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Song of Songs (A Christine Farenhorst Christmas story)

Where were you when I laid the earth's foundation?
Tell me, if you understand.
Who marked off its dimensions? Surely you know!
Who stretched a measuring line across it?
On what were its footings set,
or who laid its cornerstone –
while the morning stars sang together
and all the angels shouted for joy?
– Job 38:4-7

Chapter 1

There are innumerable, worthy symphonies which have been composed over the ages. Think of Beethoven's Eroica symphony, Handel's Pastoral in his great work The Messiah, Mendelsohn's Scottish symphony, Haydn's Clock symphony, and many other amazingly wonderful works of music. But the oldest and most beautiful of all symphonies is often forgotten.

Entitled Ephesians 1, it was written by the Trinity. An orchestration wrought before the beginning of time, it is a harmony par excellence. Its arrangement, which is found in the Holy Book, sings of the chosen ones, the ones who are blessed in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ. Its first performance took place in eternity.

Preludes resound.

****

When little Marsha Tennison enthusiastically raised her hand towards the ceiling to ask a question, even her thin pigtails danced with earnestness. “Pigtails,” Jason Brook mused, even as he nodded his head that she might speak, was a strange term. Little Marsha was anything but a piglet. The wispy curls which escaped from both her red barrettes were auburn; red freckles jumped about on her cheeks; and her bright, blue eyes were filled with joy at being allowed to talk.

"If the stars," the child began clearly in a well-modulated voice, "are the work of God's fingers, then He must be really big. But my eyes are not big enough to see all of the stars at night."

She stopped for a moment and caught her breath before continuing. "I was thinking that it would be a wonderful thing if you could catch a bus and climb up into the sky to get closer to the stars. You know, like Jacob's ladder."

Her voice petered out. Some of the children were giggling. The sound subdued her somewhat. "We will see God, I know," she added in a much lower tone, "when we die."

Samantha, one seat over from Marsha, gasped audibly. She was a sweet child too, but one steeped into supposing that a person could climb into heaven on a Ten Commandments ladder, certainly not on a bus resembling a Jacob's ladder. It was well-nigh three thirty and almost time to go home. Bible was the last subject on the agenda.

"It's a good thought, Marsha," Jason encouraged "And anyone who has ever looked at the multitude of stars at night will understand what you were saying."

Marsha beamed and settled back in her desk. She held one of her long, thin braids between the fingers of her right hand. A trusting eleven, as were most of the children in his Bible class, she was a dreamer. Jason smiled at the sea of upturned faces. Half of the faces were focused on him; the other half were focused on the clock.

"If any of you think God is small, then surely you will not expect Him to be able to do great things. But if you think, or rather know, that He is big, " he added, "and that the stars are the work of His fingers, then you will believe He can do mighty things. When we die," he went on, "we will see Him as He is. Even though we can't understand how that will be, Marsha, we know it is true because the Bible tells us so."

Samantha raised her hand and spoke quickly, almost before he could nod permission.

"But God is not a person, pastor Brook, so how can anyone think of Him as, well, as just plain big? Isn't that wrong?"

"Well, you are right in one way, Samantha. God Almighty is not a person as we are, although we should never forget that He took on our flesh in the Person of Jesus Christ. I think though, that what Marsha meant by her question was that God is mighty beyond what we can physically see and understand? I think she tried to say," and here he looked straight at Marsha who moved her head up and down vigorously all the while clasping one of her brown braids, "that it is amazing that the stars which are so high above our heads, were formed by the words of God's mouth and that the Bible actually calls the stars the work of His fingers. And how can it be possible that we, little and sinful people that we are, will eventually be able to see such a mighty and holy God."

Marsha blushed. They were fine words, the words of pastor Brook. She felt them inside but could not always iterate them clearly. But he had read her question rightly. Those were matters she thought about a lot. She would like to ask him to explain more things, but she dare not ask them now lest Samantha criticize that as well. Perhaps later. Her teacher winked at her and she blushed again.

"We have a very mighty God, Marsha," he added, "and He does not mind what we ask, as long as we ask questions on our knees, full of reverence."

"Can we ask Him anything?" Samantha suddenly said, not even raising her hand.

"Yes," Jason responded quietly and confidently, "anything at all as long as we ask sincerely and according to what He wills."

Another hand shot up. This time it was Penny, a twelve-year-old going on eighteen. When she had been given permission to speak, her truculent voice struck the wooden desks with a certain amount of bravado. "Well, I'd like to ask Him to give you a wife, pastor Brook."

A stillness descended on the classroom. Little Marsha stopped fidgeting with her braid and anxiously scanned her teacher's face for his reaction. Samantha turned around to raise her eyebrows at Penny. But Penny, unperturbed, went on. "I'd like to ask Him to give you a wife who doesn't mind that you limp. You need some looking after and your mother is getting older. Besides, everyone says a pastor shouldn't be a bachelor."

Jason held up his hand at this point to stop the inappropriate waterfall of words gushing out of Penny's mouth. He smiled at her even as he grimaced inside. "Thank you, Penny, for your concern. That's very kind of you."

Everyone stared at him - the girls sympathetically and the boys uneasily. He closed in prayer and then they trooped out.

****

It was mid-June and nearing summer vacation. Jason Brook taught two Bible courses at the local Christian academy every Friday afternoon. His first class consisted of the fourteen and fifteen-year-olds whereas the second class was comprised of eleven through thirteen year olds.

"Pastor?"

