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News

Good news: CRC Synod reaffirms homosexual sex is sin

At their annual synod this earlier year, the Christian Reformed Church (CRC) took a stand for biblical sexuality. They officially accepted – by a majority vote of about 70% – a 2020 report from the Committee to Articulate a Foundation-laying Biblical Theology of Human Sexuality. The Human Sexuality Report affirmed the traditional Biblical teaching that homosexual sex is sinful and clearly forbidden by Scripture.

The report also recommended that Synod 2022 declare that this traditional stance already has confessional status within the CRC. In other words, the committee’s report stated that the Three Forms of Unity currently declare homosexual sex (along with all other forms of unchastity such as premarital sex, extramarital sex, adultery, pornography, and polyamory) to be sinful and against God’s Word. In a separate vote the next day, Synod 2022 accepted this recommendation with just slightly less support: about 69% of delegates voted in favor.

This decision by a relatively small (in North American terms) denomination received much attention within and outside the CRC. More liberal-leaning CRC members – including a large group of Calvin University professors who had signed a petition urging non-acceptance of the report – expressed dismay at the decision. Some publicly stated that this may be the impetus for them to leave the federation or their current role at Calvin.

Outside the CRC, orthodox Christians rejoiced that sound Biblical teaching was upheld, and that the Bible was used as the main authority by which to arrive at thoughtful conclusions. Writing for “World Opinions,” Steven Wedgeworth, an Anglican rector from Indiana, called the decision “a valiant stand… The CRC has defended moral orthodoxy.” Albert Mohler, president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, also lauded the decision:

“All those who have a Biblical understanding of sexuality (should be) celebrating what the CRC has done!  It has taken the bold and convictional step of confessionalizing what it knows the Bible to teach on homosexuality.”

Many readers are familiar with past CRC Synod’s decisions that went against traditional interpretations of Scripture. My own family left a CRC in the 1980s when Synod allowed women to serve as ministers, elders, and deacons. We pray that this may be a sign of an increasingly faithful view of Scripture and the Confessions in the CRC.

Parenting

Quantity, not quality: good parenting takes time

In The New Tolerance authors Josh McDowell and Bob Hostetler share the way one parent taught his teenage son to see through the worldly messages being presented in pop music. The son was allowed to buy any album he wanted so long as Dad listened to it beforehand. "If Dad approved not only of the language but of the more subtle messages in the music, fine; if not... Dad would always explain his decisions." At one point this father rejected three straight albums, which didn't leave his son all that happy. And it wasn't so easy on the dad either; he had to spend a long time listening to some lousy music. Now this was almost 20 years ago, so it took a lot longer than it even would today. Whereas we can read song lyrics online and preview many tracks via YouTube, back then the only way to check out an album was to go to the store, buy it on CD, and take it for a spin. But this dad was up for it. He knew that by investing "quantity time" with his son – by spending hours slogging through, and talking through, album after album together – he'd help equip his son to know and appreciate what was praiseworthy and to see through what was shameful and unworthy. The Bible speaks about quantity vs. quality time. Or, rather, it assumes quantity time. In Deut. 11:19 God describe our parenting task – raising up children in the ways of the Lord – as an always and ongoing activity. "You shall teach to your sons, talking of them when you sit in your house and when you walk along the road and when you lie down and when you rise up." Raising up our children in the way they should go is going to take time. And energy too. There are going to be moments when you'll feel downright exhausted. But, be encouraged: this is what we supposed to be doing; it's what we're called to do. And sure, it can be draining, but let's not forget how much joy there is in the process too. We get to not only listen to music together but: share meals teach them how to ride a bike and mow the mow the lawn study God's Word as a family show them how to bake play games together and tell them for the hundredth time to stop picking their nose This is what we get to do. Tired or not, there is no task more important: God has entrusted us with the care of his covenant children. When we consider we're going to spend our hours some way or the other, what better investment is there? Keep at it. Take the time....

Assorted

Come, sweet death, Come blessed rest!  

