“Lord, I thank thee that Michigan winters are not always like this past week.”

This week’s winter storm is definitely the worst one that I’ve ever experienced in the thirteen years that I’ve lived in Michigan. And winter is not yet over; more snow is predicted to come. Consequently, many feel tired of the snow. Many (including myself) cannot wait for the spring. But before the snow melts, let me share some of my reflections on snow.

A view of the front of our house

A view of the front of our house

First, I thank God for giving me the opportunity to live in a place where it snows. When I was in the Philippines, Mexico, and Australia, I met people who have never seen snow in their lifetime, and who want to witness a snowfall. Of course there are countless of other peoples around the globe who would love to see snow, too. Thus, if you live in an area where it snows, thank the Lord for that privilege. Others can only dream of a white Christmas, while you get to experience and enjoy it.

Second, having seen snow with my own eyes, Bible verses that speak of snow become more meaningful to me. For instance, now I can better understand the point that God makes in Isaiah 1:18: “Come now, let us reason together, says the LORD: though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow.”

A view of our street

A view of our street

Third, snow can serve as a reminder to me of how God has forgiven me in Christ, making me even “whiter than snow” (Ps. 51:7). Imagine, God has made me whiter than snow! My fellow Christian, look around at all the snow and think of how God has cleansed you from all your sins through the blood of Jesus Christ. As the hymn writer Ro­bert Low­ry (1826–1899) remarks in his well-known hymn “Nothing but the Blood”:

What can wash away my sin?
Nothing but the blood of Jesus;
What can make me whole again?
Nothing but the blood of Jesus.

Oh! precious is the flow
That makes me white as snow;
No other fount I know,
Nothing but the blood of Jesus.

Fourth, as a hymn lover, snow reminds me of some of the hymns that mention snow. Then as I recall these hymns, I sometimes sing them silently in my heart or loudly with my mouth. Snow therefore becomes a means by which God directs my attention to the gospel. Right now as I look at the snow outside, the song that comes into my mind is “There Is Power in the Blood” by Lewis E. Jones (1865–1936):

Would you be whiter, much whiter than snow?
There’s power in the blood, power in the blood;
Sin stains are lost in its life giving flow.
There’s wonderful power in the blood.

There is power, power, wonder working power
In the blood of the Lamb;
There is power, power, wonder working power
In the precious blood of the Lamb.

I confess the older I get, the lesser I appreciate snow. And I admit many times I complain and say, “Snow again! When will it stop snowing? I’m tired of the snow.” Yet, with God’s help I try to discipline my mind to think of how I can use the presence of snow for my spiritual benefit.

Finally, I understand we’ve had a lot of snow. And it’s so easy to have a murmuring spirit toward this cold weather. Someone told a story about a certain minister who “was known for his uplifting prayers in the pulpit. He always found something for which to be grateful. One Sunday morning the weather was so gloomy that one church member thought to himself, ‘Certainly the preacher won’t think of anything for which to thank God on a wretched day like this.’ Much to his surprise, however, [the minister] began by praying, ‘We thank Thee, O God, that it is not always like this.’”

This is my thirteenth winter since I came to Michigan. And as I’ve already noted earlier, this week’s storm is the worst one that I’ve ever seen. But learning from this preacher, in the midst of this cold storm I can still find a reason to thank God. I can say, “Lord, I thank thee that Michigan winters are not always like this past week.”

How is our attitude toward the weather? When it is cold we complain, when it is hot we do the same. Instead of complaining, why don’t we start counting all our blessings in Christ and name them one by one, that we may be overwhelmed by God’s goodness and burst into praise.

When upon life’s billows you are tempest tossed,
When you are discouraged, thinking all is lost,
Count your many blessings, name them one by one,
And it will surprise you what the Lord hath done.

Count your blessings, name them one by one;
Count your blessings, see what God hath done.

A view of our street

A view of our street

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Hymns Snow

10 Ways to Encourage Our Young Children to Maintain Sexual Purity

Note: This week we have Dr. Rebecca Huizen, D.O. as our guest contributor. She is a pediatrician at Christian Healthcare Centers, a distinctively Christian membership-based primary care medical office in Grand Rapids, Michigan. She and her husband Scott have four children and they work together to homeschool.

dr. rebecca huizen d.o.

Dr. Rebecca Huizen D.O.

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1. Start talking to your children early about biblical sexuality values. First messages are the most powerful! As a parent, establish yourself as the trusted “expert” to your children on these matters as they grow.  There is so much you can do just in small conversations along the way when your children are young that help lay a good foundation for later.

