I have been asked to write down my ideas and experiences regarding the issue of a Christian’s response to social conflict. Here follows my experiences and perspective.
Nearly 35 years have gone by since the Lord put my wife Donna and I, with our family, into the middle of what some considered to be a war zone. It was the “troubles” of Northern Ireland. This was the first social conflict we experienced together.
After training in our seminary and then Hope College, where I received an elementary teaching degree, I taught my first year in Hope School, Grand Rapids, MI. In the middle of the next summer, I was asked to consider a call to help teach in a one–room Christian school in Ballyclare, NI. I taught the older children. Donna helped teach the younger children. Our school met in a very old Reformed Presbyterian church. We lived in the port city of Larne, where the dear saints lived and worshipped who would eventually become the origin of our sister church in NI, Covenant Presbyterian. It was a great blessing to be part of this group. We were there for one school year.
While living there, we saw firsthand the strong British military presence because of the attacks from the Irish Republican Army (the IRA), a terrorist group which rejected British rule. This conflict was understood to be between the Catholics and the Protestants.
We had to interact with both Catholic and Protestant neighbors around us. We recall bombings, soldiers, helicopters, and checkpoints. Although we felt very safe, we were always aware of the conflict. Thankfully, there is now peace, even though resentment and sad memories remain. Among many great memories was a visit from Prof. Hanko and Rev. Engelsma and their wives, one of the first of their many visits through the years.
We were blessed to return to Northern Ireland in March of 2019. We rejoice in long–lasting friendships and new friends. With the congregation, we felt a common love of the Reformed faith and the cause of Christ.
The second social conflict we have experienced is in the work that God has given to Georgetown PRC in our mission in India. Donna and I have visited there several times in the past six or seven years. We love and respect our fellow saints there in the Protestant Reformed Church of Vellore. Pastor Paulraj ministers to both a Tamil and an English congregation. They continue to grow spiritually in the Reformed faith, as well as in numbers. The pastor and his family help run an orphanage with 60 children.
Through experience and observation, we have come to some understanding of the difficulties they face in their witness in a hostile society ruled by those of the Hindu religion. Their love and care of the weakest neighbors, the orphans mostly abandoned by family and society, as well as their clear witness of the gospel, has brought many into the church and earned the respect of the authorities. As we represent Georgetown seeking to be a blessing and help to the saints there, we have received the great blessing of their love and friendship in Christ. Words can hardly express the deep love we share with each other because of our common faith.
The third social conflict we have experienced is the work we have been given among the broken souls in our own community through our involvement in the Holland Rescue Mission. Donna worked as a staff member there for 12 years and continues to volunteer. Representing First PRC of Holland, and now Georgetown, I have led chapels there for about 17 years. In addition, I have hired mostly ex-convicts in my landscaping business, many of whom were part of the Rescue Mission, as I seek to give them a second chance to become a contributing part of society. Together we have had many opportunities to witness in practical ways, prayers, and compassion. We have experienced the worst of human nature and the power of sin. But, more importantly, we have seen the power of Christ over sin, prejudice, addiction, and cruelty through the healing of God’s redeeming grace through the Spirit.
What are the lessons we have learned through these experiences of social conflict and injustice?
The first lesson is that we must never lose sight of our calling to a broken humanity. We must always bring the good news to lost and hurting sinners. Only the message of God’s mercy toward lost sinners is what matters. Our hearts must burn with the desire to bring that message to lost souls. Social solutions are no answer. Social activism is only a band-aid. Repentance and reconciliation with God, through Christ, is the only way of hope.
The second lesson is that our kindness toward others, even our enemies, as we seek their good is the most effective witness to those walking in sin and unbelief. Prejudice, self-righteous anger, and conflict bring shame to the cause of Christ. Gentle care and compassion while speaking the truth from the scriptures is the way God uses our witness.
It is a life of compassion that God will use to provide opportunities to witness. A desire to help others will drive us to grow in our faith so that we have the words we need to speak when we are called to witness. That enables us to say the right thing when needed. This knowledge, with a prayerful desire to reach lost sinners, is what enables us to seize the opportunities that we are given to witness to those most hurt by the cruelties of society around us. Does that desire drive you? We cannot help but have compassion for our neighbors even as we know how lost we are without the grace of our merciful God!
All of this is to say that our focus must not be to combat social evils. Instead, our desire should be to witness of the love and mercy of our God, who loved us poor sinners. Pray that God will give us a heart that desires truly to help those around us.
Let me know if I can help you in this calling in any way.
The work that God has given to the Georgetown PRC congregation is a great blessing for us as we seek to help the saints in Vellore, India grow in the Reformed faith and spread the gospel in a land that is over 95% Hindu and Muslim.
