Category Archives: Family
Fleeners: Going to America
Time flies… September 2017 marked 11 years since we moved to New Zealand as a family for gospel ministry.
Our lives have changed radically over these years. We are not the same people we were then. Clearly some of that is due to the simple passing of time and the normal changes that occur in life. Yet, much of who we are today is a result of becoming New Zealanders and serving together as a family as we’ve sought to be faithful servants of Christ.
One significant aspect of our life and ministry in New Zealand is that we’ve never returned to the US as a family in all these years. We have been happy to call New Zealand our home and Lord willing will continue to do so for many years to come. Another aspect has been the fullness and pace of our lives in ministry. We’ve been in fulltime ministry for nearly 15 years and have only ever had a two-week holiday and those didn’t happen until the last three years.
We’ve come to a time when we believe a family trip back to the US is overdue and we realise our window of opportunity to do so is closing. We also realise we are all very tired and overstretched. By August 2018 Mekaela will be 17 with only one year left of school. Mandy has one grandmother who is still living. We have nieces and nephews/cousins we’ve never met. We have siblings and parents we haven’t seen in many years.
I (Joe) have received approval from the Gospel Training Trust which oversees the Tim Training Course (where I teach) to have the 4th Term of 2018 off from my teaching responsibilities. I have also received affirmation from our church’s Elders, Deacons and congregation to be free from ministry here for December 2018 and January 2019.
Our plan is to return to America for those two months. Lord willing, we will be able to see all of our immediate families, visit Eastern Pennsylvania to show the children where they were born, etc., do some sightseeing along the way and have two or a bit more weeks for R&R together.
Though we have the time now in our schedule for a trip like this, we do not have the finances to make this happen. Like always we are dependent on the Lord for His provision. Like so many times in our lives we know He often provides through the kindness and generosity of His people.
If you are someone who has been blessed by our ministry over the years and are in a place to help us financially, we would be truly blessed.
You can give to our “Fleeners: Going to America Trip Fund” via this account – BNZ 02-0644-0073993-013.
If you are outside NZ and would like to contribute please contact me and I can send you details in an email – jfleener5 AT gmail DOT com
According to my blog is seems like we were reading through Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress as a family four years ago. I can’t actually remember how many times we’ve read through this book together as a family, but we are again!
A section that really struck me this time through is the story of “Little-Faith”. I found his story such a wonderful encouragement. Here it is in full.
THE STORY OF LITTLE-FAITH
Then said CHRISTIAN to his fellow, “Now I call to remembrance that which was told me of a thing that happened to a good man hereabout. The name of the man was LITTLE-FAITH; but a good man, and he dwelt in the town of Sincere . The thing was this: at the entering in of this passage, there comes down from Broadway gate a lane called Deadman’s Lane; so called because of the murders that are commonly done there. And this LITTLE-FAITH going on pilgrimage, as we do now, chanced to sit down there, and slept. Now there happened, at that time, to come down the lane from Broadway gate three sturdy rogues, and their names were FAINT-HEART, MISTRUST, and GUILT (three brothers); and they, espying LITTLE-FAITH where he was, came galloping up with speed. Now the good man was just awaked from his sleep, and was getting up to go on his journey; so they came all up to him, and, with threatening language, bade him stand. At this, LITTLE-FAITH looked as white as a clout; and had neither power to fight nor fly. Then said FAINT-HEART, ‘Deliver thy purse;’ but he making no haste to do it (for he was loth to lose his money), MISTRUST ran up to him, and thrusting his hand into his pocket, pulled out thence a bag of silver. Then he cried out, ‘Thieves! thieves!’ With that, GUILT, with a great club that was in his hand, struck LITTLE-FAITH on the head, and with that blow felled him flat to the ground; where he lay bleeding, as one that would bleed to death. All this while the thieves stood by; but at last, they hearing that some were upon the road, and fearing lest it should be one GREAT-GRACE, that dwells in the city of Good-confidence, they betook themselves to their heels, and left this good man to shift for himself. Now, after awhile, LITTLE-FAITH came to himself; and getting up, made shift to scrabble on his way. This was the story.”
Hope. But did they take from him all that ever he had?
Chr. No; the place where his jewels were they never ransacked, so those he kept still; but, as I was told, the good man was much afflicted for his loss, for the thieves got most of his spending money. That which they got not (as I said) were jewels; also he had a little odd money left, but scarce enough to bring him to his journey’s end;
“And if the righteous scarcely be saved, where shall the ungodly and the sinner appear?” 1 Peter 4:18
nay (if I was not misinformed), he was forced to beg as he went, to keep himself alive (for his jewels he might not sell). But beg, and do what he could, he went (as we say) “with many a hungry belly” the most part of the rest of the way.
Hope. But is it not a wonder they got not from him his certificate by which he was to receive his admittance at the Celestial Gate?
Chr. ‘T is a wonder but they got not that, though they missed it not through any good cunning of his; for he being dismayed with their coming upon him, had neither power nor skill to hide anything: so ‘t was more by good providence than by his endeavour that they missed of that good thing.
“That good thing which was committed unto thee keep by the Holy Ghost which dwelleth in us.” 2 Timothy 1:14
“The Lord knoweth how to deliver the godly out of temptations, and to reserve the unjust unto the day of judgment to be punished:” 2 Peter 2:9
Hope. But it must be a comfort to him that they got not his jewels from him.
Chr. It might have been great comfort to him, had he used it as he should; but they that told me the story, said, That he made but little use of it all the rest of the way; and that because of the dismay that he had in their taking away of his money: indeed, he forgot it a great part of the rest of the journey. And besides, when at any time it came into his mind, and he began to be comforted therewith, then would fresh thoughts of his loss come again upon him; and those thoughts would swallow up all.
