Archives for August 2012

Inheritance Publishers

Wednesday night I was privileged to chair the annual meeting of the Inheritance Publishers (IP). The IP is an interdenominational organization nearly a century old that prints small sermon booklets of pre-20th-century Reformed ministers, most of which are no longer in print. Sermons are mailed free of charge to recipients around the world. Over the years this ministry has grown to reach 22,000 booklets per mailing. [You can also download some recent booklets.]

Members of the committee hail from the Heritage Reformed, Netherlands Reformed, and Free Reformed churches. Henk Kleyn serves as clerk, Len Mol as treasurer, and other committee members include Kevin Ash, James Bazen, and David Bleeker. I have had the privilege of serving as president for 25 years. For most of these years, I have selected the sermons to be printed and I also write a biographical preface for each booklet.

IP is a labor of love for the gospel on behalf of all the committee members. At our meetings, we often read letters received during the past year that illustrate how God is using these booklets for the well-being of souls.

This past year we received a beautiful letter from a friend whose father passed away several years ago. His father had received the IP booklets for thirty years, so quite a pile of booklets had accumulated—including another dozen or more after the father’s death. Being in some dire strait, the son, who had ignored these booklets for more than thirty years, decided to read one, partly because he felt needy and partly because he was curious why his father had enjoyed them so much. God used his reading to his saving conversion, and now he wrote to tell us that he “devours” these sermons and wanted more copies so that he can hand them out to others. Only eternity will reveal the fruits of this quiet, unassuming ministry.

Generally, IP print three booklets per year, depending on incoming gifts. The printing and mailing of each booklet costs over $12,000, so we don’t print another booklet until our balance reaches that amount. If you would like to be added to the mailing list, write or The Inheritance Publishers, P.O. Box 1334, Grand Rapids, Michigan 49501. You will enjoy a rich feast of old sermons.

Consider Christ in Affliction (III): The Power of Christ

In this series of posts I have been encouraging Christians to consider Christ in their afflictions. In the last installment, I pointed to the passion of Christ, His sufferings with us, for us, and beyond anything we will ever endure.

Second, consider the power of Christ. Being infinite God-man, Jesus received power on earth to bear infinite sufferings on your behalf. And through the merit of these sufferings, He now receives royal power in heaven from His Father to rule and strengthen you in your sufferings (Matt. 28:18). Translated practically relative to affliction, His heaven-earth power reads like this: If He desires to weigh you down with affliction—yes, heavy, seemingly staggering affliction—do not be alarmed, but look to Him for strength.

Nor should you be ashamed. When I worked for my father in early youth, I was advised to carry only half-bundles of shingles up the ladder to the roof, but I anticipated the day of greater maturity and strength when my shoulders could bear full, unsplit bundles as my older brothers could. Similarly, afflicted believer, Jesus Christ tailors your afflictions to you. He has promised to fit your afflictions to your shoulders (1 Cor. 10:13). Neither be proud of slender shoulders nor ask for more affliction, but beg for broader shoulders exercised in the weight-room of Jesus’ providential leadings.

As you and I realize by grace that the bearing of heavy burdens Christianly is testimony of spiritual maturity and honors the Christ whom we love, our groaning under affliction’s “heaviness” will be happily bruised. Isn’t this the encouragement that Puritan George Downame intended to convey when he aptly penned: “The Lord does not measure out our afflictions according to our faults, but according to our strength, and looks not at what we have deserved, but at what we are able to bear”?

Oh, how great it is when we may look to the strength of Jesus Christ in all our weakness and apprehend our strength in Him (2 Cor. 12:9)! Then the power of the humiliated and exalted Jesus enables us to sing at times in “inner prison” depths with Paul and Silas (Acts 16:25). Would to God that we did it more heartily and frequently! Yes, let us rejoice that we are counted worthy to suffer for the name and sake of the Lord Jesus Christ (cf. 2 Cor. 6 and 12).

Kinnelon, New Jersey (August 12, 2012)

I flew to New Jersey on Saturday afternoon to preach to the Kinnelon, New Jersey, Heritage Reformed congregation. Prior to arriving at the home of my great hosts, Ed and Pat Sweetman, we stopped at the home of Mrs. Edwin Palmer, widow of 32 years, where her son, Dr. Tim Palmer, and his wife, Wilma, career missionaries in Nigeria, are living until they return to Nigeria this week.  They still had some books (mostly Dutch) which they desired to donate to the seminary from their well-known father, Edwin Palmer, a systematic theology professor at Westminster Seminary in the 1960s and author of The Five Points of Calvinism. We had a good time visiting with them and going through the remains of Dr. Palmer’s library, loading up nine heavy boxes with books for the library—most of them signed “Edwin Palmer.”

