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Assorted

"Othercott" – like a boycott but better

Some years ago a particularly blasphemous movie, The Da Vinci Code, hit theaters and a number of prominent Christians called for a boycott. Even the Vatican favored a boycott – Archbishop Angelo Amato noted that the film’s portrayal of Christ as both a secret husband and father was little more than anti-Christian propaganda.

But do boycotts work?

Archbishop Amato pointed to a 1988 boycott of the infamous The Last Temptation of Christ that seemed to have had an impact – the film bombed, barely recouping its costs. But a more recent boycott was ineffective. Disney’s 2017 live-action version of Beauty and the Beast featured a brief inclusion of homosexual romance, prompting some Christian leaders to call for a boycott. But the film performed spectacularly at the box office, taking in $1.25 billion worldwide.

Boycotts can also backfire when they bring more attention to a film or product than it would otherwise have received. An ill-conceived 2015 boycott of Starbucks (for plain red Christmas-time cups that were not Christmasy enough for some hyper-sensitive Christians) got millions talking. But even “boycotters” continued buying coffee at the store, though they then added Christmas messages to their own cups and posted pictures to Twitter.

If boycotts aren’t effective, what’s the alternative? Is the only option just to quietly ignore what's objectionable? No indeed, said Christianity Today's Barbara Nicolosi. In a column about the Da Vinci Code boycott, Nicolosi proposed another possibility. Instead of meekly paying no attention to the film, or loudly boycotting it, she suggested Christians “othercott” it.

“On The Da Vinci Code’s opening weekend… you should go to the movies. Just go to another movie. That's your way of casting your vote, the only vote Hollywood recognizes: The power of cold hard cash laid down on a box office window on opening weekend…. The major studio movie scheduled for release against is the DreamWorks animated feature Over the Hedge. The trailers look fun, and you can take your kids. And your friends. And their friends. In fact, let's all go see it. Let's rock the box office in a way no one expects - without protests, without boycotts, without arguments, without rancor.

This soon became an organized campaign, with its own webpage and articles about it in USA Today and The New York Times. And on the opening weekend of both films, while The Da Vinci Code did still finish on top, Over the Hedge took second place.

Other othercotts

This was supposedly the first ever “othercott” organized and it did have its problems – The Da Vinci Code still made $750 million worldwide, and even the movie alternative Nicolosi selected, Over the Hedge, was far from perfect, taking God’s name in vain. That said, there is something here worth considering.

Bible-believing Christians can so often seem negative – we are always coming out against things: from gay marriage to Sunday shopping, Christians are seen as no-fun, finger-wagging, sorts.

But that’s not who we are, and that’s not who our God is. Yes, He has prohibitions, but He isn’t a killjoy. He is showing his love in those prohibitions – many act like guardrails to keep us from harm.

That’s why it would be great if, instead of simply opposing evil, we could “othercott” it. It would better reflect our Heavenly Father if we were known for pointing people to positive alternatives. Sure, we’re against gay marriage, but we’re for kids having a mom and a dad. And we may be against Sunday shopping, but we’re for families having one day out of the week when they can all be together.

One of the first articles I wrote was about how the Christian grad parties that my high school friends and I were attending often denigrated into drunken bush parties. Some of these evenings started out with a strict alcohol ban, but this was the equivalent of a liquor “boycott,” not a liquor “othercott.” The kids knew they weren’t allowed to drink, but they didn’t have anything else planned and so, as the night dragged on and people got bored, eventually the scotch, whiskey, vodka and beer appeared. The "boycott" failed.

Meanwhile at my cousin’s Christian high school, drunken bush parties had been “othercotted” in favor of white water rapid trips. And as a result alcohol was rarely a problem.

There is an old saying that “you can’t beat something with nothing.” The Apostle Paul says something similar in Ephesians 4. There he calls on us to “put off your old self” with its sinful desires. But he doesn’t want us to stop there. If we stop there we might find ourselves in the same situation as the man spoken of in Matthew 12 who was freed from the power of a devil for a time, but didn't pursue God, and soon after found himself under demonic power again, seven times worse than before! It is not enough to put off our sinful selves; we need to replace the bad with good and “put on our new self created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.”

Paul also tells us:

“Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable – if anything is excellent or praiseworthy – think about such things” (Phil. 4:8).

Any old curmudgeon can say he hates this or that. We should go further and focus on what good, or fun, or positive things we can do instead.

Conclusion

Of course, that is easier said than done. This othercott approach takes work and thought. For example, earlier this month Reformed Perspective published an “othercott” list of fun movies and videos that don’t take God’s name in vain. I was trying to encourage not just a boycott of bad films, but an othercott of them with 150 proposed alternatives. It was a fun list to create but it represents years worth of research. And to use this list parents will have to find them on Amazon, or check them out of the library; few are going to be found on Netflix, so it will take some effort to track them down. Othercotting can be very time consuming.

Still, it is worth the effort. How many of us can remember the way we used to view Sundays as kids? It was the day we couldn’t do things – we couldn’t go to the mall, or buy a slurpee at the corner store, and some of us weren’t allowed to go biking or play basketball. Those were activities that were “boycotted” that day.

It was a no-fun, finger-wagging sort of day.

But now what if instead of boycotting these things we othercotted some of them instead? What if instead of being a day in which we couldn’t do things, Sunday became the day in which we could go to church, we could play a game or go biking with our dad, we could put our homework aside and pull out our crayons, we could watch a movie together, or we could make that puzzle with mom. God gave us this day of rest as a gift – we should never let it become a dreaded day.