Hope. Alas, poor man, this could not but be a great grief unto him.
Chr. Grief! Aye, a grief indeed; would it not have been so to any of us, had we been used as he, to be robbed and wounded too, and that in a strange place, as he was? ‘Tis a wonder he did not die with grief, poor heart! I was told, that he scattered almost all the rest of the way with nothing but doleful and bitter complaints. Telling also to all that overtook him, or that he overtook in the way as he went, where he was robbed, and how; who they were that did it, and what he lost; how he was wounded, and that he hardly escaped with life.
Hope. But ’tis a wonder that his necessities did not put him upon selling or pawning some of his jewels, that he might have wherewith to relieve himself in his journey.
Chr. Thou talkest like one upon whose head is the shell to this very day; for what should he pawn them? or to whom should he sell them? In all that country where he was robbed his jewels were not accounted of, nor did he want that relief which could from thence be administered to him; besides, had his jewels been missing at the gate of the Celestial City, he had (and that he knew well enough) been excluded from an inheritance there; and that would have been worse to him than the appearance and villainy of ten thousand thieves.
Hope. Why art thou so tart, my brother? Esau sold his birthright, and that for a mess of pottage; and that birthright was his greatest jewel:
“Lest there be any fornicator, or profane person, as Esau, who for one morsel of meat sold his birthright.” Hebrew 12:16
and if he, why might not LITTLE-FAITH do so too?
Chr. Esau did sell his birthright indeed, and so do many besides; and by so doing, exclude themselves from the chief blessing, as also that knave did. But you must put a difference betwixt Esau and LITTLE-FAITH; and also betwixt their estates. Esau’s birthright was typical; but LITTLE-FAITH’S jewels were not so. Esau’s belly was his god; but LITTLE-FAITH’S belly was not so.
“And Esau said, Behold, I am at the point to die: and what profit shall this birthright do to me?” Genesis 25:32
Esau’s want lay in his fleshly appetite; LITTLE-FAITH’S did not so. Besides, Esau could see not further than to the fulfilling of his lusts: “For I am at the point to die,” said he; “and what good will this birthright do me?” But LITTLE-FAITH, though it was his lot to have but a little faith, was by his little faith kept from such extravagances, and made to see and prize his jewels more than to sell them, as Esau did his birthright. You read not anywhere that Esau had faith, no, not so much as a little: therefore no marvel, if where the flesh only bears sway (as it will in the man where no faith is to resist), if he sells his birthright, and his soul and all, and that to the devil of hell; for it is with such as it is with the ass, who in her occasion cannot be turned away.
“A wild ass used to the wilderness, that snuffeth up the wind at her pleasure; in her occasion who can turn her away? all they that seek her will not weary themselves; in her month they shall find her.” Jeremiah 2:24
When their minds are set upon their lusts, they will have them, whatever they cost. But LITTLE-FAITH was of another temper, his mind was on things divine; his livelihood was upon things that were spiritual, and from above: therefore, to what end should he that is of such a temper sell his jewels (had there been any that would have bought them), to fill his mind with empty things? Will a man give a penny to fill his belly with hay? or can you persuade the turtledove to live upon carrion, like the crow? Though faithless ones can, for carnal lusts, pawn, or mortgage, or sell what they have, and themselves outright to boot; yet they that have faith, saving faith, though but a little of it, cannot do so. Here, therefore, my brother, is thy mistake.
Hope. I acknowledge it; but yet your severe reflection had almost made me angry.
Chr. Why, I did but compare thee to some of the birds that are of the brisker sort, who will run to and fro in trodden paths with the shell upon their heads; but pass by that and consider the matter under debate, and all shall be well betwixt thee and me.
Hope. But, CHRISTIAN, these three fellows, I am persuaded in my heart, are but a company of cowards: would they have run else, think you, as they did at the noise of one that was coming on the road? Why did not LITTLE-FAITH pluck up a greater heart? He might, methinks, have stood one brush with them, and have yielded when there had been no remedy.
Chr. That they are cowards, many have said; but few have found it so in the time of trial. As for a great heart, LITTLE-FAITH had none; and I perceive by thee, my brother, hadst thou been the man concerned, thou art but for a brush, and then to yield. And, verily, since this is the height of thy stomach now they are at a distance from us, should they appear to thee, as they did to him, they might put thee to second thoughts.
But consider again – they are but journeymen-thieves, they serve under the king of the bottomless pit; who, if need be, will come in to their aid himself, and his voice is as the roaring of a lion.
“Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour:” 1 Peter 5:8
I myself have been engaged as this LITTLE-FAITH was; and I found it a terrible thing. These three villains set upon me; and I beginning like a Christian to resist, they gave but a call, and in came their master: I would, as the saying is, have given my life for a penny; but that, as God would have it, I was clothed with armour of proof. Aye, and yet though I was so harnessed, I found it hard work to quit myself like a man; no man can tell what in that combat attends us, but he that hath been in the battle himself.
Hope. Well, but they ran, you see, when they did but suppose that one GREAT-GRACE was in the way.
Chr. True, they have often fled, both they and their master, when GREAT-GRACE hath but appeared; and no marvel, for he is the King’s champion: but I trow, you will put some difference between LITTLE-FAITH and the King’s champion; all the King’s subjects are not his champions; nor can they, when tried, do such feats of war as he. Is it meet to think that a little child should handle Goliath as David did? or that there should be the strength of an ox in a wren? Some are strong, some are weak; some have great faith, some have little: this man was one of the weak; and therefore he went to the wall.
