When The Heidelberg Hits Home: An Update

I wrote and posted this a year ago. Since then, my now departed friend’s wife’s (now a widow) cancer has gone in complete remission. The Heidelberg’s truths are sweeter and truer now, even through tears, than a year ago.

Yesterday a dear family friend unexpectedly died.

He had heart problems for all of his adult life and was frequently in the hospital. His family and friends always knew that the Lord could call him home at any time. Still, the news of his passing is shocking.

Along with my friend’s heart condition, his wife recently discovered she has cancer. She just began chemotherapy. Her next treatment is scheduled for tomorrow.

They have three children.

My friend grew up in the Dutch Reformed theological tradition and had a deep appreciation for the Heidelberg Catechism. When he was younger, it was more of a love/hate relationship. But as he grew older, he grew wiser, and his love blossomed for the Heidelberg. He was even teaching it to the youth of their local PCA church here in the Twin Cities. He knew the Heidelberg inside and out, and wanted his children to do the same.

So when I heard of his death yesterday, I couldn’t help but remember the Heidelberg’s famous first question:

What is your only comfort in life and in death?
A. That I am not my own,1 but belong—body and soul, in life and in death2—to my faithful Savior, Jesus Christ.3

He has fully paid for all my sins with his precious blood,4 and has set me free from the tyranny of the devil.5 He also watches over me in such a way6 that not a hair can fall from my head without the will of my Father in heaven;7 in fact, all things must work together for my salvation.8

Because I belong to him, Christ, by his Holy Spirit, assures me of eternal life9 and makes me wholeheartedly willing and ready from now on to live for him.10

1 1 Cor. 6:19-20
2 Rom. 14:7-9
3 1 Cor. 3:23; Titus 2:14
4 1 Pet. 1:18-19; 1 John 1:7-9; 2:2
5 John 8:34-36; Heb. 2:14-15; 1 John 3:1-11
6 John 6:39-40; 10:27-30; 2 Thess. 3:3; 1 Pet. 1:5
7 Matt. 10:29-31; Luke 21:16-18
8 Rom. 8:28
9 Rom. 8:15-16; 2 Cor. 1:21-22; 5:5; Eph. 1:13-14
10 Rom. 8:1-17

Herein lies rock solid and comforting truth that will sustain his wife and children in the uncertain days ahead:

In life—and death—their bodies and souls belong to Jesus Christ. They are set free from the devil’s tyranny. Not a hair can fall from their heads without the Father’s will. All things work together for their salvation. Eternity is real. Jesus is watching over them. They wholly belong to him. He is faithful. (Repeat)

It’s times like this when a supposedly dry, erudite, 450 year old theological teaching aid becomes something more: moving us from mere knowledge about the Triune God and ourselves in light of who he is to remembering, and perhaps experiencing, beautiful and glorious communion with him. Even (especially?) in times of unexpected suffering and loss.

The Heidelberg—a musty, outdated and irrelevant catechism?

I don’t think so.

As for my now departed friend? His need for the Heidelberg is obsolete, as he is now joyfully basking in the eternal presence of the Triune God to which it speaks.

God in the Wasteland

Yesterday a dear family friend unexpectedly died.

He had heart problems for all of his adult life and was frequently in the hospital. His family and friends always knew that the Lord could call him home at any time. Still, the news of his passing is shocking.

Along with my friend’s heart condition, his wife recently discovered she has cancer. She just began chemotherapy. Her next treatment is scheduled for tomorrow.

They have three children.

My friend grew up in the Dutch Reformed theological tradition and had a deep appreciation for the Heidelberg Catechism. When he was younger, it was more of a love/hate relationship. But as he grew older, he grew wiser, and his love blossomed for the Heidelberg. He was even teaching it to the youth of their local PCA church here in the Twin Cities. He knew the Heidelberg inside and out, and wanted his children…

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The New City Catechism: A Birthday Celebration

Not every birthday is cause for raucous celebration.

But today’s an exception.

