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).

 

 

 

 

 

 

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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

Three Reflections on Pastoral Ministry

Three Reflections on Pastoral Ministry

Note: Today I have Ian Macleod as my guest contributor. Born and raised in Scotland, Ian is a Th.M. graduate of Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary. In 2015 he was ordained to the ministry at Grand Rapids Free Reformed Church where he continues to serve as a pastor and teacher. Here are his three reflections, reflecting on almost three (quick) years of his pastoral ministry:

1. Privilege

I count it an enormous privilege to minister to God’s people as a pastor and teacher in my local congregation here in Grand Rapids. Because we serve in a seminary community, our congregation is blessed with a steady flow of students and families that come to us and go from us from all over the world. It’s really a little foretaste of heaven. And yet for all the enriching diversity we have, the basic need of each person, and the great answer to that need, is the same – the Savior who was dead and is alive forever (Rev. 1:18)! There’s not a different gospel for the American, the Egyptian, the Dutchman, the Malawian, the South Korean, the Scot, or anyone else. “There is no difference between the Jew and the Greek: for the same Lord over all is rich unto all that call upon him” (Rom. 10:12). It’s the greatest wonder and at the same time the greatest privilege to me that the Lord has called me to preach “Jesus Christ and him crucified” (1 Cor. 2:2).

2. Personal Holiness

Alongside the great privilege of pastoring and preaching, there is also the sense of great responsibility. I must give an account for the souls of my people (Heb. 13:17), I must rightly divide the word and preach the word (2 Tim. 2:15), I must “reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine,” and I must do this “in season and out of season” (2 Tim. 4:2). It’s no wonder Paul said, “Who is sufficient for these things?” (2 Cor. 2:16). And yet, behind all these things, there is the greatest and most convicting need – my own personal holiness. John Owen said, “If the word do not dwell with power in us, it will not pass with power from us.” Along similar lines, Robert Murray M’Cheyne said, “The greatest need of my people is my own holiness.” This is very convicting.

I remember, as I contemplated a call to the ministry, telling my minister back in Scotland that one of my great concerns was this: “What do I do if I am spiritually cold?” There are so many great and glorious texts in Scripture – “God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son” (John 3:16), “I am crucified with Christ, nevertheless I live, yet not I but Christ lives in me” (Gal. 2:20), “Christ loved the church and gave himself for it” (Eph. 5:25) – but how do I enter a pulpit and preach from these texts if I am spiritually cold? My late minister knew what I was speaking about: “Often I feel that the earthenness of the vessel will take away from the excellence of the treasure, but it is often in these moments when we feel we have nothing that the Lord comes in a special way with His grace.” I’ve often found that to be true. But equally true is this: the gospel ministry does not allow for spiritual coasting. The most important way I watch out for the souls of others is to watch out for my own.

3. Priorities

In working through a series on Philippians, it has struck me again how Paul’s priorities are Christ- and gospel- and church-centered. Some have used the acronym JOY to describe these priorities: Jesus first, Others second, You last. Of course, Paul is pointing us to Christ Jesus himself, the one who prioritized the interests of others before his own, and though “being in the form of God,” humbled himself to the very death of the cross (Phil. 2:5-8). The searching question I have often been confronted with, as I have walked beside Paul in these verses, is this: Do I have the same priorities he does? I want them. “Lord, the beautiful, mutual, Christian love between Paul and the Philippians, give that love more and more to me and my congregation.” “Lord, the love and zeal Paul has for the gospel, even while maligned in a Roman prison, give that love and zeal to me.” “Lord, give me, and give the precious people I serve, the same Jesus-first, Others-second, Me-last priorities more and more and more.”

Sometimes I have felt that with our busy, hustle-bustle world, our priorities have become somewhat skewed. We all have a tendency to think that activity is good, and more activity is better, and relentless activity is best. Activity is certainly good. However, my own increasing conviction is that our activity needs some realignment (which will probably require some decluttering of our schedules). There is a beautiful simplicity to what the apostolic church prioritized. They were certainly active, but after decades of observation, Luke could sum up their activity in the following simple way. Literally, he says in Acts 2:42, “And they devoted themselves to (i.e., they gave priority to) the apostles’ doctrine and to the fellowship, and to the breaking of bread, and to the prayers” (Acts 2:42). “Lord, give us these priorities too.”

