Reading Aloud to Young Children Has Benefits for Behavior and Attention – The New York Times

The New York Times recently posted this article online and it was picked up by some of the book and reading news sources I receive, which immediately caught my attention. While it is not anything new, it confirms once more what other studies have proved – that reading to children at an early age is a tremendous benefit to their psychological, emotional, and educational development. And we would add, of course, that when God’s Word and other good Christian literature are read to them, their spiritual development is enhanced.

The article begins by pointing to the results of another new study that found the great benefits of reading to very young children:

It’s a truism in child development that the very young learn through relationships and back-and-forth interactions, including the interactions that occur when parents read to their children. A new study provides evidence of just how sustained an impact reading and playing with young children can have, shaping their social and emotional development in ways that go far beyond helping them learn language and early literacy skills. The parent-child-book moment even has the potential to help curb problem behaviors like aggression, hyperactivity and difficulty with attention, a new study has found.

“We think of reading in lots of different ways, but I don’t know that we think of reading this way,” said Dr. Alan Mendelsohn, an associate professor of pediatrics at New York University School of Medicine, who is the principal investigator of the study, “Reading Aloud, Play and Social-Emotional Development,” published in the journal Pediatrics.

After covering the special program that teaches parents during pediatric primary care visits how to be involved in their children’s lives through reading and playing, the article concludes with these additional thoughts:

But all parents should appreciate the ways that reading and playing can shape cognitive as well as social and emotional development, and the power of parental attention to help children flourish. Dr. Weisleder said that in reading and playing, children can encounter situations a little more challenging than what they usually come across in everyday life, and adults can help them think about how to manage those situations.

“Maybe engaging in more reading and play both directly reduces kids’ behavior problems because they’re happier and also makes parents enjoy their child more and view that relationship more positively,” she said.

Reading aloud and playing imaginative games may offer special social and emotional opportunities, Dr. Mendelsohn said. “We think when parents read with their children more, when they play with their children more, the children have an opportunity to think about characters, to think about the feelings of those characters,” he said. “They learn to use words to describe feelings that are otherwise difficult and this enables them to better control their behavior when they have challenging feelings like anger or sadness.”

“The key take-home message to me is that when parents read and play with their children when their children are very young — we’re talking about birth to 3 year olds — it has really large impacts on their children’s behavior,” Dr. Mendelsohn said. And this is not just about families at risk. “All families need to know when they read, when they play with their children, they’re helping them learn to control their own behavior,” he said, so that they will come to school able to manage the business of paying attention and learning.

This “truism” is worth remembering in our own homes as well. I hope we are exposing our children to good literature at an early age and giving them the thrill of seeing and hearing words and experiences expressed in the world of books. The benefits are well documented.

A Christian Apology: “Knowing our own wretchedness without knowing God makes only for despair.” B. Pascal

174. Not only is it impossible to know God without Christ, but it is useless also. They are drawn closer to him, not further away. They are not humbled, but as it is said, ‘The better one is, the worse one becomes, if one ascribes his excellence to one’s self.’ [Bernard of Clairvaux, The Song of Songs, 84].

175. To know God without knowing our own wretchedness only makes for pride. Knowing our own wretchedness without knowing God makes only for despair. Knowing Jesus Christ provides the balance, because he shows us both god and our own wretchedness.

176. The whole universe teaches man that he is either corrupt or redeemed. Everything around him shows him his greatness or his wretchedness. God’s abandonment can be seen in the heathen; God’s protection is evidenced in the Jews.

177. Everything around us shows man’s wretchedness and God’s mercy, as well as man’s helplessness without God, and man’s power with God.

Mind-on-fire-pascalBlaise Pascal (1623-1662) in his Pensees (Christian apology, that is, defense of the Christian faith) as found in the anthology of his writings The Mind on Fire, part of the “Classics of Faith and Devotion” series published by Multnomah Press (1989), edited by James M. Houston, with an introduction by Os Guinness.

This quotation is taken from section XIV titled “The Transition from Human Knowledge to Knowing God” (p.151), picking up where we left off previously. I plan to post such portions of the Pensees throughout this year.

This Day in History: The Death of John Calvin | Crossway Articles

In several online places today it was noted that May 27 marks the anniversary of John Calvin’s death (1509-1564). Crossway was one of those sites with a featured article on it.

