Islam (15)

In our last blog post on April 21 (blog post: Islam 14), we compared the soteriology of Islam with Christianity, that is, we looked at Islam’s doctrine of salvation. Like all religions, Islam offers its adherents salvation from this world of sin and misery. Some religions offer a “better place,” while others offer a higher form of consciousness. Buddhism, for example, offers the idea of nirvana, which is release from the endless cycles of reincarnation through which believers must pass on the way to full enlightenment.

Islam offers “paradise” (or heaven) and warns against “hellfire,” although Islam’s offer is conditional and uncertain. Since works are required to enter paradise, and since entrance into paradise depends ultimately on the (somewhat capricious) will of Allah on the Day of Judgment, no Muslim knows whether he or she shall enter paradise or hellfire. Assurance of salvation is, therefore, impossible. Such is the misery of all who trust in some form of salvation by works.

We noticed last time that Islam’s way of salvation is to follow, more or less faithfully, the way of the five pillars of Islam, the chief pillar of which is the shahada, or the confession that Allah is the only true God and Mohammed is his messenger or prophet. We also explained that the shahada is false, for the triune God of scripture is the only true God, while Mohammed is a false prophet. Therefore, the whole superstructure of Islam, which rests on that one central pillar, falls, much as the temple of Dagon fell when Samson leaned upon its pillars (Judges 16:29-30).

Of course, to attack the shahada in one’s first conversation with a Muslim is unwise and counterproductive, as it will close the door to any further interaction and simply offend the Muslim. We have not done so until blog posts 14-15, because we took the time to lay out very carefully the Christian confession concerning the Trinity, the deity and sonship of Christ, the incarnation, the two natures of Christ, the nature and necessity of the atonement, and the bodily resurrection of Jesus. An aggressive, iconoclastic form of witnessing might work on the internet where you want to impress your friends, but it will not help you win a hearing from a coworker or neighbor. And if your motive in witnessing (online or elsewhere) is to impress your friends, then please do not try to witness to a Muslim neighbor. Your motive in witnessing should be the glory of God and the salvation of your neighbor, not theological one-upmanship or the accumulation of notches on your debating belt!

We have presented the truth of Christianity to our Muslim neighbor (or this series of blog posts has equipped us to do so). The differences between the two theologies have been clearly set forth. Our Muslim neighbor has even been able to comprehend and answer correctly the questions of our quiz (see blog post, Islam 12, January 27). Intellectually, the Muslim now understands Christianity. Perhaps, intellectually, the Muslim has a better grasp of Christianity than many Christians (on topics such as the Trinity, the two natures of Christ, etc.). He sees clearly, much more clearly than before, the stark differences between the Islamic view of Jesus (Isa) and the Jesus presented in the Bible.

What must the Muslim do now? Is an intellectual appreciation of the differences sufficient? The answer is simple: he must repent and believe. In fact, the answer pertains to all unbelievers, whether atheists, agnostics, religious unbelievers, Hindus, Buddhists, etc. All unbelievers, no matter what form of unbelief they have, must repent and believe. That is the Biblical, evangelical, and Reformed answer. Unless the Muslim repents and believes, he will simply perish as a more knowledgeable unbeliever.

Because Muslims are somewhat foreign to us, we think that they are a special class. They are not: they are sinners; therefore, they have the same need as any other sinner, to be saved from sin and death. The way of salvation for the Muslim is the same as for any other sinner: the way of repentance and faith.

Repentance is a turning from sin. It is fundamentally a spiritual turning, for it begins in the heart. A repentant person has a change of mind. The Greek word translated repentance in the New Testament, metanoia, simply means “a change of mind.” The repentant person has a change of mind about God: where before he was indifferent or hostile toward God or where before he worshipped a false god, he now understands the truth about God and turns toward him. The repentant person has a change of mind about sin: what he once thought was good and pleasant, he now sees as wicked and displeasing to God. The repentant person has a change of mind about himself: where before he viewed himself as a good person or perhaps imperfect, now he sees himself as a wicked sinner in desperate need of salvation and he will not rest until he finds salvation outside of himself in Jesus Christ. The repentant person has a change of mind about Jesus Christ: before he entertained all kinds of unbiblical notions about Jesus, but now he sees him as the eternal Son of God, the only Savior, and he gladly receives him as Savior and submits to him as Lord. In short, repentance is a change of mind in which a person is sorry for his sins and turns from them.