John Owen

Ministry Pastor

My Father-in-law’s Advice to Me

My Father-in-law_s Advice to Me (pic)

I’m blessed to have a godly and wise father-in-law, Rev. Bartel Elshout, who is known for his translation of Wilhelmus à Brakel’s The Christian’s Reasonable Service. I so much value his wisdom in that whenever I need to make an important decision I always seek his counsel. Recently, I asked him if there’s any advice that he could give to me as a father of now four children. He said (and I’m sharing his advice with his permission),

“Make sure you spend enough time with your children! Life is a one-way street, and you get to spend each day with your children only once. Time not spent with your children can never be relived. When I was a young father, I was a very busy man. I was the principal of a Christian school and also served as elder in the church. In hindsight, I should not have had this double commitment. Even though I did my utmost to spend time with my oldest son David (now 43), he still vividly remembers that often I was too busy for him. Once he called me in the not too distant past, and at that particular moment I could not talk to him. He responded, ‘Dad, are you too busy for me again?’ What a painful moment this was for me! My son still remembered that 30 plus years ago I was too busy for him. Therefore, young fathers, do not make the mistake I made by overcommitting yourself. Each day in the lives of your children is a day that cannot be relived!”

Indeed, one of the most common things that fathers regret before they die is this: “I worked too much and did not spend enough time with my family.” God wants us to work diligently to provide for our family. But when we work at the expense of our relationship with our family, our work becomes harmful rather than helpful. In his 2011 Father’s Day message, former President Barack Obama expressed his regret for not spending enough time with his children when they were younger. Listen to what he said:

“When Malia and Sasha were younger, work kept me away from home more than it should have. At times, the burden of raising our two daughters has fallen too heavily on Michelle. During the campaign, not a day went by that I didn’t wish I could spend more time with the family I love more than anything else in the world. But through my own experiences, and my continued efforts to be a better father, I have learned something over the years about what children need most from their parents. They need our time, measured not only in the number of hours we spend with them each day, but what we do with those hours.”

The late American evangelist Billy Graham expressed a similar regret. When interviewed by Christianity Today about anything he could have done differently, Billy Graham said:

“I’d spend more time at home with my family, and I’d study more and preach less. I wouldn’t have taken so many speaking engagements, including some of the things I did over the years that I probably didn’t really need to do—weddings and funerals and building dedications, things like that. Whenever I counsel someone who feels called to be an evangelist, I always urge them to guard their time and not feel like they have to do everything.”

Fathers, before it is too late, let’s spend quality time with our children. Some fathers think that their duty is only to provide for their children’s material and physical needs. That’s only part of our duty as fathers. We are also called to provide for our children’s spiritual and emotional needs. Interestingly, when our children develop sinful habits or patterns of life, we quickly ask, “Why is my son or daughter behaving this way? What’s wrong with my child?” But perhaps, we could also ask ourselves: “Am I taking time to also provide spiritually and emotionally for my children? Do I spend time with them? Do I play with them? Do I read God’s Word and pray with them? Do I discipline them when necessary? Do I encourage them? Do I assure them of my love?”

Fathers, our children need our presence not just our pockets. I remember this touching story: “A little boy who had been begging his father for favors all day came once into his daddy’s office. ‘What do you want this time?’ asked the weary parent. ‘I don’t want anything,’ was the astonishing reply, ‘I just want to be with you.’”

Fathers, if we are honest with ourselves, we all fail to spend time with our children as we should. That’s why we need to pray earnestly to God for his grace to be able to properly balance our work and family responsibilities. We also need to pray daily that we may be able to model God’s fatherly character to our children, always pointing them to him, who, for Christ’s sake, will never leave us, nor forsake us (Heb. 13:5). And when we do fail in our calling as fathers, let us not despair. There is always forgiveness in the Lord Jesus Christ (1 John 1:9).

 

Note: To read the article in Spanish, click here.

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How Should We View Our Children?

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I cannot recall how many times I met people who honestly told me that they did not want to have children because children would just interfere with their lives. They viewed children as a burden, rather than a blessing. In fact, a certain woman frankly told me that she was too selfish to have a child. She did not want to have a child, because she knew it would mean an inconvenient life.

Do you know how many babies are aborted per day in the U. S.? The answer is heart breaking—approximately 3,700 babies per day. And 93 % of all abortions happen generally because of inconvenience.  Listen to the following statistics:

1% of all abortions occur because of rape or incest; 6% of abortions occur because of potential health problems regarding either the mother or child, and 93% of all abortions occur for social reasons (i.e. the child is unwanted or inconvenient).

In other words, if you were to ask 100 mothers who aborted their children, “Why did you abort your child?” A large number of them would probably say something like this: “Well, because that baby in my womb would just interfere with my education or career.” Or, “I don’t want to have an inconvenient life.”

What?! You aborted your unborn baby simply because you didn’t want to have an inconvenient life?! Of course, it can be inconvenient to have a baby. You will experience sleepless nights as you nurse your baby in the middle of the night or rock your sick baby to sleep. You will have additional expenses, messes to clean up; and, your days will not always go according to your schedule. Children can indeed “interfere” with some of our plans.

Of course, it is difficult to raise a child. Being a parent comes with great responsibilities (you provide for your children, take care of them, train them in the way they should go, correct and discipline them, and the list goes on and on). Such responsibilities are not always easy to do, especially if a child has a physical or mental disability.

