Aaron was born in Honduras and lived there until he was 10. Rachel grew up in Mississippi. They met on a blind date in 2004 and quickly realized they both had a passion for missions. Because of Aaron’s background, he had a desire to one day return to Honduras. Rachel served on several mission trips to Haiti, during which she realized the great need for God’s Word to be preached worldwide. In 2006, they married and moved to Honduras to teach in a bilingual school outside of Tegucigalpa. While there, they became even more aware of the need for churches that teach the transforming power of the gospel (Rom.10:17).
Aaron and Rachel moved back to Mississippi so that Aaron could get an M.Div. from Reformed Theological Seminary (RTS) in Jackson. While there Aaron served at Second Presbyterian in Yazoo City as the youth director and intern. Rachel taught at the local Christian school, then later left the classroom to be a full-time mom.
The Halberts are starting a new team in the capital of Honduras, Tegucigalpa. They are excited about what the Lord has in store and hope you will partner with them through prayer, financial giving, or both.
Several times a year we have the joy to baptize one of our covenant children.
Hopefully, you can look past “The Cuteness Factor” and see the weightiness of what is actually happening.
The parents confess profound biblical truths about THEIR child. And, they swear solemn oaths that they are going to use THE MEANS that God has appointed for the eternal salvation of THEIR child. The congregation joins in and confesses that they also believe these truths about this child and they will support these earnest parents as they seek to (by the empowering grace of God) raise this child in a godly fashion.
Our dear friend Dr. Terry Johnson has some great insights into these matters and a biblical philosophy of parenting:
We have urged that understanding the doctrine of original sin is the key to Christian parenting. Mothers and fathers need to understand that their children are from birth both guilty and corrupt; they have inherited both condemnation and depravity. This unsentimental, open-eyed view of one’s children will help to ensure a disciplined home: parents will require first-time obedience; they will forbid backtalk, whining, and tantrums; and they will insist upon conformity to the family schedule and routines. Children will thereby quickly learn that they are not the center of the universe and all things do not exist to serve them. By saying these things we are saying nothing new, as can be seen by the language of the traditional baptismal vows.
Once the reality of original sin truly has sunk in, one is ready to follow through on the second and yet most important principle of Christian parenting: relying on God’s grace. Weaken the doctrine of original sin and one may settle for “Pelagian Child-Rearing” or “Arminian Child-Rearing.” In other words, if the impact of sin is not so bad, grace is not so needed. However, if sin’s corrupting effects are immediate upon conception and pervasive, an ocean of grace is needed if our children are to be savingly reared. This conviction lies behind the first parental baptismal vow as stated in the Presbyterian Church in America’s Book of Church Order:
Do you acknowledge your child’s need of the cleansing blood of Jesus Christ, and the renewing grace of the Holy Spirit?
This vow assumes what we’ve emphasized thus far: the doctrine of pervasive human guilt and corruption. What are parents acknowledging? Their child’s “need of the cleansing blood of Jesus Christ, and the renewing grace of the Holy Spirit.” Do they, as infants, really need all that? Indeed. Why? Because they are born guilty sinners, born selfish and demanding, born idolaters of self.
John Gerstner tells the story of guest-preaching at a Presbyterian church on the occasion of an infant baptism. He spied a white rose on the font. “What’s the meaning of the rose?” he asked. “It represents the purity of the child,” they answered. “Then what’s the meaning of baptism?” he countered. Exactly. Baptism assumes a person, infant or otherwise, needs the poured out and cleansing blood of Jesus Christ and the poured out and renewing grace of the Holy Spirit. Understanding the need of divine grace is vital to faithful Christian parenting. My child needs the grace of Christ: regenerating, illuminating, transforming, and sustaining. Likewise, the second vow:
Do you claim (or trust in) God’s covenant promised in (his/her) behalf, and do you look in faith to the Lord Jesus Christ for (his/her) salvation, as you do for your own?
