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Magazine, Past Issue

Nov/Dec 2019 issue

WHAT’S INSIDE: Why dystopian fiction is worth reading / That morning I listened to Kanye West / 8 free films for your study group / Santa Claus at Nicea / A multi-level warning about multi-level marketing / Tearing down tyranny one joke at a time / Why haven't we heard from ET? / The pros and cons of online dating / What is conversion therapy and why does it matter? / Whose am I? / The boy that drove the plow / and much more...

Click the cover to view or right-click to download the PDF

Science - Creation/Evolution

What you need to know to survive and thrive in your secular science class

If you're heading into a secular university or high school science course, and you're a little intimidated, here's something to remember. It is not just the Bible-believing Christians who base their interpretations of nature on their worldview. So do secular scientists. However, these two groups' worldviews, and their assumptions used in interpreting nature, couldn't be more different. Two different starting assumptions The Christian scientist's most obvious assumption is that God’s work and character are evident in nature. Meanwhile, mainstream scientists assume that God will never be revealed in nature, but only matter and processes. One thing that cannot be overemphasized is how important it is to identify the assumptions used to draw conclusions from a given set of observations. The thing about assumptions is that they are based on the worldview of the expert. On this topic, philosopher of science, David Berlinski remarks in his book, The Devil's Delusion:

“Arguments follow from assumptions, and assumptions follow from beliefs…”

The whole point is that there are no objective scientists. Everyone has starting assumptions. The Christian starting point The Christian naturally confesses that God exists, that He is omnipotent and omniscient and has communicated with us. Nature is God’s handiwork. Thus the Christian confesses that we see testimony to God’s work and character when we look at nature. For example, we read in Psalms 19:1-3:

“The heavens declare the glory of God, the sky above proclaims his handiwork. Day to day pours out speech and night to night reveals knowledge. There is no speech, nor are there words, whose voice is not heard.”

The apostle Paul points out the importance of this revelation from nature when he quotes the above passage. Thus he writes in Romans 10:17-18:

“So faith comes from hearing and hearing through the word of Christ. But I ask, have they not heard? Indeed they have, for their voice has gone out to all the earth, and their words to the end of the world.”

We see God’s works revealed in nature. The secular foundation The secular position contrasts sharply with the Christian view. Mainstream scientists maintain that natural explanations can be found for everything. It isn't just that they don't see evidence of the supernatural, but rather that, from the start, they presume no supernatural input will ever be evident. Different questions lead to different answers With different expectations on the part of secular individuals and some Christians, there is a big difference in the questions asked of natural systems and the answers obtained. For example, suppose that somebody showed you a photograph of an unfamiliar object (for example an alga). If you were to ask that person “How did you make that?” the only possible response would be some sort of process. However, if you were instead to ask “Did you make that?” then the person has the opportunity to reply that he did not make the object, that it is in fact an alga floating in lakes in the summer. Similarly, in our study of nature, it matters what questions we ask. If a scientist asks “How did life come about spontaneously?” Then the only possible answer is a process. They have assumed it must have happened spontaneously, and aren't open to any other explanation. However, if the same scientists were to ask “Could life come about spontaneously?” he now has opened up an opportunity to examine what cells are like and what biochemical processes in cells are like. And then the evidence will show him that life could not have come about spontaneously. He will be able to reach a conclusion he could not have seen if he didn't ask the right sort of question. The answers obtained from the study of nature depend upon what questions are asked. Mainstream science has blinded itself The mainstream scientist approaches the study of nature with a specific agenda. Nature is to be interpreted only in terms of matter, energy, and natural processes, even if the results look ridiculous. A prominent geneticist, Richard Lewontin actually stated this very clearly. In a famous review of a book by Carl Sagan, Dr. Lewontin wrote:

“Our willingness to accept scientific claims that are against common sense is the key to an understanding of the real struggle between science and the supernatural. We take the side of science…. because we have an a priori commitment to materialism. It is not that the methods and institutions of science somehow compel us to accept a material explanation of the phenomenal world, but, on the contrary, that we are forced by our a priori adherence to material causes to create an apparatus of investigation and a set of concepts that produce material explanations, no matter how counter-intuitive, no matter how mystifying to the uninitiated. Moreover, that materialism is absolute, for we cannot allow a Divine Foot in the door” (New York Review of Books January 9, 1997).

What Dr. Lewontin said, was that scientists bias their studies so that only natural explanations will ever be obtained. Secular scientists may restrict what explanations about nature qualify for the term "science" but they cannot at the same time claim that what they are dealing with is truth. For example philosopher of science Del Ratzsch from Calvin College pointed out in 1996 that:

“If nature is not a closed, naturalistic system – that is, if reality does not respect the naturalists’ edict – then the science built around that edict cannot be credited a priori with getting at truth, being self-corrective or anything of the sort.” (The Battle of Beginnings: Why Neither Side is Winning the Creation-Evolution Debate. InterVarsity Press. p. 167).

Thus secular scientists, with their expectations of never seeing God in nature, have confined themselves to mechanistic explanations and interpretations. As Dr. Ratzsch remarks: “… materialists have no viable choice but to view the world through evolutionary spectacles of some sort” (p. 197). And concerning the creationists, Dr. Ratzsch remarks:

“… creationists who accept the authority of Scripture and take it to be relevant to issues also will have unique input into their view of the cosmos, its origin and its workings. And there is nothing inherently irrational merely in the holding of such views — at least not on any definition of rational that can plausibly claim to be normative. Some critics will, of course, refuse to grant the honorific title science to the results of such views, but that is at best a mere semantic nicety. If the aim is genuine truth, the mere fact that a system purporting to display that truth does not meet the conditions of some stipulative worldview-laden definition of the term science can hardly carry serious weight” (p. 197).

What better statement could there be to the effect that no one should be intimidated by the pronouncements of mainstream science? Any scientist who claims that science proves that man has descended from chimps has based his conclusion on a biased study of the issues in that it presumes a materialistic worldview. Conservative Christians do not need to be intimidated by such conclusions. Conclusion The nature of the materialistic assumptions and objectives of mainstream science must not discourage Christians from studying science. It is very important to understand how the information content and irreducible complexity of the living cell (among other issues), can really only be understood in terms of creation by a supernatural mind. There are many who want their children to appreciate this and to be able to resist the appeal of mainstream science.

