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

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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. 

_____________________

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

The Pursuit of Glory

Here’s my interview with Jeffrey D. Johnson about his book The Pursuit of Glory. Grand Rapids: Reformation Heritage Books, 2018, 113 pp., paperback.the pursuit of glory

Thank you for your willingness to be interviewed about your well written book which I enjoyed reading. 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 penned your book?

I am a pastor of Grace Bible Church in Conway, Arkansas (gbcconway.com) and the academic dean of Grace Bible Institute of Pastoral Studies. I have been married for 15 years to my wife, Letha, and we have four children (three boys and one girl). I love to snowboard, play the banjo, and write.

The book is a byproduct of the many years of counseling I have done. After teaching anger management for 10 years and counseling for 15 years, I saw the need for such a book. I wanted something I could give to people who were depressed about life. Our culture is screaming that our identity and purpose is found in ourselves. So many people feel empty, so it seems, because they have such a small and trivial purpose (such as getting a few “likes” on Facebook), and because they are unable to live up to this superficial and artificial standard. That is, people cannot even reach the low and insignificant standard they have place upon themselves. Deep down, we know we were created for something greater, something more lasting, and something real. If we can’t satisfy even a superficial purpose, what makes us think we can stratify a divine and eternal purpose? I wrote this book to explain that we were made for something beyond our abilities to reach, but also I wrote this book to show how God enables us, through faith in Christ, to obtain the highest possible objective—God’s glory. I am convinced that only when we live for the glory of God that we will find our happiness, purpose, etc…

Much of my counseling brought me to explaining these truths, so I thought, why not write a book on it.

2. Your work deals with nine topics: (1) glory, (2) happiness, (3) purpose, (4) freedom, (5) companionship, (6) truth, (7) peace, (8) holiness, and (9) life. In light of this, why did you entitle your book The Pursuit of Glory which is the title of your book’s first chapter? Why not The Pursuit of Happiness, or The Pursuit of Life?

I started with “glory” and ended with “life” because these two things are essentially the same thing. Kind of like a circle that brings the readers back to where we started. I titled the book “The Pursuit of Glory” because I believe the word “glory” best incorporates all the longings that God has placed within our heart. We all desire happiness, purpose, freedom, etc…, and all these things can be summarized by our longing for glory. That is, we long for something eternal, something lasting, something real, something truly praise worthy. Ultimately, we are all longing for God—to know and enjoy God.

And I believe that the world is seeking to replace the reality of the glory of God with some cheap counterfeit that can never satisfy. Man is depressed, guilt redden, and miserable, a state which leads him or her to be utterly discontent. Man longs for the glory of God, even though he or she does not realize it. And as long as they are seeking for glory in all the wrong places they will remain disillusioned and frustrated.

I have counseled hundreds of people over the years, and it seems that much of the time their emotional problems comes from having their eyes placed on the wrong thing(s), and their values being shaped by the customs of this evil world. Living for the American dream ends with dreamers waking up to a nightmare.

3. You state in your book that every human being is looking for glory that can truly satisfy him or her. What is this glory that people are looking for?

The short answer is God. God is the only thing that is truly glorious. The longer answer is that man is looking for glory, which can only be found in loving and enjoying fellowship with God. The Bible tells the strong not to glory in their strength and for the wise not to glory in their wisdom. Rather, the only ones who have the right to glory are those who can glory in the fact that they know God. We too often, myself included, want to find our purpose and happiness in ourselves—ether in who we are or what we have accomplished. Such thinking leads us to vain-glory and pride. Moreover, such thinking leaves us feeling empty and unhappy because we know that we are not even good enough for ourselves. It is a terrible enslavement to depend on the constant affirmation and praise of others. We all need something more, something greater, and something more glorious than self-praise and popularity. We need God. It is only when we are satisfied with God that we will ever be satisfied at all. He alone is enough. Everything else put together comes up short—way short.

4. What do you think is the unique contribution of your book to the study of glory? And if there are three important lessons concerning glory that you would like your readers to learn from your book, what would they be?

Overall, I hope my book demonstrates that our own pursuit of glory is tied to the glory of God. If we want to find glory, it will be found only when we enjoy God’s glory. Once our lives are satisfied in God’s glory, will we have glory—meaning, purpose, life, and others.

Three practical lessons would be:

First, having innate desires, cravings, and passions are not (in-and-of themselves) sinful. Even the longings of the body are good when we seek to satisfy them by lawful means and do not exalt the things of the world above God.

Second, the body and the soul both have longings/desires. The five senses of the body crave the things of this world, while the craving of the soul craves after God. Though our depravity and selfishness tell us that we can only be happy when the insatiable longings of the body are being contentiously fed, that real satisfaction is only found when the longings of the soul are satisfied in Christ.

Third, that every longing of the soul (e.g., the longing for glory, happiness, purpose, freedom, etc.) is satisfied in one place—knowing God through faith in Christ.

5. What projects are you currently working on?

For the last 10 years, off and on, I have been working on a systematic theology.  I am about 1/3 done, so it will be a lifetime project. I have other smaller projects, however, that I am working on as well, such as revision and expanding a book I have written on the atonement, and a small little book on cessationism.

