A Tribute to Our Christian Mothers: The Altar of Motherhood – W. Wangerin, Jr.

Ah, Mother, every summer since then I have thought of you and all of your sisters through the ages. I see you, darling, distinctly – as in a vision. I see deep, and I see this: that once there lay in the precinct of many mothers’ souls some precious personal thing. Some talent, some private dream. The characteristic by which they defined their selves and their purpose for being. To write? Maybe. To run a marathon? Or to run a company? Yes. Yes.

But then the baby came home, and then you and others like you made a terrible, terribly lovely choice. You reached into your soul and withdrew that precious thing and lifted it up before your breast and began to walk. Deliberate and utterly beautiful, you strode to the altar of love for this child and placed there the talent, the dream, some core part of your particular self – and in order to mother another, you released it. There came for you a moment of conscious, sacred sacrifice. In that moment the self of yourself became a smoke, and the smoke went up to heaven as a perpetual prayer for the sake of your children.

And when it was voluntary, it was no less than divine. Never, never let anyone force such a gift from any woman! – for then it is not sacrifice at all. It is oppression.

But never, either, dear children, take such an extraordinary love for granted. It is holy. For this, in the face of such women, is the mind of Christ, who emptied himself for us. And then again, for us.

Ah, Mother, I am so slow to know, but now I know – and out of the knowledge wherewith my own children have burdened me I thank you. From an overflowing heart, I thank you, Mother, for your motherhood.

little-lamb-wangerinTaken from chapter 17, “The Altar of Motherhood,” of Walter Wangerin Jr.’s Little Lamb, Who Made Thee? A Book about Children and Parents  (Zondervan, 1993; reprinted in 2004).

This comes at the end of the author’s story of his struggle to care for the household after he and his wife reversed roles for a time (including a summer when he about went crazy!). He had begun his writing career and she returned temporarily to working full time to help support the family. They both found out this could not last, prompting him to praise his own mother and his wife for their sacrificial labor in the home.

Which brings to mind my own dear mother and my own dear wife and the sacrifices they made for me and my siblings and for our children, respectively. From “an overflowing heart” I also thank you, precious mothers for your motherhood.

Becoming What We Behold – B. Thune

Today before our worship services I did some more reading in the August 2018 issue of Tabletalk. Besides reading a few more articles on the featured theme (“The Lord is My Shepherd” – Psalm 23), I also read a couple of the regular columns. That included the one titled above by Rev. Bob Thune, for the rubric “Heart Aflame.”

Thune writes about our ongoing calling to be conformed to the image of Christ, an aspect of our sanctification. And, perhaps a bit surprisingly, he ties it to our worship. This is what he says about that connection at the beginning:

Deep within every true Christian is a longing to be more like Christ. We are not content as we are; we want to be changed. This longing comes from the Holy Spirit, who not only gives the new birth (John 3:5–8), but fills regenerated people with a zeal to glorify God (Rom. 8:1–5).

The question is, How can we become more like Christ? The biblical answer to this may be surprising to us pragmatic modern folks. We tend to look for methods, strategies, and action points. But the Bible teaches that we become like Jesus as we worship Jesus.

And then, toward the end of his article, he points us to three ways in which this transformation through beholding Christ in worship takes place. Here are his thoughts:

Here, then, are three biblical ways we can purposefully worship the Lord and be changed into His likeness.

  1. Contemplation/meditation (reflecting on God’s worth). The Bible urges us to think on the Lord (Ps. 1:2; Phil. 4:8). In contemplation, we slow down our minds and hearts to ponder God’s goodness. We mull over His promises, allowing them to sink into our souls. We read His Word thoughtfully, pondering its implications for our lives.
  2. Praise/thanksgiving/singing (declaring God’s worth). The Scriptures encourage us to make our praise explicit by singing and making melody to the Lord (Ps. 96; Eph. 5:19). When we sing, we join our voices together to testify to God’s worth and beauty. Singing also lightens the heart and engages the body in purposeful worship of God.
  3. Obedience/action/service (displaying God’s worth). The Bible is clear that our worship of God must find tangible expression in works of merciful neighbor-love (Isa. 58; James 1:27). As we serve the church, help the poor, and meet the needs of others, we demonstrate that Jesus is our true treasure (Matt. 6:21) and we learn afresh that “it is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35).

