Prayer for Parents

seeds_12162013By Stephen W. Hiemstra

Loving Father,

For loving us as your children, showing how to live, and providing us human parents, we give you all honor and praise.

Forgive us for being imperfect parents, who forget birthdays and cannot love like you.

Thank you for loving parents who share our lives and teach us your ways.

In the power of your Holy Spirit, teach us to honor our own parents (Exod 20:12) and to become better parents to our children. Help us to care enough to be present our children’s daily struggles, just like you.

In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Prayer for Parents

Also see:

Prayer for Healthy Limits 

Other ways to engage online:

Author site: http://www.StephenWHiemstra.net, Publisher site: http://www.T2Pneuma.com.

Newsletter: http://bit.ly/XXXmas_2019

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Generational Reach

Stephen W. Hiemstra, Living in ChristHonor your father and your mother, 

that your days may be long in the land 

that the Lord your God is giving you. 

(Exod 20:12)

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

After the Trinity, the family is our first small group. The church—the bride of Christ—is the family written large. How we treat our family affects everything else we do, if for no other reason than little eyes are watching.

The family is under severe pressure in our time. The majority (about 80 percent) of Americans have seen no real increase in income since the 1980s. Fertility rates have fallen below the rates required to reproduce the current population. Suicide rates are a historically high levels, which, together with drug overdoses and premature deaths due to diabetes, has contributed to an unprecedented decline in life expectancy for the past three years. Meanwhile, the focus on individual rights, social media, video gaming, and cell-phones have left many young people isolated and fearful of assuming family responsibilities.

To be fair, postmodern life wears out families. For couples in their family-raising (ages 30-50) years, two incomes are required to meet the normal expectations for the American dream—two cars, a house, two-point-one kids, college education, a healthcare plan, and retirement savings—and eldercare competes with childcare for time leftover after work. No one can reasonably be expected to meet these expectations and many have stopped trying. Couples are delaying marriage and many prefer to retain a single lifestyle even after marriage, sharing life only with their pets.

In the midst of social chaos, Jesus calls us to live a sacrificial lifestyle. Lead a disciplined work life, manage your resources of time, talents, and money carefully, and care for your kids and your parents modeled after Christ under the mentorship of the Holy Spirit. Remember—the future belongs to those who live in Christ. Honoring your parents in a age that worships sex and youthfulness is a particularly obvious and righteous testimony.

The Eldercare Journey

For those not yet acquainted with eldercare, it poses a number of challenges that no one can fully meet. For the senior, growing old is experienced as a series of losses in function, physical abilities, and relationships, each of which need to be grieved.⁠1 For the care giver, these losses pose gaps that need to be filled and challenges in offering comfort.

Stepping up to meet these challenges is hard for caregivers because it presumes a role reversal—the parent suddenly becomes the child and the child assumes a parental role. This role reversal is difficult for both parties and the reversal may need to be repeated as different issues arise.

Consider the issue of driving. For suburbanites, every activity starts with a car trip. Driving is a teenage rite of passage for this very reason. A socially-active senior without a driver’s license is suddenly house-bound and must depend on others for transportation. Seniors are reluctant to admit their dependence and caregivers may not have time. Oftentimes, seniors only surrender their licenses after an accident because their kids are unwilling to raise the issue. Memory-loss issues only make the problem worse.

For all the challenges, eldercare also offers the opportunity for children and grand children to spend time with their parents. Where you once knew your parents as a child, now you get to engage with them more fully as an adult.  One of the first things that I did when my father came down with Alzheimer’s disease was to edit and publish his memoir as a prelude to writing my own. This proved to be a fruitful exercise because it deepened my understanding of him and made it possible to share the memoir with the caregivers that we hired to care for him. For the caregivers and for me, my father grew from a daily burden to someone deserving of empathy, much as God sees him.

References

Mitchell, Kenneth R. and Herbert Anderson. 1983. All Our Losses; All Our Griefs: Resources for Pastoral Care. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press.

Footnotes

1 Mitchell and Anderson (1983, 35-45) identify six major types of loss, including:  1. Material loss, 2. Relationship loss, 3. Intra-psychic loss—loss of a dream, 4. Functional loss—including loss of autonomy, 5. Role loss—like retirement, and 6. Systemic loss—like departure from your family of origin.

Generational Reach

Also See:

Value Of Life

Other ways to engage online:

Author site: http://www.StephenWHiemstra.net, Publisher site: http://www.T2Pneuma.com.

Newsletter: http://bit.ly/XXXmas_2019

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Family and Spirituality

Stephen W Hiemstra, 2018
Stephen W Hiemstra, 2018

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

Sermon given in Spanish at la Iglesia El Shadai DC, Manassas, VA, September 15, 2019.

Prelude

Good afternoon. Welcome to la iglesia El Shadai DC. For those that do not know me, my name is Stephen W. Hiemstra. I am a Christian author and volunteer pastor.