To use our example, the Muslim must repent. We must call him to repent. He must no longer believe what he once did. He must stop living as he once did. He must turn from Allah, Mohammed, and the Qur’an, and turn to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, and to the Bible, regardless of the consequences. “Repent for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matthew 4:17). “I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance” (Luke 5:32). “Except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish” (Luke 13:5). “Repent ye therefore and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out” (Acts 3:19). “Ye turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God: and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, even Jesus, which delivered us from the wrath to come” (1 Thessalonians 1:9-10).

The truth that repentance is the gift of God, which he works in the hearts of his people (Acts 5:31; 11:18), does not annul the truth that repentance is an activity of man to which God commands the unbeliever. God will condemn the unbeliever for not repenting, whether he is able to repent or not. We are not hyper-Calvinists: we believe that God calls everyone, everywhere to repent (Acts 17:30). God calls your Muslim neighbor to repent. God calls you to repent, and if you are a Christian, you will repent daily. While God works repentance in you by the Spirit through the Word, God does not repent for you: you must repent and so must your Muslim neighbor.

The second thing that your Muslim neighbor must do is to believe. He must exercise faith. To the Muslim neighbor, we say, as Paul did to the Philippian jailor, “Believe on the Lord Jesus, and thou shalt be saved, and thy house” (Acts 16:31). We must not be shy about saying that. Especially, the minister must not be shy about preaching that. It is the call of the gospel. Notice its form—it is an imperative verb (a command), “believe;” followed by a promise, “And thou shalt be saved.” God issues a serious command—“Believe! Believe in my Son!” God adds to that a promise—“And thou shalt be saved.” However, there is a definite relationship between the command and the promise. God does not say (and nor do we), “God promises to you that, if you believe, you shall be saved.” Instead, God (1) issues the command, “Believe,” (2) states the promise, “And thou shalt be saved,” and (3) identifies the recipients of the promise as those who obey the command, believers. This is the pure Reformed theology from Dordt:

Moreover, the promise of the gospel is that whosoever believeth in Christ crucified shall not perish, but have everlasting life. This promise, together with the command to repent and believe, ought to be declared and published to all nations, and to all persons promiscuously and without distinction, to whom God out of his good pleasure sends the gospel (Canons 2:5).

For a Muslim to believe is really the same as for anyone to believe. He must hold for truth everything that God has revealed in his Word. He must especially believe what the Bible reveals about Jesus Christ. Moreover, he must trust in the crucified Jesus Christ, repudiating everything in which he has heretofore trusted for his salvation. The Muslim, for example, must repudiate the Qur’an—he cannot believe what the Qur’an teaches about Jesus and what the Bible teaches about Jesus, for those two testimonies are mutually exclusive. The Muslim must repudiate the hope that he has heretofore placed in his good works, in the five pillars of Islam, for example, for his salvation. Instead, he must come empty-handed to Jesus, trusting only in the perfect obedience and atoning sufferings of Christ (Christ’s righteousness) to cover all of his sins. The Christian witness must explain the beauties of Jesus Christ to the Muslim, so that the Muslim (by the grace of God) sees that Jesus is the only and perfect Savior. And the Muslim neighbor must be urged to believe in that Jesus.

It is true, of course, that true, saving faith is the gift of God (Eph. 2:8; Phil. 1:29), and that by it we are united to Jesus Christ and made partakers of all of Christ’s benefits. Nevertheless, the Muslim must still believe, for faith is also an activity to which God calls all men. While it is true that the unbeliever, whether Muslim or not, cannot believe, God still commands him to believe. God calls your Muslim neighbor to believe; God calls you to believe; and if you are Christian, you do believe daily.

Faith for the Muslim will be costly, perhaps especially costly, as we saw last time. But God’s promise to the believing sinner, whether Muslim or not, is especially precious: “He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life” (John 3:36). “He that believeth in me [Jesus], though he were dead, yet shall he live: and whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die” (John 11:25-26). “And by him all that believe are justified from all things, from which ye could not be justified by the law of Moses” (Acts 13:39). “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved, and thy house” (Acts 16:31).

Reader, have you believed in Jesus Christ? Believe in him. He that believes in him shall never be ashamed.

