22 Reflections from My Experience as a Pastor

By God’s grace, since 2001 I have been a minister of the gospel and throughout my life as a pastor, I have collected reflections that I would like to share with my fellow pastors and with those who desire to be pastors someday. Here they are:

IMG_0735

Cogeo Fundamental Baptist Church, Antipolo, Philippines 

 

1.  Pastoring is a calling from God. Having a degree from a seminary is not a guarantee that you have this ministerial calling. Some graduate from the seminary but are not in the ministry, or do not stay long in the ministry, because they do not have this pastoral calling.

2. The God who has called you to the ministry will also provide for you. He will prepare you for the ministry. He will give you a congregation to serve. And he will sustain you throughout your life in the ministry.

3. Don’t accept a call to pastor a congregation unless you are really convinced that the Lord is calling you to serve that church. Why? Because when problems arise from that congregation, your strong conviction of God’s calling will encourage you to continue serving that church amidst difficulties. You can say, “Lord, You have called me to serve You in this church and I know You will sustain me.”

4. God resists the proud in the ministry. Thus, expect God to humble you. Sometimes He humbles His servants through infirmity. All accomplished pastors that I know have a form of affliction that keeps them humble before God. At the end of the day, God will use the ministry to sanctify you. God’s main goal in your life is to conform you to the image of His Son Jesus Christ.

5. Your wife can be a great help to you in the ministry. If you are a pastor and not yet married and desire to get married, look prayerfully for a godly woman who will serve with you, not hinder you. If you were already married when you became a minister, help your wife understand the nature of the ministry and thank God for giving you a help mate.

6. Your family is your priority over your ministry. As Paul indicates in 1 Timothy 3:4–5, “He must manage his own household well, with all dignity keeping his children submissive, for if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God’s church?” If you neglect your family, your congregation will suffer eventually.

7. Despite your busy schedule in the ministry, don’t forget to spend quality time with your wife. Yes, you can see each other every day but still have a sense of missing each other. That’s because you do not really spend quality time with her. Take her out. Do things together that you both enjoy. Encourage and compliment her. Pray with her. Love her, as Christ loves the church.

8. Equally important is to spend quality time with your children. Pray and play with them. Sadly, sometimes pastor’s children grow to resent the church and the ministry because their father simply wasn’t there for them. I remember one pastor’s kid telling me that he would never want to become a pastor. I asked him why. He said, “When a member of our congregation needed my dad, he was there right away. But, when I needed my dad, he barely had time to even listen to me.”

9. God has called you primarily to preach His Word and pray. Therefore, learn to delegate your other responsibilities to others, so that you can devote yourself to prayer and to the ministry of the word (Acts 6:2–4). Don’t think that you have to do everything. The truth is you can’t!

10. Because we now live in a distracted world, it becomes difficult for us to remain focused on our primary work. To find an extended period of uninterrupted time for sermon preparation and prayer is now challenging because of the social media. And a time frequently interrupted results in shallowness. Consequently, the kind of sermon prepared in a distracted environment can be shallow. Therefore, we need to learn to guard our time from these electronic distractions. Our best energy should be used to pray and prepare sermons.

11. Don’t stop learning about your vocation. In the midst of your busy schedule, set aside time regularly to read books or articles that will help you become a better servant of the Lord. Attend pastors’ conferences where you can fellowship with and learn from like-minded ministers about the ministry.

12. Don’t underestimate the wisdom of experienced ministers. Seek their advice and listen to them. They can save you from committing mistakes or making wrong decisions. Find an older pastor who can mentor and encourage you in the ministry. A young pastor has the tendency to think that he knows a lot, but the longer you stay in the ministry, the more you will realize how little your knowledge is.

13. While not every pastor is called to writing ministry, some are. And if you sense that God has given you the gift of writing, use and cultivate it for the church’s edification and God’s exaltation.

14. No matter how hard you try to serve your congregation, you will always have a member who will complain about your service. Remember that you cannot please everyone in the church, and you are not to please people but God. Don’t let your critics stop you from doing the Lord’s work. Fix your eyes on Jesus.

15. When necessary, don’t be afraid to confront a member of your congregation who has offended you (Matt. 18:15). When the offense is not dealt with, it can become worse. Keeping your resentment to yourself is not good for your heart both physically and spiritually. So, don’t avoid confrontation, but deal with it in a Christlike manner, trusting that God will bring reconciliation.

16. In the ministry you will encounter someone who will simply dislike you for no good reason. And unfortunately, that person can be one of your church leaders. I remember talking to a fellow pastor of another congregation. He told me that one of his elders just doesn’t like him and he did not know why. This elder treats him unfairly and negatively. Now, when dealing with people like this elder, seek by God’s grace to always take the high road. Don’t pay them back with evil for the evil they do to you (1 Pet. 3:9). Instead, pray for them and show more the love of Christ to them. Talk to him for reconciliation.