This afternoon we continue our study of the family in Christ. This past week we reflected on Deuteronomy 6:7  and the necessity to teach our kids God’s commandments. Today we consider the relationship between our spirituality and the family.

Invocation

Let’s pray.

Heavenly Father,

All praise and honor be to you for you give us family with whom we can share our joys and sorrow and who give life meaning.

Forgive us when we let our families down and focus more on ourselves than those around us.

Thanks for family meals, vacations together, and all the support that our families offer.

Draw us now to yourself. In the power of the Holy Spirit, open our hearts, illumine our minds, and strengthen our hands in your service. In the precious name of Jesus. Amen

Scripture

The text of the day comes in three different verses. Hear the word of God:

“God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.” (Gen. 1:27 ESV)

“Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long in the land that the LORD your God is giving you.” (Exod. 20:12 ESV)

“Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.” (Eph. 6:4 ESV)

The word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.

Introduction

In what way is the family an important part of our spirituality?

In my last book, Simple Faith (2019, 52-53), I wrote:

What is an infant’s template for thinking about God? In an infant world, mom is the early model of God’s immanence because she brings him into the world and cares for him. Dad’s role as progenitor and provider is less obvious and serves as an early model of God’s transcendence.

Babies see their parents as their first vision of God and it is only with the passage of time that we as young people believe in God directly. For this reason, we have many responsibilities as parents to present a template of God graciously and clearly for our children, as Pastor Julio described this past week.

The Connection with Spirituality

Let’s return to our question of the day.In what way is the family an important part of our spirituality?

Our first verse is the key to this question, as we read:

“God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.” (Gen. 1:27 ESV)

Normally today we focus on the relationship between male and female in this verse because of our obsession with sexuality, but this focus distracts from the larger picture here.

Every person, man or woman, young or old, small or big, is created in the image of God, including those in our families (2X).

Our spirituality begins with the work of God in creation and is sustained by the Holy Spirit up to this minute in the teaching of scripture. Consequently, our relationships in the family are important in our spirituality as one of the first things because our families are the first neighbors in the Christian life and we are equal under God as the Apostle Paul wrote:

“There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” (Gal. 3:28 ESV)

Message

The importance of the family in scripture is obvious because the Bible begins with the marriage of Adam and Eve (Gen 2:22-24), and ends with the wedding feast of the Lamb of God and his church (Rev 19:7-9). But in daily life the blessings of family and its spirituality are most obvious to those that don’t have them (2X).

Our other scriptures of the day are a testimony of this image of God theology. The fifth commandment says:

“Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long in the land that the LORD your God is giving you.” (Exod. 20:12 ESV)

The Bible repeats this commandment eight times[2]which indicates its importance. The Apostle Paul reminds us that this commandment includes a promise: 

 “that it may go well with you and that you may live long in the land.” (Eph. 6:3 ESV)

In the context of Exodus, this commandment points to the Promised Land, but a good relationship with parents is a blessing for every family.

The last part of the family that is frequently forgotten are the kids:

“Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.” (Eph. 6:4 ESV)

As we learned this past week, we need to teach our kids especially two things: discipline and instruction of the Lord. The discipline is important because life has many temptations and distractions against which we need God’s protection and guidance.

Something more difficult arises when we need to teach our kids things that we ourselves never learned. In this situation, we need to learn for ourselves before teaching our kids or, better, we need to learn alongside of them. In my case, ministry to my kids taught me the necessity to do more for the church. In other words, God called me by means of my own kids.

Final Words

In what way is the family an important part of our spirituality? God creates us together as a family and together we learn the way of faith. Amen.

Closing Prayer

Let’s pray.

Dearest father,

Thank you for the blessing of family.

Teach us your ways day by day in our relationships together.

In the power of your Holy Spirit, give us words of grace and hands for service for those closest to us. In the precious name of Jesus. Amen

Footnotes

[1] Exod 20:12, Deut 5:16, Matt 15:4, 19:19, Mark 7:10, 10:19, Luke 18:20, y Eph 6:2.

References

Hiemstra, Stephen W. 2019. Simple Faith: Something to Live For. Centreville: T2Pneuma Publishers LLC.

Family and Spirituality

Also see:

Prayer for Healthy Limits 

Other ways to engage online:

Author site: http://www.StephenWHiemstra.net, Publisher site: http://www.T2Pneuma.com.

Newsletter: http://bit.ly/TakingCare_2019

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Pascal’s Wager

Stephen W. Hiemstra, Simple Faith“The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge; 

fools despise wisdom and instruction.” (Prov 1:7)

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

An important atheistic argument for why faith is not rational starts with the observation that the existence of God can neither be logically proven or disproven. Atheists focusing on this observation prefer the term, agnostic, which in Greek means “not knowing,” suggesting that there is insufficient evidence to make a faith decision. 

