Lies Young Women Believe and the Truth That Sets Them Free, by Nancy Leigh DeMoss and Dannah Gresh. 2008; Moody Publishers; 198 pages, softcover.
The title page of this superb book by Nancy Leigh DeMoss and Dannah Gresh shortens its title to Lies Young Women Believe. The full title on the cover tells the full story better. This easy-to-read book truly is about Lies Young Women Believe and the Truth that Sets Them Free. It is written for young women (ages 13-19) regarding twenty-five lies that Satan and this world use as weapons against them. It begins and ends with the Truth—real, absolute Truth. The Truth as we know it in Christ who is “the truth and the life.”
DeMoss and Gresh write to young women in such a way that their thesis and supporting arguments are all crafted to center on God and God’s word, not centered first and foremost on young women and what young women would like. Their desire to present a God-centered approach is most evident in their respect and love for God’s word. Rather than evading difficult truths and sugar-coating unpalatable ones, DeMoss and Gresh take the Bible at face value for what it says. Satan is real and his attacks are real. A real Eve listened to a lie, considered the benefits of a lie, and acted upon that lie. Lies are abominable in God’s sight because the one real, true, living God is a holy God.
Lies Young Women Believe and the Truth that Sets Them Free is also very much Bible-centered. DeMoss and Gresh did not write a self-help book with new-fangled, hot ideas for how to be a fantastic Christian for God. In fact, the authors present precious few new insights of their own. All they do—and this is exactly what makes this book a great treasure—is carefully, patiently, and very understandingly apply the truths of Scripture to the troubles that young women face every day. Often I was impressed by how the authors were able to cut to the heart of the matter with genuine love and concern. They could step on my toes and make me thankful for stepping on them!
DeMoss and Gresh use Scripture to fight against lies such as these:
#3 God should fix my problems.
#10 It’s OK to go out with a non-Christian.
#12 I can’t handle the loneliness of staying pure.
#13 It’s OK to be one person at home and a different person with others…especially online.
#19 I can’t overcome my sin.
#24 Having a career outside the home is more valuable and fulfilling than being “just” a wife and mom.
#25 What I do now doesn’t affect the future.
When you read the book for yourself, you will appreciate Nancy Leigh DeMoss and Dannah Gresh for what they have done. Their knowledge of the Bible, their very personal awareness of teen problems, and their patient instruction make them two of the most authentic authors I’ve read in a long time. I look forward to reading more of their books.
There is very little to object to in the book. It’s not perfect, but I bought copies for my girls, Tessa and Molly. Although it will be a while before they’re teenagers, I want to make sure that I have this book to give to them.
I give high marks to Lies Young Women Believe and the Truth That Sets Them Free. Read it and use it. Check out their website (www.liesyoungwomenbelieve.com) for a preview.
Do Hard Things: A Teenage Rebellion against Low Expectations, by Alex and Brett Harris. Multnomah Books, 2008; 224 pages + appendix.
Do Hard Things. It’s such a catchy title that the book’s subtitle could easily be overlooked. That subtitle, “A Teenage Rebellion against Low Expectations” is a very accurate indicator of the book’s contents, and it should not be overlooked.
The authors, twins Alex and Brett Harris, are the younger brothers of Joshua Harris (I Kissed Dating Goodbye). Alex and Brett were nineteen when they wrote Do Hard Things. They are very open about the fact that the book is written by Christians and is intended for other Christians (225). As Christians, they felt a need to inspire other Christian teenagers. Dissatisfied with the type of teen help books commonly available, the Harris brothers poke fun of “books written by forty-somethings who, like, totally understand what it’s like being a teenager” (3). Instead of saying “like, totally” a lot, the authors’ style is to present clear arguments and a challenging message that isn’t dumbed down to teenspeak. The book is quite well-written.
I’ll admit that I was skeptical at first when I saw that the foreword was written by the Zen-promoter and Hollywood movie actor Chuck Norris. In spite of this serious flaw, many Christian teenagers could benefit from reading Do Hard Things.
The book hinges on the premise that our culture stifles the work and the spiritual lives of young people by expecting very little out of them in the teenage years. For example, they insist that the common saying today “Just do your best” actually promotes settling for less (89). The Harris brothers make a very convincing case that remaining childish well into the teenage years is a quite recent phenomenon. Their answer is what they call a rebelution: “a teenage rebellion against low expectations.”
In Do Hard Things, they include an important section called “What the Bible Says about Teens” (42-44). They use Romans 12:2 (“Be not conformed to this world”) to support their idea that Christian young people should not be going by what the world expects out of teenagers. They apply I Corinthians 14:20 (“Be not children in understanding”) directly to teenagers in particular. Above all, they appeal to I Timothy 4:12 as their theme; their take on it is that “Let no man despise thy youth” was Paul’s instruction to Timothy regarding hard responsibilities that Timothy had to do regardless of his youthfulness.
Alex and Brett offer an insightful treatment of Psalm 1:1 (“Blessed is the man that walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly”). Their advice for understanding verse 1 is to go on to read verse 2 (“His delight is in the law of the Lord”). This means that it is not enough for teenagers to stay out of trouble (“not…in the way of sinners”), but to do something right and profitable instead.
So do something. Do hard things. Do what hard things? This is the question that nagged me throughout the book. I appreciate how the authors make a case for rebelling against low expectations; they did an admirable job. But they should have been more clear on what types of hard things they are encouraging. I don’t mean to say that they hide their opinions. They speak very highly of teenagers managing political campaigns, organizing relief programs for the homeless or in Africa, or producing good films; is this the type of hard thing they are looking for? Then they highlight figures such as George Washington, David Farragut, Clara Barton, and Teddy Roosevelt; is this the type of hero to pattern ourselves after?
To be fair, Alex and Brett also spend a little time addressing the need to be faithful in doing small hard things. Do even the things that don’t appear glamorous, such as doing your homework or spending time with a sibling. And although they speak very positively of the noble calling of a wife and mother, the subject keeps going back to being world-changers. They devote a lot of pages to fixing the social ills of this world—doing something huge for God.
