May 2020 Scenes in the Midst of a Troubling Pandemic

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Last month I did a post in which I showed from a personal perspective what life was like during this pandemic in our little corner of the world. Little mercies seem bigger now (rainbows). Small freedoms loom larger (a ride to the lakeshore). Life has changed in many ways, and yet it is the same is some ways too.

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The one constant is our Creator and Redeemer, who remains on the throne and at the helm, governing this vast universe – from viruses to Venus and from migrating rose-breasted grosbeeks to lily-of-the-valley – in perfect wisdom and in infinite goodness – for the glory of His name, the coming of His Son, and the everlasting good of His saints.

 

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So enjoy these photos taken this month, as they tell of God’s mercies and goodness, in small things and great things.

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Online singspiration from Faith PRC’s sanctuary led by our pastor’s family –  a great blessing!

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First golf game of 2020 with my nearly 87-year old dad – what a treat!

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Sunday afternoon walks along the Grand River with some grandsons – special times!

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Of course, time with any of our grandchildren is special, especially these days.

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Including ice cream time – tailgate style!

 

The Flu Epidemic of 1918-1919 and “Churchless Sunday” – Origins Online

Maybe we are weary of hearing about the present flu pandemic, as well as of past ones, such as the Spanish Flu of 1918-19, often mentioned these days (even though there is no comparison in terms of the numbers of those who were afflicted and those who died).

But history is instructive, and the fact is that the church and saints have often had to face such plagues and epidemics. And what believers suffered in those times as well as how they handled those afflictions gives us valuable lessons.

I did a previous post referencing the Spanish flu from the perspective of a former PRC minister, Rev. C. Hanko (when he was a member of the CRC), and that was insightful.

Yesterday, while putting away a recent issue of Origins magazine, the Christian Reformed Church in America’s historical archives periodical, I came across a feature on the Spanish Flu and its impact on the CRC. I checked to see if the article was online, and while the full story was not, this abridged version was.

It is worth pointing to it, so that is our Friday post this week. A serious history lesson with important applications for us too. Below are a few paragraphs from the article; find the full post at the link at the end. [And now, in addition, I followed some links to  the University of Michigan’s online “Influenza Encyclopedia” and found a Grand Rapids Herald news clip about how the CRC churches were suffering. See that below.]

“What’s happening is unprecedented!” I keep hearing people say that about Covid-19 (a coronavirus). Some seem to mean that a pandemic like this is unprecedented. Others mean that the public health response—shutting down schools, sporting events, perhaps eventually churches, etc.—is unprecedented. Neither is unprecedented, really.

Around 650,000 people died in the United States in the flu epidemic of 1918-1919 and 50 million worldwide. Some scholars estimate up to 100 million deaths worldwide. In comparison, 20 to 22 million soldiers and civilians died in World War I, which ended in late 1918, and about 20 to 22 million were wounded.

What did churches experience in 1918-1919? For a broad overview, check out this story on Patheos. The Patheos story also points you to a great website at the University of Michigan on the influenza epidemic of 1918-1919.

…To find more material, I turned to the Christian Reformed Church Periodical Index and did some page turning in The Banner from late 1918 and the first half of 1919.

…My quick search yielded one lengthy piece, an editorial in the 24 October 1918 issue of The Banner: “Churchless Sunday and Its Lessons.” The governor of Michigan had ordered the closure of all churches in the state.

The Banner editorial called its readers to “pray earnestly that the scourge may soon be removed” so that churches could reopen. It also suggested “lessons from this appointment of Providence” to learn:

  • “the value of our church privileges,” as we really understand what blessing are when they are withheld
  • “the value of fellowshipping with God’s people,” “the communion of the saints,” which might lead to a renewal of devotion in the church
  • “to appreciate religious literature more than we have done,” as that is what people turn when they cannot come to church

With these lessons in mind, the editorial suggested that the epidemic might be a blessing in disguise. But it also wondered whether “churchless Sunday” was a sign divine judgment on the nation. It pointed to the description of God’s judgement in Revelation. The nation and world had seen famine, pestilence, war, and death, with the recently ended Great War and now the epidemic. It was time for people to repent and to turn to righteousness.

The editorial concluded by emphasizing that Christians respect government and law. It prayed that the burden of churchless Sundays not be too heavy and that the scourge of influenza be lifted quickly.