We become what we behold. So, empowered by the Holy Spirit, let’s behold the glory of the Lord Jesus by meditating on His Word, singing His praise, and obeying His commands. The more clearly we see Him, the more we will become like Him.

Having been in the house of the Lord for worship today, we find these thoughts fitting and applicable as we face a new week of striving to be like our Savior. Let us behold our Lord in these ways and then behold how He works in us to make us more like Him.

Source: Becoming What We Behold

The Day My Worst Nightmare Came True | Crossway Articles

This is a sad story with a powerful message of hope in the risen Christ. Listen as Cameron Cole relates their journey through immense pain – the loss of a precious son – and shares their even greater hope in the God Who saves us and heals us.

After this deep trial, God enabled Cole to write a book (newly published by Crossway) on the hope they found in the midst of this intense grief.

Here is the introduction Crossway gives to the video, which includes a link to the book and its message:

Four years ago, Cameron Cole came face-to-face with his worst nightmare. The one thing that he hoped and prayed would never happen, did happen.

In the midst of overwhelming pain, Cameron and his wife found themselves clinging to Christ through twelve key theological truths—truths that became their lifeline in the midst of unthinkable grief.

As he writes in his new book, Therefore I Have Hope: 12 Truths That Comfort, Sustain, and Redeem in Tragedy, “Throughout the journey of my worst nightmare—my descent into a dark, sad valley—the Holy Spirit would remind me of truths that comforted my soul and sustained my life.”

In the video above, Cameron reflects on their story of loss . . . and the slow path toward redemption sustained and empowered by God’s ever-present grace. In doing so, he reminds us to cling fast to the hope that all of God’s children have in and through Christ, our crucified yet risen Savior.

Cole has also written an “Open Letter to the Parent Who Has Lost a Child,” also recently published as part of Crossway’s “open letter” series. Here is an except from that, which those of you who have walked on this path will find full of hope and comfort.

My first word of hope to you: Nancy is right. God is a healer. If you trust the Lord, cry the tears, and process the grief, God will move you forward. You will make progress. You will look back at where you are now and be able to see with gratitude that God has healed your heart in some measure. This promise can give you hope.

The all-consuming sorrow that dominated my days in the first year no longer rules my life. It comes situationally—on anniversaries, during transitions, in unexpected moments. It’s always there below the surface, but God has healed me to the point that I have a functional life, a life in which my focal mission is not just making it through the day and surviving the immense grief.

Source: The Day My Worst Nightmare Came True | Crossway Articles

New from Simonetta Carr: “John Newton”

We have featured the titles of Reformed author Simonetta Carr before, and tonight we do so again, because there is a new release from her and Reformation Heritage Books in the “Christian Biographies for Young Readers” series. That new title is John Newton (2018).

jNewton-Carr-2018

This fine series has books for young readers on such major church history figures as Augustine, Irenaeus, John Calvin, Martin Luther, and John Knox among others) and this new addition also looks to be a valuable contribution.

The publisher provides this description:

John Newton’s life was full of adventure, danger, travels, exotic places, and romance. Young readers will encounter each of these things in Simonetta Carr’s carefully narrated and charmingly illustrated book. But more importantly, readers will come to appreciate the way Newton’s life was changed for good, even when he was attempting to run as far as possible from God. In spite of Newton’s rebellion and sin, God’s grace finally won—a grace that Newton recognized as amazing, invincible, and completely undeserved.

Besides covering the life and work of this noteworthy Anglican churchman and hymnwriter, Carr includes at the end a timeline of Newton’s life, a “Did You Know” section, and a sampling of his writing. The book is beautifully illustrated by Amal.

The contents of John Newton are as follows:

Introduction

Chapter 1 – A Boy at Sea

Chapter 2 – Seabound

Chapter 3 – God’s Hand at Work

Chapter 4 – New Start

Chapter 5 – Pastor, Hymn Writer, and Friend

Chapter 6 – Opposing the Slave Trade

Time Line

Did You Know?