Hope. I would it had been GREAT-GRACE for their sakes.
Chr. If it had been he, he might have had his hands full: for I must tell you, that though GREAT-GRACE is excellent good at his weapons, and has done – and can do, so long as he keeps them at sword’s point – well enough with them; yet if they get within him, even FAINT-HEART, MISTRUST, or the other, it shall go hard but they will throw up his heels. And when a man is down, you know – what can he do?
Whoso looks well upon GREAT-GRACE’S face, shall see those scars and cuts there, that shall easily give demonstration of what I say. Yea, once I heard that he should say (and that when he was in the combat), “We despaired even of life.” How did these sturdy rogues and their fellows make David groan, moan, and roar? Yea, Heman and Hezekiah too, though champions in their day, were forced to bestir them when by these assaulted; and yet, that notwithstanding, they had their coats soundly brushed by them. Peter, upon a time, would go try what he could do; but, though some do say of him that he is the Prince of the Apostles, they handled him so that they made him at last afraid of a sorry girl.
Besides, their king is at their whistle, he is never out of hearing; and if at any time they be put to the worst, he, if possible, comes in to help them. And of him it is said, “The sword of him that lays at him cannot hold: the spear, the dart, nor the habergeon. He esteems iron as straw, and brass as rotten wood. The arrow cannot make him flee; slingstones are turned with him into stubble. Darts are counted as stubble; he laughs at the shaking of a spear”.
“The sword of him that layeth at him cannot hold: the spear, the dart, nor the habergeon. He esteemeth iron as straw, and brass as rotten wood. The arrow cannot make him flee: slingstones are turned with him into stubble. Darts are counted as stubble: he laugheth at the shaking of a spear.” Job 41:26-29
What can a man do in this case? ‘Tis true, if a man could at every turn have Job’s horse, and had skill and courage to ride him, he might do notable things. For “his neck is clothed with thunder; he will not be afraid as the grasshopper; the glory of his nostrils is terrible. He paws in the valley, rejoices in his strength, and goes out to meet the armed men. He mocks at fear, and is not affrighted, neither turns back from the sword. The quiver rattles against him; the glittering spear, and the shield. He swallows the ground with fierceness and rage; neither believes he that it is the sound of the trumpet. He saith among the trumpets, Ha, ha; and he smells the battle afar off, the thundering of the captains, and the shouting”.
“Hast thou given the horse strength? hast thou clothed his neck with thunder? Canst thou make him afraid as a grasshopper? the glory of his nostrils is terrible. He paweth in the valley, and rejoiceth in his strength: he goeth on to meet the armed men. He mocketh at fear, and is not affrighted; neither turneth he back from the sword. The quiver rattleth against him, the glittering spear and the shield. He swalloweth the ground with fierceness and rage: neither believeth he that it is the sound of the trumpet. He saith among the trumpets, Ha, ha; and he smelleth the battle afar off, the thunder of the captains, and the shouting.” Job 39:19-25
But for such footmen as thee and I are, let us never desire to meet with an enemy, nor vaunt as if we could do better, when we hear of others that they have been foiled; nor be tickled at the thoughts of our own manhood, for such commonly come by the worst when tried. Witness Peter, of whom I made mention before. He would swagger, aye, he would: he would, as his vain mind prompted him to say, do better, and stand more for his Master, than all men; but who was so foiled and run down by these villains as he?
When, therefore, we hear that such robberies are done on the king’s highway, two things become us to do; first, to go out harnessed, and to be sure to take a shield with us; for it was for want of that, that he that laid so lustily at Leviathan, could not make him yield. For, indeed, if that be wanting, he fears us not at all. Therefore he that had skill hath said, “Above all, take the shield of faith, wherewith ye shall be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked”.
“Above all, taking the shield of faith, wherewith ye shall be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked.” Ephesians 6:16
‘Tis good also that we desire of the King a convoy, yea, that he will go with us himself. This made David rejoice when in the Valley of the Shadow of Death; and Moses was rather for dying where he stood, than to go one step without his God.
“And he said unto him, If thy presence go not with me, carry us not up hence.”Exodus 33:15
Oh, my brother, if he will but go along with us, what need we be afraid of ten thousands that shall set themselves against us? but without him, the proud helpers fall under the slain.
“I laid me down and slept; I awaked; for the LORD sustained me. I will not be afraid of ten thousands of people, that have set themselves against me round about. Arise, O LORD; save me, O my God: for thou hast smitten all mine enemies upon the cheek bone; thou hast broken the teeth of the ungodly. Salvation belongeth unto the LORD: thy blessing is upon thy people. Selah.” Psalm 3:5-8
“The LORD is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? the LORD is the strength of my life; of whom shall I be afraid? When the wicked, even mine enemies and my foes, came upon me to eat up my flesh, they stumbled and fell. Though an host should encamp against me, my heart shall not fear: though war should rise against me, in this will I be confident.” Psalm 27:1-3
“Without me they shall bow down under the prisoners, and they shall fall under the slain. For all this his anger is not turned away, but his hand is stretched out still.” Isaiah 10:4
I, for my part, have been in the fray before now; and though (through the goodness of him that is best) I am, as you see, alive, yet I cannot boast of my manhood. Glad shall I be if I meet with no more such brunts; though I fear we are not got beyond all danger. However, since the lion and the bear hath not as yet devoured me, I hope God will also deliver us from the next uncircumcised Philistine.