He startled and then smiled broadly. It was little Marsha who had returned to the room. There was no denying that she was one of his favorite students. She lived in his neighborhood and he often spoke with her. "Thank you for teaching me.... for teaching me that you can talk to God about anything. You are so helpful. And you know what," she added softly, "I never notice that you limp."

She flashed a grin at him and then she was gone, brown braids spindling behind her. Jason stood still for a moment, a small frown on his face. Even coming from a sincere child, a child who meant to comfort and build him up, the words hurt somewhat. He was thirty-six years old and in the sudden stillness of the classroom after Marsha's departure, he could hear his mother's voice, could hear it as clearly as if she were standing next to him. "You have a false sense of pride, son."

She'd said those words to him just last week, just before informing him that Gena Ardwick, the daughter of an old friend, had been invited by her for a few day's visit. His face must have shown dislike and apprehension because that's when he had been reproved. "You immediately suspect I'm setting you up and you retreat behind that shell of yours. There is no sin in having friends, Jason, and you need not look for me to be matchmaking behind every tree."

"You are right, mother," he had sighed, "and I apologize. I'll be a good host, I promise.

****

Later, after straightening out his desk and cleaning the blackboard, he picked up his briefcase and began his walk towards the bus stop. People, he reflected, as well as adults, were often most comfortable with the status quo, with the way things were always done. There was no denying that he sometimes fell outside the accepted status quo. Perhaps his childhood polio endowing him with this uneven gait, or perhaps the early loss of his father, had marked him. Yet these events had not been bad, he mused on, but rather had worked for his good, for had they not made him depend on His Creator more and more?

He breathed in deeply. Sure he prayed for a wife, prayed punctually as one might pray for good weather. But if it rained, the truth was that he was quite content to sit at home and read a good book, or to take a walk under an umbrella.

He vaguely remembered Gena Ardwick, the girl who would be stopping in to see his mother today. She had lived next door to his family years ago when he had been a boy about the age that little Marsha was right now. Gena had been a snippy, self-willed girl, if he recalled correctly, and he had not cared for her. She'd always been ready with an opinion and she had not liked either dogs or cats. Strange that he should remember the part about pets.

Unconsciously he shrugged as he walked. In spite of his mother's protestations to the opposite, there had been questionable female visitors in the past: a far-off distant cousin afflicted with a slight stutter; the organist's older sister over for holidays from Amsterdam; and the neighbor's orphaned, sewing pupil. He suddenly laughed out loud, switched the briefcase to his other hand and chided himself for brooding.

****

There were no other people waiting at the bus stop. Setting down his briefcase, Jason unashamedly stretched his tall form. Friday afternoons could prove to be long, even trying, but he enjoyed them - enjoyed the teaching and the interaction which he had with his students, even students like aggressive Penny.

Glancing at his watch, he expected that the bus would be along shortly. He'd known the bus driver for years. Sure enough, rounding the corner right on time, the front end of a grey bus turned towards him. Automatically he picked up his briefcase with his right hand while his left hand reached for a bus token in his pants' pocket. The bus smoothly slid to a stop in front of him and the door opened.

"How're you doing, Jake?"

"Great! And yourself, Jason?"

"Fine."

Smiles were exchanged and Jason habitually walked towards the seat where he was wont to sit. Only…someone else was sitting there.

It was a woman wearing a dark blue hat, a light blue sweater and a grey skirt. He saw this all in one glance. She nodded slightly when he caught her eye, moving past to a seat behind her. It miffed him a trifle that she was sitting in his spot, but he knew this was bordering on the ridiculous. Public transport was just that, public transport and the public could sit wherever they pleased.

Ten minutes later he stood up. His stop was next. He'd always counted it a blessing that he lived only a few houses away from the bus stop, especially during bad winter weather. The woman stood up with him simultaneously. She picked up a small leather suitcase from the floor and eased into the aisle in front of him walking towards the exit door. He could smell a faint scent of jasmine exuding from her person. The bus came to a halt. Stepping down, the woman turned in the direction of his house, leather suitcase dangling from her right hand.

It came to him suddenly, as he followed her steps, that this woman could be Gena Ardwick. But his mother had gone to pick her up at the train station in South Hanker. Maybe mother had missed connecting with Gena and the girl had taken matters into her own hands.

Sure enough, she was slowing down and peering at house numbers. Then, before Jason's very eyes, her heel caught in a crack of cement causing her to stumble and fall. The incident occurred right in front of his home. The small suitcase flew out of her hand and landed neatly at her side, but as he hobbled up behind to reach her, the girl had already scrambled back to her feet.

"Hey, are you all right?"

She nodded, but he noticed a shining in her eyes - unshed tears just like the ones his students blinked back after they had been given a very low mark or had inadvertently tripped over someone's feet in class. Reaching over to pick up her suitcase and putting her full weight on her left foot, the woman gave a small cry of pain

"I think you better lean on me."

Unquestioningly she took the arm he offered, reinforcing his notion that she was indeed Gena Ardwick. A surge of protectiveness washed over him. Shuffling up the sidewalk as she held on to him, she didn't say a word.

"What providence," he said, glancing at her as he spoke, "that I was just behind you, Gena."

She stared up at him. But then another tremor of pain passed over her face.

"I hope you didn't break anything," Jason went on, "We'd better get you to sit down quickly so we can have a look."

****

It was quiet in the hallway and the cat ran down the stairs to meet them, rubbing up against Jason's legs.

"This way to the living room, Gena," Jason spoke softly, "and I hope you don't mind cats now. Harry is a people cat and hates it when I'm gone. "

She shook her head as he led her through the hallway door into the living room, carefully sitting her down on the edge of the couch. Resting back, she smiled up at him wanly, her face very white.