Source: The Flu Epidemic of 1918-1919 and “Churchless Sunday” – Origins Online

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And here is that additional item mentioned above: the news clip from the October 26, 1918 Grand Rapids Herald on how the Spanish flu was affecting the CR churches in that city.

Sunday Closing Order Keenly Felt By Members Chr. Reformed Churches

There are perhaps few congregations in the city feeling the hardship of the church closing order as keenly as the Christian Reformed churches. Members of these churches have been trained from childhood to regard regular church attendance as natural in their lives as eating breakfast, and at each of the two or three Sunday sessions the churches are wont to be crowded.

Church people are glad to do all in their power to help check the spread of influenza, but much dissatisfaction is voiced by both clergy and laymen of the apparently unjust distinction between schools and churches. The schools are in session five days a week and it would seem that if there were danger of contagion anywhere it would be among the physically undeveloped youngsters congregating in the school rooms day by day. On the other hand, in view of the supreme importance of service of the Almighty in these critical times and the need of prayer it would seem that the church would be the last of all institutions to be asked to close its doors.

Family Services Substituted

In the meantime, however, church members are making the best of matters and conducting services in their own homes. Many a father had his family gathered about him last Sunday morning and afternoon and read to them one of his favorite sermons.

Pastors are making good use of their time by taking up some specific studies which have long demanded their attention, and by doing extended pastoral work. Rev. Johannes Groen is spending much of his time visiting the members of his congregation and averages about 30 families a week.

And if you are still interested in more information on this 1918-19 influenza, or the State of Michigan’s new archive collections of COVID-19, you will want to visit this page that came in my email this morning.

The Good God and the “Problem” of Evil

no-other-macarthur-2017In chapter three of his recent book None Other: Discovering the God of the Bible (Reformation trust, 2017), John 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.

He points out that there are many proposed answers (as well as outright attacks against God) to this question – the question known in theology as “theodicy”: “a defense of God’s righteousness in light of the reality that evil exists in the world He created” (p.51).

At one point he critiques the view most popular among evangelicals today – autonomy. His thoughts are worth sharing here:

…Autonomous theodicy teaches that the cause of evil is the abuse of creaturely free will. This is a very sentimental approach. It begins with the assumption that God would never willingly ordain evil; He would not decree a plan for His creation that unleashes so much misery into His universe. They also imagine, evidently, that human free will trumps everything else on God’s scale of values, so they often suggest that God had to allow for the possibility of evil in order to protect His creatures’ highly prized autonomy. The idea is sometimes articulated this way: ‘God wants you to love Him all on your own, not because He made you love Him.” A God who would willingly permit evil or sovereignly choose whom to save is a God whom some people just can’t live with, so they reinvent Him to reflect their own priorities – which in this case means an emphasis on the nobility and value of their own free will that frankly is found nowhere in the Bible (pp.52-53).

We’ll return to more from this important chapter at a later time, but I hope you can already see the direction Macarthur is going. As he states at the beginning of the chapter,

The existence of evil is not an issue that should put Christians on their heels. The answer to why God allows evil in the world is in the Bible. We can know it, we can thoroughly embrace it, and we can enjoy it. It’s not an inadequate answer, either. It fully accounts for God’s benevolence, His omnipotence, His holiness, and His wisdom. And it exalts His glory. In fact, the answer to the problem of evil begins and ends with God and His glory (p.50).

We’ll see more of that biblical answer next time.

Your Mind Matters (4): In Knowing God’s Will for You – J. Stott

How then are you to decide this major question? [Stott has used the example of whom to marry in connection with using your mind to know the will of God]. There is only one possible answer, namely, by using the mind and the common sense which God has given you. Certainly you will pray for God’s guidance. And if you are wise, you will ask the advice of your parents and of other mature people who know you well. But ultimately you must make up your mind, trusting that God will guide you through your own mental processes.

From which point Stott takes us to a specific Bible passage as proof:

There is good scriptural warrant for this use of the mind in Psalm 32:8-9. These two verses need to be read together and supply a fine example of the balance of the Bible. Verse 8 contains a pledge of divine guidance: ‘I will instruct you and teach you the way you should go; I will counsel you with my eye upon you.’ It is, in fact, a threefold promise: ‘I will instruct you, I will teach you, I will guide you.’ But verse 9  immediately adds: ‘Be not like a horse or a mule, without understanding, which must be curbed with bit and bridle, else it will not keep with you.’

