Reuben M. Bredenhof

What’s in Your Jar?

Written by Reuben M. Bredenhof |
Friday, March 3, 2023
Counting God’s daily blessings is something like having a jar of manna. We should mentally store up one gift from God, and another, and another, and one more—and soon the jar is full to overflowing, and we are moved to thank the Lord.

If you’ve had the thrill of getting a new and shiny possession, then you’ll also know how quickly the excitement can wane.
The enthusiastic ‘unboxing’ of your new iPhone becomes the frustration of yet another software update. The ‘new car smell’ in your Ford fades. Even the person we once fell in love with begins to look a little tired.
The magic of the new wears off, and soon we’re taking God’s good gifts for granted. Even though we prayerfully asked for His blessings, and happily received them, perhaps we quietly assumed that we were going to get them anyway.
The Israelites showed how hard it can be to value God’s gifts rightly. He had delivered them from Egyptian captivity, opened the sea for them to pass through, and He was now leading them through the desert. They had a spring in their step and a song on their lips as they went forth. Yet as the trip entered its second month, the fuel gauge was getting perilously close to ‘Empty.’ Stomachs were rumbling, and mouths getting dry and parched.
How did God’s people respond? With murmuring. They remembered how in the good ol’ days along the Nile, the food supply was so much better. Facing the cruel uncertainty of the desert, they complained against God. And this was a serious failing. William Law once said, “For as thankfulness is an express acknowledgement of the goodness of God towards you, so repinings and complaints are as plain accusations of God’s want of goodness towards you.”[1]
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God’s Paradigm for Our Unity

Written by Reuben M. Bredenhof |
Thursday, February 9, 2023
Expressing unity internationally is valuable, but even more vital is living it out locally. As church we get to live in real community with each other. We can share our gifts, our talents, our time, our burdens. We have a common table where we eat and drink in remembrance of Christ.

The Holy Spirit says, “How good and pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity” (Ps 133:1). This pleasant gift is something that a congregation enjoys when we study Scripture together, worship together, or have fellowship.
Another powerful expression of unity is when we confess our faith. A New Testament word for confession means literally, “saying the same thing.” When we sing or recite our creed, we’re saying the same thing. We don’t contribute our own ideas about God, but we listen to what Scripture says and then confess it together.
A church of Christ not only confesses the same faith but is shaped by this faith. Right beliefs should always lead to right behaviour. And whenever we confess faith in our triune God, He is a model for our life together. The beautiful unity of the Trinity should lead to beautiful unity in the church.
We see this truth in Jesus’s prayer John 17. This prayer is sometimes called his “high priestly prayer” because it’s largely a prayer of intercession. The Old Testament priests approached God at the temple and asked for his favour on for Israel. In a similar way, Jesus prays for his church.
And it is remarkable how Jesus looks ahead to the church’s growth in coming centuries. He prays for believers who haven’t even been born! He says in verse 20, “I do not pray for these alone, but also for those who will believe in me through their word.” The disciples haven’t gone out yet for their missionary task, but soon they will. And as they preach, many will come to faith in Christ.
Anticipating how his believers will grow to become many millions, spread all over the world, Jesus prays to the Father. It should strike us that his very first petition for the future church is for our unity, in verse 21:
…that they all may be one, as you, Father, are in me, and I in you.
Notice how Jesus refers to the close unity of the Father and the Son (and the Holy Spirit, of course). All three persons of the Trinity share a common sovereignty and purpose and glory. Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are bound to each other in an eternally loving relationship. They are one!

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Witnessing in an Age of Apathy

Written by Reuben M. Bredenhof |
Saturday, January 28, 2023

As children of God, the Lord has entrusted to us a great treasure—something to rejoice over and find delight in. When we demonstrate this joy to others, we can leave the results of each encounter to the Lord. God alone is the one who ignites true love and right passion. He just calls us to be the faithful and joyful witnesses of his glory.