From Newton’s Pen

If you are willing to write a short review of this book for the Standard Bearer or for Perspectives in Covenant Education, this title is yours. You may contact me by email or in the comment section of this post.

And if you haven’t started collecting these books for your family library, it is high time you did! We have a nice selection ourselves for grandchildren reading and browsing.

Strength for the Weary: The Blessedness of the Sabbath – Derek Thomas

Recently I received a new title from Reformation Trust (publishing arm of Ligonier Ministries), which website gives this summary of the book:

In Strength for the Weary, Dr. Derek W.H. Thomas explores the final chapters of Isaiah, laying out the remarkable promises that God makes to His people. In these pages, there is consolation in the struggles of this life and encouragement for the road ahead. The God of Comfort has promised to be with His people always.

I have appreciated and been blessed by Derek Thomas’ writing in the past and tonight I began to read in it, jumping ahead to chapter 6, “A Well-Watered Garden,” an exposition of Isaiah 58, which includes promises concerning God’s sabbath. Concerning these Thomas has some fine thoughts about how we ought to approach the sabbath as NT Christians.

First, he deals with the general question, “What obligation do Christians have to law keeping?” In part he says this:

Are Christians obligated to keep the moral law? A negative answer here will find us on the wrong side of something that Jesus makes very clear [Here he quotes John 14:15, “If ye love me, keep my commandments.”]

We are obligated to obey everything God commands. And obedience results in joy. That is what Isaiah is insisting in this chapter. There is an essential delight about walking in the paths that God has established.. Lawbreaking never ultimately satisfies. [And here he quotes from Psalm 19:7-11.], p.95

But, then, second, the author gets specifically at the sabbath question, putting it in proper biblical perspective for us:

The Sabbath is, after all, a creation ordinance. It is part of the created rhythm of the cycle of the first week. Work is followed by a day of rest. In the new covenant, and following perhaps a gospel logic, the order is reversed: rest is followed by work.

To approach this issue of Sabbath keeping from the perspective of ‘What is God forbidding me to do on the Sabbath?’ is essentially wrongheaded. It is a bit like Satan’s suggestion in the original temptation in Eden. If God prohibits eating from one tree, He might as well prohibit from all trees. Hence Satan’s statement to Eve that all trees were out of bounds (Gen.3:1). The very form of the question suggests God doesn’t really want His creatures to experience any real joy at all. The additional restrictions Satan imposed revealed him to be a legalist at heart.

And legalists never experience joy.

Do we ever think of the Sabbath (Lord’s Day) as ‘a delight’?

And it is not the Sabbath itself that is the ultimate delight but the God whom we meet in worship on the Sabbath. He is our chief delight. The Sabbath brings us near to Him and He to us. And there can be no greater joy than that.

It is God’s gift to ensure our liberty from the slavery of the unrelenting demands of work. The gift of the Sabbath is the gift of a day given to worship and rest and the blessings that flow from it. It is the greatest gift imaginable. To doubt it suggests we have never really known the blessings of God-centered worship and the freedom and joy that it brings.

The Sabbath is designed as help for the weary. It provides a taste of gospel rest and a foretaste of eternal rest. [pp.96-97]

Is that what we experienced today? Did we delight in God’s appointed day of rest? And did we enjoy its great blessings then? Good things to think about as we end the sabbath.

Source: Strength for the Weary: Derek Thomas – Hardcover, Book | Ligonier Ministries Store

Praying with the Psalms for Our Earthly Needs

psalm37-25As the petition for daily bread includes the entire sphere of the necessities of physical life, so the petition for life, health, and visible evidences of the friendliness of God belong necessarily to the prayer that points to the God who is the creator and sustainer of this life. Bodily life is not disdainful. Precisely for its sake God has given us his fellowship in Jesus Christ, so that we can live by him in this life and then also, of course, in the life to come. For this reason he gives us earthly prayers, so that we can better recognize him, praise him, and love him.

…Therefore we need not have a bad conscience when we pray with the Psalter for life, health, peace, and earthly good if we only recognize, as do the Psalms themselves, that all of this is evidence of the gracious fellowship of God with us, and we thereby hold fast to the fact that God’s gifts are better than life (Psalm 63:3 f.; 73:25 f.).