17. Don’t think that God needs you in the ministry. The truth is you need Him more than He needs you. His work can continue without your help. So be thankful to God if He is using you in the building up of His church. To be a minister is a great privilege from the Lord. Think about this: you are serving the Maker of heaven and earth.

18. While God has called you primarily to serve your local church, don’t lose sight of the universal church. Don’t be too focused on your congregation that you don’t care for other congregations. Pray for other churches. Occasionally, guest preach for other churches. It’s actually good both for you and your congregation that once in a while you preach for other churches and that other pastors preach for your congregation.

19. The condition of your body can affect the life of your congregation. If you are not healthy, you cannot function well in the ministry. Hence, don’t neglect your body. Eat well. Exercise regularly. Get enough sleep. At times ministry can be stressful. Learn to rest and relax, or else you will burnout and cannot continue in the ministry.

20. Use your vacation wisely, not to work but to recharge. Remember that your energy is limited and will eventually become depleted. Thus, use your vacation to revitalize. Don’t feel guilty to be away from your congregation for two weeks. In fact, your congregation will also benefit from your vacation, because when you return to them rejuvenated, you’ll be able to serve them better.

21. Pay careful attention to yourself. Realize your tendency to commit sins that can disqualify you from the ministry. “Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall” (1 Cor. 10:12). As you shepherd your congregation, shepherd your own soul. Don’t be too busy about the ministry that you neglect the One who has called you to the ministry. Spend regular time with God in prayer and in His Word.

22. When you feel discouraged and about to quit, remember that what you do for the Lord is not in vain in Him. When you don’t see the fruit of your hard work in preaching, keep in mind that God’s Word will not return to Him void. His Word will always accomplish the purpose for which God has sent it (Isa. 55:11).

Therefore, my fellow laborers in the Lord, let me encourage you with the words of the Apostle Paul, “be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain” (1 Cor. 15:58).

Congregation picture

Dutton United Reformed Church, Caledonia, Michigan 

 

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A Colorful Past: A Coloring Book of Church History

Here’s my interview with William (Bill) Boekestein about his book A Colorful Past: A Coloring Book of Church History. Grand Rapids: Reformation Heritage Books, 2018, paperback.

1. William (or let me just call you Bill), I really like your idea to teach church history to children through a coloring book. How did you come up with this idea?

While raising four children—the youngest is presently four—a lot of coloring books have come into our home. And it has been hard to miss how engaging coloring books can be for little children (and older people too!). Children don’t skim coloring books. They invest themselves in them. They roll up their sleeves, wrinkle their faces, and get to work! And as they work, they practice endangered contemporary disciplines like sustained noticing and plodding concentration. To get a child focused on a single idea for ten minutes is nearly a miracle today. So, it made sense to me to offer a book that introduces children to some of the great heroes of the faith, that great cloud of witnesses (Heb. 12), while they participate in an activity that they love. A Colorful Past

2. There are many Christian coloring books out there. What do you think is unique about your work? And what is the main thing you want your readers to take away from your book?

This coloring book is unique in that it is patterned after a mosaic. Each page is a unique snapshot in time; a figure of church history skillfully frozen into an image by the illustrator. That image is important. It helps understand the struggle and success of a special child of God. And that snapshot represents only a brief phrase in the life of that figure. But that figure’s entire life represents only a single tile in the vast mosaic of God’s amazing church.

So, I hope what makes this book special is how children and their parents can use it to soar like an eagle over the theological landscape of the past twenty centuries, seeing how God has built up Jerusalem (Ps. 147:2) with the living stones (1 Pet. 2:5) of highly flawed people. They can get the big picture of God’s work in history. But they can also swoop closer to the ground to ponder what made these forty-two historical figures unique, in the same way that they—the readers—are unique. To say it differently, I hope readers gain an appreciation of both the forest and the trees of church history by coloring this story.

3. Your book contains forty-two historical figures and only two of them are female (Monica and Lady Jane Grey). In light of this your readers might think that in the study of church history women are not as important as men. How would you respond to this?

There would be no important men in the history of the church if not for the love, nurture, and support of countless important women! We could have featured more women who made invaluable contributions to church history (a great idea for a future project!). But your question could similarly be asked of God’s list of saints in Hebrews 11 where named men outnumber women almost ten to one. Each of the named men was shaped by vitally important named and unnamed women. Jesus himself was helped in his ministry by women, many of whom are not named (Luke 8:1–4). So, in using this book, readers might reflect on how God mightily used also the mothers, sisters, and daughters of those who are featured, just as he is served by the amazing women in today’s church.

4. Judging from the contents of the book, it looks like you have a special interest in the sixteenth century period. Am I right? Please elaborate your answer.

There is no unimportant century in the history of God’s church. But something special happened in the sixteenth century. A reform movement, gathering force for centuries, shook the Roman Catholic Church and reintroduced a radical submission to Scripture and the life-saving doctrines of grace. The sixteenth century should be viewed, however, as the “golden-age” of the church. By God’s grace it is possible for Christians today to see even further than Luther, Zwingli, and Calvin (and others) because we stand on their shoulders.

