FILTER BY:

“How is that new school getting on out there in Randolph?” We’ve heard that question many times. For those whom we’ve not been able to answer personally, here’s a short accounting of how we’re “getting on.”

“That new School” is Faith Christian School (Protestant Reformed). We’re at 240 East Cambria, on the north edge of Randolph, Wisconsin. We oc­cupy one corner of a building owned by a member of our congregation here. The rest of the building houses a factory. The fathers of several of our stu­dents work in the factory, so there is a bit of traffic back and forth before and after school, but during the school day we don’t see much of each other.

Through chiefly volunteer labor, members of the school society gutted and refurbished “our” corner of the building. We have two classrooms, restrooms, a supply room, an office, a coat room, and a li­brary. We think it’s a first-rate facility, especially considering this is our first year of operation.

Our playground is on land owned by the school society. (We hope eventually to build on this par­cel.) This land adjoins the factory property, as well as the Protestant Reformed Church property. We have the usual playground equipment, and plenty of wide open space for soccer, softball, football, etc. Our students came from three different schools, and our teachers came from two more, so we keep coming up with new games to try.

We have twenty students in grades one through eight. There are students in every grade; our small­est class has one (second grade), and our largest has four (seventh grade). Mr. Dan Hanko teaches grades five through eight and is also the adminis­trator; Mr. Dirk Westra teaches grades one through four. The board hopes to add a kindergarten next year; this will mean hiring a part-time kindergar­ten teacher.

The teachers make ample use of volunteer help. So far this year, we’ve had the regular help of ten volunteers; some of them help once a week; one lady (who also works in the factory) helps out with reading class every day in the lower room. These volunteers help with academic subjects, teach choir, gym, and art classes, and are busy setting up the library. The Mothers’ Club puts on regular hot lunches, which the students and teachers espe­cially appreciate.

Our school calendar looks pretty much like any other school’s: parent-teacher conferences, Iowa Basics, vision screening, field trips, chapels, an all-­school program, and so on. We hope to graduate our first three eighth-graders on May 23.

We hope to grow. Our projected enrollment looks steady, but we don’t foresee significant growth. We trust God to provide students and the means to run the school. The board did not casually name the school Faith Christian. Looking at the past, we see God’s covenant faithfulness in bringing Protes­tant Reformed education to Randolph. Looking to the future, we trust Him.

______________________________________________________________________________

Dirk is a teacher in Faith Christian School in Randolph, Wisconsin.

Are you for or against Christmas?

While this may appear to be an unusual question, there are two divergent spirits among us that may provide some basis for asking it. Some people go “all out” in this celebration of Christmas, while others claim that we make too big a deal out of it, and that it should be observed with a worship service and nothing more. How should we celebrate Christmas? Should we set up a Christmas tree, decorate the house, buy presents, go caroling, prepare special food, and invite all the relatives over for a good time? Or should we “just” go to church on Christmas Day to hear a sermon on the incarna­tion, similar to what we do on Pentecost or Ascension Day? How should we remember Christ’s birth?

Christ’s birth is part of the gospel and there­fore ought to be commemorated. We must be careful, though, to guard against allowing the world to influence our celebration of this holiday.

For examples of responses to Christ’s birth, we can look in the Bible. Upon receiving news of Christ’s upcoming birth, Mary thanked God for His mercy toward her in particular and toward His people in general. At the time of the Savior’s birth, the angel of the Lord could not contain his joy but brought the news to a group of bewil­dered shepherds outside Bethlehem. He also gave them a sign to direct them to the manger. Soon a multitude of the heavenly host joined the angel with the now familiar refrain: “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.”

With joy overcoming their fear, the shepherds rushed to the manger to see Jesus and verify the news. Next, they spread the news, returned to their work (not even a day off!), and praised and glorified God for the things they had seen and heard.

Being blessed with a pre-Pentecost dose of the Holy Spirit, Simeon thanked God for allowing him a look at the Redeemer and prophesied con­cerning Christ’s work. Anna the prophetess also thanked God and directed others to look to Jesus for redemption. The magi celebrated by rejoicing, by worshiping Christ, and by giving Him gifts.

What principles can we gather from these reactions? First, we see that the faithful recog­nized God’s condescension, that is, they saw the deity of Jesus Christ; second, they saw deliver­ance from their sin; third, they thanked and praised God for His Gift; fourth, they were eager to spread the news; and finally, their reactions were characterized by unbounded joy.

There was also a reaction of unbelief. Upon hearing the news that there was a King born in Bethlehem, Herod was troubled to the point that he ordered a mass execution of all the young children in Bethlehem. He wanted to see the hope of a Messiah King smothered and forgotten.