 

Note: To purchase a copy of The Pursuit of Glory, click here.

the pursuit of glory

Interview

Early Christian Spirituality

Before I survey the various facets of early Christian spirituality (a period which runs from around A.D. 100 to A.D. 600), let me first define the word “spirituality,” especially as this term is understood in diverse ways. Spirituality “is the outworking in the real life of a person’s religious faith—what a person does with what they believe” (McGrath, Christian Spirituality , 2). Spirituality may be distinguished from theology in that the former is about the experiential aspects of faith, while the latter is about the theoretical aspects of faith. Yet, the two are closely related and even inseparable: theology gives substance to spirituality; and spirituality gives life to theology.

“[T]he fathers never split theology off from spirituality, as though theology was academic, mental exercise best practiced in one’s study, while Christian spirituality was more appropriately focused on the heart and centered in a church sanctuary. Any split between mind and heart, theology and spirituality, study and sanctuary would have met with scant toleration from the fathers” (Hall, Learning Theology with the Church Fathers, 10). Nevertheless, in this brief post, my primary concern is to look at the spirituality of the early Christians—to see how they behaved rather than what they believed. So how did they behave? Who were they?

First, the early Christians were men and women of prayer. They conversed with God as those who were aware that God was listening and as those who were confident that God was going to answer their prayers. And their prayer was solidly Trinitarian, addressed to the Father, in the name of the Son, and with the help of the Holy Spirit. A quick glance of Augustine’s Confessions, written in the form of a prayer, will readily prove this point. The doctrine of the Trinity itself, codified during the patristic era, came to us as a gift from the fathers who proclaimed and praised the Triune God. The more I read these early Christians, the more I am convinced that behind their success in the ministry was their prayer life. I am specially thinking of Patrick’s fruitful ministry in Ireland. We know from his Confession how he earnestly prayed for the Irish. Yet, he was humbly conscious that if he was able to pray fervently, it was because the Holy Spirit enabled him.

Augustine pic

St. Augustine in His Study by Vittore Carpaccio, 1502 (courtesy of Wikipedia) 

Second, the early Christians were lovers of the Scriptures. They “turn always to the Bible as the source of their ideas. No matter how rigorous or abstruse their thinking—for example, in dealing with a complex and subtle topic like the distinctive identity of each person of the Trinity—Christian thinkers always began with specific biblical texts” (Wilken, The Spirit of Early Christian Thought, 26). They read, studied, memorized, and mediated on the Scriptures. Augustine once said, “The hearer of God’s Word ought to be like those animals that chew the cud; he ought not only feed upon it, but to ruminate upon it” (Cited in Thomas, comp. Golden Treasury of Patristic Quotations, 34). Of course, some of them followed monastic rules, but for them their allegiance was first to the Bible and then to these rules. “We must surrender ourselves, said Augustine, “to the authority of Holy Scripture, for it can neither mislead nor be misled” (Golden Treasury of Patristic Quotations, 29). Their strong commitment to God’s Word resulted in the canon of the New Testament, another gift to us by the church fathers.

Third, the early Christians were pursuers of holiness. In the midst of their great struggle with their indwelling sin, they strove to live a godly life. In fact, their ultimate goal in the study of the Bible was not to produce a set of dogma, but to lead people “to holiness of life.” The “goal of life came to be understood as likeness to Christ” (The Spirit of Early Christian Thought, 22). They wanted to imitate Christ, taking holiness seriously. As a Protestant I confess that I am not comfortable with their monastic means of pursuing Christlikeness. However, I have a high respect for those who ascetically separated themselves from the world to devote their entire lives to God. For instance, I respect Macrina who chose a life of chastity and poverty, that she might devote her life fully to Jesus whom she considered her eternal husband. Her desire to maintain sexual purity and have a simple (not materialistic) life was commendable.

Fourth, the early Christians were zealously evangelistic and mission-minded. They were not quiet about their faith in Christ, nor were they afraid to share it with others. Even if they knew that proclaiming the gospel could mean suffering, or even death, they would still do it. Patrick wrote in his Confession, “In the light, therefore, of our faith in the Trinity I must make this choice, regardless of danger I must make known the gift of God and everlasting consolation, without fear and frankly I must spread everywhere the name of God” (Confession 14). At one point, when faced with threats (such as “murder, fraud, or captivity”), Patrick responded by simply entrusting his life to his sovereign God: “I fear none of these things because … I have cast myself into the hands of God Almighty, who rules everywhere.” And Patrick’s passion to proclaim the gospel to others flowed out of his gratitude to God for saving him.