Our congregation was given this wonderful work by Rev. Kortering and funds from the Contact Committee when it was just beginning under the faithful preaching of Pastor Paul Raj. He had been trained in Singapore in the ARTS program that Rev. Kortering taught while he was a missionary there. About nine years ago Pastor Paul Raj with his wife Kasthuri (Kas) and his two children, Jason (14) and Joan (12), began their work in the city of Vellore in Southeast India. On a map it is about midway between the major industrial cities of Bangalore and Chennai. God soon began to gather his church there now called the Protestant Reformed Church of Vellore (PRCV). In addition, they felt called to begin a home for impoverished and/or orphaned children, called the Grace Foster Home (GFH). From this small beginning, God has gathered a congregation of nearly one hundred fifty saints, including the fifty children of GFH.
In the congregation of Georgetown, the work in the field is divided in an interesting way. The General India Committee is made up of about sixteen men and women aged twenty-five to eighty-five, which reports to the Consistory of Georgetown. We supervise all the work in India through various subcommittees: Finance, Travel, Doctrine, Publicity, and Grace Foster Home. The GFH committee is one of the busiest because it supervises and supports all things related to the care of the children. It includes another eight members of the congregation. The support for all the work of the India Mission is through freewill offerings in the congregation. The children of GFH are cared for through sponsor families who donate monthly to the care of the children and write letters of encouragement to them. These families come primarily from many of our Protestant Reformed Churches. We also have fundraisers for special needs like the building projects.
The India Committee makes regular visits to the field that have increased over time in frequency and length. In the past 12 months, we have had a presence in India for over a month. Over the years, five couples from our congregation have visited, some more than once, as well as Prof. Gritters, his wife, and two ministers from the Foreign Mission Committee. The involvement of our church has also borne the fruit of visits by two young men from our congregation with more visits being planned by other young adults. We all return with hearts full of the wonder of God’s work among our brothers and sisters in India. We have learned the great benefits of having women of our congregation joining the visits because of the cultural restraints on the women of India in talking to men not of their own family.
Pastor Paul Raj, Kas, Jason and Joan live with the children of GFH on the Eden campus where we have helped build both a girls’ dorm and a boys’ dorm just outside of the city limits of Vellore in a beautiful country setting. The boys’ dorm was built in 2014 with the help of saints from all over the world including Korea, the Netherlands, and Canada, along with Georgetown. This spring the girls’ dorm was completed through the gracious donations of Protestant Reformed members throughout the denomination. With these two buildings the children of GFH have a beautiful, safe, and stable place to live and grow.
Over several visits I have personally been able to make, two of them with my wife Donna, I have come to know and love the children and staff of GFH. My wife and I consider them to be part of our family. Indeed, they have been brought into the family of God and the covenant life of the church through the work of Pastor Paul Raj and Kas. Imagine what it would be like to live in a family with more than sixty members in the same house. Together they worship, pray, study, do chores, grow and show the love of Christ. God has rescued these children from the dark and cruel idolatry of Hinduism and the unimaginable horror of abandoned children on the streets of India. The love and care of the children for one another and for their “parents” is evident from the first hours we stay with them. Their testimony of their love of God and his mercy toward them fills our hearts and brings tears to our eyes. Many times we have wept tears of compassion and joy with them. In our last visit in early winter of 2015 we were blessed to witness eight baptisms and eight confessions of faith, most of which were of children, now young adults, raised in the Grace Foster Home.
Under the leadership of Pastor Paul Raj, the PRCV has embraced the Reformed faith as we know and love it. This diverse congregation, which speaks the Tamil language, is cared for by a consistory of two elders and one deacon. They love the truths of sovereign grace and speak often of their desire one day, in God’s timing to be a sister church of the PRCA. Along with the “normal” work of a church— preaching, catechism, Bible studies, worship, and church discipline—they are extremely active in their outreach. First, they care for a second congregation, VCC (Vellore Christian Church) which is made up of doctors, their families, and students of the Christian Medical College of Vellore. This group worships in English near the college campus. The core group of 10 to 15 members is very busy in learning Reformed doctrine and in witnessing to their colleagues. Second, the church is engaged in “Village Outreach” several nights a week, bringing the gospel to area villages. In connection with the outreach the members of the church maintain the “Tutor Program,” in which they help village children with their homework. Many members of the congregation participate in this wonderful work. A third and quickly growing part of the outreach of the PRCV is the training of local pastors in the Reformed faith. This work alone has borne much fruit and gathered many new contacts as it grows. This work includes preaching, training, and a magazine that is used to instruct ministers in sermon preparation, exegesis, and doctrine.
As you can see, the PRCV is very active in their witness. We continue, as Georgetown congregation, to be inspired, instructed, and encouraged by their determined and selfless sacrifice and enthusiasm in spreading the gospel of salvation by grace.
Future plans include more formal training for ministers connected with the field. Lord willing, we desire to build our own church building. Also, a matter dear to our hearts, we desire the establishment of our own Christian school for the children of the congregation and of GFH. These things are all in the Lord’s timing.
Condensing and communicating all the aspects of the blessings God has given to us through our work in India in a short article makes me feel at a loss for words. You can learn more by looking at our church website, Georgetownprc.org, and subscribing to our newsletter.
