Let the Children Laugh – W. Wangerin, Jr.

One of my favorite writers is Walter Wangerin, Jr., son of a Lutheran pastor, professor at Valparaiso University, and prolific author (Book of the Dun Cow; Paul, A Novel; As for Me and My House; and numerous children’s books).

Though we may differ with him in some of his theology, Wangerin has tremendous gifts of insight into the human condition, everyday life, and God’s ways with His people, and I have benefitted greatly from his writings. Besides, he is simply a gifted writer, whose prose makes you think, relate, and laugh. And, his writings make you enjoy reading and stimulate you to read more.

little-lamb-wangerinOne of his older books I recently picked up in a thrift store is Little Lamb, Who Made Thee? A Book about Children and Parents (Zondervan, 1993; reprinted in 2004. Mine is a first ed., hardcover). The title comes from a poem by William Blake, called “The Lamb,” in which Blake parallels God’s Lamb and the lambs of the church.

Wangerin’s introductory chapter is titled “You Are, You Are, You Are” – the end of which line comes at the end of the chapter (“You are, you are, you are, my child, a marvelous work of God!”), and in it Wangerin calls us to let our children laugh. Before you dismiss this as light and frivolous, listen to what he has to say:

Let the children laugh and be glad.

O my dear, they haven’t long before the world assaults them. Allow them genuine laughter now. Laugh with them, till tears run down your faces – till a memory of pure delight and precious relationship is established within them, indestructible, personal, and forever.

Soon enough they’ll meet faces unreasonably enraged. Soon enough they’ll be accused of things they did not do. Soon enough they will suffer guilt at the hands of powerful people who can’t accept their own guilt and who must dump it, therefore, on the weak. In that day the children must be strengthened by self-confidence so they can resist the criticism of fools. But self-confidence begins in the experience of childhood.

So give your children (your grandchildren, your nieces and nephews, the dear ones, children of your neighbors and your community) – give them golden days, their own pure days, in which they are so clearly and dearly beloved that they believe in love and in their own particular worth when love shall seem in short supply hereafter. Give them laughter.

More from this wonderful book on being a child and being a parent in the year to come, D.V.

 

Introducing “The Presbyterian Philosopher” – The Authorized Biography of Gordon H. Clark

the-presbyterian-philosopher-douma-2017Late last week I received notice from our friend, fellow WordPress blogger, and author Douglas Douma,  that his latest title is ready to be released. It is a significant work on the Presbyterian/Calvinist philosopher-theologian Gordon H. Clark (1902-1985).

This is the announcement as it appeared on Douglas’ blog:

I’m glad to announce that my book The Presbyterian Philosopher – The Authorized Biography of Gordon H. Clark is now available for purchase!

After four years of effort researching and writing this book, I’m thrilled to see it come to publication. This book incorporates Dr. Clark’s personal letter collection, information from unpublished papers and sermons, letters from a half dozen archives, and interviews with his family, friends, and colleagues to detail the history of his life and give context for understanding his philosophy and the controversies in which he was involved.

The preface is written by Dr. Clark’s two daughters, Lois A. Zeller and Betsy Clark George. Endorsements for the book are from John Frame, Jay Adams, Kenneth Gary Talbot, D. Clair Davis, David J. Engelsma, William Barker, Erwin Lutzer, Frank Walker, Dominic Aquila, and Andrew Zeller.

clark-vantil-controv-hhoeksemaPRC readers and those interested in Reformed orthodoxy will be interested in this work, as Clark found a friend in the PRC and in Herman Hoeksema in particular, especially because of Clark’s sound rejection of the theology of the free offer of the gospel and his solid defense of double predestination among other things (For more on this, consult Herman Hanko’s “History of the Free Offer of the Gospel”). You will also be interested in this Trinity Foundation title, which pulls together Hoeksema’s editorials in the Standard Bearer on the Clark-VanTil Controversy.

For more on Clark, visit this special website devoted to him.

The PRC Seminary bookstore will be carrying copies of this book when it is available. Contact us to reserve your copy, or write the author at the information found at the link below.

Source: Now Available: “The Presbyterian Philosopher” – The Authorized Biography of Gordon H. Clark

Faithfulness and Fruitfulness – Nicholas Batzig

tt-jan-2017As we near the end of this month, I want to post one more time about the January 2017 issue of Tabletalk.