Dr. Margaret Helder is the author of “No Christian Silence on Science.” This is an edited version of an article that first appeared in the June 2015 issue of "Creation Science Dialogue," (Create.ab.ca) where it appeared under the title "Surviving advanced courses in Science." It is reprinted here with permission.

Dating, Parenting

Marriable Men

Two qualities dads should look for in boys who want to date our daughters

*****

Here's a topic that's best to get to too early rather than too late - what sort of men should our daughters marry? Dads are going to have a lot of input in this decision, one way or another. If we actively try to influence our daughters – by example, through conversation, and by requiring interested young men to talk to us first – we'll point them to a certain sort of man. And if we don't talk about what makes a man marriable, if we aren't a good example of a godly man and good husband, and if we have no role in our daughter's dating life, then we'll point them to another sort of man. What kind of man do we want for our daughters? The answer is simple when we keep the description broad: a man who loves the Lord, and will be a good leader to his wife and children, who’s hardworking, and also active in his church. But what does this type of man look like as a boy? If our daughters are dating and getting married young, they'll unavoidably have a "work in progress." That's a description that fits all of us – sanctification is a lifelong process – but which is even more true for a boy/man in his late teens who hasn't yet shouldered the responsibilities of providing for himself, let alone a family. It's hard, at this point, to take the measure of the man he will become. How do we evaluate potential suitors when there isn't a lot of track record to look back on? We need to find out how they react to light and to leadership. 1. Light

And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed. But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God.” – John 3:19-21

Does a young man love the light? This is a characteristic that is easy for us dads to check up on. It's as simple as asking his parents if they know where he is on Friday and Saturday nights. Does he think it's no big deal to tell his parents where he will be? Or does he want to keep what he's up to a mystery? Does he have a problem with having his parents around when friends come over? Or has he introduced all his friends to them? When he goes out to other friends' houses does his group pick spots where parents are home? Or do they want their privacy? Many young men in our congregations are planning or attending events that take place late at night and far away from parental, or any other type of, supervision. They may not have a specific intent to get drunk or do other foolishness, but by fleeing from the light they've created the opportunity. A teen who tells his parents that it is none of their business where he is going is a boy who loves the dark. Another question to ask: does he have monitoring software on his computer – Covenant Eyes, for example – and would he be willing to show his smartphone to you? Would he be happy to let you know where he's been on the Internet? This would be a young man who is unafraid of, and loves, the Light. 2. Leaders

Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her... – Ephesians 5:25

There's a reason that young women are attracted to "bad boys." When the other young men they know are doing nothing all that bad and nothing at all remarkable, then an arrogant kid who doesn't care what anyone thinks can look like leadership material. He, at least, is not lukewarm. But this is the last man we would want for our daughters. His "leadership" recognizes no authority but his own. In contrast, God tells us that as heads to our wives we are called to serve, imitating Christ. Godly men don't dominate their wives; they die for them. So how can dads spot this sort of servant leadership in young men? It shows itself in big ways and little. In a church service, does he hold the songbook for his sister? Or does he have his hands in his pockets while his sister holds the book for him? Does he sing? Or is he too cool (too lukewarm) to praise God with enthusiasm? How does he treat his mom? If he treats her with respect – if he readily submits to authority – that is a good sign that he can be entrusted with authority. If he treats his mother shamefully, yelling at her, and ignoring what she asks, every young lady should beware! If he's a terror to someone placed over him, we don't need to guess how he will treat those under his authority. Another question to consider: did he take the servant-leader role in the relationship right from the beginning? In any boy-girl dynamic, someone has to be the first to say "I like you" and with that comes the very real risk of being the only one to say it. When that happens, it stings. So was this boy willing to stick his neck out for your daughter? Was he willing to risk looking the fool so she wouldn't have to? Or did he wait for her to take the lead and ask him out? How does he take correction? Any boy who dates our daughter is going to be, at best, a godly man partly formed. While we are all works in progress, not all of us recognize this – arrogant young men think themselves beyond the need of correction. If a potential suitor bristles at any suggestion from his elders, or if he's unwilling to apologize when he's wrong, then he is definitely the wrong sort for our daughters. We, instead, want the young man who, as we read in Proverbs 15:32, "heeds correction [and] gains understanding." Conclusion Young men hoping to get married are aspiring to a leadership role. But while marriage makes a man a leader, it won't magically make him a good one. Fortunately, leadership is a skill that can be learned, and love of the Light something we can grow in. So fathers shouldn't be expecting perfection. But we also shouldn't settle for lukewarm. It's one thing for a young man to not yet be the leader he could be, and something else entirely for him to not be aspiring to this role or preparing for it. It's one thing for a young man to not be seeking the Light as consistently or vigorously as he should, and another for him to be fleeing from it. Fathers, we want our daughters to marry young men who love the Lord and want to honor Him in their roles as husband, father, and elder. Let's be sure, then, that we teach them to look for true leaders who love the light.

A French version of this article can be found by clicking here.

Assorted

Older women have much to give

Our church has a sizable number of older women. Why? What task would the Lord give these sisters in His church? Like the older men, the older women of the congregation are a God-given resource for building up the congregation. This is what Paul draws out in his instruction in Titus 2:3-4a when Titus is told to ensure that:

“older women likewise are to be reverent in behavior, not slanderers or addicted to much wine. They are to teach what is good, and so train the young women…”