What exactly they mean by the often-repeated phrase “for God” is unclear. I do want to recommend that you read Do Hard Things, but don’t just read it and run off to change the world. Do Hard Things can leave the impression that the teenage years are wasted if Christian young people don’t step out of their comfort zone and take on a large-scale project. In reality, the Christian life is much more: observing the Lord’s day, living the antithesis, nurturing friendships, being despised for Christ’s sake, etc. I am sure that, as Christians, Alex and Brett Harris would agree that the Christian life includes all of these things, but it is a weakness of the book that such activities are de-emphasized, even overwhelmed by the idea of doing something huge for God. Even a whole chapter on “Small Hard Things” does not do enough to correct the imbalance.
Alex and Brett are unashamedly Christian. Not having exactly the same Protestant background that we are used to, their different views on theology are to be expected. For example, they seem to have high hopes for starting a movement that will inspire a generation and change the whole world—this world—for the better; no mention is made of this life as a pilgrimage while we hope for “a better country, that is a heavenly” (Heb. 11:16). They have different practices, too. For example, they talk often about films and movies as good things. Regardless, these things will not hinder the discerning reader from gleaning many good ideas out of their book.
I do recommend that you read Do Hard Things, especially for the aspect of fighting against low expectations. Read it as a student. Read it as a teenager. Read it as a Christian. It will be worth your while.
Outliers: The Story of Success, by Malcolm Gladwell. New York: Little, Brown, and Company, 2008; 285 pages.
Outliers is an odd choice for a Beacon Lights book review. Perhaps readers of the Beacon Lights would be expecting a religious book of some sort. Outliers is not. It is a thoroughly secular book intended for a secular audience. However, this book is a real gem for the discerning Christian reader.
The author of Outliers (as well as Blink and The Tipping Point), Malcolm Gladwell, would have us consider “outliers”—people who are so smart, people who are so rich, people who are so highly skilled—that is, people who are so very far above normal that they are “off the charts.” How did they get to be that way?
Which Canadian hockey players become the stars? How did Bill Gates get to be one of the world’s richest men? Why do Asian students perform so much better than American students at international mathematics competitions?
Mr. Gladwell challenges the common notion that these are all self-made people who worked hard to make themselves into what they are. The whole idea of the self-made success story living the American dream is a naïve misconception. For a person to tell himself, “I deserve it, so I’ll dream it and by strength of will and positive attitude, I can achieve my own success” is foolish. Although it is true that hard work is quite necessary and often rewarded, Gladwell insists that there is much more to the story of outliers.
The author proposes that Canadian hockey players born in January or February have a significantly better shot at success than their peers born in November or December. Bill Gates’ success story hinges on the fact that the mothers’ club at his school purchased a computer terminal in 1968, when Gates was in seventh grade. To find the reason behind excellent math students in Singapore, the cultural background must be considered. Gladwell insists that circumstances and culture matter a great deal more than one might care to admit.
It was incredibly fascinating to read the whole story and get the full explanation behind these success stories. The entire book is full of captivating insights into the complex circumstances of life which can send one toward success and another toward anonymity. (Who has ever heard of Chris Langan, the man whose IQ is almost immeasurable?)
Truth be told, random “circumstances” do not determine who will be successful and who will not. God does. He is the Lord and maker of us all, according to Solomon’s proverbs (Prov. 22:2). Yet, to someone who is familiar with the doctrine of God’s providence, Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliersis a wonderful testimony to how “nothing happens in this world without His appointment” (Belgic Confession of Faith, Art. 13). Gladwell shows no signs of being a Christian, but a major premise of his book is this: something is responsible for the phenomenal success of some people, and it isn’t the people themselves! The author makes no mention of God and his providence, but we know what is true. God is God. For a child of God, reading Outliers can be a refreshing, worthwhile taste of God’s sovereignty in the lives of all men.
Not everything in this book was equally appreciated. The author points out that the Beatles didn’t get to be world-class by accident, either. In his discussion of the Beatles’ rise to fame, he also briefly exposes the sleazy side of their lifestyle—something better left unsaid. Another point of disagreement would be what Gladwell means by “success.” To him, success is judged by the world’s standards: fame and riches. However, if the young people of the church strive to be godly citizens in the kingdom of heaven and healthy members of the instituted church of Jesus Christ, then that would be true success, even if they earn a bit less than Bill Gates or fail to make it to the big leagues.
Outliers is a fascinating book, but Gladwell drops the ball. Think about it—he actually managed to write a book about God’s providence without mentioning God or providence. It is a serious flaw. Still, I heartily recommend the book. Read it with God’s providence close to mind and God’s name dear to heart.
“Let’s pray,” began the preacher. All eyes were softly shut and all heads were bowed in reverence to God, but one child was enough to break the stillness. He blared out his signal that all was not right. His father quickly arose to take the youngster to the back of church. He sobbed all the way out of the cool sanctuary.
“Glorious Lord and Father in heaven,” the preacher addressed the Almighty.
All ears tried to shut out the child’s distracting cries like they might try to tune a radio dial to a precise frequency such that the desired broadcast comes in clearly while the interference is blocked out. Trying to concentrate on a worshipful prayer was a difficult task indeed. Leah noted to herself how distracting were the cries.
“We praise Thee for Thy name alone is great,” said the preacher.
Leah reached to her side and fumbled blindly for her purse. It was a small, emerald purse that had come with the summer dress that had set her back about fifty dollars. She reached into it now and found the roll of peppermints.
“Thou who caredst for Thy people with undeserved mercy…” the preacher continued.
Jeremy slipped his hand into his pocket. Besides the wadded dollar bills and a fuzzy lintball, he located a couple of Jolly Ranchers. Managing to rustle one out, he proceeded to open it.
Leah tore the paper from the top of her new roll of peppermints. She peeled enough paper back to loosen the first piece of candy and popped it into her other hand.
Back into her shiny, green purse went the rest of the roll. The fastener gave out a muffled snap as the purse cover closed.
Jeremy noisily wrinkled open the wrapper from his hard candy. After fussing with that sticky, crinkly nuisance, he jammed the wrapper back into his left pocket. He had to straighten out his leg to fit his hand into the pocket. In doing so, he mistakenly gave the pew ahead of him a muted kick.