Last week, while working in the backyard, I chanced to speak with one of our neighbors. There is only a wire fence separating our properties and talking across it makes for good contact. "Bob," our neighbor, was weeding his garden on his hands and knees.  Quite a feat actually because he is in his middle eighties. When I strolled over, he hoisted himself upright and we chatted about the weather, about the weeds and about our children. "I've got to do something today," he inserted into the conversation, "that I've been putting off for a long time." "What's that, Bob?" I asked. "I've got to bury my wife," he answered. I was floored for a moment. My husband and I knew that his wife had died some years ago before we had moved into the neighborhood. "Bury your wife?" I repeated. "Yes, and last week I dreamed that she told me: 'Bob, it's about time.'" I really had no words and stared at him. "We're going to the cemetery this afternoon to bury her ashes," he clarified. "Oh." It was all I could come up with. "My daughter's coming along. My wife's always wanted to be buried in the local cemetery here, the one by the Mennonite church." We stood in silence for a moment before he continued. "I contacted the gal over at the church who's in charge of the cemetery and she said it was fine." "That's good." It was a neutral comment. "Yes, but there was one problem. My wife, you see, was born Catholic and the priest said that the burial ground had to be consecrated. But when I mentioned that to the gal over at the Mennonite church, she said: 'Bob, ground's ground,' and that's all there is to it." "She was right," I agreed. "Yes, I thought so too. So this afternoon's the time." "You must miss your wife a lot." "Every day," Bob responded. "You know," I said, and at this point my husband had also walked up to the fence, "if your wife believed in the Lord Jesus and that He forgave all her sins, then the moment she died she was with Him." "She did," he said. "And if you believe that too, Bob," I tacked on, "then you will someday see the Lord Jesus and your wife as well." "I know," he said. My husband then asked Bob if he ever read the Bible. "It's a difficult book to read," he responded, "and so many people interpret different parts of it in different ways. How are you to know what's right and what is meant?" "It's true," my husband allowed, "and some interpretations are wrong. But basically if you read the Bible, Bob, you will understand most of what you read and it will help you in living." "There are so many things," Bob came back, "and where do you start?" "By talking to your neighbors," I said. And we left it at that, until next time. And Bob went to bury the ashes of his wife. ***** Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750), used the lyrics of an unknown poet to compose the music to one of his wonderful, melodious works. The words ask death to come quickly and to bear the singer to heaven to see the face of his Savior. It is a moving song with an emotional text. If you can sing it, how blessed indeed you are! Come, sweet death, come, blessed rest! Come lead me to peace because I am weary of the world. O come! I wait for you, come soon and lead me, close my eyes. Come, blessed rest! As Paul said in Philippians 1:21: "For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain." ***** Just last week we received notice that a dear friend had died. Betty was in her eighties and I was asked to write a remembrance. Betty was a friend I loved dearly. Her middle name could have been "helpful" and she was full of faith. There would only be a small service at the funeral home and perhaps people would be there who had no knowledge of Jesus. This is what I wrote. Betty - a remembering and a looking forward to "Faith" Hebrews 11 tells us, "is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen." It is a faithful friend who always points you towards things hoped for, and who tells you of her conviction of things not seen. Such a friend was Betty. She constantly pointed me to the protection of our heavenly Father. Betty and I shared thoughts and ideas for the last twenty years or so. Letters were often sent to her address and, much to my regret, I can't do that any longer. Not much of a letter writer herself, she would phone me and we would chat. It was great! She can't phone me any longer. And yet it is at this point that I recall Hebrews 11 and 12. Hebrews 11 is one of the most beautiful chapters of the Bible and one of the most encouraging. But Hebrews 12 follows hard on its heels and shines just as brightly if not more so. It begins with, "Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses... let us look to Jesus...." That is to say, since we have access to so many ordinary people who lived faithful lives before we did, we can never use the excuse that we were not told about Jesus. Betty lived before us; Betty was an ordinary housewife; Betty was gifted with remarkable and sturdy faith; and Betty is now part of the Hebrews 12 cloud of witnesses. She is now one of those who surrounds us and points us to look to Jesus. Betty ran her earthly race, a race that was often marked with difficulties and loneliness, with endurance. She unfailingly looked for and spoke of Jesus, the Founder and Perfecter of her faith. She did so for the joy that was before her, the joy of going to heaven to see, not just her family, but her Savior, Jesus Christ. When we miss Betty, let us remember her Creator and Savior. For she was with Him in Paradise at the exact moment she drew her last breath. I'm thankful to God that I knew her and that I will see her again. Christine Farenhorst's most recent book might be her best yet! Read our review of "The New Has Come" here, and check out most any online retailer to order a copy. ...

News

Saturday Selections - August 20, 2022

Trick shots from level 1 to 1oo School has been out for a while now - are the kids getting antsy with nothing to do? Here's something that may inspire a bit of fun! Indoctrinated by the Matrix "In itself, indoctrination is good; children have to learn the rules and virtues, and be molded gradually into adults who will be capable of living wise and good lives. But how are they indoctrinated, and into what? We used to assume that each generation would be a lot like the one before it. No longer. But why not?" Scientists are undermining our trust in science "A just-published exposé in the journal Science claims that a seminal study on the causes of Alzheimer’s disease may contain falsified data...." 4 guidelines for dating without regret Stop acting like you're married when you're not Make intentions known when you're dating - ie "I would like to take you on a date this weekend” vs. “Let’s hang out some time” Foreplay is not play Realize that you are not already committed Monkeypox: we can stop it but health authorities aren't shouting out how Even as authorities said COVID-19 necessitated church closures, they let BLM protests proceed. We'd be mystified as to the contradiction if God hadn't told us there are spiritual forces seeking to oppose His Church and champion chaos. More recently the Devil's fingerprints are evident in how monkeypox has been declared a "global health emergency" even as the obvious cure isn't being shared. It is getting attention because of the group afflicted (homosexuals), however the prevention (stop messing around!) is only being obscured because it involves taking at least a step toward God's standards for sex. Privacy: who needs it? We're getting tracked by giant social media companies, but, more importantly, by our governments too. But if we're not doing anything wrong, why should we care if they know what we're up to? Well, in a world where the norms are constantly changing, your politics and especially your biblical stances on sexuality could be used against you at a later date. The video below is a libertarian perspective but it offers thoughts worth Christians' consideration too. ...

Assorted

Hospitality hacks for folks who want to be, but keep finding excuses not to be, hospitable

As Christians, we know that hospitality is important, but if you've ever tried it, you also know that it can be really hard, and we can find so many reasons to put it off. When I moved out of my parents' house five years ago, I decided to try to invite everyone from my church over at least once in the space of a year. As a single person, I had to get creative as I set out on this endeavor. Here are some things I learned by doing and by observing. 1) Just do it Hosting people can be very intimidating. What will we talk about? What if they don't like the food I made? Just remember that God blesses all obedience and He has clearly commanded that we show hospitality (1 Peter 4:9). Even if at the end of the visit you feel that it went poorly, remind yourself that God is pleased with your obedience, and His pleasure is ultimately what we're after.  2) Think about inviting more than one family When you invite more than one family that means you can leave them to talk to each other while you prepare food/get things ready. This also takes the pressure off you to keep the conversation going because if you have more people together, naturally there will be more opinions and topics coming up. 3) When inviting strangers, have some prepared questions/topics to discuss If I don't know the people coming over, I try to have some getting-to-know-you-questions and interesting topics in the back of my mind so that if the conversation gets stale I can revive it. 4) Know how to cook something You don’t have to be a master chef to have people over - most people don't care what you feed them (though it is always wise to ask about allergies and if there are any foods they don't like). But it is good to put in some practice until you have few staple recipes up your sleeve so you can cook without getting stressed. It's also handy to have extra cookies in the freezer – cookies are a treat even unthawed – and ingredients for a meal that's quick to put together for when you haven't had time to prepare. 5) Take people up on their offers Often, when I invite people over, they ask if they can bring something. Say "yes." If you're making soup, one family could bring buns and another family could bring dessert. This helps cover the cost of feeding a lot of people and it makes people feel more comfortable when they've helped out. 6) Remember the kids Own toys and books for children. This doesn’t need to be costly if you keep an eye out at garage sales or visit a thrift store or two. And if you have children, hosting families with other children is a wonderful opportunity to teach them to look not only to their own interests but also to the interests of others (Philippians 2:4). 7) Know it doesn't have to be perfect It's more important that you actually practice hospitality than that you're all put together. It's nice if your house is clean, but it's okay if it's not. We all have homes. We all know homes get messy. Some of the best visits have happened when I've left the dishes heaped on the counter, thrown together some macaroni, and we ate off plastic plates. Conclusion Finally, when it comes to being hospitable perhaps the most important thing of all is deciding that you will be. God doesn't call us just to host the people we like. We are to welcome strangers, our neighbors, and our church families. Maybe you're church is too big to have everyone over in a year. Could you do it in two years? Three years? At the very least you could try to talk to everyone in the lobby after church in the course of a year. Give it a try. Don't know your neighbors? Start by saying "hi" and learning their names. You could host a games night, invite them over for pizza, shovel their driveway, or plan a block party. The Art of Neighboring by Jay Pathak and Dave Runyon is a good resource on neighboring well. And remember, hospitality is how you get to know strangers. Look around you at church on Sunday morning, I'm sure there will be visitors you could talk to. If you invite them into your home that's fantastic, and if you simply talk to them at church it's still showing hospitality as you welcome them in your church setting. Through hospitality we tangibly show God's love to those around us. Prayerful consider how much you and your family can do this year. And then do it....