Then sang Christian:
“Poor LITTLE-FAITH! hast been among the thieves?
Wast robbed? Remember this: whoso believes,
And gets more faith, shall then a victor be
Over ten thousand, else scarce over three.”
It is particularly easy for me to remember how many years we’ve been married since we were married in the year 2000. Yep, it’s been 16 years.
On January 8th 2000 we stood before God, family, and many friends and made our vows. I remember being asked the morning of our wedding by a friend, “how do you know for sure Mandy is ‘the one’?” (Keep in mind we had only known each other four months before our wedding.) I remember saying something like, “I don’t. I’m pretty sure. We’ve sought godly counsel, we’ve desired to honour the Lord in our choice of a spouse, but anything could still happen to keep us from getting married later today. However, when we say ‘I do’ that’s it. She’s the one.”
Tim Keller says the following:
“Wedding vows are not a declaration of present love but a mutually binding promise of future love. A wedding should not be primarily a celebration of how loving you feel now—that can safely be assumed. Rather, in a wedding you stand up before God, your family, and all the main institutions of society, and you promise to be loving, faithful, and true to the other person in the future, regardless of undulating internal feelings or external circumstances. What can keep marriages together during the rough patches? The vows. When I married my wife, I had hardly a smidgen of sense for what I was getting into with her. How could I know how much she would change over 25 years? How could I know how much I would change? My wife has lived with at least five different men since we were wed—and each of the five has been me. When you first fall in love, you think you love the person, but you don’t really. You can’t know who the person is right away. That takes years. You actually love your idea of the person—and that is always, at first, one-dimensional and somewhat mistaken. When over the years someone has seen you at your worst, and knows you with all your strengths and flaws, yet commits him- or herself to you wholly, it is a consummate experience. To be loved but not known is comforting but superficial. To be known and not loved is our greatest fear. But to be fully known and truly loved is, well, a lot like being loved by God. It is what we need more than anything. It liberates us from pretence, humbles us out of our self-righteousness, and fortifies us for any difficulty life can throw at us. Passion may lead you to make a wedding promise, but then that promise over the years makes the passion richer and deeper. We never know whom we marry; we just think we do. Or even if we first marry the right person, just give it a while and he or she will change. For marriage, being [the enormous thing it is] means we are not the same person after we have entered it. The primary problem is . . . learning how to love and care for the stranger to whom you find yourself married. In any relationship, there will be frightening spells in which your feelings of love seem to dry up. And when that happens you must remember that the essence of a marriage is that it is a covenant, a commitment, a promise of future love. This means we must say to ourselves something like this: “Well, when Jesus looked down from the cross, he didn’t think, ‘I am giving myself to you because you are so attractive to me.’ No, he was in agony, and he looked down at us—denying him, abandoning him, and betraying him—and in the greatest act of love in history, he stayed. He said, ‘Father, forgive them, they don’t know what they are doing.’ He loved us, not because we were lovely to him, but to make us lovely. That is why I am going to love my spouse.” Speak to your heart like that, and then fulfil the promises you made on your wedding day.” (Keller, Timothy J., and Kathy Keller. The Meaning of Marriage: Facing the Complexities of Commitment with the Wisdom of God. New York: Dutton, 2011.)
I am so thankful for the amazing, sustaining grace of God in our lives. There is no way we would still be married today if not for His grace. Marriage is not easy. It is the most difficult, most confronting, most painful relationship I have ever been in. Not because of who I married, but because of who I have discovered myself to be in our marriage. So where is God’s grace?
- In the wonderful privilege we both had to receive solid, biblical teaching on marriage from our pastors and churches even before we knew each other.
- In His kind providence to lead us into each others lives and to propel us into marriage in a short period of time. We had godly people in our lives who guided us in understanding the purpose of the marriage covenant was far more sustaining than “ensuring we had found our ‘soul mate’.”
- In using our marriage to reveal my selfishness and sin more than anything else in my experience. Marriage has been and continues to be a most sanctifying thing in my life.
- In giving us the desire to and enabling us to keep our vows through periods of pain and joy.
- In showering us with undeserved kindness such that we can declare that as the years go by our marriage has truly become sweeter than we could have ever imagined.
For the past several years we’ve celebrated our anniversary while attending an annual camp/conference together as a family. Not exactly intimate but fun… This year though, is a first.
I woke up this morning on our wedding anniversary without my wife by my side. The children and I are at the camp/conference while Mandy has been enjoying a much deserved week at home for R&R. I am very thankful for the opportunity this week has provided for her. At the same time, I miss her terribly and feel the “wrongness” of not being together on such a morning.
Again, Keller has written:
“So, what do you need to make marriage work? You need to know the secret, the gospel, and how it gives you both the power and pattern for your marriage. On the one hand, the experience of marriage will unveil the beauty and depths of the gospel to you. It will drive you further into reliance on it. On the other hand, a greater understanding of the gospel will help you experience deeper and deeper union with each other as the years go on. There, then, is the message of this book — that through marriage the mystery of the gospel is unveiled. Marriage is a major vehicle for the gospel’s remaking of your heart from the inside out and your life from the ground up. The reason that marriage is so painful and yet wonderful is because it is a reflection of the gospel, which is painful and wonderful at once. The gospel is this: We are more sinful and flawed in ourselves than we ever dared believe, yet at the very same time we are more loved and accepted in Jesus Christ than we ever dared hope. This is the only kind of relationship that will really transform us. Love without truth is sentimentality; it supports and affirms us but keeps us in denial about our flaws. Truth without love is harshness; it gives us information but in such a way that we cannot really hear it. God’s saving love in Christ, however, is marked by both radical truthfulness about who we are and yet also radical, unconditional commitment to us. The merciful commitment strengthens us to see the truth about ourselves and repent. The conviction and repentance moves us to cling to and rest in God’s mercy and grace. The hard times of marriage drive us to experience more of this transforming love of God. But a good marriage will also be a place where we experience more of this kind of transforming love at a human level. The gospel can fill our hearts with God’s love so that you can handle it when your spouse fails to love you as he or she should. That frees us to see our spouse’s sins and flaws to the bottom — and speak of them — and yet still love and accept our spouse fully. And when, by the power of the gospel, our spouse experiences that same kind of truthful yet committed love, it enables our spouses to show us that same kind of transforming love when the time comes for it. This is the great secret! Through the gospel, we get both the power and the pattern for the journey of marriage.”