Most of the people in the Kinnelon HRC belonged to my second pastorate, where I served from 1981 to 1986, so it is always a bit nostalgic to serve them. On Sunday, I preached on two of life’s most important questions on Sunday, “Where is the Lamb?” (Gen. 22:7), and “How Can I Endure?” (Heb. 12:1–2).

One highlight of this short trip was meeting a young couple, Lowell and Mae Ivey, married a year ago, who now live in Greenville, South Carolina, where he is attending Greenville Presbyterian Theological Seminary. He was in prison for fifteen years—mostly in solitary confinement, where he was converted. He wanted to thank me for ministering to him in prison through my Heidelberg Catechism sermons. He said that he was born again under an Arminian preacher, but soon felt that something was wrong with Arminianism because he really believed he was saved by grace alone.

Lowell and Mae Ivey

About that time, one of my former elders, Marvin VandenToorn (now deceased), began sending on his own initiative a copy  of one of my Heidelberg Catechism sermons every week to several hundred prisons. I didn’t even know he was doing this until several years later, and often thought that was a rather strange thing to send to prisoners—but happily, never told him that! Well, to make a long story short, this young man got on this mailing list, and there in solitary confinement, he said, “God used these weekly sermons more than anything else, to make me thoroughly Reformed. So, I want to thank God for using you as a major force in my life to bring me to embrace and love the doctrines of sovereign grace.”

After being released from prison, this young man then met his dear wife, Mae, in a Presbyterian church. Mae, whom I have known for some years, is actually the sister-in-law of Rev. Johnny Serafini, pastor of the Kinnelon HRC. Lowell and Mae are very happily married. “The past year has been the best year of my life,” Mae said. I was deeply touched, so I asked them if I could take their picture, and share God’s marvelous ways with you on this blog. They immediately said they would be grateful for an opportunity to glorify God’s grace. So, here they are. Marvelous, sovereign, and humbling are the ways of God! He uses weak means to fulfill His sovereign, gracious will.

The Beauty and Glory of the Father

We are days away from this year’s Puritan Reformed Conference (August 23–25, at Calvin Prince Center, Grand Rapids, Michigan), and I cannot express how excited we are about this year’s theme, The Beauty and Glory of the Father.

Spurgeon once said, “Nothing will so enlarge the intellect and magnify the whole soul of man as a devout, earnest, continued investigation of the whole subject of the Trinity. The proper study of the Christian is the Godhead. The highest science, the loftiest speculation, the mightiest philosophy, which can ever engage the attention of a child of God is the name, the nature, the person, the work, the doings, and the existence of the great God whom he calls the Father.”

Here are the topics and speakers:

—Jerry Bilkes, Father and Son in the Exodus (Hos.11:1, etc.)

—Derek Thomas, The Holiness of the Father in the Old Testament and Seeing the Father in the Face of Jesus (Jn.14:9)

—Bart Elshout, The Father’s Love for His Son (Jn.3:35)

—Burk Parsons, The Father’s Beautiful Hand of Blessed Chastisement (Heb.12:4-13)

—Ryan McGraw – The Need for a Trinitarian Piety

—Joel Beeke, The Apostle John and the Puritans on the Father’s Adopting, Transforming Love

—William VanDoodewaard, The Father’s Mercy (1Pet.1:3-5)

Breakout Sessions:

  • David Murray, Counseling and the Fatherhood of God
  • Burk Parsons, The Glory of the Father in the High-Priestly Prayer of Christ (Jn.17)
  • Paul Smalley, Richard Sibbes on the Mercy and Faithfulness of the Father
  • William VanDoodewaard, Your Father in Heaven (Mt.5-7)

If you have not signed up for the conference, please do so now. Whether it is the entire conference or just one day, you will not want to miss this wonderful opportunity to learn more about God, the Father. Whether you are young or old, single or married, you will not want to miss this year’s conference. Call Chris Hanna at the seminary soon to register. He may be reached at 616.977.0599 ext.138. You may also register online, or at the door. The entire three-day event is only $90 per person; a one-day registration is just $30 per person and you can even mix and match your sessions.

Consider Christ in Affliction (II): The Passion of Christ

In the midst of your sufferings—whether the heart-grinding pain of the worst of days, or the ordinary disappointments and sadness of everyday—through it all, consider Christ. He is the heartbeat of Christianity, and the strength of the sufferer.

