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.

David, the Believer, and Christ in Psalm 22

The psalm begins with a section dominated by the agonized prayer of David (vv.1-21). David is expressing in the first place his own experience of feeling abandoned by God. Here is the most intense suffering God’s servant can know – not just that enemies surround him (vv.7, 12-13) and that his body is in dreadful pain (vv.14-16), but that he feels that God does not hear him and does not care about his suffering. And this is not just the experience of David. It is the experience of all God’s people in the face of terrible trouble. We wonder how our loving Father can stand idly by when we are in such distress.

And then after pointing out the faith and hope of David expressed in that deep cry, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me? (v.1), showing that David still held on to the truth that God was his God, Godfrey returns to that idea of God’s apparent abandonment:

John Calvin in his commentary concluded that a sense of being forsaken by God, far from being unique to Christ or rare for the believer, is a regular and frequent struggle for believers. He wrote, ‘There is not one of the godly who does not daily experience in himself the same thing. According to the judgment of the flesh, he thinks he is cast off and forsaken by God, while yet he apprehends by faith the grace of God, which is hidden from the eye of sense and reason.’ We must not think that living the Christian life is easy or that we will not daily have to bear the cross.

But then the author takes us to Christ, in whom these words are fulfilled – for our salvation:

This psalm  is not only the experience of every believer, but it is also a very remarkable and specific prophecy of the sufferings of Jesus. We see the scene of the crucifixion especially clearly in the words, ‘A company of evil doers encircles me; they have pierced my hands and feet – I can count all my bones – they stare and gloat over me; they divide my garments among them, and for my clothing they cast lots’ (vv.16-18). Here we see that indeed this psalm comes to its fullest realization in Jesus.

Jesus knew this psalm and quoted its first words to identify with us in our suffering since He bore on the cross our agony and suffering. ‘Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death’ (Heb.2:14). Jesus does deliver us by becoming our substitute and the sacrifice for our sins.

Learning-love-psalms-Godfrey-2017Taken from W. Robert Godfrey’s new book Learning to Love the Psalms (Reformation Trust, 2017). I am now reading through the sections that treat various psalms from each of the five books into which the Psalter is divided. This is drawn from the author’s explanation of Psalm 22 (Book 1).

For a beautiful arrangement of this Psalm put to music, listen to this video of the Protestant Reformed Psalm Choir (Psalter #47).

Living Life Backward – D. Gibson

living-backward-gibson-2017A book I was given for review last Fall by Crossway is a brief commentary on Ecclesiastes. The title is Living Life Backward: How Ecclesiastes Teaches Us to Live in Light of the End (176 pp., paperback) by David Gibson, minister of Trinity Church in Aberdeen, Scotland.

The publisher gives this description of the book:

What if it is death that teaches us how to truly live?

Keeping the end in mind shapes how we live our lives in the here and now. Living life backward means taking the one thing in our future that is certain—death—and letting that inform our journey before we get there.

Looking to the book of Ecclesiastes for wisdom, Living Life Backward was written to shake up our expectations and priorities for what it means to live “the good life.” Considering the reality of death helps us pay attention to our limitations as human beings and receive life as a wondrous gift from God—freeing us to live wisely, generously, and faithfully for God’s glory and the good of his world.

In his “Preface” the author acknowledges the difficulty that this “strangest of Old Testament books” presents to the reader of God’s Word. But he also gives us the key to understanding it:

Yet Ecclesiastes also makes a very simple point: life is complex and messy, sometimes brutally so, but there is a straightforward way to look at the mess. The end will put it all right. The end – when we stand before God as our Creator and Judge – will explain everything.

Which leads him to make this application based on that basic message (from which we get the title to the book):

Left to our own devices, we tend to live life forward. One day follows another, and weeks turn into months and months into years. We do not know the future, but we plan and hope and dream of where we will be, and what we would like to be doing, and whom we might be with. We live forward.

Ecclesiastes teaches us to live life backward. It encourages us to take the one thing in the future that is certain – our death – and work backward from that point into all the details and decisions and heartaches of our lives, and to think about them from the perspective of the end. It is the destination that makes sense of the journey. If we know for sure where we are heading, then we can know for sure what we need to do before we get there. Ecclesiastes invites us to let the end sculpt our priorities and goals, our greatest ambitions and our strongest desires.