I am convinced more now than ever that I married the right girl. I look forward to the years ahead and the joy of spending the rest of my life with her.
Lord willing next year, since our anniversary will be on a Sunday, we will wake up in the morning together!
15 August 1999 a date I will always remember…
It was a Sunday and I had only been two weeks living in Lansdale, Pennsylvania, where I had moved to attend seminary.
On my second Sunday at, what was to be my new church, I met Amanda Lynn Birtchet. It was her 24th birthday.
We exchanged greetings and general pleasantries. I left thinking, “I’m going to find a way to get to know her better”!
I did… We did… We married 4 ½ months later. She was 24. I was 27. We were young; life seemed like an open book ahead of us.
Today marks 16 years since the day we met. It’s Mandy’s birthday. Her 40th. Wow! How did that happen? I’m nearly 43, my bride is 40. We have a 14 (as of tomorrow), 12 & 10 year old.
Proverbs 18:22 He who finds a wife finds a good thing and obtains favour from the LORD.
40 isn’t that old, neither is 42 for that matter. But 40’s aren’t 20’s. We really had no idea what we were getting into 16 years ago.
I’ll never forget (I hope) our first date (and the many that followed in rapid succession). We just talked and talked. It seemed like the future was wide open before us. We were going to follow Christ wherever and take on the world.
We had no idea that before our 5th wedding anniversary and before Mandy was even 30 we would see Mandy’s Mum pass away, have two miscarriages, and she would give birth to our three children.
In the same period of time, I would change jobs three times, be out of work for several months, and complete my courses towards two graduate degrees.
That was only the beginning…
Proverbs 5:18 …rejoice in the wife of your youth…
I am so thankful that phrase is in the Bible. We’ve been married another 10 years. On each of Mandy’s birthdays I have the opportunity to reflect on how much our lives have changed and how virtually nothing is as we imagined life would be 16 years ago on that day when we met.
We’re older now… We’ve gone through more moves, changes in ministry, family tragedies, normal and abnormal illnesses, periods of intensely demanding schedules… We get tireder quicker now…
Proverbs 12:4 An excellent wife is the crown of her husband…
I’m so thankful you were born on this day. I am so thankful we met on this day sixteen years ago.
I’m so very thankful you are the wife of my youth but even more thankful you are my wife today and will be until the Lord returns or death separates us.
Happy 40th my dear! I hope I’m here to say happy 80th as I continue to rise up and call you blessed…
Proverbs 31 – 28 Her children rise up and call her blessed; her husband also, and he praises her: 29 “Many women have done excellently, but you surpass them all.”
Late in life & very unwell, Spurgeon models for us true pastoral care as he sits down to write to a child. More than that, he models for us the type of gospel love and pleading all Christian parents and pastors ought to have for the children in the care.
Written on July 1, 1890, Spurgeon was said to have been sick, tired and very busy. His hand “was swollen and probably painful as he held the pen.” (Dallimore, p 225)
My Dear Arthur Layzell,
I was a little while ago at a meeting for prayer where a large number of ministers were gathered together. The subject of prayer was “our children.” It soon brought tears to my eyes to hear those good fathers pleading with God for their sons and daughters. As they went on entreating the Lord to save their families my heart seemed ready to burst with strong desire that it might even so. Then I thought, I will write to those sons and daughters, to remind of their parents’ prayers.
Dear Arthur, you are highly privileged in having parents who pray for you. Your name is known in the courts of heaven. Your case has been laid before the throne of God.
Do you not pray for yourself? If you do not do so, why not? If other people value your soul, can it be right for you to neglect it? See, the entreaties and wrestlings of your father will not save you if you never seek the Lord yourself. You know this.
You do not intend to cause grief to dear mother and father: but you do. So long as you are not saved, they can never rest. However, obedient and sweet and kind you may be, they will never feel happy about you until you believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, and so find everlasting salvation.
Think of this. Remember how much you have already sinned, and none can wash you but Jesus. When you grow up you may become very sinful, and no one can change your nature and make you holy but but the Lord Jesus, through His Spirit.
You need what father and mother seek for you and you need it NOW. Why not seek it at once? I heard a father pray, “Lord, save our children, and save them young.” It is never too soon to be safe; never too soon to be happy; never too soon to be holy. Jesus loves to receive the very young ones.
You cannot save yourself, but the great Lord Jesus can save you. Ask him to do it. “He that asketh receiveth.” Then trust in Jesus to save you. he can do it, for he died and rose again that whosoever believeth in him might not perish, but have everlasting life.
Come and tell Jesus you have sinned; seek forgiveness; trust in Him for it, and be sure that you are saved.
Then imitate our Lord. Be at home what Jesus was at Nazareth. Yours will be a happy home, and your dear father and mother will feel that the dearest wish of their hearts has been granted them.
