What to say to an abused child (of God): “You are beautiful. … You are the handiwork of the Creator. You are his best art, his poem, his portrait, his image, his face – and his child.” – W. Wangerin

little-lamb-wangerinOver the last few weeks we have been sharing with you some quotes from Walter Wangerin’s Little Lamb, Who Made Thee? A Book about Children and Parents  (Zondervan, 1993; reprinted in 2004).

As I have related, Wangerin is a master storyteller and a master with words. There are chapters here that make you laugh out loud (like the description of his son’s cartoon of his father’s nose – a caricature that came back to haunt the son when he grew into an adult and grew the same nose), and others that will make you weep. The author does not gloss over sin, even hard sin in the church and in Christian families, nor does he sugar-coat the effects of sin.

The section that bears the title of the book is actually a powerful statement (hardly the right word) about sexual abuse a young girl suffered. He writes forcibly to the perpetrator, calling him to deal with his sin and take full responsibility for it. But he also writes pastorally to the girl, calling her to see herself in Christ as God’s child and His beautiful creation. The end of this chapter is one of the most powerful in the book. I leave it with you this evening.

And you, the child whom he ravaged, must not call yourself ugly. You aren’t. His action does not define you.

You, child: you are soft as the blue sky. Touch your cheek. Do you feel the weft of life there? Yes: God wove you more lovely than wool of the clouds, smoother than petals of lily, sweeter than amber honey, brighter than morning, kinder than daylight, as gentle as the eve. Listen to me! You are beautiful. You are beautiful. If you think you’re ugly, you’ve let a fool define you. Don’t! Touch your throat. It is column of wind and words. Stroke your forehead. Thought moves through its caverns. Imagination lives in there. You are the handiwork of the Creator. You are his best art, his poem, his portrait, his image, his face – and his child.

And if the Lord God took thought to create you, why would you let a sinner define you?

God caused the stars to be, and then bent low to make you.

God wrapped himself in space as in an apron, then contemplated the intricacy of your hands; he troweled the curve of your brow; he fashioned the tug of your mouth and the turn of your tongue; he jeweled your eye; he carved your bones as surely as he did the mountains.

God conceived of time and in that instant considered the purposeful thump of your heart – and the blink of your eyelid.

God made galaxies and metagalaxies, the dusty infinitude of the universe – then filled your mind with dreams as with stars.

You are not an accident. You were planned. You are the cunning intention of almighty God. Well, then, shall you think ill of yourself? NO! You shall think as well of yourself as you do of any marvel of the Deity.

Please, my sister, do not allow a sinner to steal you from yourself. You are too rare. No matter what filth has befouled you, your soul is unique in the cosmos. There is none like you. Whatever thing you admire – a leaf, a little cup, a sunset – you are more beautiful.

Sleep peacefully, you. God loves you. And so do I. And so ought you in the morning light, when the dew is a haze of blue innocence, But sleep now, child, in perfect peace. You are God’s – and he spreads his wings above you now. [pp.101-102]

“No one seeks after Christ until he has first been found by Christ.” – R.C. Sproul

No one in his natural condition seeks after God. Seeking after God is the business of the believer. The moment we become a Christian is the moment when our quest for God begins. Prior to our conversion we were fugitives from God; we fled from him. Churches today structure worship, teaching, and preaching toward the pagan to help him find what he is desperately searching for but just cannot seem to uncover, but it is foolish to structure worship for unbelievers who are seeking after God when the Bible tells us there aren’t any seekers. It manifests a failure to understand the things of God. If we understand the things of God, we would know that there is no such thing as unconverted seekers.

Thomas Aquinas was asked on one occasion why there seems to be non-Christians who are searching for God, when the Bible says no one seeks after God in an unconverted state. Aquinas replied that we see people all around us who are feverishly seeking for purpose in their lives, pursuing happiness, and looking for relief from guilt to silence the pangs of conscience. We see people searching for the things that we know can be found only in Christ, but we make the gratuitous assumption that because they are seeking the benefits of God, they must therefore be seeking God. That is the very dilemma of fallen creatures: we want the things of God that only God can give us, but we do not want him. We want peace but not the Prince of Peace. We want purpose but not the sovereign purposes decreed by God. We want meaning found in ourselves but not in his rule over us. We see desperate people, and we assume they are seeking for God, but they are not seeking for God. I know that because God says so. No one seeks after God.