Priorities Reveal True Beliefs

Contrary to the definition of agnostic, the agnostic is not a neutral observer. Every human being has a set of priorities in which the first priority defines how the rest are interpreted. The number one priority is often to remain in control of one’s own life; alternatively, it is a spouse or other person or something like work. 

For the Christian, the number one priority should be God, as proscribed in the First Commandment: “You shall have no other gods before me.” (Exod 20:3); if it is not one has committed an act of idolatry. Idolatry is dangerous because, if one uncritically has accepted a number one priority other than God, this idol will invariable break and produce an “existential crisis” that will result in anxiety, depression, even suicide. Why? Because a broken idol deprives one of identity and meaning—one’s god has been smashed. Loss of a spouse or work is hard; the additional loss of one’s god is devastating. This is why the term, existential crisis, is appropriate.

The professed agnostic is accordingly at risk of an unexpected, existential crisis that would normally not affect the Christian. The current epidemic of anxiety, depression, and suicide in Western society should accordingly be seen as a spiritual crisis requiring spiritual, not just psychiatric, intervention.

Personal Experience

As a young person, I experience an important challenge to my faith when the elders of the church dismissed my youth director in my junior year in high school. This youth director had encouraged me to take an active role in the youth group and to take my faith seriously. When she left the church, I bitterly resented her dismissal and became angry at God. My experience with the church had accordingly posed an important barrier to faith as a young adult.

Even in my absence from the church and bitterness at God, I felt his presence. As time passed (about three years), I realized that the bitterness was directed at the leadership of the church who had dismissed my youth director, not at God. Sorting out my own anger permitted me to accept God back into my life and I sought a new church. 

Pascal’s Wager

During the period of my anger with God, atheistic arguments never seemed real to me, even when I repeated them, because I knew God first hand and I knew that I had been blessed when I came to faith. Pascal’s Wager, which was directed at atheists, made perfect sense to me, even when I had turned my back on God.

Pascal used probability theory to argue that the agnostic argument is logically false in that faith is a fair bet (hence the term, Pascal’s wager)—if God exists and you believe, then you win heaven, but if God does not exist and you believe, then you loose nothing. In other words, faith in God has a positive reward even if the probability of God existing cannot be established—just so long as the probability is believed to be a non-zero, positive number.  Betting that God exists is therefore rational from a gambling perspective.

Going back to the agnostic’s assertion that the evidence for God is inconclusive, Pascal’s wager breaks the tie. The preponderance of evidence suggests that living as if God exists provides a net benefit. Ignoring that benefit accordingly reveals a bias against faith.

Pascal’s Wager

Also see:

A Roadmap of Simple Faith

Christian Spirituality 

Looking Back 

A Place for Authoritative Prayer 

Other ways to engage online:

Author site: http://www.StephenWHiemstra.net, Publisher site: http://www.T2Pneuma.com.

Newsletter at: http://bit.ly/Hebrew_Heart

 

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Monday Monologue: Idolatry, June 11, 2018 (Podcast)

Stephen W. Hiemstra, www.StephenWHiemstra.net
Stephen W. Hiemstra, 2017

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

In today’s podcast, I share a Prayer for the Innocent and a reflection on Image Theology and Idolatry.

To listen, click on the link below.

After listening, please click here to take a brief listener survey (10 questions). #podcasting

Monday Monologues: Idolatry, June 11, 2018 (podcast)

Also see:

Monday Monologue On March 26, 2018 

Other ways to engage online:

Author site: http://www.StephenWHiemstra.net, Publisher site: http://www.T2Pneuma.com.

Newsletter at: http://bit.ly/Transcendence_2018

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Remembering Kaffietijd

Cover for Called Along the Way
Art by Stephen W. Hiemstra

Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy.
Six days you shall labor, and do all your work,
but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the LORD your God.
(Exod 20:8)

Remembering Kaffietijd

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

More than a snack, coffee time (kaffietijd in Dutch) structured our lives and became an institution where my fondest memories of family life unfolded and I got a glimpse of heaven.

Introduction

On weekdays, at nine in morning, at three in the afternoon, and around eight in the evening, My grandmother, Gertrude Hiemstra, prepared coffee for the adults, cocoa for the kids, and goodies for everyone. The goodies included homemade lemon bars, chocolate chip cookies, or strawberry short cake topped with ice cream. Choice, we always got a choice.

Whether knitting, feeding the calves, or pulling weeds in the garden, everyone paused, came in the house, got cleaned up, and talked. No one was excluded no one; everyone was invited; and conversation was required.

Sundays

On Sundays, coffee time got more involved. No one dared to skip Sunday school or leave town before lunch at grandma’s house. So we attended church at nine-fifteen, but took a break for snacks during Sunday school. After church, we normally changed from our Sunday best into more comfortable clothes before lunch. After changing one thing led to another and, being kids, by the time the adults called us for lunch, we might be hiding in the attic or chasing each other around the yard. Lunch escaped our attention, but the adults bribed us to come to lunch with reminders of coffee time.

