Oh, to be cloned, times two

Synod 2018The week of June 11 was one of those times when I wished I could be cloned so I could be in two places at the same time. Actually, it would have been nice to be in four places at the same time.

The United Reformed Churches in North America (URCNA) and the Orthodox Presbyterian Church (OPC) held their major, annual ecclesiastical meetings concurrently on the campus of Wheaton College, near Chicago, from June 11-15, 2018. As a regular contributor for Christian Renewal, I’d been anticipating and planning to attend this event for several years.

But having recently reported on concurrent regional meetings of a URCNA classis and an OPC presbytery, I knew how difficult it was to go from meeting to meeting and catch the most important discussions. Thus my desire to be clones.OPC

It addition to that, the annual Write-to-Publish conference was held from June 13-16 at–you guessed it–Wheaton College. Three members of my local writing group attended it, two of whom I’ve gone with in the past, but I couldn’t register. There was just no way I could immerse myself in the WTP networking and learning experience at the Billy Graham Center, while trying to stay on top of ecclesiastical action up the hill in the Edman Chapel and Coray Alumni Gymnasium. Therefore my desire to be in three places.

But there’s more, I’m working on a writing project with Leland Ryken, prolific author and long-time professor in Wheaton’s English department. Being in Wheaton gave me opportunities to discuss the project face-to-face with him, which is infinitely superior to email. Hence, my desire to be in four places at the same time.

Despite not being cloned two times, I had an amazing week bursting with blessings. I heard important discussions in both ecclesiastical meetings and greeted many pastor friends I hadn’t seen for years or had never met in person. I also touched base with my editor, John Van Dyk, whom I’ve seen only a handful of times.

Smiths
Diane and Pete Smith, organizers extraordinaire

While I didn’t participate in the Write-to-Publish experience, I ate lunch with writing friends three times. Over one noon break, the Three Amigos visited my favorite place on Wheaton’s campus, the Marion E. Wade Center, which houses fascinating memorabilia and books written by seven British authors: C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, Dorothy Sayers, G.K. Chesterton, George MacDonald, Charles Williams, and Owen Barfield. Most of these would make my list of favorite authors.

Leland and I talked through several issues at this important stage of our project, and I enjoyed wonderful conversations with his wife, Mary, as well. I enjoyed fellowship with many other women, especially when I had the privilege of leading devotions for the Ladies Afternoon Tea on Tuesday in the Todd M. Beamer Student Center.

And I signed a lot of copies of my nine published books. As usual when I sign Little One Lost, God provided meaningful interactions when dear women shared their stories of loss. I’m both honored and humbled by these moments, which make me feel as if I briefly function as the ears and arms of Jesus.

Who needs to be cloned?sign

 

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The Delight and Truth of Fiction

flaming-mapleWilliam Boekestein, pastor of Immanuel Fellowship Church in Kalamazoo, MI, was recently appointed as the social media coordinator for Reformed Fellowship, publisher of the The Outlook. In his continuing task to help Reformed Fellowship build an online presence and engage meaningful internet discussion, he posted yesterday (October 20, 2016) a link to my article on Fiction’s Delight and Truth.

I wrote the article over a year ago, and it appeared in 2015’s November issue. At the risk of sounding like a presidential candidate, I felt then and I still feel it is one of the best things I’ve ever written. In my defense, I submit what Leland Ryken (longtime professor of English at Wheaton College) wrote after I shared it with him:

Your essay is what I call a moon shot in my classes. It is absolutely perfect as a complete coverage of the material in a small compass. Congratulations on work well done. You did it better than I could have.

Considering Leland’s prolific writings on the subject and his astounding output as an author, I take this as the highest compliment. And I give all praise and glory to God, the I AM who writes all our stories as part of His great and never-ending story.

 

 

Thinking Christianly about vocation, work, and leisure

 

Leland speaksProtestants traditionally demonstrate an active work ethic, but many—perhaps particularly within Dutch Reformed circles—have more difficulty viewing leisure appropriately.

At the annual fall conference of Covenant Reformed Church in Pella, IA, Leland Ryken, long-time professor and prolific author, guided attendees in developing a biblical view of vocation, work, and leisure.

He addressed each of those subjects in three lectures on November 6-8, 2015, attended by between 100 and 200 people.

A native of Pella, Ryken has taught in the English department at Wheaton College for over 40 years. He was an editor for The Literary Study Bible: ESV and has written numerous books on a wide variety of subjects, including Redeeming the Time: A Christian Approach to Work and Leisure and Work and Leisure in Christian Perspective.

The conference began on Friday evening with a survey of foundational principles that apply to work and leisure. Dr. Ryken explained the biblical concept of vocation as having a general calling to live the Christian life and particular callings to fulfill the roles in our lives.