…God stopped me in my path one night and brought me sovereignly to himself. I knew then that I did not come to Christ because I was seeking him. I came to Christ because he sought me. No one seeks after Christ until he has first been found by Christ – that begins the seeking of the kingdom.

…Evangelists often say, ‘If you open up the door, Jesus will come into your life. If you will just seek him a little bit, you will find him.’ However, those words – ‘knock, and it will be opened to you (Luke 11:9); ‘Seek the LORD while He may be found’ (Isa.55:6); ‘Seek, and you will find’ (Matt.7:7); ‘Behold, I stand at the door and knock’ (Rev.3:20) – are addressed to the church. Jesus seeks believers, so it is believers who are called to seek the Lord. While we are living in unbelief, we do not seek God. If we do seek God, it is a clear indication that we are already in the kingdom. If we do not seek him, it is a good indication that we are not in the kingdom. There is none who seeks after God.

Romans-RCSproul-2009R.C. Sproul on Romans 3:11b (“there is none that seeketh after God”, KJV) in his commentary on Romans (St. Andrews Expositional Commentary, Crossway, 2009), pp.89-90.

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.

The Death of the Michigan Wilderness

…originally the lumberman was highly selective. He wanted nothing but pines, and they had to be fully grown; he took only the larger ones, and only those that grew near running water. Now [That is, after the development of better tree-cutting instruments and the construction of narrow-gauge railroads deep into the Michigan forest.] he realized that he wanted everything, and so he took everything. He could use small pines as well as big ones; more important, he could use hardwoods as well, because the railroad could move hardwood logs as readily as logs of pine.

All of the old limitations were gone. The lumberman could go into every corner of the forest and cut down all the trees, and that is exactly what he did. He still preferred pine, but by the 1890s the end of the pine supply was in sight, and so while a number of operators dismantled their mills and tracks and moved out of the state in search of virgin timber farther west, a good many remained and went after the hardwoods. Grand Rapids took walnut, oak, maple and black cherry and before long was boasting that it was the furniture capital of the United States, or possibly of the entire world. Traverse City suddenly discovered that it[s] largest single employer of labor was a mill that made hardwood chopping bowls, salad bowls, butter bowls and so on. Out of the dwindling forest came railroad ties, telephone poles, fence posts, shipyard timber, and blocks cut from pine stumps to be used for matchsticks. Even the supposedly worthless aspen, that came up in matted profusion when a stand of pine was removed, became an article of commerce; men could use it to make boxwood, or feed it into the pulp mills to make paper, and boats and trains that once carried saw logs went off to market loaded down with the slim logs of aspen.

So over most of the state of Michigan the forest was destroyed, with single-minded dedication and efficiency. Sometimes it seemed as if men of that time actually hated trees….

waiting-train-catton-1987Taken from chapter 6, “Death of a Wilderness,” in Bruce Catton’s Waiting for the Morning Train (Wayne State University Press, 1987), pp.117-118.

As promised in my last post on this book, we have to face what the greedy lumber industry did to the Michigan wilderness. Catton doesn’t hide the sad history of what man did to the beautiful forests of Michigan’s north country. While there are still glimpses of what once was, it is hard to imagine the trees that formerly covered the area of Benzonia County and beyond. And with that destruction of the wilderness, as Catton notes, went the killing of bird (passenger pigeon) and fish (the grayling in the Au Sable River, for example), and even people, for the industry also produced massive forest fires.

Such is another manifestation of the sinfulness of man. Created a steward of the land and its resources, in his fallen state he recklessly rapes the land and ruins its resources, leaving a trail of barren wilderness, vacated towns, dilapidated buildings, and ruined lives. Such was “progress” in the industrial age, just as it is still man’s “progress” in this information age. Just the resources and tools have changed.

Will we learn from this history?

A Whole Issue on Bullying?! Yes, and Necessary – The March 2018 “Beacon Lights”

Anti-Bully BL-ad-2018

Soon the March 2018 issue of the Beacon Lights will be out (the Protestant Reformed youth magazine), and it is an entire issue devoted to the subject of bullying.

Yes, bullying, that subject which has received so much attention in the world about us and which is now also being confronted in the church of Christ and kingdom of God. Bullying, that hateful, shameful, powerful conduct that has such tragic consequences in the lives of children and young people – covenant, Christian children and young people too. Perhaps all the more so because it has been carried out by fellow professing covenant, Christian children and young people. Indeed, it is time for this conduct to be called out and confronted, confessed and killed – with the sword of the Spirit and the blood of Jesus.