You can help by bringing this wonderful work to the Lord in prayer. Pray for wisdom to be given to Georgetown as we seek to be faithful in this work. Pray for the spread of the gospel through the work of the PRCV. Pray for Pastor Paul Raj and his family as they give themselves completely to this work, along with the consistory and the dear saints of the congregation. Also, pray for the Lord’s blessing on the dear children of GFH that they, along with the children of the congregation, may grow to stand strong as faithful members of the church in this land. Pray for the safety of the saints there as persecution increases. And finally, pray for the gathering of the church from the far corners of India in these last days.
You can also help with monetary support and by becoming a sponsor of a child of GFH.
Thank you for your support through gifts and prayer. Maybe you can also visit the field in the future. This is true of all of our denominations mission work. You will forever be changed, challenged, and inspired.
*Deane is a member of Georgetown Protestant Reformed Church in Hudsonville, MI.
I have known and loved many saints with special needs whom the Lord has brought into my life to bless me through the years. Some of my friends are with us here. Some have grown up and have a very important place in the life of our congregations. And some have left us to enter into the joy of their heavenly home. In fact, perhaps I have had more opportunity than most people to get to know them. I have been a teacher and I have been a part of our Special Ed School by serving on the Board at different times from the very beginning. In fact, I have the privilege of serving on the Board at this time.
When I was young, and especially when my parents were young, family and school did not know what to do with special needs children. They were often just kept at home to help as they could with chores or they were sent away and put in institutions. How wonderful it is that these children are in school with us. This week, we get to show our appreciation of their place among us and understand the various trials they face by our involvement in the “Fearfully and Wonderfully Made” events of this week in school.
I want to turn things around. I want to consider with you, not what I can teach my special needs friends, but what I have learned from them. Who are these friends? They are children in our school or our church family with special needs in learning or with physical limitations. They may need a wheelchair. They may have problems seeing or hearing. They may be adults from our congregation who are out of school, but through birth, sickness or injury have severe limitations on part of their life. They may also be seniors, elderly saints, who in the final years of their life are unable to care for their own needs. Maybe you have a grandparent who is in a nursing home or needs special care.
What are the lessons my friends have taught me?
Joy in our afflictions
When we face trials and struggles in our life we tend to get depressed. We feel sorry for ourselves and think we have it worse than anyone else. I have seen my friends in wheelchairs full of the joy of the Lord. They were good at cheering up others. They were not full of self pity, but, joyful in affliction. I enjoy the writings and radio program of a paralyzed woman named Joni Eareckson Tada who encourages those with special needs by her drawings she does with her mouth, her beautiful singing and her lessons on God’s loving care. You would enjoy some of her books.
Trust in the Lord
We get scared and worried when things are not going our way. We worry about the little things: homework, hairstyles, clothes, sports ability. My friends face their trial and go forward. Maybe they deal with what we call handicaps: maybe they are deaf, blind, unable to walk or even move. Everyday they depend on our heavenly Father to care for them. One friend of mine, a blind man named Art from our church in Redlands, California would come to live with us in Michigan for a couple of weeks at a time by traveling alone with his seeing eye dog, named “Niner,” by riding on a train or plane. He was fearless and great fun. He would play the harmonica for our family while we would sing. We still tell stories about our dear friend who is able to see perfectly now in his heavenly home.
Patience and bravery
I have seen a loved one paralyzed by a stroke lie there without complaint and praising God. I have seen a loved one dying from cancer full of hope of seeing Christ. I have talked with a special needs friend unflinchingly facing one painful surgery after another. They were not fearful, but placed their care in the loving hands of their heavenly Father, patiently waiting for him to carry them through.
We get caught up in ourselves. We are often frustrated when our lives don’t go the way we planned. Yet, I have many friends who cannot do the types of things you and I do with sports, study and work. Yet, they are content with their Father’s will.
Love of fellow saints
How much time do you spend thinking about your fellow students, family and friends? My special needs friends know the name of everyone in church. Some even send birthday cards to everyone in church. I should take the time to show that kind of concern and love. I should spend more time helping my fellow saints.
What is the most important lesson I have learned from those with special needs?
I may surprise you when I explain this. You see, often those who are weak (sick, paralyzed, disabled, elderly) and dependent on others for care feel like they are of no value to the church and to God. They feel so useless; like they are a burden to others. There are four lessons I have learned from my friends.
- When I see the joy, trust, bravery, patience and contentment in my special friends I behold the work of God’s grace in them in their afflictions. The apostle Paul says, “for when I am weak, then am I strong.” (II Cor. 12:7-10) Then, I glorify God through his care of them. I witness his love for his children in action.
- My own faith is strengthened because I see in my friends the reality of the promise that my heavenly Father will care for me when I face the trials that will surely come my way. No matter how strong and healthy I may feel now—I know there are trials ahead. I saw that in two of my children when they were in the hospital because of serious car accidents. I know that someday, if the Lord spares me, I will grow weaker and weaker until I die. I am no different than my godly grandparents I visited while they were lying helpless in bed in a nursing home. That time is coming for me—and for you.