This is one of the challenges in carrying out our prophetic calling in this world: we don’t always have an audience that’s interested in what we have to say. Our conversation partners might be apathetic. Why should they care about Christian truth? Some are openly hostile, of course, and some are interested to hear more.
But if I may generalize, I would say that our time and Western culture are marked by religious apathy.
At the core of religious apathy is a disinterest in questions related to God’s existence. These are questions like: Does God exist? If so, how does He reveal himself, and what is God like? And if He doesn’t exist, what does that mean for us? For many people who are living in Western countries like ours, these God-questions mean very little.
Introducing Apatheism
So where does this apathy come from? For this article, I am greatly indebted to the book called Apatheism, by Kyle Beshears (B&H Academic, 2021). He puts into words an undercurrent of thinking that makes it hard to be a faithful witness for Christ.
Beshears says that traditionally, there were a few different perspectives on the question of God’s existence.
1) atheism: the belief that God (or gods) do not exist
2) agnosticism: the belief that there is not enough evidence to prove or disprove the existence of God – ‘we just don’t know’
3) theism: the belief that there is a God (or gods) with whom we may relate
As the fourth perspective, Beshears says there’s another common perspective on God’s existence, and it’s probably the dominant attitude today. It has been called apatheism. It is the view is that whether or not God (or gods) exist is not that important.
An ‘apatheist’ doesn’t take a position on the question of God—he or she doesn’t care.
We’ve probably all had the experience of trying to engage with someone who doesn’t care, having a conversation about a topic in which they have no interest—it’s very hard. Ironically, it’s far easier to talk to someone who strongly disagrees with you about a topic: they still care about the matter under discussion.
For instance, think about interacting with a devout Muslim at university. Strangely enough, you actually have something to talk about with them! They’re invested in continuing the conversation, because they acknowledge that there is a divine Being.
Many years ago, I had a co-worker who loved to talk religion. He was a post-secondary student, well-read, and polite—and he did not believe in God. In terms of beliefs, he was on a very different foundation than me. And yet we had great conversations. We could talk easily and naturally, for he had clearly thought through some of his ideas; he had read and listened and considered.
That is probably typical of an atheist. They don’t believe in God for a reason: because of the problem of evil, or because religious people have done so much harm in this world, or because of some other critical point against faith. The point is, they have thought about it. So you can try to respond to them, to sort through objections, maybe use some apologetics to defend the truth and turn a conversation toward Christ.
By contrast, you might struggle to speak with someone who is apathetic. They just don’t feel anything about ‘God questions.’ This has been my experience several times while flying here and there. I sit down beside someone in the airplane, say ‘hi’ and tentatively start a conversation. Talk soon turns to what I do for a living: ‘Oh, I’m a pastor.’ And that’s a natural entrance to a discussion about God. I can ask: ‘Are you a Christian? Do you ever go to church?’ But I’m soon up against a brick wall.
Maybe a plane ride isn’t the best setting for this: When they hear that I’m a pastor, I think people get scared that they’re sitting beside a religious nut, someone who’s going to try to convert them for the next ten hours. So they shut down the conversation and get very interested in whatever movies are playing. Are they intimidated? More likely, I think they’re simply apathetic about God questions.
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Salvation out of Zion

Written by Reuben M. Bredenhof |
Thursday, January 5, 2023
Jesus ministered in the land of Israel for three years, until he was killed outside Jerusalem’s walls. For a moment it looked like a shameful defeat for God, but this was his greatest triumph. For Jesus conquered all his and our enemies, and restored “the fortunes of his people” (v. 6). Now we know beyond any doubt where our help comes from.