5. What started you on the path to writing for children? And what has been one of your most rewarding experiences as a writer?

My first books were full-color introductions to the Reformed Confessions written for children (Faithfulness under Fire: The Story of Guido de Bres, The Quest for Comfort: The Story of the Heidelberg Catechism, and The Glory of Grace: The Story of the Belgic Confession). I wrote these stories to help my own children and the children of my congregation better understand the story behind the theology they were learning in the preaching.

Most of my books have grown out of, or were written in connection with, local church ministry. Not everyone will write books. But most people would experience such rewards as increased clarity and memory retention by committing their thoughts to writing. This has been my experience. I have also been gratified to receive notes from folks I’ve never met saying things like, “We are using your Bible Studies on Mark and have gained refreshing insights. Thank you!” Writing should serve a definite and defensible goal and be deemed worthy of the enormous commitment and sacrifices need to bring a book to print.

6. What were some of the challenges you encountered on the road to the publication of this book?

One of the challenges was rightly handling the realities of persecution. It is awkward to see Ignatius about to be mauled by lions, Polycarp bound to a pile of wood that would consume him, and Justin Martyr kneeling before the executioner’s chopping block. We hope we’ve handled these troubling realities with appropriate restraint. But we also hope that children will see in the sacrifices of these saints that Jesus is worthy of our calling to offer our bodies as living sacrifices (Rom. 12:1).

Another challenge was knowing how transparent to be about the faults of our “heroes.” We made the decision to alert readers of Charlemagne’s regrettable habits of forced conversions and womanizing. We could have talked about Luther’s anger or Zwingli’s sexual immorality early in his ministry. This is uncomfortable for us. We want our heroes to be pristine. But that isn’t reality. And sanitizing the lives of our forefathers (and mothers) isn’t good news for us. We need heroes who knew their sins and found salvation not through personally eliminating their faults but through faith in Jesus and his shed blood.

7. What book projects are you working on now?

I hope my introduction to the end times, The Future of Everything: Essential Truths on the End Times (RHB; 2019) will help readers better understand the importance of eschatology for Christian comfort and practical living. My friend Steve Swets and I are also editing a collection of essays for elders and deacons called Faithful and Fruitful (Reformed Fellowship; 2019) which should be a great encouragement to church officers as they carry out their important calling.

Note: Rev. Boekestein’s book is now available through Amazon. You may also want to purchase Amazing Grace, which is the first part of the series called “Stories behind Favorite Hymns for Ages 3 to 6,” available in the US through Reformation Heritage Books and in Canada through Reformed Book Services. Commenting on Amazing Grace, Rev. Boekestein says, “Why hasn’t this book been written before? If you want your children to grow in God’s grace, you will want them to hear this simple story of how grace saved a sinner just like them. I highly recommend this great book.”

Amazing Grace (front cover)

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The Earliest Christian Hymnbook

The Odes of Solomon, considered to be the earliest Christian hymnbook, contains more than forty odes (lyric poems intended to be sung). In this post I will examine one of these odes which is entitled “The Cup of Milk.” This ode is listed as number 19 in The Earliest Christian Hymnbook: The Odes of Solomon (2009) translated by James H. Charlesworth. The text for “The Cup of Milk” as cited in this post is taken from this book.Ode

The Cup of Milk (Ode 19)

Stanza 1
The cup of milk was offered to me.
And I drank it in the sweetness of the Lord’s kindness

In the first stanza of Ode 19, the Odist may be thinking of God’s Word when he says “the cup of milk was offered to me.” It is not uncommon for a Jew to refer to God’s Word as milk, as Paul and Peter themselves do in 1 Corinthians 3:2 and 1 Peter 2:2. And by drinking the milk, the Odist is showing the trustworthiness of the Word. We can rely on the Word; we can drink it, for it is God’s Word. However, in the second stanza, the Odist tells us that the cup of milk offered to him is actually the Messiah:

Stanza 2
The Son is the cup.
And the Father is He who was milked.
And the Holy Spirit is She who milked Him.

Thus, what the Odist is most likely saying is that the Son—who is often portrayed as the Word in the Odes—is “the cup of milk” which he drank (an expression that seems to have been borrowed from the Eucharist). Who offered the cup or the Son to the Odist? From stanzas 2 to 5, we know that the cup of milk (i.e., the Son) came from the breasts of the Father and that it was the Holy Spirit who milked the Father. That is, it was the Holy Spirit who drew the Son out of the Father’s breasts and gave him to the world.

Stanza 3
Because His Breast were full;
And it was undesirable that His milk should be
released without purpose.

Stanza 4
The Holy Spirit opened Her bosom,
And mixed the milk of the two breasts of the Father.

Stanza 5
Then She gave the mixture to the generation without
their knowing.
And those who have received (it) are in the perfection of the right hand.