Parents are pledging to look in faith for what? Salvation. Their child needs salvation. There are covenant promises to be claimed (Gen 17:7; Acts 2:39). They must be believed if the child is to be saved. The benefits of grace are received by faith: “by grace you have been saved through faith” (Eph 2:8). Taking the first two vows together, because I understand the human condition into which my child was born (original sin), I recognize his/her need of the benefits of Christ and the Spirit (salvation), and my responsibility to trust the promises of God in Christ. Okay? Then what?
Since these things are so, the parents must utilize the God-given means to bring their children to Christ. To trust the promises of God and do nothing is fatalism. To leave their salvation “in God’s hands” while abandoning the responsibility to guide them spiritually is sinful negligence. Hence vow #3 follows vows #1 and #2.
Do you now unreservedly dedicate your child to God, and promise, in humble reliance upon divine grace, that you will endeavor to set before (him/her) a godly example, that you will pray with and for (him/her), and you will teach (him/her) the doctrines of our holy religion, and that you will strive, by all the means of Gods’ appointment, to bring (him/her) up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord?
Notice the “humble reliance upon divine grace” that describes the context in which the vow is taken. Both the parents and the child need God’s grace if a child is to be reared properly. Parents promise to provide a “godly example.” This requires God’s grace. Parents promise to “pray with and for” their children. This too requires God’s grace. Parents teach them “the doctrines of our holy religion.” This also requires God’s grace. Parents promise to use “all the means of God’s appointment.” This requires God’s grace as well. We parents are weak and foolish, inconsistent and compromised. We need God’s grace if ever we are to rear our children faithfully. We need grace, and our approach is determined by what we call the “doctrines of grace,” of human depravity and God’s initiative in salvation. Grace shapes the whole endeavor.
Next time we’ll look more carefully at each promise of this third vow. For now we’ll merely note the concluding clause of the vow, the promise to “bring (him/her) up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.” These two beautiful old English words, based on the KJV of Ephesians 6:2, have more recently been translated “discipline and instruction” (ESV, NASB), or “training and instruction” (NIV). They represent the negative and positive poles of parenting. Children need correction and teaching. Why? Because “foolishness is bound up in the heart of a child.” How is it to be removed? “The rod of discipline drives it far away (Prov 22:15). Previous generations understood this. “Spare the rod and spoil the child,” was a universally accepted piece of folk wisdom. It is also an authoritative piece of biblical wisdom:
Whoever spares the rod hates his son, but he who loves him is diligent to discipline him. (Prov 13:24)
If we love our children we will diligently discipline them. Properly applied discipline is even associated by Proverbs with salvation:
13 Do not withholddiscipline from a child; if you strike him with a rod, he will not die. 14 If you strike him with the rod, you willsave his soul from Sheol. (Prov 23:13, 14)
“Break their wills,” said John Wesley, “that you may save their souls.” John Witherspoon, the only minister to sign the Declaration of Independence (and a Presbyterian minister at that!) maintained that discipline should commence at 8-9 months and be completed by 12-14 months! He was concerned that discipline would become “too severe” if delayed. If that seems unreasonable, how about by age 3? By then, I would think 90% of all childhood discipline should be complete. The household should be calm, quiet, and happy, as opposed to an endless stream of whining, fussing, argument, and defiance.
With human beings there are countless variables. Rearing children is an art, not a science. There are no parenting cookie-cutters or formulas. Yet there are some universal principles to guide us. What do we need if we are to rear our children aright? Wisdom. Patience. Selflessness. Grace. Parents need grace and their children need grace, and the process must be grace-shaped if the goals of Christian parenting are to be reached.