We all know we have to oppose evil, but sometimes we forget that we should also actively support good. So while this term “othercott” may not be catching on, it is an idea well worth remembering.

A version of this article first appeared in the June 2006 issue.

Assorted

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

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

Assorted

On being separated

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

Assorted

Help wanted: Prophets

Our leaders, and neighbors, need to hear God’s Word from us **** God’s Word cuts. We acknowledge that is “living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword” (Heb. 4:12). It may even be that it's because we know it can have such strong and contrasting reactions that we don’t often hear God’s Word directly referenced or quoted, even by Christians, in our work places, the mainstream media, our legislatures and courts, or other places in the public square. Ready reasons come to mind for our silence. “I’m just a grandma / just a laborer / just a teen / just a _______ .” Or, “I’m not gifted with words.” When it comes to speaking God’s Word to the world, we might like to leave this job to our pastors, missionaries, or maybe people who get paid to bring a Christian perspective to our secular leaders. Another common hurdle is our concern of throwing the pearl of the Gospel before the secular swine, resulting in a mess we would rather avoid. Nothing new under the sun So God's Word is generally excluded from the public square, and not by governmental dictate, but by Christians' own reluctance to speak it. What might happen if we decided again to speak God’s Word out loud, in public discussion and debate? Well, we can’t control how our neighbors will respond to God’s Word, but we can have a hand in determining whether they are even exposed to it. Two remarkable Old Testament stories illustrate this well, and serve as good lessons for today. They feature two kings of Judah who lived shortly before the kingdom was conquered and the people exiled to Babylon. A king with ears to hear The first king, Josiah, assumed the throne at age 8. According to 2 Kings 23:25, “Before him there was no king like him, who turned to the LORD with all his heart and with all his soul and with all his might, according to all the Law of Moses, nor did any like him arise after him.” When we think of righteous kings, David and Solomon often come to mind. But neither compared with Josiah. When Josiah was 18, he made orders to make repairs to the temple. Then something strange happened. Apparently when renovating the temple, Hilkiah the high priest found the Book of the Law. He proceeded to give it to the king’s secretary, who passed it on to the king with these rather uninspiring words “Hilkiah the priest has given me a book.” I call this strange because it suggests that the Book of the Law was lost and forgotten – even by the high priest and in the temple! What does it say of the spiritual health of the covenant nation of Judah when the Book of the Law is forgotten? There may have be a form of spirituality in the land, but clearly there was little faithfulness. When Josiah heard the words of the law, it struck him to the heart. He immediately tore his cloths and asked the priest, and others, to inquire of the LORD, recognizing that he and the people had not been faithful. After hearing God’s response of judgment and grace, Josiah demonstrated true leadership. He gathered all the people together and “he read in their hearing all the words of the Book of the Covenant that had been found in the house of the LORD” (2 Kings 23:2). He then covenanted before the LORD, “and all the people joined in the covenant” (23:3). These were not just words and good intentions. In the following weeks, Josiah proceeded to reform the entire nation. He destroyed the idols, broke down the houses of the cult prostitutes, eradicated child sacrifices, and went from place to place removing the high places and shrines. After this he commanded the people to celebrate the Passover, “for no such Passover had been kept since the days of the judges who judged Israel or the of the kings of Israel or of the kings of Judah (23:22). Based on what we know of Josiah, it seems he stayed faithful in his leadership till he died in battle. A king who loved darkness rather than the Light As was so often the case with the kings of Israel and Judah, a faithful father did not at all mean a faithful son. Josiah had a son named Jehoiakim, who became king after his younger brother Jehoahaz’s very short three-month reign ended in captivity. Jehoiakim had no use for God’s Law or his father’s reforms. Rabbinical literature describes him as a very evil man, guilty of much incest, murder, and adultery. But for those familiar with the Bible, most of us will better know Jehoiakim as the king who burned God’s Word, as recounted by the prophet Jeremiah. God instructed Jeremiah to write down all the words that He had told him. He added “It may be that the house of Judah will hear all the disaster that I intend to do to them, so that every one may turn from his evil way, and that I may forgive their iniquity and their sin” (Jeremiah 36:3). Through his scribe Baruch, Jeremiah wrote all the words down on a scroll. Since he was banned from going to the temple, Jeremiah had Baruch go there instead, and he read God’s Word to the people. Word made its way to the government officials, and Baruch was ordered to take his scroll and read it to them. God’s Word filled them with fear and they decided “we must report all these words to the king” (36:16). Eventually king Jehoiakim had the scroll read to him. When he would hear three or four columns “the king would cut them off with a knife and throw them in the