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]

The Good God and the “Problem” of Evil (3)

no-other-macarthur-2017We conclude tonight our look at chapter three of John MacArthur’s recent book None Other: Discovering the God of the Bible (Reformation Trust, 2017). In this chapter MacArthur presents the biblical reply to the perennial question of how the good and powerful God of the Christian faith relates to all the evil, pain, and suffering in the world.

Last time we looked at this chapter we saw how the author explained that God is absolutely sovereign over all things, including evil – evil events, evil people, and evil angels (Satan and his host – he points to Job and Peter as biblical examples). But we also said we would return to hear his answer to the questions of why and to what end or purpose God determines and controls evil. In his own words, “Why did God permit evil in the first place? Why does He sovereignly, willingly allow it to keep infecting and distorting His creation? In His unfolding, preordained plan, what is the presence of evil accomplishing?”

To which he answers in the first place:

In his epistle to the Romans, Paul gives us the answer. He writes, ‘If our unrighteousness demonstrates the righteousness of God, what shall we say?’ (Rom.3:5). Our unrighteousness demonstrates (Greek sunistemi) the righteousness of God.

…Unrighteousness therefore puts God’s righteousness on display. Paul again says, ”But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while were were yet sinners, Christ died for us’ (Rom.5:8). The presence of sin allows God to demonstrate His righteousness and love. How else could He show the character of His great love that rescues enemies and sinners if there were no enemies and sinners? ‘What if God, although willing [i.e., determining] to demonstrate [Greek endeiknumi] His wrath and to make His power known, endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction?’ (Rom.9:22). He demonstrates His righteousness against the backdrop of sin and evil, showing, by contrast, how utterly holy He is. God demonstrates His love at a level that would have been impossible without sin. We see and appreciate the radiance of God’s love more, having endured the darkness and distress of a universe cursed by evil. ‘The people who walk in darkness will see a great light; those who live in a dark land, the light will shine on them’ (Isa.9:2). The presence of evil provided the perfect opportunity for God to display His wrath and justice along with His redeeming grace and infinite mercy, as He loved sinners enough to send His Son to die in their place.

And, as he goes on to show, the second and more important reason is that God might glorify Himself. Referring again to Romans 9:22, he writes:

Literally, the verse’s phrasing is ‘God determined to demonstrate for Himself.’ God demonstrates His attributes for the sake of His own glory. Without sin, God’s wrath would never be on display. Without sinners to redeem, God’s grace would never be on display. Without evil to punish, God’s justice would never be on display. And He has every right to put Himself everlastingly on display in all the glory of all His attributes. [pp.62-63].

PRC History – H. De Bolster on Learning the Doctrine of Election from H. Hoeksema

Debolster-cover-2003A recent addition to the PRC Seminary library is a book that came with some things from bookseller Gary Vander Schaaf. The title is Struggles and Blessings: The Pilgrimage of Henry R. De Bolster (self-published in 2003).

Initially, the book did not capture my attention because it seemed only to be the personal story of another Christian Reformed Church minister. But when I started to catalog it, I learned that De Bolster had a PRC connection. Turns out he immigrated to the U.S. from the Netherlands after WW II, as did many Hollanders, and was sponsored by Mr. & Mrs. Peter Alphenaar in Kalamazoo, members of the PRC in that city.

Thus, when he made his way to Grand Rapids with another young man (Henk De Raad), they came to attend (and eventually join) First PRC, where Herman Hoeksema was minister, along with H. DeWolf and C. Hanko. And, in fact, De Bolster and De Raad both began to pursue the ministry in the PRC, attending our Seminary in 1950.

Now you will remember that the early 1950s were tumultuous years in the PRC, as the controversy on the vital Reformed doctrine of the covenant was brewing (especially whether it was conditional vs. unconditional, and involving Dr. K. Schilder and many Dutch immigrants who came into the PRC and CRC during those years). De Bolster found himself in the middle of that controversy and ended up siding with Schilder and De Wolf (and many others), which meant he left the PRC and her seminary. The author has some harsh criticism of Hoeksema and the PRC related to that controversy and the way he claims he was treated. I will not quote from those portions of the book or comment on his portrayal of the controversy.

Rather, I will reference his favorable comments on Hoeksema, because early in De Bolster’s years in the PRC he had some good things to say about his minister and seminary instructor. Specifically, he has a positive perspective on what “HH” taught him about the doctrine of election. I quote:

The first few months of my study [in the PRC seminary] were enjoyable. Through Hoeksema’s teaching I gained a fresh and joyous appreciation of the doctrine of election. As a young man I always wondered whether I was one of the elect. I remember thinking about that question quite a bit. It made me restless. If I was not of the elect everything I pursued would be useless. It was all in God’s book.