- God has put these friends in my life so that I have the opportunity to serve him through serving others. That is what communion of the saints is all about! Because of them, I have a way to show my love of Christ by helping them. Do you say “Hi” to them in the hallway? Can you encourage them with kind words? Can you be a special friend to them? Can you carry their books for them? Can you push their wheelchair if they need it? Can you hold their hand? I see this in the halls of school. I watch you living out your faith and bless God for you, and I and your teachers are blessed in seeing you.
- Some day, in my needs I am comforted to know that other saints will show the love of Christ to me. May I, like my friends, thankfully receive that loving care.
Are you showing the love of Christ to the special friends God has given you? May God give us grace to learn from our special friends, and to show the love of Christ to them.
I write about the wonders of the creation where we live. Especially, I focus on the complexity and uniqueness of the community of natural life on the eastern shore of the great freshwater lake, Lake Michigan. This community forms an ecosystem made up of the complex and mutually dependent relationships of all the creatures found there. It is the community formed by the fresh water, the desert-like sand, the sculpting winds, and how the plants and animals live and interact there, whether they are alive or dead, prey or predator. As I ponder the many fascinating aspects of this place where I work as a farmer and landscaper I am struck by one humbling truth. It has to do with the ultimate question of “why?”
We must be honest with ourselves here. These questions must be answered: How did this ecosystem come about?
Why does it exist?
We cannot escape these questions nor flippantly answer them.
In reality there are only two answers that can be given to the origin of the ecosystem of the shoreline. The first is man-centered; the second is God-centered. Either you must hold to the religion of “evolution” and say that everything in the world around you occurs purely out of chance and is driven by mutation and survival of the fittest. Or, you must take God at his word in the Bible confessing that nothing is by chance and that all things have been created by his sovereign hand for the purpose of his glory.
I believe in the all powerful God of the Bible. To hold to that truth gives the only possibility of direction in this life. On the physical level of the creation of Michigan’s shoreline, it means that he designed it completely. I observe with wonder how every part of creation, from butterflies to boulders, from bogs to bluegills, show his handiwork and reveal his glory. Rather than simply being fascinated by the peculiar adaptation of a creature, as in evolution, I ask myself what the creature reveals about God, the creator. I ask whether he has revealed anything in Scripture that may help me understand the creature. There is day and night difference between the two approaches to understanding what we observe. One is mere curiosity. The other is meaningful worship and praise.
The lessons or the “parables” that I observe in the creation around me are gleaned from what he teaches me in his word. It tells me about who he is. It reveals his care of his children and his care of the sparrow. It shows me that he clothes the flowers of the field. It proclaims him to be the morning star. His church is shown to be as numerous as the sands of the seashore. The seasons, seedtime and harvest, the rainbow all point to his covenant established after the great flood of Noah. The beehive and the colony of ants reveal that he is a God of structure and order. Storms and floods reveal his power. Death reveals sin and the curse. I could go on and on. Every aspect of the creation reveals his power and glory.
When I am sufficiently humbled by his greatness revealed around me, his word and Spirit convict me of my sin and bring me to sorrow and repentance. Then that same word and Spirit teach me of his mercy and grace in Christ Jesus. Oh what a glorious truth! It is then that the creation also speaks truth about my Savior. Then I have a clear understanding of the answer to the question, “why?”
It is all of God and reveals his glory!
The alternative is purposeless and cruel chance. It is the hopelessness of “survival of the fittest”. It results only in man-centered greed and pride.
You cannot have it both ways.
Where do you stand?
Do not stop at the wonder of the natural world. You must face the God of creation. You must come to understand him in his word, the Bible.
It is my prayer that you may come to repentance and thereby see the glory of our creator and Savior.
Where do you stand, my friend?
May God give us eyes to see his wonders that surround us.
I don’t understand how He made the heavens,
But, I know He did.
I don’t know every bug, beast and bird,
But, He does.
I don’t know how butterflies know how to fly,
But, He taught them.
I don’t know how and why the earth is tilted,
But, He did it.
I don’t know why it rains today and not tomorrow,
But, He does.
I don’t understand how to make anything alive,
But, He gives life to all things.
I do know Who made the earth,
I do know how He saved me.
He paid the price.
I do know where I’ll be when I die,
He will take me home.
The story of the wildlife along the “Golden Coast” is one of constant adaptation to the changes in habitat brought about by man—whether intentionally or unintentionally.
Originally, back when the Indians were alone in this area, the shoreline wilderness was a mixture of old growth forests, swamps and sand dunes. The animals that lived here had very little hunting pressure. They were primarily woodland creatures: deer, turkey, raccoon, squirrel, wolverines, bear, opossum, fox, mice, rattlesnakes, mice, muskrat, beaver and wolves—to name a few. The birds included eagles, passenger pigeons, crows, ducks, geese, grouse, woodpeckers, woodcock and many more. Then, civilization came to the coast. Step by step—mostly from 1800 to 1900—the animals were trapped and hunted, the woods were cleared, farms were established, rivers were dredged for ports, and swamps were drained. Many of the animal populations crashed from loss of habitat and food supply along with hunting pressure. The wolves, rattlesnakes, eagles, beavers and turkeys disappeared from the area. The passenger pigeon became extinct.