fire in the fire pot, until the entire scroll was consumed in the fire” (36:23). Unlike his father Josiah’s response to the finding of the law, Jehoiakim was not fearful or repentant. Rather he ordered that Baruch and Jeremiah be captured. God’s word still cuts Repentance and reform, or fire and persecution. Two kings, two generations, and two very different responses to God’s Word. Both kings responded with conviction. But the conviction went in two very different directions. Western society today likes to be nice. We are known for wanting to avoid controversy. Christians aren’t immune to these societal trends. We generally don’t like to rock the boat of culture. And citing Scripture tends to do just that. It is one thing to quote the Bible at a Bible study or in the privacy of our home. It is another to bring it to our civil leaders, our business associates, or community friends. The temptation we all face is to avoid using Scripture in public discourse. Out of a desire to reach a secular and pluralist audience, we stick to language that doesn’t turn people off. There are indeed times when it is appropriate to communicate biblical truth in a way that our neighbors will listen. If we don’t know who our readers or listeners are, there can be wisdom in not triggering them before our point is made. For example, a hardened atheist or jaded ex-Christian may read our letter to the editor, see a reference to Scripture, and immediately stop reading. If it is possible to communicate the same truth without directly quoting Scripture, there may be wisdom in doing so. There are also times when we simply are not the gate-keepers of communication. If we know that those gate-keepers will not allow their publication to become a forum to communicate Scripture, there again may be wisdom in putting that Scripture into our own words. For example, when staff from the organization I work for contribute articles to large secular newspapers for publishing, we have learned that Scripture may not be welcomed. If we want to still get published, we have to show some creativity. But that said, we may be surprised by a new generation that is far more open to considering a faith-based perspective than their baby-boomer parents. Whether it is through direct quotations, or by means of rephrasing it to be appropriate for the context, the bottom line is that the communication of Scripture is not only still acceptable, it is absolutely necessary. We know that hearts are changed by the Holy Spirit through the Word. And it is our job to communicate that Scripture. Lord’s Day 12 of the Heidelberg Catechism asks what it means that we are called Christians. We confess that it means we carry the three-fold office of Christ: Prophet, Priest, and King. That means that every Christian is called to “confess His Name.” Prophets carry the words of God to those who need to hear it. This country is full of people who need to hear God’s truth. This isn’t a job we can pass off. It is an integral part of the job description of every Christian. We don’t know whether the person we speak to will respond like Josiah or Jehoiakim. But changing hearts is not our job. It is God’s. God calls us to be His agents. We really are modern-day prophets. None of us can do this well in our own strength. Let us constantly pray to “set a guard, O LORD, over my mouth, keep watch over the door of my lips” (Psalm 141:3)! We can also ask God to open our eyes to see opportunities to testify to Him, and embolden us to seize those opportunities while we still have them. As with many difficult things, the best way to learn is by simply trying, and not giving up. Let’s encourage each other to shine the light of God’s Word across our nation. Mark Penninga is the executive director of ARPA Canada.  ------- SIDEBAR: Citing Scripture doesn’t give us immunity: Two cautions Although we need God’s Word shared, it is also important to remember that the way we share it should reflect the grace and truth that Christ exemplified. There are two common and related mistakes to avoid. First, simply because we quote Scripture does not mean that we are in the right. The Pharisees knew Scripture well, and quoted it endlessly. But they lost perspective and didn’t recognize God Incarnate, right in front of them. If we are wrong, or simply misguided, adding a Bible text doesn’t change that. In fact, it can reflect very poorly on Christ Himself. Second, even if we are communicating truth, if it doesn’t come alongside grace it isn’t faithfully representing Christ. Christ never communicated truth without grace, just as He never communicated grace without truth. We humans naturally don’t do that. Some of us tend to want to always get to the truth of the matter. And people get hurt in the process. Others emphasize grace, and compromise truth in the process. There are no shortage of examples of Christians who throw out Bible texts in their letters and meetings, while showing little love and grace to those who they are addressing. We need to realize that the person we are speaking with likely does not share our belief about the authority of God’s Word, nor do they understand its context. And this will be compounded if we never actually meet (e.g. if our communication is written). Put ourselves in the shoes of our readers. What happens when we hear a Muslim referencing the Koran and urging the West to submit to Mohammed? Not only do we disagree, we end up not listening to anything else they say. We write them off. So it is so important that our communication makes it clear that we too have to measure up, and we too struggle and fail when trying to do so. God’s Word is for us as much as it is for the people we are addressing. Truth without grace and love is a clanging gong. This world doesn’t need more noise....