I want to persuade you that only if you prepare to die can you really learn how to live (p.12).

That seems to me to be a good way to keep the message of this book of the Bible before us, and to let its powerful message shed light on our minds and guide our path in this world.

The book is available for review in the Standard Bearer if you are interested. Given the nature of the book, the review may be brief.

The Christian’s Helmet: The Hope of Salvation

SpiritualWarfare-Borgman&VenturaTonight we gathered again with some fellow believers from Faith PRC for our Sunday night discussion group. This Fall we are continuing our study of spiritual warfare using the book Spiritual Warfare: A Biblical & Balanced Perspective by Brian Borgman & Rob Ventura (RHB, 2014).

Tonight we discussed Chapter 9 , “The Helmet of Salvation,” based on Eph.6:17, with its parallel passage in 1 Thess.5:8, where the additional element of hope is included. Toward the end of the chapter the authors stress this aspect of the Christian’s saving hope as our helmet that protects our minds as we battle Satan and his hosts in this world. Here are a few of those thoughts – for your benefit too.

We can infer from his mention of hope the idea that despite all the trials and hardships we face in our battles with Satan, we will not always be combatants in this war. There is a coming day of triumph. Before long, fellow Christian, we will be in glory! Before long, we will be with Jesus! Before long, Satan and his minions will be vanquished foes, and we will be worshiping and serving our God without opposition – days without end!

What great joy and confidence these facts should impart to us in the midst of difficulty. the devil may sorely try us at present, but soon, in Immanuel’s land, he will be banished! Though at times it seems as though the enemy gets the upper hand in our lives, his day is coming (Matt.25:41; Rev.20:10), and so is ours (Matt.25:34)!

…Christian, let these wonderful thoughts fill your mind and think on them often. Just as the helmet protected the head of the ancient soldier and gave him confidence in confrontation, so also this firm assurance of your final and complete salvation protects you under the relentless blows of your spiritual adversary.

Daily meditate on the eternal glory with Jesus that awaits you. Regularly dwell on the reality that a day is coming when you will have no more struggles at all! Let these thoughts constantly fill your mind. As they do, you will be comforted and confident in the present struggle. as these truths saturate your thinking, you will be sustained, strengthened, and steadfast in the battle. Believer, in light of such things, never take off this spiritual helmet. Let it always be part of your daily protective covering. As [William] Gurnall says, ‘Take it so as never to lay it down until God takes off this helmet to put a crown of glory in its place.’ [Kindle ed.]

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Reformation Sufferings: The Reformed in the Netherlands – J. Foxe

Huguenot-persecutionAs we mark the 500th anniversary of the great Reformation, we can easily forget that the cause of the Protestant and Reformed gospel was not without its grievous hardships, mostly in the form of intense persecutions, and mostly from the apostate Romish church.

In his speech this past Saturday at the PRC Seminary Reformation conference, Rev. S. Key, in talking about the progress of the Reformation in the Netherlands (Lowlands), reminded his audience that the Reformed believers in that region endured great tribulations for their faith.

That made me think that maybe John Foxe covered this in this famous Book of Martyrs. Indeed, he did, and that is the content of my post this Sunday night.

Having worshiped freely and openly in a faithful Reformed church today, we can thank God for what He worked through the courageous men and women of the 16th century in our motherland. The blood of these martyrs was also the seed of the church – and that blood is still producing fruit in our time. God be praised!

Below is part of Foxe’s account of these Protestant martyrs in the Netherlands, taken from chapter 11, “An Account of the Persecutions in the Netherlands.” You may read the rest of the chapter at the link below.

It would also be worth your while in the next few days to read the other chapters covering the stories of the Reformation martyrs. You will be humbled by the grace of God working in these pious saints. And also inspired to make that martyr’s faith your own. Are WE as committed to the glorious gospel restored to the church in that day?

A.D. 1568, three persons were apprehended in Antwerp, named Scoblant, Hues, and Coomans. During their confinement they behaved with great fortitude and cheerfulness, confessing that the hand of God appeared in what had befallen them, and bowing down before the throne of his providence. In an epistle to some worthy Protestants, they expressed themselves in the following words: “Since it is the will of the Almighty that we should suffer for His name, and be persecuted for the sake of His Gospel, we patiently submit, and are joyful upon the occasion; though the flesh may febel against the spirit, and hearken to the council of the old serpent, yet the truths of the Gospel shall prevent such advice from being taken, and Christ shall bruise the serpent’s head. We are not comfortless in confinement, for we have faith; we fear not affliction, for we have hope; and we forgive our enemies, for we have charity. Be not under apprehensions for us, we are happy in confinement through the promises of God, glory in our bonds, and exult in being thought worthy to suffer for the sake of Christ. We desire not to be released, but to be blessed with fortitude; we ask not liberty, but the power of perseverance; and wish for no change in our condition, but that which places a crown of martyrdom upon our heads.”