What does all this say about how we should remember Christ’s birth?

Consider the reactions of the eyewitnesses to the Christ. Would a decorated tree have led them to a greater appreciation of the salvation that God had prepared for them? Would colored lights have heightened their comprehension of the mystery of God living in the flesh among them? Would the exchange of gifts have caused them to more clearly understand the ultimate gift that Christ would eventually give when he died on the cross? My answer to all these ques­tions is, “I doubt it.” On Christmas we celebrate a spiritual event. If any material part of our com­memoration draws our attention away from the spiritual significance of the event, I believe it doesn’t belong there.

Here comes the ticklish part. How do I feel about Christmas decorations, lights, trees and the rest? I realize that they’ve been part of our Christmas celebrations for a long time, and that tradition counts for something in our circles, but I’ll be straightforward. I think they cloud the spiritual wonder of Christmas. I don’t think it’s wrong to set up trees in our houses and decorate them. I don’t think it’s wrong to give and receive presents at any time of the year. Getting together with one’s family is always a good idea, and there is certainly nothing wrong with eating a special meal. What connection, though, do these material things have with such a spiritual event as the incarnation? I’m concerned that we spend altogether too much time with these things that – let’s face it – have nothing to do with the Baby in the manger.

Why do we single out Christ’s birth and give it more emphasis than any other New Testament holy day? True, this event in Christ’s life was announced by angels, but then all the other New Testament events we celebrate were accompa­nied by heavenly phenomena as well. Without the incarnation, there could never have been a death, resurrection, ascension or outpouring of the Spirit, but neither would the incarnation have significance all by itself either. We could make arguments for emphasizing any one of the others. For instance, don’t you agree that although Christ’s birth and His passion are nec­essary, it is on Resurrection Sunday that we cel­ebrate His victory over death? Where then are our Easter trees and our Easter parties? For that matter, isn’t Ascension Day also a joyful holy day? When’s the last time your family had an Ascension Day family reunion? Shouldn’t we go Ascension Day caroling to reflect our joy at hav­ing an Intercessor in heaven? Shouldn’t we exchange gifts on Pentecost when God poured out His gift of the Spirit?

Without de-emphasizing the spiritual signifi­cance of Christ’s birth, perhaps we need to spend more time commemorating the other aspects of His work.

I guess no treatment of the subject of Christ­mas decorations would be complete without a reference to Jeremiah 10:3 & 4: “For the cus­toms of the people are vain: for one cutteth a tree out of the forest, the work of the hands of the workman, with the axe. They deck it with sil­ver and with gold; they fasten it with nails and with hammers, that it move not.” Some people appeal to this as a clear scriptural prohibition of erecting Christmas trees in our homes. I would disagree, though, since the context shows that this refers to the making of idols, wood just hap­pening to have been the material chosen for the image. I have been in the homes of many Chris­tians around Christmas time, and have yet to see one person bowing down to their Christmas tree.

If we are to be separate from the world, though, we must celebrate Christmas differently. Look around and you will see that unbelievers also celebrate Christmas by putting up Christ­mas trees, decorating their houses with lights and exchanging presents. Can they see that our celebration is any different?

In much of nominal Christendom, the trap­pings of the holiday have accomplished what Herod could only try to do: they have smothered the memory of the Messiah King Who came to rescue His people from sin. The “true meaning of Christmas” has become a material emphasis on being kind to each other, buying presents for poor children, getting together with your family and spreading good cheer to all you meet. Noble as these things sound, they are empty if they eclipse the hope of deliverance from sin. We have a redeemer Who paid for our sins and Who is soon returning to bring us to a better life. The great privilege we as believers have is to tran­scend the material and celebrate the spiritual significance of the incarnation.

I was raised in the Protestant Reformed Churches and educated, kindergarten through twelfth grade, in our PR Christian schools.  Following high school, I spent four years at a Christian college.  When I later returned to school to get my teacher certification, I attended a public university, where I was required to do my teacher assisting and my practice teaching in a public school.  Getting my classroom experience in a public school would certainly not have been my first choice.  It was a valuable experience, though, chiefly because it strengthened my love for Christian education.

Although the field placement director was sympathetic to my desire to do my student teaching in a Christian school, we were unable to get permission to do this.  She did, however, place me in a school district which she knew to be quite conservative.  “I think you’ll fit in there,” she said.  She certainly was right.  At the school where I was placed, the principal is also superintendent of Sunday school at a Reformed Church.  He, in turn placed me with a fourth-grade teacher who shares our love for the Reformed faith.  The fellowship of these and other Christians was a great encouragement to me throughout the semester.