These Sunday coffee times might be delayed until after the cuckoo clock chimed at four o’clock. A late coffee time almost always involved better snacks requiring fold up trays and breaking out the card tables, which might be used later for playing hearts or board games. On occasion, the piano might be played and ice cream churned by hand. When we complained about helping churn, the adults reminded us that “kids today are so spoiled by that store-bought ice cream.” 

Special Occasions

Sunday coffee time became more formal when we celebrated birthdays among my grandparents’ siblings. Because both grandma and grandpa had eight siblings and came from Dutch families who lived around Pella, Iowa,1 their siblings pooled birthday celebrations several times a year and would collectively make the twenty mile trip to Oskaloosa. When the “Pella crowd” visited, a leisurely three or four hour visit followed where no one hurried during the heavenly banquet and everyone naturally wore their Sunday best. Formalities took distinctive phases, which moved from greetings, to eating, to discussions and board games, and then to goodbyes.

Greeting Phase

The greeting phase involved meeting people as they came in. After the formal greetings, the women gathered in the kitchen to properly set out their signature dishes, such as my grandmother’s steaming hot, chicken and noodles. Meanwhile, the men sat in the living room talking about the latest news or the market prices for corn, soybeans, hogs, or cattle. The kids might run this way or that, but often we retreated to the basement to horse around without soiling our clothes.

Eating Phase

The eating phase always started with a blessing for the food. When my uncle, Pastor John, visited, we might be treated to a few introductions and announcements (or a scripture reading) followed by a pastoral prayer. Otherwise, my grandfather, Frank, simply gave thanks.

Having blessed the food, we grabbed a plate and the family crowd snaked in line around the kitchen helping ourselves to the sandwiches, casseroles, apple sauce, and potato salad. Grandma normally served a lime or strawberry punch—iced in a crystal bowl, ladled with a crystal dipper, and enjoyed in a crystal cup. Then, the adults assembled in the living room seated in front of a folding up tray with their plates and cups carefully balanced. Meanwhile, the kids sat around the kitchen table and ate together unsupervised. The women later served coffee with the dessert.

Discussion Phase

The end of dessert marked the beginning of pointed discussions. Great Uncle John, the local county commissioner, frequently chided me about the cushy government job that I might get after graduation. Of course, I had other ideas. At one point in my sophomore year, for example, I announced my intention to study comparative literature, instead of agricultural economics like my father. Silence followed.
After a couple of embarrassing seconds, Great Aunt Nelly inquired: “What is comparative literature?”

With a questioning tone like that, I figured out before my next visit what I really wanted to study.

Some discussions took a less serious path.

You have heard, of course, about that new government program that they cooked up in Washington? Really? Do tell. In the future, social security checks will be issued along with a prescription for birth control pills.

…ah-huh.

Goodbye Phase

While everyone took part in discussions, board games marked an informal end. Those less interested in playing hearts, domino’s, or board games headed for the door, as regular as Grandfather’s daily bowl of All Bran cereal soaked with chocolate milk. Goodbyes then proceeded until everyone had said goodbye to everyone else. Weather permitting; the goodbyes included walking the most distant travelers out to their cars.

As Years Went By

As the years went by, coffee time slowly died out.

My parents struggled to imitate coffee time when my grandparents visited, but practice makes perfect and neglect leaves one neglectful. Interruptions during attempts at coffee time made conversation difficult; activities likewise cut into the leisure time. On the farm, a Christmas might last for two weeks; in the city, Christmas became a meal and afternoon discussion. We aspired to being relaxed and hospitable, but strived ever more diligently to keep our jobs, pay our bills, and advance our careers in the face of ever-easier, downward mobility. As my grandparents aged, travel distances seemed longer, schedules got more involved, and visits became rare.

Coffee time lived on during visits to Iowa. When my grandfather turned ninety, he lost his driver’s license after having a fender-bender. So when I visited, Frank often requested that I drive him from Oskaloosa to Pella to visit his younger sister, Nelly, the family historian and a live wire. Nelly usually voiced what others only thought. A quick call and Nelly would invite the surviving Pella crowd over to her place for coffee. Thirty minutes later on our arrival, out came the folding trays, the home-made snacks, and the coffee.

Born in 1898, Frank journeyed through three centuries during his 102 years. With his passing, Oskaloosa dropped off my itinerary. Since then, travel has become infrequent and the memory of coffee time became elusive.

Hiemstra Picnic

Coffee time lives on in the Hiemstra family picnic the first Saturday of August each year in Pella’s West Market Park. Picnic tables shaded under the shelter are cool and I cherish seeing distant relatives. The coffee and the snacks remain the same, but the folding trays, the leisure time, and my grandparents no longer accompany us, but I look forward to the day they will.