“When a man stops believing in God he doesn’t then believe in nothing, he believes anything.” (Attributed to G.K. Chesterton)
“What did we do when we unchained the earth from its sun?” Nietzsche
As the west moves away from the Biblical revelation which affirms the reality of the external world, reliability of sense perception and reason (within Biblical constraints), objective truth and the uniformity of nature (among other things), and replaces it with personal opinions, prurient speculation, and private interpretations, we should not be surprised to find all manner of craziness in the headlines. Here are a few:
We probably just heard a message from aliens, scientists say
Neil DeGrasse Tyson thinks aliens found humans, creatures on Earth uninteresting
“Aliens are for real and we can prove it. But we just need some money: SETI scientists tell Congress”
“Bank of America analysts think there’s a 50 per cent chance we live in The Matrix”
“Neil DeGrasse Tyson Thinks There’s a ‘Very High’ Chance We’re Living in the Matrix” (He says: “What would we look like to them? We would be drooling, blithering idiots in their presence. And if that’s the case, it is easy for me to imagine that everything in our lives is just the creation of some other entity for their entertainment.”)
“What If Evolution Bred Reality Out Of Us?”
“Feminist PhD Candidate: Science is Sexist because It’s Not Subjective”
“Metamorphosis – What’s it like to be an animal” (a trans-species story about a man who thinks he’s a goat. Transgenderism is becoming so 2015.)
This is just a sample. Though there are vast (and growing) differences between unbelievers, they are united on one issue: “Anything but Christianity,” just as Romans 1 teaches.
The following is a quote from Martin Lloyd Jones as he preached through the book of Romans. It is a clear and sober warning to us to remember who we are in relation to God and to trust His Word, submit to it, enjoy it, learn it and treasure it rather than submit it to our scrutiny. Enjoy!
Let us learn these simple lessons as we move on. We put the creature before the Creator whenever we put any single idea of our own before the revelation of Scripture. I feel like repeating that. To put any idea of our own before Scripture is to be guilty of this very sin of putting the creature before the Creator, our ideas rather than what the Bible says, or what God has revealed. ‘Ah,’ we say, ‘but I don’t understand that, I don’t see how God would be fair if He did this and that.’ That may be what you say; and it may be what you think. The question is, What is revealed? What does God say about Himself? My friends, we are not meant to understand all we read in the Scriptures. It is beyond us. Our minds are too small, and we are born in sin. We come to this as little children, not to comprehend it all, but to worship and to praise, and to receive it. And if we start putting our ideas or difficulties or thoughts or feelings before Scripture, we have already partly become guilty of this terrible, serious charge of putting and worshiping the creature before the Creator.
As Presbyterians we have a very careful understanding of the relationship between the church and the civil magistrate. If you’d like to probe this in any depth just read our public theology, the Westminster Confession of Faith, Chapter 23. We recognize that both spheres are legitimate and are ordained by God (Romans 13:1-7). Christ is Lord over the State and over the Church. But they are separate spheres. We do not want the civil government interfering in church matters, nor do we want to see the church take her focus off the “ordinary means of grace” (Word, prayer, and sacraments) to focus on politics & policy. But, whenever the civil magistrate recognizes the Church’s God-commanded activities and even asks for our assistance, we should be happy to co-operate.
Our state’s Governor – Nikki Haley – sent a communication on Tuesday to all churches in the state of South Carolina, asking us to gather our congregations at Noon on Tuesday, November 22, for the purpose of prayer. The Elders of WRPC have considered this request and are happy to comply.
The Governor specifically stated that she is deeply concerned for two issues:
Potential civil unrest in the state in light of the two high profile criminal trials underway in Charleston (the shooting of the Emmanuel AME Nine & the shooting of Walter Scott).
The ongoing suffering & displacement of many of our fellow citizens by Hurricane Matthew.
So, next Tuesday, we will gather in the WRPC Choir Room to pray for these concerns. Please join us.