Who is Paul talking to? The term "older women" directs our thoughts to those sisters in our midst who have been around more years than many others. By virtue of the time they’ve already spent in God’s school-of-life, they have the life experience to be able to touch others in a helpful manner. We do not know whether the “older women” Paul speaks about on Crete were married, single or widowed. Undoubtedly, as with us, some were married, while others were single – be it that they had never married or were now widowed. In any case, Paul does not speak here about the “older woman’s” role in relation to a husband; he speaks instead about their role as “teachers.” So it’s this role we need to draw out now. A teaching role The Lord God in the beginning created two people, a man and a woman, to image Him, and He gave them the command to “be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it and have dominion over” all creatures (Genesis 1:28). God’s intent was that the earth would be filled with people who, in the way they interacted together and cared for God’s world, would reflect what God was like. Yet the children to be born would not know from instinct how to image God; they would need to be taught. This was, of course, the parents’ task, with Eve as mother to play a central role. The longer Eve spent in the school of life, the better she would get to know God – and so the better equipped she’d be to teach those who came after her what service to God ought to look like. This task would, of course, be true not just for her, but also for her daughters in the coming generations. Older women, wizened by years in God’s service, have a vital role to play for the benefit of those less schooled in life. The fall into sin complicated the task profoundly, but did not alter God’s intent for the older women. It’s no surprise, then, to find Miriam teaching the women of Israel. She’s Moses’ older sister (cf. Exodus 2:7), and Moses was 80 years old when the Lord sent him to Egypt to deliver His people (Exodus 7:7). With the exodus now behind them, Miriam led the women with tambourines and dancing to sing the Lord’s praise on account of His redeeming work (Exodus 15:20f). Similarly, the “excellent wife” of Proverbs 31 “opens her mouth with wisdom, and the teaching of kindness is on her tongue” (vs. 26). And in the New Testament we read of Anna at 84 years of age speaking readily of the newborn Savior “to all who were waiting for the redemption of Jerusalem” (Luke 2:36ff). Examples such as this form the foundation upon which Paul builds his instruction to Titus concerning what needs to be done to build up church life on Crete. Titus must ensure that “older women… teach what is good” – an instruction fully in line with God’s earlier revelation. Yet to be effective in teaching, these older sisters need particular behavior, ie, they need to walk the walk before they can credibly talk the talk. So Paul tells Titus to ensure that the older women are “to be reverent in behavior, not slanderers or slaves to much wine.” "Reverent in behavior" The term translated as “reverent in behavior” is literally: “in behavior befitting a temple.” It’s a formulation full of gospel, and hence of grateful obligation. The Lord God had told His people at Mt Sinai to build a house for Him, so He could dwell with them. The tabernacle Israel built had the Holy of Holies in the back and the people outside, with the altar for sacrifices in between. The altar spoke of the work Jesus Christ was going to do; He’d sacrifice Himself on the cross to atone for our sins so that sinners might be reconciled to God. Years later Christ Jesus actually did come to pay for sin, and triumphed too; the curtain preventing access to the presence of God in the Holy of Holies was torn at the moment of His death (Mt 27:51). After His ascension into heaven, Christ poured out His Holy Spirit so that in Him God might dwell in sinners’ hearts. The result is that Paul can say that believers are temples of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 3:16; 6:19). That was a reality that was also true for the saints of Crete, including the older women. That’s the force of Titus 2:11: “For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men.” It’s obvious that if you are a temple you need to live a lifestyle befitting that status. That’s what Paul wants Titus to impress on the older women; they are to act the part. Of course, others of the congregation are to act the part too, but Paul is now concerned specifically that the older women be what they are, because God has entrusted a teaching role to them. What does that look like? What might a lifestyle “befitting a temple” look like? Here I need to refer to Leviticus 10. As you’ll notice from what follows, themes from Leviticus 10 come back repeatedly in Paul’s instruction in Titus 2:3. The book of Leviticus assumes the completion of the tabernacle God wanted Israel to build. The first 7 chapters detail how the sacrifices on that altar-between-God-and-the-people had to be done, while Leviticus 8 explains who had to perform the sacrifices on that altar. Chapter 9 describes the ordination of the priests, and then ends with Aaron blessing the Israelites and the glory of the Lord appearing to the people. What an exciting day: God and sinners living together in harmony – something of Paradise is restored! And then the sons of Aaron got caught up in the excitement of the moment – so says Leviticus 10 – and in their enthusiasm they volunteered a sacrifice on that altar. Bam: “fire come out from before the Lord and consumed them, and they died before the Lord” (vs. 2). How tragic! And the lesson is clear: God is holy. Somehow, spontaneous sacrifice was behavior not “befitting the temple.” Now that the Holy Spirit has been poured out on Pentecost, the point is even truer for New Testament temples. The older women, teachers (and hence models) that they are, need to adopt behavior “befitting a temple,” that is to say that in their service of God they are to be even more particular & careful than the priests of Leviticus 10 (and hence of the Old Testament). For God remains God! That’s why can Paul can work out in Titus 2:12 what this looks like. “The grace of God that brings salvation has appeared” and it “teaches us to say ‘No’ to ungodliness and worldly passions” – including the inner urge to serve God in a self-chosen way. Instead, our identity as "temples" teaches us – Paul continues - “to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age.” That "teaching" happens through the example of the older women – and Paul is happy to flesh that out in further detail still. "Not slanderers" Paul follows the instruction to live in a fashion “befitting a temple” with the command “not to be slanderers.” The word translated here as "slanderers" is actually the same word that appears repeatedly in the Bible as the name of the Devil, Diabolos, a word that describes the notion of sowing confusion. Slander does exactly that to someone’s reputation, and so is evil and ungodly. The older women of Titus’ congregations were to avoid it. One wonders, though, why Paul feels the need to tell Titus to teach the women not to slander. Were the Cretan ladies excessively guilty of this evil? The fact that “Cretans are always liars, evil brutes, lazy gluttons” (as Paul affirmed in 1:12) leaves room for that understanding. Yet I suspect that more is involved here. In Leviticus 10 the Lord God responded to Aaron’s sons’ spontaneous worship with heavenly fire and death. One could understand if Aaron was tempted to respond to God’s deed with some serious criticism of God’s high standards. Moses, however, reminded Aaron of God’s holiness, with the result being that “Aaron remained silent” (Leviticus 10:3). He did not slander God’s good name despite the anguish he undoubtedly felt at the death of his boys, nor did he sow confusion among the people about what kind of a God they had. Since God had come to live among the people in the tabernacle, the people needed to conduct themselves as persons “befitting the temple” – and by his remaining silent, not slandering, Aaron exemplified precisely that sort of behavior. The older women of Crete, now, were to adopt behavior befitting a temple. Part and parcel of that behavior was that they would not slander God’s good name, be it through their own misconduct or through giving someone else occasion to think or speak evil of God. In fact, their words were always to be inspiration for others to think highly of God and of His deeds in our daily lives, and so to praise Him. "Not addicted to much wine" Wine (and it’s true of all alcoholic drink) is a gift from God. God told Adam and Eve on the day of their creation that, “I give you every seed-bearing plant on the face of the whole earth…” (Genesis 1:29). God also told them that they were to “rule over” all creation (Genesis 1:28) – and that obviously means that they were to see to it that no created thing ruled over them. To be ruled by alcohol, then, is sin. That’s true in terms of addiction, and is true too when one is "under the influence." Hence the Bible’s repeated instruction to use wine in moderation (cf. Prov 23:19-21; 1 Tim 5:23). The older women of Crete were to take this Biblical instruction to heart. Again, though, one wonders why Paul would mention this matter to Titus. Did the older women of Crete have a problem with alcohol? That “Cretans are… lazy gluttons” (1:12) could suggest it was so. But again, Leviticus 10 sheds some other light on the matter. For after the bodies of Aaron’s two dead sons were carried away from the tabernacle, “the Lord said to Aaron, ‘You and your sons are not to drink wine or other fermented drink whenever you go into the Tent of Meeting” (vs. 8f). As the priests labored at the altar in God’s presence, they should be clear-headed and in full control of their faculties; God, after all, was holy. Given that the older women of Crete – teachers as they were to be - were to behave in a manner befitting temples, it follows that nothing should becloud their judgment; they should always be clear-headed. "Teach what is good" Good judgment, of course, is what one requires if one is to “teach what is good” and so “train the younger women” (2:3,4). We’ve already drawn out that the Lord assigned a teaching role to the women, with its focus on the coming generations. Strikingly, though, this again is an echo of Leviticus 10. For after the Lord had forbidden Aaron and his sons to “drink wine… whenever you go into the Tent of Meeting,” the Lord added this instruction:

"You must distinguish between the holy and the common, between the unclean and the clean, and you must teach the Israelites all the decrees the Lord has given them through Moses" (Leviticus 10:10,11).

In chapters 11-15 the Lord expanded on clean and unclean foods, animals, fish, clothes, houses, etc. The point of the instruction was that Israel was to know that they were holy, and therefore different from the nations; they were to tolerate no sin in their lives. This point required teaching, and that task fell to the priests as they labored in the tabernacle – and they, for the sake of teaching clearly, had to be alcohol free. Again, the priests were to “teach the Israelites all the decrees the Lord had given,” and that includes instruction about all the main points of doctrine as the Lord taught it through the laws. This teaching function belonged to the priest. But Paul in Titus 2 harks back to Leviticus 10 to undergird how the “older women” are to teach. Their conduct is to be consistent with the Christians’ identity as temples of the Holy Spirit, they are not to slander God’s works and words, and they are to be consistently clear-minded as they join Titus in teaching the younger women the implications of the faith. Let no one misunderstand. Paul is not saying – and I am not either - that the older women are to receive a place of leadership in the church. The Holy Spirit moved the apostle elsewhere to write, “I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she must be silent” (1 Timothy 2:12). Yet Paul would not have women pushed into a corner as if they have no role in the congregation! Very deliberately Paul uses language in Titus 2:3 that is borrowed from Leviticus 10, about the priests’ role as teachers, and applies that instruction to the older women. As Paul seeks to build up church life in Crete, he would have the older women play a vital role! Yet that vital role is not directed to the congregation in its entirety, but is directed to the younger women of the flock. These younger women also have a critical role to play but Titus can’t reach them so easily. So, in relation to these younger women, the older have that position of teaching – as a clear echo of God’s intent in Genesis 1. Value Paul would not have the older women of Crete – or of today - cloistered in some seniors’ club, or perhaps forever away on a cruise. He sees the women playing a vital role in the growth of the congregation. These sisters – they’ve spent years in God’s school of life - are a rich resource in the church of Crete, for the congregation’s edification. The same is true today. The Lord God has left a goodly number of older women in the congregation. Why? Because God says that we need them! There are so many younger women in the congregation, from mothers of busy households to mothers of small households to sisters with yet no children or even no husband yet. These younger women are, by God’s ordinance, helpers to (today’s and) tomorrow’s office bearers, school board members, businessmen and fathers; these young women are also mothers to the next generation of church leaders. Obviously, these young women play a pivotal role in the church life. That is why they need all the guidance, encouragement and help they can get. By God’s ordinance, it is the role of “the older women” to give that help. The older are under divine obligation to speak with their daughters (in-law), their children’s friends, and other “young” sisters of congregation. Certainly, women’s society is one forum where that conversation can happen. But be honest: when the older sisters were younger years ago, they didn’t commonly open up on life’s real burdens to a virtual stranger, let alone in a public meeting. Asking for help takes privacy, and the openness that comes with familiarity. Point: let the older sisters get into the homes of the younger; nothing beats a coffee together. Instead of lamenting how younger mothers struggle to cope with the challenge of keeping their children under control, invite a couple of these mothers over for a visit (ah, yes, let the husbands join the ladies…), and share some nuggets on childrearing as you’ve learned it over the years. Encouragement Older sisters: the Lord God has not put you out to pasture! On the contrary, you have received the Holy Spirit in full measure. Pentecost is reality: “Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days, and they will prophesy” (Acts 2:38). In the confidence that the Lord gives a task and equips to carry it out, search for ways to touch the younger of the congregation. So you can “still bear fruit in old age… proclaiming, 'The Lord is upright; He is my Rock'” (Ps 92:14f).  

Rev. Bouwman is a minister for the Canadian Reformed Church of Smithville, Ontario. This article first appeared in the January 2013 issue.

 

Assorted

Maintaining the motivation of elders and deacons

The following is a rough transcript of Rev. Moesker’s 45-minute presentation above.

****

I’ve been asked to speak here and I was given some suggested topics including one about motivation.

 

According to the dictionary “to motivate” is to spur, or stimulate to action. Actually, there’s a whole field of psychology connected with motivation. I confess I have a Costco card, and I have shopped at their stores on a number of occasions. They set up their store strategically to motivate people to buy the stuff that’s in the store, and to motivate them to buy what they actually, probably don’t need. Electronic stuff and jewelry are near the entrance – you’ll notice every store is the same that way. Clothing and dry goods are in the middle, with the food items toward the back. Most people go for the food items but they have to pass through all the other stuff to get there and their carts fill up with more stuff as they go on. It’s a motivation thing – it’s psychology.