Dr. Robert Godfrey wrote a fine, brief summary of Calvin’s life and work from the viewpoint of its end, and it is that article that we reference this Sunday night. One of the sections of the article mentions Calvin’s own life of suffering and how that helped him as a pastor to identify with God’s suffering people. He also wrote about Calvin’s “unshakeable confidence” as he faced the end of his life:

The struggles of his life tested his faith. At the heart of his faith was the confidence that for the sake of Jesus, God was his loving heavenly Father. But that confidence had to surmount the temptations and sins, the frustrations and losses, the weakness and death that made up so much of his life. He knew that his struggles were the very ones that all God’s children faced: “The pious heart, therefore, perceives a division in itself, being partly affected with delight, through a knowledge of God’s goodness, partly distressed with sorrow, through a sense of its own calamity; partly relying on the promise of the gospel; partly trembling at the evidence of its own iniquity; partly exulting at the expectation of life; partly alarmed by the fear of death.” But faith overcomes that division. With great assurance Calvin declared, “For the invariable issue of this contest is that faith at length overcomes those difficulties, from which, while it is encompassed with them, it appears to be in danger.”2

Late in his life, as his health deteriorated and his strength ebbed, his friends pled with him to work less diligently, but he refused. By early 1563 he at times was unable to walk due to gout and arthritis. By early 1564 it was clear that his strength was failing seriously. In early February 1564 he gave his last lectures and sermons. Calvin prayed that his mind would remain clear to the end so that he could work. From his bed he continued to dictate letters and his final commentary, on the book of Joshua. His fellow ministers appealed to him to get more rest. He responded, “What! Would you have the Lord find me idle?”3 He was determined to work hard to the end.

You would do well to read the other parts of Godfrey’s article, including Calvin’s expression of thanks to God in his last will and testament and his farewells to his friends (cf. link below). Godfrey ends by quoting Calvin’s close friend and associate (and successor in Geneva), Theodore Beza, who wrote this about Calvin’s final days:

The interval to his death he spent in almost constant prayer. . . . In his sufferings he often groaned like David, “I was silent, O Lord, because thou didst it.” . . . I have also heard him say, “You, O Lord crush me; but it is abundantly sufficient for me to know that this is from your hand.”7 Calvin may also have remembered the words that he had written long ago in his Catechism: “For death for believers is now nothing but passage to a better life. . . . Hence it follows that death is no longer to be dreaded. We are rather to follow Christ our leader with undaunted mind, who, as he did not perish in death, will not suffer us to perish.”8

Source: This Day in History: The Death of John Calvin | Crossway Articles

The Law in the Psalms: “It is grace to know God’s commands.” ~ D. Bonhoeffer

psalms-1

The three Psalms (1, 19, 119), which in a special way make the law of God the object of thanks, praise, and petition seek to show us, above all, the blessing of the law. Under ‘law,’ then, is to be understood usually the entire salvation act of God and the direction for a new life in obedience. Joy in the law and in the commands of God comes to us if God has given the great new direction to our life through Jesus Christ.

…It is grace to know God’s commands. They release us from self-made plans and conflicts. They make our steps certain and our way joyful. God gives his commands in order that we may fulfill them, and ‘his commandments are not burdensome’ (1 John 5:3) for him who has found all salvation in Jesus Christ.

Jesus has himself been under the law and has fulfilled it in total obedience to the Father. God’s will becomes his joy, his nourishment. So he gives thanks in us for the grace of the law and grants to us joy in its fulfillment. Now we confess our love for the law, we affirm that we gladly keep it, and we ask that we may continue to be kept blameless in it. We do that not in our own power, but we pray it in the name of Jesus Christ who is for us and in us.

Psalms-prayer-book-BonhoefferQuoted from 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 eighth section, “The Law” (pp.31-33), where the author continues to treat the Psalter according to classification by subject.

New and Notable Books (Three-Minute Thursdays #16) – Tim Challies

Pastor, author, book reviewer, and blogger Tim Challies has a relatively new book feature called “Three-Minute Thursdays,” in which, by means of video, he presents briefly some “new and noteworthy” books.

I appreciate the format and in general the books he features. This one (#16) is from last week (May 17, 2018) and introduces six new Christian titles. As we approach the summer reading season, I am confident you will find one here of profit – or from one of the other episodes. You may recall that I already featured that last one here (God’s Timeline).

If you click on the YouTube link to the video below, you can subscribe to this channel also.

Here is Challies’ introduction to this particular episode.