"I think I'll put on the kettle for a cup of tea. Just sit for a minute before we have a look at that foot."

Propping up a pillow behind her back as he spoke, Jason expertly pushed a footstool in front of the couch. "There you are. Can you lift your foot up on it?"

She obliged and Harry jumped onto the couch next to her. It brought a tiny smile to her face and somehow this pleased Jason a great deal. He disappeared into the kitchen and pondered his next move. Hopefully, mother would be home soon and that would take the onus off himself. The situation was a bit awkward. She hadn't said a word so far and she was also a bit chunky or, as his mother would say, pleasingly plump.

The doorbell rang. Now who could that be? Striding back to the front door, he was surprised to see little Marsha standing on his steps. Grinning broadly, she was holding a tray of cookies in her hands. She lived only a few doors down from him. "My foster mother made these for you, pastor Brook, because you taught me all year and because you visit all the time."

"Well, thank you, and please thank your foster mother. That's very kind of you both."

A luminous idea struck him. He gestured that she step inside and when she happily obliged, he walked her past the closed living room door leading the child into the kitchen. Once there he spoke in a low tone.

"Marsha, I have a visitor in the living room and she's hurt her ankle. She's my mother's friend and will be a guest here for a few days. Would you mind helping me with her for a little while?"

The girl was all smiles and nodded eagerly. "No, pastor Brook, I wouldn't mind that at all."

"Thanks, Marsha, I appreciate that very much."

He pointed towards the living room and she immediately stepped back into the hallway, making her way to the living room. He followed her. Opening the door, they could see Gena bending over, trying rather unsuccessfully to take off her shoe. Marsha lost no time. She was by the couch and on her knees in a trice. Assisting nimbly, her small fingers undid the buckles, even as she spoke in a low tone. "My name is Marsha, but most people call me little Marsha because I'm not as big as I should be. What's your name?"

"Gena." It came out softly and it was the first word Jason heard her say. So he had been correct then in surmising that she was his mother's guest.

"Gena's a real nice name," Marsha went on, "and look, your shoe's off and that's good because I think your foot's a bit swollen. I can see it through your nylon stocking. Hope it doesn't hurt too much."

Arnica, thought Jason who was still standing in the hallway door, mother's arnica in the medicine cabinet would help right now. Turning, he made his way to the bathroom and checked cupboards until he found the arnica tube. To his disappointment, it was almost empty. He'd have to go to the pharmacy for a new tube. Maybe he should also offer aspirin with the tea for pain? He slowly walked back into the living room.

"Her foot's not broken, pastor Brook," Marsha called out cheerfully from the couch while stroking the cat's head, "You can wiggle your toes, can't you Gena?"

Gena nodded.

"That's fine," Jason said, very much relieved, "but I think I'll walk over to the pharmacy anyway to pick up some arnica. It's a good remedy for bruising and swelling. I can see from here you might have a bit of a bruise."

Gena shook her head. "There's no need for you to do that," she protested weakly.

"Not a problem," Jason waved away her protest, "Little Marsha, can you stay here until I come back? You can put the kettle on for tea and you know where the mugs are. You can also serve some of the cookies you brought along."

The girl nodded eagerly. "Sure thing. And I'll phone Aunt May to let her know I'm helping out."

Chapter 2

The symphony of Ephesians 1has a recurring theme. The consonance which weaves through its melody is that of predestination. With singleness of purpose, the notes, again and again, point to children adopted through Jesus Christ in accordance with His pleasure and will.

We don't always hear a theme until it is pointed out. But the truth of it is that election reverberates throughout Ephesians 1.

****

After little Marsha had telephoned her foster mother, she asked Gena if she wanted a cup of tea and a cookie. The woman smiled at the child standing in front of the couch. "You are eager to help. You're a very kind, little girl."

Marsha dimpled. "Any friend of pastor Brook is a friend of mine. And I'm sorry you hurt your foot. Shall I put pillows under it?"

The doorbell rang.

"Excuse me," little Marsha said.

She got up from the couch and stepped back into the hallway, leaving the door to the livingroom half-open behind her.

****

There was a coolness in the foyer and the child shivered before she opened the entrance way which Jason had locked behind him. Two women stood on the doorstep. They smiled at Marsha.

"Hello, it's a nice day isn't it?" One of the women, portly but gracious, extended the greeting.

"Yes," Marsha replied.

"Is your mother at home?"

"Yes," the child answered for the second time and without hesitation, "She is."

On the couch in the living room, Gena, who could hear each word, winced. The girl was lying. That was a whopper.

"Can we speak to her?"

"No, I'm afraid you can't."

The second of the two women coughed delicately into a hanky.

"And why will you not let us speak to your mother?"

"Because she's in heaven with the Lord Jesus."

There was silence on the doorstep for a long moment. Shifting her position on the couch slightly as she leaned forward, Gena strained her ears.

"I know," Marsha's voice reached her, "that you are Jehovah Witnesses because you come down the street a lot and start by saying that the weather is nice. Pastor Brook has told me to be careful about you."

There was another silence and then one of the women opened her purse, taking out a small tract. "Well, I'm sorry to hear about your mother, honey, but maybe I can leave this little booklet with you."

Little Marsha put her hands behind her back. "No, thank you," she answered clearly, "Jesus would not like me to do that. Pastor Brook told me that too. You see you don't know.... that is, you don't believe...." She stopped and took out her right hand, fingering one of her braids thoughtfully.

"We don't know or believe what?" Both of the women responded almost simultaneously, talking through one another and eyeing little Marsha with a mixture of both disdain and interest.