There’s a whole field of business management that has developed theories of motivation in the work goals context. They have a list of psychological factors that can stimulate people’s behavior – desires for: money, success, recognition, job satisfaction, teamwork, etc. Companies will hire motivational speakers – makes me think of the motivational speakers who said, “Whatever you do, always give 100%…unless you’re donating blood.”

There might be some psychology connected with the motivation of office bearers in Christ’s Church too. I wouldn’t count that out. But I’m no psychologist and I believe the topic has to be approached spiritually rather than psychologically. That doesn’t make it less practical, not at all. Looking at things spiritually has always got to have practical implications. Serving the Lord concerns real life, also as office bearers.

It’s strange – I have a number of books for, and about, office bearers. I checked them all out for some direction for this presentation but none of those books gave practical encouragement and direction on how to stay motivated as an office bearer. So I didn’t have a lot to go by. But that’s what I was asked to think about.

Now being an office bearer can be an emotional and spiritual rollercoaster ride. Hopefully, this presentation and discussion will be helpful for present and future office bearers as far as staying motivated in their work, and staying on task. So my approach is first, as mentioned:

  • Consider how office bearers can become demotivated pastorally and personally.
  • And then think about how to stay motivated, personally, and together as counsel. We’ll look at how we can help each other as office bearers too.

DEMOTIVATION

So we’ll look first of all at demotivation. In your pastoral work you can become demotivated. The Bible actually talks about demotivation, on the part of office bearers. The Apostle Paul talks about being anxious for the churches, and of frustration with church members, in his letters. But I think the most clear mention of office bearers becoming demotivated is in Hebrews 13 verse 17. And it was mentioned there:

Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you.

Consider that last line “Let them do this with joy.” Now often that word this is connected to give an account– that they give account to the Lord, not with groaning but joy – but that’s not what the this here is referring to. While it is true that office bearers have to take to heart that they have to give an account for their work to the Lord, that’s not what this refers to.

According to Johann Bengel – he wrote Exegetical Annotations on the New Testament– the word this dramatically refers to the leaders watching over the souls of the church members. So “let them do this with joy and not with groaning” – let them watch over the souls of the church members with joy and not with groaning.

It can be that office bearers watch over the souls of those under their care with joy. They do the work – they see growth, repentance, correction, change, submission. But it can also be that they are watching over these souls with a lot of groaning. And that groaning is because they do their work and they don’t see any change. They don’t see growth, repentance, correction, or submission. And they can end up groaning because their work as elders or deacons is not respected, not accepted. Their bringing in, and applying of, God’s Word doesn’t bear positive fruit in church members. Maybe there is a hardening of the heart even, or a refusing to listen to the correction given by deacons. In any case, there’s groaning, frustration, and sadness on the part of the office bearer.

That’s also how John Calvin approaches this passage. He has a few interesting statements about the last part of the text where the Spirit adds for that would be of no advantage to you. Calvin says in connection with that, “nor is it a wonder how few at this time are found who strenuously watch over the Church of God.” He’s referring to this text, and he says that it’s no wonder that office bearers are demotivated too if they have to groan. He adds, “we suffer the punishment of our own perverseness when leaders grow cold in their duty or are less diligent then they ought to be.”

In other words, if church members cause their leaders to watch over their souls with groaning, they shouldn’t be surprised that those leaders aren’t motivated to look after their souls. In fact, God gives them over to those kinds of leaders. Hebrews 13 shows us that office bearers can groan and be demotivated due to dealing with disobedient unsubmissive church members.

Now, it is possible for elders and deacons to do their work with joy but also groaning. In fact, Bengel says in his commentary that a truly good office bearer will actually, besides rejoicing, also groan in his work. He’s going to find that he will have times he has to groan in his work – it is part of being an office bearer.

I’d like to look at some of the practical things that can cause an office bearer to groan in his work.

Situations we might not understand

While in church office, men will meet with people who are abused, addicted, suffer from mental illness, like depression, maybe sometimes even schizophrenia, and you want to understand them to help them. But you have a hard time with that.

Half the story

You want to love them as the Lord’s people but they often make it hard for you, to give them care, show them love. Sometimes even though you try to win their confidence, you only get half the story of what they’re dealing with, probably because they’re ashamed of the whole story. That makes it very difficult to understand or support them. I always say to people when you’re trying to find out what they’re dealing with, it’s like playing cards. You want to play cards with me but you want to give me five and you have ten, and I can’t play cards that way – you have to give me the whole story. So it makes it difficult to understand and support them if they don’t tell me everything. Then you keep pushing for that and then eventually they’ll just refuse to talk to you anymore. They want another elder or they want other deacon to come. Sometimes church members can almost seem unpastorable – you don’t know how you can help them. They seem to block you every time you want to help them. They block that. Very frustrating.

Ongoing struggles

Every ward usually has at least one very difficult personal or family situation or deaconal circumstance to deal with, that can claim a lot of your precious time and attention. And sometimes those difficult situations have gone on for years. You’ve spent a lot of time and effort trying to guide, to support, but things don’t just seem to go forward at all. You end up completing your term in office after the three years, and maybe after a couple years you end up back in office again and it’s still there. And maybe even you get it in your ward again. That can be just very, very frustrating that way.

Conflict

Conflict situations among church members can be extremely difficult to deal with. It’s often difficult to understand what in the world is going on here; what is the big point here. Sometimes it doesn’t seem like there’s a good reason for a conflict but what happens is all kinds of side issues enter into the picture over time. And it becomes hard to see the forest for all the trees. It can be very hard to understand either side of a conflict like that. You can’t give direction either; you try to mediate and don’t want to take sides. But both sides end up thinking then that you’re supporting the other side. Then conflict situations can be very difficult for office bearers to deal with. Discouraging!