Sometimes we are guilty of this. We make sure to get our prayer candy before joining the congregational prayer. Although the wrappers can be as distracting to others as a sobbing little one, we work on obtaining that piece of candy. Perhaps it can be done noiselessly if it is a roll of Mentos handled without a sound. No crinkling noises to disturb anyone. No whisper to the next person, “Want one?” It can be very quiet; but it can be very noisy, too.
In either case, we cheat ourselves of proper attention to the prayer. We dismiss ourselves from a very important segment of the worship service. We miss the opening words of praise and adoration to God! We miss the lauding of His great and worthy name. It becomes a willful attempt to postpone joining the prayer until a few moments into it.
Brushing aside the congregational prayer in order to first have some candy is similar to our lives as young people. In church, we know we should close our eyes and bow our heads, but we put off the important matters so that we can first enjoy the sweet pleasures of candy. Of course, we do not completely turn our backs on the worship. We fully intend to join the prayer-but not right away. In life, we know what is expected of the mature Christian. We intend to be obedient by a godly walk, but we feel as if we have to have some time to ourselves first. We can still be Christians even if we don’t make confession of faith right away. We can still be members of the Church even if we don’t give up all the fun things to be had. There is plenty of time to repent and be a Christian. It will not hurt to have a little “candy” first. So go our minds by nature.
Prayer candy is dating solely for fun. We make ourselves believe that going out with questionable characters is not so bad. Dating becomes a game-for all the wrong reasons.
“It’s no big deal; it’s nothing serious.”
“So what if he’s—–? That does not make him a bad person.”
“We just went to a party with some friends.”
“There was nothing else to do. Besides, it is not like I’m going to marry her.
“I am just getting to know her a little. She is just so sweet- and hot!”
“It is too soon to talk about church. I hardly know her!”
A young man may intend to marry a good, Christian woman when the time is right, but presently just wants to have a good time. A young woman may desire a godly-minded husband, but may first seek out a few years of innocent fun and carefree dating. This is prayer candy. How many times do we justify unlawful pleasures to our consciences? We know what the Christian walk is about, but we reach for a little “candy” first.
Prayer candy is underage drinking and drunkenness. Call them what you will, but drinking parties are drinking parties and should be listed under “pleasures of sin for a season.” Participating (even in the smallest way) in this unlawful, dangerous entertainment is similar to dating-for-fun. We justify it in our minds for a number of reasons. First of all, many others drink. Secondly, lots of teenagers drink. Perhaps the silent voice in the background tells us, “I’m not drunk. I am not going to hell because of one drink. It doesn’t hurt anything.” The most infectious line of reasoning is knowing that drinking is wrong, but cleverly suppressing that twinge of conscience. All in all, it is the same story. We know how we should live, but we have that prayer candy first. We even go so far as to tell ourselves that when we are older, we will not do these things. When it comes time to assume roles in the church, we will put away these pleasures. But now is the time of innocence, a time to be merry. Prayer candy first.
Prayer candy is what happens on the couch when your boyfriend or girlfriend is over and the parents are gone. We know what a godly walk requires. We know. No one has to ask, “How far is too far?” We know. And yet the temptations are there. The temptations are strong, the couch is comfortable, the embrace better still, and we are all too willing to postpone the godly life for a little piece of prayer candy.
The Lord Jesus has timely words of instruction for us. Instead of arguing that this is normal teenage behavior, we are to obey His command, “Follow me” (Luke 9:59). Instead of replying, “Lord, I will follow thee, but let me first go”…and do this or do that, we take in His instruction, “No man, having put his hand to the plough, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God.”
Prayer candy is bad for two reasons. First of all, it rots your teeth. The more candy you have, the more permanent damage you do to your teeth. The more teenage evils you indulge in, the more permanent damage you do to yourself. Do not think that you will set these aside with ease someday.
Secondly, prayer candy is distracting-not only for you, but for those around you. The way you live is an example to all who observe. Your friends may see you drinking and do it themselves. Your friends may see you dating carelessly and test the waters themselves.
Now is not the time for the pleasures of sin. Now is the time for repentance. Later is too late. Do not always reach impulsively for that candy. The time to serve Him is now. The time to be sanctified in Him is now. Follow Him now.
“…And above all these things, we thank Thee for the sacrifice of Thine only begotten Son,” the preacher was still praying.
Leah placed the peppermint on her tongue. She picked up the prayer at this point and settled in to join with the other hearts in congregational prayer.
“…Be with all those who are distracted by the sinful pleasures of this world,” the preacher requested.
Jeremy tossed the sweet watermelon candy into his mouth and bent forward to rest his elbows on his knees. He too joined in.
God is love. Our love for Him is a primary concern. Our relationship with the living God is awesome and important. But, it is very difficult. So God gave us a way to understand love. In His providential care and love, He did not place us alone in separate little pockets of the human population. He made us churches. We are a body, the body of Christ. What a great picture! Living as members of a living organism with Christ as Head is a complicated, beautiful picture. We can learn a lot about God and love for God from our life interactions with the other members, even Christ Himself.
Check out some of Paul’s letters, however, and you will soon see that the church down through the ages has had trouble with this picture. It, too, is difficult. Still, the Lord in His constant care, has given us another picture. The human body has intricate workings which can teach us amazing things about life in the Body of Christ. It is a picture of a picture—a double whammy! Patterns of the human body teach us about the church body which, in turn, points to the lovely name of our God. “For the Lord is good; his mercy is everlasting; and his truth endureth to all generations” (Psalm 100:5).
Created with 11 distinct systems, this human body is a marvel. God created Adam with a heating and cooling system, muscular system, circulatory system, skeletal system, nervous system, endocrine system, digestive system, immune system, lymphatic system, respiratory system, and excretory system.
The skin is like a waterproof poncho that keeps us all in place. As part of the heating and cooling system, it contains about two million sweat glands. To cool off, their tiny ducts can secrete almost two gallons of water in a day. Most of our hundreds of thousands of hairs come also with a muscle that contracts to make the hair “stand up” when we are cold. This helps keep us warm.
Getting under our skin, we find the muscles. The muscular system operates everything from our fingers and toes to our hearts and intestines. Combined contraction power of all the muscles would be enough to lift 25 tons. But, they don’t pull at once. God designed them to work in harmony and balance with each other to perform various tasks.