I pray you think of heaven and hell, for in one of those places you will live forever. Meet me in heaven. Meet me at once at the mercy-seat. Run upstairs and pray to the great Father, through Jesus Christ.
Yours very lovingly, C.H. Spurgeon. (Dallimore, p 224,25)
This Sunday, we begin a new series at Rolleston Baptist Church through Proverbs.
I love the book of Proverbs.
Nearly 10 years ago, I spent a month blogging through the book of Proverbs, one chapter per day. I called my simple blog series, “Pondering Proverbs as a Parent“.We were still living in the States at the time. My children were 1, 2, & 4!
Our lives have changed dramatically in the years since. Yet the timeless truths of God’s Word never change.
These blog posts are rough & unedited. I share them here as they may still prove helpful to some family.
One of the seminars I will present twice on each Saturday. Once for the parents and again for teens.
Here is an outline of this particular seminar…
Tackling the “isms”: Worldview Overview
- What is a Worldview?
Your worldview is your general theory of the universe. It’s comprised of your fundamental beliefs about yourself, the world, and God. Your worldview answers fundamental questions about yourself–
*What am I?
*How can I be truly happy?
*What’s morally right and wrong?
—and about the world:
*Why does anything exist?
*Why does anything happen at all?
*How do I know anything?
*How do I know what is real and true?
Everyone has a god that they worship. The only distinction between worldviews is whether the object of worship is God the Creator, or this world, the creation.
“A worldview is a commitment, a fundamental orientation of the heart, that can be expressed as a story or in a set of presuppositions (assumptions which may be true, partially true or entirely false) which we hold (consciously or unconsciously, consistently or inconsistently) about the basic constitution of reality, and that provides the foundation on which we live and move and have our being.”
James W. Sire, The Universe Next Door: A Basic Worldview Catalog, 4th ed. (Downers Grove, IL: Inter Varsity Press, 2004), 17.
“A worldview is a way one views the whole world. A worldview is a way of viewing or interpreting all of reality. It is an interpretive framework through which or by which one makes sense out of the data of life and the world. A worldview is like a set of colored glasses. If one looks at the same object through green colored glasses he will see it as green, while another looking at the same object through red glasses will see it as red.”
Norman L. Geisler and William D. Watkins, Worlds Apart: A Handbook on Worldviews. 2nd ed. (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1989), 11.
“A worldview is not the same thing as a formal philosophy; otherwise, it would be only for professional philosophers. Even ordinary people have a set of convictions about how reality functions and how they should live. Because we are made in God’s image, we all seek to make sense of life. Some convictions are conscious, while others are unconscious, but together they form a more or less consistent picture of reality.”
Nancy Pearcey, Total Truth (Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway Books, 2004), 23
Everyone Has a Religious Worldview
In an important sense, all worldviews – even atheistic ones – are religious. Herman Bavinck says that, “The denial of the existence of God includes, in the same moment, the elevation of the creature into the place of God”. In other words, everyone has a god that they worship. The only distinction between worldviews is whether the object of worship is God the Creator, or this world, the creation. If these claims seem exaggerated, consider a contemporary example.
In the opening chapter of his book The God Delusion, Richard Dawkins notes that “A quasi-mystical response to nature and the universe is common among scientists and rationalists” who do not believe in a supernatural being. Dawkins writes that his awe of the universe is so similar to religious awe that some people have called him “A Very Religious Non-Believer”. Dawkins virtually concedes then that he and many fellow atheists have subjective responses which very nearly approximate worship; the main difference lying only in the worship of the creation rather than God, the Creator.
Corrupt worldviews are based on false gods, and humans adopt false gods because of their sinful resistance to the true and living God. In Romans 1:18-32 Paul argues that all human beings know God but at the same time don’t know God because they suppress the truth that they know, and that they do this by worshipping the creation in place of the Creator. They exchange the truth about God for a lie. Because everyone knows the true God deep inside, they cannot help but be religious, even if they claim to be agnostics or atheists. But because humankind is corrupted, religion always defaults to take the form of worshipping the creation instead of the Creator. Fallen people are on the one hand idolatrous (Rom. 1:18-32), and at the same time altogether godless (Ps. 14/Rom. 3:9-18).
- What is a Christian (or Biblical) Worldview?
“A biblical worldview is a worldview that is shaped and tested, formed and reformed by the Bible. More specifically, a biblical worldview would be a fundamental perspective on life that is based upon the ‘pillar points’ (as I like to call them) of creation, the fall, and redemption. The story of creation is told in Genesis 1-2 and answers such important questions as where are we, who are we, and why are we here? Genesis 3 tells the story of the fall of humanity into sin and addresses the issue of what has gone wrong with the world and how we should account for the tragic human condition. The rest of the Bible from Genesis 3:15 all the way to Revelation 22 presents the narrative of redemption, which informs us about the divinely provided remedy to sin and the tragic human condition. God promises redemption in the Old Testament, and He fulfills His promises in Christ in the New Testament. This redemption that Christ has accomplished is both ‘already; present but is ‘not yet’ fully complete. When Christ returns, He will consummate His redemptive task and usher in the new heavens and earth.”
(David Naugle, author of Worldview: The History of a Concept (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2002) in an interview with T.M. Moore, editor of Findings, in October 2003.)
Paul says that the idolatry of mankind has created futile thinking and darkened foolish hearts (Rom. 1:21). If this is true, then the gospel is the only hope for the restoration and renovation of all human thought. It is only possible to come to truly know God through Jesus Christ, which will result in a complete transformation of your mind and worldview.