Welcome to another edition of Three-Minute Thursdays. Every year I get literally hundreds of books in the mail—one of the perks of being a book reviewer. From time to time I take the big stack and turn it into a little stack, so I can tell you about some of the new and notable books that I think will be interesting to people like you.

And that leads to a short video like this one: The books featured in this episode are: Watchfulness by Brian Hedges; Christianity Considered by John Frame; Christ from Beginning to End by Trent Hunter and Stephen Wellum; Zephaniah, Haggai, Malachi Reformed Expository Commentary by Iain Duguid and Matthew Harmon; The Gospel According to God by John MacArthur; and God’s Timeline by Linda Finlayson.

Source: New and Notable Books (Three-Minute Thursdays #16) – Tim Challies

How does God’s garden grow? “By ordinary, daily, habitual practices.” – M. Horton

Even the ordinary disciplines of family devotions seem to be vanishing. For centuries, believers were raised with prayer, singing, instruction, and Bible reading with the family each morning and evening. The Reformers and their spiritual heirs not only wrote catechisms for this purpose, but books with each day’s readings, prayers, and songs. They knew that, as central as it was, the public ministry was weekly, and it needed to be supplemented and supported by daily habits.

As church and family disciplines were subordinated to private disciplines, the burden of growing in the faith was placed almost exclusively on the individual. If do-it-yourself discipleship was the order of the day not that long ago, what is striking today is the extent to which even personal disciplines seem to be receding. It seems to me that there is increasingly less interest in personal prayer and meditation on God’s Word than in any time since the Middle Ages. It suggests that when public disciplines (especially the weekly service) lose their hold on us, family and private disciplines are sure to follow.

We need to rethink our priorities here, and recovering an appreciation for the ordinary is at least one step in that direction. We grow by ordinary, daily, habitual practices. The weekly service of the Word and sacrament, along with its public confession of sin and faith, the prayers, and praise, are the fountain that flows into our homes and private rooms throughout the week. It is all of these disciplines – public, family, and private – that we need to recover. They seem so ordinary. In fact, they are! But that is precisely how God’s garden grows each day.

ordinary-MHorton-2014Taken from chapter 9,  “God’s ecosystem,” (p.181) of Michael Horton’s Or-di-nar-y: Sustainable Faith in a Radical, Restless World (Zondervan, 2014), which I continue to read with great profit and deep appreciation.

In this chapter, Horton teaches and applies the beautiful organic idea of the church (especially as God’s living, growing garden) found throughout the Word of God. In the section from which I quote above, Horton is treating “Personal Disciplines.” But, as you will see, he ties together the vital public means of grace (in our public services) with the vital private means of grace (what we practice in our homes).

And we should be able to see how they feed off one another. Stop worshiping at home and in private, and soon your desire for the house of God on the Lord’s Day will dry up. If we don’t have time for God and His Word at home, we won’t take time for them on Sunday either. But conversely, if we stop attending the public worship of God with His people on the Lord’s Day, we will soon stop our times of family and private worship too. If we don’t value time with God on His special day, we won’t value time with Him each day either.

I trust we are committed to God’s ordinary public means of grace in His church each week. But how committed are we to those ordinary private and personal disciplines each day? Are you and am I seeking to grow by God’s “ordinary, daily, habitual practices” of reading His Word, singing His praises, and praying?

Perhaps, we too need to “rethink our priorities here.” Good food for thought once again. It’s only Monday. Not too late to reset those priorities. You do remember how vibrant you felt yesterday in God’s house, right? Let that feed our souls at home the rest of this week.

Pentecost 2018: The Spirit as Teacher

Pentecost-John14-16On this Pentecost Sunday 2018 we post another prayer/devotional from The Valley of Vision: A Collection of Puritan Prayers and Devotions, edited by A.Bennett (Banner of Truth, 1975).

This one is titled “The Spirit As Teacher,” and is a fitting prayer for us to make personally and collectively as we remember our Lord’s gift of the Holy Spirit to His church and people.