Assorted

What's next? The growth of Statism in Canada

Last month I attended a particularly moving live stage production called Solitary Refinement. The play is based on true stories of persecution. It focuses on the suffering of Romanian pastor Richard Wurmbrand, imprisoned and tortured for 14 years – including two years in solitary confinement – for placing his faith in Jesus above his allegiance to the Communist government. (The play is currently on tour, and I encourage you to attend or have it come to your church. There is also a movie of Wurmbrand’s story that came out this month) In the play Wurmbrand recounts a refrain that reverberated continually between the loudspeaker and the concrete prison walls: “The State is Progressive. Christianity is Regressive." This same mantra was dogmatically drilled into all the students attending the mandatory State-run schools. In the weeks that followed, the play moved me to think about three things: First, the damage and terror inflicted by communism, socialism, and other totalitarian governments Second, how particular episodes in Canadian political drama of the last few months have an eerie similarity to the first experiences of Wurmbrand with communism Third, how unprepared Western Christians are to face such totalitarianism It's simple; just comply In present-day Canada, two government institutions require citizens to affirm State ideology in order to enjoy the equal benefit of the law or government programs. The first is the Law Society of Ontario. It announced several months ago that all licensed Ontario lawyers are now required to affirm that they will: abide by a Statement of Principles that acknowledges my obligation to promote equality, diversity and inclusion generally, in my behaviour towards colleagues, employees, clients and the public. All that lawyers have to do is “just check the box.” Then, right around Christmas, the Hon. Patty Hajdu, Canada’s Minister of Employment, Workforce Development and Labour, announced that citizens applying for a Summer Student Jobs grant had to “just check the box” to affirm that: the job and the organization’s core mandate respect … the values underlying the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms as well as other rights. These include reproductive rights…  Thousands of Canadian Christian charities doing wonderful work in refugee resettlement, summer camps for underprivileged kids, poverty relief, addictions help, and assistance for at-risk youth, must “respect” “reproductive rights” (which include unfettered abortion, according to the government’s explanatory manual) or risk losing out on thousands of dollars. When pushed on this, the Minister said it’s no big deal to “just check the box,” even if you do believe that the pre-born child is a human being worthy of protection in law. So, what’s the big deal? Is checking a box really the end of the free world? Let’s look at the communist regimes of not so long ago to understand what is at stake. When the power of the State is unrestrained Václav Havel was a dissident writer in communist Czechoslovakia. His plays ridiculed communism. As Havel became more politically active, he fell under surveillance of the secret police. His writing landed him in prison multiple times, the longest stint lasting almost four years. He later became the president of the Czech Republic (which formed shortly after the fall of the Soviet Union). His most famous essay is The Power of the Powerless – well worth studying as statism increases in the West and the terrors of communism fade from memory. Rod Dreher, in his book The Benedict Option, describes a central point of Havel’s famous essay: Consider, says Havel, the greengrocer living under Communism, who puts a sign in his shop window saying, “Workers of the World, Unite!” He does it not because he believes it, necessarily. He simply doesn’t want trouble. And if he doesn’t really believe it, he hides the humiliation of his coercion by telling himself, “What’s wrong with the workers of the world uniting?” Fear allows the official ideology to retain power – and eventually changes the greengrocer’s beliefs. Those who “live within a lie,” says Havel, collaborate with the system and compromise their full humanity. That is what’s happening with these check boxes today. It’s so simple – by design – to affirm the State ideology of “inclusion” and “reproductive rights.” Just check the box. And yet what’s actually happening is a wearing away or a numbing of our convictions. Like the greengrocer in Communist Czechoslovakia, we fear the trouble of dissenting. We need the funds. We want to keep our license. As Dreher further explains, Every act that contradicts the official ideology is a denial of the system. What if the greengrocer stops putting the sign up in his window? What if he refuses to go along to get along? “His revolt is an attempt to live within the truth” – and it’s going to cost him plenty. He will lose his job and his position in society. His kids may not be allowed to go to the college they want to, or to any college at all. People will bully him or ostracize him. Someone needs to speak up But we must dare to dissent. We need to live within the truth. We have a better and deeper and richer understanding of “diversity” and “inclusion.” We know what murderous lies are hidden behind the euphemism of “reproductive rights.” Because we love our neighbours as ourselves, we dare to dissent because we know what is true, good, and beautiful. And it’s worth fighting for. As Dreher says, channeling Havel, when we do dissent, “by bearing witness to the truth, accomplish something potentially powerful. said that the emperor is naked. And because the emperor is in fact naked, something extremely dangerous has happened: by action, addressed the world. enabled everyone to peer behind the curtain. shown everyone that it is possible to live within the truth.” And so, when I filed my annual report at the end of 2017, I declined to check the box. I wrestled for a long time about whether to check the box. I rationalized checking the box. After all, what’s so wrong with a statement on “diversity and inclusion”? But I concluded that what was motivating me to check the box was fear: fear of professional consequences, fear of the hassle, fear of what others might think of me. And while I do fear the State in a Biblical sense, I can’t do what it is asking of me because I’d ultimately be lying. My statement of principles in not what they are actually looking for. So I checked no, and then explained myself. I wrote: The Law Society of Upper Canada has no clue what the words “equality” “diversity” or “inclusion” mean as demonstrated in its unequal, exclusive and intolerant treatment of Trinity Western University graduates. I hold to an ethic that is deeper and richer and more meaningful than any superficial virtue-signalling that the law society cobbles together. However, the law society has no authority, constitutional or otherwise, to demand it of me. I, therefore, refuse on principle to report such a statement to the law society. It’s not the most eloquent thing I’ve written. But I dissented. What's next? So where do these check boxes take us? What’s next? I can’t help but think that the check boxes are a trial balloon of sorts. If the current government can get away with enforcing moral conformity as a condition for receiving summer job grants, can it do the same for charitable status? Will the other regulated professions (medicine, accounting, engineering, etc) include check boxes? Will all charities in the next few years have to check the box each year to affirm the “Charter values” of inclusion and non-discrimination and reproductive rights in order to keep their charitable status? And after that, will our Christian schools have to check the box to keep the doors open? Will we as parents have to check the box to access medical care for our kids? What’s next? Are we prepared for what comes next? I’m not saying this is the way it will go. I am optimistic that when Christians stand up for what is right, good things happen. God blesses faithful witness. So I hope and pray for a revival in Canada and I know it is possible, by God’s grace. But if the trajectory we are on continues downward, are we prepared? How much Scripture have we committed to memory for those lonely days in a prison cell? (There are no Bible apps in prison.) How often do we practice the spiritual discipline of fasting, as Jesus expected us to do? If nothing else, it trains us to cope with hunger. Do we practice the discipline of tithing, which develops a willingness to part with material blessings? Are we prepared for whatever comes next? André Schutten is the Director of Law & Policy with the Association for Reformed Political Action (ARPA) Canada. A version of this article was originally published on the ARPA Canada blog, is reprinted here with permission....