Nevertheless, my faith was strengthened most when I confronted things with which I disagreed.  Ultimately, I disagreed with the values and morals that were being taught.

In the realm of public education today, you hear the idea that we should be giving American youth a “values-free” education.  Just give a student all the facts and options, it is said, and he can create an ethical framework that is right for him.  We may not try to “force our beliefs on others.”  What’s right for one person might not be right for everyone…and on and on go the relativistic homilies.

The ostensible goal of the public schools is a religiously neutral education.  Advocates of such an education cite the constitutional separation between church and state as the basis for this.  What in fact happens, though, is that they eliminate Christianity and Judeo-Christian morals—religion associated with a church—and replace them with humanistic religions, which are not associated with a church.  They fail to acknowledge that humanism, materialism and all sorts of new age “relaxation techniques” are also religions, since they include moral standards, as well as beliefs about who and what God is.

Student teaching is a time to make mistakes—and learn from them.  (In fact, one of my former teachers, upon hearing that I would have to do my student teaching in the public schools, told me that I ought to be thankful that I could make my mistakes in front of strangers.)  The kinds of mistakes that a student teacher may make in a public school, though, differ greatly from what we in our Christian schools might consider to be mistakes.

Obviously, starting the school day with prayer in a public school would be more than a faux pas—it would be illegal as would be teaching the students any morals that could be remotely identified with the Christian religion.  On the other hand, though, the attention and deference paid to minorities and revolutionaries amount to a religious reverence in many public school classrooms.  Textbook publishers are caving in to the political pressure of these often small but always vocal minorities.  Thus, they publish textbooks (especially social studies) where accuracy takes a back seat to giving each minority equal time.  As a public school teacher, you can probably curse the name of God and get away with it—but just mind that you don’t make disparaging remarks about ethnic minorities, homosexuals or social revolutionaries.

I draw several conclusions from my experience in the public schools.  First, I think we ought to pay attention to what goes on in the public schools.  For one thing, it is our money that is being spent (and squandered) there.  Also—and more ominously—I think the day is coming when our Christian schools may be shut down.  When and if this happens, we ought to have at least an idea of how the public schools are run, so as to anticipate the problems that we will face if our children are educated there.

Second, and closely connected with this, I can see the strangle hold that Satan is tightening around the Christian schools, with deceitful rhetoric about a religiously vanilla public school curriculum, and of making laws concerning this.  Through teacher certification requirements, minority hiring quotas in private schools, and the pervasiveness of slanted curriculum materials, he will put tremendous pressure on our schools to conform to godless philosophies and ideals.  Only God’s grace can keep us off this broad way to destruction.

Third, I see the importance of parental involvement in education.  God established his covenant with parents and their children.  The goal of Satan is to break up families.  If he can use public education to separate covenant children from their parents, he’ll do that.  Christian parents may teach their children what is right, but the public schools are being taken over by people hostile to Christianity.  In the public schools, Christian students are taught to abandon or at least question the beliefs of their parents.  God’s command to “train up a child in the way he should go” (Prov. 22:6) is given to parents; parents should not forfeit this privilege to the state—especially a state which is becoming increasingly hostile to family and Christian values.  Granted, many Christian parents send their children to public schools, where the children recognize and refute the lies of Satan.  In the public schools, I found many students who were firmly grounded in the Bible and recognized the errors of evolutionism and humanism.  But I think that with our parental Christian schools we have an unmatched opportunity to educate children in the fear of Jehovah all day long.

Finally, I see the necessity of teaching Christian children “the fear of God, which is the beginning [or principal part] of knowledge.”  After I showed my fourth graders a film which was heavily weighted with evolutionary theory, one girl raised her hand and asked, “How do they know that this all happened millions of years ago?”

“They don’t,” I answered.  “That’s just one theory—and not a very good one, I’d say—they can’t prove it.”  I stopped there, although I longed to add, “…and besides, the Bible tells us that evolutionary theory is just a lot of hooey.”

Without teaching children the principal part of knowledge (i.e. the fear of the Lord), I don’t find it worthwhile to teach them any knowledge at all.  Some Christian parents send their children to the public schools so they won’t grow up naïve, knowing nothing about the ways of the world.  I don’t worry that the children of Christian parents might grow up not knowing the ways of the evil world; I’m concerned that they might grow up not knowing the good ways of Jesus Christ and His kingdom.  Paul spoke to this issue when he said “…I would have you wise unto that which is good, and simple concerning evil.” (Romans 16:19)

My experience with public education has only strengthened my resolve to become a teacher in our own Christian schools.