____________________

This post was written by Rev. Martyn McGeown, missionary-pastor of the Covenant Protestant Reformed Church in Northern Ireland stationed in Limerick, Republic of Ireland. 

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Final days of the Book Sale!

There are only a few days left for you to buy great books at low prices! 
These books are a great gift idea for that son or daughter or grandchild that will be graduating this year!

Book Club members save even more! Log into your online account before you start making your order.

*(Sale ends May 31, 2017, 11:59pm)*

30% OFF!
Bound to Join .......... Now $12.57
Common Grace Revisited .......... Now $2.45
Leaving Father and Mother .......... Now $4.17
Saved by Grace .......... Now $12.57
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Trinity and Covenant .......... Now $13.97
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Defense of the Church Institute .......... Now $7.18
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Social Constructionism (2)

Last time we defined social constructionism and showed that it falls into the category of postmodernism. Our goal with this series is to understand the layers of social constructionism so that we might be aware of its dangers as Reformed Christians. To peel away the first layer of the social constructionist onion, let’s begin by understanding our place in history.

Throughout the history of the world there have been great time periods which are marked by common and stable characteristics. Historians have recognized this and have given names to these great bands of time to help us understand the vast and complex flow of human history. The Iron Age comes to mind, and the Classical Age, the Renaissance, and the Industrial Revolution. These are just to name just a few. This is called the periodization of history.

Sometimes we recognize these patches of history by the spirit of prevailing philosophies which characterize them. The Germans called this the zeitgeist which means “the spirit of the times.” The age of reason or modernism or postmodernism are but a few.

In truth, history is the unfolding of God’s sovereign counsel. It is seamless; one day flows into a thousand years. To lump together segments of God’s counsel as it unfolds is surely an arbitrary construction of man. But the periodization of history helps us think about history by providing us with a framework to analyze the unfolding of God’s activity.

Because it is artificial, people living through a particular time period seldom realize it. The poor Irish farmer of the sixth century hardly understood he was living during a time known as the Early Dark Ages. He simply lived his life within the framework his culture provided, hardly aware of the forces that brought about the zeitgeist of that era.  It is for the student of history to look back and identify the period many years after the period has existed.

Throughout the flow of time, there have been great disruptions which often bring about the end of an era and the beginning of something new. Some of the most fascinating times in history occur not during the period, but between them. These are called transition periods and they are usually marked by a radical change in human life because of some powerful external factors. In his sovereign counsel, God has used many different means to carry out his will in history. These disruptions do not escape his sovereignty. They exist because of his sovereignty. Maybe it was the discovery of iron. Maybe it was the invention of the engine. Or maybe it was some sweeping philosophical or political ideology. In a transition period, disruption is the defining characteristic.

Because of these cataclysmic disruptions, it is possible to recognize, in the moment, that something old is dying away and the birth of something new, maybe even mysterious, is imminent. When the printing press was invented, the disruption to the status quo was recognizable in the relative moment. Pope Alexander VI issued his notorious Inter Multipleces (1501) which banned the printing of any books which were not endorsed by the Roman Catholic Church. He realized that the printing press had ushered in a great change which he did not like.

If we are perceptive enough, we can identify these transition periods while the transition is taking place. Sometimes the changes that take place can be so great, so effectual, so powerful, that even the oblivious person knows something big is happening. Sometimes the disruption is gradual, but deep.

We are in a transition period right now. When this period started and when it will end is for the coming generations to determine. It would do us well to take a moment to try to understand what age we are living in. It is my purpose to prove to you that social constructionism is one of the main disrupters.

More on this next time.

____________________

This post was written by Rick Mingerink, a member of the Grandville Protestant Reformed Church in Michigan. Rick is also the principal at Adams Christian School. If you have a question or comment for Rick, please do so in the comment section.

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God's Word: A Lamp and a Light

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Less Than the Least: Memoirs of Cornelius Hanko

Less Than the Least: Memoirs of Cornelius Hanko is expected to be available sometime in June.

Less Than the Least is the memoirs of Rev. Cornelius Hanko’s long, fruitful life of nearly a century (1907–2005). He lived through two world wars, the Great Depression, the Korean and Vietnam Wars, the rise and fall of communism, and the advent of the space age, and spanned the terms of eighteen US presidents, from Theodore Roosevelt to George W. Bush.