Scoblant was first brought to his trial; when, persisting in the profession of his faith, he received sentence of death. On his return to prison, he earnestly requested the jailer not to permit any friar to come near him; saying, “They can do me no good, but may greatly disturb me. I hope my salvation is already sealed in heaven, and that the blood of Christ, in which I firmly put my trust, hath washed me from my iniquities. I am not going to throw off this mantle of clay, to be clad in robes of eternal glory, by whose celestial brightness I shall be freed from all errors. I hope I may be the last martyr to papal tyranny, and the blood already spilt found sufficient to quench the thirst of popish cruelty; that the Church of Christ may have rest here, as his servants will hereafter.” On the day of execution, he took a pathetic leave of his fellow prisoners. At the stake he fervently said the Lord’s Prayer, and sung the Fortieth Psalm; then commending his soul to God, he was burnt alive.

Hues, soon after died in prison; upon which occasion Coomans wrote thus to his friends: “I am now deprived of my friends and companions; Scoblant is martyred, and Hues dead, by the visitation of the Lord; yet I am not alone, I have with me the God of Abraham, of Isaac, and of Jacob; He is my comfort, and shall be my reward. Pray unto God to strengthen me to the end, as I expect every hour to be freed from this tenement of clay.”

On his trial he freely confessed himself of the reformed religion, answered with a manly fortitude to every charge against him, and proved the Scriptural part of his answers from the Gospel. The judge told him the only alternatives were recantation or death; and concluded by saying, “Will you die for the faith you profess?” To which Coomans replied, “I am not only willing to die, but to suffer the most excruciating torments for it; after which my soul shall receive its confirmation from God Himself, in the midst of eternal glory.” Being condemned, he went cheerfully to the place of execution, and died with the most manly fortitude, and Christian resignation.

Foxes-martyrsSource: FOX’s Book of Martyrs

M. Luther: Bold Reformers Rest in the Sovereign God

Luther's95ThesesIt is easy to idealize men like Luther and set aside their sins and struggles. Luther was a sinner like anyone else and wrestled fervently with indwelling sin. He battled pride. He waged war with a temper that posed problems on the battlefield. He uttered words that were not befitting of a Christian man. Yet, this sinful man rested in the sovereignty of God.

It is no secret that Luther battled fear and anxiety, an ailment sometimes referred to as spiritual depression. Luther referred to these bouts of spiritual depression as anfechtungen. The German term is difficult to translate but has the connotation of being ‘under assault.’ The word is closely associated with ‘temptation’ or ‘despair.’ It has connotations with what is typically referred to as ‘the dark night of the soul.’

Then after describing Luther’s personal experiences with these soul struggles at Wittenberg, Worms (Diet), and the Wartburg (castle), Steele asks, “How did he [Luther] battle his fear, anxiety, and despondency? How did he face the dread of anfechtungen?” And he points out that Luther’s great hymn “A Mighty Fortress is Our God” provides us to the answer: “Bold reformers rest in the sovereignty of God.” He quotes these lines:

For still our ancient foe
does seek to work us woe;
his craft and power are great,
and armed with cruel hate,
on earth is not his equal.

And though this world, with devils filled,
should threaten to undo us,
we will not fear, for God has willed
his truth to triumph through us.
The prince of darkness grim,
we tremble not for him;
his rage we can endure,
for lo! his doom is sure;
one little word shall fell him.

Which leads the author to say this by way of summary:

Martin Luther was a man who rested in the sovereignty of almighty God. This bold reformer not only taught about the sovereignty of God, he breathed it and lived it. Luther’s faith in God’s sovereign control over all things in clearly revealed in Wittenberg, Worms, the Wartburg Castle and beyond. May bold reformers in this generation draw strength and courage form the life and legacy of Luther, a man who rested in the sovereignty of God.

bold-reformer-steeleTaken from chapter 5, “Bold Reformers Rest in the Sovereignty of God” in Bold Reformer: Celebrating the Gospel-Centered Convictions of Martin Luther by David S. Steele (Kindle version).