Parenting

Children's games that mom & dad can play without going batty

I grew up with board games of all sorts, playing 5-6 hour "train games" with my brother and his friends, or Settlers of Catan back when it was only available in German. So when my wife and I were blessed with children I was already looking forward to playing games with them. But if my kids and I were going to play games, I wanted to be able to actually play them. I was on the hunt for games which would involve some skill, and yet allow for a bit of competition between a dad and his preschool daughters. It wasn't like I was going to try my hardest, but I also didn't want to just be pretending to do my turn. I wanted games where I could try, at least a little, or perhaps level the playing field by attempting tougher moves than my daughters. I wanted to play too. I soon found out that was a tall order. Most children's games are entirely chance, or either mind-numbingly simple, or even more mind-numbingly repetitive. But after some searching I was able to find five games that proved to be a challenge for both dad and daughters. ANIMAL UPON ANIMAL by HABA 10-20 minutes to play 2-4 players Ages 5 and up This is a stacking game, with the wooden pieces all shaped liked various animals. The variety is interesting: it has penguins, snakes, sheep, and monkeys – not animals that normally hang out – and at the bottom of the pile is a big long alligator that everybody piles on. Players start with seven pieces and take turns adding one or two animals to the stack, trying to make sure not to knock any down. The first one to get rid of all their animals wins. Of course the little beasties are going to come tumbling down, so one nice feature of the game – especially for youngsters whose fingers aren’t yet so nimble – is that if you do end up starting an animal avalanche you only have to put a maximum of two of them in your own pile. So no player is going to fall too far behind. Our oldest daughter really enjoyed this, but while the game says it is for 4 to 99, our four-year-old found it just a bit too hard and frustrating yet. However, I'm thinking that by the time she hits five this will be a real hit. Animal upon Animal is a good one for the whole family. COOCOO THE ROCKING CLOWN by Blue Orange 5-10 minutes to play 2-5 players Ages 4 and up This is a balancing game, with players taking turns adding a “ball” (actually a wooden cylinder) to one side or the other of CooCoo’s outstretched arms. Put too many on one side and he’ll tip over! That’s all there is to it – simple enough for 4 years olds to play, but there’s still enough here to keep adults challenged too. I can play this with my kids and try my best; I just leave the easy spots for them and challenge myself by going for the harder ones. Though it isn’t in the rules, it works both as a competitive game (placing your ball so it will be hard for the next person to find a good spot) and as a collaborative effort (How many balls can we work together to get on CooCoo?). All the pieces are wood, which is wonderful. The only downside to this solid construction is that CooCoo himself is heavy enough that, if he manages to fall off the table, he may well chip (our CooCoo has a few bits broken off from the tips of his fingers). So don’t place him near the edge of the table! This is great fun in half hour doses, and mom and dad may even find themselves playing it when the kids are in bed. QWIRKLE by Mindware 30-45 minutes to play 2-4 players Ages 6 and up Qwirkle is a great strategic game, which takes less than a minute to explain. It comes with 108 solid wooden tiles, coming in six different shapes, in six different colors. Points are scored by laying out a line of tiles that match each other either by color or by shape. So, for example, I could lay out a line of three that was made up of (see the left side of the back of the box picture): an orange sun, an orange star, and an orange diamond. That would get me three points. Next turn someone could expand off of my orange diamond by laying a yellow, green and red diamond beside it. Simple, right? True, but this is also an intriguing enough game for MENSA to endorse too. I’ve tried this with my four-year-old, and while she enjoyed it, I had to help her every turn – I was essentially playing against myself. Six seems the lowest age for a child to be able to play on her own. It says it’s for groups of two to four but we’ve done it with as many as six successfully. Everyone we’ve played this with seemed to enjoy it. That’s probably why it has sold millions, spawned several spin-offs and even has its own app for Apple products. SPOT IT JR.! by Blue Orange 5 minutes to play 2-6 players Ages 4 and up On a turn the dealer will lay down two of the round cards and then players race to spot and call out the name of the one animal that is shown on both cards. Every card has pictures of six different animals, shown in various sizes, and somehow they’ve managed to arrange it so that whenever you flip two cards over there will always be one, and only one, pairing. The first to name it gets to keep the set, and the person with the most sets at the end wins. This is a simplified version of the adult Spot it!, with the only difference being that the adult game has more items per card. I found I did sometimes have to go a bit easy on my kids – I couldn’t try my hardest – but already my six year old is hard to beat. It says it is for 2-6 players, but I’ll add that with my younger daughter this is a fun game only if it’s just me and her. In the larger group she just can’t compete and it’s no fun. I appreciate how fast it is – five minutes or less – which means there’s always time for at least one round! GOBBLET GOBBLERS & GOBBLET by Blue Orange 2-5 minutes to play 2 player AGES 5 AND UP Our oldest, on account of being the oldest, wins most games our girls play. She’s a fairly gracious winner, but I wasn’t so sure she was a gracious loser. To give her some practice I picked up Gobblet Gobblers, a quick game that takes some skill that I could play with her. That way she would get lots of practice at losing. Or at least that was the plan. This is tic-tac-toe with the added feature that some pieces can eat others. Each player gets three big gobblers, three medium sized ones, and three small gobblers. The big ones can stack on top of (or "eat") the medium and small gobblers, while the medium gobblers can eat only the smaller ones. And the smallest gobblers are stuck at the bottom of the food chain: they can’t eat anyone. It’s a very fun and very short game: it takes just a couple minutes to play. That means in just ten minutes of competing against her dad my daughter got a chance to lose – and practice doing it the right way – a half dozen times. It is a children’s game, but not a childish game – parents don’t have to turn their brains off to enjoy playing it. In fact I’ve played this with my wife. Some of my nephews and nieces, ranging in age from 5 to over 20 have all found the game quite addictive too. It’s about $25, with solid wood pieces that will stand up to good use. I should add that my 6-year-old happened upon a winning strategy that, if she starts with it, will win every time! It took her dear old dad quite a while to figure out why she had started winning every time, so I also got some good practice at losing graciously. (This was not going quite as planned!) So, we later upgraded from the 3-by-3 Gobblet Gobblers board to the adult version, Gobblet, which features a 4-by-4 board, and 12 pieces per player instead of 9. And it seems to have no guaranteed way to win. Both games are being put to regular use in our home even now more than a year after we bought. All these games are readily available through Amazon or other online stores. This article first appeared in the May 2016 issue....