Today I read the final featured article on this month’s theme (“Success”), a profitable article by Rev. Nick Batzig (PCA pastor). In “Faithfulness and Fruitfulness” Batzig ties together the biblical ideas of being faithful and being fruitful. As he points out in the beginning, it is easy to confuse these and misunderstand the relation between them. But the Bible guides us to a clear understanding, so that we may properly know what success is in this regard too.

I point you to a section of his article, encouraging you to read the full article at the Ligonier link below.

…When we consider the teaching of Jesus and the Apostles, we discover that fruitfulness is the work of God, grounded on the saving work of Christ and sovereignly brought about by His Spirit in both the lives (godly character) and labors (kingdom work) of His people.

But what determines the nature of fruitfulness? Is fruitfulness commensurate with our labors? Or, are we simply to seek to be faithful and let what happens happen? Thankfully, the Scriptures provide us with a number of ways by which we may answer these questions regarding the relationship between faithfulness and fruitfulness.

Fruitfulness is ultimately God’s work, accomplished as we commit ourselves to Him in seeking to be faithful in all aspects of our lives and in all to which He calls us. We must resist the temptation to view fruitfulness in the same way that a stockbroker views his portfolio. It is a spiritual misstep of enormous proportion for us to look at our lives and labors and say, “If I simply do this today and this tomorrow, the result will be x, y, or z.” The Apostle Paul, while defending his own ministry against ministers who boasted of their own accomplishments, wrote: “I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the increase” (1 Cor. 3:6–7). The psalmist, in no uncertain terms, taught the same principle when he wrote, “Unless the Lord builds the house, they labor in vain who build it” (Ps. 127:1). The more we come to understand and embrace this principle, the more we will be prepared to commit ourselves to Him in such a way as to be willing to be used in whatever ways He wishes.

But then Batzig also cautions about the danger of becoming lax in our determination to be faithful:

While we recognize that fruitfulness is the work of God, we must understand that diligence is an essential component of our faithful lives and labors. A subtle form of hyper-Calvinism can creep into our thinking once we acknowledge that fruitfulness is the work of God. We can start to think to ourselves, or catch ourselves saying to others, such things as, “It really doesn’t matter what we do because, at the end of the day, it’s all God’s work.” Interestingly, in the same letter in which he admitted that it is “God who gives the increase,” Paul declared, “I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me” (1 Cor. 15:10). In Proverbs, Solomon wisely observed, “The hand of the diligent will rule” (Prov. 12:24). One writer helpfully sums up our responsibility to be diligent in our spiritual labors when he says, “You can do ministry with God’s help, so give it all you’ve got. You can’t do ministry without God’s help, so be at peace.” This is true in every sphere in which the believer is seeking to be faithful to God. Diligence in faithfully carrying out those things to which God has called us will ultimately lead to fruitfulness.

That is a wonderful perspective for us to take as we begin the work week tomorrow. May God by His grace make us faithful in all our labors, so that we may also fruitful to the glory of His name.

Source: Faithfulness and Fruitfulness by Nicholas Batzig

Listen Up! How to Listen to Sermons (3)

listen-up-ashIn this first month of the year we have begun to examine a short booklet that instructs God’s people in how to listen to sermons. The booklet is titled Listen Up! A Practical Guide to  Listening to Sermons (Good Book Co., 2009), written by Christopher Ash.

Once more let’s get before us the seven main points Ash makes in the book – the “seven ingredients for healthy sermon listening,” as he calls them:

  1. Expect God to speak
  2. Admit God knows better than you
  3. Check the preacher says what the passage says
  4. Hear the sermon in church
  5. Be there week by week
  6. Do what the Bible says
  7. Do what the Bible says today – and rejoice!

Tonight, to help us prepare for hearing the Word of God tomorrow, let’s “listen up” as Ash instructs us in that third ingredient“Check the preacher says what the passage says.” What does he mean by this?

Unless we want to be brainwashed, we ought never to hear or watch anything without engaging our critical faculties. If that’s true for TV or a movie, how much more for sermons where the preacher claims the authority of God. We need to check that the preacher is actually using the only available authority, which is a borrowed authority  that only comes from teaching what the Bible passage teaches. So, we need to listen carefully to the passage and ask whether what the preacher says is what the passage says.

