "I know," Roger soothed, "but you ought not to have gone in there, Meggy. It's a good thing I was due to go to Whitehall and happened to pass the shop. To tell you the truth, I followed you. Both Mother and I were worried. We knew that Allyson's mother was not ill. So we wondered...." She pulled away, her tear-stained face angry. "But I went to Timothy Newham for father, Roger. He was going to take me to the ceremony. I thought that if the king was giving out the 'healing touch' about which Timothy seemed to know so much, then I ought to find out as much as I could about it. I thought that father ought to... ought to have a chance to... and Timothy said he had tickets." Roger's face became grim. "Surely you didn't believe that chicanery. Timothy Newham is a deceitful man, Meggy. As well, he and the king are both lechers. The king wants to be popular with the people. He wants them to like him. They call him the 'Merry Monarch' but he wants to hide the fact that he is... is....." Roger almost choked on his words, incredulous that she would fall for the jiggery-pokery of such a fraudulent royal ceremony. "But you," Meggy countered, wiping her face with the back of her hand as she spoke, "would work at Whitehall at this ceremony and would thereby help people enter deceit, if what you say is true." "Yes," Roger conceded, "to make some money to help your father and yourself and, of course, my mother. But maybe you are right and I ought not to have such a job." He stood for a moment, gazing down at her, and then repeating, "Yes, I ought not to have taken the job. I was wrong. Nevertheless, I think I will take you to the palace so that you can see for yourself what it is about." "You would take me there?" "Not so that you could take your father there, but so that you can see that you ought not to trust in men, Meggy." She was silent and hung her head. Taking pity on her, Roger went on a little less vehement. "You have heard good preachers often enough, Megs. Remember, their message. We, all of us, are diseased and full of infirmities. This is not such a strange thing here in this world. If your father is indeed ill, and God forbid that it is so, we will use such means as He provides for healing. But God does not use the wiles of such men as Charles II to heal folks. The ill vagabonds that flock to him, wretched creatures such as I see in the streets, only come because Charles provides them with a coin, a 'touch piece.' That is what they call such a coin. Most sell this coin as soon as they leave the palace and use it to buy food or who knows what. Some perhaps really and truly believe that Charles is sent by God to heal them. But would God use black to make white? I think not! Oh, Megs, wake up and trust God!" Roger had unconsciously used her father's pet name for her and she blushed. He continued with a last admonition. "And do you really think that your father would go with you to such a ceremony as would belie his faith?" Chapter 6 There were many beggars lined up by the gate at Whitehall. A host of them had swellings and lesions in their necks. Meggy tried not to stare and pressed close to Roger as they walked past them. Surely Father, she thought, was not as badly off as these people. Actually, he was not like them at all. She came close to rubbing shoulders with one ill wretch who had yellowish fluid oozing down the side of his legs. Her stomach turned. "Come, Meggy," Roger said, "don't stop and don't look so scared." "I'm not scared," she answered in a small voice, even as she eyed an emaciated woman with an ulcerated mass just above her shoulders. Next to the woman, a young boy lay convulsed on the ground, his mother desperately trying to pick him up. A blind man stood behind them. "Come on, Meggy," Roger repeated, "walk quicker." The disfigured disabled her feet. Was the king, she wondered, really such a wonder-worker as to be able to perform miracles? Such a wonder-worker as to heal these unfortunates? Did he have such a closeness to God as to cure these desolates and woebegones? Was father a such a one? "We are nearing the Banqueting Hall," Roger said, "and that is the place where the king will come to touch. One by one these poor creatures will be brought before him. They will kneel before the king and he will stroke their necks." Meggy shuddered. She knew not whether it was the thought of the king actually touching the misery around her that caused her to shudder, or whether it was the thought that it seemed blasphemous on the king's part to think that he had power over illness. They had reached the entrance to the palace and Roger pulled her off to the side. The queue, of which they were not a part, lay both behind and next to them. It was filled with crutches, bandages and disfigured persons. All of them were holding certificates verifying that they would be allowed into the king's banqueting hall. A man hobbled by to the right of them. He was disfigured in an appalling way. Growths of a most horrible kind hung from his neck, dripping both greenish pus and blood. In his dirty hands he clutched a crumpled ticket of admission. The ticket had been, if what Timothy had told her was true, signed and sealed by a minister or church warden declaring that he had never before been “touched” by the king. Despite her revulsion, Meggy ached for the man. He appeared so very ill. Yet there was hope in the very manner he put his feet down, put them down steadily towards the entrance of the palace. Mesmerized, she could not take her eyes of him. It was almost his turn to be admitted. A Yeoman of the King's guard, one who conducted all the ill to a line attended by the surgeon, was also watching him and Meggy read loathing on the guard's face for this particular man. But the man himself noted nothing. His whole being was simply fixed on entering the banqueting hall. "Hey, you! Let me see your certificate." The Yeoman's voice was loud enough so that Meggy could hear each word. Startled, the deformed man handed over his paper to the guard who, after scanning it, threw it to the ground. "It's forged," he announced in a gruff voice, "and I can tell because of the blood on it. You think that you can enter by smearing blood on a piece of paper and not be caught?! You were a fool to think it! Away with you!" Meggy heard a sob catch the man's throat as he watched his paper flutter to the earth. His face ruckled and his eyes, sunken in their sockets, produced tears. What a poor wretch he was!! And it suddenly came to her that she was such a wretch too. And it came to her also that surely this was not the way it should be and not the way it was. Had she not but recently heard pastor Baxter say that you could not let yourself in at the gate of heaven, and that you could not pay your own way into the banqueting hall of Jesus? She had not really understood the words at the time but she understood them now. Pastor Baxter's voice rang clearly in her head as she continued to behold the spurned man. And she beheld herself. “Take heed to yourself,” she heard pastor Baxter say, “for you have a depraved nature. You have sinful inclinations, Meggy! You are verily ugly in nature. And think you that you can come into heaven by your own strength?” Meggy sighed a deep sigh. She recalled her jealousy; she knew that this very day she had lied to her father and to Hawys; and she remembered that her curiosity had almost caused her bodily harm but less than one hour back. Indeed, she was a wretch! Of a certainty, at this very moment she had lost her desire to enter Whitehall and kneel before Charles II. But she did have a deep desire to worship. Indeed, her heart was bowed low within her. It all depended, she thought, whom the king was. To be sure, was it not so that no one needed a certificate to come into the true King's presence. All that was needed was the blood of the Lamb of God. "Therefore, ... we have confidence to enter the holy place by the blood of Jesus ..." Was that not what pastor Baxter had spoken on the last time she heard him at a conventicle? Roger poked at her arm. "Meggy, what are you staring at? Have you seen enough, girl?" She smiled at him. It was a tremulous smile. It was a contented smile. It was the smile God had bestowed on her as a particular calling. "I have Roger.”...