Son of Dutch immigrants to America, Rev. Hanko served six pastorates in five states, most notably in First Protestant Reformed Church, Grand Rapids, Michigan (1948–1964), along with Rev. Herman Hoeksema and Rev. Hubert De Wolf. Rev. Hanko poignantly describes the grief caused in the PRC by De Wolf’s heresy and schism (1953).

This delightful book comes complete with photos. 

 

***NOTE: Book Club members may opt-out of receiving this title by calling or emailing the RFPA. Must respond by May 31.***

 

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Social Constructionism

Over the next couple posts, I will be treating the subject of social constructionism. This may seem like a strange topic, hardly worth knowing. Although the term itself isn’t part of most people’s daily speech, its influence can be seen all over. If you bear with me over the next couple posts, you will find social constructionism is something you will want to know more about.

I first learned about this subject during my graduate studies at Calvin College. It was new to me, but it helped me understand why the world is consistently moving toward a progressive, non-traditional worldview. Have you ever wondered how two people living in the same country, maybe even on the same street, can have such radically different views on marriage or homosexuality and both passionately claim they are right? Or how there can be such polarization between the left and the right? The differences in worldview and ideology are so deep and foundational we have a difficult time even identifying ourselves with some of our fellow citizens. The differences no longer center on surface issues, but they go directly to the root. They deal with matters as deep as God’s creation ordinances.

In part, the answer lies in our conception of truth and knowledge. At the heart of all arguments is the desire for truth. It is human nature to want to uncover that truth. Or, so we may think. What if more and more society is operating within a radically different framework for understanding truth? What if more and more society rejects the premise that truth rests outside of themselves? In such cases, the possibility for two sides to look at the same thing and come to radically different conclusions is highly probable.

Social constructionism is a broad conglomeration of philosophies, but at its heart is the assumption that knowledge is socially created. That’s right. Knowledge (i.e., Dogs are furry and they can make good pets) is created in the minds of the knower. Because knowledge is the product of the knower, it is not independent. It does not exist outside of the mind. It is constructed in each person through the experiences they’ve had (i.e., I know dogs make good pets because I’ve had a dog and it was a good pet, or someone who’s had a dog for a pet said they were good pets, etc.). Since each person has a slightly different experience than someone else, each person forms a different knowledge base. Collectively, if knowledge is created and based on the experiences of society, absolute truth does not exist. It cannot, because absolute truth is an inflexible reality that exists apart from the knower. Take marriage for example. The social constructivist will say marriage is a construct of society. It can and must change as societies’ needs change.

Some people understand this as postmodernism. That would be correct. Social constructionism is a prominent theory in the postmodern movement. But postmodernism isn’t a theory itself, rather, it is a label. If we want to understand the activity which brings about the postmodern label, we would do well to understand social constructionism. 

This theory may seem absurd to you and me. But it is the foundational framework for so many philosophers, institutions, and organizations; and not just secular, but Christian and Reformed too. Although I have high esteem for the instruction I received at Calvin College, it may surprise you to know that her teacher education program is rooted in social constructionism. In 2002, Calvin College’s Department of Education rewrote their conceptual framework for their teacher education program. This framework was to provide the foundations for the educational philosophies taught to her students. They placed the foundations of their program on the philosophies of many social constructivists.[1] You can access their framework here (https://www.calvin.edu/academic/education/info/conceptualframework.pdf).

I have also heard more than a few Reformed (i.e., Protestant Reformed) teachers promote the idea of constructivism in their teaching. More often it comes from teachers just graduating from college. It would do them well, too, to probe a little deeper.

Let’s peel away some layers on this onion, shall we?

____________________

[1] Their conceptual framework explicitly references social constructivists (or those who embrace constructivist theories) like John Dewey, Paulo Freire, Parker Palmer, Jean Piaget, Lev Vygotsky, Spencer Kagen, Jurgen Habermas, Henry Giroux, and Cornel West.

____________________

This post was written by Rick Mingerink, a member of the Grandville Protestant Reformed Church in Michigan. Rick is also the principal at Adams Christian School. If you have a question or comment for Rick, please do so in the comment section.

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Book Sale!

Don't forget about the Inventory Reduction Sale we are currently running!
Now is a good time to grab some books at great prices for that son or daughter or grandchild that will be graduating this year!