In other words, although God promises to guide us, we must not expect him to do so in the way in which we guide horses and mules. He will not use a bit and bridle with us. For we are not horses or mules; we are human beings. We have understanding, which horses and mules have not. It is, then, through the use of our own understanding, enlightened by Scripture and prayer and the counsel of friends, that God will lead us into a knowledge of his particular will for us.

mind-matters-stottTaken from Your Mind Matters: The Place of the Mind in the Christian Life (Inter-Varsity Press, 1972) by John R. W. Stott, pp.44-45.

Thinking about Change: How about the book? – Tim Challies

codex-1In this month’s Tabletalk, Tim Challies has an interesting and important article on how we as Christians face change in this world – especially in the light of God’s sovereignty and our hope for the return of Jesus Christ.

Challies demonstrates from several examples of history how change has worked for the good of God’s cause and kingdom in this world, as well as for the coming of Christ. He comments:

With all of the changes—not to mention the speed at which they occur—we can develop a deep uncertainty about the future. Whatever we know about our current situation, the future will be very different. We know that we cannot predict future changes with any degree of accuracy. After all, the technologies we consider so normal today existed only in the realm of science fiction just twenty short years ago. And as a result, many Christians have a nascent fear of the future, wondering what it may hold both for them and their families.

Understanding the past allows us to identify trends and to see that even though the pace may have changed, the pattern has not. Seeing history through the lens of God’s Word comforts us with the sure knowledge that all change is unfolding only and exactly within God’s good and perfect will.

KindleereaderOne such example is that of the book. Here are his thoughts on that:

Consider the book as well. The book—printed pages bound between two covers—is a relatively new innovation, a new technology. For the vast majority of human history, the book as such did not exist. King David never read a book. Jesus never read a book. They read scrolls. The book as we know it today is a product of developments in the centuries after Christ’s life. First the codex, an ancient form of the modern book, was invented, and then the printing press was invented many centuries later. Yet the book has become so deeply embedded in our society that we cannot imagine the world without it. We even call the Bible a book, as if it had always existed in this format.

It seems comical now, but when the book was introduced to society, people feared it, just as they had feared the rise of writing centuries earlier. People feared that the book would take ideas too far, too fast. They tied knowledge so closely with memorization that they feared the ramifications of recording words on paper instead of in human minds. After all, why would we ever want to store something in our memories if we can store it on paper? And yet today we can see how the book was used to record God’s Word and to spread it across the world. We can see that it sparked a great Reformation. We can see that it sparked revival and awakening. We can see that the Bible quickly became the best-selling book of all time. That technology changed the world. God used that technology for His own purposes.

To read the rest of Challies’ thoughts on this subject, follow the link below.

Source: Thinking about Change by Tim Challies | Reformed Theology Articles at Ligonier.org

The Puritan influence on the press – Marvin Olasky

MEDIA | Christian belief and the 325th anniversary of American newspapers

Source: WORLD | The Puritan influence on the press | Marvin Olasky | Sept. 26, 2015

Public-Occurences-1690I found this brief online article at World magazine (posted Sept.26, 2015) to be interesting not only because of its historical significance but also because of its spiritual significance.The Puritans understood the true nature of news reporting, and America’s first public newspaper showed that.

There are few newspapers and magazines that still understand that, but World is one of them.

Here is what Marvin Olasky wrote about this special 325th newspaper anniversary:

Several publications yesterday noted that Sept. 25 was the 325th anniversary of the publication in 1690 Boston of America’s first newspaper, Publick Occurrences: Both Forreign and Domestick. None of the reports I saw gave the theological context, though. Publications in the 17th century usually put out only news that would make the king or his officials look good, but New England Puritans encouraged the reporting of bad news because they saw everything, good and bad, as a message from God.

Find the rest of Olasky’s commentary at the World link above.

Persecution around the World – Dave Furman

Persecution around the World by Dave Furman | Reformed Theology Articles at Ligonier.org.

TT-August-2015The third featured article on persecution in the August Tabletalk is pastor Dave Furman’s. His article focuses on the worldwide persecution taking place currently, including in his own country of Dubai, where he is serving as pastor.