Because God is sovereign over every event in our lives, everyday activities can be viewed differently than mere duties or annoying distractions. He said, “Thinking of them as callings instead of tasks gives them significance.”

He demonstrated from the Bible how God has assigned people their daily work and how we can be exuberant about it when we put God at the center. We can relate to God and respond to him through our work, and we should reject attempts to separate life into sacred and secular compartments.

“Time is the arena in which we live,” he said. “Work and leisure compete for it, and we cannot add hours to one without subtracting from the other.” He encouraged listeners to “plug into the flow” of time, rather than being tyrannized by it. Ecclesiastes, “the most famous poem on the subject,” can guide us to accept and understand that “everything is beautiful in its time.”

Dr. Ryken urged attendees to “discard activities that do not seem like callings,” but concluded by asking, “Are you granting the same importance to your callings that God has?”

Soup supperFollowing a soup supper on Saturday evening, Dr. Ryken spoke about work. He described problems with it, including tendencies to overwork or undervalue or misvalue it. He advocated a Christian view of work as a solution to the problems.

“Work is rooted in the character of God,” he said, pointing out that work or works is mentioned 200 times in the Bible. “God is pleased when people perform the work he gives them. God wants the heart that loves him and wants to please him.”

He explained that the purpose or goal of work for the Puritans was to glorify God and benefit humanity. God works through Christians who serve him in service of people. He said, “Serviceableness is key to vocation.”

While work is a moral duty and a healthy work ethic requires self-denial, Christians ought to rise above mediocrity in their occupations. He said, “Christians are called to excellence because the God they serve is excellent. Achieving excellence in what we do is a virtue.”

During the church school hour on Sunday morning, Dr. Ryken appropriately addressed the subject of leisure. He explained that the two-fold etymology of the word includes license and learning. He noted leisure’s link to the Sabbath, speaking of it as “a state of being” and “a growing time for the human spirit” through “rest and restoration.”

Many within our circles exhibit a strong sense of obligation and duty, tending to consider free time as unworthy. “The Protestant tradition has elevated work at the expense of leisure,” he said. “But in our hearts, we know that leisure can be something very good indeed.”

Stating that the Bible provides just as much data on leisure as on work, Dr. Ryken led listeners through specific references. The seventh day was part of the creation week, not separate from it. Jesus did not reduce life to endless work and evangelism, but took time for fellowship and leisure. The Bible provides warnings against abuses apart from God and prescribes times for leisure. Regarding biblical festivals and feasts, he said they were less like worship experiences and more like a modern evangelical equivalent of summer camp. The festivity and feasting resembled Thanksgiving Day.

“We do not simply have a right to leisure,” Dr. Ryken said, “we have a need for it.”

He explained the concept of “semi-leisure” as appearing midway between work and leisure on the time continuum. He encouraged listeners to “make creative use of semi-leisure.” It is possible to rescue activities from the realm of work to that of leisure simply by changing one’s attitude.

The challenge to practice leisure appropriately can be more difficult for Christians who often shortchange themselves through church work. But we should heed Christ’s injunction to come away and rest.

The above article by Glenda Mathes appeared on pages 6 & & of the December 9, 2015, issue of Christian Renewal.

Fiction’s Delight and Truth

2015-06-nov-dec-outlook-coverAn article I wrote about why Christians should read fiction appears in the November issue of The Outlook. You can page through this online preview to read that article as well as a lovely review of my Matthew books.

Complaint, Psalm 64

spotted leafIn the Literary Study Bible’s introduction to Psalm 64, editors Leland Ryken and Philip Graham Ryken call it the “prototypical” lament psalm, the “specimen in which the conventional elements stand out highlighted” with “vivid poetic texture and memorable imagery” (p. 815). An awareness of this psalm’s lament construction and literary techniques helps us derive more meaning from David’s “complaint” (verse 1). We should never examine the psalms as a purely literary exercise. All scripture is the very word of God and is profitable for our instruction and training in righteousness (2 Timothy 3:16). But while the psalms teach our minds, they also touch our hearts.

Like most laments, this psalm begins with a cry to God: Hear my voice, O God, in my complaint (Psalm 64:1a, ESV). We know that God hears and answers prayer, yet he wants us to call to him. This complaint doesn’t equate with our modern understanding of complaining. It doesn’t mean whining about everything, never being joyful or content. It’s expressing your problem to God and your recognition that you need his divine help.

David strongly expresses his need for deliverance: preserve my life from dread of the enemy. Hide me from the secret plots of the wicked, from the throng of evildoers (verses 1b-2, ESV).

The problems in David’s life are real and immediate. He expresses urgency as he begs God for help with imperative verbs: preserve, hide. His enemies fill him with dread, they plot secretly, and they are many (a throng!).