Are we ready to face the sad sin of bullying?

In this special March issue you will read the subject introduced by managing editor Ryan Kregel. Part of what he has to say is this:

Today, the violence of bullying exists in homes and workplaces. Bullying happens in schools, public and Christian. Bullies come in all ages, male and female. Bullies use many means to accomplish their goal of dominating another person. Sometimes physical abuse is the method, whether a violent, even bloody assault at one time or the daily slapping, spitting, and tripping of the victim. Bullying is also manifest in words. Sometimes the victim endures a barrage of insults day after day. Other times the words are written in notes passed around the classroom, sent as text messages, scratched into the wall of the bathroom stall, or posted on social media. No matter their form, they are meant to hurt, cut down, and kill.

Maybe you have witnessed bullying at school or elsewhere. You probably noticed that the victim didn’t go on the defensive because most victims do not. So did you do anything about it? Did you make their unspoken voice heard? Did you defend the victim or did you join in? Keep in mind that helping a victim of bullying must go further than just “telling off” the bully. Helping ought to include befriending the victim. Through this action we show an awareness of how we ourselves have been befriended by God through Jesus Christ.

From the editor, Dewey Engelsma, you will read about “Murder on a School Bus” and “Delivering the Helpless” (more on these in another post). You will also find articles on “The Offense of Cyberbullying” and “A Letter of Comfort for the Bullied Young Person.”

Yes, the sin of bullying is exposed in this BL issue. It is a painful matter.  But the marvelous mercy of God is also laid bare. Mercy that leads to confession and prayer for help. Mercy that forgives and heals. Mercy that makes us merciful to confront the bully and to help the helpless. As Mr. Kregel adds at the end of his introduction,

Thanks be to God that there is comfort for the
victim of bullying. God promises to “give his angels
charge over thee, to keep thee in all thy ways” (Ps.
91:11). He also says of the one in need of help, “He
shall call upon me, and I will answer him: I will be
with him in trouble; I will deliver him, and honor
him” (v. 15).

BL-logoWatch for this issue, and when it comes read it carefully and prayerfully. If you are not yet a subscriber, visit the Beacon Light’s subscription page where you will find information on how to become one. Now would be a good time to join the ranks.

How shall we respond to the sins of our land? – Prof. B. Gritters

SB-Jan15-2018-coverWe live in very wicked lands. Of course, we must not partake of their evils or we will perish with them. But how do we respond to these evils? Are we aware of the danger of a self-righteous anger very similar to the one we criticize in others? How should I, as a Christian respond?

I will begin by expressing to God sorrow for the sins of the nation of which I am a part. …I am a citizen of this land and thus guilty of her sins by corporate responsibility. We start there, humbling ourselves before God and confessing our nation’s sins. If righteous Daniel in Babylonian captivity could confess as his own the sins of Israel, of which he had no active and conscious part (Dan.9 is one of the most moving confessions in all of Scripture), citizens of a country do well to confess their guilt for the country’s sins.

Then, we will ask what active part we have played in the sins of the nation. In what do we participate? In its sexual sin? On television, in video games, on the Internet, in books? In what way do we approve of or find pleasure in its violence? What part of the lie do we willingly partake in by judging rashly, or believing every word we hear in the politically conservative news? Does our use of social media always comport with the call to speak the truth in love?

And what of our own sinful nature? Full of corruption of every sort, with the potential of sin of every kind, burning with lusts no different than those of any unbeliever, we confess that we are evil, born in sin. We are, in our nature, so corrupt that we are wholly incapable of performing any good and inclined to all wickedness. We confess this with sincerity, and deepest humility and shame.

We see the flood ready to overwhelm us.

By faith, though, we do not despair. Certainly, we do not look with self-righteous pride at everyone else, but with shame at our own sins and sinfulness. And then we flee from this destructive flood to Jesus Christ and to His church, the ‘ark’ where is safety.

Quoted from the closing portion of the editorial of Prof. B. Gritters in the January 15, 2018 issue of the Standard Bearer. The title of this article is “What has happened to the United States?” Look for more on this in the issues to come (Feb.1 and Feb.15).

Dead = D.E.A.D. “What is deader than dead?” – 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).