Muscles would be no good if not for the strength and stability offered by the skeletal system. Muscles can perform the simple tasks and feats of strength and agility by maneuvering different segments of the bone structure. Not to be outdone, the bones showcase an astonishing building material. Not only can a cubic inch of healthy bone withstand over 2000 pounds of pressure, it can also repair itself. Evolution or the hand of God?
Likewise, the muscles cannot move a single ounce without the instruction and guidance of the nervous system. With bulging biceps, the muscles get all the attention, but nothing is performed unless a sensory organ, by sight or touch, perhaps, sends a chemical signal to the brain which then commands the muscular movement. In the nervous system headquarters, the brain continues to astound computer manufacturers today. Billions of nerve cells (complete with protective casings) manage our decisions, reason, will, emotions, imagination, speech, sight, hearing, and even remember what fragrance the other one was wearing upon the occasion of your first kiss. You can still smell it! When you do, it recalls a flood of memories that were tucked away in long-term storage in the form of chemical signals.
Partially centered in this three-pound lump of nerve fibers, we find the activity of yet another system. Glands in the brain and elsewhere in the body regulate growth by means of hormones. The endocrine system is vitally important, but not alone. For example, fear (nervous system) can trigger the release of the hormone adrenaline (endocrine system) into the bloodstream (circulatory system) which then releases sugars (digestive system) that are stored for just an emergency. “The works of the Lord are great!” (Psalm 111:2). And what lessons for the church on how to love and work with each other!
After the rush of adrenaline, you may be hungry. The digestive system can take care of that. Not only did the Creator design this 30-foot system, He tells us in Genesis 1:29 what to put in it. Such food that we eat is broken down by an ever-present mixture of acids and enzymes in the mouth, stomach, and intestines. As muscles send it down, the food undergoes an exothermic reaction in the digestive tract. This means that from our daily bread, we obtain life-saving heat and nutrients for the muscular system and the rest of our body.
Not only do the muscular system and other body tissues have to be fed, they must be cleaned as well. Lymph nodes are placed in a patchwork of vessels all over the body. These filter out many of the foreign particles that wriggle past the skin. The lymphatic system also produces the white-blood cells which travel the circulatory system to stave off infectious intruders.
This same bloodstream which carries the white-blood cells is dependent on yet another system. The respiratory system provides each breath of fresh air which stocks the blood with precious oxygen and whisks away the carbon dioxide. The nervous system instructs the muscular system to breath in and out so the circulatory system can receive enough supply. “Behold, how good and pleasant it is for brethren to dwell in unity!” (Psalm 133:1).
When the respiratory system hands the baton to the circulatory system, the blood takes off on a marathon. Its job is to pump oxygen-rich blood through to all the tissue along the supply route. The circulatory system is similar to the postal system except that it has far more “addresses” to reach. Likewise, the circulatory system is faster, more complex, and far more efficient. At each fork in the road where blood vessels meet, the angle of intersection is precisely set by God so that energy loss due to friction is minimized. Not only so, but this is the case thousands upon thousands of times in billions of bodies around this planet. “I will praise Thee; for I am fearfully and wonderfully made: marvellous are Thy works…if I should count them, they are more in number than the sand.” (Psalm 139: 16,18).
Within the church body, this marvellous balance can be offset by a lack of love. When all is not right in our hearts before God, the people of God encounter unnecessary work loads, stress, and obstacles. Similarly, when all is not right with the body that houses the actual, beating heart muscle, problems also arise in the midst of members. For example, the heart needs to pump blood through an additional mile of blood vessels for every two pounds of excess baggage—undue stress on the other members. How strikingly accurate is the picture!
God also graciously equipped the body to purify and protect. The excretory system serves as a waste removal facility. Working closely with the digestive and circulatory systems, the excretory system uses the specialized kidneys, bladder, and intestines to perform its thankless yet invaluable labors day in and day out. Maintenance and purification of the eleven systems is not enough. The immune system comes into play when there is a battle to be fought. Protector of the body, this fierce army will seek to destroy any bacteria or virus that got past the skin’s first line of defense. The immune system includes the spleen and thymus gland as well as its saliva, tears, and specialized fighter cells. With slick communication and open supply routes, it serves the role of protector against all antigens. Even a fetus or baby acquires fully-ranked armies from their mothers until he can develop his own active immunity.
It is amazing to see that even the immune system embraces teamwork and sharing. Yet such a sturdy defense also allows the body to go about its “simple” tasks like heartbeats (as many as two billion in a lifetime), eye blinking (a single teardrop is so potent that even when diluted in a half gallon of water, it can still destroy germs), and breathing. Like each breath of the respiratory system, let us pray for the breath of God to fill us with His love in our church-body life. “And the Lord God formed man out of the dust of the ground, and breathed into His nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul” (Genesis 2:7). May the Lord be pleased to teach us about Himself and His love through these eleven complete systems so that we may grow in His love!
“But speaking the truth in love, may grow up into Him in all things, which is the head, even Christ: From whom the whole body fitly joined together and compacted by that which every joint supplieth, according to the effectual working in the measure of every part, maketh increase of the body unto the edifying of itself in love.”
—Ephesians 4: 15,16
* Author’s note: Most of the facts can be learned from a biology textbook, but this idea and some of the statistics were borrowed from an issue of Creation Illustrated. It is a relatively new magazine out of Weimar, CA and I strongly recommend it for your personal growth in the Reformed faith. ❖
I woke up this morning. It was a short night. Going to bed late last night, I got only five and a half hours sleep. But, I am awake. I need my shower to get things rolling. Shower should be quite hot. I like it very hot, almost scalding. Better hurry, though, or I might miss my ride to school.
Breakfast is not an option. I never eat breakfast. Once in a while, I grab a glass of juice, but I am not an eggs-n-toast person at all. Hopefully, Mom packed a good lunch for me.
I throw on my jeans and a long-sleeve denim shirt. It’s a deep forest green. I just bought it this past weekend. It looks cool. I look cool. Five minutes is enough time to make sure my hair is alright, my breath doesn’t knock people over, and I’m out the door.