More than a snack, coffee time (or Kaffietijd as the old folks used to say) built a palace in time2 that lives on in the memory of my youth.

 

Also see:  Looking Back 

Other ways to engage online:

Author site: http://www.StephenWHiemstra.net, Publisher site: http://www.T2Pneuma.com.

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Between Sundays

Cover for Called Along the Way
Art by Stephen W. Hiemstra

Honor your father and your mother,
that your days may be long in the land
that the LORD your God is giving you.
(Exod 20:12)

Between Sundays

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

After I confessed my faith in Christ and joined the church in 1967, I participated more actively in church youth programs, sang in the youth choir, and pledged money to the church, as was expected of young Christian men. My first attempts at evangelism and living out my faith could be described as spotty at best.

I knew a fellow by the name of Jimmy, who might today be referred to as having special needs. Jimmy only had a few friends and, when he heard that I was learning to play piano, he expressed interest in learning to play and I volunteered to teach him one day after school. Thinking that Christians should be really nice to people, helping him learn piano seemed like the right thing to do.

When Jimmy came over after school, my mother welcomed him in but she awkwardly asked: “Is Jimmy one of your friends?” Jimmy and I went straight to the piano where I taught him a few notes and how to play a C major scale. We spent about half an hour before he left and went home. Thinking about my mother’s question, I never invited him back.

By contrast, my mother really liked David, who lived two doors down from us. David was tall and thin and quiet and always at home. His father was a popular local pastor, who was a ham radio operator, and his mother, who was as sweet as the snacks that she offered up. David and I traded baseball cards, marbles, and stamps, but he never seemed interested in playing games with the other kids in the neighborhood and expressed little interest in chess. So, I was “nice” to David, but we were not close.

It was never exactly clear what it meant to live out Christine values at home, other than “honor your father and mother” (Exod 20:12). Because I grew the oldest among my siblings and was already more comfortable with adults, this commandment came easy, but I associated this commandment with obeying my parents, not with their later care. Sometimes in the evening I sat with my father in his study as he worked and read or did my homework. Other times I helped him with yard work, like cutting the grass, or washing the car. I also helped the neighbors with gardening or shoveling their snow, which I continued to do even in high school. When I left for college, my father traded in the old push mower for a gasoline model.

Until I was about 8 years old, my sister, Diane, was my closest friend. Growing up, we moved around a bit because my father was in still in graduate school. Diane and I played hide and seek. Diane and I learned to eat ice cream from cones. Diane and I celebrated birthdays—I will never forget Diane’s expression on viewing a pink rabbit cake that my mother baked when she was about two. When we got older, we sometimes watched television or played board games together at home and attended youth events and choir together at church. Although we were never chatty, Diane was my first friend.

Diane preferred doing girl things, like playing with dolls, while I did boy things, like collecting coins, stamps, and bugs, and building forts in the woods. Diane played more typically with Karen, while John, being still a tot when I was young, played mostly with Karen. This pattern continued uninterrupted over many years.

 

Other ways to engage with me online:

Author site: http://www.StephenWHiemstra.net, Publisher site: http://www.T2Pneuma.com.

Newsletter at: http://bit.ly/2sqjfoR

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Challenges to Faith

One of the most seductive arguments against faith in God is the idea that faith is optional. This argument is usually offered by people who refuse to accept any ethical obligations. This argument is insidious because it is normally preceded by excuses for why God does not exist or the church is unattractive or just plain obstinance. What matters is not the excuse given but rather the motivation—laziness, self-centeredness, and the like. The Apostle Paul had little time for such people and simply advised the Thessalonian church: “If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat.” (2 Thess 3:10) However, since few people accept Paul’s admonition today without qualms, let us examine the arguments.

The first inference, that faith is optional, ignores the problem of idolatry and is simply counter-factual, from a scientific perspective. Let me turn issue to each issue in turn. Then, let me address the usual excuses.

If we treat faith as optional, we frequently fall into idolatry. The problem of idolatry today has less to do with worshiping statues of pagan gods than with misplaced priorities. We commit idolatry whenever we place anything other than God as the number one priority in our lives and it is a sin because it breaks the First Commandment given to Moses: “You shall have no other gods before me.” (Exod 20:3). The sin of idolatry is often taken lightly, but this a mistake because idolatry is life threatening.

To see the threat posed by idolatry, consider what happens when alternatives to God become our number one priority. Common today, for example, is to place work as the number one priority in our life. What happens then when we lose our job or our ability to work? Americans, particularly men, are prone to depression and suicide when a job is lost and cannot be replaced for whatever reason.[1] People who cannot work, like the mentally disabled, the young, the old, the uneducated, are treated badly. When we neglect our faith in God, we end up committing idolatry, which threatens our self-esteem and our relationship with people we should care for.