2. Teach your preschool-aged children about how they are wonderfully created by God and how their sexuality (“boy-ness” or “girl-ness”) is a gift from God. Talk about how babies are born as boys or girls and how their basic anatomy differs (perhaps you can bring this up when someone you know delivers a baby). Teach the correct anatomical names for male and female body parts. (Recommended Resource: The Story Me, God’s Design for Sex Series #1.)

3. Train your child from a young age that our private parts – parts covered by a bathing suit – should not be looked at or touched by other people (clarify exceptions). Teach them how to say a firm “no”! Children also need to be taught not to touch other children’s private parts. Older children should not be changing clothes in the same room as others.  (Recommended resource for ages 2- 8: God Made All of Me: A Book to Help Children Protect Their Bodies.)

4. Start early with teaching your children, especially your daughters, to dress modestly. This can be an opportunity to teach them how valuable they are and to respect themselves. For your daughters, discourage early use of make-up and jewelry that may make her appear older.

5. Regulate and monitor your children’s exposure to entertainment media (including TV, movies, magazines, and Internet). Some TV sitcoms and movies may be viewed as cute and innocent but in reality teach and model sexual promiscuity in a way that can change the thinking, emotions and even behavior of your children. Do not allow your children to have a TV in their room as this can make it harder to monitor and can encourage them to isolate from the family.

6. Help equip your child to resist pornography by intentional teaching throughout childhood. Teach your preschool-aged children that pictures or movies showing people’s private body parts are not good. (Recommended resource for ages 3-6: Good Pictures, Bad Pictures Jr.) Keep this dialogue going through the elementary years and beyond.  Teach your child to look away and come talk to you if he is exposed to bad images.  (Recommended resource for ages 7 plus: Good Pictures, Bad Pictures: Porn-proofing Today’s Young Kids.) Only give your child access to an Internet-enabled device if you are directly supervising or very closely monitoring/restricting access.

7. Only let your child go to a friend’s home or on an outing with another family if you know well that the other family shares your values. Be especially careful about letting your child spend the night at a friend’s home.  Sleepovers are a common setting for sexual abuse and exposure to pornography.

8. Regularly instruct your child from God’s Word throughout their childhood. Take the opportunity to teach age-appropriate biblical sexuality values as you discuss biblical passages such as Adam and Eve, Joseph and Potiphar’s wife, and David and Bathsheba (instead of just putting this off until the teen years). Even a small child can understand concepts such as that God created marriage as a special covenant union between one man and one woman.

9. Developmentally, age 8-10 years is typically an ideal time to start the conversation with your child about sex, including God’s purpose and design for sex. Learning early about how God designed sex for married couples to express love and to begin new life does not rob a child of innocence but helps them not to view sex in a corrupt, worldly way. (Recommended resource: The Talk: 7 Lessons to Introduce Your Child to Biblical Sexuality.)

10. Be a good example. If you are married, maintain a healthy marriage and loving relationship with your spouse. If you are not married, make wise choices about dating, etc because your actions are likely to have a big influence on your children’s future choices.  Also set an example by avoiding media that promotes sexual immorality.

Family Parenting

Teaching Your Kids to Fight against Anxiety

Note: This week we have Dr. Rebecca Huizen, D.O. as our guest contributor. She is a pediatrician at Christian Healthcare Centers, a distinctively Christian membership-based primary care medical office in Grand Rapids, Michigan. She and her husband Scott have four children and they work together to homeschool.

dr. rebecca huizen d.o.

Dr. Rebecca Huizen D.O.

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Every child’s battle with anxiety looks different. Help your child sort through true concerns that need to be brought to God in prayer from destructive worrying thoughts.  Here are some possible principles/strategies to teach your child to help him or her overcome destructive worrying thoughts.

1. Try to identify and address any root causes for anxiety, such as a scary movie/book or an embarrassing or painful experience.  If a root cause is not obvious, pray specifically asking the Lord to reveal any cause.  Reflect on the onset of  when your child started having anxiety, including what was happening circumstantially to your child at the time.

2. Encourage your child to talk to God about his worries and trust in Him.  Remind him that no matter what he is feeling that God is in control, reigning supreme over every detail of the universe, and is always ready to help him.  Remembering that God is in control helps to calm our hearts. 

3. Meditate on God’s Word.  Share scriptures often about trusting in God and finding peace in Him.  Hang simple verses in your child’s bedroom or play area.  Your child could even help decorate these.

4. Teach your child that her value comes from being an extraordinary creation of God and help her establish her identity in Christ.  If your child believes her identity and purpose come from her performance or other external factors, this can lead to anxiety about not measuring up or not having the approval of others.  (Max Lucado’s book You are Special conveys these truths for kids in a powerful way.)                                    