O GOD THE HOLY SPIRIT,

That which I know not, teach thou me,
Keep me a humble disciple in the school
of Christ,
learning daily there what I am in myself,
a fallen sinful creature,
justly deserving everlasting destruction;
O let me never lose sight of my need of a Saviour,
or forget that apart from him I am nothing,
and can do nothing.
Open my understanding to know
the Holy Scriptures;
Reveal to my soul the counsels and works
of the blessed Trinity;
Instil into my dark mind the saving knowledge
of Jesus;
Make me acquainted with his covenant undertakings
and his perfect fulfilment of them,
that by resting on his finished work
I may find the Father’s love in the Son,
his Father, my Father,
and may be brought through thy influence
to have fellowship with the Three in One.
O lead me into all truth, thou Spirit of wisdom
and revelation,
that I may know the things that belong unto
my peace,
and through thee be made anew.
Make practical upon my heart the Father’s love
as thou hast revealed it in the Scriptures;
Apply to my soul the blood of Christ, effectually,
continually,
and help me to believe, with conscience
comforted, that it cleanseth from all sin;
Lead me from faith to faith,
that I may at all times have freedom to come
to a reconciled Father,
and may be able to maintain peace with him
against doubts, fears, corruptions, temptations.
Thy office is to teach me to draw near to Christ
with a pure heart,
steadfastly persuaded of his love,
in the full assurance of faith.
Let me never falter in this way.

 

Jehovah’s Saved and Safe Garden Hut – Homer C. Hoeksema

redeemed-judgment-HCH-2007Salvation is the work not of men, nor of any preacher, nor of any great reformer; it is the work of Jehovah of hosts, the I AM, the unchangeable covenant Jehovah. All the hosts of heaven are his army. All the hosts of the entire creation – in the heavens, in the firmament, and in the earth, yea, even in the pit – willingly or in spite of themselves, are his battle host to accomplish his purpose.

Because this is true, Jehovah’s church is preserved in the remnant. There is no power that can accomplish anything against him. The hut in the garden of cucumbers is absolutely safe. Take comfort from that. Certainly there is a testimony against the wicked in this prophecy, but the inhabitants of the hut are the concern of Jehovah of hosts. Do not be afraid to dwell in that little hut. Never exchange that hut for the palaces and the fortresses of the world, for in that hut you are safe! Jehovah of hosts is your protector and your preserver.

Presently all the fortresses of the world and of the wicked will be totally as Sodom and Gomorrah. But the little hut in a garden of cucumbers will be changed into the everlasting tabernacle of God.

Won’t that be wonderful?

Taken from Redeemed with Judgment: Sermons on Isaiah (Vol.1) by Homer C. Hoeksema (ed. by Mark H. Hoeksema (Reformed Free Publishing Association, 2007), p.25. This is the closing to the first sermon, “The Church as a Hut in a Garden of Cucumbers,” based on Isaiah 1:8,9.

Revival Meetings in Benzonia

waiting-train-catton-1987For our Thursday history post today we return to Bruce Catton’s Waiting for the Morning Train (Wayne State University Press, 1987), the multifaceted story of his life growing up in northern Michigan, specifically, Benzonia and the Crystal Lake area.

Chapter 10 is our next chapter to reference, and in “At Halfway House” he describes his final year at the Benzonia Academy and his family’s life in the halfway house there (You may remember that his father was the headmaster).

There is a lot going on in this chapter (as is true in all of Catton’s essays) – from his strenuous education to the fun he had with family and friends. But the chapter also includes his portrayal of a deep spiritual struggle going on in his soul. As a sixteen year old he wrestled with the fundamentalism of his strict Protestant upbringing while his world and worldview were also expanding through his education and exposure to significant histories and works of literature. He was trying to find his “faith,” holding on to the core doctrines of the Christian faith (he mentions specifically the Incarnation and resurrection of Jesus) while also starting to question and even doubt many of the Bible’s teachings and history. It is in many ways a revealing chapter, a glimpse into the soul of this man who was raised in such a strong Christian environment.

One of the more interesting (and revealing!) parts of this chapter to me had to do with his description and evaluation of a week of revival meetings that came to town one year. He saw right through the Arminian and charlatan tactics of the evangelist. Here’s a part of that story:

…I had an especially hard time when I was sixteen and our church put on a solid week of revival services, complete with an imported evangelist, magic lantern, colorful slides to illustrate the more imposing parables, and passionate appeals to sinners to repent and come to the mercy seat. Why our town had such services I have never been able to understand, because there cannot have been a village in all the middle west that needed them less than we did. I know Father did not altogether approve, and the word was passed that academy students were not expected to attend.