If we treat faith as optional, we also fail to understand how faith undergirds modern science. Knowledge based on the scientific method follows a distinct method for testing knowledge’s veracity. These steps are usually employed: a problem is defined, observations are taken, analysis is done, a decision rule is imposed, an action is taken, and responsibility is born (Johnson 1986, 15). The very first step in the scientific methods (problem definition) requires beginning with assumptions and a hypothesis. These assumptions are faith statements—no testing can be done without them. Faith is simply not optional.

The two most famous excuses for why many people believe that God does not exist were given by Karl Marx and Sigmund Freud (1927). Marx (1843) commented that: “Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people.” By contrast, Freud (1961, 30) characterized religion as an illusion, a kind of wish fulfillment. While both Marx and Freud can be considered authority figures, the thrust of their argument is not due to a lengthy scientific analysis, but is presented more as simple slander, acceptable primarily as an excuse for decisions reached for other reasons. If we take faith as necessary part of a rational decision process, then simple slander does not warrant further investigation because burden of proof lies with those advancing a particular argument to make their case, which in this case was not done.

As Christians in a postmodern context, we have inherited a worldview which is quite capable of interpreting the world as we know it. In fact, Western civilization is built on premises advanced from the Christian worldview. The question for those who advance criticism of that worldview, normally by picking on some of its assumptions (or disputing its ethical requirements), is not how can we accept those assumptions. Rather, because those assumptions form a coherence and ethically defensible system, the question is whether alternative assumption can be used to construct a better system.

For the most part, proposed postmodern alternatives to the Christian worldview, such as deconstructionism, refuse to accept the responsibility for benefiting everyone, preferring to focus on criticism without advancing alternative, morally-defensible systems. Others talk about rights, but not responsibilities, for their client groups. Either position is morally reprehensible leaving many people hopeless and abandoned. Yet, powerful groups have advanced such changes primarily to enrich themselves at the expense of others.

These challenges to faith are repeated daily in the media, in our schools, and in society, yet they lack merit as an alternative to faith and cause significant harm to many people through their promotion of idolatry and other sins that isolate people from God, from themselves, and even from the science that has brought humanity numerous benefits.

References

Freud, Sigmund. 1961. The Future of an Illusion (Orig Pub 1927. Translated by James Strachey. New York: W.W. Norton and Company.

Johnson, Glenn L. 1986. Research Methodology for Economists: Philosophy and Practice. New York: MacMillan Publishing Company.

Marx, Karl. 1843. Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right (Zur Kritik der Hegelschen Rechtsphilosophie). Deutsch–Französische Jahrbücher. (Online: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Opium_of_the_people)

Tavernise, Sabrina. 2016. “U.S. Suicide Rate Surges to a 30-Year High” New York Times. April 22. Online: https://nyti.ms/2k9vzFZ, Accessed: 13 March 2017.

[1] This observation is not hyperbole. The New York Times recently reported that suicide is now at a 30-year high point and the increase in suicide is greatest for men ages 45-64 (Tavernise 2016).

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Kaffietijd

ShipOfFools_web_10042015“Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor, and do all your work,
but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the LORD your God. (Exod 20:8 ESV)

Kaffietijd

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

More than a snack, coffee time was once an institution where some of my fondest memories of family life took place.

On weekdays, at 9 a.m., at 3 p.m., and around 8 p.m., grandma prepared coffee for the adults, cocoa for the kids, and goodies for everyone. The goodies included homemade lemon bars, chocolate chip cookies, or strawberry short cake topped with ice cream. Choice, we always got a choice.

Whether you were knitting, feeding the calves, or pulling weeds in the garden, everyone stopped what they were doing, came in the house, got cleaned up, and talked.  No one was excluded; everyone was invited; conversation was required.

Coffee time on Sundays was always more involved. No one dared to skip Sunday school in Grandma Gertrude’s house (or leave before lunch). So we were in church at 9:15 a.m. and Sunday school included a break for snacks. After church, we normally changed from our Sunday best into more comfortable clothes before lunch. One thing would lead to another. Being kids, by the time we were called, we were off hiding in the attic or chasing each other around the yard. Lunch would not be on our minds—the adults would bribe us to come to lunch with reminders of coffee time.

These Sunday coffee times might be delayed until after the cuckoo clock chimed at 4 p.m. A late coffee time almost always involved better snacks, fold up trays being brought out, and breaking out the card tables—who knows, we might even move on to board games. On occasion, the piano might be played and ice cream churned by hand—“kids today are so spoiled by that store-bought ice cream”, we were told.

A more formal coffee time on Sundays occurred when birthdays were celebrated. These get togethers were common because both grandpa and grandma came from Dutch families with eight siblings, all of whom lived in or around Pella, Iowa.[1] Oskaloosa, where my grandparents lived, was more of a family outpost, but remained within driving distance of the “Pella crowd”. Formalities took the form of a distinctive routine, which moved from greetings, to eating, to discussions and game boards, and then to goodbyes. This would involve a leisurely three or four hours—no one was in a hurry. And everyone kept on their Sunday best.