Psalms-prayer-book-BonhoefferQuoted in Psalms, The Prayer Book of the Bible by Dietrich Bonhoeffer (Augsburg, 1974), a translation of Das Gebetbuch der Bibel (the 8th ed. published in Germany in 1966). These thoughts are found in the twelfth section, “Life” (pp.40-42), where the author continues to treat the Psalter according to classification by subject.

Abraham Lincoln’s Moral Constitution – Lecture by Allen Guelzo

Today Kevin Rau (my library assistant) and I took in a special lunch-time lecture at the Acton Institute in downtown Grand Rapids. We did one last you too and enjoyed it, so we thought we would try another. The advertised subject and speaker drew us in – a talk on a prominent president’s faith by a prominent American Civil War historian and Lincoln scholar.

This was was held in the Murray Auditorium in the lower level of the Acton Institute and featured Dr. Allen C. Guelzo speaking on “Abraham Lincoln’s Moral Constitution.” As noted on the Action website for this lecture, “Allen Guelzo, Ph.D. is the Director of Civil War Era Studies and the Henry R. Luce Professor of the Civil War Era at Gettysburg College in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. During 2017-18, he has served as the Wm L. Garwood Visiting Professor in the James Madison Program in American Ideals and Institutions at Princeton University.” And as for his topic, this brief description too is given on the website:

As one of only two presidents to have never formally joined a church, people have wondered just how much Abraham Lincoln himself was under God when he said that the United States should consider itself as such as it strove for a new birth of freedom.

However, the Civil War shifted the ground decisively under Lincoln’s feet. In the cauldron of war, he discovered that God was not merely a remote force or a faceless universal power, but a personal, intelligent, and willing God who intervened in the affairs of men, to direct them in ways that they could not even begin to imagine.

This was a God whom he wanted his nation to be under.

We both found the speech interesting and edifying. Guelzo is an gifted and engaging speaker. He knows the history of the Civil War period well, is an expert in all things Lincoln, and communicates in a lively manner. The Q&A period was filled with good questions and wonderful anecdotal stories on Lincoln by Guelzo.

Guelzo is the author (among other books) of the award-winning book Abraham Lincoln: Redeemer President, part of the “Library of Religious Biography” published by William B. Eerdmans here in GR. The book won prestigious the 2000 Lincoln Prize. Amazon has the new paperback edition (2002) listed at 55% off.

And we close with a few good Lincoln quotes, perhaps showing that Lincoln was indeed more than a “Calvinist Deist” (as Guelzo refers to him in his biography, a description that was the subject of one of the questions today.)

I am much indebted to the good christian people of the country for their constant prayers and consolations; and to no one of them, more than to yourself. The purposes of the Almighty are perfect, and must prevail, though we erring mortals may fail to accurately perceive them in advance. We hoped for a happy termination of this terrible war long before this; but God knows best, and has ruled otherwise. We shall yet acknowledge His wisdom and our own error therein. Meanwhile we must work earnestly in the best light He gives us, trusting that so working still conduces to the great ends He ordains. Surely He intends some great good to follow this mighty convulsion, which no mortal could make, and no mortal could stay.
Letter to Eliza Gurney on September 4, 1864 (CWAL VII:535)

I claim not to have controlled events, but confess plainly that events have controlled me. Now, at the end of three years struggle the nation’s condition is not what either party, or any man devised, or expected. God alone can claim it. Whither it is tending seems plain. If God now wills the removal of a great wrong, and wills also that we of the North as well as you of the South, shall pay fairly for our complicity in that wrong, impartial history will find therein new cause to attest and revere the justice and goodness of God.
Letter to Albert G. Hodges on April 4, 1864 (CWAL VII:282)

Fondly do we hope — fervently do we pray — that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away. Yet, if God wills that it continue, until all the wealth piled by the bond-man’s two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash, shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said “the judgments of the Lord, are true and righteous altogether.”
Second Inaugural Address on March 4, 1865 (CWAL VIII:333)

Source: Abraham Lincoln’s Moral Constitution | Acton Institute

The Power of Books in China – Even Calvinist Ones

souls-of-china-2017Last week I ordered a new book for the PRC Seminary library, one that has received some attention since its publication last year. It is titled The Souls of China: The Return of Religion After Mao by Ian Johnson (New York: Pantheon Books, 2017).