"That Jesus is God," little Marsha said, finishing her sentence carefully.

"He is god," this time the women spoke in unison, the back one trying to read the girl's face as she stood in poised in the doorway.

Unfazed by their scrutiny, Marsha responded once more. "No, He is not god. He is the only God there is and we can't say lies about Him. You see, God says, and I forget where He says it, ‘I am He and there are no gods with Me.’"

The two women looked at one another.

"Pastor Brook told me that too," little Marsha added as an afterthought, "and you might like to think about that. But now I have to stop talking to you because I'm helping out a friend who has a sore foot."

The two women turned and began to walk away, the first one shrugging as she left. But the second glanced back over her shoulder, giving Marsha a smile and a little wave. Closing and locking the front door carefully, Marsha made her way back to the kitchen. She plugged in the kettle and leaned against the countertop as she waited for the water to boil. When it did, she pulled the plug and made tea. Carrying a stone mug into the living room, she saw that Gena had taken her foot off the footstool and was gingerly bending over, rubbing it.

"How does it feel? Does it hurt a lot?" she asked sympathetically.

"A little bit, but it'll be all right, I think."

Marsha deposited the mug on the end table. "Would you like some sugar and milk with your tea?"

"No, that's fine. Thank you for your help and for making the tea."

Marsha sat down on the floor in front of the couch, resting her back against it.

"Tell me about yourself, Marsha."

Turning her face, Marsha stared up at her. "About myself? There's not much to tell."

"Why did you tell the women who came to the door that your mother was home when .... well, when you don't even live here?" Gena put her foot up on the footstool again as she spoke and reached for the tea.

"Well, my mother is at home. Only her home is in heaven. I did tell them that."

The clock ticked and Gena folded her hands cautiously around the hot cup of tea.

"I'm sorry, Marsha," she eventually said, as she put the cup back on the end table, "not having a Mom must be hard."

"No," Marsha answered rather matter-of-factly, "you needn't feel sorry for me, Gena. You see, I'll be seeing her soon."

Gena picked the cup up again. "What do you mean?"

"I've got.... I mean, I'm sick and right now I'm OK, but the doctor says...." She stopped and Gena could not take her eyes off the child, wispy braids dangling disconsolately on her thin shoulders.

"I'm sorry," she began again rather lamely, and then stopped.

"No," little Marsha repeated rather earnestly, "You don't have to be sorry."

"Can I comb and braid your hair, Marsha? I used to have long hair myself and I miss doing the braids. Maybe you can borrow a comb out of the bathroom. We just won't tell anyone."

Marsha smiled. No one ever offered to braid her hair for her. Her foster mother was too busy and her own fingers were a little messy. She got up and disappeared down the hall, reappearing shortly with a long blue comb.

"That's great. Now come and sit in front of me."

Marsha sat on the floor, eyes wide with expectation. Gena had moved the footstool and had positioned her sore foot at its side. Taking a tiny sip of her hot tea before undoing Marsha's braids, she began untangling the knots in the child's hair. Marsha blissfully shut her eyes as she leaned her shoulders against the gray skirt. Gena massaged the little scalp with the auburn hair, and listened to the clock ticking as she worked at fashioning a French braid around Marsha's head.

"Why," she suddenly heard herself saying, "Why are you not sad, or scared, or well, upset. You don't seem to be upset, Marsha."

The girl smiled, her eyes still closed. "Sometimes I am. I really am, "she admitted candidly, "But then I try to remember a story that pastor Brook told me. He heard it, or read it somewhere and then he told it to me."

"What was the story?"

The child stretched out her legs in front of her and took a deep breath as if she was about to plunge into a pool of water. Gena stopped braiding and listened, her hands resting on the child's head.

"Well, in the story there was a little girl. Maybe she was my age. This little girl was out on the street, sitting on the doorstep of a house in the middle of the night all alone. Someone came along the street and asked her, 'Little girl, why are you sitting there? Do you not have a house to live in?' She said, 'No, sir, I don't. I have no home.' 'Where is your mother?' 'My mother is dead,' said the little girl. 'Where is your father, then?' 'I have no father,' she replied. 'Have you no home at all to which you can go?' 'No,' answered the little girl, and she shivered. You see, Gena, it was night and she was shivering with the cold."

Marsha stopped and unexpectedly turned her head, causing Gena to cluck in distress as auburn strands of hair flew out of her hands. Marsha apologized, even as she spoke. "I'm sorry to have moved, Gena, but are you not very sorry for this little girl?"

Gena moved her head up and down even while she was trying to sort out the wisps of hair that had broken loose from the French braid. She was, indeed, both puzzled and fascinated by Marsha's account. Satisfied that her audience was paying attention, Marsha positioned her head forward again and went on.

"Well, I was sorry for this little girl too when pastor Brook told me this story. It was so sad. I think I even cried. Then pastor Brook said to me, 'In a way many people in the world are like that little girl, Marsha. Although they have a home for their bodies, they have no home for their souls. And at night they sit on the doorsteps of the world and their souls have no place to go.'"

It was quiet for a bit. Gena was intrigued. She prodded the child with her good foot.

"Go on, Marsha. There must be more to this story."

And Marsha continued. "Then pastor Brook said, 'I know you love the Lord Jesus, Marsha, and because you love the Lord Jesus, your soul does have a place to go. You have God for a Father and His Son Jesus has made a home for you in heaven where there are many, many rooms for His children.'"

Marsha stopped her narrative again and rubbed her right hand along the carpet.