…However, I went to all the services, (I think this worried my parents a little, because they did not care much for the way this evangelist whipped up youthful emotions, but they they did not say anything to me about it.) I had been worrying about my soul just then, and this seemed a good time to expose myself to the eternal verities. The result was not good. The speaker had the evangelist’s trick of frightening people so that they would give up their sins, and inasmuch as he was an eloquent man he frightened me and made me eager to repent. Unfortunately, I had no impressive sins to repent. Benzonia just was not the place to lay in a stock of them and I had never enlarged on the few opportunities that seemed open. However, I had had doubts – still had them, and nursed them along with some pride, and to have doubts was to sin. The evangelist said so, unmistakably.

At this point Catton relates the powerful story the evangelist told at one of the meetings –  “part of the standard equipment carried by any proper evangelist” – about a young girl who was told by the minister that she ought not risk delaying for one day a profession of faith. But she chose to “take the chance,” and that very night she was killed on a sleigh ride with some friends. “The evangelist did not need to add that she had certainly gone to hell.” To this, he adds this scathing critique:

Tough, beyond question; and, equally beyond question, contrived and phony. I was just bright enough to see that, and it made me furious with this glib, shallow man who demanded that I accept something monstrous. I had never felt that the faith in which I grew up was oppressive and crippling, but suddenly he made it seem so. For the moment I wanted no more of it.

Rather telling, is it not? Catton is quite perceptive about the false methods of such evangelists and how they preyed on people’s emotions, including his own. He felt betrayed by his own faith, and well he should have when it is represented in this way.

 

Reading Secular Literature through the lens of …Common Grace?!

GuidetoClassics-LRykenAs we continue working our way slowly through Leland Ryken’s book, A Christian Guide to the Classics (Crossway, 2015), we are up chapter 9, where he treats “secular classics” (pp.80-90).

Of late we have examined the section where he considers “how not to read a secular classic.” He made some valuable points and we benefited from his thoughts.

The next section takes on the positive side of this –  “How to Read a Secular Classic,” and the author’s opening  paragraphs will be of interest to our PR readers – and we hope, to others too. The reason being that Ryken introduces the doctrine of common grace here, a doctrine the PRC rejects, and for good reasons (for more on that, read the material on common grace on the PRC website, such as on this page).

But, first, let’s allow Ryken to explain why he thinks we need the doctrine of common grace in order to properly read a secular classic:

My first piece of advice may surprise some of my readers, but it is a settled conviction based on years of experience. To read secular classics we need to be thoroughly convinced of the doctrine of common grace. This doctrine is explicitly (though not abundantly) stated in the Bible and has been championed by the Reformed or Calvinistic tradition. The doctrine of common grace holds that God endows all people, Christian and non-Christian alike, with a capacity for the true, the good, and the beautiful.

At this point, the author states that he does not want to try and prove the doctrine from the Bible, but he does quote Calvin to the effect that “the mind of man, though fallen and perverted from its wholeness, is nevertheless clothed and ornamented with God’s excellent gifts,” and “all truth is from God; and consequently, if wicked men have anything that is true and just, we ought not to reject it; for it has come from God.”

Now, I might pause right there and say that Calvin is not talking about common grace. He doesn’t use the term, for he understood that grace puts one in the camp of salvation (and the work of Jesus Christ, God’s Savior), and that’s anything but common; it’s particular, reserved for those to whom God sovereignly wills to show and give His saving grace (cf. Romans 9 and Eph.2 for starters). Calvin speaks of “gifts,” and with that we fully agree. Don’t confuse God’s “gifts” with “grace” and call it common, because grace is always highly special and limited in its scope, while also being efficacious – it saves those on whom it is bestowed.

But, yes, of course, God is the source of all the wicked’s talents and abilities too. His mind, his skills, his ability to write good stories that reflect real life, even with its bitter taste of sin in all its dimensions and consequences, are gifts from God, bestowed through God’s general providence, not through His particular grace.

There is much more that could be said in that connection – about why God gives the wicked these gifts and what purpose they serve, both for them and for believers. But we stop here for now, and let Ryken have the “last word” – at least for now:

The importance of common grace for the literary enterprise is immense. It means first that we do not need to inquire into the religious orthodoxy of an author before we can affirm what is worthy in an author’s work. Wherever we find the true , the good, or the beautiful, we can applaud it. This is far from universally accepted by Christians. Among earnest believers I often sense an uneasiness, if not outright hostility, toward works of literature authored by non-Christians. The doctrine of common grace leads us to conclude that we can and should spend time reading secular literature as well as Christian literature for our edification and delight [pp.86-87].