Book Club members save even more! Log into your online account before you start making your order.

*(Sale ends May 31, 2017, 11:59pm)*

30% OFF!
Bound to Join .......... Now $12.57
Common Grace Revisited .......... Now $2.45
Leaving Father and Mother .......... Now $4.17
Saved by Grace .......... Now $12.57
Sixteenth-Century Reformation .......... Now $8.37
Trinity and Covenant .......... Now $13.97
Whosoever Will .......... Now $9.07

45% OFF!
Always Reforming .......... Now $9.32
Knowing God and Man .......... Now $6.57
Mysteries of the Kingdom .......... Now $18.12
Peace for the Troubled Heart .......... Now $15.92

Unfolding Covenant History (Vol. 5) .......... Now $8.79

60% OFF!
Battle for Sovereign Grace .......... Now $11.58
Communion with God .......... Now $11.58
Contending for the Faith .......... Now $11.58
Covenant and Election .......... Now $11.58
Defense of the Church Institute .......... Now $7.18
Justified unto Liberty .......... Now $15.18
Redeemed with Judgment (Vol. 1) .......... Now $12.80
Redeemed with Judgment (Vol. 2) .......... Now $12.80
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Sin and Grace .......... Now $6.78

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Christian Education and the Reformed Baptism Form (3): Instructing the Children

Our covenant children are royal children. Once they come to years of discretion we are called to hold before them, “Do you know, my child, that when you were very small something solemn, something holy happened to you? You were baptized in the name of the triune God. You are not a heathen child, but a child of the covenant” (Wielenga, Reformed Baptism Form: A Commentary, 182). All instruction in the home and at school has that at its core: our children are separate as royal children. Added to that truth, the Reformed Baptism form calls parents to instruct their children “herein when they shall arrive to years of discretion”.

Parents can heed this calling only through the grace of God in his gospel.  By nature we have irretrievably lost the privilege that God should be our God (Wielenga, 180). To this the Lord answers, “I do not wish to be only your God, but also the God of your child” (180). This humbles the believing parent and gives them hope. As a priest and a prophet, the parent is called to pray for the child and teach the child.

As a priest, the parent is called to be as Job: “And it was so, when the days of their feasting were gone about, that Job sent and sanctified them, and rose up early in the morning, and offered burnt offerings according to the number of them all” (Job 1:5a). As a prophet, the parent is one of the chief teachers of the children. The children must be taught their “misery that necessitates the cleansing signified by baptism, deliverance that is expressed in the promises sealed by the water of baptism, and also the life of gratitude to which the blessings of baptism urge” (Wielenga, 182). Here, the author of the Baptism Form commentary echoes the three divisions of the Heidelberg Catechism, which is the basis of all Reformed instruction in the home.

The instruction in the Christian home is essential for Christian school education to thrive. As this blog is a celebration of the work of our parents in the home, I want to take this opportunity to relate some wonderful highlights that we teachers see each day in the school.

Devotions at school are encouraging because teachers can discuss the Word with children who are well versed in the gospel. These children have the language of the Reformed faith on their lips. (At times, we hear “the speech of Ashdod” on the lips of the children, but then we instruct the children to cut out these evil words.) The teachers are very thankful for the instruction the children receive in how to pray. Instruction in prayer ought chiefly to happen in the home and not in the school. From their earliest years, the children ought to be taught to pray. Instruction in prayer takes years and years of work. Before a child even crosses the threshold of the kindergarten room, he or she already has five years of instruction in prayer. From the mere “Amen” a mother says over the child when the child is a week old, to the first full reciting of the Lord’s Prayer (which takes a long time in itself), to the full spontaneous prayer of a young person who is permeated by the Word, the prayer instruction of the child is arduous work. Parents, we thank you for this instruction. It is a delight for teachers to see its fruit. We stand with you and will work also with the children to continue it.

Class discussions concerning spiritual matters are the source of gratitude for teachers. The children often relate stories from their lives that illustrate the truth discussed. Take United States geography for an example.  In my class we do a report on a state within the U.S. A. Without any prompting, children often write about a true church that is located within that state. These children are aware of other fellow saints and want to have communion with them! They are always extremely interested in the people on the mission field. We can learn from these children! I often wonder, where does this excitement come from? The answer is that these children are royal children who are sanctified in Christ. They speak the speech of a child raised in a covenant home. 