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

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

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Afterward...

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

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It's necessary: use words!

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

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Good habits help us minimize trouble...

Though his name has long escaped me, I will never forget his rage.  We had just moved to a new city and my mom was looking for a family dentist. Why a relative recommended this fellow, I'll never understand – he was the angriest dentist I’ve ever encountered.  His patience for children was non-existent.  Once the door was closed and I was cut off from my mother, if my mouth didn’t open wide enough, his mouth opened wide with the most foul cursing I’d ever heard, all directed at me.  Thankfully, Mom only took us there a couple of times. While our next dentist was a far kinder man, his dental hygienist was another story. I called her “Carol the Butcher” as there was a butcher shop next door and I was quite convinced she went back and forth. These two forever put the fear of dentistry (ondontophobia) in my blood. It can be hard to get past traumatic childhood experiences.  As a result, I’ve always hated going to the dentist: the blood, the pain, the way my body seizes up in the chair.  I come away sore and worn right out. Minimizing trouble Eventually it dawned on me that I could minimize some of my trouble through regular dental hygiene.  Other, more friendly, dental hygienists down the track taught me some helpful disciplines.  I learned that regular brushing with a soft toothbrush was a key.  I couldn’t really floss because I have sensitive gums (and I’m a bit clumsy), but a hygienist recommended some soft inter-dental brushes that could help in cleaning between my teeth.  Regularly using these would make my visits to the dentist a bit less traumatic.  As I developed better habits in dental hygiene (with some helpful tips), I was experiencing far less grief in the dental chair. So much of our grief in life can be alleviated through developing good habits.  Sometimes we just need to be taught.  At other times, we need to become teachable and it can take some time.  This is true when it comes to dental hygiene, but also when it comes to spiritual hygiene. I’ve learned that developing good spiritual habits or disciplines is just as valuable to our spiritual health as good habits are to our dental hygiene.  When you ignore your spiritual hygiene, you oftentimes bring grief on yourself.  For example, if you think that you can be spiritually healthy while seldom going to church to be under the Word, you’re just deceiving yourself.  It’d be like thinking that you’re going to have healthy teeth while seldom brushing.  Or if you think that you can be spiritually sound without reading and studying the Bible for yourself on a regular basis, you’re in a dream-world.  It’d be like thinking that your next dental visit will go fine without you having regularly flossed, or using something like an inter-dental brush.  Good hygiene is essential to good health — and it always requires effort and discipline. A good habit for my soul My lowest points, spiritually speaking, have always come when I’ve been neglecting discipline in my spiritual life, especially the reading and study of God’s Word.  I will always be thankful for an elder who challenged me on this point about five years ago.  You may think it odd for a pastor to admit this.  It’s true that I’m always busy with the Bible, but usually I’m busy with it for the benefit of others.  Yes, I’ve always gotten some benefit from it too.  But this elder challenged me to be busy with Scripture on a daily basis for my own benefit.  He said, “Have you ever tried reading through the Bible in a year?”  I hadn’t up to that point, but he really got me thinking.  I was getting into good habits for my dental health, but what about good habits for my spiritual health?  And which is more important?  The Lord worked through that elder to introduce me to the habit of reading Scripture every day, two or three chapters, for my own benefit.  Good dental hygienists introduced me to good habits for my teeth; a good elder introduced me to a good habit for my soul.  For both, I’m forever grateful. Looking for a Bible reading plan to start on a good habit for your spiritual health?  Here’s a place to start. Dr. Wes Bredenhof is the pastor of Free Reformed Church, Launceston, Tasmania, and blogs at Yinkahdinay where a version of this article first appeared....

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Jacobus Arminius: professed the confessions even as he opposed them