Denial of authority

Most office bearers have experienced how people sometimes don’t recognize the responsibility and authority of office given by Christ. You try to follow up on something, and you end up being accused of harassment – “you’re harassing me – what don’t you leave me alone.” Then you come to the door and it’s “oh you guys.” They talk about “you guys” and so on. We all know how problematic it can be to arrange a home visit with certain families. Sometimes it can be very difficult – no time, they just can’t fit you in anywhere to meet with the office bearers. Sometimes you get no respect and that can be very discouraging to as an office bearer.

Fruitless meetings

You start off thinking, the Lord has given me this task, but it’s not accepted by other people in the congregation who you are trying to help. Consistory and council meetings aren’t necessarily a night out, right? As office bearers you are required to deal with all kinds of matters, some which are difficult to make decisions about. Maybe you propose something and fellow office bearers don’t see your point. You think it really important and that can be frustrating too. Possibly every time I propose something they’re not in favor of that. Or a matter gets put on the council table again which has been turned down many times over the years and it seems that somebody just can’t let it go. There it is again – we’ve dealt with that in the past and it’s been rejected then, so how come it comes up again? That’s frustrating. Or consistory meetings and council meetings drag on and are disorganized. It’s hard to steer a discussion – that’s a hard task to steer a discussion in a good way. And when it becomes disorganized, things just don’t seem to want to move forward, and it drags on. Meetings that go on until midnight are difficult for office bearers. Sometimes a meeting takes a long time to get over – you might have a hard time getting to sleep afterwards. You’re mulling things over in your mind yet, and you worry about situations going on in the congregation, or in classis or even in the Federation. You think where in the world are things going?

Doubt

All demotivators. So that’s in your work. And that can have a personal effect – I’m talking about personal demotivation. Sometimes it seems as if your work has so little effect. Then you wonder about the power of the Holy Spirit. Does He really work and change lives? You have your doubts then. And then you have to deal with those personal doubts, and cynicism. You might be thinking, I don’t know about this whole setup. Especially when your work of trying to bring about a financial or spiritual correction brings angry response and maybe causes people to stop attending church or withdrawing from church. When that happens then you almost inevitably, at first, take that personally and then you feel it reflects negatively on your work as an office bearer. It’s good to ask yourself did I do my work as best as I could but you can’t take that personally all the time. That becomes a really big burden, and it weighs you down. You think maybe I’m no good for this task – I work for the Lord and I don’t look forward to giving account to Him for my work, as it says in Hebrews 13, that we have to give account.

Guilt

As an office bearer you have to deal with a lot of personal guilt. As a brother said, you have to deal with that you’re never finished with your work. It’s a tough thing. I had to get used to that – I was an autobody spray painter and I finished my job, and then we go to the next one. But in the Church it’s never done, finished. It seems to go on and on; one issue is settled down, and then there’s another one. It just keeps going on, never finished, and it seems as if it’s actually a full-time job, sometimes. There’s always this to-do list hanging above the heads of office bearers – I should do that, could do that. It can happen, if you are enjoying an evening at home, or time off with your family, you feel guilty because actually I should be doing that, or should be visiting there, or should be reading up on this. It can be difficult to balance family, and your task as office bearer, and not just time-wise but also brain-space wise. It’s hard to balance that. Your responsibilities as office bearers seem to want to use up a lot of space in your head.

ELIJAH AND MOTIVATION

Now you listen to all the discouraging and frustrating things about being an elder or deacon and I mention these things not to depress you if you’re a novice right now or to discourage others who might be future office bears.

No, this is just to show that the need to think about motivation because there is much that can drag down an office bearer in his work. Even though they know that they’ve been called to office by the Lord, office bearers can become demotivated and can groan a lot in the office. So they can be demotivated, and then they need to be motivated. There are examples in the Bible of church leaders who were demotivated and who were re-motivated so I’d like to use an Old Testament example this time, Elijah, after the confrontation with the prophets of Baal on Mount Carmel in 1 Kings 19.

Queen Jezebel heard what he had done and she swore that she would have killed, so obviously not a whole lot changed in Israel after what happened on Mount Carmel. It was a miraculous, wonderful thing, fire came down from heaven and consumed everything on that altar and the altar itself, even though everything had been made wet, and yet it didn’t impress the people to any great extent, and especially not Jezebel.

So Elijah had to flee into the wilderness of Beersheba, and he sat down for under this broom tree here and he said, “It’s enough Lord, it’s enough. I’m done, take away my life because I’m no better than my father.” So he was feeling pretty down about his office as a prophet. Despite what happened on the mountain, there was no wave of repentance.

You might remember how the Lord twice sent an angel to Elijah there in the wilderness, and brought food and water.And on the strength of that food and water, he traveled for forty days without anything else. He ended up in a cave on Mount Horeb, and the Lord told him that He was going to appear to him there. There was a great windstorm, there was an earthquake, there was fire on the mountain but the Lord was not in those things. After the fire Elijah heard a little whisper and he realized that the Lord was there in that low whisper. So he stood at the entrance to the cave and he covered his face and the Lord asked him again “What are you doing here Elijah?”

And he said, “I’ve been very jealous for the Lord, the God of hosts, but the people of Israel have forsaken your covenant, throwing down your altars, killing your prophets with a sword, and I even I alone am left and they seek my life to take it away.” He was downright sick and tired of it. The Lord God tells me to go and anoint Hazeal king over Syria, and Jehu king over Israel and He assures him that the ungodliness of Israel would be punished in the future, and then He also adds, “Yet I would leave 7,000 in Israel, all whose knees have not bowed to Baal.”

God’s Church endures

So what does that tell us? That the Lord God makes sure that the Church continues.

Even if it seemed that Elijah’s work as office bearer wasn’t bearing any fruit at all, apparently, on the outside, the Lord was still busy gathering and keeping His Church. Article 27 of the Belgic Confession takes that incident with Elijah as evidence that God preserves his Church, even though it may look small, in the eyes of the world, because Christ is our “eternal King who cannot be without subjects.” I love that little statement: “the eternal King who cannot be without subjects.” That’s something to think about after Ascension Day. He reigns and therefore the Church will not die. It will not be wiped out. He will keep His Church. And the fact that the Lord wasn’t in the storm, that powerful storm with a mighty earthquake, or the dangerous fire, but in that small whisper, says something about how the Lord works.