My own little farm that was established by my ancestors around 1870 is an excellent example of the changes that took place. Originally the family farm was part of a large swamp that fed into Macatawa Lake next to the city of Holland and eventually into Lake Michigan. It was a breeding ground for wildlife and fish. As a side note, my father and uncles talk about gathering fish in the spring by the basketful using pitchforks instead of fishing poles. My great grandfather hand dug the first drain that was later widened and deepened using horses and scraper blades to gain control of the water and claim the land. It was rich farmland for crops like corn and wheat, but, also more unusual plants like fruit, flower bulbs, pickles, perennials and ornamental shrubs. The land was highly productive. However, when it was drained, many square miles of nesting, breeding and feeding area was lost. It was a necessary change, yes, and a real blessing for my family. Nevertheless, it was a destructive change from the point of view of the shoreline ecosystem. Of course, this story could be multiplied hundreds of times over as the land along the shore was brought into cultivation.
Into this vacuum of the loss of native animal populations rushed a large number of “outsiders” better suited to life with the farms. Some species had “invaded” the East Coast and migrated throughout the country like sparrows, starlings and rats. Some were introduced like the ring neck pheasant. I mention this because there is a monument near my home that commemorates the release of the first pheasants in Ottawa County. The pheasant population exploded and then nearly disappeared in my lifetime. Many of the other non-native animals and birds have thrived.
Over time, a number of the native species began to adapt to the changes in habitat. Along with that adjustment, the use of the land began to change. Woodlands were planted where the farms played out and were abandoned. Agricultural land has been changed to residential. Along the shore of Lake Michigan so much woodland has grown around the cottages that it is a seldom hunted haven for many creatures.
In the present day many of the species that were almost eliminated have not only rebounded, but, have far surpassed their original populations. Once again we see eagles in the sky. The population of deer has grown to the point that constant thinning is needed to keep the herd healthy. One of my favorites, the wild turkey, has made such a comeback that we observe the flocks in the fields and woods around our farm almost on a daily basis. Recently, we counted one flock of over forty turkeys in the cornfield next door.
One thing seems certain, change will continue to take place in habitat and in the populations of wildlife that live along the Lakeshore.
It seems to me that the church must also adapt to meet the changes in society and culture if it is to preach the Gospel to each generation. No, I don’t mean compromising the truth of the Scriptures in any way. I am referring to many of the external elements. For example, before I get myself in too much trouble, take a look at the changes that our worship has already gone through. Many of our forefathers thought we could only worship using the Dutch language and the “Staten Vertaling”—the official Dutch Bible. It was a major cultural change to worship in English and begin to use the “King James” version of the Bible. They had to do away with the old Dutch Psalter for singing, and instead adopted and customized a Presbyterian Psalter for their own worship services. The music in worship changed from no instruments to the old pump organ my dear grandmother played in church to modern piano and pipe or electric organs to lead the singing.
The means of spreading the Gospel have changed also. In days past there was only physical attendance at the worship service and the printed page. Now, we have in addition, radio, television, internet, cds and mp3 players. What a huge opportunity. We must adapt to the opportunities that we have to spread the Gospel. Even though the fundamentals of the truth of God’s Word do not change we must continue to adapt. Each generation must learn how to bear witness for the Gospel in the culture in which it lives.
May God give us the wisdom to wisely adapt from generation to generation.
Fire! Fire! How quickly those words strike fear into our hearts! Yet, fire is the means of rejuvenating the creation along the shoreline.
It starts oftentimes with a very small flame in the tinder dry dunegrass caused by a lightning strike, fireworks, a match, cigarette butt or a fire poorly attended. The result is the same—a roaring inferno. It spreads faster than you can run pushed by the constant lakeshore winds. It doesn’t stop until it runs out of dry fuel.
I have seen terrible damage. This past summer, three year-round residences filled with material possessions and memories were burned to the ground. Only blackened skeletons remained. The cause was careless use of fireworks. Other times it may be a destroyed landscape or wooden stairway to the beach left a smoldering and charred mess. One of my workers even saved a house by scooping sand on the encroaching flame with his bare hands.
Many times I have been called to hillside burns to give my “professional opinion” as to whether the dunegrass will grow back sufficiently to protect the dunes from blowing away. It looks like all the plants are dead and charred. Invariably I tell them to wait until the end of summer to see what recovers. “ Just wait to see what happens.” Unless there is a lot of wood to burn at a high temperature and scorch their roots, the dunegrass and other dune plants come back. In fact, they come back stronger and healthier than ever before.
The reason for this phenomenon is that the fire releases the nutrients of the dead plants back into the sand. It is God’s way of cleaning up a mess and fertilizing what remains. Soon the points of new sprouts of dunegrass begin to poke through the blackened sand. Within a year, the plants make it all green again and little clues remain of the conflagration.
Fire is a good thing in the dunes. The only bad thing is when men and their possessions are hurt or damaged in the process.