And then, after pointing out that some sermon listeners like to take notes to be better focused, while others prefer not to because they find it distracting, Ash states this:

Whatever strategy you use, always have in mind the question: where did the preacher get that from? We are not asking how well or badly the preacher preached, in terms of communication skills. We are asking whether the message of the sermon was unpacking and pressing home to us the message of the passage.

And, in conclusion on this point, he reminds us that for this too we need the Holy Spirit:

It is the work of God, by His Spirit, to open our minds so that we listen clearly, think clearly, and discern clearly whether a sermon is true to the Bible. By nature we cannot think straight. So again we need to pray for His Work in us.

PRC Archives – Sermon Conversions

Over the last few years the PRC archives has received an abundance of sermons by PRC ministers on cassette tapes. Add to that the multitude (boxes!) of reel-to-reel sermon tapes already in the archives, mostly organized and cataloged, but nothing more.

cassettes-schipper-ophoff
Special tapes and covers Rev. B. Woudenberg made and donated.

These are both magnetic types of tape, with a shelf-life of 25 years we were told. We are well beyond that. And yet, amazingly, these tapes have preserved the sermons. The problem is (among other things), these sermons are not accessible, and they ought to be. And they ought to be preserved digitally (mp3), which will also make them more accessible.

In the last year we have begun to organize the hundreds (thousands?!) of cassette tapes, cataloging them by minister, text, and sermon title, as well as occasion (if special). Kevin Rau did some initial sorting, but now Bob Drnek with help from his wife Anne has been making a master list of what we have.

cassette-conversion-equipment-2017
All the equipment we need for cassette conversion!

And now, he and I have begun to convert them to mp3. Right now, we are doing cassettes, using some old players we have (note my personal custom boombox!), an audio cable, a PC, and a a free software program called “Audacity.” We can get it set up, let them run, and go about our other business – he at home and I at Seminary.

The results are that we have better preserved these sermons and made them accessible. Where are they?, you ask. Saved in the cloud, for one thing. And gradually, I am also uploading them to the PRC website, audio sermon section. And because we are focusing on the oldest of the sermons and mostly our deceased former ministers, you will find them going mainly under the “Classic PRC Sermons” section. Check it out when you get the chance.

A recent one that was referred to by Prof. R. Dykstra in his recently completed Interim course (The History of the PRC Schism of 1953) is that by Rev. Richard Veldman (former minister at SE PRC in Grand Rapids, MI) on Q&A 74 of the Heidelberg Catechism (“Infant Baptism”) – a marvelous defense of our covenant view and the place of children in that covenant of grace. Listen to it and be edified!

bobd-reel-player-jan-2017
Bob D tinkering with the reel-to-reel machine. We are glad no one recorded us “mad scientists” trying to thread our first trial tape!

We are also preparing to convert the reel-to-reel sermons. We found some old equipment downstairs at Seminary (3 reel-to-reel players/recorders), and tried them all. The newest-looking one – a nice Sony machine – worked the best, but needs to be repaired. This week I found a shop that specializes in this (Blackies’ Radio and TV), so soon we will also be able to start on these tapes. There are some gems tucked away in the archives room.

Do we want any more old cassettes or reel-to-reel tapes? Of course! We would never turn them away. There is history in these tapes! Not just preaching history, but also special programs, congregational anniversaries, lectures, etc. Bring them in! Just not all at once. 🙂 Thanks for all the donations we have received!

Lest we forget, the PRC 100th anniversary is approaching. We are looking for archive material of ALL kinds. Think about what YOU can donate for the preservation – and enhancement – of our history! Documents, pictures, tapes, etc. We will be grateful for anything you have.

The World-Tilting Gospel – D. Phillips

world-tilting-gospel-phillipsOne of the Kindle books I am currently reading is Dan Phillips’ The World-Tilting Gospel; Embracing a Biblical Worldview and Hanging on Tight (Kregel, 2011).

I believe this book was offered free last Fall and I grabbed it, not knowing what to expect. But I have been pleasantly impressed with its content and message. I am a couple of chapters into it and find it soundly biblical, edifying, and challenging.

Chapter 1, “Knowing God and Man,” (with a subtitle that asks “Which Comes First? What Difference Does It Make?”) immediately references John Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian Religion, pointing out that the magisterial Reformer wrestled with these issues too. Calvin taught that we can look at it both ways: we cannot know God without knowing ourselves, and we cannot know ourselves without knowing God.