Parenting

The high cost of fatherhood: being a blessing to your children is hard work

Sociologists and politicians on the right of the political spectrum often tell us that one of the biggest problems facing society is the lack of fathers. Very often they will present the problem merely in terms of sheer numbers and statistics: “The number of households where there is no father present has risen from X to Y in 40 years.” “The number of teens with their parents still married is now just X, compared to Y just 30 years ago.” “Children who grow up in homes with a mom and dad are X times more likely to get better grades than those children who grow up in homes where this is not the case.” These sorts of things are perfectly true and valid. It’s perfectly true that there has been a massive increase in fatherlessness and that this has had devastating consequences for children, families, and society as a whole. It’s perfectly true that the explosion in the divorce rate over the last half century has sown a vast number of problems which are perhaps only just coming to fruition. Not simply a matter of more, but better However, there is a danger with this kind of statistical approach that can lead us to believe that the problem is simply one of a lack of fathers. Or to put it another way, we can come to see the problem of fatherlessness as simply a quantitative problem – lack of fathers – and then tend to see the solutions in the same terms – more fathers needed. Yet much as the quantitative side of the fatherlessness problem is true, it is not the be-all-and-end-all of the issue and in fact it only really scratches the surface of the fatherhood problem. In addition to the quantitative issue of fatherhood, there is also a qualitative issue that often seems to pass conservative analysts by. Of course a father is better than no father (unless of course the father in question is actively abusing his children, in which case the child will be better off in a home where he is not present), but there is more to it than this and we ought not to suppose that fatherlessness, per se, is the only problem that needs solving. Rather, there is also a much deeper issue of what fatherhood actually is. Here’s another way of looking at it. You will no doubt have heard politicians and employers bemoan the fact that there is a skills gap in the workforce. Often, it will be in areas such as engineering, and they will claim that we need X amount of engineers to fix the engineering skills gap. No doubt we do need more engineers, but the question that rarely gets asked is “which type of engineers do we need?” In other words, although there may be a shortage of engineers in the workforce, if we were to train up masses of civil engineers in a region, only to find that the real needs of that regional economy are actually for chemical engineers, we wouldn’t have solved the problem. A similar principle is true in the realm of fatherhood. The problem isn’t just one of a lack of fathers in homes – crucial as this is – rather, it is also about the type of fathers we have. I think it almost certainly the case that one of the many reasons we now have an epidemic of fatherlessness is that back in the day, when fatherlessness was not the problem it now is, many fathers failed to grasp what fatherhood should really look like. Certainly most men grasped that being a father meant providing for their family and protecting their family – which is well and good – but unfortunately many men didn’t go beyond a superficial interpretation of what this means. Failing fathers and feminism While children are the obvious victims of fatherlessness the damage isn’t limited to them. Their children’s mothers, and women in general, are also hurt when men won’t take up their role as family head. Now, I have no desire whatsoever to defend feminism. It is an unbiblical ideology, “liberating” men from their responsibilities as the heads of their families. Yet it must be recognized that its success did not appear out of a vacuum. It came from somewhere. Where? Many answers might be given, and the role of Government and Big Business – with their promises of a better, more fulfilling life for women via career success – are certainly well worth a study or two in themselves. But behind all this, feminist ideology is at heart basically parasitical, feeding on the discontent of women. Where does this discontent stem from? Unfortunately, much of it grew out of the failure of many – perhaps even most – men to fulfill their roles as husbands and fathers, above and beyond the basics of providing and protecting. As a general rule – and I do emphasize the word general – a woman who has a self-sacrificial husband who loves, devotes, and really gives himself to their children, is not going to be discontented enough with her lot to want to embrace an ideology that sees marriage and motherhood as a curse. Yes, there might be exceptions, but they will be rare. As I say, none of this is to defend feminism one iota, but it is simply to recognize that it has its origins in something, and that something is to a large extent due to the failure of men. Don’t look to the government All this is to say that simply fixing the numbers – upping the number of fathers – if that were possible, won’t work… although of course it would be way better than the train wreck we have now. Nor is there any no point in looking to government solutions to fix fatherlessness either. The State is both parasite and host in all this, feeding off the discontent of women to grow fatter and fatter. One way the State has done this is by embracing egalitarianism, and aggressively promoting it everywhere. So they talk about a glass ceiling in the workplace. They continually pump out statistics on men getting paid more than women, without ever being honest enough to bring the word "baby" into the conversation. On a more general level, they have legislated for no-fault divorce, the very existence of which is bound to lead to people allowing their discontent to drive them to divorce, rather than seeking to address it. All these things have helped to create a situation where women are no longer content with raising their own children. They want another life. And when this causes them difficulties or problems, who comes riding in on the white stallion again? Why the State, with it's promises of free childcare. I should add that I am in no way blaming the State for everything. The other big culprits are Big Business, Media and Advertising. But it is the State we turn to for solutions, and we need to understand why there will be none coming from that direction. They have no motivation – they sow discontentment among women, and then reap the reward of more taxes and more control of our day-to-day lives. The high cost So State is not the solution. The real answer is to be found on the micro level and it involves every father out there striving every day to become a better father. It involves every father out there not contenting himself with being merely provider and protector on some superficial level, but rather having a deep desire to bless his children through his words, his character, and his way of living each and every day. It involves every father out there striving to understand what God – the Father – is like and through His grace striving to reflect this towards his children. To extend the last point, Doug Wilson has brilliantly argued that all fathers are images or reflections of God the Father to their children. Each and every father is constantly speaking to his children through his words, character and behavior about what fathers are like, and thus are constantly teaching their children about the Father all the time. So, in the way he acts, a father will either be speaking the truth or telling a lie to his children about the Father. That’s a challenging mirror for those of us who are fathers to look into. Of course we are not going to see perfection, but are we telling the truth about God the Father in our life towards our children, or are we telling a lie? Are we telling the truth about the Father by reflecting His generous, benevolent, loving, forgiving, just, merciful, gracious nature? Or are we teaching our children a lie about the Father through our harshness, our indifference, our aloofness, our coldness or our absence? We could put it this way: True Fatherhood is costly. The cost of God’s mercy and love being shown to His children was the death of His only begotten Son at Calvary. If you are a father, how much does fatherhood cost you? Generosity, benevolence, love, forgiveness, mercy and grace are far costlier than harshness, indifference, aloofness, coldness or absence. They require daily prayer and struggle against sin. They require humbling ourselves to say sorry to our children when we’ve wronged them. They require listening patiently to them and taking pleasure in what for us may seem trivial, but what for them are really important. And a whole lot more. I don’t know about the fathers who are reading this, but I struggle with these things. They are not easy requirements for a sinful and selfish human being. Yet they are part of a struggle that all fathers should delight to be in the midst of, since victory in this struggle means blessing to your children. And if enough fathers engage in the struggle, ultimately it will bring blessing to our society too. Paul on engaged fathers The Apostle Paul has the uncanny ability to pack more into one sentence than most of us can pack into several thousand words. How does he instruct fathers to behave towards their children? Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord (Ephesians 6:4). Is that it Paul? Is that all you have to say to fathers? Don’t make our kids angry and bring them up in God’s ways? Not really. Paul’s one-liners are like the opening of a treasure cave and we need to dig deep if we are to get to the heart of his teaching and mine the gold. As he often does, Paul begins with a negative, moves it to a neutral, and then takes the whole thing over to a positive. An example of this is Ephesians 4:28 where he says this: Let the thief no longer steal, but rather let him labor, doing honest work with his own hands, so that he may have something to share with anyone in need. Imagine a dial with three markings. On the left hand side is stealing. In the middle is not stealing. And over on the right hand side is laboring to give. Moralistic Christianity only sees the need to turn the dial from the left to the middle. “Don’t do this,” and “Don’t do that.” As if the absence of stealing is all that is required. But Paul says no, that’s not all that’s required. God doesn’t just want “non-stealers”; He wants cheerful givers. Paul does the same with the father passage. The notch on the left is marked Provoking, Exasperating, Frustrating, Angering your children. And there’s a whole range of different ways that this can be done. Paul says to turn the dial. Where to? To the “no longer provoking, exasperating and angering my children” spot in the middle? No, he says, dial it all the way to the right hand side. So just as the antidote to stealing is not “not-stealing” but rather giving, the antidote to provoking our children is not “not provoking our children,” but rather nurturing and admonishing them (some versions have this as training/discipling and instruction/correction, but the sense is roughly the same). Berating vs. admonishing What might sound odd here is that having turned the dial from the negative notch – provoking to wrath – to the positive notch, we find Paul speaking of admonition (or correction). But isn’t admonishing (or correcting) a negative action? Of course it can be, and I’m sure we can all think of examples of ways fathers can rebuke their children in a wholly negative manner (if you’re anything like me, you will have done this yourself). And if such a way of rebuking becomes the norm, then it can clearly lead to exactly what Paul tells us to avoid – exasperating and provoking our children to wrath. So how can admonition or correction be positive? It’s surely a question of why we do it and how we do it. If our whole wholehearted desire is to see our children corrected and restored, and if we deliver the admonition or correction in a way that reflects that, then it is an undoubtedly positive thing and our children will generally respond positively to it. What does nurturing look like? What of nurturing? That has a more positive ring to it than admonition, but what does it mean? Perhaps an illustration might help. At a home education co-op recently, some of my children and their friends did an experiment where they put six different seeds into six different jars, subjecting each seed to different conditions. The first was given air, water, soil, light and warmth, whilst the others had one of these elements missing. Some didn’t grow at all. Others grew a little, but very weak and stunted. No prizes for guessing which one grew properly! Just as the nurturing of plants needs all the elements in order to grow properly, so too do our children. And just as the seed that is deprived of one or more of the elements will either not grow at all, or perhaps produce stunted growth, so is the case with our children. Although I don’t want to labor the analogy too much, there is a fairly close correspondence to some of the elements that are needed for the seed to grow, and that which we need to be nurturing our children with. For instance, it is possible to give them the light of God’s word, both in the home and at church, and think that this will suffice. But if the environment at home or in the church is frigid, or if we so stifle their characters, gifts and creativity that they feel suffocated, they may well come to despise the teaching. There are countless “testimonies” out there of people who have gone through that. Nurturing is about making sure our children have all the elements they need to so that they thrive and grow up into men and women who really love God and who have a genuinely loving, servant spirit. So we need to aim not just to teach them from God’s Word, but to do so in an environment that is warm and wholesome. We need to produce a home where Christ is honored, both in teaching and example, but we need to do so making sure that we do not stifle our children or place heavy burdens on them. They need air to thrive, and I’ve seen a good many people reject the faith of their parents chiefly because their parents tried to squeeze them into a particular mold of what they thought Christians ought to look like. Fathers, can I urge you to strive to get closer to your children? Cuddle them more (especially girls). They need to feel wanted and secure, even the ones that don’t communicate this very well. Talk to them more. Be interested in them and their lives. Speak kindly to them and well of them. Get rid of any hindrances in your life which might be a stumbling block for them, or which might breed resentment and create a distance between you and your children. Strive to teach them from God’s Word, both by words and example. Seek their forgiveness, not just God’s if you have wronged them, or shouted at them, or failed them. Make them know that you would give your life for them. Fill your home with love and with grace. When we fail… Having said that, the wind seems to be taken out of my sails somewhat. Thinking of what nurture and admonition ought to look like is one thing, but if your house is anything like mine, the reality is often a far cry. Occasionally I might approximate to some of these things, but there are too many times of miserable failure to recall. What then? The things I have listed above are hard things which require self-sacrifice, determination and above all the Spirit of God. We are bound to mess up; bound to fail. But this should make us press on, not give up. Christianity is not a religion of beating ourselves up over such failures. Rather, it is a religion which says get down on your knees, seek God’s free and full forgiveness through Jesus, and then ask for his Spirit to enable you to be a better father to your children. Fatherhood is the most important social issue of our day, and the lack of good fathers is behind so much of what has gone wrong in our society. So if you don’t already, will you join me in making it a regular prayer to pray for fathers? Pray that every child in the land would know their father throughout their childhood. Pray for every child to know the love and the warmth of a good father. Pray for fathers in your church to be enabled to lead their families, and to “nurture and admonish their children in the Lord” with love and grace. Pray for good fathers to become better fathers. Pray for absent or poor fathers to repent and be given God’s grace to succeed where they have previously failed. And above all pray that God would reform our churches, our communities and our society by turning the hearts of the fathers to the children and the hearts of the children to the fathers. Rob Slane is the author of A Christian and Unbeliever discuss Life, the Universe, and Everything....