I am using the example of dunegrass and the dunes, however, the same thing is true of wildflowers, meadows, prairies and old growth or diseased forest. Interestingly, by stopping forest fires we only delay the God created process of cleansing the earth. By interfering—necessary though it may be—we create a much more serious and deadly fire danger in the future.
Isn’t it striking that the purifying process of fire is true also of us spiritually? Often God uses the fire of pain, sickness and trials to cleanse and focus us spiritually. Usually, when the pain is gone we realize that we have been brought closer to him. When we come to feel the burning of his wrath for our sins, we are driven to the cross of Christ for forgiveness. It is then that we grow in his grace and abound in good works to his glory.
Do we dare to pray for purifying fire? I think not. If we are his children we will experience it in some way. However, we must not be afraid of the fire of trials because through it blessings of salvation pour out upon us. In fact, through fire we will inherit the purified new heavens and earth where we will dwell forever with God.
Lord, preserve us in the fire!
I Peter 4:12; I Corinthians 3:13.
Burn in me O Sacred Flame.
Remove my natural dross,
That o’erwhelms my heart with shame,
Sins no more my spirit toss.
Burn in me O Sacred Flame.
Purify my every thought.
Shape my mind and Yours the same,
Make my own will come to naught.
Burn in me O Sacred Flame.
Remove my black heart of sin.
In mercy cleanse each vile stain.
Spark Your Light of life within.
Burn in me O Sacred Flame.
Kindle a hope for glory.
Where love’s prize I’ll surely gain.
Singing salvation’s story.
From the inside of the building I could see him lying still as death next to the glass door he had flown into. I picked him up gently. Holding him in the palm of my hand I could hardly feel the weight of this incredibly delicate male ruby-throated hummingbird. He glowed an iridescent green. I was so excited that I actually interrupted one of the classes at the seminary I was attending to show him off. I knew the Prof. would appreciate this rare opportunity. I was not so sure my fellow students would appreciate this adult show and tell. Though he looked dead, (the bird, that is, not the Prof.) I was concerned that the little fella might only be stunned. So, after about fifteen minutes of admiring him I set him on a tissue outside the glass door where I found him and watched. Suddenly, he stood up, shook himself and flew away, albeit a little unsteadily. From that day, I have continued to have a special interest in this unique bird.
So many things about the hummingbird are special that it is really in a class by itself compared to other birds. In a special way they show the wonder of a creator who does whatever he pleases for his glory—even if it seems impossible.
There are about 330 species of hummingbird. All of them live in the western hemisphere. Only the ruby-throated lives in western Michigan. He is about three inches long and weighs two to three grams—one fifth the weight of a chickadee. He builds his nest out of plant material glued together with spider silk. He decorates it with bits of lichen. His mate, having subdued colors, is very hard to spot when she sits on two white eggs.
Captured hummingbirds have lived for seventeen years which is an amazing thing considering they have an incredibly fast metabolism. Each day they must eat at least one and one-half times their own weight in nectar, which they find in flowers. In fact, they prefer large red tubular flowers like those on the trumpet vine. It is for this reason that the hummingbird feeders that birders place in their yards are typically made to look like the bird’s favorite flowers. If they are not eating the sugar water we give them they must visit over 1,000 flowers.
In case you think you have a fast heart rate, consider the fact that the hummingbird’s heart beats at 1,260 times per minute when it is agitated! That is 21 times a second! It breaths at the rate of 250 times per minute! It has a heart that weighs 20 percent of its total weight—more than any other animal.
The flight of the hummingbird is equally amazing. It is the only bird that can fly backwards. When it is hovering over a flower its wings beat 80 times a second! I can hardly imagine that. No wonder they appear as a blur to our eyes. Their wing muscles are the most powerful for their size of any animal.
The feathers of the hummingbird are covered with air filled platelets that capture the light and split it like a prism reflecting only certain colors. That is why they sparkle in the sun with such an amazing iridescence. They are truly the jewels of the bird world.
In case you think this mini-bird is a wimp, you had better look again. Every year he migrates back and forth across the Gulf of Mexico between Central America and the Eastern United States flying thousands of miles. That’s right. The little guy I found stunned on a spring morning had just come in from wintering near the equator. He also is the most aggressive bird around. He will take on other birds and animals many times larger.
This past summer we visited friends at their summer home near the beautiful coastal city of Ludington. We watched the hummingbirds fight over a feeder. Their movements were so quick as they buzzed each other that we could only see them clearly when they hovered. They put on an amazing display.
I am convinced that the Lord created the tiny hummingbird to show us that His creative power has no limits. About the time we think that He has given every possible variation of color, size and ability in the bird world, He shows us this sparkling jewel in the crown of His creativity. So tiny, so quick, so maneuverable, so colorful that human words fall short of the reality. Human engineers and scientists are studying him in an attempt to understand and emulate his abilities.
If our heavenly Father can create and care for this little flying wonder, how much more will He nurture the physical bodies and care for the physical and spiritual needs of His loving children. He has loved them so much that He sent His Son to die for their sins, breathes new life into them, and prepares them for their place in heaven.