"Is that the end of the story?" Gena asked in spite of herself.

"No, it isn't. Only when I get to this part, I often cry, you see, and I don't like to do that in front of other people. But I'll tell you the story to the end."

Marsha's right hand stopped caressing the carpet and she pushed her shoulders back so that they touched Gena's stomach.

"Yes?" Gena encouraged.

"Well, I'm guessing you think that I'm the little girl in the story, sort of. But actually, my story is just a bit different. In my story I'm sitting on the doorstep of heaven. An angel stops by and asks me if I have no house to live in and I answer him, 'Yes, sir, I do have a house. It is my Father's house and He is making a room ready for me in His house.' And after I tell the angel that I believe that Jesus is God and that He has died for me on the cross, he smiles and opens the door for me behind the doorstep and tells me that he knows that my room is quite, quite ready."

Marsha's voice trembled with the telling of the last sentence and after she stopped speaking there was only silence again and the constant ticking of the clock.

"I see." But Gena didn't see. Her hands came away from the hair and rested in her lap. The flat-bosomed, trusting eleven-year-old sitting on the floor in front of her, with a tiny French braid crisscrossing her head, suddenly seemed lovely beyond comparison. Inexplicably she was jealous. She could not fathom it.

"Maybe you will get better," she offered, "and then you will not...."

But she didn't finish the sentence, because she didn't know how to finish it. Marsha turned and looked up at her.

"Are you all right? Is your foot throbbing?"

"No, actually it is feeling quite a bit better and I should be going now. I've stayed way too long as it is."

"Stayed too long?"

Marsha's voice was surprised and she scrambled to her feet even as she continued to speak. "But you just got here. And pastor Brook's gone to get some medicine to put on your bruise to help you. And his mother is not even home yet."

"But I think I can walk now," Gena answered, and to prove it she stood up as well.

Indeed, her leg was able to bear weight and she took a few steps.

"But where are you going? Are you not supposed to stop and visit here for a few days?"

"No, whatever made you think that?"

"Pastor Brook. He told me you had come to visit his mother for a few days. She should be home soon, I think."

"His mother! But I don't even know his mother and I don't know pastor Brook either."

"But you came into their house!?" Marsha could not comprehend the way things were going. She watched in amazement as Gena slowly but purposely limped towards the front door.

"But why did you come in if you didn't know who lived here?"

Gena's fingers were wrapped around the door handle. "I don't understand it myself, little Marsha. I think it was because he knew my name."

"Your name?"

"Yes." Gena winced even as she spoke. "And now, little girl, perhaps you can call me a taxi."

Chapter 3

Sometimes the Ephesians1 theme appears to be lost. Raucous notes and cacophony seem to drown out the sweeter airs. But, as in many musical compositions, there is frequently a coda, a conclusion, a postscript, a postlude as it were. And the Ephesians1postlude is praise – praise of the glory of the grace of God. Listen carefully.

****

It was only a half a year later that little Marsha's funeral took place. Conducted by pastor Brook, it was in the church he shepherded.

There were not very many people who came to the funeral. The school Marsha had attended, the same school at which Jason taught Bible every Friday afternoon, did come out in full number. The children and teachers had been given leave and they sat in the front pews. As well, a few members of the congregation showed up. Some had known little Marsha; others were curious.

The coffin stood in front of the pulpit. It was a small coffin. Made of white pine, smooth and shiny, it would not be very heavy for the pallbearers. It was snowing lightly outside and Jason's text fell with the snow: "For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God."

"Little Marsha had faith," Jason said and his voice faltered.

It faltered because even as he spoke he could not fathom why this child, who had been so wholly trusting in her Lord, might not have lived a longer life, might not have had the possibility of being a mother in Israel. Of such, indeed, they had much need. He studied the young faces in front of him, and he preached. He preached the Gospel of Jesus Christ. He always did. But the why of the coffin continued to confound him even as he spoke. And through his sentences he saw a little girl with two wispy, auburn braids dancing her way up his sidewalk to tell him some new wonder that she had thought of during that day.

****

Afterwards, when the “amen” had fallen, opportunity was given for classmates and others to speak. Jason issued the invitation and waited. A long silence hung over the sanctuary. He did not think it likely that any of the children would come forward and certainly did not expect any of the adult members to speak. So few had really known little Marsha.

But just as he was about to conclude the service, a figure at the back of the church stood up and began a lonely trek towards the front. Jason strained his eyes. It was a woman and he did not know whom it was. He did not recognize her and neither did any of the people in the pews. They all watched her advance. She was uneasy. Everyone could sense it in her uncertain gait and yet she continued her walk to the pulpit. Having reached it, she sighed, glanced upward and proceeded to climb the steps. The lectern seemed to give her some measure of security, for she gripped the wood with both hands. It was only when Jason handed her the microphone and caught the scent of jasmine, that he remembered her.

"Hello," she began, addressing the people in the pews.

The voice took Jason back to a summer afternoon earlier that year, an afternoon in which someone had taken his seat on the bus.

"You don't know me," her voice went on.

Jason sat down in the chair behind the pulpit. He could see that the woman was taking a deep breath before continuing. "I had the pleasure of meeting Marsha, or little Marsha, as she told me people called her, a number of months ago."

In a row of children on the second bench, Penny nudged Samantha. "She's a nice looking lady."

"Shh," Samantha whispered back.

The woman's voice stilled both of them. "I apologize if my story seems a bit stilted, but I'm not a trained speaker like your pastor here behind me."

Jason looked down at the floor.