Parenting

Chores are good for our kids, and the earlier the better

Something parents have long suspected but few children have believed has been verified by research: chores are good for kids. The research that backs this up isn’t new. According to a Wall Street Journal article by Jennifer Breheny Wallace, these findings came in 2002 when Dr. Marty Rossmann of the University of Minnesota analyzed data to discover that: "young adults who began chores at ages 3 and 4 were more likely to have good relationships with family and friends, to achieve academic and early career success and to be self-sufficient, as compared with those who didn’t have chores or who started them as teens." Yet, as Wallace notes, a survey of US adults in 2014 found that while 82% grew up doing regular chores, “only 28% said that they require their own children to do them.” Why? It seems like parents are making piano lessons, and homework, and dance recitals and hockey practices the priority, and letting their children slide when it comes to pulling their weight at home. We think these others things are important, but they don’t compare to the joy of having a helpful daughter or son who becomes a responsible young lady or man. One other reason we tend to put off training our children to do chores is because the payoff for parents is very long term. A three-year-old who helps empty the dishwasher is going to cause much more work than she saves (especially when she drops a dish every now and again). But then we need to remember that the point of getting them to do the dishwasher is not to help us, but to help them become good helpers....

Documentary, Movie Reviews

Microcosmos

Documentary / Nature 80 min / 1996 Rating: 9/10 Have you ever wondered what it’s like for bugs when it rains, getting hit by water droplets bigger than their bodies? If so, then this is the film for you. Winner of the 1996 Cannes Film Festival technical grand prize for its cinematic brilliance, this documentary delves into the world hidden beneath our feet. The bugs are the stars, so there is practically no narration – perhaps a hundred words over the whole film. We see trains of caterpillars strung out, nose to butt by the dozens, a spider capturing air bubbles to drag down to his underwater lair, the emergence of winged ants as they jostle down the tunnel towards the opening en masse, and a millipede in exquisite detail as it walks over undulating tiny, tiny hills. Parents who watch this with their children may have to do a bit of explaining about the birds and the bees (well, just the bees in this case) as a few scenes touch on sex. But as there is no narration parents who want to evade the topic for a bit can tell their kids that, “those two snails are just kissing.” ...

Assorted

Holding on to wisdom: What would a younger you tell you to do?