Glory to His name!
“Therefore I say unto you, Take no thought for your life, what ye shall eat, or what ye shall drink; nor yet for your body, what ye shall put on. Is not the life more than meat, and the body than raiment? Behold the fowls of the air: for they sow not, neither do they reap, nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feedeth them. Are ye not much better than they?” (Matthew 6: 25, 26).
Flashing in the sun,
Like he’s number one,
The closer he flew,
The bigger he grew.
’Twas himself he saw.
He gave it his all.
Attacked with his might,
Worked up for a fight.
’Twas himself he hit.
His head he did split.
Dropped like a stone,
Out cold he lay prone.
Revealing God grand,
He lay in my hand.
With feathers that shown,
Out classing my own.
With a shake he flew,
His bump he did rue.
He beat his rival.
And made us marvel.
Have you ever counted the number of dead animals you see along the side of the road? The numbers are astounding. Especially along the lake shore where there is a concentration of wildlife because of conservation and feeding the numbers are even greater. The closer I work with my fellow creatures the more sensitive I am becoming to the suffering and death that pervade the natural world. I think we naturally avoid dwelling on this subject because it is depressing. Nevertheless, we should take time to consider it. God is speaking to us here.
I did a brief study on the survival of some of the most well known wildlife songbirds and deer. Do you realize that the population of songbirds remains roughly the same every year in spite of the fact that the nesting birds produce three to seven eggs each nest and sometimes nest twice? That means that more than half of the songbird population dies every year! The numbers are similar with the deer population. Depending on the type of winter, the quality of food, and the predator pressure, all of which can change from year to year, somewhere around half of the spring fawns do not make it to their first birthday. If we were to look at the animals that fall into the “prey” category like rabbits and mice, the numbers would be much higher.
The animals that God gave to us to care for also suffer and die. Whether they are our companions or on the farm, part of caring for them involves relieving them of suffering, whether that is vet care or “putting them to sleep” as we gently describe euthanasia when they are suffering too much. It can be very difficult for us to deal with, especially if we felt a very close bond with them. I’ll never forget how gut wrenching it was to “put down” sick or injured dogs or horses. Farmers have to deal with death all the time. They understand death. We are so often oblivious to it and shelter our children from it, that is not good. For our children I am convinced one of the best lessons in life for them is to care for, love, and eventually to bury a pet. It is good for them to bond with God’s creatures and to suffer with them.
With this death and the suffering of God’s creatures all around us, we have to hear His word concerning death. Death in the creation is because of our sin. It is our fault that animals die and suffer. The whole creation, including all the animals, came under the curse of death along with all of mankind in the fall of Adam and Eve. We may not stop there, however. Our hope is forgiveness of sins through Christ! Our hope is in the resurrection and the recreation of this present world into the new heavens and earth. We long for that full salvation. In Romans 8:19-23 we understand that the creatures groan in pain and suffering, longing for our full salvation. No wonder we can sympathize with suffering creatures. They are bearing the pain and death of the curse along with us. There is so much more that could be said about this profound concept.
Do you hear the cries of God’s creatures? Do you sense the painful longing of the creation? We should all be close enough to God’s creatures to hear it. But, we may not be depressed about the death that we see. We have to hear the groans of God’s creatures as so many voices calling us to look ahead to the day when there will be no more suffering and death. They look to a new creation. We must remember that we are only sojourners here. We seek an heavenly kingdom. Death is the door that leads us into our eternal joy of life with God in the new heavens and earth. Are you groaning? Look to Christ!
“For we know that the whole creation groaneth and travaileth in pain together until now. And not only they, but ourselves also, which have the firstfruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting for the adoption, to wit, the redemption of our body” (Rom. 8:22-23).
Pain and disease
We observe all around.
Creatures are suffering
With no help to be found.
Man groans in pain,
From the curse suffering.
Not finding any peace,
From pain no buffering.
Christ knows our hurts.
Our suffering He bore.
With Him we’ll rise again.
In joy forevermore.
But, freed from curses pain.
Earth’s creatures will frolic,
The new world they gain.
Blue sparkles in the sun are what the clustering Karner Blue butterflies (Lycaeides melissa samuelis) appear to be from a distance. They are the extremely rare and endangered inhabitant of the meadows that I help to preserve. In the last fifteen years the population has fallen to 1% of what it once was. In the beautiful Karner Blue God has created an insect that is uniquely suited to its environment. Sadly, that uniqueness may prove its demise.
You see, the Karner Blue is completely dependent on one flower, the wild blue lupine. This beautiful perennial flower, almost iridescent blue in color, lives in a specific habitat—dry shady soils in full sun to light shade. These plants are also in decline because of two primary reasons. First, their habitat has been destroyed by urban sprawl. Second, they have been choked out by forest growth resulting from fire suppression.