So, it was the Holy Spirit who offered the Son to the Odist. And the Odist did not reject this offer; but rather, he received it “in the sweetness of the Lord’s kindness.” His acceptance of the offer only intensifies the claim of scholars that the Odist was “most likely a Jew who came to believe in Jesus’ Messiahship” (Preface, xii). And because he drank the milk, which is another way of saying, because he believed in the Son, he was “in the perfection of the right hand” of God. As the fifth stanza says, “And those who have received (it) are in the perfection of the right hand.” Commenting on the term “right hand,” Richard S. Hess states, “The right hand can be used interchangeably with the hand in poetic texts (Judges 5:26; Psalm 74:11). The hand of God, and especially the right hand, is also understood as a place of salvation, refuge, and protection (Psalm 16:8)” (Baker’s Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology, s.v. “Hand, Right Hand.”). Therefore, having believed in the Son, the Odist is now in the place of salvation, safe and secure. While the name “Jesus” never appears in the entire Odes, no doubt the Son in whom the Odist put his faith was none other than Jesus Christ. And his message that salvation is through faith in the Messiah is consistent with the teaching of the Scriptures.

Based on the above discussion, let’s observe the following points of the ode:

First, the Son, described as the cup of milk, came from the breasts of the Father. The picture that we have here simply teaches the truth that Jesus proceeded from his Father (Jn. 8:42). The imagery also demonstrates the intimate relationship that the Father and Son have with each other. It is fascinating, though, how the Odist depicts the Father in feminine terms as having breasts. James H. Charlesworth thinks that the Odist employs this feminine imagery “most likely to warn against imaging God as a male or a warrior god” (Introduction, xxxiii). In other words, the Odist may want to emphasize God’s loving and gentle character, likening God to a nursing mother who cares for her baby. There is, of course, nothing unusual in the Odist’s use of feminine imagery for God. Some biblical writers have done the same. For instance, in Isaiah 49:15 God is likened to a nursing mother: “Can a woman forget her nursing child, that she should have no compassion on the son of her womb? Even these may forget, yet I will not forget you.”

Second, according to stanza 3, when the Father’s “breasts were full,” the Holy Spirit milked the Father. Notice, it was when the Father’s breasts became full with milk that the Spirit milked the Father. The idea of fullness echoes what Paul has written in Galatians 4:4: “But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman…” The last six stanzas of the ode focus on the virgin who gave birth to the Son. No one can deny that in these stanzas the Odist is thinking of the biblical tradition that Jesus was born of Virgin Mary. Yes, the Odist penned Ode 19 before the formation of the New Testament canon; and thus as Charlesworth asserts, “we should not expect the Odist, as a poet, to quote from these [New Testament] documents. Yet, scholars have rightly perceived traditions preserved in the New Testament are evident in this Hymnbook” (Introduction, xxvii). The tradition that Jesus was born of a Virgin in Ode 19 is a proof of this.

Stanza 6
The womb of the Virgin took (it).
And she received conception and gave birth;

Stanza 7
So the Virgin became a mother
With great mercies.

Stanza 8
And she labored and bore the Son but without pain,
Because it did not occur without purpose.

Stanza 9
And she did not seek a midwife,
Because He allowed her to give life.

Stanza 10
She bore with desire as a strong man.
And she bore according to the manifestation,
And she possessed with great power.

Stanza 11
And she loved with salvation.
And she guarded with kindness.
And she declared with greatness.

Third, stanza 3 tells us that the releasing of the milk from the Father’s breasts was not without purpose. The Holy Spirit did not take the Son and send him to sinners without purpose. What was the purpose of the giving of the Son to the world? The answer is found in stanza 5—so that those who receive the Son might be saved. And in the Odist’s mind, the Son, the long-awaited Messiah, has already come. Charlesworth mentions that the “beauty of the Odes seems to lie in their spontaneous and joyous affirmation that the long-awaited Messiah has come to God’s people” (Introduction, xvi). As such, the Odes are a means of apologetic response to those who still wait for the first coming of the Messiah.

Finally, Ode 19 clearly acknowledges the existence of the Trinity—the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Yet, interestingly the Odist regards the Holy Spirit as feminine, referring to him with the pronoun “she”: “the Holy Spirit is She who milked Him.” Perceiving the Spirit to be feminine was typical though among “Christians who worshipped in Aramaic and Syriac (Introduction, xxxiii).” The KJV, on the other hand, occasionally uses the pronoun “it” to refer to the Holy Spirit (Jn. 1:32; Rom. 8:16 & 26). That the Spirit is sometimes referred to as neuter does not mean, of course, that he is neuter. Someone puts it this way: “while the Holy Spirit is neither male nor female in His essence, He is properly referred to in the masculine by virtue of His relation to creation and biblical revelation. There is absolutely no biblical basis for viewing the Holy Spirit as the ‘female’ member of the Trinity.” Nevertheless, the Odist’s feminine description of the Holy Spirit may be due to his desire to portray the Spirit as gentle, sweet, compassionate, and caring—traits that have universally been considered as feminine. And if this supposition is true, the Odist should be appreciated for his desire to emphasize the aforementioned traits of the Holy Spirit.