Parents, we see the fruit of your work teaching these children in the home. Be encouraged that you are fulfilling your vows.

______________

This post was written by Mike Feenstraa member of the Protestant Reformed Church in Crete, Illinois. Mike also teaches fifth grade at the Protestant Reformed School in Dyer, Indiana. 

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Not Forgotten

This Sunday is Mother’s Day. The stores are stocked with “World’s #1 Mom” cards. The greenhouses are filled with husbands and children picking out hanging baskets and flower pots. Mothers and grandmothers everywhere are receiving hugs and text messages of thanks.

They are not likely to be forgotten.

And this is perfectly appropriate. For many of us we have had faithful, loving mothers. We are appreciative of their devotion, hard work, and self-sacrifice, and we want them to know it.

But there are some for whom this day is not one of rejoicing. Rather it’s a day of sadness. It’s a day in which they hold their pain close and pretend like everything is alright. It’s a day they wish would be over again for another year.

Sadly, these women are likely to be forgotten.

They might be forgotten because we don’t know about their struggle. It’s too private, too personal, and they aren’t ready to share it. They also might be forgotten simply because, well, we forgot. We didn’t stop to think about what they’re going through.

But they’re there. They’re present among us, shouldering silently a heavy burden.

There’s the single woman. Maybe she’s in her late twenties, and still hasn’t been asked on a date. Maybe she’s in her fifties, and the reality of being a lifelong single has fully sunk in. She wants to be married. She wants to have children of her own. But she doesn’t.

There’s the barren woman. She’s happily married to a faithful, Christian husband. But, like Sarah, Rebekah, and Hannah before her, she’s childless. She wants to be a mother. She wants to quit her job and stay home with her children. But month after month the test is negative.

There’s the woman who has miscarried multiple times. She’s felt the joy of conceiving and having a little one growing within her! She’s felt the nervous excitement of being a mother! But then her doctor can’t find a heartbeat. They tell her something is wrong. The child within her is no longer alive. And no one else knows.

There’s the woman who has a child. Maybe several children. But she’s unable to have any more. She hears the whispers, “Her youngest just had his fourth birthday. Why isn’t she expecting? Maybe she’s being selfish.” This cuts her to the quick. She wants more children. She isn’t being selfish. But her quiver is full at one or two.

There’s the mother with adopted children. Unable to have children naturally, she’s decided to adopt. For others who have adopted, it has gone well. But for her it’s been difficult. There have been countless struggles with her adopted children.

There’s the single mother. Her child was conceived out of wedlock, and she feels a sense of shame that she’s become a mother under these circumstances. She’s afraid, “What will others say? What will they think? How will they treat me? How will they treat my child?”

There’s the mother whose child has died. She can identify with Naomi-Mara. Her child was stillborn. Her child died at six months. Her child died at six, at twelve, at eighteen years of age.

There’s the mother with a prodigal son (or daughter). Her child has gone into a far country and wasted his substance with riotous living, even with harlots. She prays. Nothing seems to change. She pleads with him. He doesn’t call for months.

There’s the mother with many children. Her struggle is different. Far from struggling to get pregnant, she jokes that she could get pregnant if her husband simply looked at her. She physically could have a child every nine months. She catches stares driving her “bus.” Strangers at the grocery store comment on her large number of children. The Christian school tuition is staggering. She’s physically, mentally, and emotionally drained from the care of her children. And then she finds out she’s expecting again.

On Mother’s Day, amidst the cards and flowers and joy, remember these women as well. Remember the silent struggles that they endure. Bring their needs before the Father in prayer.

And for those who are struggling and feeling neglected, you are remembered. We may not always be able to be there for you. We may not always understand. We may not always know the right thing to say. But you are valued as an essential part of the body of Christ. You are loved, by the Father and by us.

You are not forgotten.

______________________

This post was written by Rev. Joshua Engelsma, pastor of Doon Protestant Reformed Church in Doon, Iowa. If you have a question or comment for Rev. Engelsma, please do so in the comment section.