But, then, Phillips makes his own case, with a little humor:

It’s impossible to measure without a standard. Its impossible to apply a standard if we don’t know what we’re measuring. But which comes first?

Chronologically, self-awareness comes first, and indeed fills our whole conscious life. No healthy baby has to be persuaded to be self-concerned. Nor have I ever met an infant who would say, ‘You know, some nice, warm milk would be great…but it would glorify God more if I let Mom get some sleep.’ Babies don’t even rise to ‘I am fearfully and wonderfully made,’ but rather, ‘I am fearfully and wonderfully wet.’

Yet while self-awareness comes first in time, surely the knowledge of God comes first in importance. Christian readers will grant that our concept of God affects how we see everything. The case I want to make is that our view of ourselves as we stand before God is inextricably interwoven with our view of God.

To which he adds, “Think it through with me.”

More on that next time, because Phillips has some great examples of how our (world)view of God affects how we see ourselves – and our relationship to God. We need to be introduced to Bud Goodheart, Lodowick Legup, and Misty Call.

I said, next time. These are some real (make-believe) characters! 🙂

 

Identifying Christian Classics – L. Ryken

GuidetoClassics-LRykenIn chapters 7 and 8 of Leland Ryken’s recent book, A Christian Guide to the Classics (Crossway, 2015), the author begins to identify the great classics of literature by breaking them down into categories.

And he starts with what he calls “the leading categories of literature that make up the domain of the classics” (p.61), by which he means the category of Christian literature (which is why chapters 7 and eight are titled “Christian Classis, Part 1 and Part 2”).  In that connection Ryken states,

Christian literature is a category that Christian readers immediately claim as a special possession. It begins with the Bible, which provides a good paradigm for defining the entire category. Within the realm of Christian literature, there are further subcategories, which I will define shortly. Even though Christians should read much in addition to the literature of the faith, I believe that Christian readers should especially resonate with the literature of Zion (metaphorically speaking), and I am always perplexed when Christians find their chief literary excitement in non-Christian literature. In the overall canon of Western classics, Christian classics comprise approximately half of the material. This is true because Christianity was the dominant belief system in the West for seventeen centuries (p.62).

A little later in chapter seven, Ryken gives the identifying characteristic of a Christian classic:

The ultimate standard for calling a work Christian is the intellectual content of a work. A Christian literary work is one in which the author asserts a Christian allegiance at the level of ideas and morality. Whether the writer personally embraces that Christian content is not directly relevant and may be impossible to know. What matters is what the work itself asserts. Having said that, genuinely Christian writers tend overwhelmingly to make their allegiance clear, so that the work becomes a personal testimony of the author’s faith (p.64).

More on this next time!

Published in: on January 24, 2017 at 6:33 AM  Comments (2)  

Redeeming the Time – Rev. J. Mahtani

The latest issue of the Standard Bearer (Jan.15, 2017) is once again filled with a variety of interesting and instructive articles (cf. cover below).

sb-jan15-2017-cover

One of these is found under the rubric “Strength of Youth”. Rev. Jon Mahtani, pastor of Cornerstone PRC in Dyer, IN and a new writer for this rubric, has a timely article for the new year titled “Redeeming the Time.” In it he explains and applies – especially for the benefit of Christian young people, but applicable for all ages – the Word of God in Eph.5:16, “Redeeming the time, because the days are evil.”

Here is part of what he has to say:

In Ephesians 5:16, God does not call us to buy cars, clothing, jewelry, appliances, or homes, but time. The word for “time” here however, does not refer primarily to the duration of time—the seconds, minutes, and hours going by on our clocks. Rather, “time” refers to “opportunities” in our life.

…But wait! Stop! Before you go off to buy every opportunity that comes your way, remember what a good buyer does. First, he senses or discerns the more valuable from the less valuable. Just as not every product on the market is of equal worth, so not every opportunity is equally worthwhile. Just as you cannot purchase everything online, so you cannot buy every opportunity that presents itself!

How do you determine which opportunities are most valuable? As a child of God, with the wisdom of His Holy Spirit and His word, you should know that the most valuable opportunities are measured by spiritual profit! No, we do not discern valuable opportunities by asking, “What is most fun? What is most entertaining? What feels the best? What is good for my reputation, my career, my bank account?” Instead, the golden opportunities are determined by prayerfully asking, “What is best for my soul?”