When a person is in trouble, where do they look for help?
One person leans on his best friend. Another calls her doctor, or her mother. Others look to a spouse, a pastor, a life-coach.
The people of Israel also looked to different places. Sometimes they expected help from Egypt, from Babylon, or from one of their false gods. But the LORD always told his people where to look: to him alone!
In Psalm 53 David tells about a time when the wicked were attacking God’s people, eating them up “as they eat bread” (v. 4). It didn’t look good. But once again the LORD rescued his people and terrified their enemies, defeating them in battle.
Even though Israel has been saved, David ends with a prayer in verse 6 :
Oh, that salvation for Israel would come out of Zion!
It’s as if he knows that deliverance will be needed again, that this latest salvation will not be the last. 
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Win with Christ

Written by Reuben M. Bredenhof |
Thursday, December 1, 2022
Christ our King has already defeated the kingdom of darkness. He did it when he hung on the cross, when he died, and he came back to life three days later. Now Christ is in heaven, reigning over all things. Jesus still has many enemies, like we do. But in your struggle, take heart. Your victory in Christ is secure!

Why did David have so many enemies? When we read his psalms, it seems like he’s always fending off another attack from his adversaries, trying to escape yet another conspiracy. Do you ever wonder what made him so hated?
He was Israel’s king, which meant he was involved in regular warfare against the nation’s political enemies. The Philistines and the Amorites had good reason to hate David, seeing as he was Israel’s highly successful wartime leader. Hard to like someone who has wiped out your battalions, time after time!
But there was more to it. For David was on the side of God. And those who hate God will also hate those who stand with him.
This is why we have enemies too. We’ve all learned from our Catechism that a Christian has three sworn adversaries: the devil, the world, and our own sinful flesh (Q&A 127). Far more than we realize or admit, we are in constant warfare against the spiritual forces of evil.
And for this confrontation we need so much divine help and steadfast protection.
That’s what David understood too, for he prays in Psalm 143 that God would judge all his enemies. They had been hounding him again, and David feels almost crushed. 
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High or Low Thoughts of God

Written by Reuben M. Bredenhof |
Thursday, November 17, 2022
It’s crucial for our spiritual vitality to keep encountering the true glory of the Lord. This happens whenever we read Scripture with open eyes and see God as our Creator, our Saviour, and our Renewer. Have high thoughts of God, knowing that this holy God is behind you, above you, beside you, and within you.

There’s a great quotation I’ve come across a few times recently.
It goes like this:
What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us.
Maybe you recognize this as being from A.W. Tozer’s timeless book on the attributes of God, The Knowledge of the Holy.
I love this thought because it orients us in the right direction. Our whole life is about being in relationship with God. That is the most important thing: knowing God, loving God, and serving him.
And what we think about the Lord—how we regard him—really shapes everything we do. For instance, if you are able to see God as your loving Father, you will strive to trust him. If you see God as the perfectly wise Lord, you will humbly submit to him.
But if God is a vague and distant being to you, or if you think of the Lord mainly as a stern judge, this will surely change how you relate to him.
“What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us.” The following line from Tozer’s work explores the implications a little:
Worship is pure or base as the worshiper entertains high or low thoughts of God.
Do you have high thoughts of God? Big thoughts? Thankful and holy thoughts? Then you can expect that this will begin to transform your prayers to him, your worship, and your loyalty.
This is without question a Biblical idea. Whenever God shows himself to his people by his mighty deeds, or when God gives his promises, He expects a response.

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Sleepless but not Hopeless

Written by Reuben M. Bredenhof |
Sunday, November 13, 2022
Much more than remembering the good ol’ days when life seemed better, Asaph in Psalm 77 is remembering the Lord and his great works and loving ways. These days we call it self-talk, or maybe “preaching to yourself,” when we remind ourselves of the holiness and goodness and faithfulness of God. And it is a good thing to do, and often.