It is about the Holy Spirit, not you

So how does this passage help with motivation for office bearers in their task? When your work to a bring and apply the Word of God doesn’t seem to show much effect, remember that it is the Lord who gathers, preserves, and defends His Church by His Spirit and Word. We confess that in Heidelberg Catechism Lord Day 21. The Lord does that.

Calvin, when he talks about the offices, emphasizes that too, and then he says, the Lord works via small, sinful men. He’s just amazed that the Lord uses people who are no different than other people in their human nature, their sinful human nature, that He uses them for His purpose. In other words, you can’t give people faith. You can’t make people repent. As office bearers, you can’t do that no matter how hard you try, no matter which techniques you might think of using. People come to faith and repentance only through the working of the Holy Spirit through the Word and your task and is to bring that Word, to apply it to the best of your ability.

You need to leave the outworking of what you bring to the Holy Spirit. You can’t do the Spirit’s work for Him, no matter how much you’d love to do that. You’d love to change this person but the Spirit has to do that, and you know that He works quietly in His time via the Word. So that’s what you need to focus on – bringing applied Scripture to the people in your care. I want to emphasize that: the Word is your tool. It is the only tool that you have to use, and to the best of your ability then. That passage in the Old Testament shows that office bearers have to accept too that this word is a two-edged sword. It cuts two ways. It has a two-fold effect when you bring it. It can bring to faith and repentance and growth, but that same Word can also bring to hardening of heart, to alienation, to hostility.

God has chosen to use sinful people to work His will

Sometimes that can bring elders and deacons to feelings of frustrations and inadequacy, as we mentioned. You lay it out for somebody as best you can – it’s right here in the Bible, you know, and, logically, you show it to them. This is how that works out. And they just don’t want to accept it; they just don’t want to see it. And after the meeting with that person, you drive home and you think I should’ve said this or I could’ve said that and I could’ve done this different and whatever else. Just leave your imperfect work, leave it up to the Spirit. As long as you have opened the Bible and let the Spirit work, and you never know how that can happen. The Spirit knows God’s elect from eternity already, and He uses the imperfect words of God’s office bears to work out His purpose in His time to salvation or to condemnation.

Another thing that passage about Elijah in 1 Kings 19 shows beautifully is, it can be hard for an office bearer to see gross sins taking place in the Church, and ongoing resistance to the admonitions of the Bible. I think he can be greatly encouraged, if he figures, well, I’ve done my best and I have to leave that in the Lord’s hands. The Lord came to Elijah in that little tiny whisper. It’s not my might, but by his Spirit that He works.

God gave you a helpmeet

I also think – I haven’t touched on that – but I think office bearers, when they go out, can be greatly encouraged if they know that when they are doing their best out there, that their wife is also at home and able to keep the home fires burning. Because that’s a hard thing to figure out, how much can I be away from home? You’re preoccupied with other things, and a supportive wife is a huge motivator for an office bearer too.

God uses Church discipline

Elders should be willing to admonish and apply biblical discipline where there’s obvious and continuing disobedience or indifference to what the Lord says in His Word. Do your best to understand and empathize with the person you’re dealing with. Certainly, sometimes people might be dealing with a mental disability, or mental illness – you have to give them more time and leeway. Every person is different, every person is unique, but if there outright continuous rejection of any part of the Word, then elders should not be afraid to apply discipline on the basis of that Word. Admonishing and applying church discipline is ultimately a redemptive act; it’s calling them back to the Lord. And when these things drag on and on, it’s demotivating for office bearers, for a consistory. Discipline applied is very motivating too, when it’s applied properly. Then it’s very motivating. Not that you like to apply it.

But applying it when there’s continued walking in unrepentance can be a relief and encouragement for office bearers, and it’s evidence that the consistory is really watching over the souls of the members of the congregation.

God gave you your office

Finally, office bearers are chosen by the congregation and they’re appointed by the council and they’re given their offices by God Himself. It says in the questions addressed to the elders and deacons at their ordination in the form for ordination: “First, do you feel in your hearts that God Himself through his congregation has called you to these offices?” God Himself, calls elders and deacons to their respective offices. Maybe a brother thinks, “that sounds kind of high-minded. You know, I’ve been asked to do this work and so I’m doing it but don’t make more of it than it is.” Whereas modesty is good – I understand that – when a man says “I do” to the questions of the form then he has to accept that God has given them that responsibility to watch over the souls of the people under his care.

God will equip you

And nobody should live in continual disobedience to his Word. Nobody should live in continual need without having mercy shown, uncomforted, and uncared for in the congregation. And if God has called you, He promises that He will stand by you when you work. The more you do your best in office, the more you’ll discover He does that too. I have to say that sometimes you have those times of cynicism, that you think is God really working there? But when you dive into things and you push through and you realize yeah He is at work. I can accept that. I see that. He works in tiny increments; He doesn’t work necessarily very quickly, all at once, changed hearts – very, very small increments.

You mentioned, sometimes you feel inadequate about stepping into the office again, being ordained. I read somewhere about somebody being ordained to office. He said to the minister, “I feel like a soldier and I’ve been put on the front line but I don’t have a gun.” And then the minister said, “The Lord will give you the gun you need.” Some points there to think about. That that’s more about personal motivation – things to think about you are personally doing your work to keep you going.

NEHEMIAH AND MOTIVATION

Also, as to counsel motivation, I mentioned long and disorganized meetings as demotivators for elders and deacons. Poor cooperation, poor organization, in a consistory are a discouragement.

My wife and I are reading through the book of Nehemiah at this time. Nehemiah was really instrumental in rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem after the exile. The temple had already been built, partly. The walls were still in ruins. He was cupbearer of King Artaxerxes. After hearing about sad state of affairs in Judah, he got the king’s permission to go back to Jerusalem and rebuild the city and its fortifications. A lot of resistance came from non-Jews like Sanballat the Horonite, and Tobias the Ammonite. But Nehemiah got the leaders of the Jews together on the same page so that despite the threats and resistance they got together and rebuilt the walls of Jerusalem in 52 days. That was a huge project in 52days – now the walls were only half the height they were before. But 52 days for those people.