After describing a case very close to his church, Furman broadens his scope, pointing out concrete ways in which Christians are experiencing persecution throughout the world.

Part of his article is headed by the words “Our Hope in Persecution”, and it is from that section that I quote today. Referencing 1 Peter 4:13-14, Furman makes the following comforting comments:

There is blessing for the persecuted and there is cause for rejoicing.

We have hope in persecution because we are made for another place. We are “citizens” of heaven (Phil. 3:20). We are by nature strangers, foreigners, and even exiles in this world (1 Peter 1:1). Our eternal passport is not Kenyan, Indian, Filipino, or Canadian. In God’s kingdom, we no longer receive our identities from the place we were born, but from the place into which we were born again for all eternity. This is why the world doesn’t feel like home. This is why we face persecution: we’re of another place.

Fellow Christian, a day is coming when there will be no more sickness and death. No more imprisonments and slander. We will not suffer the anxiety of car bombs or kidnappings. The downtrodden and depressed will sing of their never-ending gladness in Jesus. God will dwell among us forever.

The gospel is good news for the persecuted because there is nothing we can do to lose God’s grip on our lives. Peter says, “For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit” (1 Peter 3:18). The gospel is not about getting you to heaven—it’s about getting you to God. The good news of the gospel is that we get God. I’ve often heard R.C. Sproul say that a better way to describe the doctrine of perseverance of the saints is to say the “preservation of the saints.” God won’t stop short of bringing us home. Even though our bodies might be destroyed on this earth, God will keep us to the end. We can entrust our souls to the living God of the universe (1 Peter 4:19). Our inheritance is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for us by God Himself. It is guarded through God’s power (1:3–4).

As persecution increases – including here in the U.S., it is good for us to remember these truths.

How Do I Apply Doctrine Personally? – Daniel Doriani

How Do I Apply Doctrine Personally? by Daniel Doriani | Reformed Theology Articles at Ligonier.org.

TT May 2015Sunday I finished reading the last articles in the May Tabletalk, including this one by Dr.Daniel Doriani, professor of theology at Covenant Seminary (PCA) in St.Louis.

As the entire issue focuses on the importance of doctrine to the believer, Doriani addresses the importance of applying biblical, Reformed doctrine to ourselves personally. At the end of his article he refers to Calvin and how he applies doctrine in his Institutes. This is a model for us, he says.

I agree, and think you will find plenty to ponder as Calvin shows us how to apply the truth of God’s providence to our daily lives.

This is how Doriani ends his article:

While it’s easy to name one or two implications of almost any doctrine, many doctrines invite numerous applications. In his Institutes of the Christian Religion, Calvin shows this as he explores the implication of God’s providence for many pages. Let’s consider five of these implications. First, those who know God’s power “safely rest in the protection” of the one who controls all the harmful things we fear (Institutes 1.16.3). Second, God’s providence requires humility, for we should not call God to account for His actions, but “reverence his secret judgments” and “consider his will the truly just cause of all things” (1.17.1–2). Third, the godly will neither murmur against God’s will nor fatalistically give up planning. We order our affairs, knowing God employs our means to effect His providence. We submit our plans to His will (1.17.1–5). Fourth, rather than straining against God’s providence, we find solace in it, since “the Lord watches over the ways of the saints with … great diligence.” Therefore, we must enjoy “patience in adversity and … freeom from worry about the future” (1.17.6–7). Finally, the doctrine of providence helps us in our adversities. Remembering that God willed them, we have an “effective remedy for anger and impatience.” He even permits “the acts of our enemies” (1.16.8). Yes, dangers threaten at every turn, but instead of letting them terrify us, we trust that God lets nothing touch us unless He has ordained it.

Calvin exemplifies the wise practice of theologians who join doctrine, piety, and practice. They meditate on doctrine, asking, “Who needs this truth? How does it warn, rebuke, call to repentance? How does it offer hope, direction, redemption, and healing?” If we take our time with these questions, we will find doctrine to be most practical.

Comfort for Suffering Saints – J.Zanchius

Absolute PredestinationI have referred to and quoted from “Grace Gems” devotionals many times, and yesterday’s (Saturday, May 2, 2015) was another outstanding one It is taken from Jerome Zanchius’ (or Zanchi) work on God’s sovereign predestination. This is taken from the section where Zanchius applies the truth of God’s absolute sovereignty to the suffering of God’s people (edited for easier reading and use).