 

Note: Amazing Grace, a part of the series called “Stories behind Favorite Hymns for Ages 3 to 6, is now available through Reformation Heritage Book.

Amazing Grace (front cover)

 

Church Fathers Hymns

Six Practical Pieces of Advice Regarding Our Tongues

1. Acknowledge that you have a tongue that is prone to sin.

One of my favorite hymns is “Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing” written by Robert Robinson in 1757 when he was only 22 years old. Listen to what he says in fourth stanza:

O to grace how great a debtor
Daily I’m constrained to be!
Let Thy goodness, like a fetter,
Bind my wandering heart to Thee.
Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it,
Prone to leave the God I love;
Here’s my heart, O take and seal it,
Seal it for Thy courts above.

Here Robinson humbly acknowledges his heart’s great tendency to sin. Of course, our tongues are equally prone to sin also. Indeed, your tongue and my tongue have a natural inclination to curse God, take His name in vain, bear false witness against our neighbors, hurt our spouses, provoke our children to anger, damage our relationship with others, and destroy our lives. We should not deny this reality but humbly accept it.

2. Ask God to deliver you from your sinning tongue.

Pray with David, “Deliver me, O Lord, from lying lips, from a deceitful tongue” (Ps. 120:2). Or we can borrow the words of Robinson’s hymn and apply them to our tongues and say to God, “Bind my wandering tongue to Thee. Here’s my tongue, O take and seal it. Seal it for Thy courts above.” May it be our daily prayer to God that He will keep our tongues from sinning!

3. Aim to glorify God in everything that you say.

God created us to glorify Him forever. He created everything in us (including our tongue) for His glory. Therefore, we must use our tongues for His glory. The Apostle Paul writes in Colossians 3:17, “And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.”

4. Avoid careless talkers such as gossipers.  

Do not tolerate people like them. Proverbs 11:13 says that “People who tell secrets about others cannot be trusted. Those who can be trusted keep quiet.” Then Proverbs 18:8 adds, “Gossip is so tasty—how we love to swallow it!” (GNB). Oh, may we not engage in careless talking, or passively listen to gossip and slander.

5. Admit your sin and look for forgiveness in Christ.

We need to confess all our sins, including those sins that have to do with the use of our tongues. “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9). We need to realize, too, that only Jesus can deliver us from the power of all our sins. Therefore, we need Jesus, for he alone can change us. He alone can transform our tongues from being instruments of evil into being instruments of good.

6. Anticipate your glorified tongue.  

Yes, while we remain in this sin-stricken world and in our corrupt bodies, we will continue to struggle with the use of our tongue. We will sin with our tongue, in what we say and how we say things. However, someday God will completely deliver us from sin. He will glorify our bodies; we will not be able to sin anymore. We will have a tongue that is perfect—a tongue that will forever praise God, for “when [Jesus] appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is” (1 John. 3:2).

Note: You may also want to read my book entitled The Gospel-Driven Tongue available through Amazon.

driven tongue

 

The Gospel-Driven Tongue

The Way of Salvation As Seen Through the Heidelberg Catechism

Here’s my interview with Cornelius VanKempen about his book The Way of Salvation As Seen Through the Heidelberg Catechism. n.p., 2017, 206 pp., paperback.  thewayofsalvation

Thank you so much for your willingness to be interviewed about your meditations on the Heidelberg Catechism. Here are some of my questions for you about your work:

 

1. Can you please tell us more about yourself and the occasion in which you wrote your book?

I was born in the Netherlands and came to the United States with my folks and sister at age 6 in 1949.  I spent my childhood on a farm in Coopersville, Michigan.  Most importantly, I was raised in a Christian home. To be right with God was emphasized as the one thing needful.  As a teenager, sports became an obsession which led me away from where I should have been.  God sent callings into my life. At age 15 I came down with rheumatic fever, not being able to get out of bed for 3 months (all summer). My life was stopped and I had much time to think.  I made promises to God that I would change my ways and live to His honor if He would heal me. God did, and for a few weeks I was healed, but soon I went back to my old ways, now to the sorrow of my parents, although I continued to go to church every Sunday, outwardly I looked like a Christian.  This continued for many years.  I married a wonderful woman, Susan GeBuys in 1965 and together we had 5 children (4 boys and 1 girl).  I worked in the automotive field my whole life, still obsessed with sports.  But God was not done with me, in the eighties through the preaching of His Word I came to see my wasted life; sin became sin.  The most concerting was that God brought the vow I had made when I was 15 to my conscience.  All I could expect was to be cast away for the Bible says, “it is better not to make a vow than to break it.” At the same time my whole life was a testimony against me.  I became a lost sinner with no hope of ever being saved.  I had sinned against God’s love.  But I began to earnestly reform my life, sports were out, God’s Word was studied. Good books were read. I became legalistic trying to impress God.  But the more I tried the more sin surfaced, until I cried out, “I am undone, O God be merciful to me!”  No hope only condemnation for me. I came home from work one evening, there was a mid-week service and I felt compelled to go. Dr. Joel Beeke was preaching. His text was from Hosea 14:4, “I will love them freely.”  The Holy Spirit opened my heart to see that all my work would amount to nothing, but it was because of God’s love that made the difference.  All my repentance before was only trying to escape judgment, but God gave true repentance and forgiveness of sins for His own name’s sake.  This brought hope into my heart that it could also be for me.  The cross of Christ became my refuge and my hope, “Nothing but the blood of Jesus would do.”  God was and is so merciful. All that I am I own to Him!  Reading, meditating, and praying on God’s Word became my life.  There is still much sin that brings grief, but when God again shows Himself through His word, by preaching and reading, He opens for me that fountain filled with blood by which I must daily be cleansed.