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On October 14, 2012, The Gospel Coalition, in partnership with Redeemer Presbyterian Churchannounced the New City Catechism (hereafter NCC), a church-wide teaching tool primarily covering The Apostles’ Creed, The Ten Commandments and The Lord’s Prayer. Created by Tim Keller and Sam Shammas, the NCC met a few predictable minor quibbles (e.g., “Why are they messing with the old catechisms?” “The sacraments don’t receive enough attention!” “Only 52 questions?” “There they go with their ‘city = better’ schtick again,” etc.) But on the whole the NCC was widely welcomed as a timely tool in the catechetical arsenal.

If the idea of tackling the esteemed Heidelberg or Westminster catechisms are daunting (for my money, the best edition is this for the former and this for the latter, and for family devotions this set is indispensable), then the NCC is for you. It’s the gateway drug of catechisms. And I mean that as a compliment.

It’s difficult to measure a catechism’s immediate impact, and it will likely take a generation to ascertain lasting effects on individuals, families and churches. But two years since its release, it seems like the NCC is here to stay for the foreseeable future.

I contacted Collin Hansen, TGC’s editorial director, and asked for some internet stats for the NCC. Here’s the lowdown:

  • On an average day, around 500 people visit the New City Catechism website.
  • The iPad app has been downloaded over 30,000 times.

I’m no web metrics guru, but I’d call those decent numbers, especially for something containing the word “catechism,” a word that sounds stodgy, archaic and quasi-Roman Catholic, striking fear and triggering spontaneous nervous ticks for the uninitiated.

But fear no more.

Here’s where to begin with the NCC:

  • Tim Keller’s introduction, where he clearly and simply explains catechism, offering a convincing polemic for the NCC.
  • The iPad app (free). TGC’s web team is nearing a fix for the iOS 8 bug, so stay tuned.
  • Droid user? This app’s for you. (Also free)
  • Luddite? Download the PDF here.
  • My personal favorite? This tabletop version…

productimage-picture-new-city-catechism-3888_jpg_400x300_q85

…and it’s available here for a paltry $6.00. It’s a beauty.

Redeemer Presbyterian Church and The Gospel Coalition deserve hearty thanks for producing such a deceptively simple yet essential 21st century teaching tool covering the basics of the Christian faith. And although it’s not groundbreaking, if it helps create a catechetical revolution (as I think it is), J.I. Packer would be glad. So would Calvin, Luther, and a host of other notable committed catechists.

So happy 2nd birthday, New City Catechism! You’re looking pretty stout for a toddler. And to think you’ve only got 449 years to go till you reach big brother Heidelberg’s age.

May God grant you—and your older siblings—bigger and better birthdays to come.

Heidelberg Catechism Devotional: An Update

It’s been several months since my family began using Starr Meade’s book Comforting Hearts, Teaching Minds: Family Devotions Based on the Heidelberg Catechism (previously written about here). Although our consistency is spotty (nothing new here), on the whole my wife and I agree that’s it’s been quite good. Overall our kids, ages 8-17 (not including our 19-year-old Yalie) are engaged, asking questions, learning, and don’t seem bored stiff (and all under 10 minutes). I’d call that a triumph. Moreover, they’re learning critical foundational truths derived from Scripture and building a vocabulary and rubric of faith with real life application.

Along with taking our kids through the Heidelberg for the first time, it’s also the first time my wife and I have methodically gone through it (not including various cursory readings). Which makes me wonder: why has it taken me this long to discover such a gem?

 

Heidelberg Help at Home

“Hey kids! For family devotions we’re going to start going through the Heidelberg Catechism!”

[Insert quizzical expressions, glassy-eyed stares or defiant exclamations.]

Thank God for Starr Meade.

Meade, a modern-day champion of catechisms, wrote a great resource for families, Comforting Hearts, Teaching Minds: Family Devotions Based on the jpegHeidelberg Catechism.