As I mentioned in a previous post, 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.

I know I promised something more from Chapter 1, (“Knowing God and Man”), but today I want to quote from Chapter 3 (“, where Phillips treats the fallenness of man and his total sinful depravity.

Soundly and biblically, Phillips grounds this in Adam’s fall and the orthodox teaching on original sin (Adam’s representative headship, etc.). But the author does not use old cliches to describe our total depravity. His section on man’s spiritual deadness will demonstrate that.

Here is what Phillips has to say:

This is how Paul describes our spiritual condition: dead. The Greek word for ‘dead’ means ‘D-E-A-D.’ It doesn’t carry any special, technical, secret nuance detectable only by professional lexicographers. It is used many times – in the NT of sleep-diver Eutychus after his fatal plunge from the third story (Acts 20:9), or in the Greek translation of the narrative about Sisera, after Jael nailed his head to the ground (Judg.4:22)

What do these all have in common?

They’re all dead! As dead as Moses. As dead as King Tut. As dead as Marcus Aurelius, Confucius, Augustine, and any other dead person you can name.

Do you really believe it? All Christians who say they believe the Bible have to say they believe this verse [Eph.2:1]. But do they? I wonder.

I thought I believed it, once, as a younger Christian. But I also thought that I was saved by exercising my free will, by my deciding to choose Christ, by bringing something that made God’s offer of salvation work, by coming up with the faith through which I was saved. Yet at the same time, I did have a vague notion that it was all of God… but then, there was my part.

A dead guy’s part.

I was confused. I think a lot of Christians are confused.

But Paul says dead, and dead is what he means. In fact, ask yourself this: If Paul had meant to paint man as spiritually dead and absolutely powerless to help himself or move himself toward God in any way – what stronger word could he have chosen? What is deader than dead?

Isn’t that a powerful – and humbling – description of all of us? Have we forgotten this? It is time we remember. And then listen to this at the end of this chapter (part of Phillip’s “world-tilting” application):

We must deal with the fact: The Gospel is offensive to human pride. If what we preach as ‘Gospel’ is not offensive, we’re doing it wrong. An unoffensive Gospel is a false Gospel, a damning Gospel – because the only Gospel that saves is the Gospel that offends (1 Cor.1:18, 21, 23; 2:2; Gal.1:10; 5:11; 6:12,14).

Save

April “Tabletalk”: Tackling Shame – W. Duncan Rankin

Tackling Shame by W. Duncan Rankin | Reformed Theology Articles at Ligonier.org.

TT-April 2015The fourth and final featured article in the April issue of Tabletalk is penned by Dr. W.Duncan Rankin, a PCA pastor and associate professor of theology at Reformed Theological Seminary and at Reformation Bible College.

His article is titled “Tackling Shame”, and in it Rankin sets out to give us the Christian (biblical) answer to the reality of shame. Tracing the broad lines of this consequence of sin (“The Problem of Shame” and “The Secret to Shame”), Rankin shows us again that any hope for deliverance from this “binding and demoralizing” reality is not to be found in man but only in Christ:

So, how do we unravel our shame? Hope in self only maddens, as learned through our repeated failures and frustration. The secret to shame must lie outside of ourselves, in the only hope we have ever had—Jesus Christ our Lord. Through His cross, Jesus relieves our guilt, as well as its cousin, shame.

And so the author shows us how Jesus by His perfect work of suffering and dying for His people answers to our need for shame-deliverance:

Identifying with us in our shameful condition, Jesus represented and substituted for His own people. In His lifelong active obedience, He earned the perfect righteousness that grounds their peace and can transform their shame (2 Cor. 5:21). In His passive obedience, He took the highest and most monstrous form of our human shame personally to Himself; as the eternal Son of God, He embraced disgrace stretching from the depths of earth to the heights of heaven as no one else could do. On Calvary alone can the cruelty of human shame be rightly felt and measured. There our bounty is great (Rom. 6:23).

Our shame begins to unravel as we see His dear person and know His matchless work to be our own. United to Him by faith through the Holy Spirit, our whole position changes (Eph. 2:4–9). Redeemed and reconciled to our heavenly Father by the Son of His love, the basis of our true shame is dealt with and our alienation removed.