My book came about some years ago by the Spirit awaking me during the night many times with the words, “What is thy only comfort.”  This puzzled me and in prayer would ask God what are you saying to me?  I’m not able to write. I don’t have the training to do this great work.  But it just kept coming back.  I sought out help and went to the seminary and as I drove up, Dr. Jerry Bilkes came out.  I spoke to him and he asked me how my writing was doing.  I told him what was on my heart and my inability for such a work.  He told me it is God that gives the ability. Then he said to me, “follow Him, pray to Him and write.”  What happened then is inexpressibly.  Never had God drawn so near and so dear as one question after another opened up showing in each one that it is the Triune God, through Jesus Christ who is the only comfort.  Yes! It was a special time in my life which I shall never forget.  I had more blessings myself than ever the book will be to whoever reads it.

2. What is the Heidelberg Catechism and why should one spend time studying or at least reading it?

The Heidelberg Catechism is one of the three Articles of Unity adopted by the Reformed churches as to our beliefs.  The Catechism is known as the “Book of Comfort.”  It brings forth the preciousness of the Triune God: Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, through the God-Man Jesus Christ.  The Heidelberg Catechism was written at the request of Elector Frederick III to bring harmony to the Protestant teaching and to the establishment of the Reformed Faith.  He appointed Zacharias Ursinus and Casper Olevianus to write it to address the errors of the day, bringing out the doctrines necessary to know for this life, but also for the life to come.

The Catechism is broken down into three main categories of the experiences of God’s people: misery, deliverance, and gratitude.  It has been and still is a blessing for God’s people, and as a preaching tool, it brings out many of the doctrines of the Bible which would otherwise be forgotten.

3. A number of commentaries or meditations have already been written on the Heidelberg Catechism. What do you think is the unique contribution of your book to the study of this catechism?

There are many commentaries written on it, but short meditation on it, are few and far between.  To sit down and read a commentary takes much discipline and soon it is left setting on the table.  These meditations are short and bring you to search the Bible for the truths found in the catechism.  In our times meditation time becomes secondary to our way of life.  I find that though they are short, they may open the heart by God’s grace, so that we may find enjoyment in them.  We were created to do all to God’s glory and honor.  My prayer is that God would use it for His glory.

4. In your study of the Heidelberg Catechism, what did you find to be the catechism’s strengths and weaknesses?

Its strengths are the doctrines that are expressed in it, leading us to learn who we are, but also who God is.  It lifts us above the things of this world to see the glory of the Triune God in Jesus Christ.  Its weaknesses I guess I don’t see because the more I study it the more precious it becomes.

5. The Heidelberg Catechism has 129 questions and answers. What is your favorite of all of them? Explain why.

I love the whole Catechism, but since question and answer 1 was so laid upon my heart, it has a special place in my heart.  Salvation is a personal experience. It must be for me!   When reading this, take notice of the personnel pronouns.  Salvation is a precious doctrine, but as precious as it is, it must be for me! The plot as you read through it, it shows man in his desperate need for deliverance which he cannot earn for himself, bringing us to the only way of salvation, When this is experienced there cannot but be gratitude for so great salvation.

Question:  What is thy only comfort?

Answer: That I with body and soul, both in life and death, am not my own, but belong to my faithful Savior Jesus Christ; who, with His precious blood hath fully satisfied for all my sins, and delivered me from all the power of death, and so preserves me that without the will of my heavenly Father, not a hair can fall from my head; yea, that all things must be subservient to my salvation, and therefore, by his Holy Spirit, He also assures me of eternal life, and makes me sincerely willing and ready, henceforth, to life unto him.

This question and answer is the summation of all the 129 question and answers in the precious Heidelberg Catechism.