My ride has been waiting a couple of minutes, but I don’t care. I won’t be tardy or anything. I am riding shotgun on this zippy five minute drive, so I do the channel surfing. Great song, but we are almost there.
I walk into school in the middle of devotions. It is a good Christian school. I like it pretty well. I fit in, and I have a lot of friends here. First hour, second hour, break!…
“What do you know? Did you hear?…I can’t believe it…! I saw it too. That was quite something.”
Third hour, fourth hour, fourth hour, still fourth hour…lunch. Missed the prayer, but heard the “Amen.” This is the time to hang around with my friends. We are just a fun-loving bunch, although we get a little bit silly sometimes. None of us drink or smoke. Most of us have never even been to a party. I like this group of friends. We all keep each other company and have fun without getting into trouble. We are good people. It’s a Christian school.
The afternoon is fun today. Normally, I prefer to do cool things in class. School is too boring otherwise. I don’t like boring. But, my parents send me here. It’s OK, I guess. It is a Christian school.
All the basketball and soccer players stick around after school, but not me. With my friends, I head over to the college to work on biology projects. Mine might not be the very best, but it will be awesome. I put a lot of work into it, and it is something I will be very proud of. I cannot stick around very long, though. I have to be at work by 5:00.
Like the rest of my day, work isn’t so bad either. It just kind of goes. It is nice to make friends from some of the other area high schools. I cannot believe some of the things that go on in their schools! I am glad I go to a Christian school.
Punch out, drive home. It is my mom’s car (station change!). Once home, I stuff down a frozen pizza, finish my homework, and head to bed. By the time I have showered and brushed my teeth, I realize how exhausted I am. I am ready to fall asleep right when my head hits the pillow. “Tomorrow is another…,” I think to myself when a thought crosses my mind and makes my blood run cold. Ashamed, I ask:
Did I just go through an entire day, in sinful pride, thinking that I don’t need God for anything? Uhhh…that’s going to be a problem. Who is number one in my life?
Lord most holy and Father in heaven,
Thy name is to be praised for all the works I see around me and inside my heart. For Jesus sake, be merciful unto me and forgive me for my faithless pride. Such pride dishonors Thy name and hurts the health of my church family. Help me to forgive those who hurt me with their pride. Be near me in all things, Father. After all, not my will, but Thine. Grant me grace, strength, and wisdom for tomorrow. And when tomorrow is done, teach me to come again to Thy presence to render thanks for such blessings. This is my prayer in Jesus’ name. Amen. ❖
Maple—The maple tree is a common species, numbering about 120 varieties. Maples grow almost exclusively in the Northern Hemisphere. In fact, you would be hard pressed to find a maple in the “bottom” half of our planet. Locating a bottle of maple syrup would be easier, since it is part of a multi-million dollar industry.
Most maple species are found in China. But, for those of us familiar with the sugar, red, silver, and bigleaf (you’re welcome, Lynden), the uses are no surprise. Maples are an important source of lumber. Furniture makers like the wood of the red maple. The wood of the sugar maple is the sturdiest, and its unusual grain and fine, polished look make it suitable for everything from violins to bowling alleys. The most fascinating thing about maples might be the most annoying as well. Ask anyone with an old maple in the front yard. Maple seeds are all over the place! Sometimes called “keys” in reference to their shape, these seeds are more commonly known as “helicopters” for the way they whirl and float to the ground in their spiraling descent. Keys litter the ground by the thousands. A soft breeze might carry them into an eaves trough or open car window. An unstoppable force!
A lesson in mercy can be derived from the maple tree. Your own acts of mercy should be as abundant and unstoppable as the winged maple seed. In church life, you should not be able to move without encountering love and mercy from a brother or sister. Mercy should be spilled all over the church body, like helicopters on a grassy lawn. Show that you have a deep concern for Christ’s sake. Do this all the time, all over the place.
Elm—Widespread in North America, the elm family is a treasured resource. The common American elm reaches as high as 80 to 100 feet. With gray bark and saw-toothed leaves, this beautiful tree is valued for its lumber and its shade.
Elm wood is resilient and hardy. Since it does not split easily, it is good for fence posts which have to brave the elements of weather. In addition to its reputation as a sturdy hardwood, the elms caramel color adds a nice touch to furniture.
Good wood or not, the elm will always be a shade tree. Branching out from the trunk, its far-reaching limbs provide shelter for creatures below. Can you hang a rope from its branches and dangle on a makeshift swing? Yes. Can you take a cool afternoon break underneath an elm on a sticky summer day? Yes. Can you do these activities on any one of the millions of elm trees scattered across North America? Of course, you can.
You can also take a valuable lesson from the elm. Besides the fact that its presence has inspired a street name in many communities, the elm makes a powerful statement in the Christian life. You need to provide shade for your friends. The day is hot. The battle is long. Kind, friendly words provide shade from the trials in life. In times of affliction, mercy is cool and soothing like a restful nap under an elms shady boughs. Be merciful. Be shade for somebody.
Red Pine—Another Northern Hemisphere family is the pine. These are the evergreen trees that bear seeds in cones and have needle-like leaves. Although these tall, straight trees are listed as the world’s greatest lumber source, you will find pine products ranging from paint to paper.
One particular pine found in the Great Lakes region, New England, and southeastern Canada has a distinct, reddish-brown bark. The red pine is not as large as its elegant cousin, the eastern white pine, but it is a handsome tree nevertheless. Its needles are long and sharp. Bunched in pairs, these clusters of needles are part of the red pines charm.
When a needle cluster filters down to the forest floor, its glory is gone. No longer is it part of a majestic standing timber. No longer is it green and lush. The cluster is reduced to the thankless job of being a floor mat. You might have felt this way before. When no one is looking, you go ahead and perform the duty assigned to you. When no reward is offered, you give up your own precious time. Perhaps you feel it would only be right to visit an elderly, sick person. Maybe you need to confront a friend in mercy for something he did. You don’t want to. You know you have to. So, you go. There are no open rewards for these good deeds and they are seldom “fun.” But, God is merciful, and when He gives you the strength to act in mercy, He rewards you with unbelievable heavenly blessings for being the thankless floor mat.