Prioritize your life. What is more valuable? Devotion time or sleep time? Bible society time or sporting event time? Church fellowship or what I already put on my schedule? Overtime at work or quality time with the family? Homework time or your primetime T.V. show? Time to pray or time to play? We may be able to see some value in all of these opportunities, but a good buyer of time first senses and chooses which is most valuable.

Prayers of the Reformers (19)

prayersofreformers-manschreckFor this fourth Sunday of the new year we post another prayer from the book Prayers of the Reformers, compiled by Clyde Manschreck and published by Muhlenberg Press (1958).

This is a prayer or hymn of Martin Luther and is taken from the section “A Calendar of Prayer.” The German title is “Es Wollt uns Gott genaedig sein,” taken from the first line.

You will find these words to be fitting for our worship today as well as for our life and labors in the week ahead.

May God unto us gracious be,
And grant to us His blessing;
Lord, show Thy face to us, through Thee
Eternal life possessing:
That all Thy work and will, O God,
To us may be revealed,
And Christ’s salvation spread abroad
To heathen lands unsealed,
And unto God convert them.

Thine over all shall be the praise
And thanks of every nation,
And all the world with joy shall raise
The voice of exultation.
For Thou the sceptre, Lord, dost wield
Sin to Thyself subjecting;
Thy Word, Thy people’s pasture-field,
And fence their feet protecting,Them in the way preserveth.

Thy fold, O God, shall bring to Thee
The praise of holy living;
Thy Word shall richly fruitful be,
And earth shall yield thanksgiving.
Bless us, O Father! bless, O Son!
Grant, Holy Ghost, Thy blessing!
Thee earth shall honor – Thee alone,
Thy fear all souls possessing.
Now let our hearts say, Amen.

Luther, 1524

This hymn has also been set to music by J.S. Bach, which you may find here along with a different English translation. For one version available on YouTube, see below.

Listen Up! How to Listen to Sermons (2)

listen-up-ashThe last few weeks we have begun to examine a short booklet that instructs God’s people in how to listen to sermons. The booklet is titled Listen Up! A Practical Guide to  Listening to Sermons (Good Book Co., 2009) and is penned by Christopher Ash.

Once more let’s get before us the seven main points Ash makes in the book – the “seven ingredients for healthy sermon listening,” as he calls them:

  1. Expect God to speak
  2. Admit God knows better than you
  3. Check the preacher says what the passage says
  4. Hear the sermon in church
  5. Be there week by week
  6. Do what the Bible says
  7. Do what the Bible says today – and rejoice!

Tonight, to help us prepare for hearing the Word of God tomorrow, let’s “listen up” as Ash instructs us in that second ingredient“Admit God knows better than you.” As you will see, also this “ingredient” has to do with the authority of the message the faithful preacher of God’s Word brings; but more than that, it also has to do with the content of that message.

…What we really want [Ash means, by nature] is for the Bible to tell us we’re ok, what we’ve done is ok, and what we believe is ok.

But it isn’t ok. It’s not at all ok. Far from coming to the Bible as a clean sheet, I come to the Bible as a thoroughly messed-up person, unable to think straight, speak right or act as I ought. That means I must expect the Bible to call me to repentance and not reassure me that I’m ok. It will never make me comfortable or complacent in my sin.

…Faithful Bible teaching will always cause offence.

…The voice of God spoken by a faithful Bible teacher will get under my skin. It will cut to the core of my being (Hebrews 4 v 12, 13). It will challenge me to ‘get rid of all moral filth and the evil that is so prevalent and humbly accept the word planted’ in me (James 1 v 21). And I mustn’t expect to like it. Sometimes I may even feel insulted.

Concerning which the author concludes:

To listen humbly is to be realistic about this. What is more, it is to recognise that there is more than one way to evade the challenge of the Bible. The simple way is just to say: ‘The Bible is wrong. I don’t agree with it, and that’s all there is to say.’ But the more common way in Christian circles …is to find a clever way to reinterpret the Bible so that I can persuade myself that, although I must admit it looks as if it challenges me, in fact it doesn’t. This preserves my impression of piety while safeguarding my rebellion against God….

Which brings this closing point: “…To listen humbly is to admit that the Bible is right and I am wrong, that God is God and I need to change” (pp.7-8).

Will we listen humbly to the Word preached tomorrow and let it convict us that God is right about us and we are wrong?