The Bible makes the radical assertion that it is necessary to know and fear God before arriving at any true conclusions about yourself and the world. “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge” (Prov. 1:7); “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is insight” (Prov. 9:10). God himself provides the answer to all key worldview questions—
*What am I? An image-bearer of God, Gen. 1:26-27.
*How can I be truly happy? By knowing God, John 17:3.
*What’s morally right and wrong? What God commands—loving him and loving your neighbour.
*Why does anything exist? God willed to create it out of nothing, Gen. 1:1.
*Why does anything happen at all? God has predestined it to happen and brings it to pass by his providential power.
“God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” (2 Cor. 4:6). In this light, we see everything else differently—we see everything else truly—for the first time.
- The Limbs of A Biblical Christian Worldview
Theology: Affirmation of the existence of an intelligent, powerful, loving, just, and awesome God. This same God took upon Himself human form in the person of Jesus Christ and died for our sins. Thus, in addition to being theistic, Christianity is Christus Nexus, Christ at the centre. “Christianity is Christ. The person and work of Christ are the rock upon which the Christian religion is built. If he is not who he said he was, and if he did not do what he said he had come to do, the foundation is undermined and the whole superstructure will collapse. Take Christ from Christianity and you disembowel it; there is practically nothing left. Christ is the center of Christianity; all else is circumference.” (John Stott, Basic Christianity (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1967), 21. (Gen. 1:1; Colossians 2:9)
Philosophy: The single most important philosophical truth in the Bible is that Jesus Christ is the Logos of God. Christian philosophy, especially metaphysics, is grounded in John 1:1-4. Christ the Logos is the explanation for the universe and all things therein. (John 1:1-4, Col. 1:17, Rev. 19:13)
Sociology: Both the individual and the social order are important to God, mankind and society. Christ died and rose again for each person as an individual; God ordained social institutions to teach love, respect, discipline, work, and community. God ordained certain social institutions. Family, church, and state are three of the most important. (Gen. 4:1; Luke 1:30-31; Is. 9:6)
Law: Christian or Divine Law consists of both natural and Biblical law originating in the very character of a righteous and loving God. Divine law is eternal, and will be used one day to judge the world in a judgment based on natural and revealed law. God established human government and the rule of law primarily to keep in check man’s sinful nature (Romans 2:12ff; 13:1-4). Human rights involves the Biblical doctrine of man’s creation in the image of God. (Gen. 3:11; 49:10; Rev. 5:5)
Ethics: God’s moral nature is absolute, eternal and unchanging. God created the world with a specific moral order revealed to man via both general (natural law) and special revelation (Scripture and the person of Jesus Christ). Ethical standards transcend the relativistic whims of society. (Gen. 2:9; John 1:9; John 3:19,20)
Biology: Christianity trusts the Genesis model of creation above and beyond the theories of modern science. However, Christianity is not anti-science, requiring only that science begin from a Christian theistic presupposition. Science and Christianity are compatible in that the universe when properly studied reflects that God created all things. (Gen. 1-3; John 1:4; John 11:25; Col. 1:16)
Psychology: Only Christianity, with its emphasis on the spiritual and its understanding of man’s fallen nature can truly address the innermost concerns of the individual. Humans may truly get in touch with themselves by realizing their own sinfulness and consequential status before God, as well as the grace of God which removes all sin and guilt. Self-esteem is realistic only as it follows a true statement of who we are with and without Christ. (Luke 1:46-47; I Thess. 5:23; Titus 2:13)
History: The Christian worldview, unlike many other religious (especially transcendental) worldviews, is firmly rooted in historical events such as the events of the nation of Israel and the life, death, and resurrection of the historical person Jesus Christ. The Bible is an historically accurate book, describing events that actually occurred and are continually being vindicated via archaeology and other historical proofs. (I Cor. 15; John 1:14; Gal 4:4)
- Biblical Christian Worldview Presuppositions
GOD (theology): Does God exist? What is his nature? Is he personal or impersonal? One or many?
REALITY (metaphysics): What is the universe? Who or what created it? Is the universe an open or closed system (Closed: Matter is all there is and nothing from “outside” the universe intervenes, e.g. God. Open: “outside” forces such as God interfere with the natural order)? What is its purpose?
KNOWLEDGE (epistemology): How do we know something/anything? Can we trust our senses? How far will reason take us? Is there such a thing as revealed truth? Can we know something for certain? Is knowledge different from faith?
MAN (anthropology): What is man? Is man basically good or basically bad? Are we free, or the pawns of deterministic forces? Are we only bodies or bodies and spirits? What happens at death? Are there are rewards and/or punishments after death?
- The “…isms” we face
- See Worldview comparison chart on last page
- Secular Humanism
- See Worldview comparison chart on last page
- See Worldview comparison chart on last page
- Cosmic Humanism/New Age
- See Worldview comparison chart on last page
- See Worldview comparison chart on last page
- “Practical” Materialism
- What I have/own defines who I am.
- “Lust of the eyes”
- The freedom to chose what I want based on my personal desires and preferences from a variety of options is the greatest good.
- “Lust of the flesh”
- Narcissismis the pursuit of gratification from vanity or egotistic admiration of one’s own attributes. The term originated from the Greek mythology, where the young Narcissus fell in love with his own image reflected in a pool of water.
- “Pride of Life”
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Stand to Reason – http://www.str.org
Monergism-Directory – http://www.monergism.com/directory/link_category/Worldviews
Worldview Series on my blog: https://joefl.wordpress.com/preachingteaching-materials/young-adults-home-group-at-howick-baptist-church/
Most mornings I go for a bit of a bike ride around Rolleston. It is generally uneventful. Other than sore muscles and an occasional truck passing too close at 100 km/hr there is generally nothing to report.