And, of course, it can be stressful to have children. Kids can sometimes be annoying. They can test your patience. Having children requires sacrifice. You need to sacrifice your time, your comfort, and sometimes your dreams. Oh, but the joy of parenting surpasses its stress and sacrifice. The blessing of parenthood outweighs its discomfort.

My wife and I have four little children. Yes, I don’t deny the difficulty of parenting. But, with God’s help, I can say that the delight of parenting exceeds its difficulty. Money cannot buy the joy of hearing your child’s heartbeat for the first time, the joy of hearing your child say “Mama” or “Dada” for the first time, the joy of feeling your child’s arms wrap around your neck, the joy of watching your children grow and learn, and, the Lord willing, the joy of hearing them confess with their mouths that Jesus is their Lord and Savior (Rom. 10:9).

Some of you may say, “That’s wonderful, but what if I will have a child who will never be able to do any of those things due to a physical or mental disability?” I cannot begin to imagine the heartache of parents whose child is physically or mentally disabled. However, one thing I do know is that there can be comfort and joy in knowing that our children are created for God’s glory and for our good (Rom. 8:28).

Let me share this story that I once heard from my mother-in-law.

There was a God-fearing woman in the Netherlands who had a child born to her that was totally disabled. The child could not walk, could not talk, and could not respond. The child lay this way for 18 years. One day, as the mother stood, looking at her child, she felt rebellion and despair in her heart, and said out loud, “Why were you ever created? Why were you ever born?” All of a sudden, this child who never spoke, said, “To glorify God forever.” And then, the child died.

So, if you are one of those who don’t want to have children because of fear that your children might just interfere with your life, I encourage you to rethink your view of children. Children are not a burden but a blessing, created for God’s glory. As the Bible says, “Behold, children are a heritage from the LORD” (Ps. 127:3). In Hebrew the word heritage (also translated as inheritance) indicates that ultimately our children are not a result of our work. When you receive an inheritance from your parents (a sum of money), you receive it as a gift from them. You did not work for it; they did! They simply gave it to you out of their own good pleasure. Likewise, ultimately it is our God who makes children. And he gives them to us as a gift out of his own good pleasure. Children are one of the ways that God chooses to bless us and to glorify himself.

Therefore, to those of you who do not want to have children because you think they will just be a burden and inconvenience, may you repent of your unbiblical view of children and may you begin to see God’s grand and glorious design in blessing parents with children.

Now, to those of us who already have children, may I lovingly ask you: How do view your children? A burden or a blessing? When Esau asked his brother Jacob, “Who are these with you?” Jacob said, “The children whom God has graciously given your servant” (Gen. 33:5). Here, Jacob viewed his children as a gracious gift from God. Truly, our children are an undeserved gift from God. God could have chosen others to become parents of your children. Instead, God chose you to be a parent of your children. Let us then thank and praise God for our children. May we never regard them as a burden but as a blessing from God—from whom all blessings flow. And may God grant us grace, as we train up our children in the way they should go, so that when they are old they will not depart from it (Prov. 22:6).

The-delight-of-parenting (1)

Parenting Parents

Working Prayerfully: A Lesson from Jonathan Edwards

Jonathan_EdwardsOne of my favorite writers is Jonathan Edwards (1703–1758), often considered to be the last Puritan. Through his writings, Edwards taught me a lot, especially with regard to prayer. For instance, he taught me to work or study prayerfully. As a pastor, I learned from Edwards to prepare for my sermons prayerfully. As a PhD student, I also learned from him to do a research paper prayerfully. As an author, I learned to write a book or article prayerfully. Indeed, Edwards himself did this. As he was studying, approximately 13 hours a day, he was doing so prayerfully, so that prayer and study intertwined with each other. Iain Murray, in his masterful biography of Edwards, illustrates this point well:

“Edwards maintained daily set times for prayer, when it was probably his custom to speak aloud. He also had…particular days which he set aside for solitude, meditation and fasting. But prayer was not a compartment in his daily routine, an exercise which possessed little connection with the remainder of his hours alone. Rather he sought to make his study itself a sanctuary, and whether wrestling with Scripture, preparing sermons or writing in his notebooks, he worked as a worshipper. Thought, prayer and writing were all woven together” (Jonathan Edwards: A New Biography, 143).

Donald Whitney’s observation is similar: “Edwards was so devoted to prayer that it is hard to find a daily routine for him that wasn’t permeated with it…. He prayed over his studies, and he prayed as he walked in the evening. Prayer was both a discipline and a part of his leisure” (“Pursuing A Passion For God Through Spiritual Disciples: Learning From Jonathan Edwards, in A God Entranced Vision of All Things: The Legacy of Jonathan Edwards, 114).