The baby, baptized Jacob Harmenszoon, lay contentedly in his mother's arms. Warmth, food and love sheltered his small physical being. Even though his father was only a poor man who made knives for a living, the little one snuggled in his sleep. It was 1560 in the Dutch city of Oudewater and there was much trouble in the land – Spanish trouble, church trouble – and before long young Jacob would have and make his share of them. When Jacob was only a little boy his father died. He was taken from his mother's home to live with a former pastor of Oudewater in the city of Utrecht. The small boy mourned his father's death and he missed his mother, (and only brother), very much. But this is what had been deemed best for him. Times were not easy for a widow with two sons to provide for. The old pastor tried to raise the lad as his own. However, when Jacob was fourteen this foster-father also died. Fatherless a second time, he returned to his mother in Oudewater. The reunion was not to be for long. Shortly after arriving home he was taken to Marburg, Germany by a friend. From there he received the news that the Spaniards had attacked and murdered all the inhabitants of Oudewater. Jacob Harmenszoon, whose name had been Latinized to Jacobus Arminius, was an orphan at the tender age of fifteen. It is difficult to imagine exactly how young Jacobus felt. He was not a child anymore, and yet not a man either at this point. It is Biblical to suppose that suffering can produce a steadfastness in the sovereignty of God. For Jacobus this was not the case. He did develop an intense dislike of any fighting or quarreling – and yet, strangely enough, the false doctrines he later came to espouse have brought about fighting and quarreling to this day. Early schooling When the teenager Jacobus Arminius was orphaned, several pastors took pity on the young man and one sent him to the recently established University of Leyden. Jacobus was at an impressionable age – the age that most of today's students leave for college or university. This is why it is so crucial that teachers at this point in life are solid and impart true knowledge. Unfortunately, in Jacobus' case, this was not to be. One of his professors taught, with power and conviction, man's “free will,” as opposed to God's divine election and reprobation. He taught so ably that Jacobus became both convinced and adept at convincing others. He was a good student. His thirst for knowledge plus his excellent study habits earned him a bursary which enabled him to further his studies in Geneva. Here he heard Beza, friend and successor of Calvin, lecture on election and reprobation. But it was too late. His young mind and soul had already totally absorbed “free will” and found it to be an attractive doctrine. Jacobus also traveled to Italy where he met the famous Jesuit priest Bellarmino (1542-1621). Impressed by the man's great knowledge, Jacobus was subconsciously strengthened in his desire to stretch atonement to include more than just the chosen sheep specified by Christ Himself in John 10:25ff. After all, this man Bellarmino was kind, generous, extremely knowledgeable, active in good works, and surely God could not reject him? “Free will” consequently whispered in Jacobus' ear that atonement was not limited but universal. A teacher of men In 1587, at the age of 27, Arminius returned to Holland. One year later he was installed as minister in Amsterdam. In 1590 he married Elizabeth Reael, daughter of one of the rich regents of that city – a regent, one might add, who was quite liberal in thought – and whose daughter was likely of the same frame of mind as her father. This marriage seemed to encourage him in verbalizing the wayward thoughts he had already been harboring. A series of rather unreformed sermons on the book of Romans was begun. Although he was a popular man, soft-spoken, cultured, good-natured and of impeccable character, these sermons stirred up a great deal of unrest in his congregation. He surmised, among other things, that death had not come into the world through sin but through nature. In chapters 8-11 he concluded that the reason God elected some and not others was because God knew beforehand what they would choose. Although Arminius was accused many times of preaching heresy, he continually maintained that he agreed with the Church's forms of unity, (which at that time were the Heidelberg Catechism and the Belgic Confession). The years passed and the regents, (of which his father-in-law was one), protected Arminius. In 1603 Arminius was appointed as professor of theology in the University of Leyden. It had become the most important university in Holland – the university from which the state church called its ministers. The appointment gave Arminius the opportunity to sow seeds of heresy throughout the entire Reformed community. He won approval of the students easily enough, for he was a congenial fellow and an able teacher. Between classes he gave private lectures at his house and criticized Calvin, convincing a great number that there were errors in the confessions. A sad end Understandably, there was quite a bit of discord within the university halls and in the church pews. There was a civil court in 1608, and again in 1609, at which these problems were discussed. It was obvious from these sessions that Arminius led a minority and would certainly lose out at a proposed synod. This is why the government, which looked on Arminius as a protégé, refused to call one. By the time the Synod of Dordt finally did take place, (1618-19), Arminius had been dead for almost ten years. The final months of Arminius' life were marked with physical distress. Ill with tuberculosis, he also suffered a stroke, paralyzing one side and blinding him. Popularity had waned and was seen in the fact that people applied Zechariah 11:17 to him: “Woe to the worthless shepherd, who deserts the flock! May the sword strike his arm and his right eye! May his arm be completely withered, his right eye totally blinded!” Jacobus Harmenszoon, alias Jacob Arminius, died in 1609 before the age of fifty. When the Synod of Dordt finally did meet, the Arminian point of view was eloquently defended by Episcopius, student and very able successor of Arminius. For six months issues were debated. The doctrine of sovereign grace was at stake. Representatives from Reformed churches all over Europe were present. In the end, Synod roundly condemned the views of Arminius in five canons, (or statements). These statements can be shortened into the acronym TULIP: Total depravity, Unconditional election, Limited atonement, Irresistible grace and Perseverance of the saints. Christine Farenhorst is the author of the just published Katharina, Katharina, about the times of Martin Luther. This article first appeared in the January 2006 issue. ...