This morning was very different. About 15kms into my ride I came across a very distraught lady. She was in the middle of the road, it was raining, and she was calling for help. I immediately stopped thinking there must have been a car accident, though I didn’t see any cars. The first words I heard were, “help, he’s after me, I need help!” I looked down the empty rural road and about 500 metres away I could see a man standing looking in our direction. The lady said she needed me to ring her Dad. I asked for the number. This is when I realised she was very intoxicated. She couldn’t remember the number, she couldn’t find her phone, and she was increasingly making less sense.
I rang the police (111). As soon as I did this she began yelling and screaming at me, cursing me, telling me to hang up… “she didn’t want no cops here”!
Once she realised I wasn’t going to hang up she sat on the ground and said nothing more, though she was clearly still angry.
I stayed on the line answering a series of questions, standing in the rain waiting until the police arrived. They arrive in good time, spoke with me briefly and immediately dealt with the situation. I then rode the rest of the way home in more rain and wind!
In the providence of God, I don’t think the lady had actually be attacked or anything very serious. There had clearly been a threat and a serious argument. It is very likely things would have gotten worse if help had not arrived. This is what I thought about on my ride home…
How similar this lady’s reaction was when I rang the police to my reaction to those who try to help me when I am drunk with my own sin.
Proverbs speaks to this:
Proverbs 9:7 Whoever corrects a scoffer gets himself abuse, and he who reproves a wicked man incurs injury. 8 Do not reprove a scoffer, or he will hate you; reprove a wise man, and he will love you.
Proverbs 15:5 A fool despises his father’s instruction, but whoever heeds reproof is prudent.
Proverbs 17:10 A rebuke goes deeper into a man of understanding than a hundred blows into a fool.
Proverbs 17:12 Let a man meet a she-bear robbed of her cubs rather than a fool in his folly.
Proverbs 23:9 Do not speak in the hearing of a fool, for he will despise the good sense of your words.
Proverbs 26:11 Like a dog that returns to his vomit is a fool who repeats his folly.
Proverbs 29:9 If a wise man has an argument with a fool, the fool only rages and laughs, and there is no quiet.
How often I have been the fool. So intoxicated with my own sin that when a person tries to help me I lash out against them as though they are the problem!
Oh for the grace of Christ which works a work of humble repentance. I pray the next time I am lovingly (or not) rebuked I will respond with humility and repentance showing a hatred toward sin rather than being intoxicated with it!
For quite some time, as a family, we have been reading Richard Belcher’s Theological Novels. We are nearly finished with A Journey in Eschatology.
Of the seven volumes read thus far, this has been the most challenging to read out loud to the family. The material presented is quite complex and thorough. Yet, the narrative storyline has been sufficiently interesting to keep the children’s attention. They regularly ask if we can read more!
I found the chapter titled “Can We Agree on the Second Coming?” very encouraging, challenging, and helpful.
“I suggested to him that we list some principles concerning the Second Coming of Chris that whereby Christians who hold various views could find strong agreement. I began to list them as follows:
- The doctrine of the Second Coming should cause our hearts to rejoice because we all would agree that Christ is coming back physically, bodily, visibly, suddenly, and gloriously.
- As we study this doctrine, we should focus on Him, and not on minute intricate details, demanding that all agree with us, or we will not fellowship with them.
- As we study this doctrine, we should study it humbly and graciously, not academically and theoretically, seeking to apply that which we learn to our hearts and lives in a manner that it will lead us to godly, Christ-like living.
- Thus we should be able to judge our hearts as to whether or not we are studying this doctrine correctly, as we see what attitude it is producing in us – humility, graciousness, love for Christ and others, worship, praise and adoration, or pride, sharpness of attitude, loss of love for Christ for others, division, grieving of the spirit of worship, and vile passions rather than godly passions.
- Thus we should be able to judge our actions to how this study affects us, as we see whether we have a pride of knowledge, longing to be able to out-argue others, become offended because others cannot see it the way we do, and feel a sense of superiority because we have it all put together (we think) in a fullness of knowledge from which others must draw and agree.
- Are there not some key ideas that all views should see alike and emphasize?
- Christ is the only Saviour and only Lord who will come back someday in power and great glory to defeat and judge all of His enemies with an eternal separation from Him, and to bless and reward all of His saints with an eternal presence with Him.
- God’s people in the meantime should live holy and godly lives preaching the truth to every creature and to every corner of the earth whether the lost world around us receives or rejects the gospel, or whether they receive or reject us or even kill us.
- God’s people should be ready and watching for His coming, because it will make no difference if we are perfect in our interpretation of Biblical prophecy if we are not read for His coming. All the expertise and knowledge will be to no avail, if we are found wanting in the day of His coming.
- The enemy is the devil, not other Christians, and our energy and efforts should be forged against him, not against other Christians with whom we may disagree in these areas of Bible prophecy.
- That there are some views that would set one in a camp of heresy, such as the following, though we cannot possibly give a complete list:
- To deny Christ is coming back.
- To deny Christ is coming back bodily.
- To deny Christi is coming back victoriously over all His enemies whether men or angels or demons, whether Satan and all his power.
- To believe that anyone can state the day or the hour [of His return].
- To believe that His coming will not include the resurrection of lost to their eternal damnation nor the resurrection of the saved to their glorification and His eternal presence.”
I happily & heartedly commend this entire series to everyone and every family!