"I'll introduce myself and hope that you won't all leave after I do. My name is Gena and my second name is not important. I am, or I should say, I was," and here her voice faltered, "a prostitute."

A palpable hush fell on the sanctuary. Penny pinched Samantha. "Do you know what a prostitute is, Sam?"

Samantha pinched her back. "Quiet."

"About a half a year ago, I hurt my foot in front of your pastor's house. Summer had just begun. It was a beautiful day. Your pastor did not know me, but when I hurt my foot in front of his home, he took me inside and ...." She stopped speaking. Someone coughed in the back of the church, but on the whole it was deathly quiet. Only the coffin spoke through the stillness proclaiming that little Marsha was dead.

"My parents divorced when I was about Marsha's age. My father left and my mother was given custody. Not that it meant anything. She was always gone. When I came home from school every day there was no one."

Both Samantha and Penny listened with rapt attention. Indeed, the whole church was fixated on the figure in the pulpit. Gena was wearing a blue coat. Open at the collar, a grey scarf covered her neck. Jason's eyes had lifted from the floor and were now riveted on the back of Gena's head.

"I'll spare you the details of my tumultuous teenage years. There were parties, drugs and boyfriends. I know now that I was looking for love, for some semblance of acceptance. I wanted someone who was interested in me, someone who would...."

Samantha and Penny without being aware of it, were leaning into one another.

"My mother eventually threw me out when she came home one day and found me drinking with several boys."

The silence into which Gena's words were spoken became louder. "The day that I spoke of, the day that I hurt my foot and your pastor took me in, that was the day I was on my way to have an abortion. Only I had gotten the address mixed up and had gotten out several stops too early."

Gena took a kleenex out of the pocket of her blue coat and blew her nose. Jason felt an incomprehensible bond with the girl. He did not know why. Everything he stood for had been repulsed by her. And yet here she was on the pulpit, confessing sins.

"Little Marsha came to the door to bring your pastor some cookies. She came inside and introduced herself to me. When he left to buy some ointment for my foot, the child made me some tea and then, well then we talked together."

Jason could see his mother in the fourth row. Her eyes were lifted attentively towards the girl, the girl whom he had supposed was Gena Ardwick. The real Gena Ardwick, it turned out, had not shown up at all because she had caught influenza. Strange that this girl's name had also been Gena.

"Little Marsha told me that she was ill and that she would probably not live much longer. She was right, wasn't she?"

Everyone's eyes automatically shifted to the small, white coffin in front of the pulpit. Samantha remembered with a pang of conscience that she had ridiculed Marsha when she had asked Pastor Brook how she could see God when she died, because God was so big that He had made the stars with His fingers. She shivered a little.

"Marsha was a very special girl," Gena's voice broke over the sentence and Jason could see that her right hand clenched the kleenex which she still held. "She had a gift - and that gift was faith. She believed with all her heart and ...."

Her voice broke again and Jason fought the urge to go and put his arm around her.

"The truth is," Gena went on, "that God used little Marsha in my life. When I told her that I was leaving and that it was only by chance that I was there in pastor Brook's home, she called a taxi for me. Then she persuaded me to sit down on the couch again and she sat next to me."

Penny and Samantha and the other children held themselves rigidly quiet, waiting for Gena to finish a story of which they could not guess the ending.

"I say she sat next to me, but the actual truth was that she leaned into me. 'I like you, Gena,' she said, 'and I wish you could be a foster mother to me. I've had about six, you know.' 'Six?' I asked her. 'Yes, six and some of them were quite nice. But I'm always moving to another place. I guess it's hard to have someone like me who is in the hospital a lot.' And then Marsha added something else. She said, 'I think you will be a good Mom to this baby you are having, Gena. That is a really lucky baby to have you for a Mom.'"

A child cried in the back of the sanctuary and was shushed by its mother. Gena stopped for a moment and blew her nose again.

"I said, 'Marsha, how do you know I'm expecting a baby?' And she lifted her head from my shoulder and looked up at me. 'I felt the baby kick,' she said, 'when I leaned against you and you were doing my hair. My shoulders felt your stomach and I felt a little kick and I thought the baby must be so nice and cozy and safe in there. My last foster mother was expecting a baby too and she let me feel her tummy.' "

Samantha felt a tear slide down her cheek. She let it slide right down to her chin. Then she took the back of her right hand and wiped it off. Penny cast a sidelong glance at her and then put her hand on Samantha's knee.

"I told Marsha that she was right, that I was expecting a baby. 'What will you call it?' she asked. I told her that I didn't know. 'Perhaps, you can call it little Gena,' she suggested."

Gena shifted her position behind the pulpit. Bending over, she put her elbows on the lectern, supporting her face with her hands for a moment. Then straightening up again, her gaze went up and down the pews.

"Then Marsha asked me the most important question anyone has ever asked me. She said, 'You do believe in the Lord Jesus, don't you Gena? Because if you don't, I'll never see you again.'”

She stopped and looked down before she continued."I have to tell you all very honestly that I did not believe in God at that time, let alone His Son Jesus. And I told her so."

The ceiling lights flickered on and off and back on. In the distance a car honked its horn and white snow still fell past the sanctuary windows.

"Then Marsha did what no one has ever done for me before. She wept for me. Curling into my side, she sobbed her heart out. I hugged her but she would not be consoled. She kept on crying. Eventually she managed some intelligible words and these words were: 'I don't want you to be lost, Gena, I want you to come to the doorstep of God's house just like me.'"

And Jason thought of all the sermons he had preached, of all the benedictions he had given, and he knew that not one of them came even close.