6. What projects are you currently working on?

I write short meditation on many texts as God opens them for me.  I do have a complete set on all 150 of the Psalms, the beatitudes, the Christian Armor, and the Seven Cross Words.  My hope and prayer is that God would use them for His glory and the salvation of sinners.

thewayofsalvation

Heidelberg Catechism Interview

The Psalms, Hymns, and Spiritual Songs of Isaac Watts

Here’s my interview with Chris Fenner about his edited book The Psalms, Hymns, and Spiritual Songs of Isaac Watts. Frisco, TX: Doxology & Theology Press, 2016, 641 pp., hardcover.  Watts

Chris, thank you for editing The Psalms, Hymns, and Spiritual Songs of Isaac Watts. I thought you did an excellent job. I have some questions for you:

1. Can you please tell us more about yourself and the occasion in which you edited this book?

I am the Digital Archivist in the archives office of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary (SBTS). My job in general is to digitize and preserve old media formats (audio and video tapes, LPs, etc.), but my academic research specialty is hymnology. I am also a minister of music at Green Street Baptist Church in Louisville, Kentucky. I have worked at SBTS for eleven years now, starting when I was a graduate student in the worship arts program. I finished that degree in 2011, then completed a  Master of Library and Information Science degree from the University of Kentucky in 2017.

In 2016, Matt Boswell, director of Doxology & Theology Press, had been preparing a new edition of hymns by Isaac Watts, and he asked my colleague Esther Crookshank to write a foreword for it. Crookshank shared a draft of the project with me, and upon examining the work, I had several ideas for how it could be improved, so I got in touch with Matt and persuaded him to allow me to help him craft the book into something that would reflect the highest standards of scholarship possible, something that would really stand out from what other publishers had done before.

For the work, I was able to examine digital copies of Watts’ original collections. We included both of his original prefaces (this is really two books in one volume, Hymns and Spiritual Songs with the Psalms of David Imitated). We included all of Watts’ original footnotes for the Psalms, which explain his methodology and theology. We added some detailed indices, with pastors worship leaders in mind. We also included a set of tunes that had never been reproduced in any edition of Watts over the last 250 years. The whole project is a major improvement over any other edition of Watts currently on the market.

2. Who was Isaac Watts and why did he write his hymns?

Isaac Watts was a pastor in the dissenting tradition (Protestant, separate from the Church of England). Watts had some serious concerns about the condition of congregational singing in his time. In Protestant churches, the norm had been to sing only from the Psalms and a few select passages from the New Testament (like the Song of Simeon, for example). If people are only singing from the Old Testament, then they are singing an incomplete theology, and a theology rooted in the Old Covenant. Watts found this unacceptable, for good reason. So for his poetic translations of the Psalms, he wanted to infuse the texts with New Testament ideas, making connections to the work of Christ, as if David had been a New Covenant believer. In this regard, Watts was charting new territory.

Watts also wrote new hymns intended for congregational singing, for similar purposes, because he felt the Psalms weren’t enough for a well-rounded theology. All of this came at a point in time in which Protestants had been debating about whether it was OK to sing hymns in church, because when people start writing their own songs, doctrinal error can creep into the church. People had written hymns and poems before (George Herbert was very well loved in the previous century, for example), but Watts was so good at what he did, that people embraced his hymns and abandoned the strict adherence to the Psalms.

3. What are the key features of his hymns?

In addition to his infusion of New Testament theology in the Psalms, Watts strove to make his texts understandable to the average worshiper by using plain language and avoiding complicated terminology. Even though he wasn’t happy with the pre-existing tradition of Psalm singing, he wrote his hymns in such a way that they could be sung using the old Psalm tunes. This meant most of his texts fit into three different syllabic structures: common meter, long meter, and short meter, with some other exceptions. This is partly why his hymns have endured, because they are easily understandable and singable.

4. What are the weaknesses and strengths of his hymns?

If his hymns have any weaknesses, it would be because the English language has evolved, and the world has evolved, so Watts isn’t able to keep pace with all of the issues and perspectives that worshipers face today. In his day, his language was plain and simple, but in our day, his language can be a little antiquated at times and require some adjustment. His hymn “Jesus shall reign where’er the sun,” for example, is written from the perspective of someone who lived in a time of Colonialism and Imperialism, in which he was able to write about other nations being “barbarous.” Others are written very much from a British perspective and don’t work in other contexts.

5. Of all his hymns, what is your favorite? And why is this one your favorite?

I have a special love for his rendition of Psalm 23, “My shepherd will supply my need,” especially with the American folk tune known as RESIGNATION. It is a very thoughtful and tender paraphrase. In 2015, when my son Garrett died at the sweet age of 5, I sang this at his funeral. Where the psalmist had written “Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever,” Watts wrote these beautiful lines:

The sure provisions of my God
Attend me all my days;
O may thy house be mine abode,
And all my work be praise.
There would I find a settled rest,
While others go and come;
No more a stranger or a guest,
But like a child at home.

My eyes get watery and my soul burns just thinking about it.

6. What projects are you currently working on?

I recently finished a new edition of Charles Spurgeon’s Our Own Hymn Book for Matt Boswell at Doxology & Theology. It hasn’t yet gone to press, but it is going to be a beautiful, scholarly book, full of great insights into Spurgeon and the hymns that he loved.