Like most laments, this psalm begins with a cry to God:

who whet their tongues like swords,
    who aim bitter words like arrows,
shooting from ambush at the blameless,
    shooting at him suddenly and without fear.
They hold fast to their evil purpose;
    they talk of laying snares secretly,
thinking, “Who can see them?”
   They search out injustice,
saying, “We have accomplished a diligent search.”
    For the inward mind and heart of a man are deep (verses 3-6, ESV).

These enemies are not obvious foes on a battlefield. They excel at manipulation and behind-the-scenes schemes. They stealthily attack innocent people without cause. Rather than simply slipping into sin or falling in with a bad crowd, these guys commit themselves to evil and conspire to trap others. They doubt anyone would catch on to their plans because they’re careful to cover their tracks. They pour their time and intelligence into searching out injustice, looking for ways to beat the system. They focus on criticizing and bringing down other people. They are verbally, emotionally–perhaps even physically and spiritually–abusive. The mind and heart of a person is very deep. No one knows the depth of depravity in some minds or the extent of evil in some hearts. Some people devote God’s good gift of mental acuity to scheme against others.

What a depressing description! Maybe David’s vivid picture of his enemies reminds you of someone you know. A verbal bully who rudely criticizes you in front of others, a manipulator who secretly persuades others that you’re not trustworthy or competent, a hypocritical person who acts friendly to many while refusing to smile or speak to you, or an intelligent and articulate person who manufactures narratives against you and God’s truth. These situations are enough to make a person feel hopeless. Within the context of the church community, they can make you want to leave, shaking the dust from your feet (Matthew 10:14).

Before you get too depressed, please read the next section of the psalm, which begins with these crucial words: “But God”!

But God shoots his arrow at them;
    they are wounded suddenly.
They are brought to ruin, with their own tongues turned against them;
    all who see them will wag their heads (verses 7-8, ESV).

These people won’t get by with their schemes forever. Their tongues cut like swords? Their words wound like arrows? (See verse 3.) God shoots his arrows at them! He wounds them suddenly and brings them to ruin, using their own back-stabbing tongues to cut them down to size. People will see it and shake their heads.

But the purpose isn’t your personal vengeance, attractive as that might seem. God brings them down to show his divine power and generate our human praise (verses 9-10, ESV):

Then all mankind fears;
    they tell what God has brought about
    and ponder what he has done.

Let the righteous one rejoice in the Lord
    and take refuge in him!
Let all the upright in heart exult!

People who see God destroy the enemies of believers will revere the Lord and witness to his deliverance. They’ll meditate on his amazing works. Believers can rejoice in the Lord and take refuge in him.

Ponder what God has done and rejoice! If you haven’t seem him bring down your enemies yet, trust that no enemy of God will ultimately succeed. Let your heart, brought low by the schemes and insults of others, exult in the Lord!

Lit! An elliptical book review

You say you’re not a reader? Readers are made, not born. Like anything else, we learn to do it through practice. You read a lot or you want to read more, but you feel like you need direction? Look to the light of Lit! by Tony Reinke.

The title is a clever play on words that intentionally conveys Reinke’s basic premise: appreciation for good literature, which reflects the Creator’s glory, shines in the flood lamp of a biblical worldview. Now don’t roll your eyes and click away, dismissing Lit! as a boring theological tome. It’s title also shows this is a short, easy read that engages and challenges.

I may have heard first about this book from Tim Challies, perhaps in a Facebook status update, but I’m not sure how I came across it. Tim has written at least three posts mentioning the book, and gives 5 reasons to read it. And The Gospel Coalition (TGC) blog features an interesting interview with Tony Reinke.

In any case, I purchased Lit! several months ago and sent it to my husband’s Kindle, but didn’t find time to read it until this month. That’s when I began reading Kindle books in bite-sized pieces as a way to force myself onto a newly-acquired used (and very old) elliptical. Lit! has short, easily-digested chapters that lend themselves well to these brief elliptical reading episodes.

Reinke doesn’t write like a theologian, but he writes from a solid biblical foundation. He doesn’t write like a professor, but he writes about literature from a broad liberal (in the academic sense) perspective. Reinke writes like a regular guy who comes up with unique phrases.

Take this hook from his introduction, for instance:

Perhaps you love to read. You get the same feeling from a new stack of books as you get from looking at a warm stack of glazed donuts. Maybe not. For most, reading a book is like trying to drink down a huge vitamin. You know you need to read—you’ll be healthier for it—but everything within you refuses to swallow! (p. 15)

Or this gem as he describes different bookstore experiences:

My hanging head notices an eight-hundred-page Russian novel by Fyodor Dostoyevsky. The book cover is beautifully designed, the book was translated into English with great care (according to a friend of mine), and the novel is reasonably priced. My eye has caught the spine of this book many times before, and I’ve nearly purchased it on several of my frequent trips to the bookstore. But it’s also a very thick book that asks me for a serious commitment. And I’m already married! (p. 22)

Reading Lit! is almost an interactive experience. It’s like sitting across the coffee shop table from Reinke as he sips a hot latte and punctuates his sentences with expressive waves. When he dropped the names of old friends Anne Bradstreet, Leland Ryken, and Larry Woiwode, I actually spoke aloud: “Ah!”—which is elliptical shortspeech for, “Oh, you know him (her) too?”