"The taxi driver came to the door then, and I stood up. My shoulder was wet, wet with little Marsha's tears. I never saw her again."

Gena was finished. She stepped back from the lectern and moved towards the pulpit steps. But then, as if she had forgotten something, she returned. It was for the postlude.

"Oh yes," she said, "I do want you all to know that I will see her again. And so will Faith, my little daughter. Faith, who was born the day little Marsha died."

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

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

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Living out Lord’s Day 1: a Cuban story

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” – Jeremiah 29:11 ***** We make plans, many plans and yet God has other plans for us. For 14 years, Luis had laid on his bed. He had broken his back in a motorcycle accident and now spent his days just lying on this bed in an eight-by-eight-foot room, built out of concrete blocks, in the back of his parents’ property. Some years ago my husband Andy and I had made a trip to Cuba, and we became aware of the great need for Bibles and study books for the pastors there. So we began to make regular visits, providing those things, along with other much needed articles. We’d been told about Luis – we knew he had a Bible to read, but we were told he needed glasses. We had glasses for him, but could not find Luis. We had been told his house was within one kilometer of the hotel that we would be staying in. We asked every one if they knew Luis, the man with the broken back. It took us three trips to Cuba before we met someone who remembered him and took us to his "forgotten prison." He was overjoyed with his glasses and asked for his Bible to loudly read to us. His dirty mattress had no sheets. He wore rags. Just him, his Bible, his cot and one chair in this room. But his joy shone out of his eyes. Andy and I just cried, for him, and for his joy. Two years later, someone gave us a copy of the Heidelberg Catechism….in Spanish! We decided to give it to Luis. We also took him four more books we had found at Value Village. How happy he was with those books. Then he opened the Catechism at Lord's Day 1 and started to read. What is your only comfort in life and death? That I am not my own, but belong with body and soul, both in life and in death, to my faithful Saviour Jesus Christ. He has fully paid for all my sins with his precious blood, and has set me free from all the power of the devil. He also preserves me in such a way that without the will of my heavenly Father not a hair can fall from my head; indeed, all things must work together for my salvation. Therefore, by his Holy Spirit he also assures me of eternal life and makes me heartily willing and ready from now on to live for him. Luis started to cry. Tears were flowing down his face and he was praising God at the same time. "This is what I believe!" he kept saying. We cried too. We had sometimes thought and said that all those old writings and confessions were so out of date and no longer applicable to our lives. And now this! We prayed together being so very aware of the hand of God. Two years later we again stood at his bedside. Again we had more books and sheets for his bed, plus clothing for him. He could hardly contain his joy when he saw us, not because of us, but because of what he had to tell us: "I have studied this book and all that is explained to me in this Heidelberger. I also explained to the only friend who has visited me all those years!" And he went on to tell us that this friend now had completed the study and was attending church, for this friend had become a believer. He told us that he now understood the plans God had had for him. That he had been privileged to help bring a friend to faith. It was not to harm him, but to strengthen him and others in their faith. A year later, shortly after we visited him and knew his time on earth was coming to an end, he succumbed to bedsores. Thankfully, we had a chance to say goodbye to this faithful child of God. For now, he rejoices before God's holy throne. A Portuguese translation of this article can be found here....

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Eve: the mother of all living

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

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C.S. Lewis on real happiness and real Christianity

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

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Communism’s ongoing influence