Even Edwards’ physical exercise was permeated with prayer. Many people comment that one of Edwards’ weaknesses was that he was a workaholic at the cost of his health. While this comment has an element of truth, he was not altogether neglectful of his health. In fact, number twenty of his Resolutions, written when he was nineteen years old, shows his concern for his whole-being: “Resolved, to maintain the strictest temperance in eating and drinking.” Moreover, he himself makes a record in his Personal Narrative that he would ride out into woods for his health: “I rode out into the woods for my health…having alighted from my horse in a retired place, as my manner commonly has been, to walk for divine contemplation and prayer.” What is noteworthy here is that even his physical exercise was interfused with a spirit of prayer.

Oh, may the Lord teach us to pray. May we turn our workplace into a sanctuary where we work as a worshipper of God. And even if we go to the gym to exercise, may we do so prayerfully. Truly, may our entire life be permeated with prayer. After all, we are to “pray without ceasing” (1 Thess. 5:17).

Do you work prayerfully?

Prayer-seemed-to-be quote on Edwards

To learn more about Edwards’ prayer life, see my book Jonathan Edwards: His Doctrine of & Devotion to Prayer.

 

 

 

 

 

Jonathan Edwards Prayer Puritan

Three Ways Adult Children Can Honor Their Mothers

3 ways children honor

Every second Sunday of May Americans, Canadians, Filipinos, and countless others around the globe celebrate Mother’s Day. This celebration centers on honoring mothers. Although this tradition originated in ancient pagan festivals, the motive embedded in this tradition is biblical. In fact, God in His fifth commandment demands that we honor our mothers: “Honor your father and your mother…” (Exod. 20:12).

Unfortunately, many children only remember to honor their mothers on Mother’s Day. They forget that honoring their mothers is their daily duty to God. Of course, our mothers are not perfect; they commit mistakes. Yet, we must still respect them in the Lord. If we ever disagree with them, let us do so using respectful language and gestures. Remember that when we disrespect our parents we sin not only against them but also against God, for God has commanded us to honor them.

Do you honor your mother? Here are three ways you can honor them.

Firstprize them. To honor our parents means to place a high value upon them. Our mothers, despite all their shortcomings, are precious gifts from God; and thus, we must treasure and love them. Remember, our mothers will not always be around with us. Most likely they will die first before we do; so while they are still alive, let’s tell them how much we appreciate them. Let’s show them our love in word and in deed. Sadly, it is when they are gone that we begin to realize how precious they were to us. Don’t wait until their funeral to say words of appreciation.

When was the last time you thanked and appreciated your mom? Again, she may have many flaws, but she is still your mom.

Secondprovide for them. In Matthew 15:4, Jesus understands the fifth commandment as referring to both submission to and provision for our parents. As God enables us, we should help our mothers (especially our widowed mothers) in their physical, material, or financial needs. If you grew up with a caring and responsible mom, just think of what she had done for you from the time you were born until you became an adult. For several months she carried you in her womb; she fed you, changed your diaper, rocked you to sleep in the middle of the night, took care of you when you were sick, and the list goes on and on. The least thing that we can do in return for our mothers’ loving care for us is help them in their time of need. The truth is we cannot pay them back for all the many good things that they have done and continue to do for us, even in our adulthood.

Are you concerned with your mother’s welfare?

Thirdpray for them, especially for their spiritual life. And pray for them regularly. Do not underestimate the power of prayer. If your mother is not yet saved, ask God to grant her faith in His Son, for the Bible says, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved” (Acts 16:31). If you have a godly mother, thank God for that tremendous blessing. And as Abraham Lincoln once declared, “No man is poor who has a godly mother.” Indeed, the “mother is the central sun of the child’s early life, and without her it is a poor home.” I personally thank and praise God for giving me such a loving and God-fearing mother. Part of what I am today, I owe to my dear mother.

Conclusion

Now, if we are honest with ourselves, we all have failed to honor our mothers as we should. There’s only one person who honored His mother as He should. His name is Jesus. Born under the law (Gal. 4:4), Jesus honored Mary (His earthly mother) and Joseph (His foster father). Jesus indeed kept the fifth commandment perfectly, so that through His perfect obedience to the law, we who are sinners may be justified through faith in Him.

And here’s our comfort: Yes, we are all guilty of not honoring our mothers as we should. But we can always come to God for forgiveness. We can borrow the words of the prodigal son in Luke 15:21 and apply it to our mothers, “‘Mother, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’” Our heavenly Father delights to forgive repentant sinners (1 John 1:9). We trust, too, that our mothers will pardon us: “forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you” (Eph. 4:32).

The command to honor our mothers should humble us before God, because it makes us realize that apart from God’s help we cannot honor them according to God’s standard.

Happy Mother’s Day to all moms!

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Mother