The greeting phase involved meeting people as they came in. After the formal greetings, the women gathered in the kitchen to properly set out the signature dishes, such as grandma’s steaming hot, chicken and noodles. Meanwhile, the men sat in the living room talking about the latest news or market prices for corn, soybeans, hogs, or cattle. The kids might run this way or that, but often we retreated to the basement to horse around without soiling our clothes, as might be suggested now and then.

Eating phase always started with a blessing for the food. If my uncle John were present, we might be treated to a few introductions and announcements (or a scripture reading) followed by a pastoral prayer. Otherwise, Grandpa Frank simply gave thanks.

Having blessed the food, we would grab a plate and snake around the kitchen helping themselves to the sandwiches, casseroles, apple sauce, and potato salad. A lime or strawberry punch was normally iced in a crystal bowl, ladled with a crystal dipper, and enjoyed in a crystal cup. Then, the adult assembled in the living room seated in front of a folding up tray with their plates and cups carefully balanced. Meanwhile the kids sat around the kitchen table and ate together unsupervised. Coffee was served later with the dessert.

The end of dessert marked the beginning of discussions. These could get pointed. My great uncle John, the local county commissioner, frequently chided me about the cushy government job that I would get after graduation. Of course, I had other ideas. At one point in my sophomore year, for example, I announced my intention to study comparative literature, instead of agricultural economics like my dad. The room went silent. After a couple of embarrassing seconds someone inquired: “What is comparative literature?” With questions like that, it did not take me long—before my next visit—to figure out what I really wanted to study.

Discussions were not always in earnest. “You have heard, of course, about that new government program that they cooked up in Washington? In the future, social security checks will be issued along with a prescription for birth control pills”…ah-huh.

Discussion was mandatory; board games were not. When discussion began to wind down, those not interested in playing hearts, dominos, or, some other such thing, headed for the door. It was as regular as grandpa’s daily bowl of All Bran cereal soaked with chocolate milk. Goodbyes then proceeded until everyone had said goodbye to everyone else. Weather permitting, the goodbyes included walking the most distant travelers out to their cars.

As the years went by, coffee time slowly died out.

My parents struggled to imitate coffee time when my grandparents would visit, but practice makes perfect and neglect leaves one neglectful. Interruptions during attempts at coffee time made conversation difficult; activities likewise cut into the leisure time. On the farm, a Christmas might last for two weeks; in the city, Christmas became a meal and afternoon discussion. We aspired to being relaxed and hospitable, but strived ever more diligently to keep our jobs, pay our bills, and advance our careers in the face of ever easier downward mobility. As my grandparents aged, travel distances seemed longer, schedules got more involved, and visits became rare.

Coffee time lived on during visits to Iowa. When my grandfather turned 90, he lost his driver’s license. So when I visited, Frank often requested that I drive him from Oskaloosa to Pella to visit his younger sister, Nelly, who was the family historian and a live wire—it was always Nelly who said what was on everyone else’s mind. A quick call and Nelly would invite some of the Pella crowd over to her place for coffee. Thirty minutes later on our arrival, out came the folding trays, the home-made snacks, and the coffee.

Born in 1898, Frank journeyed through three centuries during his 102 years. With his passing, Oskaloosa dropped off my itinerary. Since then, the chore of travel has become unbearable and the memory of coffee time much more elusive.

Coffee time lives on in the Hiemstra family picnic the first Saturday of August each year in Pella’s West Market Park. Picnic tables shaded under an open shelter are cool and inviting, as are the relatives that I still know and cherish. The coffee and the snacks are the same, but the folding trays, the leisure time together, and my grandparents are no longer with us.

More than a snack, coffee time (or Kaffietijd as the old folks would say) was a palace in time[2] that lives on in the memory of my youth.

Reference

Heschel, Abraham Joshua. 1951. The Sabbath. New York: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux.

 

[1] Pella was settled in 1847 by Dutch immigrants (http://www.CityOfPella.com).

[2] Cite from Heschel (1951, 12). Heschel (1951, 6) writes: “The Bible is more concerned with time than with space. It sees the world in the dimension of time. It pays more attention to generations, to events, than to countries, to things; it is more concerned with history than with geography.”

 

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Righteous Suffering

Life_in_Tension_web“Then the LORD said, I have surely seen the affliction of my people who are in Egypt
and have heard their cry because of their taskmasters.
I know their sufferings” (Exod 3:7 ESV).

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

For the Christian and for the Jew, the experience of God frequently arises in the context of righteous suffering.

Genesis begins the Bible with the creation account, but Genesis itself was written by Moses who encounters God as a refugee from his homeland and his people in the desert tending his father-in-law’s sheep (Exodus 3:1). As a man wanted for murder, Moses find himself in the presence of God consumed by grief over his sins and shamed by his inability to help his people. Here is a former prince of Egypt now tending sheep not even his own. Do you think Moses felt persecuted? Do you think that he suffered?