Try it. Be the soft cushion of pine needles for a friend. Be merciful all the time, not just when fame and glory are on the line.
Chestnut—From North America, Asia, Africa, and Europe hails the mighty chestnut. Make that the once mighty chestnut. The most important forest tree at one time, the chestnut (beech family) was prized for its decay-resistant wood. Then around 1905, a savage killing spree began. For 35 years, a fungal disease consumed most of the North American chestnuts. Chestnut blight, as it was called, decimated a huge population of that great tree with the spreading branches and the starchy nuts.
Such a contagious disease is scary. But what if a good thing was just as infectious? What if acts of mercy were so rampant that their spread in the church was unavoidable? Cool, huh?
Maybe that is an exaggeration, but it is true that if you treat anyone with care and mercy, they are more likely, by God’s grace, to treat you in the same manner. If you are merciful to 10 friends, and each of them is merciful to 10 other friends, and each of those 100 are merciful to 10 friends…
…The point is pretty obvious. You need to make mercy as contagious as the chestnut blight. You can’t get too much of this good thing.
Yew—The name “yew” refers to a group of evergreen trees and shrubs. With a deep, enchanting color, yew wood is nearly as splendid as mahogany. However, the yews beauty is deceiving. Besides kitchen cabinets or coffee tables, uses of the yew include more formidable tools. Back in 1415, this was painfully evident to the French hotshots at Agincourt (ah- zhin – coor).
Preparing for yet another round of the One Hundred Years War, the French knights were quite snazzy with their expensive gear and well-groomed horses. The English soldiers had no horses, only longbows made of yew wood. Knights against foot soldiers. Armor versus arrows. Suffice it to say that the English were the underdogs.
The result of the battle was not as the French had hoped. History records a blowout in favor of the visitors. The knights were defeated by the now-famous English archers and their longbows.
You can use the longbow, too. Let mercy “fight” your battles. Rather than employing the heavy artillery of harsh words and verbal darts, all you need is the longbow of mercy. What is mercy? See Matthew 5:7 or James 2 The Word of God insists that mercy is compassion that causes one to help the weak and afflicted- a cardinal Christian virtue. From the “tree” perspective, it may be difficult to carefully define an act of mercy. Don’t worry. Simply think about yourself today. Did you exhibit Christian compassion or were you more into injury, disturbance, and violence? Remember the song from grade school?
“I have roots growing down to the water.
I have leaves growing up to the sunshine,
And the fruit that I bear is a sign
Of the life in me.
I am shade from the hot summer sundown.
I am nest for the birds of the heaven.
I’m becoming what the Lord of trees
Has meant me to be—
A strong, young tree.” ❖
Tom is a member of Hudsonville Protestant Reformed Church in Hudsonville, Michigan.
Hi! You and I are friends. Such close friends we are that whenever I am in trouble, I call you. When other people talk poorly about you, you call me. We talk. We talk a lot. Sometimes we talk about important things: God’s direction in our lives, choosing a college, picking the right career (we really don’t want to mess this up). We wonder if there is only one opportunity to choose the correct vocation. If we choose the wrong ones, do we pay for those mistakes for the rest of our lives? We talk. We talk about the need to buy a car when there is not enough money for insurance. We ask why so many of our “friends” drink.
Sometimes, we discuss nothing at all- for a long time! We could talk for hours about nothing: who likes whom, if it is “who likes whom” or “who likes who,” the purpose of grammar anyway, if so-and-so are back together, why your little brother is grounded, laughing about a couple at the mall, stuff we bought at the mall, griping about curfews, etc.
You get the idea. We are good friends. Best friends. Now, I have to know. Tell me the truth. Would you come to me if you knew I did something rebellious? Would you call me up if you saw me intentionally do something wrong? Would you…?
If I went to a party at a classmate’s house and got plastered?
If I went to a party and had three beers?
If I went to a party and had one sip? Or none at all?
Where would you draw the line?
If I went to the theatre and saw an R-rated movie?
If I rented an R-rated video and watched it in the comfort of my own home?
If I liked a PG-13 movie?
If I knew your sister had gone to the movies and did not tell you?
How much of this concerns you?
If I went on a date and had sex?
If I went way too far, but not all the way?
If I went just a little beyond kissing?
If the date was for all the wrong reasons?
If my date was questionably of Christian character?
Why are you upset with me?
If I skipped church Sunday evening to drive out to the beach?
If I told my parents I went to another church in order to skip?
If I skipped church on Good Friday by intentionally picking up hours at work?
If you did any of these things with me, what could you say then? A-ha! Would you still feel guilty and bring it up anyway?
You may not be able to answer all of these questions right away. But, it is important to me as your best friend to know how you feel. It makes me feel good to know that you would admonish me for sinning. I can only hope that I would respond in true Christian manner. It makes me feel good to know that you care about me enough to confront me. I would do the same for you.
Don’t stop reading. Keep going through this last part. Drop whatever you are doing and listen. What you and I need to know is that your reaction to my sin makes a huge difference. Where you decide to draw the line and when you admonish me plays a big role in the future life of our congregation. This is where you say, “Huh? What are you talking about?” Perhaps no one else would ever find out if I drank like a fish and you never scolded me for it. I am saying to you that your reaction or inaction is a deciding factor, used instrumentally by God, in deciding the health of our church. No Christian admonition, no spiritual health. No spiritual health, no church. We as young people do play a part. As the future of His church, D. V., we need to stay in good shape. Our fitness determines the unity of the brethren. Admonition can play a big role.
So, would you confront me if I watched a made-for-TV movie?
Would you admonish me if I watched the Super Bowl?
If I watched soap operas in the afternoon?
If I watched pseudo-soap operas during primetime?
If I watched 20 hours of sports a week?
If I watched Home Improvement?
If I watched Seinfeld?
What if I did homework on Sunday? Would you talk to me?
I pray to God that you would confront me about every single thing listed above. Each one is bad, and I hope that you would be there for me to tell that there are better ways to spend my time. Not enough good admonition goes on around here. Not enough goes on among conscientious young people. Let’s pick up the banner and take charge. God help us.