Here it is, society season again. Wasn’t it just yesterday that we adjourned young people’s society for the summer? It almost seems like it. Now it is time to give up an hour of your time every Sunday and sit it out. But why do you go to young people’s society? Is there a really good reason?

We’ve all heard the reasons for not attending: “The leader does all the talking in our society; he never gives us a chance.’’ Or this: “There are three or four people in our society who do all the talking.” “Society is so boring; I don’t get anything out of it.” Are you facing another society year of this?

Well, that’s not the way things have to be, nor is it the way that things should be. But what is the purpose for belonging to a society and attending the activities? To answer that question, I’d like to show you the purpose for belonging to a young people’s society, your contribution to that society, and the benefits of attendance.

Do you attend society just to please your parents? I hope not. You realize that there must be a deeper purpose, don’t you? The constitution for the society to which I belong reads, in part, like this: “The object of this society is to study the Word of God, and also subjects and problems of a religious and social nature, in the light of the Word of God.” Sounds pretty straightforward; perhaps a little boring. But that is the purpose for society. The peripheral activities – the parties and Christmas caroling, the fundraisers and special programs – give us an opportunity to be with the same people we’re with week after week in society, but in a more relaxed setting; these activities, however, should never overshadow the main purpose, namely, the study and discussion of the Bible.

So, what’s your role in all this? Obviously, the discussion isn’t meant to be a spectator sport. Participation is essential. I’ve heard many comments like the one quoted above about the leader who runs the show singlehandedly, but I have yet to hear a society leader say he wishes young people were in society to be seen and not he? …

In order to contribute something worthwhile to the discussion, you should be prepared. For Bible discussion, this means studying the passage in question, its cross references, commentaries on the passage, Bible dictionaries and the like. At a young people’s convention a few years ago. the leader of one of our discussion groups gave us this rule of thumb: you should study two hours for each hour you will spend in discussion. The knowing looks which we young people gave one another told him that we didn’t buy his idea, although I realize now that it was sound advice. I’ve led discussions at retreats and conventions, substituted for my own society leader, and also taught Sunday school. My experience has taught me that those who come prepared (you can spot them in your society) contribute the most, and the most worthwhile material.

Unfortunately, my experience has also taught me to come prepared to deliver a lecture the whole length of what is intended to be a discussion. Be assured, the plight of the ’discussion” leader who does all the talking is usually not self-imposed.

In light of all this, what is the benefit of taking an active part in young people’s society? Couldn’t we benefit just as much by studying the Bible on our own? But be realistic: do you study on your own? I know that without the motivation of a group discussion, I’m much less inclines to study. Furthermore, in spite of the amount of study you may have put in, someone else is likely to surprise you with a new insight into the same passage.

Does this mean that we should skip society when we haven’t prepared? Not at all. Those who haven’t prepared may learn something from the discussion. Those who have prepared, however, will find the discussion more enjoyable and more profitable.

In closing, let me offer a few suggestions for studying and discussion. One society of which I’m aware uses a discussion format like this: each verse of the Bible passage is assigned to a different member of the society who must explain the verse, following which the leader asks for commentary from other members, then adds his own thoughts. You might give this a try in your society. In our society, the topic for the after-recess program is announced one week previous to the meeting at which the program is presented. This gives all the members opportunity to study the topic beforehand. If your society is studying a book of the Bible which is comparatively difficult (Revelation, for instance), you might consider using a study guide or discussion outlines written for that particular book. On the individual level, you might find it useful to take your own Bible along to society, especially if you have a Bible with such study helps as maps, a dictionary, cross- or chain- references or a concordance. This also allows you to jot down notes in your own Bible for later reference.

As you return to (or begin) society this season, remember the words of Paul in II Timothy 3:16 8c 2.15: “All scripture is given by inspiration of God. and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.”

Rev. Engelsma addressed himself to the topic of choosing friends by examining with us the grounds or foundation of friendship. For a Christian, there is but one foundation on which all friendships must be built – the foundation of Jesus Christ. On this basis we must seek all our friends: those “special friends”, i.e. those we court and perhaps intend some day to marry, but also those with whom we “hang around”, our every-day friends.

This foundation is one of love; we can love our friends because Christ first loved us – and so strong is that love that He made the sacrifice of His Son. This love, which is a bond of holiness, must be reflected in our personal friendships; these friendships must be holy, sanctified and pure. This love is the glue that must hold us to our personal friends as it holds us to Christ.