The eggs from the year before hatch in mid April when the lupine begin to sprout. The larvae(caterpillars) feed on the new leaves turning them into a lacy appearance. After the larvae form a chrysalis they emerge as adult butterflies in late May. The males have beautiful violet blue wings fringed with white. The undersides of the wings are silver with black spots and orange markings. The females are similar in color except they are a more soft brownish blue. One more bit of information, their wingspan is only about one inch.
The adult butterflies lay eggs on the maturing lupine plants which hatch into a second generation in mid July to early August. This second hatch lays eggs near the roots of the plant to emerge again the next spring. Although the adults can feed on other kinds of wildflowers, the larvae, or caterpillars, can feed only on the leaves of the wild lupine.
Michigan’s west coast is one of the areas that contain a pocket of Karner Blue butterflies. There are small pockets of surviving populations from Minnesota to New Hampshire. Many different ecology groups are trying to help bring back the Karner Blue population through the improvement of their habitat. I have been involved in establishing and maintaining blue lupine plants for a Michigan electric power company where the butterflies are found in the open areas under power lines near the Croton and Hardy dams. I have only seen a few of these magnificent miniature butterflies. They appeared as flitting blue sparkles in the sun.
This beautiful butterfly is a wonderful example of the handiwork of God creating a dependent relationship between the butterfly and the flower. Without the flower there would be no butterfly. It reminds me of the relationship God has created between the child of God and the church. The child of God must be joined to a church that is faithful to the Word of God. There he is fed by the preaching, guided by the elders, and nurtured by fellow saints. This implies that he participates in and fellowships with his fellow saints in worship and congregational life. Like the Karner Blue without the lupine will die so also the Christian without the church will die. He may be fed in other places, but, his children will die in their generations.
Lord, make us faithful.
His Face I See
His face I see in the clouds of the sky.
His caress in the gentle breeze.
His power in the shaking earth.
His voice in the booming surf.
His beauty is in the flowers of the field.
His footsteps I hear in the hurricane.
His wrath in the raging fire.
His majesty in the ice covered mountains.
His patience a spring that never runs dry.
His infinity like the height of the heavens.
His understanding deep as the sea.
His gentleness as the newborn calf and cow.
His sovereignty like a storm untamed.
His kindness like feeding orphan lambs.
His faithfulness like the sunrise each morning.
His sweetness in the honeycomb.
His face I see in the creatures of His hand.
Reflecting the face of His Son, my Lord.
Have you ever been on the coast in the month of December? Most of us avoid it at that time of year. I have often worked in snowstorms on the shore right next to the lake. There is nothing like it. The waves crash and the wind roars and the lake effect snow blows parallel to the ground. However, as soon as you get past the lip of the dune in the woods, where the white pine and hemlocks form an arbor over your head, the heavy snow muffles the sound so that you feel like you are in your own private world, all alone. At this time you are required to pause, lie down in the snow, and let the giant flakes land on your face.
In line with the mood that is created at that time, I am going to list the aspects of the shore that speak to me of the coming and work of the Promised Messiah, Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
The first aspect of Christmas on the coast is the silent solitude of the woods on the shore when the snow is falling through the trees, which I spoke of earlier. The world is hushed and I imagine the expectant creation was on the night when the Christ Child was born. That tranquility also speaks of the peace that was established between God and man through the coming and sacrifice of His Son. That peace belongs to the troubled heart that finds forgiveness and rest in the love of the Savior.
That love washes away all the sins that condemn us before the judgment seat of God and carries our guilt far away even as the waves sweep the shore. That same water enters a cycle in the atmosphere and returns as the pure white blanket of snow upon the shore turning everything into a sparkling purity; the purity of a soul that has been cleansed of its sins; the dazzling white purity of the robes of the saints who stand before the throne of God.
I feel the pulse of life that flows in the awesome interdependence of the ecosystem of the coastline—the relationships between the water, the wind, the sand, the dunes, the plants, the animals, and even man. This interwoven masterpiece created and maintained by a sovereign God who rules moment by moment, breath by breath, the creation that speaks His praises. In the same way, our Heavenly Father so governed all things so that the “fullness of time” should come. That time when the Christ Child was born of the Virgin Mary. That birth, that miracle, is the central event of all time, the focus of all that is created. By it God realized His covenant of salvation that made sinners to be the friends and family of God.
These things are in my heart and mind as my memory takes me back to the many times I have sat on the golden shore in wintertime. My hearts desire is that you, too, may know and love the great God Who sent His own Son as the Savior of sinners.
“Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.”
A Savior Came That Day
A Savior came to us that day,
In the hills of Judea, far away.
Not for Himself did He come,
But for His own, to save each one.
Born to a lowly virgin maid,
Into a cattle manger He was laid.
Wrapped in swaddling clothes, a king.
Angels in multitude of Him did sing.
He came to bring an end to pain,
For mankind an end of shame.
Forgiveness and peace did He bring.
Redemption and mercy make the heavens ring.
If we on our own works rely,
In the judgment we shall surely die.
If we rest alone on His work alway,
Before God our sins are washed away.
Rejoice, O sinner, loudly sing,
Praises to the Lord your King.
Thankful that a Child was born,
On that first, quiet Christmas morn.
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