This past summer, I launched a new website, HymnologyArchive.com, for the serious hymn lover and scholar, offering a visual history of great hymns, full of the best scholarship that simply isn’t available anywhere else. It’s still new and still growing; I add material almost every day.

Lastly, I am compiling and editing a new collection of essays related to the hymns of Charles Wesley, featuring contributions from many gifted scholars, to be published next year by Biblical Spirituality Press.

Watts

Hymns Interview

Discovering the Beauty of Mentorship among the Women

Note: This week our guest contributor is Annemarieke V. Ryskamp who has a passion for fostering mentorship among women. She herself leads a mentorship group. 

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I was born and raised in the Netherlands and was a teenager in the seventies. I attended a university in Utrecht. My family was like most families in Europe, not Christian at all. My dad was baptized as a baby, but the strictness of the elders of his church made his parents and himself reject the church with a vengeance. 

annemarieke

Annemarieke V. Ryskamp

My mom was from a completely non-Christian background, but she loved to read. When she was in her forties she read the Bible and became a believer. After her conversion to Christ, she encouraged me to join a student Bible study group. However, my problem was that I didn’t know a single Christian, apart from the Jehovah’s witnesses with whom my mother and brother and I had done Bible studies. We didn’t want to become Jehovah’s witnesses as the Holy Spirit had put in us discernment for the truth.  

So my family was not against God, yet we definitely didn’t like anything church related. Through a friend of mine, I could finally contact a “Christian” who welcomed me in their Bible study group. I kept asking though why this group was not taking the Bible as God’s Word, because isn’t that the definition of a Christian is someone who believes the Bible to be the very Word of God? They told me I was a “fundamentalist.” I asked them what that meant. I didn’t consider myself a Christian, but ironically I found myself defending the trustworthiness of the Bible every week. I had to read major parts of the Bible for my studies (in medieval literature) and every week God used my just-read knowledge to counter their Bible weakening arguments. By God’s grace at the end of that year I was saved. I came to know Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior.  

The people in this group never invited me to come to their church, but I wanted to find a church where the gospel was preached faithfully, so I could learn more about my newfound faith. It took me two years to find a Bible believing church. Imagine my surprise when I found some members of that Bible study group in this church!

All this helps to explain my very hesitant attitude to the church as an organization. But God has been working on me ever since and the mentor group is one of his lessons for me.

Fast forward! 30 years later I found myself with my American husband and two children in West Michigan, attending a reformed church twice every Sunday. This shows the radical difference in church life in West Michigan as compared to that of the Netherlands.

After doing a counseling course with Dr. Jeff Doll in Hudsonville, I felt called to do something with what I had learned. After my desperate remark that the only thing I knew how to do was lead a Bible study (because I’m a teacher by profession), my son suggested I do just that.

God gently led me to realize that I should lead a group for women in our church, mentoring them according to the principles in Titus 2, as I had been when I was raising my children. I couldn’t believe that God was calling me to this kind of ministry, so I felt very reluctant. However, God orchestrated all the details. Two mentor groups formed and since I could only lead one, God also provided another leader.

God knew that my growing up in Europe would be useful, since I’ve been already exposed to issues that women, whom I am mentoring, are beginning to encounter. The secularization in Europe is about 30 years ahead of West Michigan.  And that secularization is coming here, too, in Michigan. My friends in the Netherlands didn’t get married, but would live together. Or, when they got married, they would have 1 or 2 children and then get divorced. The children would grow up in child care facilities, because both parents needed to work. There was only contempt for the stay-at-home mother. Already my mom got her share of that. She raised me as quite the feminist. But I really wanted to raise my kids myself. Thankfully, my being among Christian friends and mentors, who were doing the same here in Michigan, encouraged me to raise my children myself.  

Most of societal changes here are déjà vu for me. And as I look at where Europe is now, these societal changes are not good. The pressures on Christians in the US are mounting, leading to social persecution already. The pressures on women who want to stay home, take care of their children, and homeschool them, are feeling incredible pressure from society. It’s very difficult to consistently ignore the secular opinions in our environment and to keep going against the current. Therefore, we, as church women, under the leadership and protection of the men, need to stick together. This becomes more and more necessary as the bias against us is mounting.

Having been mentored myself and through leading a mentor group, I am convinced that God wants women in his church to help one another to stay true to his Word and be blessed by it.  All of us Christian women need to encourage each other and gently steer our sisters back when they stray. We need to be there in times of sadness; we need to rejoice with them in times of joy. In short, we all need to be mentors to each other. God is working among women in many churches to start mentor groups. Let us be obedient to the Titus 2 mandate to mentor each other.

I pray that women mentor groups will raise awareness of the fact that all women need to be mentors. We go alongside our sisters and build each other up in Christ.

 

“It’s time to show those coming behind us the beauty of God’s truth and its sufficiency for the challenges of our day. I assure you, each time you’re obedient to this calling, you’ll be able to watch Him paint your life with bigger and bolder gospel colors than you ever imagined possible.” (Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth)

 

 

 

Mentorship