I've written on marriage and headship in the past but when a friend asked me for my “expert take” on a marital matter he had concocted I had to tell him that as a newly married man, I'm no longer an expert on marriage. But, I added, as I haven't yet had any kids I was still in a position to offer him some great expertise on parenting. It was a joke, of course. But there is something to developing a well-thought-out “take” on marriage and parenting, and other big issues in life, long before we are ever in those situations. I wrote on headship and marriage before I had any personal experience so what I wrote might have been simplistic and even wildly naïve in parts. However, I did aim to tackle the subject biblically, so though as a bachelor I might have had little insight into how marriages do work, by going to Scripture I did have some idea about how marriages should work. And as a bachelor, I was able to write on the matter in a way that no married man could – I could preach without worry of anyone evaluating my practice. Now that I am married I'm sure those written words are going to be hard to live up to. Should my wife ever come across those words she'll notice I am already not (or perhaps I should say, “not yet”) measuring up to the standards I outlined. So my earlier writings might just end up haunting me. But I think that is a very good thing. A firm grip In family devotions we've been tackling the book of Proverbs and though we are only a dozen chapters in, one theme is becoming quite clear: God wants us to not only seek after wisdom, but to clench tightly to it and never let it go (7:2-3). Wisdom is something that once found can be lost. We might know God's will for a given situation but unless we bind this bit of wisdom to our heart, and tie it around our neck (6:21), we will soon forget it. That's how, for example, a Christian young man who knows he should not be “unequally yoked” can still, if he doesn't constantly keep this in mind, find himself increasingly attracted to an unbelieving young lass. There is a real value then, in wrestling with big issues like dating, marriage, and parenting long before we're ever in those situations, and even writing down whatever God-given wisdom we think we've discovered on these topics. Some years ago I bought a copy of a book called All About Me. It was, as the title suggests, a rather narcissistic tome, asking the book's purchaser to record in the provided blanks their favorite color, movies, food, sports team, pop star, and clothing store. But the part that interested me was a chapter in the back where bigger questions were asked: What are your thoughts on abortion? Do you believe in spanking? What are your thoughts on God? What would you do if you were given a million dollars? The chapter included dozens more of these big questions, and asked for explanations – it wasn't enough to say you were against abortion; you had to explain why. The only way a person could complete this whole chapter was if they took the time to develop, and then record answer by answer, some sort of comprehensive worldview. What an intriguing idea! Just imagine if something similar existed that had been adapted for Christian use. The questions might include: While dating, what limits do you think are appropriate when it comes to physical intimacy? How much should you tithe? What does headship involve? What factors would determine who you vote for? (List them, in order of importance, and explain your list and its order.) What are your thoughts on organ donation? How are men and women different, and how do their roles differ? How many times should we attend church each Sunday and why? Why are you a member of your church and not another? How do you think God has gifted you? What qualities are you looking for in a spouse? And if you were given a million dollars, what would you do with the money? Some of the questions would be fun, others would require a lot of study to answer in any sort of intelligent, biblical manner, but the end result would be nothing less than a booklet-sized personal profession of faith that could be kept, and referred back to repeatedly. The value A Christian All About Me doesn't actually exist. But if it did, what would be the value of such a book? It wouldn't be in any of the specific answers – a young person tackling these questions for the first time might give some superficial and maybe even some silly answers. When we are young we are only beginning to grow in wisdom and haven't got much of it yet. The value would come in establishing a baseline to measure our thoughts against later. Take the million-dollar question as an example. A dozen years ago I know just how I would have answered that question – I would have taken the million dollars and started my own provincial political party. Today I have family responsibilities and consequently a new perspective. But I can't just dismiss my earlier thoughts – as a young man I learned the importance of defending God, and His Law, in the public realm, and because I've captured that bit of wisdom down on paper I'm not liable to lose it. By tackling big questions early we're putting down an anchor – one that might still be pulled up and placed elsewhere, but which still provides us some stability now, so that we aren't swayed every which way. Our thinking on many of these important issues will change as we study Scripture further, but if we've taken the time to think through our initial answers, and even written them down, we'll be forced to evaluate our new thinking against our old. Then if a change is made we'll have to provide good, solid, biblical reasons to rebut our earlier self. Conclusion Tackling the big questions early is, then, a way to hold onto the wisdom God reveals to us in our youth, when life is simpler, and we aren't plagued with being able to see so very many shades of gray. But holding onto wisdom is not just a task for the young. As we age, and study the Scriptures we may grow in wisdom, but as God makes clear repeatedly in Proverbs, we have to hold fast to wisdom (3:18) and guard it (4:13) closely, or we will lose it. So big questions then, are worth asking, early, often, and repeatedly. This article first appeared in the October 2008 issue of Reformed Perspective. Jenni Zimmerman suggests another approach to address the same issue - holding on to wisdom - in this article (offsite). ...

Adult non-fiction

Top 3 marriage books

Over my years in the ministry, I’ve taught many marriage preparation classes.  From time to time, I’ve also counseled couples with marriage problems.  In my preaching, I’ve had many opportunities to speak about marriage.  Besides all that, I’ve been married myself for what’s going on to 23 years.  All these things give me a vested interest in good books about marriage.  I’ve read a few.  Almost all of them have something worthwhile, but there are some that really stand out.  Here are my top three, in order of importance, first to third: When Sinners Say “I Do”  Discovering the Power of the Gospel for Marriage  by Dave Harvey 190 pages / 2007 This one tops the list because of the author’s relentless focus on the gospel.  Written in a warm, personal style, Dave Harvey helps couples come to terms with the biggest problem that all marriages face and the solution to this problem.  Along with some of the other topics one would expect in a marriage book, he also discusses one you don’t often encounter:  death.  If you’re going to read just one book about marriage, make it this one. Strengthening Your Marriage by Wayne Mack 208 pages / 1999 Are you ready to get to work on your marriage?  Then this is the book you’re looking for.  It’s not just a review of biblical teaching about marriage, but a very practical workbook.  It contains a variety of exercises for husbands and wives to complete.  The idea is that they would be done with a pastor or counsellor, but certainly couples could benefit from doing them on their own too.  I use Wayne Mack’s book Preparing for Marriage God’s Way for my marriage preparation classes and I appreciate his biblical approach. Each for the Other Marriage As It’s Meant To Be by Bryan Chapell with Kathy Chapell 224 pages / 2006 I really like this one for three reasons.  One is that it includes the perspective of a woman.  Another is that it has great stories and illustrations to drive home the points of the authors.  Finally, I value the clear explanations and applications of biblical submission and headship.  This book also includes discussion questions to go with each chapter. Dr. Wes Bredenhof is the pastor of the Free Reformed Church at Launceston, Tasmania and blogs at Bredenhof.ca. ...