In an interesting exchange between Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson, the latter informed Holmes of the Copernican view of the solar system and was surprised to learn that Sherlock knew nothing of it. But after learning of it, Holmes told Watson “Now that I do know I shall do my best to forget it.” Watson was stunned, “To forget it!” he cried. Holmes gave this explanation:
“You see,” he explained, “I consider that a man’s brain originally is like a little empty attic, and you have to stock it with such furniture as you choose. A fool takes in all the lumber of every sort that he comes across, so that the knowledge which might be useful to him gets crowded out, or at best is jumbled up with a lot of other things, so that he has a difficulty in laying his hands upon it. Now the skilful workman is very careful indeed as to what he takes into his brain-attic. He will have nothing but the tools which may help him in doing his work, but of these he has a large assortment, and all in the most perfect order. It is a mistake to think that that little room has elastic walls and can distend to any extent. Depend upon it, there comes a time when for every addition of knowledge you forget something that you knew before. It is of the highest importance, therefore, not to have useless facts elbowing out the useful ones.”
Arthur Conan Doyle. Sherlock Holmes: The Collection (Kindle Locations 301-304). Kindle Edition.
Paul writes: Philippians 4:8 Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy — meditate on these things.
I have found that with the twenty four hour information flow on as many channels or websites, I can fill my mind with a lot of stuff that is at best trivial. Perhaps we all need to reflect on our daily intake of information and ask ourselves: “Does my intake of information fit the qualifications enumerated by Paul?
Dr. Watson concluded the conversation with “(Sherlock) said that he would acquire no knowledge which did not bear upon his object. Therefore all the knowledge which he possessed was such as would be useful to him.”
The following was written by Dr. Terry Johnson and taken from The IPC Messenger, the newsletter of the Independent Presbyterian Church in Savannah, Georgia. It can be found in context here.
One common problem with child-rearing today is what I would call “too-nice” parenting. The parents are simply too nice. They don’t want their children ever to be disappointed or have any demand delayed or left unmet. All desires are immediately satisfied and all behavior excused. That’s right. All behavior is excused because all demands are perceived of as reasonable. After all, the child has needs, and this is his/her way of letting adults know.
What “too nice” parents fail to recognize is that when children are rude or demanding or interrupt or throw a tantrum, it’s not merely immaturity on their part, though it is that. It is also sinful. Really? Yes. Of course it is. When parents jump to meet the need of a demanding child, to satisfy his/her desire, to allow the interruption, to excuse the behavior (“he’s tired,” “she’s hungry,” etc.), they are not being nice, but cruel: to the children, themselves, and all those around them. They are rewarding bad behavior, and in the process, guaranteeing that more will be forthcoming.
Worst of all are parents who think the bad behavior of their children is “cute.” It’s not. When children are allowed to grab center-stage, interrupting adult conversations, ignoring adult instructions, placing themselves in the head of every parade by being whiney, fussy, demanding, loud, or rude, no one is amused except perhaps the parents and grandparents.
I’ll never forget when Emily and I went out to dinner with a couple visiting from Florida with their out-of-control two-plus year old. He was up, down, climbing, crying, demanding, food-throwing. Gradually his clothes had to be stripped down to his diaper because he was wearing most of his dinner. The climax of the evening came when he went from his father’s lap to plopping down, diaper first, in his father’s watery plate of oysters, with a splash. It was ridiculous. Emily and I said afterwards we’d never raise our children like that. “Johnny, sit down!” (He didn’t). “Johnny, stop playing with your food!” (He did, for five seconds). “If you don’t stop, you will be punished!” (He wasn’t). “Stop whining and daddy will give you a treat when we get home.” (He didn’t.) “Sit still and I’ll let you watch ‘Lady and the Tramp’ tomorrow.” Shameless attempts to bribery continued. It was classic parenting by negotiation. On and on it went the length and breadth of the entire meal. Conversation was impossible. Tension was palpable. He wasn’t cute. He was insufferable.
Then there is the “our Johnny is so smart that we dare not restrict him” philosophy. He’s a borderline genius, the evidence of which is visible every day! We don’t want to stifle his inquisitive mind. So we let him wander around the house, the yard, the world, doing whatever he wants, lest we squelch his creativity. Not until Johnny finally enrolls in school and begins to compete with other children do parents begin to realize that Johnny, like most children, is quite average. I know of what I speak. Dobson writes of how the first child’s first words, first discoveries, his first curiosities lead parents to think they’ve been entrusted with the next Einstein. Hook, line, and sinker, we bought it. Sorry, by defnition, most children are average, probably including yours. His/her brilliance is not an excuse for being out of control.