5. Teach about switching from “downstairs brain” thinking to  “upstairs brain” thinking.

a. Our first response to a potentially disturbing situation is often an automatic/reflexic worrying or negative response at our brainstem level.  To a child, we might describe this as our “downstairs brain” (or “worry brain”) thoughts.

b. Empower your child by helping him understand that while we can not choose what ideas pop into our heads, just because certain thoughts come into our head does not mean they are true or good thoughts to keep thinking on.

c. When a worry thought comes, help your child to instead switch to true, godly thoughts, which we might describe to a child as “upstairs brain” thoughts.

d. If your young child is all worked up with irrational anxiety and can not seem to get out of “downstairs brain” thinking, it may help to just ask simple factual questions (such as what is the color of the sky) to help him to start thinking more clearly on what is actually true.

 

6. Come up with a plan together about saying “No!” to worry thoughts.  Some ideas are that your child picture herself:

a. Taking the thought captive – picture locking the thought up or capturing it

b. Casting the fear away like with a fishing pole (1 Peter 5:7)

c. Holding up a stop sign

d. Shaking head “no”

e. Holding out hand in a “stop” gesture

f. Talk to those thoughts like he would talk to a bully and tell them they are not welcome

g. Stomp on the “ANTs” (can think of them as “Automatic Negative Thoughts”)

 

7. Replace worry thoughts with good and true thoughts. Here are some ideas:

a. Have a simple verse ready to say

b. Sing a verse song (check out Seeds of Courage & Seeds of Faith CDs)

c. Picture Jesus holding your hand (Isaiah 41:13)

d. Think about finding refuge in God

e. Sing a song of praise

f. Recall past successes over the fear

g. Make a list of things he is thankful for

h. Remember a good memory.  Ask him to try to imagine he is back at that moment and try to remember what he felt, smelled, heard, etc.

 

8. Try deep breathing to help your child relax when she is worked up with anxiety.  Coach her in taking a deep breath and letting it out as slowly as she can.  Then pause breathing for 3-5 counts and repeat deep breaths.

9. Progressive Muscle Relaxation may also be calming. Talk her through starting her with feet and tensing for a count of 4 and then relaxing while taking a deep breath.  Then slowly work up through the legs, stomach, hands, arms, shoulders and face following the same procedure (see online for tutorial videos or “scripts” to follow).

10. Teach your child to “grow” the right thoughts.  Like a plant, the thoughts that we “water” (by continuing to think about) will grow and the ones we say “no” to will wilt.  (Consider as parents that continually explaining why irrational worries are nothing to be concerned about can actually help “water” the worry.)

11. Help your child identify physical signs of anxiety.  Stomachaches, headaches and sleep disturbance are commonly triggered by anxiety. Especially for older children, increased awareness of how anxiety affects the body can help in dealing with anxiety.

12. If the source of the anxiety is not obvious, try to help your child identify specific anxious thoughts.  When you child gets anxious, ask him what he was thinking about right before he became anxiousWorking through exercises in the I Bet I Won’t Fret anxiety workbook may help identify specific areas of anxiety.

13. Assess if your child is trying to control things that he cannot.  Children who are trying to control their world get frustrated and tend to be anxious.  Trying to control their world leads to anxiety because so many things are out of their control.  It can be life-changing to choose to relinquish perceived control and instead trust in God, who is truly in in control.

 

Scriptures for Overcoming Anxiety

“When I am afraid, I put my trust in you.”  Psalm 56:3

“For God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power, love and self-discipline.”  2 Timothy 1:7

“Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.”  1 Peter 5:7

“Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!”  Philippians 4:4

“For I, the Lord, hold your right hand; it is I who say to you, ‘Fear not, I am the one who helps you.’”   Isaiah 41:13

“Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.”  Joshua 1:9

“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.”  Romans 8:28

“You will keep in perfect peace those whose minds are steadfast, because they trust in you.”  Isaiah 26:3

“We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.” 2 Corinthians 10:5

“Glorify the Lord with me; let us exalt his name together.  I sought the Lord, and he answered me; he delivered me from all my fears.” Psalm 34:3-4

“Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.  And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.  Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.”  Philippians 4: 6-8

 

Recommended Books

I Bet I Won’t Fret: A Workbook to Help Children with Generalized Anxiety Disorder* by Timothy Sisemore

What to Do When You Worry Too Much: A Kid’s Guide to Overcoming Anxiety* by Dawn Huebner & Bonnie Matthews

What to Do When Mistakes Make You Quake: A Kid’s Guide to Accepting Imperfection* by Claire Freeland & J. Toner

Battlefield of the Mind for Kids by Joyce Meyers

*These books are from a secular perspective.  Please review before sharing with your child to choose which sections may be helpful and appropriate. 

Family Parenting Parents

What Are Your Plans for the New Year?