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The slippery slope is real

Some weeks ago I wrote a piece about a San Francisco pastor, Fred Harrell, who had recently attacked the doctrine of penal substitutionary atonement. In doing so, I made a connection between Harrell's prior shifts  – first, adopting the ordination of women and, second, endorsing homosexual relations – and his most recent movement away from the clear teaching of God's Word. My conclusion was to posit this as evidence of a slippery slope, further noting that in our cultural moment the slippery slope is usually entered at the point of ordaining women to office in the church. It would be an understatement to observe that this post touched a raw nerve for some readers. (One well-known pastor wrote me privately to accuse me of being schismatic. It is a feature of our times, I am afraid, that to defend the consensus on which we have built unity is to be labeled as divisive.) Of the different reactions one that most surprised me was a denial that there is validity to the idea of slippery slopes. My initial response to this criticism is to marvel that people can take this position in light of recent church history. Still, the topic is important enough that I think it good to defend the reality of the slippery slope. Why is the slope slippery? First, let me define what I mean in referring to the slippery slope. The slippery slope simply notes that those who remove the restraint against worldly conformity place themselves in peril of further and more damaging accommodations. The slope becomes slippery when the source of friction is removed. Far from the logical fallacy of which it is charged, there is a logical basis for the slippery slope argument: when the authority of Scripture is yielded to cultural demands, the loss of that authority renders us vulnerable to further cultural demands. Herein lies the wisdom of Scripture: "If the foundations are destroyed, what can the righteous do?" (Ps. 11:3). Indeed, the very first Psalm begins with a portrayal of the slippery slope, charting a progression from "the counsel of the wicked" to "the way of sinners" and ultimately to "the seat of scoffers" (Ps. 1:1). That it’s slippery doesn’t mean everyone slides In making these observations, I do not mean that anyone who changes his or her view in the direction of cultural preferences is irrevocably bound to further concessions. It is blessedly true that people and churches have taken a perilous step to the left (or right) and later reconsidered, and to note examples of this happening does not prove that their previous action had not been imperiled. It is because the slippery slope can be escaped by recommitting to Scripture that warnings of peril are of value. Moreover, I do not mean to suggest that those who make any concessions to culture over Scripture have already abandoned the atonement of Christ. I am suggesting, however, that the slippery slope is...well, slippery. Those who remove traction from their feet may very well slide much further than they first thought possible. As Fred Harrell's progression illustrates – together with those of the PC(USA), CRC, RCA, Church of Scotland, and other denominations – the abandonment of clear biblical teaching at one cultural pressure-point (women's ordination), imperils us with further capitulations (homosexual acceptance), and if unchecked will find itself challenged to avoid "touching the Jesus Box" (i.e. denying even the resurrection of our Savior). It starts with women’s ordination Second, I noted that in our time, the slippery slope is usually entered at the point of women's ordination. This tendency is not surprising, since the assault of secular culture against the Bible is most tenaciously focused on gender and sexuality. To uphold biblical gender norms, including the Bible's clear teaching on male-only ordination is the single most inflammatory position that Christians may hold in our culture. For this reason, it is hard to find an example in recent history when a Christian leader or church denomination moved from biblical conservatism to unbiblical cultural conformity when the slide did not begin with the ordination of women to church office. It stands to reason, then, that we should avoid thinking that we can conform to the worldly demands regarding gender and avoid further accommodations of greater significance. What about women deacons? This brings me to the topic of women deacons. Several critics accused me of asserting that to support the ordination of women to the office of deacon is to abandon the gospel. This response is noteworthy because I made no mention of women deacons in my original post. I will admit, however, to being unpersuaded that the move to ordain women deacons in the PCA is unrelated to a broader agenda of cultural accommodation. In saying this, I do not mean to question the sincerity of those individuals who advocate the position that women should hold the office of deacon. But I would note the growing tendency among these same persons to employ women in roles that are as associated with the office of elder. For example, in many churches pastored by ministers who are supportive of the ordination of women deacons, women are placed in the pulpit during worship services for the public reading of Scripture and to offer the congregational prayer. Women are assigned to distribute the elements of the Lord's Supper. These are functions associated with the office of elders, not deacons. Moreover, word has recently come that pressure is being exerted in one PCA presbytery to install a woman as its stated clerk, making her a member of a court composed exclusively of ruling and teaching elders. Where is the outcry against these tendencies from those who say that they are only wishing to ordain women as deacons? Conclusion The slippery slope, then, is real. And the sole restraint against it – against all our sin and tendency to compromise – is our obedience to the voice of the Spirit of Christ speaking in Holy Scripture. Therefore, the counsel given by Jeremiah at another moment of cultural of peril seems urgent: Stand by the crossroads, and look and ask for the ancient paths, where the good way is; and walk in it, and find rest for your souls (Jer. 6:16). In this way alone will we navigate the perils of our times, fortifying our fidelity to Christ. Rev. Richard D. Phillips has been the Senior Minister of Second Presbyterian Church in Greenville, South Carolina (PCA) since July 2007. A version of this article first appeared on Alliance for Confessing Evangelical’s Reformation 21 blog under the title “Standing Firm on the Slippery Slope.” It has been reprinted here with permission....

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The Pursuit of Wisdom: do it ‘til you die