When we brought home our first Jack Russell terrier, “Jack,” I began to place limits on Jack’s behavior, that is, train him. Sally, who was about seven years old at the time, cried out, “Dad, don’t! He won’t like us!” We continued to discipline and train Jack, and Sally was able to see that though we were strict, no dog ever loved a family more than Jack did. The portrait of the noble beast occupies an honored place in our home.
I wonder if some parents don’t think like our seven-year-old Sally. If I don’t allow little Johnnie and Susie latitude to do what they want, their reasoning goes, they won’t like us?! It’s silly, really. Children need order. They need limits. They need borders on their existence. They thrive with structure and routine. Deny them this and they will be miserable, and eventually you will be blamed.
It’s good to be nice. I wish I were more nice. Yet one can be “too nice,” as when one’s niceness is actually self-serving (I want to be liked) rather than self-sacrificing (doing what is in the best interest of the children).
Hopefully, by now, you’re somewhat familiar with the “resident” pastors of WRPC: Pastor Anderson, Pastor Dodds and Pastor Robbins. They’re fairly accessible and you see them (and their families) weekly in worship, classes, prayer meetings, meals, fellowship settings, and in the community.
But, you may not know that WRPC has not one, but TWO MORE ordained pastors on staff: Assistant Pastor Albert “Berti” Kona and Assistant Pastor Francisco Cardoso.
Both of these men have the exact same education and credentials as our resident pastors. Because of our deep commitment to missions and international church planting, we’ve sent these pastors out to plant churches and form presbyteries in their home regions.
Pastor Cardoso labors in Recife, Brazil, a modern city of almost 4 million people (i.e. larger than Chicago or Houston). Recife is on the beautiful beaches of northeast Brazil. The need is great in Recife, since much of the population is trapped in the ignorance and superstition of Roman Catholicism. Others are devotee’s of voodoo. Many more are enmeshed in the prosperity gospel taught by Pentecostalism.
Pastor Cardoso faithfully preaches the Scriptures and evangelizes in this context. He is also a husband to Soraia & dad to Bernardo and Clara (10 year old twins), Catharina (7) and Aurora (4).
Pastor Kona works in Durres, Albania, a port city on the Adriatic Sea. Durres is one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world having been populated for almost 3,000 years! The Apostle Paul refers to it (in Romans 15:19) as “Illyricum”. It is the second largest city in the nation. Albania is dominated by Muslims, Roman Catholics, and Eastern Orthodox.
Berti is not only planting a church (they hope to particularize next year), he is also busy translating Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian Religion into Albanian and teaching at a local Bible institute. He is joined in these labors by Jenny and Annabella (7), Miriam (4) and John “Hansee” Calvin (2).
If you have not yet done so you can catch up with the Kona’s and Cardoso’s THIS Sunday (Nov. 6). They will both be around.
Guest Post: This excellent and timely essay on parenting comes from the pen of Dr. Terry Johnson, an old friend of WRPC’s. Dr. Johnson is the world’s foremost thinker on issues related to Worship and is also a prolific writer on several topics related to the Reformed Faith. He has served as the pastor of the Independent Presbyterian Church in Savannah for almost 30 years.
For twelve hours, from Taipei to San Francisco, I sat by a “challenging” three-year-old. From the gate to the runway, from take-off to cruising at 37,000 feet, from descent to landing, he screeched at an ear-piercing pitch. And whined. No one within ten rows was spared. Surely he will tire, I assumed. But he did not… for 12 hours. His parents alternately tried multiple toys, video games, food, and holding him with no success. He was determined to be miserable and to share his misery with others. What might have helped his parents were some biblical lessons in Calvinistic child-rearing. Is there such a thing? Indeed there it. Think not that this vital task of child-rearing is left untouched by Christian truth. Think not that all we can do is turn to our own devices to learn how to rear our children. The Bible says quite a bit about human nature, and human nature is precisely what we must understand if we are to rear and love our children aright.