The Berlin Wall fell in 1989 and many thought that Communism was over and done with. But even today its influence can still be felt, and as far more than an economic system. Communist and Marxist thought has shaped our culture. How so? Well, consider how the far left has long desired to overthrow the traditional concept of the family. Already in 1848, one of the planks of the Communist Manifesto called explicitly for the abolition of the family. Abolition of the family! Even the most radical flare up at this infamous proposal of the Communists.  on what foundation is the present family, the bourgeois family, based? On capital, on private gain.  Karl Marx divided the work into two classes: the ruling “bourgeois” class, and a servant “proletariat” class. The Communist Manifesto used this same terminology and claimed that: In its completely developed form, this family exists only among the bourgeoisie. But this state of things finds its complement in the practical absence of the family among the proletarians, and in public prostitution. The bourgeois family will vanish as a matter of course when its complement vanishes, and both will vanish with the vanishing of capital. The Communists were saying that a family made up of mom and dad and gaggle of kids is an elitist notion, and when the elites are taken down, this type of family will disappear too, to be replaced by the communal education and raising of children. The evolution of left-wing thought on how to destroy the family is chronicled by Paul Kengor, a professor of political science at Grove City College in Pennsylvania. His book Takedown: From Communists to Progressives, How the Left Has Sabotaged Family and Marriage shows that the left originally saw heterosexual sexual freedom as the channel for undermining the family, and only came to accept homosexuality as a key plank later on. Russian Communism The Communism of Karl Marx and Vladimir Lenin viewed the traditional family as an oppressive capitalist institution that exploited women. They saw women as being confined to their homes taking care of children, while the men had jobs earning money. It was their view that under the capitalist system women were dependent on their husbands for survival and were stuck in their marriages as virtual slaves. The Communists had a solution. All children would be raised in government daycares and women could go to work in the factories. With such jobs, women would be financially independent of men and also free from the drudgery of taking care of children. They would be truly liberated from their bondage to man and child, since children would be raised by the state. As part of their “liberating” program, when the Communists took over in Russia, they removed the Russian Orthodox Church’s prohibition against divorce. A large number of divorces quickly ensued. Kengor notes, “The divorce rate skyrocketed to levels unseen in human history.” Besides making divorce easy, the new Communist government made obtaining abortions easy as well. The abortion rate skyrocketed just like the divorce rate. But after a few years it became apparent that the long-term stability of the Russian population was thus threatened. According to Kengor, “The toll was so staggering that an appalled Joseph Stalin, the mass murderer, actually banned abortion in 1936, fearing a vanishing populace.” He also banned homosexuality in 1934. Stalin’s abortion ban was lifted after he died and the Russian abortion rate quickly rose again. “By the 1970s, the Soviet Union was averaging 7 to 8 million abortions per year, annihilating whole future generations of Russian children. (America, with a similar population, averaged nearer 1.5 million abortions per year after Roe was approved in 1973.)” Communism USA The desire to abolish the family was embraced by Communists everywhere. In the United States, for example, many Communist Party members lived lifestyles that reflected their hostility towards the traditional family. Frequently this manifested itself in sexual promiscuity. Divorce and libertine views of sexuality were common among the Communists at a time when American society frowned on both. One of the earliest founders of the American Communist movement was John Reed. He is still a popular figure on the American left, and a laudatory 1981 movie about him called Reds was nominated for Best Picture. He lived a lifestyle in keeping with his anti-family beliefs: “The Communist cad and philanderer hopped from bed to bed, woman to woman, torpedoed marriage after marriage, and disseminated the venereal disease that made him urinate red and left at least one of his temporary girlfriends with inflamed ovaries requiring surgical removal.” The sexual promiscuity of most American Communists, however, was heterosexual because the Communist Party considered homosexuality to be bad. The new Communists This negative attitude towards homosexuality by Communists began to change due to the development of a related school of thought called the Frankfurt School. Originally known as the Institute for Social Research, it began work at the University of Frankfurt, Germany in the early 1920s. However, since many of the intellectuals involved were Jewish, they left Germany to set up at Columbia University in New York after Adolf Hitler came to power in the 1930s. The Frankfurt School intellectuals were Marxists who realized that Marx’s original prediction (that workers would revolt against capitalist society and create a socialist utopia) was not working. They developed a new or neo-Marxist theory that focused on cultural factors rather than economic factors as the key to revolution. As Kengor puts it, “The Frankfurt School protégés were neo-Marxists, a new kind of twentieth-century communist less interested in the economic/class-redistribution ideas of Marx than a remaking of society through the eradication of traditional norms and institutions.” The key to revolution, in this view, was the destruction of traditional Christian morality. Christian morality repressed people’s natural sexual appetites, and only by liberating sexuality from such moral constraints could people be truly set free. “The hard fact for these Communists was that at the core of Western civilization was a pesky morality derived from the Old and New Testaments, from the traditional family, and from tradition itself, an embedded understanding that freedom was not the license to do anything a person wanted, and the realization that one’s passions needed to be occasionally checked.” The change in emphasis from economics to culture also changed the focus on who was most important to reach with the new message. Early Communists focused on organizing the working class against business owners, but they were no longer relevant. Kengor writes, “Marx and Engels had organized the workers in the factories; the neo-Marxists would organize the professors and students in the universities.” Communists on campus Wilhelm Reich was one of the key intellectuals of the Frankfurt School. He was the person who invented the phrase “sexual revolution.” Prominent periodicals labeled him the “Father of the Sexual Revolution,” although he shares that title with infamous sex researcher Alfred Kinsey of Indiana University. Reich considered the traditional family, especially its patriarchal authority, as the chief source of repression in society. “For Reich, full communist revolution required full sexual license, including homosexual sex.” Another key Frankfurt School intellectual was Herbert Marcuse. Marcuse’s book Eros and Civilization: A Philosophical Inquiry into Freud is considered by some to be “the Bible of the New Left movement.” Kengor summarizes the thought of Reich and Marcuse this way: “Both comrades-in-arms battled the ‘repression’ represented by traditional notions of morality, especially cumbersome sexual restraints. They felt that erotic desires needed to be unleashed rather than inhibited. Both men saw religion as repressive, though Marcuse went further, arguing that modern Judeo-Christian society had become ‘totalitarian’ in its suppression of man’s ‘natural’ sexual instincts.” Herbert Marcuse was very popular among university students in the 1960s and 1970s and his influence extended neo-Marxist thinking into segments of Western culture. In particular, leading feminist theorists of the 1960s and 1970s were imbued with Frankfurt School ideology, and feminism also considers the patriarchal family to be the main oppressive institution of modern society. The homosexual rights movement also fits naturally with the view that traditional Christian morality is repressive. Kengor writes, “The Frankfurt School cadre sought to reshape cultural views of sexuality via education, and… they have succeeded and continue to make astonishing progress.” Conclusion While many other groups have built on, borrowed from, and extended the family-undermining work of the Communists, their influence shouldn’t be overlooked. So how can we combat the cultural decay that these neo-Marxists and others have fostered? Well, we can sing the praises of the traditional family. Numerous academic studies have demonstrated that the ideal environment for a child to grow up in is a traditional family. Kengor writes, “Research has confirmed time and time again that the best situation for a child is a two-parent home with a mother and a father, which should always be the goal of any culture or polity.” However, as Kengor shares, “Nothing short of a major religious revival will save .” Political parties or leaders cannot bring back Christian morality to any of the Western countries. It appears that only a widespread repentance and return to God can restore the traditional family model in the West....

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On a wife deciding to leave her husband

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

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“Did God answer her prayer?“

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

Assorted

Hull humanity

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

Assorted

On being a Titus 2 young woman

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

Adult non-fiction, Assorted

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

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

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Older women have much to give

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

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

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

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