Tom is a member of Hudsonville Protestant Reformed Church in Hudsonville, Michigan
In the city, it was a bright summer afternoon. A few fluffy, white clouds rolled overhead, but otherwise dotted with only a few of the flying sort. Crisp blue sky everywhere seemed so warm and inviting. No rain, no storm, no gray. It was blue—bright blue—with a few feathery, painted clouds. Amazing how weather can affect moods! And that day, the friendly sun had good effect. It warmed the lives and hearts of the citizens of the city.
Women were outside strolling through the marketplace. Cantaloupe, red grapes, and juicy strawberries were in season. Vegetables also were brimming with flavor. The green-leafed varieties were as crisp as ever. The tomatoes were full and firm, not too ripe or spotted. The women made their purchases (with a little argument about the prices). These groceries were about to become family dinners later in the evening.
The men were still working outside. Friendly chatter filled the site of construction for the new church. Much of the brickwork was already finished. A few legs dangled from the roof where the final nails were being pounded. Down the street, beyond the jeweler’s and the watchmaker’s shops, the town doctor was relieving a few young children with the wonders of modern medicine. A few cuts and bruises- nothing serious. The baker was serious, though. An important task it was to make sure that the lovely aroma wafted into the street to lure unsuspecting customers inside to order some of his pastries and breads.
The rest of the community was busy as well. The blacksmith and cobbler labored hard, making music with the sounds of their hammers. Children played; dogs ran a muck through the alleys. Grandmothers visited while the wise men of the city kicked back to spin story after story about the fish and deer that seem important at the time but are forgotten the next day. A busy marketplace, thriving shops, and the sounds of laughter. This is the first tale.
The tale of a city that prospers so well, even the streets are scrubbed clean. Our own church life can be that way. God promises blessings for those who live well in unity with one another. These blessings are so marvelous and dear, even some silly tale about a picture-perfect day in a spotless, happy town cannot compare. Life in the church, the body of Christ, is supposed to be like that. God’s love to us, being reflected through us towards each other, in turn reflecting our relationship with God himself. The blessedness of that life we must desire with all our hearts. And the church will receive this when the heart is turned for God and His righteousness. It is a sworn promise from God who created heaven and earth by the power of His Word. But, things can get ugly.
The clouds that had danced lazily across the midday sky were beginning to pile up. Cumulus clouds can do that, you know. They can fracture and wisp away as fair-weather clouds, or begin to gather and hint of a coming rain shower. Well, the “hint” was unmistakable.
Hammers started to land on thumbs. Bread in the ovens burned to a crisp, leaving only blackened shells. Stray dogs bit the children, spreading screams and disease throughout. Lemons rotted in the baskets while lettuce wilted in the heat. Worst of all, rumors began flying. The breeze was kicking up a little dust, and was all too willing to fling around those rough accusations along with the rest of the debris. Some of the wealthier shopkeepers bore the brunt of this attack. The rumor was that they had been overcharging for their goods and hoarding the town’s economy to themselves, creating poverty for the rest. True or not, the word spread like wildfire. And each person who heard was quick to add his own little tidbit to the rumor.
The good jeweler had done nothing wrong. He was as honest as the day is long, and yet his reputation was shot to pieces. He friends treated him like dirt. Families sided with families. Extended families bonded together and the whole city became as polarized as night and day.
Things might have been better had they kept to themselves. Travelers passing by the city might have had no inclination concerning the feud taking place inside the city gates. Yet, strange behavior that it was, the matter soon became public. Instead of a calm, just settlement, irrational thought took over. Instead of realizing that the injustice was minor and repairable, hurtful darts replaced soothing words. Instead of maintaining the integrity of the city, the aggressors (or victims? —it was too hard to tell) took it upon themselves to cement the hard feelings.
Then, when it seemed as though it could not get any worse, the oddest thing happened. Reeeeeaaaaally odd. Whoever had an empty hand grabbed paint. Buckets and buckets of paint. Dashing outside the gate with it, they vandalized their own city walls with clashing colors. Names were painted in dishonor- reputations marred. Graffiti and revenge marred that lovely afternoon. All around the city wall, names were scarred by such labels as “idiot,” “moron,” “cheater,” and “bum.”
Never mind that the paint had been intended for a useful purpose (the interior walls of the church). Never mind that the paint could have at least been used for something constructive. No. it was used for a more permanent and deadly job.
What was the point? Who knows? What it did accomplish was to show everyone on the outside the sin on the inside. Disarray, disorder, and hatred: supremely evident to all.
This is the second tale. To go back to the first tale (which we all want) we need to add a happy ending. Even when sins toward one another are committed, there must be forgiveness. Forgive! When a party is sorry and desires peaceful, godly agreement, forgive. Forget that the sin was ever committed. Forgive! When they apologize and cry, treat them as if they were perfect all along. That is how God treats His own. He remembers not their sins and imputes to them the righteousness of Christ. He sees all we do, of course, but in judgment through Christ’s blood, he sees us as sinless. Sinless like our joint- heir Jesus Christ. Life in the church is meant to reflect that relationship in an earthly way. We need to live with a lot less pride. Without forgiveness, notice what happens. A feud doesn’t bury itself. Accusation burn and infect and we end up vandalizing our own city walls for all to see. Not only do the church members witness the atrocities, but outsiders as well. That is no way to witness. That is no way to shine for Christ’s Spirit that dwells within us.
Is the town in the story make-believe? Not really. The city of two tales is Hebron. In Holy Scripture, the name Hebron has both historical and spiritual significance. Its title signifies “communion.” The city’s name means “to be restored to fellowship with God.” Remember when David sinned by taking a second wife? Going from bad to worse, David then disobeyed God’s guiding hand and fled into Philistia to escape Saul and his gang. Sin after sin after sin. No plea for forgiveness; therefore, no forgiveness. But when David was brought to his knees in acknowledgment before the merciful God, he was restored. Returned to favor, David was sent to Hebron for his first coronation, as king over Judah.
Young people, be restored to communion with each other and with God. Forgive and be forgiven.