First and foremost, consider the passion of Christ. What greater source of strength for living through and profiting from affliction can be had than frequent meditation on the sufferings of the Lord Jesus? Think much on these things: If Jesus suffered so much on behalf of His people, shouldn’t I be able to endure in His strength the daily afflictions I must bear? What are my afflictions compared to His? Besides, was He not the Sufferer par excellence while wholly innocent, and am I not, at best, a sufferer in His footsteps while wholly guilty?

Moreover (and this may be most encouraging), is there one affliction that I must endure that He has not already endured? Is He not the Breaker to go before His flock both in opening all our paths (Micah 2:13) and in being tempted in all points as we are, yet without sin (Heb. 4:15)? All paths, all points. Jesus not only knows your affliction, He has identified himself with it. He has borne it. And He will sanctify it. “There hath no temptation taken you but such as is common to man: but God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it” (1 Cor. 10:13).

Consider Christ in Affliction (I)

Dear Christian, I desire to write you about something with which you are well acquainted: affliction. Much has been written on affliction by godly Christians of previous times. A good part of it you have known for a long time. For example, you may know that all affliction is ultimately traceable to our tragic fall in Adam. You know, too, the grievousness of affliction. After all, who enjoys suffering?

Yet you also may know that all affliction is sent by a wise, fatherly God. Perhaps you even know—as the whole book of Job and the Puritans never tire of teaching us—that the important thing is not the amount of affliction we receive, but how we respond to that affliction.

Isn’t it just here that your deepest questions about affliction and trial lie? For you want to respond to affliction in a God-glorifying manner, but you feel you often fall inexcusably short. You desire that your entire life may serve God’s praise (Isa. 43:21), but somehow when you enter the heat and heart of affliction you find yourself losing grip on your firm intention.

To respond rightly to affliction before it comes is hard; to look back on it gratefully after it is over is harder; but to live Christianly in affliction is hardest. Hence you ask yourself again and again: how may I live through affliction more Christianly—in a way that is more like Christ? How may I grow in grace while—yes, while—suffering affliction?

You are not alone in such wrestlings. Countless times God’s children have been there, begging to be made conformable to the image of Christ through the furnace of affliction. The prayer is simple (“Lord, grant me grace to live through this affliction Christianly”); the wrestlings, are often agonizing.

Through years of encountering affliction (including times of running from wrestling with, resolving against, and—by grace—submitting to and bowing under it), I have gleaned a few thoughts on how to live Christianly through affliction. These I wish to share with you.

But as you allow me to provide several practical hints on this eminently practical subject, please bear in mind that we are always dependent on the sanctification of the Holy Spirit at every juncture for real spiritual benefit under affliction. Without the Spirit’s gracious influences, affliction may readily lead us away from rather than toward God.

I wish to focus my suggestions to you around one major theme that, sad to say, took me many years to learn even in small measure: The most effective means for living Christianly in affliction is to consider Christ, the fountainhead of all vital Christianity (Heb. 3:1). To live Christianly in any sphere or aspect of life necessitates Spirit-worked faith to look to Him, to feast on Him, to depend on Him—yes, to find both our life in Him (on Calvary’s cross) and our death in Him (as exalted Lord, to whom we belong).

Consider Christ—that’s the crux of the whole matter of affliction. But how, you ask? I will attempt to answer that question in the next few posts.

Camp Michawana, Michigan

The last few days the Free Reformed Church of Grand Rapids, Michigan have been holding their family camp at beautiful Camp Michawana, about a one hour drive from Grand Rapids. I gave two addresses there—one on “Lessons for Marriage” and one on “Lessons for Child-rearing,” drawing from Ephesians 5 and 6, the Puritans, and my own experience.

Other speakers included Russell Herman, a third year student at Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary, who spoke on “My Brother’s Keeper” and “Soul-Mate Friendship,” and Rev. Mark Kelderman, newly appointed Dean of Students and Spiritual Formation at PRTS, who spoke on “The Essential Union”—that is, the union between Christ and His bride.

About 150 parents and children attended, and gave their full attention to the addresses. They also asked great questions during the Q&A time. A happy, content, God-fearing atmosphere pervaded the camp.

Catching Up

If anyone would like to catch up on what God has been doing with us over the last year or so, you are welcome to read my pastoral newsletters.

Here is Newsletter 133 covering October 2011 to mid March, 2012.

Here is Newsletter 134 covering late March to early July, 2012, including my trips to Korea and London.