With this in view Rankin ends with these thoughts – good ones for all of us burdened with our own shameful sins – past and present:

Believers tackle shame in this way as they live the rest of their Christian lives by His grace and strength. This means that we need the means of grace that He has appointed—the Word read, preached, sung, prayed, and seen in the sacraments. We also need those secondary means of fellowship (Acts 4:32) and church discipline (Gal. 6:1). Using all these practical answers to our shame, we can sit up, crawl, walk, and run to God’s glory, unraveling and despising the shame that so easily entangles us.

April “Tabletalk”: What Shame Does – James Coffield

What Shame Does by James Coffield | Reformed Theology Articles at Ligonier.org.

TT-April 2015Last week Monday we began to take a look at the April 2015 issue of “Tabletalk”, with its theme of “shame.”

The second featured article on the subject I found to be rather “dark”, even difficult to read. That is due to the fact that the author (Dr. James Coffield serves as professor and director of counseling at Reformed Theological Seminary in Orlando, FL) relates “what shame does” by means of a concrete example – a young man who took his life last year in part because of the shame of his sins.

As he explains the power of shame in the human soul, Coffield lays out the evil ways in which we can allow shame to control our attitudes and behavior. These steps are graphic – and realistic (isolation, fear of exposure, self-hate, etc.). While hard to read, it is necessary for us to understand “what shame does”, that is, when it is not handled with the grace and wisdom of God as found in the gospel of Christ.

Do not take this as criticism of Coffield and his article. The devastating power of shame needs to be exposed and addressed – concretely and biblically. For those who know this power of shame, we need to know there is comfort and hope in Christ alone.

Here is part of Coffield’s analysis of shame’s activity in sinners – and the answer that may be found in the gospel. To read the full article, visit the Ligonier link above.

Shame paradoxically gives the shame-based person the illusion of control. It allows us to feel as if we are capable of digging our own cisterns—If the problem is me, I can fix it. I don’t need to be dependent upon God or anyone else. I can fix me. A principle of life is that we only fight battles that we think we can win, and shame allows us to restructure reality and believe that we are the problem and the solution; therefore, we can win. Shame invites a person to carry the weight, and in doing so, provides a false sense of control. The shame-based person is allowed to carry this weight and not trust God or others, ever again. Luke’s story of glory was hijacked by shame, whereas the gospel of Luke tells us of glory burst forth from stories that were initially bathed in shame.

The biblical gospel of Luke includes stories of the disenfranchised: the leper, the paralytic, the infirm woman. Luke’s stories invite his readers to see Christ as the transformer and healer. Luke even begins the grand story of glory in a place that many would consider shameful: a stable with shepherds. God’s great story of glory is teeming with stories of the poor, the ill, the neglected, the scorned, but His presence turns the lowly into the exalted. As believers, our stories will be woven together and end in glory.

Antiques and Our Heritage (2) – The Sense of Sin

Two weeks ago we began to quote from a selection by John J.Timmerman, former English professor at Calvin College, found in a collection of his writings titled Markings on a Long Journey (Baker, 1982). It is an article he originally wrote for The Banner in September of 1972, and includes his thoughts on some things “old, precious, and beautiful” in the Reformed tradition.

The first one was the “antithesis”; the second one ties in well with our previous post today. Timmerman calls this “antique”, “the sense of sin and human limitation”. Here are his thoughts:

Markings on long journey-TimmermanSin is almost an obsolete word in our culture. We have criminals and lawbreakers, people have guilty feelings, often considered unjustified, but what newspaper would accuse the would-be assassin of Wallace as a sinner? The word would sound medieval. The exuberant religious movements don’t talk much about guilt. Sin as transgression of God’s law, as a cause of corruption, alienation, and human tragedy has a very limited circulation.

In the face of the most massive evidence of human greed and callousness, man seems to view sin as a myth. There is little talk about the endless, thorny battle with sin in our ordinary lives, little feeling of the enormous distance between the ethics of the Sermon on the Mount and our daily existence. I remember vividly the almost monotonous prayers to keep us from sinning in thought, word, and deed; prayers, however, that rose from hard and inescapable experience. I am not stressing the morbid preoccupation with sin that… approaches sickness of soul and exhibits ingratitude to our Lord’s redeeming power, but I am stressing the importance of a realistic and honest appraisal of the dark side of our daily lives and measureless need of daily forgiveness and daily repentance. Indeed Jesus has saved us once and for all, but He also saves us everyday. Nobody wears robes of stainless white this side of Jordan (p.157).