Some might assume that, as they grow older, they will grow in wisdom. But the Bible tells us that’s hardly a given. One of the themes of the book of Proverbs is that wisdom is something that has to be pursued. We can see this in three of the characters we are introduced to in Proverbs. One of these characters is “the righteous” – humble and actively seeking out God’s wisdom. The wicked, on the other hand, are proud, and in their selfish ambition they are active too, but actively seeking out folly. They get into trouble because they are looking for it. But perhaps it is the third character who should most interest us. This third sort is also seeking folly…but not actively. In a sense he finds folly only because he isn’t seeking wisdom. He is the sluggard. So both the wicked and the righteous go out and make choices – they choose between wisdom and folly. The sluggard? He just stays home. And folly finds him. Between wicked and wise That’s why the sluggard is encouraged to stir. We find him in Proverbs 6 being told: “Go to the ant, you sluggard! Observe her ways and become wise.” The ant doesn’t have somebody telling her what to do. She acts on her own initiative. She goes out and finds a job, so that she may learn her trade. The sluggard needs to get up out of his bed and learn from the ant. The author of this proverb wants to encourage his readers in godly ambition. Then again, in Proverbs 26:13 and onward, we see a warning against sloth. Here the sluggard cries out, “There is a lion in the streets.” The sluggard makes excuses for himself, for why he just wants to stay home. He won’t risk any effort. Again, we see the need for godly ambition. We can’t be afraid of risks when we go out into the world. We have to be wise and prudent in our actions, but if we live in fear of what might happen, we will never find the prize. The reward will be gone. Christians have no excuse for sitting around and waiting; we have no excuse for endless leisure time. We either have to go out and seek wisdom, or we will lose it. Then we’ll become the fool, fearing even imaginary lions. And ultimately, we will lose the Wisdom of God; Jesus Christ. We are all called to that search for wisdom in so far as God has given us the ability to do so. Wisdom put to use Wisdom, in our passages, is the ability to discern between to choices. Practically speaking, wisdom is the means by which we make business decisions, choose a marriage partner, or make any number of other choices that come to us each day. But within Proverbs all wisdom ultimately points to the Wisdom of God, the Wisdom that God reveals in Jesus Christ and the Wisdom by which God made the world. He is the one who holds the universe together. We can distinguish between practical wisdom and the Wisdom of God in Proverbs, but they cannot truly be separated. If we do not seek wisdom, we ultimately lose the Wisdom of God; Jesus Christ. We are all called to that search for wisdom in so far as God has given us the ability to do so. So one of the messages of proverbs is, “get up, get out and find wisdom.” Search then. Seek out the wisdom of the universe. We need to have the attitude of the man Jesus speaks of in the parable of the pearl of great price. This man sells everything in order to find what is most precious; the kingdom of God. Search for the Wisdom; Christ. That is a life-long search, a life-long desire, for those who have found him. Do not cease from scouring the Scriptures. Do not cease from praying for understanding. Search until God gives you the fullness of eternal life and rest with Him. James Zekveld blogs at JamesZekveld.com where a version of this article first appeared....

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The untimely death of Emmett Louis Till: The power of graphic pictures

Pictures have a power that words simply cannot match. That became evident in the tragic death of Emmett Louis Till, a 14-year-old Chicago teen who was brutally murdered in Mississippi in 1955. Till was in the Mississippi town of Money visiting his uncle. Out with friends one afternoon, he did the same dumb thing many teenage boys will do; he whistled at a pretty girl. The problem was Till was black, and the woman he whistled at, Carolyn Bryant, was white. Foolish for the fifties While in any time period it’s crude to wolf whistle when an attractive woman goes by, in 1955 it was just plain crazy for a young black teen to whistle at a pretty white woman. No one seems quite sure why Till did it. Mississippi was a difficult place to be black, and Carolyn Bryant’s husband and brother-in-law were livid when they heard what Till had done. According to a cousin, "They said they were just going to whip him." Sadly, Till soon encountered the vicious realities of racism in 1955. He was kidnapped from his bed at his uncle’s house on August 28, beaten, and shot in the head. His body was then tied to a heavy metal fan with barbed wire and thrown into the nearby Tallahatchie River. Some fishermen found his battered corpse in the river three days later. The husband and brother-in-law were tried for the murder but acquitted. In a 1956 interview with Look magazine, the two admitted to the murders. Though they had confessed, no further legal action was taken against the men since under American law you cannot be tried twice for the same crime. To anyone who knows about the American South in the ‘40s and ‘50s, this story is hardly surprising. It seems that there are many stories of blacks who were lynched, driven out of town, or otherwise put out of the way. The whites accused of the crime, generally speaking, received little or no punishment. The story of Emmett Louis Till is neither unusual nor surprising. Open casket One thing about the story is different. Till’s mother held the teen’s funeral in Chicago, and it was an open casket funeral. No mortician, no funeral director, no matter how skilled, can fully hide the effects of being beaten, shot in the head, and left in the river for days. Reporters were present at the funeral and took pictures. The stomach-churning photos were duly published in Chicago, and picked up by papers around the world. Though anyone living in 1955 who was familiar with the American South would have heard of stories of the brutal murder of blacks, few would have seen the pictures. It is easy to ignore it when someone writes about the suffering of people in a distant county or state. It is much harder to ignore it – to let it just go away – when you see pictures of one of the victims. When you can see the bruises from the beating, the wounds where the bullet would have entered and exited the head, and marks that the barbed wire would have left around Till’s neck, then violence against blacks becomes very, very hard to forget. The start of something big The murder of Emmett Louis Till is credited by many with waking up Americans to the extent of the problem of racism. According to U.S. Assistant Attorney General Alexander Acosta, Till’s death “stands at the crossroads of the American civil rights movement.” On December 1, 1955, only three months after Till’s body was found, Rosa Parks refused to give up her bus seat to a white man and was thrown off the bus. This triggered the Montgomery bus boycott, and because they couldn’t ignore the problem any longer there were whites willing to support the fight for equal treatment of blacks. When Martin Luther King went from playing a support role in the bus boycott, to leading a nation wide movement for racial equality, there were whites working with blacks to change their nation. The problem could no longer be ignored. The murder of young Emmett Louis Till was not at all unusual for the time. Newspapers had run countless stories with thousands of words detailing the treatment of blacks. The murder of one more teenage black was not at all surprising. What was surprising were the pictures of his battered body. They were gut-wrenching photos that could not be forgotten or ignored. They had an impact that mere words simply could not. Sometime a picture really is worth a thousand words. We haven't shared the graphic pictures of Emmett Till because we understand it is quite possible younger children may be viewing this over their parents' shoulders. Instead we've included a link to one of the photos, as it was placed in the Chicago Defender, here. This article first appeared in the June 2004 edition of Reformed Perspective....

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