The Calvinistic (Biblical) Way to View and Handle Afflictions – J. Calvin

…But the believer must in these same circumstances [of calamity and loss] consider the mercy and fatherly kindness of God. If the believer, then, should see his house made lonely by the loss of those nearest to him, even then he must not stop praising the Lord. Rather, he must turn himself to this thought: ‘The Lord’s grace continues to dwell in my home and will not leave it desolate.’ If the believer should see his crop consumed by drought, disease, or frost, or trampled down by hail and famine threaten him, even then he must not despair within his soul, nor should he become angry toward God. Rather, he must persist with confidence in this truth: ‘But we your people, the sheep of your pasture, will give thanks to you forever.’ (Ps.79:13). God, then, will provide for us, however barren the land. If the believer should be afflicted by illness, he must not be so stung by the severity of his hardship that he erupts in impatience and demands from God an explanation. Rather, he must, considering the justice and gentleness of God’s discipline, recall himself to patience.

Indeed, the believer should accept whatever comes with a gentle and thankful heart, because he knows that it is ordained by the Lord. Moreover, he must not stubbornly resist the rule of God into whose power he has placed himself and all his affairs. So let the Christian make it his priority to drive from his breast that foolish and unfortunate comfort of pagans, who, in order to bolster their spirits against all adverse events, credit those events to fortune. They think it’s silly to be angry at fortune, since she is reckless, aimless, and blind – inflicting her wounds equally on the deserving and the undeserving. In contrast, the rule of godliness is to recognize that God’s hand is the sole judge and governor of every fortune, and because His hand is not recklessly driven to fury, it distributes to us both good and ill according to His orderly righteousness.

Little-book-christian-life-calvinTaken from the fresh translation and edition of John Calvin’s short work on the Christian life,  A Little Book on the Christian Life (Reformation Trust, 2017). This is taken from the end of chapter 2, “Self-Denial in the Christian Life”, pp.52-54.

Comfort in Life and Death

As you have noticed, I have been absent from these “pages” for a week. That was due to circumstances surrounding care for our ailing mother, whom God delivered out of this vale of tears and shadow of death and ushered into everlasting glory this past Monday morning.

A private family funeral and committal service was held yesterday morning and a public memorial service last evening, both in dad and mom’s home church, Hope PRC in Grand Rapids, MI.

moms-obituary-2017

Watching one’s mother die is one of the hardest experiences in life but, when she is in the Lord and has the hope of the gospel of Jesus Christ in her heart, it is one of the most precious experiences in life. We praise God for His mercy to our dear mother, and for His sustaining, comforting grace to us as a family.

Today’s “Grace Gems” devotional was timely and comforting, as this is the way mom always taught us to live – one day at a time, without fear or worry for the next. I pray it comforts your heart as it did mine, whatever your circumstance may be today.

One of the secrets of happy and beautiful life!

(J.R. Miller)

“As your days–so shall your strength be!” Deuteronomy 33:25

One of the secrets of happy and beautiful life
, is to live one day at a time. Really, we never have anything to do any day–but the bit of God’s will for that day. If we do that well–we have absolutely nothing else to do.

Time is given to us in days. It was so from the beginning. This breaking up of time into little daily portions means a great deal more than we are accustomed to think. For one thing, it illustrates the gentleness and goodness of God. It would have made life intolerably burdensome if a year, instead of a day–had been the unit of division. It would have been hard to carry a heavy load, to endure a great sorrow, or to keep on at a hard duty–for such a long stretch of time. How dreary our common task-work would be–if there were no breaks in it, if we had to keep our hand to the plough for a whole year! We never could go on with our struggles, our battles, our suffering–if night did not mercifully settle down with its darkness, and bid us rest and renew our strength.

We do not understand how great a mercy there is for us in the briefness of our short days. If they were even twice as long as they are–life would be intolerable! Many a time when the sun goes down–we feel that we could scarcely have gone another step. We would have fainted in defeat–if the summons to rest had not come just when it did.

We see the graciousness of the divine thoughtfulness in giving us time in periods of little days, which we can easily get through with–and not in great years, in which we would faint and fall by the way. It makes it possible for us to go on through all the long years and not to be overwrought, for we never have given to us at any one time–more than we can do between the morning and the evening.