Finally, the early Christians were people who counted it a great honor to suffer, or die for Christ’s sake. If one were to ask them, “What’s your ambition in life?” Their answer would probably have been something like this: “to die for the sake of Christ.” And for them, it was through martyrdom that they could prove their deep devotion to Christ. No wonder then why they would even take delight in dying as martyrs. Listen, for example, to Ignatius of Antioch who longed to die as a martyr: “May I have the pleasure of the wild beasts that have been prepared for me; and I pray that they prove to be prompt with me. I will even coax them to devour me quickly, not as they have done with some, whom they were too timid to touch. And if when I am willing and ready they are not, I will force them … Fire and cross and battles with wild beasts, mutilation, mangling, wrenching of bones, the hacking of limbs, the crushing of my whole body, cruel tortures of the devil—let these come upon me, only let me reach Jesus Christ” (Ignatius, Romans 5:1-3). Elsewhere Ignatius states, “It is better for me to die for Jesus Christ than to rule over the ends of the earth. Him I seek, who died on our behalf; him I long for, who rose again for our sake” (Ignatius, Romans 6). These early Christians were not afraid to die because they knew that their death would only usher them to the very presence of Christ.

May we capture the piety of these early Christians! May we be people of prayer, lovers of the Bible, pursuers of holiness, zealously evangelistic and mission-minded, and willing to suffer or die for our Lord’s sake.

 

 

 

 

 

Church Fathers Spirituality

How Are You? 

How Are You

Note: This week our guest contributor is Marie Sweezer, a wife and mother of two living children. She and her husband Jordan lost their daughter, Katherine (Katie) Grace, shortly after she was born on June 15, 2018 at 37 weeks. I recently visited them and was so blessed by this couple’s testimony, who, even as their newborn daughter was dying could say by God’s grace, “No matter what happens, God is good.” This is their version of Job’s confession: “The LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD” (Job 1:21).

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Marie & Jordan Sweezer with thier baby Katie

Marie and Jordan Sweezer holding their baby Katie, who went to be with her Lord, 7 1/2 hours after she was born. 

How are you? That question can be at times so hard to answer right now. When someone asks me how I am, (and I can see in their eyes how much they care) I find myself just wanting to cry because, honestly, I’m overwhelmed with so many emotions.

Encountering mothers that are pregnant, or were pregnant with me and have babies now, looking at photos of new babies, hearing announced pregnancies, seeing my c-section scar, feeling the pain of my incision when I do too much, and having milk come down and leak thru my shirt are just some of the reminders that I don’t have my daughter.

I cry and hurt because I miss my baby girl. It’s hard and so very painful at times. And I believe there will always be a certain sadness about losing my baby as long as I live. However, I am putting my trust in the Lord, knowing that He is in complete control. But grief is still a real thing. To grieve doesn’t mean you aren’t a strong person, or not a believer. Even our Lord Jesus Christ wept (John 11:35). And contrary to popular opinion, there is no time limit on grief, or even really a “cycle” that every person goes through that loses a loved one. Everyone is different; and so, everyone will grieve differently.

I have found myself having such good days when honestly I can say my daughter’s name, or hear it. Doing this just puts a smile on my face. Then I have days where the mere thought of her, or just the sight of a newborn baby brings me to my knees, crying my eyes out. Everyday is different. Psalm 42 I think describes the feelings I have so well: the feeling of sadness but also the felling of joy which can only be found in Christ alone. This passage is such a beautiful chapter. I encourage you to read it; and read it in different translations to get the full grasp of what the psalmist is describing.

Marie & Jordan Sweezer with thier baby

Marie and Jordan Sweezer holding their precious baby

These past few weeks after losing Katie, many mothers, who have lost children shortly after birth, have connected with me. I encourage you, if you are one of those mothers, to continue to look to Christ. When you feel those tears coming on, when you get those feelings of anger and frustration, PRAY, PRAY, and PRAY. Prayer is such an amazing thing. Our loving God hears our cries to Him! We are to pray without ceasing (1 Thess. 5:17) and to be constantly filling our minds with the things of God (Phil. 4:8). What I learned recently which I found to be so encouraging is that the word “comfort” actually means “strength” in Latin.

As a believer in Christ, what is your only comfort in life and in death, or what is your only strength in life and in death? The answer is: “that I am not my own, but belong body and soul, in life and in death to my faithful Savior, Jesus Christ. He has fully paid for all my sins with his precious blood, and has set me free from the tyranny of the devil. He also watches over me in such a way that not a hair can fall from my head without the will of my Father in heaven; in fact, all things must work together for my salvation. Because I belong to him, Christ, by his Holy Spirit, assures me of eternal life and makes me wholeheartedly willing and ready from now on to live for him” (Heidelberg Catechism Q&A 1).

I encourage you that no matter what you are facing in this life, look to Christ for strength. He is our strength. He loves and takes care of His people. It’s in Him only that true comfort lies.  “He heels the broken-hearted and binds up their wounds” (Ps. 147:3).

 

 

 

 

 

 

Death Family Father Mother

The Church Fathers as Our Spiritual Mentors

Here’s my interview with Dr. Michael Haykin regarding his book The Church Fathers as Spiritual Mentors. Dr. Haykin has a doctorate in patristics and is a member of North American Patristics Society. He is also the author of Rediscovering the Church Fathers: Who They Were and How They Shaped the Church and the series editor of the Early Church Fathers series.

“The patristic era,” says Dr. Haykin, “though not a golden age as some would depict it, is nonetheless one of the most significant eras in church history.”

Haykin

Church Fathers Interview