What Are Your Plans for the New YearDo you have plans for the year 2019? What are your plans? Perhaps you plan to get married, or continue your studies, or look for a different job, or buy a house, or travel abroad. Well, whatever your plans may be, as you plan, consider what God teaches us in Proverbs 19:21, “Many are the plans in the mind of a man, but it is the purpose of the LORD that will stand (ESV).”  One version puts it this way: “People may plan all kinds of things, but the LORD’s will is going to be done.” There is one important lesson on planning that we can glean from this verse: Unless our plans are part of God’s eternal plan, they will not succeed.

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Before I elaborate this point, let me first clarify that Proverbs 19:21 does not discourage or forbid us to make plans. In fact, elsewhere in the Bible God calls us to plan for our future, “The plans of the diligent lead surely to abundance” (Prov. 21:5). Or another version translates this verse as follows, “Plan carefully and you will have plenty.” According to this verse we are to plan carefully, and yet as we make plans, let us realize that our plans are subordinate to God’s sovereign will. God’s eternal plan is supreme over all our plans. Therefore, not all that we plan will come to pass.

The word plans in Proverbs 19:21 comes from the Hebrew verb khawshab which means to think of something that you want to do: “Many are the plans in the mind of a man.” Plans are your thoughts—things that are going on in your mind—things that you intend to accomplish or acquire. In fact, in the original the word mind in Proverbs 19:21 can also be translated as heart. That’s why in the King James Version we read, “There are many devices [or plans] in a man’s heart.”

Heart is regarded as the center of your life. Your plans are what occupy the center of your life. These are the things that you care about, or motivate you to live. For instance, in the Parable of the Rich Fool, a parable which illustrates the sin of covetousness, we see the rich fool making plans—plans that occupy his entire life: “And he [the rich fool] said, ‘I will do this: I will tear down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I will say to my soul, ‘Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry”’ (Luke 12:18-19).

The rich fool made selfish and greedy plans. Oh, but listen to what God says in Proverbs 19:21, “Many are the plans in the mind of a man, but it is the purpose of the LORD that will stand.” The word purpose here comes from the Hebrew verb that means to determine. Before the foundation of the world God has already determined that which must happen. We call it his eternal decree or counsel.  Here’s the analogy: before the creation of the universe, the three persons of the trinity met to have a council meeting, as it were. In that meeting they made a plan—a perfect plan that must take place. Therefore; and here’s my point, unless our plans are part of God’s eternal plan, they will not succeed.

Let me ask you again, “Do you have plans for this year—plans that occupy your mind and heart? What are they?” Well, remember this: Before you were even born, God had already made a plan for you and unless your plans are compatible with his eternal plan, your plans will not prosper.

Maybe you plan to get married this year, have children, graduate from high school and go to college, and work, and buy a house. But at the beginning of this year, God may say to you, “This night your soul is required of you.” You might get sick and die before the year 2019 ends.

Please, don’t think that I’m trying to scare you. No! I’m simply telling you the truth, so that when you plan, you will commit your plans to the Lord. Because unless the Lord blesses your plans, they will fail. The rich fool did not commit his plans to God. He did not even involve God in his thoughts. He thought he was a wise planner. He indeed became wise in his own eyes. Well, the Bible says, “do not lean on your own understanding… In all your ways acknowledge [God]…Be not wise in your own eyes (Prov. 3:5-7). Are you a wise planner, or a foolish planner like the rich fool?

Learn to qualify your plans by saying, “If the Lord wills, I will live and do this or that” (James 4:15). Learn to pray like Jesus, “Father, if you are willing, please take this cup of suffering away from me. Yet I want your will to be done, not mine” (Luke 22:42). This ought to be our prayer as we plan, “Father, I desire your will to be done, not mine, because I know your will is always for my good and for the glory of your name.”

Whatever plans we have this year, let’s commit them to the Lord. Let’s humbly acknowledge that he is in control of all things. Someone notes, “Livingstone planned to go to China, but God led him to Africa, to be its missionary-statesman, general and explorer. Alexander Mackay prepared for work in Madagascar, but was directed to Uganda, to aid in founding one of the most remarkable missions in the world. Carey proposed to go to the South Sea, but was guided divinely to India, to give the Bible in their native tongue to its teeming millions.”

You see, God knows what is best for us. Thus, let’s learn to submit to his eternal, wise, perfect sovereign will. Remember, the best place to be is in the will of God. If you are doing the Lord’s will, wherever you are, you are in the best place. And remember, too, as someone has said, “the will of God will never lead you where the grace of God cannot keep you.”

Happy New Year!

Prov. 19.21

New Year

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:

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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 

 

Uncategorized

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