No matter what form your suffering now takes, may these words bring us to our knees before our almighty Father – in submission, in worship, and in prayer. As God over ALL, He alone is worthy to be adored and praised!

Comfort for Suffering Saints!

(Jerome Zanchius, 1516-1590)

“And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose. For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son!” Romans 8:28-29

The sovereignty of God is a comfort for suffering saints, acting to remove anxiety. How sweet must the following considerations be to a distressed believer!

1. There most certainly exists an almighty, all-wise and infinitely gracious God (Hebrews 11:6).

2. His love for His elect people is immutable; He never repents of it nor withdraws it (Jeremiah 31:3).

3. Whatever comes to pass in time, is the result of His sovereign will from everlasting (1 Corinthians 8:6).

4. Consequently my afflictions are a part of His sovereign will, and are all ordered in number, weight, and measure (Psalm 22:24).

5. The very hairs of my head (every one) are counted by Him; nor can a single hair fall to the ground but in consequence of His wise determination (Luke 12:7).

6. Hence my afflictions and distresses are not the result of chance, accident, or a fortuitous combination of circumstances (Psalm 56:8).

7. They are the providential accomplishment of God’s eternal purpose (Romans 8:28), and are designed to answer some wise and gracious ends (James 5:10-11).

8. Nor shall my affliction continue a moment longer than God sees fit (2 Corinthians 7:6-7).

9. He who brought the affliction to me–has promised to support me under it and to carry me through it (Psalm 34:15-17).

10. All shall, most assuredly, work together for His glory and my good.

11. Therefore, “Shall I not drink from the cup of suffering the Father has given me?” (John 18:11).

However keenly afflictions might wound us on their first access–yet, under the impression of such animating views, we should quickly come to ourselves again, and the arrows of affliction, would, in great measure lose their sharpness.

Christians need nothing but absolute resignation to God’s wise and gracious Providence, to render them perfectly happy in every possible circumstance. And absolute resignation can only flow from an absolute belief of, and an absolute acquiescence in, God’s absolute Providence, founded on His absolute predestination (1 Thessalonians 1:2-4).

Reading God’s Providence Backwards (2) – S.Ferguson

In the thirty-sixth chapter of his book In Christ Alone, Sinclair Ferguson has a wonderful piece on the providence of God (go here for the first post on this).

His starting point is his contact with an long-time Christian friend, for whom God’s providence had led in ways of affliction and pain after an auto accident, and Ferguson’s own struggle to understand God’s ways with this godly man who had had such an influence on him in his youth.

The Mystery of Providence (Puritan Paperbacks)

It is at this point that Ferguson introduces what he calls “Flavel’s Law”, named after the Puritan who wrote a significant book on the providence of God. He pulls a quote from Flavel that goes like this: “The providence of God is like Hebrew words – it can only be read backwards.”

I plan to pull a few quotations from this chapter so that we may all benefit from Ferguson’s thoughts on this “law” concerning God’s providence. I believe that Ferguson’s thoughts will resonate with all of us as believers.

Here is the next part of this chapter from which I quote:

One great reason for this principle [that is, that God’s providence is best read “backward”] is to teach us to ‘Trust in the LORD with all [our] heart, and lean not on [our] own understanding’ (Prov.3:5). So perverse are we that we would use our knowledge of God’s will to substitute for actual daily personal trust in the Lord Himself.

Flavel’s Law… has widespread relevance for Christian living, but is particularly important in four ways:

The Big Decisions

It is true of the big decisions of life. God does guide His people, leading them in the right paths (Ps.23:3). It is a great thing to come to a major decision with the assurance that it is His will. But we would be mistaken to imagine that we therefore know in detail the reasons behind His plan.

Many Christians have discovered that obedience to what they believed to be God’s will led to great personal difficulties. When this happens to us, it is only later that we discover God’s purpose in leading us to a new orientation or situation may have been very different from the extrapolation we made from the first points we saw on the divine graph of or lives.

The Tests

It is true of the tests of life. We struggle to endure them for what they are in themselves. Afterward, we are relieved to have them at our back.

But in fact, earlier testing is often designed to strengthen us for later trials. Only when we have been brought through the later ones do the earlier ones more fully ‘make sense.’