The author’s website gives this description of the book:

The Souls of China: The Return of Religion After Mao (2017) tells the story of one of the world’s great spiritual revivals. Following a century of violent anti-religious campaigns, China is now filled with new temples, churches and mosques–as well as cults, sects and politicians trying to harness religion for their own ends. Driving this explosion of faith is uncertainty–over what it means to be Chinese, and how to live an ethical life in a country that discarded traditional morality a century ago and is still searching for new guideposts.

This book is the culmination of a six-year project following an underground Protestant church in Chengdu, pilgrims in Beijing, rural Daoist priests in Shanxi, and meditation groups in caves in the country’s south.

Along the way, I learned esoteric meditation techniques, visited a nonagenarian Confucian sage, and befriended government propagandists as they fashioned a remarkable embrace of traditional values. These experiences are distilled into a cycle of festivals, births, deaths, detentions, and struggle–a great awakening of faith that is shaping the soul of the world’s newest superpower.

That may strike you as a rather broad look at the revival of religion in this vast land, maybe even disappointing. But did you know there is also a Calvinist resurgence in China and that the Reformed church is growing? I discovered this to my own surprise as I was cataloging it.  When I catalog a book, I always look at the chapters for subject ideas. When I did so with this book, I was surprised to see a chapter on Calvinism. But there it was – chapter 21 – “Chengdu: The New Calvinists.”

In the chapter Johnson focuses on three different men who are involved in growing Calvinism and the Reformed church in this city of Chengdu. There are some fascinating references to their solid creedal Christianity; one of the churches, for example, has this as one of  their statements:

We are Reformed-denomination Protestants. We accept the Second Helvetic Confession (1566), the Westminster Confession of Faith (1646), as the complete, balanced and authoritative expression of Christian faith.

And another congregation spent a summer reading and studying the Heidelberg Catechism.

But what also caught my attention was the importance of Calvinistic literature in that place. One of the men had a special vision and gifts, and used them to open Trinity Bookstore and begin Enoch Publishing. Johnson tells the amazing story of Peng Qiang:

After graduating in 1994, he returned to Chengdu and fell in with friends who had found an unusual niche publishing books. Most publishing houses were government run, and they were allotted a certain amount of ISBN numbers each year, allowing them to publish books. But these state-run companies had little idea what would attract readers. Most lost money. Some started selling their ISBN numbers to middlemen who used them to publish popular titles on doing business, self-help, and psychology. This was Peng’s role: a broker trying to figure out what excited and moved Chinese people, without running afoul of government censors.

…Peng began to hone his business model. Many books related to Christianity could be sold through the same model he used to sell pop-psychology books. All books still had to pass censorships, but a book on church history would be approved if given a straight historical title. But unlike most history books, these had a broad audience of Christians, making the publication profitable. So, too, books on Christian ethics or historical figures like Calvin and Luther. A book on Chinese theology would be banned, but if presented as part of Western history, ideas like Calvinism could be printed.

Amazing, the power of Reformed books in Communist China! A testimony to the sovereign grace for which Calvinism is known. Not surprisingly, given the greatness of our God, the church of Christ is being gathered and being reformed in that land.

August 2018 “Tabletalk”: The Precious, Powerful Gospel of Psalm 23

The August 2018 issue of Tabletalk, the monthly (and daily!) devotional magazine of Ligonier Ministries, truly is a special issue with a special theme. That theme is the universally familiar and comprehensively comforting Psalm 23. Fittingly, the cover carries the gospel of that wonderful first verse: “The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want.”