The single most important fact about humanity when dealing with little people as well as big people is the doctrine of original sin. Regarding big people, this is why we put locks on our doors, why businesses hire auditors, and why governments have police forces, courts, jails, and armies. Regarding little people, this is why we shouldn’t entertain foolish notions about our infants’ innocence or purity. They are neither. Our infant granddaughter, Audrey Boone Girgis, is as beautiful and precious as she can be. She is already full of spunk and personality (at six weeks, mind you; with Emily as grandmother and Sally as mother, who could have guessed?). Nevertheless, she is still a “little viper(s) in covenant diapers,” as Henry Krabbendam so memorably expressed it. “You will be fighting them for control of the household from the moment you bring them home from the hospital,” Jim Baird (my mentor in ministry and father of four sons) advised me. Truer words were never spoken, I can say after rearing five children of my own.
Children enter the world thinking they are, or ought to be, the center of the universe. All the descendants of Adam would “be like God” (Gen 3:5, NASB). Consequently, they are born thinking all the world should serve them. Every demand should be met. Immediately. Now. Whatever they want, they should get, whether food, playthings, or attention.
Wise parents will begin early to rebut this egocentric view of reality. How? Children will want to eat, sleep, play, and later speak when they want to. They will require the whole household to revolve around their demands… if allowed. Wise parents will quickly begin to make newborns part of the household routine that is already established. Children, more or less, will learn to eat, sleep, and play when the family does. Early and frequent exposure to the word “no” is vital. When they refuse to lie quietly in bed at bedtime; when they demand food when dinner is soon to be served; when they interrupt adult conversation, the word no is salutary. A dozen times a day they are thereby reminded that they don’t come first and that all the world doesn’t exist to serve them. Compliance to directions should be immediate. As Elisabeth Eliot was fond of saying, “Slow obedience is no obedience.” If in the end compliance will be required on the 25th warning, why not on the first? All this to say, our natural desire as parents and grandparents to love our children, to do for them whatever needs to be done, and to do it now, must be tempered by regard for their built-in idolatry of self. We traveled with toddlers. We know what it is to navigate airports and airlines. The inconsolable child of my recent flight was a creation of his parents’ indulgence. The pattern of tantrums was established long before they got on the plane.
Ironically, the happiest of children are those accustomed to hearing the parental “no.” The fussy, whiney, miserable child has too many options and not enough maturity to make choices. He doesn’t know what he wants. He needs his parents to say, “Here is what we are doing next.” And follow through, parents! He needs to hear all day long, now it’s time for breakfast… now it’s time for nap… now it’s time for lunch, and so on. Then when he hears, now it’s time to get on the airplane, he will comply, without argument, without complaint.
Someone may object that they know children who were not reared this way and today those now-grown children are very committed adult Christians, serving Christ faithfully. This objection misses the point. There is no formula that guarantees that we will successfully transmit our faith to our children. Love covers a multitude of parental sins. Some very undisciplined parents have wonderful adult children. The point is, why should today’s parents, today’s children, and everyone around them be miserable in the meantime? The point is, why not rear them in a manner that is consistent with fallen human nature? The point is, why guarantee an unhappy childhood, unhappy parenting experience, and isolate the family from others? Take my counsel or leave it: original sin implies conforming infants to the family schedule, parental insistence on immediate compliance from children, and generous use of the word “no.” Establish a routine and they’ll love it. As my brother-in-law says, “Children are the original conservatives.” They live for things to be always the same. They thrive in a reliable, dependable, predictable environment. They are unsettled by irregularity and change. “That’s not my chair,” they’ll let you know in a hurry.
Is original sin the only truth that needs to be understood? Of course not. Still, a large part of parenting involves restraining our children’s idolatrous impulses.