He implemented quite a few reforms – if you go through the book of Nehemiah – including the provisions for the temple, and the priests, and the hallowing of the Sabbath Day, the feast days again. The thing is, Nehemiah had to get the leaders on board every time again. We know of one instance where he didn’t get it them on board and they didn’t join in rebuilding the wall. But for the rest he was able to get them organized – their names are all listed in the book of Nehemiah, at various times. Also, when they renewed the covenant with the Lord the leaders were there. And then, because of resistance from outside and even from within there had to be ongoing encouragement to keep the building and the reorganization going. It is wonderful to read how so many were able to keep working at the rebuilding of Jerusalem, and the reformation of worship. Imagine how those leaders had to keep encouraging and also admonishing each other, while Tobias the Ammonite and Sanballat the Horonite were resisting them. They had to work with weapons at the same time as they were building the walls.

Brotherly admonition

So yeah, that’s an encouragement to each other. How do we encourage each other to keep building? Every consistory and council has a matter of censura on the agenda – censura morum [censure of one’s conduct or life] or censura fraterna, which I think is the better term: brotherly admonition or brotherly censure. It’s right near the end of the agenda usually. That’s in line with article 73 of the [Canadian Reformed Churches] church order, which says the following:

The ministers, elders, and deacons shall mutually exercise Christian censure and shall exhort and kindly admonish one another with regards to the execution of their office.

So every meeting of officer bearers needs to include the item of censura. Also the deacons’ meetings need to include that item on the agenda. I’m afraid that this is underutilized in our churches. I have to admit, myself too, that you get to the end of a meeting and you open your eyes and see the brothers there and you think, okay let’s just get this over with. All the important stuff has been dealt with, and this is just an extra thing on the agenda.

But it isn’t. At the end of a meeting, you might not want to get into exhorting and admonishing one another with regard to the execution of their offices anymore. But it’s an important part of motivating one another to the work of the offices.

You get a good leadership and the work gets done as happened in Nehemiah’s day because Nehemiah had to go there to those leaders and he had to tell them every time “this is what we need to do” and some of them doubted him sometimes, but no, he would tell them “this is what we need to do.”  It was a form of cenusura.

This article 73 ought to be used to encourage one another in the execution of office, especially when there are difficult matters to deal with, and a brother is having a hard time. Then is the time to speak up: “Are you having a difficult time with this brother?” Can we time to redistribute the tasks in in the consistory or among the deacons? Or it is a time to kindly admonish one another if it was apparent that a brother isn’t fulfilling his task as he should. Sometimes that needs to be done. I know one council we had an office bearer who was just busy with something else – he was getting some instruction, going to classes, and he just wasn’t on task. We had to remind him, this is your first task, and you might have to put other things on hold for a while.

It can be difficult to talk about it, but it’s a matter of watching over the souls and the well-being of the congregation members because that’s what you’re responsible for together… together as consistory and as council.

Brotherly encouragement

I believe censura fraterna could be made use of in every meeting as a means to motivate all the office bearers in the duties of your offices. And also to exhort. You can raise encouraging points: “Brothers I think we need to think about this” or “Let’s keep this up” “Let’s do this” or “Let’s look at that.” In fact, I would recommend that a council on the basis of this article of the church order could do what I noticed some of the Free Reformed churches of Australia do. Those churches set aside time at four meetings a year for an evaluation of the work of the minister, elders, and deacons. They have four sessions and they evaluate the work of the office bearers. They have a list of what they deal with in each of those four sessions and I believe that such an evaluation of the work being done by the office bearers would help the brothers stay on task, and encourage them to fulfill their task too, and motivate them.

I could send a copy of those evaluation questions to each council if you wish. I kind of separated them – they have a handbook I think a handbook is a beautiful thing for organized work at in a council – but they also have the list of those questions that they ask in each of these four sessions. Sermon evaluation is part of it – I think that could be separate – it also covers the work of the elders and the deacons and the minister too. So I could, if you wish, sent that to each council. [You can find those documents here.]

CONCLUSION

That’s my presentation. I hope that I’ve been able to give present and future office bearers some things to think about in order to stay motivated. We can discuss that here yet. The ultimate motivation, though, is of course what the Apostle Paul says motivated him and his fellow workers in their task as bringers of the gospel. In 2 Cor. 5 he mentions that. He’s always defending his office, by the way, to the Corinthians. He wrote three letters to the Corinthians: first Corinthians, and then he wrote a sorrowful letter which we don’t have anymore, and then he wrote 2 Corinthians – what we have is 2 Corinthians, which is actually 3 Corinthians.

But he wrote those three letters and Corinthians is a difficult situation for him. There was a lot of things happening in Corinth. It was a tough, tough haul for the Apostle.

And he had to keep encouraging them, and also the brothers in discipline. Remember 1 Cor. 5, there was somebody living in sin in the church there, and living with his father’s wife. We don’t know the exact situation but he said that person needs to be put out of the Church, and he has to tell the office bearers in Corinth, put them out, because this one sin is like yeast – it leavens the whole lump. Everybody’s affected by that in the church. When you look at that church, it’s like a basket of apples. One rotten apple in there will affect all the other apples too eventually.

So he tells them that they need to do that. So there were a lot of issues. There was a lot of strife in the church – groups against one another. So this is nothing new, all the things that you can deal, all that’s has been going on. It’s the fight against the devil who wants to destroy the Church all the time.

In 2 Cor. 5, the Apostle Paul says, I’m not commending myself and the other office bearers to the Corinthians – not boasting about themselves and saying you have to listen to us. No, Paul says in verses he says in verses 14 and 15, “for the love of Christ compels us.” That that’s the biggest motivator of all. “The love of Christ compels us” because, he adds, we have concluded this “that one has died for all.”

See congregation, the Lord has died for these people. “So that those who live might no longer live for themselves, but for Him who for their sake died and was raised.” And that’s your task. That they live for Him. And that’s your calling as office bearers – that you exhort your people and admonish them to no longer live for themselves but for Him who for their sake died and was raised. So the love of Christ is the ultimate motivator that we need to keep in mind as office bearers. If we know his love for his people we will want to make sure that we watch over their souls.

Thank you.

Rev. Jack Moesker is Minister Emeritus to the Owen Sound Canadian Reformed Church.


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