Any other ground on which a friendship might be based, is really no ground at all – there is no true friendship but a godly one.

Discussion in our group began with an exchange of ideas on the initial establishment of friendships – how to get started. First, we listed those things that attract us to a person: looks, personality, intelligence, talent, and a sense of humor. However, we decided that first impres­sions, though often lasting, don’t always paint the true picture of a person. A good

way to become well acquainted with a person is by way of conversation; not small talk, but a discussion of morals, principals, and of those things that we hold dear, a baring of the inner person, a heart-to-heart chat of what makes us tick. Our close friends, therefore will naturally be those who have the qualities we admire, and hold to the same values we do.

For most of us, marriage will be the closest friendship we have here on earth. It was brought to our attention the reality of how long the development of this true friendship takes. At marriage, young couples often hardly know each other, and after even fifty years of marriage, are still discovering new things about their spouses. Of course, when they marry, they may think they know each other, but they may spend the rest of their married lives marveling at how incompletely they actually were acquainted.

As in almost any discussion of friendship, the subject of peer pressure was examined. Though peer pressure isn’t always bad, it can lead us into things which we ought not to do, and probably wouldn’t do individually; blending into a group, we can also find ourselves losing our sense of identity, and excluding those who are misfits according to group standards. If we sense peer pressure in a friendship, we had better examine that friendship – is it founded on the right ground?

One of the questions found in the outline prompted a discussion about the desirability of a friend who agrees with everything we say and do. Aside from the obvious fact that such a relationship could become dull and tiring rather quickly, it was also noted that we need companions that will be quick to show us where we are going wrong, and to point us to the straight and narrow.

The final point of discussion was the establishment of “special” friendships. We concluded that building such relation­ships takes much time, and should be built up gradually. Only after such a stage of just getting to know each other can a romantic relationship start.

This was, I feel, a very suitable topic of discussion for us as a group of young people. Especially at a young people’s convention, much of our spare time is devoted to making new friends. More generally though, as young people, we face new and different environments as we go on to high school or college, or take up a new job or career. These new environments bring with them new ac­quaintances, some of whom are not the kind of friends we should have. And with marriage in the future for most of us, we should be prayerfully considering what godly qualities we must seek in a mate.

Following scriptural principles and founding all our friendships upon Christ, our confession will be: “I am a companion of all them that fear Thee, and of them that keep Thy precepts.”

The Christian is placed in many different circumstances while on this earth. Some are characterized by hardships and trials, and others are full of joy and peace. How should the Christian respond? Throughout the Bible there are numerous times where God’s people sang in response to their various circumstances. Singing in response to God’s ordering […]

Continue reading

The book of Proverbs was written by King Solomon to his young adult son. Solomon’s purpose in writing Proverbs was “that the generation to come might know them [God’s wonderful works]…that they might set their hope in God, and not forget the works of God, but keep his commandments” (Ps. 78:6–7). Throughout the book, Solomon […]

Continue reading

The group of churches that John writes to in this trio of epistles had recently experienced a split because of doctrinal controversy. We do not know the exact content of the error that these false teachers were spreading, but it is apparent from John’s writing that their teaching somehow denied the truth of the incarnation—that […]

Continue reading

Jael: An Example of Christian Warfare

This article was originally presented as a speech at a Protestant Reformed mini convention held at Quaker Haven Camp in August 2021. Jael lived during the era of the judges. Deborah the prophetess was the judge who served Israel at the time of Jael. During this time, the Canaanites under the rule of king Jabin […]

Continue reading

Indiana Mini Convention Review 2021

One of this year’s “mini conventions” was hosted by Grace and Grandville Protestant Reformed Churches at Quaker Haven Camp. Located just over two hours away in northern Indiana, the camp was a perfect fit for the 120 kids and 15 chaperones who attended. A total of twelve different churches were represented: Byron Center, Faith, First […]

Continue reading

Editorial, November 2021: Catechism Season

At the point that this edition of Beacon Lights arrives in the homes of our subscribers, most young people in the Protestant Reformed Churches will have been sitting under the catechism instruction of their pastor or elders for more than a month. If our readers are honest, that observation probably comes with a (quiet) sigh […]

Continue reading

Tennessee Young People’s Retreat 2021

The 2021 Tennessee young people’s retreat was held August 9 to 13 by Providence, Hudsonville, Unity, and First (Holland) Protestant Reformed Churches. The retreat took place at Eagle Rock Retreat Center in the city of Tallassee. It was about an eleven-hour drive, give or take a bit due to stops for food and restrooms. Though […]

Continue reading