Long before we get to the end of Psalm 77, we know it will turn out well.
How? In the opening verse, Asaph says: “I cried out to God with my voice…and He gave ear to me” (v. 1). He was in trouble, but he wants to immediately reassure us: God heard him!
For it cannot end badly when we begin with prayer. When we’re distressed or worried about something, we shouldn’t rationalize it away, or laugh it away, or drink it away, or find some other escape. No, we should pray. Pray at once. Pray, for our God in Christ has an open ear. He is sufficient to meet our concerns, and always willing to help. It was through giving voice to his despair to God that Asaph gained peace.
But first consider the trials of this lowly soul, recorded in verse 2:
In the day of my trouble I sought the Lord.
Other Psalms mention a range of problems and concerns: the pursuit of enemies, a body wracked by illness, the heart oppressed by guilt. But not here. This child of God is overwhelmed, depressed and embittered, for some unnamed reason.
And saying so little of the cause opens up Psalm 77 to even more people. For everyone has some measure of trouble. We can mention the loneliness that God’s children experience, or the misery of chronic pain, or a flood of family disappointments, and conflict with other people, and anxiety over finances, and regret over the past. You can surely add your own.
In the day of trouble, we all know what to do. Asaph tells us, “My hand was stretched out in the night without ceasing” (v. 2). This is the posture for prayer: reaching out for the LORD. Asaph is going to the right place. But notice a couple things about this prayer, things which reveal how deeply distressed he is.
First, he’s praying “in the night,” when he should be sleeping. Trouble can be so bad that it won’t even let a person rest. Instead of being a time of sweet relief and comfort, night-time can see us oppressed by our thoughts and unable to overcome our anxieties. In nervous fear, we toss and turn.
On the one hand, tomorrow can’t come soon enough because then we’ll actually be able to do something. But we also know that when tomorrow comes, the difficult situation will only confront us again. So the psalmist can’t sleep, nor even talk coherently: “You hold my eyelids open; I am so troubled that I cannot speak” (v. 4).
He’s praying, but it’s really difficult.
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Can You Live Without the Church?

Written by Reuben M. Bredenhof |
Saturday, October 8, 2022
It is through the community of the church that we receive necessary help from our fellow believers in Christ, as we learn together, pray together, serve together, teach and exhort each other, and admonish one another. Scripture even teaches us to confess that there is no salvation outside of the assembly of his believers.

Someone once said to me, “For you people, your life revolves around the church.”
The fellow who made this observation knew a lot of Reformed people, and he was genuinely interested in the Reformed faith. He was not being critical, but he did wonder about how much energy and attention we always put on the church.
In his eyes, our life was all about church.
To an extent it’s true. For many of us, a good portion of our non-working hours each week is taken up with church-related activity, whether that is attending public worship on Sundays, or participating in Bible study and/or Catechism classes, going to consistory and committee meetings, socialising with people from our congregation, or doing some other church-related event.
Meanwhile, our children might attend schools which are closely connected to the church. And during the week we might even do most of our business and trade with church people.
We spend a lot of time ‘on’ the church, or ‘at’ the church, or in the general orbit of the church.
What is the point of all this activity? We know that it should not be about ‘doing church’ for its own sake, of course. We shouldn’t be busy maintaining and building an institution simply because it provides us with some personal or community benefit. 
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Grace for Dysfunctional Families

Written by Reuben M. Bredenhof |
Saturday, October 1, 2022
Proverbs 22:6 speaks of a general principle; namely, that the parents’ direction of their children is usually formative for the rest of their lives. It does not mean that every child raised in a covenant home or sent to a Christian school and summer camps will become a true believer. The pain and regret over unbelieving children are all too real for many parents. Nevertheless, this text underlines the importance of parents striving to fulfill this God-given calling in his strength and by his Spirit, despite our many weaknesses.