Hoeksema made me see that election is the comfort God gives His people in a world of doubt and insecurity. I am your God and I shower all my gifts on you, even the gift of faith. You cannot believe without being elected, Hoeksema would say. Election is the way by which God allows His children to hear from God Himself that they are safe in His hand. Election is like the foundation of a house. When the foundation is secure, the house is solid and can weather any storm. Hoeksema reminded us that in order to get into that solid house you do not crawl through the foundation, but enter through the door. That door is Christ.

I had heard all this before but because of his constant emphasis on election this comfort permeated my consciousness. No matter what, the Lord will not forsake me, because I am His elected child. Election does not depend on my doing, it is the gracious gift of God. I cannot comprehend this with my finite mind, but God reveals it in his infallible Word. Thanks be to God!

Today we can be thankful that this emphasis was given to this young man (and to many others who heard “HH” preach) and that it influenced his faith and life for good. It shows not only how strongly Hoeksema emphasized this fundamental biblical truth in his preaching and teaching, but also how practical he made this truth in terms of comfort and assurance for believing souls.

Two New Titles from Reformation Trust

Recently Ligonier sent me two new review books published by its Reformation Trust Publishing.  I make you aware of these for those who may want to read a good book and review it for the Standard Bearer of for this blog.

good-news-macarthur-2018The first is Good News: The Gospel of Jesus Christ by John MacArthur (2018, hardcover, 148 pp.). The book is currently available for half price at $7.50 at the Reformation Trust website (retail is $15.00).

The publisher gives this description:

Everything the Bible has to say about the gospel is simply an exposition of its central message: Jesus Christ lived and died to save sinners. The gospel is about Him, and it answers Jesus’ key question: “Who do you say that I am?” It is good news.

In Good News: The Gospel of Jesus Christ, Dr. John MacArthur examines the Bible’s revelation of Christ and encourages Christians with the vast implications of all that Christ accomplished for them. This is a book to rekindle love and awe for the Savior.

The chapter headings are as follows:

  1. Jesus is the Messiah
  2. Jesus is Holy
  3. Jesus is the Only Way
  4. Jesus is the Redeemer
  5. Jesus is Righteous
  6. Jesus is the Head of the Church

moment-truth-lawson-2018The second book is a new title from the pen of Steven J. Lawson, The Moment of Truth (2018, hardcover, 238 pp.). This book is also on sale for 50% off at present – $9.50 ($19.00 retail).

The publisher provides this summary of Lawson’s book:

“What is truth?” Pilate turned to Jesus and asked a profound question. It is a question that continues to be debated in our day. But it is one that God has definitively answered in His written Word and ultimately revealed in the incarnate Word, Jesus Christ. It has been the duty and privilege of each successive generation of Christians to proclaim the truth of the gospel to a world that desperately needs to hear it.

In this collection of sermons, Dr. Steven J. Lawson speaks into our cultural moment, helping Christians and skeptics alike to answer Pilate’s age-old question.

For an interesting interview with Dr. Lawson about the book and how it came to fruition, visit this Ligonier webpage.

The contents is placed under the following main headings:

  1. The Reality of Truth
  2. The Rejection of Truth
  3. The Reign of Truth

Perhaps we can pull a quote or two from these books in the future. But for now, feel free to contact me if you are interested in either of these titles.

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.

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.

Hope in the Midst of Disappointment

The May 2018 issue of Tabletalk treats the practical theme of “Hope Amid Disappointment.”

Editor Burk Parsons points us to the idea of this them in his introduction “When Hope is no More.” This is part of what he says:

Those who think life is all about being happy in themselves by finding happiness within themselves will always be disappointed. That’s precisely how God designed us. For it is only when we become utterly hopeless about ourselves that we really hope in God, and God does not disappoint, because He cannot disappoint. Becoming hopeless about ourselves takes a sovereign act of God, who alone enables us to turn from hoping in ourselves to hoping in Him alone. Hope is a gift from God. Out of the good pleasure of His will, before the foundation of the earth, He has chosen to give eternal hope to those whom He elected from every tribe, tongue, and nation. Hope is given to us by God’s grace, and it is sustained in us by God’s Spirit for our earthly and eternal good and all for God’s glory.

There are four main articles that center on this theme of hope:

Today we take some thoughts from the article by Dr. D. Murray (professor at Puritan Reformed Seminary in Grand Rapids, MI). As you will note from the title of his article, he looks at “failure and disappointment” as they are found in the Word of God. Murray shows us that the Bible never hides these two realities of life from us. Concrete examples are found in the lives of the greatest saints – from Moses and David to Peter and Thomas.