News

Saturday Selections – July 9, 2022

Great moments in unintended consequences (4 min) When governments don't have even a basic understanding of economics, many unintended consequences can result. What I learned about my writing by seeing only the punctuation This is about an intriguing analytical tool for writers or aspiring writers - copy and paste in a piece of your writing and it strips out all the words leaving behind only the punctuation. So what sort of punctuation patterns will emerge for you? Do you overuse question marks? A lot? Or maybe you like to really emphasize your points!!! Fighting addiction with brain surgery? An experimental surgical intervention may help combat addiction, but, as John Stonestreet warns, "any theory of treatment that treats the physical and medical side of a person, at the expense of the moral, interpersonal, or spiritual side misunderstands the human person." Six things I hate about small churches This title is misleading, but the points are good: 6 features of small churches are presented, like: "You will not be able to hide." Why pro-aborts are so committed "To abortion supporters, the prerogative of women to violently hinder the gender-specific ability of their bodies to bear children is central to their humanity. If we believe the biological realities of our bodies oppress or even limit our feelings and desires, we must force our bodies to comply in order to be fully human. Anyone who wants to stop us may as well be killing us." Dr. Jordan Peterson promotes homosexual "marriage" and parenting This is an important and curious article. It highlights how the conservative movement is making a fatal compromise with homosexuals, using as a specific example Jordan Peterson's endorsement of homosexual podcaster Dave Rubin's lifestyle. "'...our culture appears to have decided that gay marriage has become part of the structure of marriage itself,' Peterson stated at the outset of the hour and a half discussion, waving an enormous white flag of surrender." But in appealing for the rejection of this takeover, the article appeals to timeless principles, an immutable definition, a biological truth, eternal principles, ideas tethered to the permanent things, and an enduring moral order. But whose timeless principle are they? Whose enduring moral order is it? Who created this biological truth? We are never told. There is a surrender here too, in defending God's principles, but conceding to the other side their position that God Himself isn't relevant to these debates. Arguments that creationists should not use Do men have one less rib than women, going back to Adam giving up his rib for Eve? Did Darwin recant on his deathbed? No, and no. While biblical creation is true, not all the arguments used to support it are good. The folks at Creation Ministries International have created a list of 40-some arguments Christians sometimes use, but really shouldn't. For an 18-minute podcast on this same topic, click here. Is transgenderism logical? (5 min) God made us male and female, but the world denies there is any difference between the two. But if male and female can't be objectively distinguished, then it is impossible to be born into the wrong body. ...

Drama, Movie Reviews

To save a life

Drama 120 minutes; 2010 Rating: 7/10 To Save A Life is about teen suicide... and also premarital sex, abortion, underage drinking, cutting, bullying, divorce, divorce's impact on children, adultery, drug use, gossip, and Christian hypocrisy. It's a realistic look into the teen party culture, and consequently, we see some students smoking pot, a couple about to engage in sex, lots of drinking, and a lot of immodest dress. This description might make the film seem too much like today's typical teen fare - partying kids, and the fun they have. But here's the twist: To Save A Life is about being willing to stick out instead of fit in, being willing to reach out, to walk our talk, to take responsibility for our sins, to be willing to forgive, and to take God and what He says in his Word seriously. High school senior Jake Taylor is the star guard on the school's basketball team. He has what everyone wants: the looks, the friends, the prettiest girl in school. Roger Dawson is on the other end of the social spectrum. He wonders if anyone would even notice if he just disappeared. In despair, he walks into school and pulls out a gun in a crowded hallway. As he swings the gun barrel towards his own head, only one student speaks up - Jake - but it's too late. Roger kills himself. That's how the film begins, and the rest is about how Jake reacts to Roger's suicide. It haunts him because the two of them used to be friends. But Jake ditched Roger soon after they both started high school, when Jake got in with the popular kids. Roger needed a friend. Jake was too busy pursuing the "high school dream" to care. Guilt-ridden, Jake first turns to alcohol, and then to sex to try to forget. But those are only short-term diversions. Eventually, he ends up in a nearby church, attending the youth service. But here, too, he isn't finding what he hoped - the group is full of youth who aren't walking their talk. He knows many of these same church kids are smoking pot during school, or are part of the same party scene he's running from. In disgust, he shouts out a challenge to the group: "What is the use of all this if you aren't going to let it change you?" Sure, some of the kids aren't genuine, but some are, and Jake's angry challenge stirs things up. They start meeting for lunch at school and start reaching out to others on the outside to come join them. They befriend the friendless. Cautions When this was first released it was quite a controversial film in Christian circles. Not many Christian films earn a PG-13 rating. But while the film's realistic portrayal of teen depravity means this is not a film for children, this "grit" has been used with care and restraint is evident. Still, there are reasons parents might want to preview this film before watching with their teens. In addition to the intense topic matter, here are some more specific cautions to consider: Immodest dress. Some of the girls are wearing outfits that would look much nicer, and much warmer, with a coat on. One student says "dammit" and another says "hell" There may be another instance or two of such curse words, but no one takes God's name in vain. A couple, with the boy shirtless, are shown on a bed kissing, clearly about to have sex (which is not shown). One boy is shown cutting his arm (not much gore, but we do see a little blood). A boy kills himself by shooting himself in the head. We see no blood or gore, but it is an emotionally intense scene. This is a complex movie because of the sheer number of issues it takes on and because it takes on so much, it does breeze over some issues, and deals with some others in an overly simplistic way. This includes God's gospel message. Viewers might leave with the impression that God's gospel message is meant as good news for this life - that if we follow what He says, things will start going better for us here and now. This is the "Gospel as a self-help guide" error common to many Christian films and novels. It isn't explicitly stated in To Save A Life so I don't want to dwell on it. The truth is, things do often start going better for us when we follow God's will. His law can act as a fence around us; when we stay within its bounds we are safe from many things that might otherwise harm us. At the same time, serving God can come at a cost - think of the many martyrs around the world. And in the high school setting, especially in a public school but even in Christian ones, serving God can cost you friends and popularity. That's a point that To Save A Life touches on, but also glosses over. Conclusion This would have rated higher if the acting had been better – sometimes it is quite good, but the star himself is decidedly average. (It may interest some that commentator Steven Crowder, in a minor role here as best friend, does a pretty solid job.) What this is, first and foremost, is a message film, and on that front, it is powerful. How do Christians do high school differently?  As To Save A Life shows, oftentimes we don't do it differently at all - we're involved in the same drunkenness, the same rebellion, the same quest to fit in. Our peers matter to us more than our parents, and more than God. But what if we lived as lights? What if God, and what He thought, mattered more to us than what our friends thought of us? What if we did unto others as we would like them to do unto us? Then we might do high school quite differently. To Save A Life explores what that difference might look like, and while the film is gritty at times, it is a great resource for parents and their teenage children. It is an enjoyable film, but more importantly a challenging one. Parents: use it to challenge your kids. ...

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