If we learn well the lesson of living just one day at a time, without anxiety for either yesterday or tomorrow, we shall have found one of the great secrets of Christian peace. That is the way God teaches us to live. That is the lesson both of the Bible and of nature. If we learn it, it will cure us of all anxiety; it will save us from all feverish haste; it will enable us to live sweetly in any experience.

The Christian’s Hope in This Life – J. Calvin

Rom-7-24Therefore, the goal of believers – when they assess this mortal life and realize it’s nothing in and of itself but misery – should be to direct themselves wholly, briskly, and freely toward contemplation of their future and eternal life.

…Therefore, earthly life, when compared with heavenly life, must certainly and readily be condemned and despised. It should never be hated, except to the extent that it makes us liable to sin – though properly speaking our hatred should be toward sin, not toward life itself. Although we may be so moved with weariness and hatred of this life that we desire its end, we must be prepared to remain in it according to God’s will. And so, our weariness won’t result in complaining and impatience. For the Lord has stationed us in an outpost, and we must keep guard here until He calls us home.

…If, then, we must live and die to the Lord, let us leave to Him the decision of when our lives will end. But let us do so in such a way that we burn with desire for the end of this life, and let us remain constant in meditation on the next life. Indeed, considering our future immortality, let us scorn this life. Considering the mastery of sin in this life, let us long to give up this life as soon as it should please the Lord.

Little-book-christian-life-calvinTaken from the fresh translation and edition of John Calvin’s short work on the Christian life,  A Little Book on the Christian Life (Reformation Trust, 2017). This is taken from chapter 4, “Meditation on Our Future Life”, where Calvin treats the sure hope of the believer for heaven, pp.98-101.

Resurrection: The Benefits of a Reset – D. Murray

Reset-DMurray-2017This past Sunday I spent part of the day reading the last chapter in David Murray’s practical and profitable new book Reset: Living a Grace-Paced Life in a Burnout Culture (Crossway, 2017).

You will recall that each chapter calls us (men in particular) to bring the “car” of our lives into various “repair bays” to have us recheck and reset the physical, emotional, and spiritual aspects of our lives. The final chapter is headed by the words “Repair Bay 10,” but it is really a summary of all the benefits we receive when we reset our lives biblically. Which is why its main title is “Resurrection.”

There are so many good sections in this last chapter – just the headings give us men encouragement about the changes this reset can bring to our lives: new pace, new conscience, new honesty, new contentment, new selectivity, new energy, new joy, new theology, and so on. Let me quote from two of the sections that I find representative and encouraging.

The first is “new sensitivity,” where Murray writes in part:

Reset garage produces a much better and humbler understanding of our humanity. We now keep our eyes on the dashboard and know which warning lights to look out for and what they mean – warning signs that we previously would have ignored, minimized, or resented. We’re sensitive to physical, mental, emotional, spiritual, and relational changes, and collaborate more knowledgeably with the biological rhythms of our bodies. We sense the monthly mix, the weekly beat of six days of work and one day of rest, the daily cadence of work and sleep, the regular tempo of hunger and thirst, and even the pulses of dynamic energy that peak a few times a day, enabling us to find our flow state and do our best work. Going forward, we are much more attuned to this God-given rhythm, and, instead of fighting it, we have gotten with the groove and beat of God’s order in our lives [pp.180-81].

The second is the last section, “new horizon,” where the author points us to our great hope:

Prior to Reset garage, many of us hardly ever looked up. We just saw the next to-do item, put our heads down, and plowed through it. We saw the next meeting, the next report, the next business trip, the next sermon, the next book, the next counseling session, and so on. But we never saw the next life.

Reset garage has resurrected resurrection hope. The mini-resurrection we’ve experienced has given us a taste of the ultimate resurrection ahead, when every ache and pain, every cry and depression, every loss and weakness will be no more. It has also slowed our pace enough to allow us the time and space to look ahead and enjoy that view, to anticipate that final destination, where we will experience that ‘the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed’ (Rom.8:18). A grace-paced life transports us into a grace-and glory-filled eternity [pp190-91].

And with that in view, Murray calls us with the inspired apostle to run our race, so that we may receive the prize of sovereign grace – eternal life with our heavenly Father in Christ.