For instance, how does it apply when either the children are living in rebellion against the authority of the parents, and/or when the parents are failing to carry out their task according to direction of Scripture? By ‘dysfunctional family,’ we mean a family whose structures and relational roles do not accord with the norms of Scripture in serious and sustained ways.
In such difficult situations, we are grateful to rely on the steadfast love of God and the sure wisdom of his Word. Here I suggest five principles drawn from Scripture.
1) Maintain the obligation of children to give honour to their parents.
When confronted with the complexities of applying God’s law, it is natural to prefer simple—and sometimes simplistic—answers. In a situation of domestic rebellion, our visceral response might be black-and-white: children must obey dad and mum, full stop. This simplistic approach can be unhelpful if it doesn’t take into account the context of the situation.
Nevertheless, we have to grapple with the weight of the commandment. God entrusts to parents a role that is imbued with authority. The failure of a parent to relate to a child in a way that is consistent with the Lord’s commands doesn’t take away the child’s obligation to think through this commandment carefully and to strive to obey it diligently. Says Ursinus on this commandment, “The office must be distinguished from the persons who are invested with it; so that whilst we detest the wickedness of the men, we should nevertheless honour their office, on account of its divine appointment.”[i]
In its explanation of the fifth commandment, Lord’s Day 39 includes a realistic and most helpful phrase with a key bearing on our question. In speaking about the honour that I should pay to “my father and mother and…all those in authority over me,” the Catechism also instructs me,
to have patience with their weaknesses and shortcomings, since it is God’s will to govern us by their hand.
Parents will fail, yet children should still maintain honour, love, and faithfulness. Christ himself modelled this submissive behaviour toward harsh authority during his ministry (1 Pet 2:18-24). Even so, this commandment is not to be considered absolute, as we’ll see shortly.
2) Maintain the obligation of parents to fulfill their baptismal vows.
According to Scripture, believing parents have the weighty obligation to bring up their children “in the training and admonition of the Lord” (Eph 6:2). This obligation is echoed in the baptismal vow in Reformed churches, when parents promise to “instruct your child in this doctrine … and to have him/her instructed therein to the utmost of your power.”
Once again, we shouldn’t take a simplistic view of the expected outcomes of fulfilling this obligation. Russell Moore points out that we sometimes have a “transactional view” of childrearing, that it is roughly equivalent to raising cattle or programming code into a computer.[ii] That is, if we teach and model this creed and conduct, we will be assured of this good result. Christians might regard Proverbs 22:6 as an absolute promise that God will save their child: “Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it.”
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Good Shepherd

Written by Reuben M. Bredenhof |
Sunday, August 28, 2022
We come to know Christ in the same way that sheep came to know their long-time shepherd. We get to know him by experience: following him year after year, slowly learning that He is worthy of our trust. From how He treats us, we start to learn the depths his character: his mercy, his patience, his power and wisdom. This is the intimate awareness that comes from reading his Word and seeing how everything the Bible says about Christ is true. By walking with Christ by faith, we come to know his heart and to love him deeply.

Nobody wants to feel like they’re just a number.
But this tends to happen when dealing with a big organization like a bank or the government. Then you’re just another account number, just another taxpayer. Sometimes the bank sends a nice letter, “We really care about you and we’re grateful for your business”—but you realize that they sent the same letter to 500,000 other addresses! What do they really know or care about who you are?
But each of us has a name. Each of us has a personal history, an often-complicated story of where we’ve come from and what has shaped us. We have our limitations, some strengths and talents, and a handful of dreams that we cherish for our lives. In a way, we’re a simple people, yet still so complex. How good it is then, that Christ knows our name and cares for us. He says in John 10:14,
I am the good shepherd. I know my sheep and am known by my own.
Back in New Testament times, a shepherd’s task was both physical and verbal. Jesus in John 10 describes how a shepherd would speak to his sheep. For there were many noises to startle the sheep: maybe a loud roll of thunder to send them into a frenzy, or the distant roar of a lion to make them panic.
Above the din and danger comes the shepherd’s voice. He calls out warnings, he pushes with encouragement. And his sheep listen. For the sheep are used to his voice; they can recognize and respond to it. Jesus says about this work of the shepherd: “The sheep hear his voice; and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out” (10:3).
To better appreciate what Jesus is teaching, we should know how close a bond could develop between a shepherd and his sheep. As he tended the same group of animals, year after year, seeing them grow, watching them walk, he got to know his sheep well—and they got to know their shepherd.
Like human beings, probably all sheep are essentially alike. Probably every sheep is by nature timid. Probably every sheep enjoys a fresh tussock of grass. Yet each sheep has its own traits and qualities, and a good shepherd knows this.
One of his sheep is afraid of heights. 

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