Tom is a member of Hudsonville Protestant Reformed Church in Hudsonville, Michigan
Happiness is a wonderful gift among God’s saints. Within the church family, one of the greatest times to share that happiness is in congregational singing. The moment to spread your joy is during the singing that is such an integral part of the worship service. Together we sing songs of praise and thanksgiving to our God and Maker. The focus this month is on the fact that the body of Christ should understand singing this way: we sing with one another and to each other.
In the sanctuary, we sing with each other before God. The aim is the honor and glory of His most holy name. Also, we sing to each other. The goal is to have each other’s needs in mind, hoping to nurture fellow members in the care God has graciously provided.
Accomplishing this through singing is done with the Psalms. In singing these songs of Scripture, our faces should never appear careless and bored. Instead, our faces will shine with thoughtfulness and devotion, promoting brothers and sisters around us to do the same. If we understand what we sing and what we are so happy about, members around us will notice.
The thoughtfulness we need for this comes from knowledge of the Psalms—an understanding of the words we sing to music. When the meaning is taken to heart, the music from our lips must fit. Joyful words require a joyful tune. Solemn words require a solemn tune. Plaintive words require a plaintive tune. Often in music, an Italian phrase or expression is given to communicate the tempo or style necessary. In order for the music to be suitable for the Psalm, we need to be conscious of the tempo and style we are supposed to sing. Singing, congregational singing, is such a grand avenue for portraying Christian happiness- but only if we sing happily.
Therefore, we can take a closer look at some of the versifications we sing along with a description for each.
Affettuoso (with warmth):
“When in the night I meditate on mercies multiplied,
my grateful heart inspires my tongue to bless the Lord, my
Guide.” — Psalter #28
“The Lord’s my Shepherd, I’ll not want;
He makes me down to lie
In pastures green; He leadeth me
The quiet waters by.” — Psalter #53
“On the good and faithful God has set His love;
When they call He sends them blessings from above.”
“Rest in the Lord with quiet trust,
Wait patiently for Him;
Though wickedness triumphant seem,
Let not thy faith grow dim.”
— Psalter # 100
Largo molto (very slow and deliberate):
“While I kept guilty silence, my strength was spent with grief,
Thy hand was heavy on me, My soul found no relief;
But when I owned my trespass, my sin hid not from Thee,
When I confessed transgression, Then thou forgavest me.”
Largo molto e legato (slow, deliberate, and smooth):
“Thy lovingkindness, Lord, is good and free,
In tender mercy, turn Thou unto me;
Hide not Thy face from me in my distress,
In mercy hear my prayer, Thy servant bless.”
Piangendo e piano (plaintively and softly):
“To Thee I lift my soul,
In Thee my trust repose;
My God, O put me not to shame
Before triumphant foes.”
— Psalter #60
“Amid the thronging worshippers, Jehovah will I bless;
Before my brethren, gathered there, His Name will I confess.
Come, praise Him, ye that fear the Lord, ye children of His grace;
With reverence sound His glories forth and bow before His face.”
— Psalter #51
“Because He is righteous, His praise I will sing,
Thanksgiving and honor to Him I will bring,
Will sing to the Lord on whose grace I rely,
Extolling the Name of Jehovah Most High.”
— Psalter # 13
“Uplifted on a rock
Above my foes around,
Amid the battle shock
My song shall still resound;
Then joyful offerings I will bring,
Jehovah’s praise my heart shall sing.”
— Psalter #71
Allegro con brio (lively, with vigor):
“The voice of Jehovah, the God of all glory,
rolls over the waters the thunders awake…
His voice makes the mountains and deserts to tremble…”
“Thy power has set the mountains firm,
O God Almighty, girt with strength;
At Thy command the waves are still,
The nations cease from war at length.”
— Psalter #176
Allegro con spirito (lively, with spirit!):
“For grace and mercy ever near,
For foes subdued and victory won,
All nations of the earth shall hear
My praise for what the Lord has done [!]”
— Psalter #36
“My grief is turned to gladness, to Thee my thanks I raise,
Who hast removed my sorrow and girded me with praise;
And now, no longer silent [!] my heart Thy praise will sing;
O Lord, my God, forever my thanks to Thee I bring.”
Often, we will find two or more moods expressed in the same Psalm. These require added study and appreciation. For example, sing #140, verse 2 affanoso (sadly). “I have sinned against Thy grace and provoked Thee to Thy face…” But sing verse 3 more aspiratamente (aspiringly). “Thou alone my Savior art, teach Thy wisdom to my heart.”
When you open to #69 in church, slowly and solemnly sing the first verse- grave. “Be Thou my judge, O righteous Lord; try Thou my inmost heart…” But, bring enthusiasm to verse 7 and singing allegramente. “Redeemed by Thee, I stand secure in peace and happiness. And in the church, among Thy saints, Jehovah I will bless.”
“Among Thy saints, Jehovah I will bless.” What a wonderful way to summarize our thoughts here! To sing anything affretando (in a hurry) would be disgraceful to God’s Name. Expressing happiness does not allow for vivace (fiercely fast). In praise to the Lord of our lives, avoid pianissimo (very soft). No group has the corner on pianissimo like a young people’s afternoon mass meeting. And that should not be. We have reason to be happy. Being happy requires happy singing! These are weaknesses to fight.
But the most subtle, and most harmful tendency is to sing everything andante (moderately).
Andante… everything the same way,
andante… always moderately,
andante… no change in voice
andante… no change of expression.
No Psalm calls for this kind of “happy” singing.
“Among Thy saints, Jehovah I will bless.” The purpose is to sing with and to the other members—all in praise to God. Congregational singing is such a blessed occasion to show your happiness. Why are we putting our happiness to music?
“Come, hear, all ye that fear the Lord,
While I with grateful heart record
What God has done for me.” — Psalter #175
“Among Thy saints, Jehovah I will bless.” Sing it and share it! Sing, sing, sing!!! When we sing out our Christian gratitude, other members need to be able to hear it in our voices. It has effect on those around. This especially applies to allegro con spirito. In plain language, allegro con spirito could be described: friends around us even feel good when we sing it lively, with spirit. With respect to the Christian brethren we love, that is quite a blessing from heaven. So sing it, show it, and share it. ❖
Tom is a member of Hudsonville Protestant Reformed Church in Hudsonville, Michigan.
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