Assorted, Culture Clashes

MODERATION: Where beer and psalm-singing go hand in hand

In his book God Gave Wine, Kenneth Gentry outlines the three positions Christians have has concerning alcohol consumption: PROHIBITION: it’s bad and the Scriptures forbid it. ABSTENTION: it’s bad and the Scriptures allow it. MODERATION: it’s good when used with self-control. The first position is wrong and clearly so – prohibition simply doesn’t stand up to scriptural scrutiny. But what about the second? When a man destroys himself and his family via the bottle it’s hard not to wonder what might have been if he’d never touched a drop. We also know many of our young people regularly drink to excess. So, yes, the Bible allows alcohol consumption, but wouldn’t it be more sensible – wiser even – to simply abstain? Isn’t that the better course of action? We can make a compelling case for abstention. But not a biblical one. As Gentry notes, Christ drank, served, and even made wine. God also repeatedly describes alcohol as something that can be put to good use (Deut. 14:26, Psalm 104:15, Eccl 9:7, etc.). It can be abused, but so can every good thing – it makes no more sense to condemn all alcohol because it can lead to drunkenness than it would to condemn all food because it can lead to gluttony. Abstention undermines moderation This is important. If we get this wrong – if we treat alcohol consumption as shameful – then we are running right up against the true biblical position of moderation. And running up against the Bible is never a good idea. In this case the unhappy result may well be that we’ll contribute to the very drunkenness we are trying to curtail because abstention undermines the teaching of moderation. How so? Well consider this example. I know of a church that wanted to address the very muted way its young men were singing. So the pastor invited the young men down to the church for a psalm-singing kegger – everyone would be given some singing instruction and a tall glass of amber brew. How would you react if such a proposal came your way? I know how I reacted – that is not the sort of thing that ought be done in a church! But why did I think that? Clearly I wasn’t objecting to the psalm-singing. And I knew that a glass of frothy goodness would be an excellent aid in helping young men learn to sing with vigor. So on what basis could I object? It was my closet “absentionism” coming out. I know God speaks of moderate drinking as a good thing, and yet deep down I feel I know better, so when an opportunity comes up for young men to see how a drink can be enjoyed responsibly – when an opportunity comes for them share a cold one with their minister – I want to pass up that opportunity. But could there be a more God-glorifying way to enjoy a glass? Now we all know bush parties happen. We know many of our young people gather at homes or apartments where this is no parental supervision so that they can drink to excess. In that context it might seem reasonable to sound a general warning against all alcohol consumption. But blanket condemnations don’t foster maturity. What our young people really need is instruction in moderate use. They need to learn how to drink to God’s glory. So long as we parents lean in any sort of “just don’t drink” abstention direction are we properly motivated to teach our children how to drink? If we think that it’s more pious to abstain than partake, are we going to teach our children about moderation? When we forbid what God allows, then our children will still learn how to drink, but from peers who don’t care a whit about moderation. Conclusion Of course, Christians don’t have to drink. In God Gave Wine, Gentry rebuts both prohibition and abstention, but he himself has always been a teetotaler, drinking no more than a half dozen glasses of wine a year (and now a medical condition precludes even that). No one needs to drink…and some most definitely should not. But we need to accept what God says and acknowledge that moderate use is not only not shameful but a blessing from God. When we sit around the campfire with a s’more in one hand and a glass of red in the other, and friends all around, it is a wonderful thing. We can drink to God’s glory! Let’s teach our children how....

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