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Spiritual Disciplines of the Christian Life: Reading

Some two thousand years ago, the imprisoned apostle Paul wrote to Timothy, “The cloke that I left at Troas with Carpus, when thou comest, bring with thee, and the books, but especially the parchments” (II Tim. 4:13). John Calvin’s comments on this passage are instructive: “It is obvious from this that although the apostle was already preparing for death, he had not given up reading…But we should note that this passage commends continual reading to all godly men as a thing from which they can profit.”[1]

The Bible commends reading. Reading is a discipline of the Christian life.

Reading as a spiritual discipline is not the same as reading in general. Certainly, reading books on history, science, wars, animals, and economics (the list goes on) is to be recommended, providing they are wholesome. But reading as a spiritual discipline is more focused on explicitly Christian literature, Reformed literature—in short, biblical literature: the Standard Bearer, Beacon Lights, Reformed Free Publishing Association (RFPA) publications, and so many other books and periodicals that promote our growth in godliness. Of course, we read the Bible, too, and that ought to be our main book—but the reading of scripture has been treated in past articles on devotions.

It is no secret that our technology-crazed world makes reading difficult. Technology, not wrong of itself, robs us of the time required for reading, and even the ability to read well. The incessant checking of Facebook, the constant updates on Twitter, the endless games, and the most recent alert from Snapchat present a very real danger to many disciplines of the Christian life, but especially to reading. Who has time anymore to read, at least to read more than a sentence here or there on a social media platform, or a quick news story? Soon enough, the reading of a substantive book on church history, or even working through a Standard Bearer article, becomes a daunting task.

Why do we read? Why do we read when Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, podcasts, Snapchat, and games seem so much more exciting, real life, and convenient? I provide three reasons below, readily recognizing that these reasons can be multiplied.

First, we read to sharpen our Reformed, biblical worldview: a worldview that includes doctrine, application of doctrine, and history. Do we not want to learn more about the signs of Christ’s coming, or justification by faith alone (two recent RFPA publications)? Do we not desire to evaluate world events through a Reformed, biblical lens (“All around Us” rubric in the Standard Bearer)? Do we not love our brothers and sisters overseas, longing to become better acquainted with them (recent article on Myanmar in Beacon Lights)? What do we believe? Are we anchored in it? Are we able to teach it to the generation following? Reading is crucial!

Second, and closely related to the first, is that reading is a means God uses for growth in godliness. Whatever we take in shapes our thinking. How blessed is the man, then, who enjoys a steady diet of sound, God-glorifying literature! These books and magazines edify, instruct, warn, comfort, and encourage. Reading holds an integral place in our life of sanctification.

Third, we read to become better readers of the Bible. Reading more makes us better Bible interpreters. This is not to minimize the work of the Holy Spirit, but only to say that reading helps our ability to comprehend words and thoughts, sharpens our grammatical skills, and improves our critical thinking. If only for this reason, reading is important!

A few reminders about reading are in order.

Be persistent. Remember: a discipline is a habit. Reading good books is no exception. Do not give up after two books. Read, and read, and read some more (even if at first it is not the highlight of your day). Soon it will become an activity you enjoy immensely! Make a reading schedule and stick to it. Scribble down notes while reading, to stay engaged. Even reading with others is helpful: moving chapter by chapter through a book with a friend or a group keeps everyone accountable. Good readers are not developed overnight—which is why this is a discipline of the Christian life.

Do not grow discouraged. It does not matter how many books you read in a year. Perhaps you have seen reading programs that call for the reading of x number of books in one year, and, because you do not or cannot read that many in a year, you become discouraged. The number of books is not as important as simply reading books, and understanding what you read. Set your own pace.

Train your children. Parents, we do well to cultivate in our children, starting already with our young children, and continuing with our teenagers, a love for reading good books. If this training is lacking at home, it is far less likely that our children will immerse themselves in Christian literature after they move out. Hand them a Beacon Lights, tell them to read two articles on a Sunday afternoon, and discuss the articles with them. Give your high schooler an RFPA book, and check periodically on his progress. And, parents, let’s have our own book in hand, so that we can be an example before our sons and daughters. As with so many of the other spiritual disciplines, parental involvement is key.

Read, dear reader! Such is a discipline of the Christian life.

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[1] From John Calvin’s commentary on II Timothy.

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This post was written by Rev. Ryan Barnhill, pastor of Peace Protestant Reformed Church in Lansing, Illinois. If you have a question or a comment for Rev. Barnhill, please do so in the comment section on the RFPA blog.

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