But Murray also shows us why these failures and disappointments are recorded for us: they are gospel lessons and moral lessons for us. Here are a few applications he makes on this point:

Failure Should Be Shared

One of the problems with the constant success narratives that we are fed today is the message that success is for everyone and everyone will be a success. The result is that no one is prepared when success never visits and when failure knocks at their door repeatedly. Conscious of this imbalance, Johannes Haushofer of Princeton University published a résumé listing his career failures on Twitter. He did this “in an attempt to balance the record and encourage others to keep trying in the face of disappointment.” “Most of what I try fails,” he said, “but these failures are often invisible, while the successes are visible. I have noticed that this sometimes gives others the impression that most things work out for me.”

The Bible publishes résumés of failure for just about all the characters in it. Some of them even publish their own. The psalmists, for example, not only confess their failures but sing about them—not to celebrate them, of course, but to grieve over them and to seek God’s help with them. They are brutally honest about their lives and about how so much of life just doesn’t work out well. In Psalms 73 and 78, for example, Asaph confesses how he fails while the wicked succeed, resulting in a failure in his faith. He puts it all on the table and says, in effect, “I’m not handling this well.” God then steps in to remind him of His promises and purposes, and Asaph begins to recover his spiritual poise and equilibrium. How thankful we should be for these songs of failure that we can identify with, reminding us that we are not alone, helping us to accept that the abnormal is normal, and guiding us to bring our failures before God as well as share them with others.

And here is another good one:

Failure Does Not Define Us

The result of this is not that we never fail again. No, the result is that failure no longer defines us. Our God and Savior does not define His people by their failures but by their faith. Look at all the failures of the Old Testament saints, and yet look at how God defines them in Hebrews 11. It’s not the hall of failures but the hall of faith. He doesn’t recall their stumbles but celebrates their successes through their faith in Christ alone. Failure is still part of our identity, but it’s no longer the major part. It’s still part of our lives but it’s not definitive, it’s not the last word, and it’s certainly not the first word. Failure is not what God sees first when He looks at His people, and it shouldn’t be what we see first when we look at ourselves or other Christians either. We are righteous in Christ. That’s our primary identity. That’s what God sees first, and that’s what we should see first, too.

You will plenty of profitable reading in this issue of Tabletalk. Follow the links above and below the read more on this important subject.

Source: Failure and Disappointment in Scripture

Justifying Faith: “We bank our present and our eternity on Jesus Christ alone, with no backup plan, no “Plan B.” He is it.”

​In our case, what justifying faith specifically means is that we abandon hope of finding meaning or purpose or God apart from Jesus as our Lord. We get out of our boat, whatever it is. We bail out on any fantasies that we are good enough, deserving enough, worthy enough. We stretch police tape across any notion of being self-sufficient, or of finding hope and life and a relationship with God anywhere but through Jesus Christ the crucified and risen master. We cling to Jesus alone, on the strength of His word alone, for hope of eternal life.

So we must know truths about Jesus’ person and work, and recognize them for what they are. We must also know that the truths are true that we know about Him, realizing that they correspond to reality, and that this has a potential impact on us. But beyond that, we must abandon ourselves to Him, we must lean on and trust in Him alone for all that He claims to offer [do not stumble over this word here; in the context he simply means “present, show forth, or hold forth]: the way, the truth, the life, forgiveness, and God. We must rest all our hopes on Jesus.

We bank our present and our eternity on Jesus Christ alone, with no backup plan, no “Plan B.” He is it.

We must not look to ourselves. We must look away to Christ, to the One who bore our sins and crimes and rebellion, on whom the holy God poured out His wrath. We look to Christ and see the perfect justice of God. We also look to Christ and see our own righteousness, the seamless and flawless purity that God demands. It is that vast, immeasurable, flawless righteousness that clothes us before God.

That’s living faith, repentant faith, which God enables in us by grace alone, and through which alone He pronounces us 100 percent righteous because of the infinite righteous perfections of Jesus Christ alone.

Though it has been some time since I posted on this book, one of the Kindle books I continue to make my way through is Dan Phillips’ The World-Tilting Gospel; Embracing a Biblical Worldview and Hanging on Tight (Kregel, 2011). I had again put it aside for a few months to read some other things, but returned to it today to read a couple more chapters from Section 3 on God’s way of salvation.

Phillips has back-to-back chapters on justification and regeneration as the ways in which God deals with our sin problem – the guilt of it and the corruption of it, respectively. Both are good chapters, laying out the Scripture’s teaching on these two aspects of God’s saving work. I posted earlier on regeneration, so tonight I focus on his thoughts on God’s work of justification (pp.168-69). In this section Phillips is using the example of Peter walking on the water as an illustration of true, saving faith. In that light some of the language here makes more sense.

Next time we will start to look at his section on sanctification and growth in Christ – also a profitable section!