The first part of the book presents a theology of books and reading. Reinke lays a scriptural and historical foundation before he recounts how personal sin and the gospel shape literacy. He then talks about developing a biblical worldview in an “Eye-Candy” culture.

Chapters 5 & 6 conclude his first section and contain the information I found most valuable. “The Giver’s Voice” presents seven accessible arguments for reading non-Christian books with discernment. Reinke writes, “As book readers, we are mistaken when we categorically reject non-Christian books. And we are mistaken when we read non-Christian literature uncritically” (p. 77). He reflects on John Calvin’s wisdom in this area, finding his model “generous, cautious, and sobering” (p. 77).

In his chapter, “The God Who Slays Dragons,” Reinke speaks about “The Purifying Power of Christian Imagination”:

The imagination is a God-given ability to receive truth and meaning. In an essay, C. S. Lewis wrote, “For me reason is the natural organ of truth; but imagination is the organ of meaning.” Using fantasy in literature does not make a story fictitious; it’s often a more forceful way to communicate truth” (p. 87).

Fiction writers strive to write what’s true. While that may seem an oxymoron to some, discerning readers understand that truth shines bright in the best fiction.

The second part of Lit! gives practical advice on book reading, all of which can be implemented easily. Although I still cringe at his advice to write in your books. I understand the logic and wisdom behind his argument, but I haven’t quite summoned the strength to jump over my defacement hurdle. Maybe if I work out a little longer on the elliptical.

If you’re looking for a quick but thought-provoking read about reading, pick up Reinke’s Lit! And see the light.

The above book review by Glenda Mathes is on:

Lit! © 2011 by Tony S. Reinke
Published by Crossway, Wheaton, Illinois
186 pages

A Month of Sundays in print!

My publisher, Reformation Heritage Books, reports that printed copies of my devotional, A Month of Sundays: 31 Meditations on Resting in Godarrived yesterday!

You can order it here from Reformation Heritage Books for only $7.50!

You can also order it here from Amazon for $10.

Publisher’s Product Description

In today’s hectic and distressing world, demands and distractions agitate our spirits. Disasters trigger anxiety. Diseases generate pain. Despair creeps into our hearts. These influences displace our peace and keep us from resting daily in Christ and His Word. How can we recapture the concept of daily rest?

In A Month of Sundays: 31 Meditations for Daily Rest, author Glenda Mathes encourages us to pause our spinning thoughts and calm our fluctuating feelings as she helps us to see that we must be true Sabbath keepers, understanding that God has called us to develop daily the attitudes of worship and rest we enjoy on Sunday. With a recommended Scripture reading, a focus verse (or verses), a meditation, and questions aimed at stimulating personal reflection, each devotion guides us to experience a “month of Sundays,” as we experience a greater enjoyment of God’s gift of daily rest while we anticipate His guarantee of eternal rest.

Endorsements  

Glenda Mathes has written an uplifting series of meditations on the subject of rest for the weary.  Starting with the premise of sabbath rest as a model for how God wishes his children to live, Glenda weaves a wide-ranging tapestry of how Christians can follow God’s mandate to rest in him both now and eternally.  The book is filled with great texts from the Bible, accompanied by interspersed quotations from the Heidelberg Catechism and personal reflections and recollections of the author.  This is a great book for all who labor and are heavy laden, and who want to obey God’s command to rest.  People for whom Sunday observance is important, as well as those who love the Heidelberg Catechism, will especially resonate with this book.

Leland Rykenprofessor of English, Wheaton College

‘Rest’ is a topic often overlooked in our hectic schedules, but Glenda Mathes shows it is essential to a Christian life. Not as another thing ‘to do,’ but as part of our calling. A Month of Sundays invites us to overcome our distractions and fears and seek the one true source of rest, Christ Himself.

Janie B. Cheaneycolumnist for WORLD Magazine, and a contributing editor at RedeemedReader.com

My perspective on promotion and marketing is based on this concluding question and answer from my 2006 Christian Renewal  interview with Larry Woiwode:

Glenda Mathes – 

What can Christians and churches do to support and promote the creative expressions of artists who have a biblical worldview?

Larry Woiwode – 

The answer to that’s simple. Buy their work. Encourage others in the Church and the larger community to buy their work. When a plumber does work, you expect a bill. Writers for some reason are supposed to do almost everything for free. The only aspect of the material world that is absolutely free, however, is the invitation to enter the supernatural world of God through Jesus in the Gospel.