All the articles cover the entire psalm, verse by precious verse and phrase by beautiful phrase. Burk Parsons sets the tone in his “Coram Deo” editorial, “The Great Shepherd.” Here is part of what he says about this marvelous psalm:

The full biblical picture the Lord paints for us is that of a Shepherd-Warrior who cares for His sheep, lovingly disciplines His sheep, rescues His sheep, and protects His sheep from themselves and from their enemies. This is why Jesus calls Himself the Great Shepherd, and He does not drive His sheep with a whip from behind but calls His sheep by name and leads them into green pastures. For He is the author, the pioneer, and the captain of our faith who goes before us, even laying down His life for His sheep, and He is the finisher of our faith who protects and preserves us to the end.

The other article I reference tonight is that by Sinclair Ferguson, which is also linked below. After describing how David was uniquely able to write this psalm, both as a shepherd himself and as a student of God’s revelation through the previous OT fathers, Ferguson points us to how Jesus saw and fulfills this powerful psalm. This is how he ends his thoughts:

Jesus saw depths of meaning in these words; He must have sung them with joy. He looked back to His fathers Jacob and David and like them trusted His Father to provide all His needs. Indeed, as He explained to His puzzled disciples, His Father provided His nourishment: “I have food to eat that you do not know about. . . . My food is to do the will of him who sent me” (John 4:32, 34).

But Jesus must also have read Psalm 23 with a deep sense of burden. For He knew that, ultimately, He Himself was “the good shepherd” who “lays down his life for the sheep” (10:11, 14). What Jacob and David saw only dimly, Jesus saw clearly. The Shepherd must suffer for His sheep.

As the Good Shepherd, Jesus would take the place of His sheep and be led to the slaughter (Isa. 53:7). For them He would be smitten (Zech. 13:7; see Matt. 26:31). He would give everything of Himself to provide everything for us. The implication? Since He was not spared but delivered up for us all, we can be sure He will give us everything we need (Rom. 8:32).

This is what a Christian means by saying, “The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.”

You will find the rest of these articles on the Tabletalk website, starting at the link below. If you think you know this psalm so well, you will still be profited in reading the manifold articles in this issue. Your faith will be further founded on the saving work of your Great Shepherd. And that will prepare you for all the experiences of the sheep who need this Shepherd’s perfect care.

Source: The Lord Is My Shepherd; I Shall Not Want

Humble Soldier-Servants in Christ’s Church – Clement of Rome

Chap. XXXVII. Christ is our leader, and we his soldiers.

Let us then, men and brethren, with all energy act the part of soldiers, in accordance with His holy commandments. Let us consider those who serve under our generals, with what order, obedience, and submissiveness they perform the things which are commanded them. All are not prefects, nor commanders of a thousand, nor of a hundred, nor of fifty, nor the like, but each one in his own rank performs the things commanded by the king and the generals. The great cannot subsist without the small, nor the small without the great. There is a kind of mixture in all things, and thence arises mutual advantage. Let us take our body for an example. The head is nothing without the feet, and the feet are nothing without the head; yea, the very smallest members of our body are necessary and useful to the whole body. But all work harmoniously together, and are under one common rule for the preservation of the whole body.

Chap. XXXVIII. Let the members of the Church submit themselves, and no one exalt himself above another.

Let our whole body, then, be preserved in, Christ Jesus; and let every one be subject to his neighbour, according to the special gift bestowed upon him. Let the strong not despise the weak, and let the weak show respect unto the strong. Let the rich man provide for the wants of the poor; and let the poor man bless God, because He hath given him one by whom his need may be supplied. Let the wise man display his wisdom, not by [mere] words, but through good deeds. Let the humble not bear testimony to himself, but leave witness to be borne to him by another. Let him that is pure in the flesh not grow proud of it, and boast, knowing that it was another who bestowed on him the gift of continence. Let us consider, then, brethren, of what matter we were made, who and what manner of beings we came into the world, as it were out of a sepulchre, and from utter darkness. He who made us and fashioned us, having prepared His bountiful gifts for us before we were born, introduced us into His world. Since, therefore, we receive all these things from Him, we ought for everything to give Him thanks; to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen

Roots-of-faith-deweyer-1997This quote from Clement of Rome in  “The First Epistle of Clement to the Corinthians,” is prompted by some readings in the book Roots of Faith: An Anthology of Early Christian Spirituality to Contemplate and Treasure, ed. by Robert Van De Weyer (William B. Eerdmans, 1997).