Here’s how it works:

  1. Every Sunday you focus on two or three of the questions and answers from the HC.
  2. Monday though Saturday that week there is a brief devotional unpacking Sunday’s Q and A.
  3. After (or sometimes preceding) the devotional, there are accompanying Scripture passages to read (usually just a few verses) that relate both to the Q and A and the devotional for that day.

We have children in our home ranging from 8-17, and the devotional has enough depth combined with brevity that it strikes a nice balance. Simply put, it’s a nicely written and well presented book on the HC for families, especially families with little to no prior exposure to the HC (like mine). The book could even be a helpful devotional for couples without kids.

Finally, I purchased individual copies of the HC to give to everyone to review during the week. (Meade chose this version of the HC.)

Here’s the book’s trailer:

 

Download a sample of the book here.

 

 

 

A New Year’s Prayer

Maker of heaven and earth, space and time, entering this new year I put my hope in you, trusting that you will provide whatever I need for body and soul and turn to my good whatever adversity you send me. Thank you that you are able to do this because you are almighty God, and that you desire to do this because you are a faithful Father. Amen. (HC 26)

—From Seeking God’s Face: Praying With the Bible Through the Year, p. 97

And a guilty pleasure:

When The Heidelberg Hits Home

Yesterday a dear family friend unexpectedly died.

He had heart problems for all of his adult life and was frequently in the hospital. His family and friends always knew that the Lord could call him home at any time. Still, the news of his passing is shocking.

Along with my friend’s heart condition, his wife recently discovered she has cancer. She just began chemotherapy. Her next treatment is scheduled for tomorrow.

They have three children.

My friend grew up in the Dutch Reformed theological tradition and had a deep appreciation for the Heidelberg Catechism. When he was younger, it was more of a love/hate relationship. But as he grew older, he grew wiser, and his love blossomed for the Heidelberg. He was even teaching it to the youth of their local PCA church here in the Twin Cities. He knew the Heidelberg inside and out, and wanted his children to do the same.

So when I heard of his death yesterday, I couldn’t help but remember the Heidelberg’s famous first question:

What is your only comfort in life and in death?
A. That I am not my own,1 but belong—body and soul, in life and in death2—to my faithful Savior, Jesus Christ.3

He has fully paid for all my sins with his precious blood,4 and has set me free from the tyranny of the devil.5 He also watches over me in such a way6 that not a hair can fall from my head without the will of my Father in heaven;7 in fact, all things must work together for my salvation.8

Because I belong to him, Christ, by his Holy Spirit, assures me of eternal life9 and makes me wholeheartedly willing and ready from now on to live for him.10

1 1 Cor. 6:19-20
2 Rom. 14:7-9
3 1 Cor. 3:23; Titus 2:14
4 1 Pet. 1:18-19; 1 John 1:7-9; 2:2
5 John 8:34-36; Heb. 2:14-15; 1 John 3:1-11
6 John 6:39-40; 10:27-30; 2 Thess. 3:3; 1 Pet. 1:5
7 Matt. 10:29-31; Luke 21:16-18
8 Rom. 8:28
9 Rom. 8:15-16; 2 Cor. 1:21-22; 5:5; Eph. 1:13-14
10 Rom. 8:1-17

Herein lies rock solid and comforting truth that will sustain his wife and children in the uncertain days ahead:

In life—and death—their bodies and souls belong to Jesus Christ. They are set free from the devil’s tyranny. Not a hair can fall from their heads without the Father’s will. All things work together for their salvation. Eternity is real. Jesus is watching over them. They wholly belong to him. He is faithful. (Repeat)

It’s times like this when a supposedly dry, erudite, 450 year old theological teaching aid becomes something more: moving us from mere knowledge about the Triune God and ourselves in light of who he is to remembering, and perhaps experiencing, beautiful and glorious communion with him. Even (especially?) in times of unexpected suffering and loss.

The Heidelberg—a musty, outdated and irrelevant catechism?

I don’t think so.

As for my now departed friend? His need for the Heidelberg is obsolete, as he is now joyfully basking in the eternal presence of the Triune God to which it speaks.