God gives Moses a new assignment. “Come, I will send you to Pharaoh that you may bring my people, the children of Israel, out of Egypt.” (Exod 3:10 ESV)

Moses is not anxious. Quite the contrary. He is wanted for murder in Egypt. Going to Pharaoh entails substantial and obvious personal risk. However, God offers Moses a number of assurances. Most important among these are the words: “But I will be with you” (Exod 3:12 ESV). In the midst of our own suffering God promises to be with us.

In the Law of Moses, God promises to be with us in the midst of suffering. God’s presence is manifested two other tangible gifts: the giving of the divine name and the giving of the law. With respect to the NAME, we read:

“God said to Moses, I AM WHO I AM. And he said, Say this to the people of Israel, I AM has sent me to you. God also said to Moses, Say this to the people of Israel, ‘The LORD, the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has sent me to you. This is my name forever, and thus I am to be remembered throughout all generations.” (Exod. 3:14-15 ESV)

The ancients believed that knowing the name of a god gave one power over that god. When God freely gave Moses his name, he was offering him what we might call the power of prayer. And God’s covenant name was significant: YHWH which in Hebrew means “I will be who I will be” or “I am who I am”. In common English, we might say: “I am the real deal”. The ancients were accustomed to gods made up by their leaders to serve their own political purposes [1]  A REAL GOD with REAL POWER was something entirely new.

With respect to the Law, the covenant of Moses begins with a reminder: “I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.” (Exod. 20:2 ESV). The laws that followed gave the people of Israel a clear picture of what God required of them. To our ears, this sounds like no big deal, but the problem faced by the ancients was not knowing who God was and what he requires. It is hard to pray to God if you do not know his name or know what he requires of you. Consequently, knowing God’s name and having his law may life an aweful lot easier and reduced anxiety levels dramatically.

In the prophets, suffering continues but something new appears. The Prophet Job is described as a righteous man:

“There was a man in the land of Uz whose name was Job, and that man was blameless and upright, one who feared God and turned away from evil.” (Job 1:1 ESV)

Job is so righteous that God even brags about him to Satan:

“Have you considered my servant Job, that there is none like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, who fears God and turns away from evil?” (Job 1:8 ESV)

To which Satan asks to test him and God grants his request. Satan is given permission to take everything Job has away and to afflict horribly (Job 1-2).

What is interesting here is that the story of Job is thought to have been the oldest book of the Bible, written my Moses, and used to convince the Israelite people to follow him out of Egypt. What is new here is the first evidence of the need for a savior: “For I know that my Redeemer lives, and at the last he will stand upon the earth.” (Job 19:25 ESV) Even in his apparent righteousness, Job feels a need for salvation. Righteous suffering, whether by human taskmasters or Satanic oppression, pushes us to seek out and to rely on God rather than our own resources or on the law [2].

This theme of relying solely on God is repeated in the story of Daniel’s friends, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. When his friends refuse to worship King Nebuchadnezzar’s golden idol instead of the one true God, they are thrown into the fiery furnance. We read:

“And these three men, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, fell bound into the burning fiery furnace. Then King Nebuchadnezzar was astonished and rose up in haste. He declared to his counselors, Did we not cast three men bound into the fire? They answered and said to the king, True, O king. He answered and said, But I see four men unbound, walking in the midst of the fire, and they are not hurt; and the appearance of the fourth is like a son of the gods.” (Dan 3:23-25 ESV)

Righteous suffering not only leads us to God, it becomes a testimony to others. This is the blessing.

The eighth beatitude is perhaps the most paradoxical: “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” (Matt 5:10 ESV) How can we be blessed in suffering? The answer comes later in Matthew directly from the mouth of Jesus: “Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” (Matt 10:39 ESV)

This is the Christian paradox.

 

[1]  An example of this phenomena is found in the story of Jeroboam, ,the first king of Israel (Northern Kingdom) after rebelling against Rehoboam, the son of Solomon:

“And Jeroboam said in his heart, Now the kingdom will turn back to the house of David. If this people go up to offer sacrifices in the temple of the LORD at Jerusalem, then the heart of this people will turn again to their lord, to Rehoboam king of Judah, and they will kill me and return to Rehoboam king of Judah. So the king took counsel and made two calves of gold. And he said to the people, You have gone up to Jerusalem long enough. Behold your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt. And he set one in Bethel, and the other he put in Dan.” (1 Kings 12:26-29 ESV)

[2] The Prophen Jeremiah writes: “Behold, the days are coming, declares the LORD, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah, not like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, my covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, declares the LORD. For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the LORD: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people. And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, ‘Know the LORD,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the LORD. For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.” (Jer. 31:31-34 ESV)

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