Here is Newsletter 135 covering mid to late July, including my trip to Mozambique.

Some of this material has already appeared on this blog in various posts.

The Legacy of My God-Fearing Mother (IV)

This post is the last installment of my reflections upon the godliness of my late mother, Johanna Beeke (d. July 23, 2012).

4. Contentment. When I was about 12 years old, I had a friend who mentioned that he didn’t want to ask his mother for a favor at the moment because she wasn’t in “a good mood.” That comment puzzled me greatly. I honestly didn’t know what the word “mood” meant; I had never seen my mother moody or frustrated.

Mother always seemed cheerful and content—in fact, so content that at times it frustrated me. If something bad happened to me, and I would come to her for pity, she would often respond by saying, “It could be worse.” One day this was too much for me: “But Mother,” I said with great irritation, “you can say that about everything.” “That’s right,” she calmly replied, without a hint of irritation, “it always could be worse because God never gives us things as bad as we deserve.” “But Mother…” I protested. Calmly she interrupted me, quoting Paul: “I have learned in whatsoever state I am therewith to be content.” That text stopped the pity party in a moment.

Mother’s contentment was also evident in her thankfulness. She was one of the most thankful people I have ever known. She would thank you for everything you did for her, even the smallest thing. Thanksgiving filled her heart, and spilled over into her life with ease. She could thank as easily as she could say, “I’m sorry”—even when she had nothing to be sorry about!

5. Purity—that is, in terms of devoutness and godliness. Mother, by Christ’s grace, developed not only holy habits, but even natural habits that revealed a simple, almost naïve, purity. She was disciplined not only in her Bible-reading, but also in her eating habits (to a fault!), disciplined in her daily walks, disciplined in her daily routines of exercise. She was still exercising her arms and legs only a few months before her death. Everything about her life seemed so organized, so simple, so pure, so clean, so sweet, that it seemed like the aroma of Christ exuded from her.

Actually, there may be no better way to describe Mother than to cite the list in Galatians 5:22–23 of the fruit of the Spirit: “love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance.” Each of these fruits was abundant in her life.

I thank God that by His grace, He gave me a mother whose life displayed the fruit of the Spirit.

The legacy, the heritage, the mantle is now passed on to us. We now become the older generation. Time waits for no one; no mere human being is the master of time. Sooner than we know, someone will be conducting our funerals. May we, by God’s grace, be found worthy of such a legacy, and faithful in receiving such a mantle. Mother left her mark on our lives, all of us, and the best monument we can raise to her memory is to follow her as she followed Christ, and extend her influence to many other lives, and to the generations to come.

The Legacy of My God-Fearing Mother (III)

This blog is the third installment of reflections upon the character of my mother, Johanna Beeke (d. July 23, 2012).

3. Kindness. Mother was incredibly kind. “The law of kindness” was in her heart, and therefore on her tongue and in all her facial expressions. When company was present, she would not forget about us. When we had a room full of God’s people in our home, which often happened when I was a boy, and I would catch her eye across the room, she would always smile warmly and kindly.

Perhaps I’m being forgetful, but I do not ever remember Mother criticizing anyone for anything. She said once to me, “You can talk about people as much as you want, as long as what you say is good.” Nor do I ever recall her speaking to me at any point in my life with any frustration, irritation, or anger in her voice.

When my wife asked her at her 80th birthday, “Mother, do you have any advice to give about how to handle children when you feel frustrated? How did you handle that?” Mother thought for ten seconds, then smiled sympathetically, and said, “I’m afraid, dear, that I just can’t recall ever getting frustrated with them.” Now that answer (which by the way, really did not help my wife) didn’t mean, I assure you, that we were all such good kids, but because the grace of God sanctified her character, in her tongue was “the law of kindness” (Prov. 31:26). Perhaps that grace also sanctified her memory, so that she knew what to remember and what to forget!

I think Mother thought it was a double sin to criticize a minister because he is a servant of the Most High God. Since our church did not have a minister for many years, all the preachers that came to bring us God’s Word during most of those years would stay at our home. One of them even brought his dog, which I was by no means happy about, so I let my Mother know how I felt. She promptly rebuked me for criticizing even a minister’s dog!

Mother’s kindness radiated from her in scores of ways. When we were sick, she would often say—and meant it—that she wished she could be sick in our place. When a slice of toast got burnt, she was always the one to eat it. As children, when we left for school, she would wave to us from the front window for as long as she could see us. She always had time for us; she would ask us every day how school went.

I thank God that by His grace, He gave us a mother in whose tongue was “the law of kindness.”